Country Throwback: Waylon Jennings Nails ‘I’m a Ramblin’ Man’ Live in 1975

by Matthew Wilson
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Waylon Jennings was a rambling man with this 1974 hit. The country artist sang of a man who certainly got around, traveling from place to place. Upon release, Jennings had his second No. 1 hit.

In this country throwback, Jennings entertained audiences with a rendition of the tune. And “I’m a Ramblin’ Man” is definitely its best when performed live. Viewers can watch Jennings’ energetic performance up on stage. The performer certainly looked like he was having a good time. And that sort of atmosphere is infectious.

The country singer described the tune as his “bubblegum” song. And it’s easy to see why. Jennings had the opportunity to cut loose. The tune was a bit more uptempo and revving than some of his other Outlaw Country hits. It existed more in the venue of Southern rock, populated by bands like the Marshall Tucker Band.

Behind the Waylon Jennings’ Song

Songwriter Ray Pennington said he modeled the song after R&B icon Jimmy Reed. Initially, the tune was meant to be a vehicle for his own career in the 1960s. But it didn’t take off in the same way. Written in the 1950s, Pennington penned the song for a band he was writing for. But in 1967, he recorded the song itself, getting rid of the blues sound. His recording placed No. 29 on the charts.

“When there wasn’t sufficient stuff on the radio, I’d just write one,” Pennington notes. “For ‘I’m A Ramblin’ Man,’ I tried to put in a few big cities and some areas of the country that I especially liked. I was enamored with West Virginia, and I was living in Cincinnati, and I knew Chicago was a swinging place, so I got all of them in there.”

Jennings and Pennington knew of each other. While at the studio, Jennings agreed to record Pennington’s “Ramblin Man” if he could also put a spin on “Oklahoma Sunshine.

“I loved Ray’s record of it,” Jennings once said. “And when we got into the studio, he had another song I wanted, ‘Oklahoma Sunshine.’ That was the one I really wanted, and I said ‘Ray, if you’ll let me do ‘Oklahoma Sunshine,’ I’ll record ‘I’m A Ramblin’ Man’ too, and let you produce ‘em.’”

On Feb. 8, 1974, Jennings recorded both songs at the Nashville Sound studio. It took until September that year for the tune to reach No. 1 on the charts.

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