Music

Look Back at Outlaw Country’s Roaring ’70s

A new exhibit at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame celebrates country music’s original cowboys

In the mid-1970s, Music Row bigwigs dubbed them outlaws—Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Billy Joe Shaver, Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Bobby Bare. “But they didn’t want to be called anything—they just wanted the freedom to be artists,” says Michael Gray, the cocurator of the Country Music Hall of Fame’s new exhibit, Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s (through February 14, 2021). “For a long time, music was made from the top down. Record executives decided everything.” The Nashville Sound—a slick pop-country hybrid forged in the fifties and sixties in response to rock and roll—sold records, but Jennings and crew hungered for the ability to write, record, and produce their own songs.

Word was that musicians could find creative license in Austin, Texas, where strands of country, bluegrass, folk, blues, rock, and conjunto melded. “The exhibit shows the complicated but surprising relationship between the two music cities,” Gray says.

Catch a sneak peek of the exhibit by clicking through the following slideshow. For more on Outlaws & Armadillos, visit the Country Music Hall of Fame’s website.

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Cowboy Jack Clement acquired this 1952 Gibson SJ-200 when he was in the Marine Corps, and played it on recordings including Johnny Cash’s “Big River” and “Ring of Fire.” He also used it to write classics, such as Cash’s 1958 song “Guess Things Happen That Way,” and Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton’s 1969 hit “Just Someone I Used to Know.”

photo: Bob Delevante, courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Utility shirt worn by Army Captain and Airborne Ranger Kris Kristofferson, who resigned his commission in 1965 and moved to Nashville to pursue professional songwriting.

photo: Bob Delevante, courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Left to right: Shel Silverstein, Bob Beckham, Kris Kristofferson, and Chris Gantry, c. 1970.

photo: credit tk

Exit/In flyer, 1973.

photo: Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Nashville’s Lower Broadway, circa 1975.

photo: Leonard Kamsler, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Kyle Lehning—a producer who worked with Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Randy Travis, and many more artists—helms the control board at a Glaser Studios session in November 1975 in Nashville.

photo: Leonard Kamsler, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Willie Nelson gave Bobby Bare this hat—embellished with a mink skull, gemstone, feathers, and snake skin—in the early 1970s.

photo: Bob Delevante, courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Bobby Bare, 1976.

photo: Leonard Kamsler, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Nashville radio personality Roger “Captain Midnight” Schutt at Hillbilly Central, 1976.

photo: Leonard Kamsler, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Waylon Jennings and Jessi Coulter backstage at the Circle Theater in San Jose, California, in May, 1976.

photo: Leonard Kamsler, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Leather-bound folio containing handwritten lyrics and notes by Waylon Jennings.

photo: Bob Delevante, courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Tompall Glaser, 1976.

photo: Leonard Kamsler, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic, 1978.

photo: Leonard Kamsler, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Jessi Colter at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic, 1978.

photo: Leonard Kamsler, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Audience at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic, 1978.

photo: Leonard Kamsler, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Kris Kristofferson at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic, 1978.

photo: Leonard Kamsler, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Willie Nelson, 1978.

photo: Leonard Kamsler, courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

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