1985 Original Country 'Supergroup' Takes The Highway To The Top Of The Charts

"Highwayman" appears at the top of the Billboard chart, teaming Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, collectively 'The Highwaymen'.

Written by Jimmy Webb, the song follows a soul with incarnations in four different places in time and history: a highwayman, a sailor, a construction worker on the Hoover Dam, and finally as a starship captain. Webb's lyrics allude to the hanged highwayman Jonathan Wild, the "sailer's graveyard" near Cape Horn and the deaths of over 100 men during the Hoover Dam construction near Boulder City.

Webb originally brought the song to Glen Campbell, who recorded it in 1978. But Campbell's record label, Capitol Records, wanted him to go in a different direction, while Campbell wanted to release the song as a single. After recording 30 albums for the only record label he had worked with since 1962, Campbell got up and left the main studios of Capitol, never to return. After disagreeing with the label, he released the song on his 1979 album Highwayman.

Campbell then played the song for Johnny Cash. Webb took the song to Waylon Jennings in 1981, but Jennings, having heard the Campbell version, said "I just couldn't see it then." In 1984, Cash, Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson were recording a project and Marty Stuart again played the song for Cash, saying that it would be perfect for them; four verses, four souls, and four of them. Campbell then played the song to all four, and the quartet had the name for their new supergroup, The Highwaymen, the name of their first album, Highwayman, and the name of their first single.

The group thought it was a perfect name, because they were always on the road and all had the image of being outlaws in country music. In their version of the song, each of the four verses was sung by a different singer: first Nelson, then Kristofferson, Jennings, and finally Cash. Their version of the Webb song remains the most popular and widely known of The Highwaymen's songs, being their only number 1.

"The Highwayman" finished 1985 as the number 5 country song of the year in terms of airplay. It earned songwriter Webb a Grammy Award for 1985's "Best Country Song".

  • 1989

    Ricky Van Shelton, Rodney Crowell and Hank Williams Jr. are the top vote-getters, winning four nominations apiece in balloting for the Country Music Association awards.

    Van Shelton would take home the award for Male Vocalist of the Year while Williams would take home trophies for Vocal Event and Music Video of the Year for his technologically enhanced duet with Hank Sr, "There's a Tear in My Beer"

    photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images Entertainment
  • Birthdays

    Singer/songwriter Kevin Welch is 59