Jessi Colter is more popularly known to many as the country legend and outlaw pioneer Waylon Jennings’ wife and vocal duo. Their collaborations have been largely successful, and they were dubbed as the outlaw movement’s “it” couple. But of course, Jessi Colter is more than just an associated name to a great country music singer. In fact, Jessi Colter – just like Jennings – is a highly-respected and successful singer in the genre. She was one of the very few female artists who emerged from the ‘70s outlaw movement with a breakthrough country music career.
And so, let’s get to know Jessi Colter better with these 10 facts that you probably didn’t know about her.
1. Jessi Colter is not her real name.
Jessi Colter was born Mirriam Joan Johnson on May 25, 1943, in Phoenix, Arizona. She was raised in a strict Pentecostal home with her mom as a preacher and her father as a racecar driver. And by the age of 11, she was already playing the piano at church. It was in 1961, after she graduated from Mesa High School, that she started singing in local clubs in Phoenix. At the time, she was still using her birth name as her artist name. It was years later that she changed her stage name and billed herself as Jessi Colter.
2. She married right after high school.
Jessi Colter, or at this time still known as Mirriam Johnson, met her first husband, Duanne Eddy, in 1961. Eddy is an American instrumental rock guitarist, and he held a string of hit records back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. They were married in Las Vegas and settled as a couple in Los Angeles. During this time, Colter used her married name Mirriam Eddy when she pursued a career in songwriting. They also had a daughter named Jennifer.
3. Her songs were recorded by big names in the music industry.
During her early songwriter days, her songs were recorded by the likes of Don Gibson, who wrote the country standards “Sweet Dreams” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” Nancy Sinatra, who is Frank Sinatra’s eldest daughter, and Dottie West who is considered one of the most influential and groundbreaking female country artists.
4. As Mirriam Johnson, Colter released two singles.
She released her first work as a singer and an artist using her real name. She released two singles under the Jamie Label, with her first song entitled “Lonesome Road.” It received scattered airplay in several US markets but didn’t manage to make it into any national charts. The second single failed worse and didn’t even get regional airplay.
5. Jessi Colter didn’t record for nearly a decade after her two failed releases.
After her releases flopped, she didn’t record again and only toured with her husband Eddy until they separated in 1968 and divorced the next year. She then went back to her home state Arizona.
6. She met and married Waylon Jennings in 1969.
It was a whirlwind of events that happened between Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. The two first met in 1969 in Phoenix in a bar called JD’s. Jennings was on a gig, and Jessi had just gotten back after her separation from her ex-husband Duane Eddy.
Jennings, who was signed with RCA Records only three years before, helped Colter secure her recording contract with the label. And she did so, which became a turning point in her life and career. They married, moved to Nashville, and then collaborated with Jennings, co-producing Colter’s debut album, A Country Star Is Born. They had a son in 1979 (May 19) named Waylon Albright “Shooter” Jennings.
7. By the time she released her debut album, she adopted a new stage name.
When she released A Country Star Is Born, she adopted her stage name Jessi Colter which was born out of her love of outlaw culture and her own family tree. It was a feminized version of Jess Colter, an ancestor who robbed trains, made counterfeit money, and rode with the then-popular James gang.
8. It was 1975 when she got her first-ever hit.
She signed with Capitol Records in 1975 and released her debut single, “I’m Not Single,” which gave her the breakthrough in country and pop. It topped the Billboard country charts, reached the top five on the pop charts, and became a 2x platinum single. The next Jessi Colter songs also proved to be very successful, and she established herself as a big-selling ‘albums artist. She was on a career-high until the 1980s, when her success began to decline.
9. She almost divorced Waylon Jennings.
It wasn’t a secret that Jennings had serious problems with his addiction to drugs. And back in the 1980s, the couple nearly divorced. But they chose to remain together until Jennings’ death in 2002.
10. In 2006, Jessi Colter made a comeback.
It was in 2006, four years after her husband’s death and 20 years after her last studio album, that she finally decided to go back and record. She released her album Out of the Ashes, a reflection on Jennings’ death, under Shout! Factory label. And in one track titled “Out of the Rain,” she featured an unused vocal of her husband.
There’s not much news about Jessi Colter these days, but maybe we’ll hear from her hopefully sometime soon!