Tommy Townsend grew up on the music of Waylon Jennings, literally. The Georgia native was inspired by Jennings since he was a child, never imagining how involved the country music icon would become in his own career in the future.
"My parents were big fans of Waylon then, and he lived down in Blairsville, Georgia in the mountains," Townsend told PopCulture.com. "So any time he would come around to Atlanta or somewhere, Chattanooga, we'd always go see him. Hells Angels used to do security for him."
Jennings found out he had a young fan at the show and invited Townsend to meet him, kicking off a series of events that even Townsend could have never predicted.
"That's how it all began," Townsend recalled. "They took me back there, and I got on the bus and hung out with Waylon a little while. So after that we just kind of got to know the band and the crew every time they were around, and then I guess at one point I just made this little recording or whatever and I gave it to Jerry Bridges, his bass player."
Jennings was such a fan of the music Townsend was creating that he agreed to produce his first record, Southern Man, although at the time, Townsend was too focused on the music to fully grasp what an honor it was to have Jennings helm the project.
"I guess I was too young to realize it," Townsend conceded. "And actually when I realized it was back maybe 10 years ago or something. Billy Ray Cyrus and I were in a conversation and he was talking about Waylon and he said, Man that must have been so cool to get to hang around with Waylon.' And I'm like, 'Yeah.' This was after Waylon had passed so I was like, 'Yeah it was.' And then after that's when that really hit me, I guess."
Jennings passed away in 2002, but his influence still impacts Townsend. The singer performs Jennings' songs all over the country, with the band, Waymore's Outlaws, paying tribute to the man who shaped several decades of country music, and collaborates with Jennings' son, Shooter Jennings.
"[Waymore's Outlaws] got together in 2008 and wanted to start touring again," Townsend recounted. "So we kind of did first just like local stuff in Nashville and then just kind of got little bit bigger and bigger and bigger and we got to playing more and more.
"[In] 2013 we did some stuff with Shooter," he continued. "And that lasted like four years, five years. We would open for Shooter and then we were Shooter's band. So the cool thing about that is I was a player too, and singing. I enjoy playing so I got to through out the show and do that opening for Shooter and then I got to be Shooter's guitar player, and sing harmony with him on his show. And so I got the best of both worlds there for four or five years."
Townsend just released a new album, Turn Back the Clock, produced by Shooter. The album includes the song, "Drinkin'," written by Holly Williams, daughter of Hank Williams, Jr. and "The Eye," written by recent Grammy Awards winner, Brandi Carlile.
"[Shooter would] give me songs here and there and then every night after the show we'd end up in his room or my room or somebody's room and we'd just sit and listen to music for a couple hours," Townsend shared.
Townsend believes that Jennings' influence still lives on, especially with the outlaw music that continues to, once again, gain new fans.
"I think with XM Radio and the internet and everything, young people are discovering this stuff," Townsend said. "Shooters' and Waymore's Outlaws shows, there'd be people there from 20 years old to 75 years old. It was a wide range. It was a wide range of people. I think the 20-something year old people are discovering that probably from their parents or grandparents, or something. So yeah, I think it is making a comeback."
Townsend isn't just busy his music. He also launched his own Grandaddy Mimm's moonshine, using the same recipe his grandfather used. Find more information, and purchase Turn Back the Clock at Townsend's website.
Photo Credit: Jeremiah Scott