The Highwaymen were an outlaw country supergroup. The group was comprised of the biggest names in the genre: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings. Over their time in the group, they recorded three albums, a series of Louis L’Amour books on tape, and one film. Their most well-known work, though, is probably the song “Highwayman.”
On this day in 1984, the group stepped into the studio to make country music history.
A Brief History of The Highwaymen
The origins of the group may be surprising to some. It all started when Johnny Cash convinced Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson to come to Montreux, Switzerland. They were to join Cash to record his Christmas special. After spending all day recording, the guys would hang out in the hotel, play their guitars, and sing.
It didn’t take the old friends long to decide that they should put together a group and record some songs. That’s what made the group so good. No marketing guy came to them to tell them it was a good business decision. It wasn’t about leveraging their collective star power to sell millions of units. The Highwaymen were friends who enjoyed playing together. That was the glue that kept them together through the years. Their friendship and mutual respect held them together through the years and disagreements.
Waylon, Willie, Johnny, and Kris were like brothers. They bickered every now and then about little things, but when the time came to get on stage or step into the studio, they put it all aside and got the job done.
They released their first album, “Highwayman,” in May of 1985. The title track would sit at number one for twenty weeks.
Singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb originally wrote and recorded the songs in 1977. The nest year, Glen Campbell released a version of the song. It would be the title track to his 1979 album.
The song’s lyrics tell the story of a soul being reincarnated into several different eras. It starts as a highwayman, robbing and killing his way across the old west. Next, it is a sailor who died at sea. Then, the soul moved on to be a construction worker on the Hoover Dam who dies on the job. Finally, it is the captain of a spaceship, traveling the galaxy.
It’s a good story and to hear it told by experts like The Highwaymen takes it to a new level.
The video for the song is also pretty cool while still being very much a product of the time. Do yourself a favor and give it a watch.