‘Precious Memories’ – How Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris & Alan Jackson Each Made the Hymn Memorable

by Jim Casey

“Precious Memories” has been a gospel standard for almost 100 years. Penned by John Braselton Fillmore Wright, the hymn was born out of tragedy after Fillmore’s five-year-old son passed away in 1922.

“I write by inspiration, only when the mood comes on the words and melody flow from my soul like the water from a babbling brook; without this inspiration I could not write,” said JBF Wright, according to Hymnary. “‘Precious Memories’ was born in the midnight hours as I bathed by pillow with tears, likewise all my songs came through life’s severest tests.”

Over the years, “Precious Memories” has been recorded by a who’s who of A-listers, including George Jones, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, and more.

Let’s take a look at three memorable versions of “Precious Memories” by Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, and Alan Jackson.

Waylon Jennings

Waylon Jennings recorded “Precious Memories” on his 1976 album, Are You Ready for the Country. Jennings chose to close his 10-song offering with the hymn. The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and produced two Top 10 hits, “Can’t You See” (No. 4) and “Are You Ready for the Country” (No. 7). However, “Precious Memories” was the only gospel standard on an otherwise rockin’ album.

Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris recorded “Precious Memories” on her 1987 gospel album, Angel Band. The 12-song acoustic set featured a star-studded group of musicians, including Vince Gill (guitar/mandolin), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Mark O’Connor (fiddle) and more. Vince Gill (tenor) and Carl Jackson (baritone) also provided harmony vocals on the track.

Alan Jackson

Alan Jackson titled his 2006 gospel album, Precious Memories. However, the remarkable 15-song offering didn’t include the title track. Have no fear, Alan dropped the album’s follow-up, Precious Memories: Volume II, in 2013. This time, Alan included a stirring rendition of the title track. In deciding which songs to include on Precious Memories: Volume II, Alan said he and wife Denise sorted through an old Baptist hymnal.

“We went through it just like last time when we did that first album,” said Alan Jackson to Country Weekly in 2013. “We had so many [songs] on that first list that we had to leave out, some of those ended up on here. And we just sat down and went through it, made a list. And then really had a hard time narrowing it down again from that. We just had so many songs, but we just went through and figured out which ones that would work together.”

Alan recorded a video for “Precious Memories” at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.