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Flashback: Waylon Jennings Takes ‘Luckenbach’ to ‘Austin City Limits’

Jennings reprises his 1977 crossover hit in a 1989 appearance on long-running PBS show, later released in album form by New West

In 2006, four years after Waylon Jennings’ death, New West Records released a live album featuring the outlaw legend’s April 1st, 1989 appearance on the long-running PBS music series Austin City Limits. Jennings was himself at a personal crossroads in early ’89 — having already battled his addiction to cocaine, he kicked a six-packs-a-day cigarette habit in 1988 and underwent heart surgery just four months before this ACL appearance. He was also between record labels, having left MCA after two album projects and soon to record briefly for Epic, where he would enjoy his last Top Five single with the lighthearted, steel-drum-tinged “Wrong.”

A highlight of Jennings’ fiery set for TV cameras was the song that had become his first solo crossover hit 12 years earlier. Well, mostly solo. Like “Good Hearted Woman” a year earlier, the 1977 single “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” featured fellow renegade Willie Nelson, although to a lesser degree than the previous hit. Both singles topped the country chart and both hit the same position (Number 25) on the pop chart, although “Luckenbach,” written by Chips Moman and Buddy Emmons, only featured Nelson on the final verse. Name-checking himself and Nelson, as well as Mickey Newbury, Jerry Jeff Walker, and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” the song’s wide appeal and back-to-the-simpler-life message was well-suited to Jennings’ personal life, having married singer-songwriter Jessi Colter and become father to future musician Shooter Jennings. Jennifer Eddy, Colter’s daughter from her first marriage to guitar legend Duane Eddy, appears in the above clip singing background vocals.

Recorded 42 years ago today, on January 7th, 1977, during a marathon 10-and-a-half-hour overnight session at Nashville’s American Studios, Jennings’ version of “Luckenbach” would, according to author Tom Roland, make Billboard history by debuting at Number 48 in its first week on the country chart, making it the first record to break the Top Fifty in its debut week after selling 100,000 copies in just seven days. It would go on to top the survey for six weeks in the spring.

Although Jennings, Emmons and Moman had yet to set foot in Luckenbach at the time the song was written and recorded, plenty of others began making the trek, pilfering scores of city-limits signs as souvenirs. Beginning in 1995, Willie Nelson began hosting his Fourth of July Picnic in Luckenbach, located 80 miles west of Austin. The event returned there every year through 1999, then again in 2001. Jennings finally performed in the now-iconic town for the first time during the 1996 picnic.

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