THE RAMBLIN’ MAN by Waylon Jennings

Well, I did it again. I reached into my crates and pulled one of my Uncle’s records out at random to revisit. Interestingly, the record I chose, THE RAMBLIN’ MAN by Waylon Jennings, belonged to my grandfather and was added to David’s collection upon his father’s death. I’m not a big country music fan, but I must admit, I do like some of the classic country recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Waylon Jennings is one of those outlaw country dudes whose name I recognize but of whom I know nothing. What little I have heard from Jennings comes from an EP he did in the 1990s (released in 2013) with the alt-country outfit Old 97’s. Apparently, however, THE RAMBLIN’ MAN is one of Jennings’s more commercially successful and mainstream records. Considering my grandfather bought it, the record must have been pretty popular at the time of its release in 1974. A few minutes of research online reveals that THE RAMBLIN’ MAN was the follow-up to Jennings 1973 classic HONKY TONK HEROES. It seems that in many ways, Waylon Jennings was a proto-modern country star, ushering in the current era of country by both being more mainstream and (seemingly) niche by operating as an “outlaw” country star.

THE RAMBLIN’ MAN opens with “I’m A Ramblin’ Man,” which, if I’m honest, it sounded to me like a Bud Lite version of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.” So I looked into it, and it turns out Cash’s song came out in 1996, well after this album came out. But it turns out “I’ve Been Everywhere” is an Australian song that came out in 1959 (featuring cities in Australia rather than US cities). Either way, “I’m A Ramblin’ Man” has a thumping bassline and probably sounds awesome while you’re cruising the backroads of America. But, it’s weird because the song is about how much traveling he does while also serves as a warning that you shouldn’t fall in love with him because, as the song states, he does so much rambling.

The second and third tracks I consider to be companion pieces. The second track, “Rainy Day Woman,” is about a woman who, to quote the lyrics, “she ain’t happy, ‘Til she finds something wrong and someone to blame, If it ain’t one thing it’s another one on the way.” Interestingly, however, he describes this woman as “a friend of mine.” Part of this song seems like it’s about a woman that only focuses on the negative things but, on the other hand, is a kind of safe port in the storm. This is not a great song. The third track, “Cloudy Days,” flips the script, and the song’s protagonist is trapped in a negative headspace where every day is a cloudy day (“Life’s just become cloudy days”) because his woman has presumably left him. Despite being a downer, the song’s glass-half-full optimism (“But you know they say if rain don’t come, Then love has no chance to grow”) won me over.

For the fourth track, Jennings chose to cover The Allman Brothers Band classic “Midnight Rider.” That track was only four years old when THE RAMBLIN’ MAN was released, which I think is important to consider. Today in 2021, there’s nothing risky or exciting about a country star covering a southern rock band like The Allman Brothers, but I suspect this was a bit surprising in 1974. The cover is…fine. The guitar work is obviously more stripped-down/less impressive. One strength that it has over the original, however, is Jennings whiskey-soaked vocals. Jennings’s voice is both traditionally masculine and robust, but there’s a tender gentleness about it as well. Listening to “Midnight Rider” makes me wish Jennings had done a whole album of this kind of covers (maybe he did?).

“Oklahoma Sunshine” is the best song on the album full-stop. Probably because I identify so much with the song’s protagonist who is trapped in a “God-forsaken city” but at night dreams an idealized version of his simpler life back home in Oklahoma. The song isn’t just about yearning for the country while being trapped in a city; it’s about missing an idealized version of the past and yourself. The song’s soaring chorus belies much of the melancholy, but it all still lands like a gut punch every time I listen to it. People often make the comparison that country is really just the blues for white people; for me, “Oklahoma Sunshine” proves this point.

Whereas “Oklahoma Sunshine” is a sad song done right, “The Hunger” is kinda the opposite. There’s good stuff in some of the lyrics (“Her beauty has been eaten by the hunger, And the acid winds of time”), but for the most part, I feel icky listening to it, which is probably the point. There’s probably a good song somewhere about a woman’s physical beauty fading as she continually fails to find (romantic?) fulfillment, but this track ain’t it. Likewise, “I Can’t Keep My Hands Off of You” is the kind of sad-sack country song that feels extremely cliche. Also, the lyrics are pretty creepy–he can’t keep his hands off his woman, AND she looks “just like a baby in a cradle.” That’s a big “eww” for me.

“Memories of You and I” pulls me back in with its mournful harmonica and confessional-style lyrics. Drink, money, and fame are no match for the painful memories of leaving this woman. There’s no bitterness in Jennings’s delivery or the lyrics, just achingly crushing sadness and regret. Simple and effective, “Memories of You and I” lays the blame where it belongs and is all the better for it. “It’ll Be Her” is also a simple yet very effective song about a woman who’s the absolute best. Both of these tracks showcase how much a performer makes a song. If I sang these (incredibly simple) songs, most people would feel very little, but he adds this whole layer of complexity with just his voice when Jennings tackles these songs.

THE RAMBLIN’ MAN closes with the song “Amanda.” The song is both a lament for his woman’s choice of a lover (“Fate should have made you a gentleman’s wife”) and a sober assessment of his life as a musician/getting older. It’s a good, sadly sweet song and the perfect way to close the album. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that my Uncle’s first daughter is named Amanda, and this probably made the song more emotional for me than it would be for most listeners.

Overall, I enjoyed THE RAMBLIN’ MAN. The instrumental and production side of things isn’t super interesting or varied, and the lyrics are primarily very simple, but Waylon Jennings sells the hell out of the songs. Even on the songs that I didn’t care for, the reason I didn’t care for them had nothing to do with Jennings and the authenticity he brings. And for me, “Oklahoma Sunshine” is an all-timer I can see myself revisiting again and again as time passes. Certain songs hit you harder and more emotional as you grow older, and time robs you of the things we all take for granted. So I can see myself sobbing like a baby while I listen to “Oklahoma Sunshine” in a nursing home one day.

An album can be a portal to another time and place. THE RAMBLIN’ MAN was listened to and enjoyed by my grandfather and my Uncle, and now me. It would have been cool to have heard this while they were still around so I could ask them what they thought about some of these songs. But since I can’t do that, let me do the next best thing: what did you think about THE RAMBLIN’ MAN? Am I crazy to think “Oklahoma Sunshine” is a stone-cold classic? Is “I Can’t Keep My Hands Off of You” as creepy as I claim, or am I being too hard on it?


I reached into my crates and pulled one of my uncle’s records out at random to revisit. Oddly enough, I pulled out Supertramp’s album EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS, which was recorded in Nederland, Colorado, a town that’s not far from my home. I really like the album artwork, a photograph of a snow-covered piano. According to my vigorous online research, the photo was taken at a ski lodge in Boulder County, again not far from my home. Even stranger, the album was released 44 years ago this month! I guess it’s kismet.

After admiring that album cover, I flipped the sleeve over and checked out the tracklisting. My heart kind of sank. The only track I recognized was the first one, “Give A Little Bit.” I guess I should talk a little bit about my relationship with Supertramp: I don’t really have one. Sure, I love all the singles I grew up hearing on classic rock radio, but I’ve never sat down and given one of the band’s albums a listen. My favorite Supertramp song is probably “Bloody Well Right” off of CRIME OF THE CENTURY. Looking into the band’s discography, it seems that 1979’s BREAKFAST IN AMERICA (the album they released right after EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS) is the band’s big album. I’ve heard over half of that album’s tracks on the radio over the years.

But I’m not here to talk about BREAKFAST IN AMERICA. I’m here to discuss EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS. The album opens as I said, with “Give A Little Bit.” Even though I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, I was surprised at how great those crisp opening guitar chords sound. This is a great way to open a record, though this song feels a decade older than it is. Rather than being a song from the year Star Wars came out, this feels like a 1960’s summer of love song. The core message of the song is very hippy-dippy and runs counter to the slightly snarkier tone of the majority of Supertramp’s songs I’ve heard over the years.

The second track, “Lover Boy,” is a piano ballad with some nice guitar tossed in for good measure. The whole track is drizzled with some syrupy strings that belie the song’s subject: the titular “lover boy.” Apparently this lover boy has read a book on seduction and uses deception to entrap women. I love the jaunty piano riff; it really grows on you and is a nice contrast to the song’s dark themes. A little over halfway through the runtime, the song has a fake out ending and when the song resumes, it’s much darker and more guitar-driven. Usually, I don’t care for tricks like that, but I thought it worked well here.

The third track, “Even in the Quietest Moments,” opens with chirping birds and a clarinet, which is strange but not unwelcome. Soon, however, the track devolves into a mystical-acoustic ballad that sounds like a parody of something off of LED ZEPPELIN III. The lyrics are addressed to God seem to be about the distance between God and man. It’s competent, but I still found myself feeling a little embarrassed to be listening to it. “Downstream” is another piano ballad, and here I should point out that EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS does not feature Supertramp’s trademark Wurlitzer electronic piano. The zany, high energy the Wurlitzer brings to many classic Supertramp singles (“Goodbye Stranger”) is entirely missing from this record. “Downstream” is a simple love song about…taking a boat ride on a Sunday? This straightforward song frankly feels like filler.

The next track,”Babaji”, reminds me very much of George Harrison’s solo track “My Sweet Lord.” The obvious reason is the references to Indian/Hindu spiritualism but also because both songs are about “being strangers” to God and yearning to be with a higher power. Apparently, yes, I had to look this up, “Babaji” is about Mahavatar Babaji, a religious figure Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson greatly admired. There’s probably a lot going on in this song that my ignorance on the subject matter obscures, but for the most part, I think this is a solid enough track. This was released as a b-side, and it feels like one.

EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS finishes up with two really strange tracks. The bizarre piano ballad “From Now On” and the lengthy prog track “Fool’s Overture.” The former has the strangest/laughable lyrics on the album:

“Sometimes I slowly drift away

From all the dull routine

That’s with me every day

A fantasy will come to me

Diamonds are what I really need

Think I’ll rob a store, escape the law

And live in Italy”

I like the lyrical hook and the saxophone paired with it, but this track is goofy. There’s a vocal choir that comes in near the end, too, that is like crazy icing on a batshit cat. “From Now On” is so ballsy that by the end, it convinces me that it’s not insane but actually rather awesome. Well played, Supertramp. “Fool’s Overture” clocks in at 10 minutes and 53 seconds–which, can I say: what the heck, Supertramp? Why not find an extra seven seconds and push this thing to eleven minutes? “Fool’s Overture” is a mishmash of songs/song ideas that also features sound clips of Winston Churchill. According to Wikipedia, it took five years to write, which checks out as this thing is sprawling and probably blows you away when you’re high…but honestly, it felt a bit too generic for me. Yes, a song featuring weird woodwinds, Winston Churchill, and William Blake is generic. Whenever I hear stuff like this, I think about how intricate and challenging it was to create and how eager I am for it to be over. Prog is not my favorite genre by any stretch, so maybe I’m biased, but compared to some of the prog I’ve liked over the years (Gabriel era-Genesis), this doesn’t stack up as anything other than a couple of long songs stitched together.

Overall, EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS reveals a more subdued version of Supertramp I was unfamiliar with. Clearly, the band’s non-singles output is worth checking out, though I get the impression from this album that it’s a bit spottier than I might have thought. Still, half of the songs work for me, and other than “Fool’s Overture,” even the misses on the record were interesting.