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WAYLON JENNINGS COMES CLEAN: HE’S REALLY ELVIS IN DISGUISE

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It wasn't as sad as the 21 years spent on drugs, but it was a definite low point when Waylon Jennings said he would record no more.

The outlaw had his ups and downs, but it had been a long time since this kind of resignation."What I had done was I let somebody run me off," the 57-year-old Jennings said, "and I ain't done that since 1952."

A few years ago, Epic Records, Jennings' label at the time, told him country music radio wouldn't play his records anymore. Jennings, they said, was too old.

The pressure to write gone, he immediately sat down and wrote some 40 songs. "I couldn't believe it," Jennings said.

RCA, the company that released his records from 1965-1985, was interested, so Jennings decided to record again. The result is his new LP, "Waymore's Blues (Part II)."

The new songs were musings on growing older, women and the price of freedom. They were strong statements, but Jennings' last album for Epic, "Too Dumb for New York City, Too Ugly for L.A.," also had featured solid material but failed commercially.

For an artistic and commercial shot in the arm, hit producer Don Was was recruited. It worked out so well that Was is set to record The Highwayman (Jennings, Nelson, Kristofferson and Johnny Cash) in November.

"Don Was and I had been trying to work together for seven years," Jennings said. "That's where he met Willie and everybody."

Was and Jennings agreed to attack the recording "like an impressionist," resulting in ambient dreamscapes behind Jennings' rough-edged narratives. Jennings instructed the musicians to forget everything they've ever heard him do.

A T-shirt inspired the funniest song, "Nobody Knows," in which Jennings admits that behind his beard and hat he is the fugitive Elvis Presley.

From "Nobody Knows":

"Bet you thought I was ol' Waylon,

With all of my rugged good looks.

Swagger and walk, body and soul,

I bet he had what it took.

I've always envied his singing, The way he played a guitar.

Black vest and hat, that's where it's at, That's what I call a star.

Nobody knows I'm Elvis,

Nobody knows this is me,

After all of my tries, I've got the perfect disguise,

And I'm who I want to be."

"Right after I wrote it, (author and songwriter) Shel Silverstein was in town telling me about this guy about 5-foot-2 and bald-headed that went over to this girl's house and told her that he was Elvis in disguise and she went for it for about two months," Jennings said with a chortle. "And he lived in her basement. Yeah, she was hiding him out."

Other songs on the album, such as "Endangered Species" and "Wild Ones," are ruminations on the joys and costs of independence. Jennings has been a master of this type of song since he first sang about being a "Nashville Bum" in the 1960s.

"I never felt I was mainstream," Jenning said - this from a man with 13 gold albums, including a greatest hits collection that went quadruple platinum.

"The only thing that made me mainstream was they were making money off me," he said.

Today, although artists such as Jennings and Nelson are respected, they face much the same hurdles as they jumped in the 1970s.

"They (the Nashville establishment) have four or five producers, and they use the same musicians, and there's a few writers - and they pretty well have a lock on it," Jennings said.

This time around, he's facing the obstacles sober, after spending the better part of two decades as a drug addict. He worries that younger artists may romanticize and emulate that part of his life, as he once justified some of his own excesses as following the example of Hank Williams Sr.

Singer-songwriter Steve Earle recently went to jail for possession of heroin.

"I know that I influenced him," Jennings said. "I just hope that wasn't the part that influenced him. You kind of look at that and you know that he saw you that way and you wonder and it makes you feel bad about it."