Flashback: Waylon Jennings Sings John Lennon’s ‘Norwegian Wood’

By 1966, two years after Beatlemania and the British Invasion first swept America, the musical quartet whose name was a play on Buddy Holly’s Crickets were experimenting with new sounds and mind-altering substances, both of which would be especially reflected in their now-classic LPs Rubber Soul and Revolver. John Lennon, in particular, would take inspiration from Bob Dylan, then charting his own course from traditional folksinger to spokesperson for a generation.

Lennon, who was born 79 years ago today in Liverpool, and his fellow Beatles would influence musicians in virtually every genre, with country-pop artists including Glen Campbell and Brenda Lee among the first to cover songs by the Fab Four. In late 1966, Waylon Jennings recorded his take on the Lennon composition “Norwegian Wood,” a track from the recently released Rubber Soul that would find its way onto the soundtrack of Jennings’ film debut, Nashville Rebel. Produced, as his previous two RCA albums had been, by Chet Atkins, it was the producer’s idea for Jennings to tackle a Beatles tune.

Jennings was, in fact, still living and playing in Phoenix when he first began work on his version of “Norwegian Wood,” and it was during those sessions that he met singer-songwriter Jessi Colter, who would soon become his wife. Still married at the time to guitar legend Duane Eddy, Colter recalled, in her 2017 autobiography An Outlaw and a Lady, that Waylon’s version of the song was “haunting,” adding, “You would have thought that John Lennon and Paul McCartney had custom-written the song to be sung by a wanderlust character like Waylon. I was mesmerized.” Two albums — but less than a year — later, on Jennings’ Love of the Common People, he would cover another Lennon tune, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” which would later be performed by the outlaw trio of Chris Stapleton, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson at a tribute to Lennon in 2015.

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Jennings and Lennon would cross paths at the Grammy Awards in early 1975, an occasion that was followed by a mostly typewritten letter — with a handwritten correction of the typed salutation, “Dear Wayland” — expressing Lennon’s pleasure at meeting the country star and referring to an unknown number of songs also presumably sent with the letter. Lennon specifically mentions his 1973 Mind Games track “Tight A$,” saying it’s “the HIT,” but that he had never released it as a single. The original letter from the Beatle to the outlaw, a copy of which appears in Jennings’ autobiography, sold at auction for $7,500 in 2014.

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