(b Littlefield, TX, 15 June 1937). American country singer-songwriter. Both his parents played the guitar in Texas dance halls. At the age of 12 he took a job as a disc jockey on local radio, moving in 1955 to a station in Lubbock where Buddy Holly appeared on his show. Jennings then became the bass guitarist in Holly’s band, the Crickets, but returned to Lubbock following Holly’s death in 1959. Although his first single (Jole Blon, Bruns., 1958) had been produced by Holly, it was not until the mid-1960s that he began to record in earnest. By then settled in Nashville, he worked with producer Chet Atkins to develop a folk-country style. Along with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, Jennings played the role of a Nashville rebel both professionally and personally. This reputation was further enhanced when he recorded songs for the soundtrack of the film, Ned Kelly, which helped him cross over into rock and pop. His subsequent album, Singer of Sad Songs (1971) reflected a tougher, more defiant image, as did Honky Tonk Heroes (1973).
His 1975 album, Wanted: the Outlaws, broke into the pop charts and was the first of several collaborations with Willie Nelson that greatly raised the profiles of both singers. Jennings has also recorded with a number of other prominent country and crossover artists, and, for the concept album Highwaymen (Col., 1985), he worked with Nelson, Cash and Kristofferson, whose songwriting talents he had long championed. Individual, uncompromising and proud of his working-class, hillbilly roots, Jennings experimented to create a new and distinctive strand of country music: the terms ‘new Nashville’, ‘progressive country’ and ‘outlaw music’ have all been used of his work.