Jessi Colter is a singer, songwriter, and entertainer whose influence continues to echo across musical genres. In 1969, she married Waylon Jennings and their partnership yielded wonderful music along with personal triumphs and heartaches. She writes about their story in her latest book: An Outlaw and a Lady: A Memoir of Music, Life with Waylon and the Faith that Brought Me Home.
Narrator: Hello, and thank you for listening to the Jesus Calling podcast. Our featured guest today is a part of a series of podcasts that focus on country music and faith—with stars of country music sharing their stories and their connection to Jesus Calling. Jessi Colter is a singer, songwriter, and entertainer and is the widow of legendary country singer Waylon Jennings. As part of this celebration of country artists and faith, Jesus Calling will have a booth at 2017’s CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee. If you’re planning on attending, visit us at Fan Fair X in the Music City Center from June 8-11. You’ll be able to meet some of the artists who have been on our podcast, win free Jesus Calling products and more! For more information, check out the Jesus Calling CMA page for details. And now, on to our interview with Jessi Colter.
Jessi Colter – Choosing Joy for Each Day: Jesus Calling Podcast Episode 45
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling podcast. Jessi Colter is one of modern music’s singular talents; a singer, songwriter, and entertainer whose influence continues to echo across musical genres. In 1969, she married Waylon Jennings, and their partnership yielded wonderful music along with personal triumphs and heartaches. She writes about their story in her latest book, An Outlaw and a Lady: A Memoir of Music, Life with Waylon and the Faith that Brought Me Home.
Jessi Colter: Hi, I’m Jessi Colter and I’m a singer, I’m a songwriter. I’m now a publisher.
I grew up in an environment that was nothing that I would have analyzed. It was simply a great, spacious outdoor Arizona experience where we had twelve hundred acres of mining property; where we would go often as family. My father was a racecar builder in Indiana. He came to Arizona; he began working in mechanics of sorts, and he built mining mills.
We would go up to the mine and climb mountains, and my father would of course carry a gun, because there were predators in the area. The men would sometimes hunt. My mother, at one point, was raising turkeys. My mother, who was a wonderful minister, had come here from Indiana and pursued her ministry in the late 30s. So, it was very unorthodox. Our camaraderie was often in church and the children playing out in the open; all that exciting adventurous things up in our mining property. It was a fluid, open, “big as the sky” life.
A Life Of Song And Music
Music was always my draw. I was drawn to the piano very early; began taking lessons. At 11, I was chosen to be the church pianist and we had church anywhere from three to four times a week, to seven times a week, if there were revivals. So, I was learning discipline, yet I was free to go and play.
I was on TV at 12 in the talent shows. Duane Eddy cut a record on me, when I was 16, I believe, on Jamie Records. There was a marvelous studio in Phoenix, Arizona that everybody from L.A. was flocking to. I began the first record with marvelous, historic musicians. Then, when I left home, I went immediately to American Bandstand where Dick Clark was playing the record.
I traveled to New York. Duane featured me. That was wonderful. We traveled, we later married, and then I began writing more songs that would be accepted by national heroes. Chet Atkins was one of the first that took my songs and cut hits on Dottie West and several others. It’s been a continued stream of wonderful, wonderful steps in my life that involve music.
Narrator: We’ll be right back to hear more from Jessi Colter, right after this brief message.
As a special offer to you, the listeners of The Jesus Calling podcast, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a free 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check out their service.
Find your favorite Sarah Young titles, including Jesus Calling and Jesus Always in an audiobook version and get it for free by trying audible.com. There’s also a sample of this audiobook in this podcast, at the very end. To download your free audiobook today, go to audibletrial.com/JesusCalling . Again, that’s audibletrial.com/JesusCalling for your free audiobook. Now, back to our interview with Jessi Colter.
Falling From Faith
Jessi: I had left my faith entirely when I was married to Duane, and was exploring all these different philosophies. One that was very hot at the time, was the Ayn Rand philosophy “the virtues of selfishness.” I thought, “oh this sounds so interesting,” you know in our 20s– God forgive us all–and He has. I saw every other form of philosophy and ways of thinking that are out there, and I had not explored those before. But I did. We were in a group of people that were philosophers and psychologists and all that. My faith was gone, in God. I was looking into what I thought about and how smart I was and how educated I was.
I remembered the scripture from childhood; “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word God.”
When I came back to my faith, I had gone so far that I couldn’t read the Bible, or pray, or any of that. I had to make the circle myself for about a year. I attended different denominations. I remembered the scripture from childhood; “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word God.” I remember that I thought, “well, I’ve got to get where I can hear it, then you know, that will be a beginning.” Underneath all that, though, I think there was a river of repentance going on that I couldn’t even touch. Thank God, I had a praying mother. I say, “I’m a prayer answered.”
After Duane and I divorced, I met Waylon –he began featuring me and gave me those years of experience. When I went to Nashville with him, he and Chet recorded an album called “A Country Star Is Born” and that has recently been reissued and re-mastered by Sony.
I’ve just gone on from there and I had quite a streak of albums. The next thing we did was cut the “Outlaws” album which broke all precedent–that was with Waylon and Tom Paul Glaeser, and Willie Nelson.
In the early days. We just ran together. We had fun together. I knew he was taking these little diet pills; I don’t know when any of them changed from those to cocaine. It was difficult because I didn’t understand and I didn’t agree with it. Of course there was some worry, to say the least, but he had a tremendous constitution.
Returning To God
I returned to my faith in those years. So that was my strength, you know. I loved this man and adored this man–still do. You know, when I returned to my faith and couldn’t share it with Waylon, it was defying gravity so to speak. It was agonizing. It was perplexing. I made that decision at a certain point that I can either be someone that goes along with him or someone who he can believe in. It was the hardest choice because I loved him with my whole being. Yet it worked; within three years of that or four, he was sober, and on a better path.
You know, marriage is a development. It develops, you develop, and you go through some things–challenges and threats.
It was, again, something that just happened. It was so natural that it shocked me. I said things I had said before, at different times, that had not worked. I said, on that day in a hospital looking out the window, I couldn’t believe that this window just opened. This window just opened in his life, and he said “yes,” and it just went all over me of course; I can feel it right now.
You know, marriage is a development. It develops, you develop, and you go through some things–challenges and threats. You see how much you have already created to take you to the next level.
Choosing To Live
Narrator: Though they enjoyed over 30 years together, the years Waylon spent addicted to drugs took their toll, and he and Jessi said their final goodbyes when Waylon passed in 2002. Jessi talks about moving forward in life without her partner and where she has found strength and help for the journey.
Jessi: I go through periods where I think, “what is going on with me? I’m not grateful, I’m not praising. I’m not rejoicing in in the marvelous life I’ve been given. What is it?” You know, this is my problem. When half of you is suddenly ripped out, you have to make that choice. Nobody told me, I was just out in the pool and I said it verbally; “I choose to live.”
I had to look to very strong, good women in some of the hits I’ve taken and I love it. I love the sisterhood. People who have risen above it who continuously rise above. I love Sarah Young and I love Jesus Calling. I just love reading about her going to L’Abri and her education and her search. I thought, “isn’t that wonderful?” I love when she said, “it changed from monologue to dialogue.”
I have through the years been gifted time and time again. We have to choose joy, and it only becomes through great gratefulness and thanks for our lives. I mean, God is our very breath.
Narrator: Jessi Colter’s new book, The Lady and the Outlaw, A Memoir of Music, Life with Waylon, and the Faith that Brought Me Home is available everywhere books are sold. To find out more about Jessi, visit officialjessicolter.com for more information.
Narrator: Today’s featured passage comes from the February 7th entry of the Jesus Always audio book:
Do not fear, for I am with you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Let these words enfold you like a warm blanket, sheltering you from the coldness of fear and discouragement. When trouble seems to be stalking you, grip My hand tightly and stay in communication with Me. You can trust and not be afraid, for I am your Strength and Song. My powerful Presence is with you always. You face nothing alone! Moreover, I have promised to strengthen you and help you.
My strong hand supports you in both good times and bad. When things are going well in your life, you may not be attentive to My sustaining Presence. But when you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, you become keenly aware of your neediness. During these difficult times, holding onto Me keeps you standing—and able to put one foot in front of the other. As you endure this adversity patiently—in trusting dependence on Me—I bless you with abundant Joy in My Presence.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.