“Abilene” was originally an album track on Bob Gibson‘s 1957 album, I Come For To Sing:. “Little is known about the origins of this song,” say the liner notes on the back of the LP, and yet “Abilene” is widely known to have three authors — Bob Gibson, Lester Brown, and John D. Loudermilk.
The song became a #1 country single for George Hamilton IV in 1963.
The following year Waylon Jennings would also record “Abilene” but release it solely as an album track on his one and only LP for the Bat label, At J.D.’s* – check out the unusually deep bottom on this recording:
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play “Abilene” by Waylon Jennings.]
LP Musician & Production Credits
Waylon Jennings – Lead Guitar & Lead Vocals
Richard Albright – Drums
Paul Foster – Bass
Jerry Gropp – Rhythm Guitar
Engineer – Jack Miller
Producer – James D. Musil, Jr.
Ampex Master Recorder, Telefunken and Altec condenser microphones
*Recorded at Phoenix’s Audio Recorders
The “Key City” in Song
In “The Women There Don’t Treat You Mean: Abilene in Song” – published April 2007 in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly – author Gary Hartman observes —
Although Gibson’s is the most well-known tune to refer to the Key City, Abilene appears in dozens of other songs performed by a surprisingly diverse group of musicians. Legendary Texas bluesman Sam ‘Lightnin’‘ Hopkins recorded at least three tunes between 1948 and 1974 in which he sang the praises of Abilene. Texas honky-tonk pioneer Ernest Tubb recorded ‘Girl from Abilene,’ and Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash co-authored the song ‘Wanted Man,’ in which the lead character spends time in Abilene. The list of artists who pay tribute to Abilene is remarkably long and includes Ian Moore, Jerry Lee Lewis, Waylon Jennings, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, Eliza Gilkyson, Larry Joe Taylor, and even two British rock bands, Yes and Humble Pie.
4 Wheels Good, 2 Legs Bad
Kinky Friedman, in his essay on ‘Outlaws‘ in The Country Music Pop-Up Book, writes that “Waylon Jennings, at the same time [early 1970s], was sometimes quite literally slugging it out in Nashville. Like all of us, he struggled against the musical establishment. One of my first memories of Waylon was on a sunny afternoon as I was walking up an alley behind Music Row, and he drove up in a big Cadillac and a cloud of dust. He pulled up beside me and lowered the window, and I swear he looked part devil and part smilin’ Jesus. On that day he gave some words to live by that I have never forgotten. ‘Get in, Kink,’ he said. ‘Walkin’s bad for your image.'”