Barry Kent's Blog

Today in Country Music, August 17, featuring "The Highwayman"

Posted By: Barry Kent · 8/17/2012 5:52:00 AM

Today in Country Music, August 17.

On this day in 2011, Alan Jackson played a show in Norway, where he paid tribute to the victims of that country’s recent bombing and shooting tragedies, during his performance of "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)"

Today in 2005, Rascal Flatts gathered with music industry friends at a party In Nashville to celebrate the number one success of their song "fast cars and freedom"

Blake Shelton continued his run at #1 with his debut single "Austin" in 2001

And on this day in 1985, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson – collectively known as The Highwaymen - topped the chart for one week with their song "Highwayman"

"Highwayman" was written by songwriter Jimmy Webb, about a soul with incarnations in four different places in time and history, a highwayman, a sailor, a construction worker on the Hoover Dam, and finally as a star ship captain. 


Webb then brought the song to Glen Campbell, who recorded it in 1978. But his record label, Capitol Records, wanted him to go in a different direction and record music like the group The Knack. Campbell wanted to release the song as a single, but Capitol refused.  After recording 30 albums for the only record label he had worked with since 1962, Campbell got up and left the main studios of Capitol, never to return. Although he would record three more albums with Capitol, the relationship was at an end. After disagreeing with the label, he released the song on his 1979 album Highwayman, released in October.  Campbell then played the song for Johnny Cash. Webb brought the song to Waylon Jennings in about 1981, but Jennings, having heard the Campbell version, said "I just couldn't see it then". Cash, Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson were all together in Switzerland doing a television special and decided that they should do a project together. In 1984, while the four were recording, Marty Stuart again played the song for Johnny Cash, saying that it would be perfect for them, four verses, four souls, and four of them.Campbell then played the song to all four of them, and the quartet had the name for their new super group, The Highwaymen, the name of their first album, Highwayman, and the name of their first single. The four thought it was a perfect name for them because they were always on the road and all four had the image of being outlaws in country music. In their version of the song, each of the four verses was sung by a different singer: first Nelson, then Kristofferson, Jennings, and finally Cash. Their cover of the Webb song remains the most popular and widely-known of The Highwaymen's songs, being their only song to reach #1 ("Desperados Waiting for a Train" at #15 is the next closest). The version by the quartet entered the Hot Country Songs Billboard chart on May 18, 1985, rose to #1, and spent 20 weeks total on the chart. It finished 1985 as the #5 country song of the year in terms of sales and airplay.

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