It’s been 44 years since the Outlaws were wanted in such high demand. The Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings album “Wanted! The Outlaws” became country music’s first platinum album over four decades ago.
Released in 1976, the album capitalized on the growing “outlaw country” movement. The compilation album featured some of the biggest hits of the movement’s leaders. Both Tompall Glaser and Jessi Colter joined the music of Nelson and Jennings on the album.
The album’s cover featured the four musicians as outlaws in a literal sense. Their likeness appeared on a wanted poster, modeled after the gunslingers of the Wild West.
“The cover was pure Old West, Dodge City, and Tombstone,” Jennings wrote. “Now, we weren’t just playing bad guys; we took our stand outside the country music rules, its set ways, locking the door on its own jail cell. We looked like tramps”. It was this ethos, that would ultimately unite the album, and launch it into country music lore.”
The Album Combined the Music of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson
RCA Records created the compilation as a reaction to Nelson and outlaw country. Originally, Nelson recorded with RCA. But he left the record label when they wouldn’t let him produce the music he wanted. Slowly, Nelson gained control of the kind of music he wanted to create when he signed at Columbia Records. There he released the genre-redefining album “Red Headed Stranger.”
To avoid losing another star musician, RCA allowed Jennings to have complete control of his music. His album “Honky Tonk Heroes” continued the increased popularity of outlaw country. Hoping to capitalize on the movement, RCA commissioned a compilation album. They combined some of Nelson’s back catalog, which they had rights to, with Jennings’ music.
“Waylon was selling, if we were lucky, two hundred and fifty thousand albums,” RCA producer Jerry Bradley said. “Willie comes out with ‘Red Headed Stranger’ and that took off and sold a million records. Jessi Colter put out, ‘I’m Not Lisa’ on Capitol. That d–n thing sold half a million, or a million, set our butt on fire. We’re sitting over there, trying to sell two hundred and fifty thousand records, and we’re still struggling.”
Jennings titled the album “Wanted! The Outlaws.” He also recruited Glaser and Colter to produce songs for the album. Upon release, the album smashed records and topped the charts.