The Highwaymen celebrated some big news 35 years ago today. The super group’s first album was certified gold, meaning their initial exceeded more than 500,000 sold.
You remember the group of country music superstars, don’t you? The lineup was Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Thirty-five years later, Nelson is the only one of the group who is still performing. Kristofferson retired in January. Cash died in 2003, while Jennings passed away the year before.
The group performed together for a decade, between 1985 and 1995. During that span, the group recorded three albums, including their debut, which was simply called “The Highwaymen.” They released the collection of 10 songs in May 1985.
Their first album was all covers. Tejano artist Johnny Rodriguez also contributed to the first album. He sang Deportee, a cover of a Woody Guthrie song.
Their first album spawned one No. 1 song, “Highwayman.” It’s a song about reincarnation. Jimmy Webb wrote the recorded the song. Glen Campbell included it in one of his albums. Another single, the Guy Clark cover “Desperados Waiting For a Train,” made it to 15.
A year after their first album, the four starred in a TV remake of “Stagecoach.” The original movie came out in 1939 and starred John Wayne. Kristofferson, who dabbled in acting, played Wayne’s character, Ringo Kid. In the 1970s, Kristofferson starred alongside Barbra Streisand in a remake of the Star Is Born.
Friendship Got The Highwaymen Together
John Carter Cash, Johnny Cash’s only son, was in his 20s when the supergroup formed. He talked about how all four were long-time friends before they formed the supergroup.
“Yes, they are the country supergroup, but it was founded by friendship,” John Carter Cash told Rolling Stone. “And it’s the honesty and the purity of that friendship that made the Highwaymen stand out. Individually, these gentlemen had their own style, their own thoughts, their own feelings, their own emotion. But they came together as friends, and that’s the unifying power of the Highwaymen.”
It was Johnny Cash’s idea to start the group. The other three came to Montreux, Switzerland in 1984 to film Johnny Cash’s Christmas special. They enjoyed themselves so much in Switzerland they decided to get together again back home.
And it truly all started because of friendship, as opposed to an artificial coming together at the request of a corporate executive. Rosanne Cash, John Carter’s older, half-sister, talked about how close the four were.
“My dad and Waylon were roommates in the Sixties, hiding their drugs from each other,” Roseanne Cash told Rollingstone. “Kris is like his little brother for decades. . . They were all buddies and they wanted to do it.”
Glen Campbell and Marty Stuart also were part of some early playing sessions.
PBS eventually did a special on the group, using behind-the-scenes footage. It’s called The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End.
Enjoy the No. 1 song from the very first album. Reincarnation is its theme. Now, that’s a fun country song.