Beyond her marriage to country star Waylon Jennings, for which she is probably best known, Jessi Colter has enjoyed a successful career as a country musician. The singer-songwriter has released 13 albums, including 2017’s The Psalms.
Colter shot to fame in 1975 with her country-pop crossover hit single “I’m Not Lisa.” She also appeared on the compilation Wanted: The Outlaws, which was certified Platinum.
And today, Colter turns 78 years old. So here’s to Outlaw Country’s leading lady on her special day.
Jessi Colter Got Her Musical Start Before Meeting Jennings
Colter grew up in the Pentecostal church, and she served as the pianist for her local congregation from the time she was 11 years old, according to CMT. Then, in 1961, guitarist Duane Eddy produced her first single. The two got married a year later.
Colter and Eddy divorced in 1968. In 1969, she met Jennings. The couple married later that same year.
“I’m very happily married, to Jessi,” Jennings told Rolling Stone in 1973. “When I met Jessi, I was pretty well at my lowest point. I weighed 138 pounds and I was bent on self-destruction. Wallerin’ in self-pity was the biggest part of it, stayin’ depressed all the time and stoned. Jess was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
After she got together with Jennings, Colter changed her stage name to Jessi Colter, after her great-grandfather Jesse Colter, per Wide Open Country. Jennings then helped Colter get a record deal with RCA, and she released her first album, A Country Star Is Born.
Colter and Jennings Become Outlaw Country’s Sweethearts
Colter and Jennings were the undisputed sweethearts of the Outlaw Country movement. “Suspicious Minds,” their signature duet, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1970. And in 1979, they had a son together, Shooter Jennings.
But Jennings wrestled with alcoholism and addiction, and it wasn’t until 1984 that he got sober. He credited Colter and Shooter with motivating him to clean up.
Meanwhile, Colter had been releasing songs she’d written, like “What’s Happened to Blue Eyes,” which hit No. 5 on country charts, and “It’s Morning (And I Still Love You),” which made it to No. 11. She released her last single to make the charts, “Holdin’ On,” in 1982.
But Colter went on to release many albums after that, from 1985’s Rock and Roll Lullaby to 2006’s Out of the Ashes. And her memoir, An Outlaw and a Lady, came out in 2017. It recounts her journey before meeting Jennings and her travels with him until his death, including the Thanksgiving in 2001 when Jennings reportedly discovered his faith. The country legend would pass on months later. Yet Colter still honors his memory, and the Outlaw Country movement they helped build.