On This Day: Waylon Jennings Releases ‘Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)’ in 1977

by Suzanne Halliburton

Drift back to this blissful April day 44 years ago. The bluebonnets were in full glory in the Texas Hill Country. And Waylon Jennings gave the state and music lovers everywhere the most perfect song.

Now, think of Jennings, slowly rolling out the song Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) with a stripped down intro. And listen long enough to hear Willie Nelson join Jennings for the last verses of this classic song Texas shares with the rest of the world.

Why Would Waylon Jennings Sing About Tiny Luckenbach?

So, first question. Where in the world is Luckenbach, Texas? Why would anyone want to live in this spot? Back in 1848, the Texas Legislature formed Gillespie County. They took land from Travis County, home of Austin, and some acreage from Bexar County, with San Antonio, and merged it all. Luckenbach became an unincorporated town, although it’s never been more than a dot on a map with a dance hall and general store. However, the mythology of the town is another story. Jerry Jeff Walker elevated it when he recorded his album Viva Terlingua at the dance hall four years before Waylon Jennings released his ode to the city.

Waylon Jennings, in the song, yearns to go back to the basics of life. He wants what a country star wants — guitars that tune and the company of nice-looking women. If he gets all this in his life, he’s content with not seeing his name in lights anymore. Because keeping up with the Jones is stressing him out. The words are timeless. Raise your hand if you’d rather chunk it all and move to the country so you can drink a tall boy in the sunshine.

The song was released on April 11, 1977. And within a few weeks, Waylon Jennings could boast of his first cross-over hit. It also zoomed No. 1 on the country charts in May, staying there for five weeks.

And y’all, with this song, the Outlaw Country genre became very real. Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons co-wrote this classic. They proposed it to Jennings because Jennings name was in the lyrics. So why not sing it? And here’s what’s so strange. The song writers had never been to Luckenbach. Neither had Jennings. But Jennings also knew the feel and taste of small Texas towns. After all, he was born in Littlefield, a town of 6,000 that was half a state away west of Luckenbach.

Jennings never visited Luckenbach before he recorded the song. Still, the song oozed authenticity. We didn’t much care that Jennings never took a spin around the Luckenbach dance hall. It sounded like he had.

 “It’s a bit of a fantasy, ‘back to the basics,’” said Richie Albright, who was Waylon Jennings long-time drummer who recently passed. “Everybody has those thoughts at times.”

Albright said Jennings didn’t much like the song, although it became his signature and an anthem across Texas bars and honky tonks. It wasn’t a perfect night on the town unless you heard Waylon Jennings sing Luckenbach.

Albright recalled a conversation he had with Jennings. And he relayed it to Rolling Stone.

“He said, ‘Just remind me when I’m picking singles from now on that I got to sing that motherf–r every night,’” Albright said.

Waylon Jennings died in 2002. By then, he’d been to Luckenbach all of one time. And that was for one of Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July picnics. Nelson doesn’t live too far from Luckenbach, so he knew about what he sang. We’re all glad they gave us this gift of a song that goes down so well on a perfect spring Sunday.

Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings perform on stage together, New York, April 1978. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)