“When I met Jessi, I was pretty well at my lowest point. I weighed 138 pounds and I was bent on self-destruction. Wallerin’ in self-pity was the biggest part of it, stayin’ depressed all the time and stoned. Jess was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
That’s Waylon Jennings in 1973, telling Rolling Stone’s Chet Flippo about the transformative effect his fourth wife, Jessi Colter, had on his outlaw lifestyle. Married to Jennings in 1969, the singer-songwriter was previously wed to guitar legend Duane Eddy, but would have her work in curbing Jennings’ self-destructive ways cut out for her several years to come. By 1977, Jennings was in the grips of cocaine addiction. In August of that year, the musician was arrested on drug charges at Nashville’s American Studio. While the charges against Jennings were eventually dismissed, it would be several more years before he kicked the cocaine habit.
In the meantime, Jennings continued touring and recording hits, often working with his fellow country-music outlaws including Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and, of course, Colter. After her 1975 pop Top Ten hit (and sole country chart-topper), “I’m Not Lisa,” Colter recorded more solo material as well as duets with her husband. For the closing track on 1975’s I’m Jessi Colter, she sang song she was inspired to write after picking up a magazine in a doctor’s office. Accompanying a photo of a home completely destroyed by a tornado was a caption quoting the home’s resident: “Storms never last.” That simple message of hope — and Colter’s deep, abiding faith — would carry her through to the end of her husband’s life in 2002, when he succumbed to complications from diabetes at just 64 years old.
Jennings would also record a solo version of “Storms Never Last” on his 1980 LP, Music Man, and although she didn’t appear on that version, Colter was name-checked by her husband at the end of the song. Ironically, Jennings had talked Colter out of mentioning his name in her version of the song so that it would be more universal. Since its debut, “Storms Never Last” has been covered by Miranda Lambert, John Prine and Lee Ann Womack, David Allan Coe, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, Allison Moorer and dozens of others.
Released as a single 38 years ago today, Jennings and Colter performed “Storms Never Last” together for a duets LP called Leather and Lace. The above version, which Jennings introduces by calling “my best friend” to the stage, is a profoundly romantic performance from a 1984 Showtime special called A Star-Spangled Country Party. Also featuring Hank Williams Jr., Alabama, Earl Thomas Conley, Sylvia and more, the special was shot aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier the Constellation in San Diego on Valentine’s Day that year.