Waylon Jennings Scores Biggest Hit of His Career With ‘Luckenbach, Texas’ 45 Years Ago

by Jim Casey

Waylon Jennings scored the biggest hit of his career when “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on May 21, 1977. The song remained at No. 1 for six weeks, the longest reign of any song from Waylon’s catalog.

Of course, Waylon Jennings—along with Willie Nelson—spearheaded the 1970s “Outlaw” movement with classics like “I’m a Ramblin’ Man,” “Amanda,” “Luckenbach, Texas,” and more.

In 1977, Hoss released his most successful solo studio album, Ol’ Waylon, which has been certified Platinum by the RIAA for sales of 1 million units. The album’s lead single, “Luckenbach, Texas,” helped Ol’ Waylon reach No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. The album stayed at No. 1 for 13 weeks.

Waylon, Willie, and the Boys

Penned by Chips Moman and Buddy Emmons, “Luckenback, Texas” actually name-drops Waylon and Willie Neslon, among others, in the chorus. “Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas / With Waylon and Willie and the boys.” Moman, who was also a successful producer, knew the song was perfect for Waylon but felt the maverick may not record it because it mentioned him by name.

But the pitch had Waylon intrigued when he heard it. “The best way to plug a song to me,” Waylon explained in 1991’s The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits by Tom Roland, “is to say, ‘Here’s a song that you can’t do, but I’d like for you to hear anyway.’ I’m a fool for that.”

Waylon recorded “Luckenbach, Texas” in Nashville with some last-minute help from Willie Nelson, who added a vocal to the final verse. The single debuted on the charts on April 16, 1977. On May 21, it went No. 1 for the first of six weeks. The tune also crossed over to the all-genre chart, where it peaked at No. 25.

Let’s Go to Luckenbach

Not surprisingly, the song had a booming impact on the city of Luckenbach. Curious fans flocked to the tiny Texas hamlet to steal road signs for souvenirs. “The funny thing is,” noted Waylon in 1991, “is that Chips and Bobby had never been to Luckenbach, Texas, and neither have I.”

Waylon eventually did make it to Luckenbach, performing there at a Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic in 1996.

While “Luckenbach, Texas” was the album’s only radio single, Ol’ Waylon featured a number of intriguing tunes, including “Lucille” (which became Kenny Rogers‘ first major hit as a solo artist in 1977), a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and a “Medley” of Elvis Presley tunes (“That’s All Right Mama” and “My Baby Left Me”).

Enjoy our Waylon Jennings Playlist below, featuring “Luckenbach, Texas,” “Lucile,” and more.