By Rick Kelly
© 2006 CMA Close Up News Service /
Country Music Association, Inc.
Colter was born Miriam Johnson in Phoenix, Ariz., into a devout
Pentecostal family. Her mother took it as "a God-given
fact" that her baby would be a musician, and Mrs. Johnson
was absolutely correct. Young Miriam started taking piano
lessons at age 5, and by 11, she had begun to write songs. When
the church pianist left, she was forced to "learn to sit
still through the service, and play hymns with many, many
high school years, she continued to write songs and play talent
shows, dances and local television shows in her native Arizona.
She soon came to the attention of guitar legend Duane Eddy who
produced an album for the young singer. After graduating high
school, she adopted the name Jessi Colter, and went on tour with
Eddy. The pair soon married and settled in Los Angeles. Colter
began to write seriously and was soon signed to Chet Atkins'
befriended a young Country singer named Waylon Jennings and
brought him to the attention of Atkins, who signed him to RCA
Records. One evening shortly after, Eddy introduced Jennings to
Colter in a local recording studio. Colter had a new song she
needed to get on tape, and Jennings interrupted his session
(recording The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood") to help
Colter with her demo.
The couple would
cross paths again a few years later. By this time Colter and
Eddy had divorced, and Jennings was also newly single. Colter
accompanied a friend to J.D.'s, a Phoenix nightclub where
Jennings was consistently packing the house. He remembered
Colter from their earlier demo session and invited her onstage.
even remember what we sang," Colter said, "but he was
flirting with me on stage. I told him to call me in six months .
and he did." The two singers dated for a year before
marrying in 1969.
help, Colter landed a deal with RCA and released her debut album
A Country Star is Born, which he co-produced. The
couple teamed to record two hit duets; a cover of Elvis
Presley's "Suspicious Minds" and "Under Your
Spell Again." By 1975 Colter had moved to Capitol
Records where she recorded her breakthrough album, I'm Jessi
Colter. The album went Gold and yielded her signature song,
"I'm Not Lisa," a major hit in every English speaking
Jennings' brand of "progressive Country" had begun to
take hold among Country fans and rock fans alike. For years he,
Willie Nelson and other like-minded artists had been going
against the grain of Country's established look, sound and
artistic sensibility. They were open to the influences of the
great singers and songwriters of the day, and they willfully
blurred the lines between Country and rock 'n' roll.
moment was the release of Wanted: The Outlaws, a
compilation of songs by Jennings, Colter, Nelson and Tompall
Glaser that became Country Music's first certified
Platinum-selling album. The success of the album caused their
style of music to be labeled "Outlaw Country," and it
propelled their careers into the stratosphere.
Jennings went on to sell millions of albums over the next two
decades and both were eventually inducted into the Country Music
Hall of Fame. Colter continued to record as a solo artist
with Capitol, releasing six albums between 1975 and 1981.
"I guess I
seemed like the token girl, hanging out with all those crazy
cowboys, but at the time, I was the only one who'd had a Gold
album," Colter mused.
A few years after
the explosion of the Outlaw movement, Colter gave birth to her
only child with Jennings, a baby boy called Shooter, and the
center of the couple's world.
everywhere with us at first," Colter said. "We had his
bassinette in the back of the bus and everything went on just as
rowdy as always."
Shooter started school, and his parents began to curb their
rigorous touring schedule to accommodate a more domestic life.
Colter's recording career took a back seat to raising her son.
In the late '90s, Colter released a pair of children's albums on
the Peter Pan record label, and in February 2006, she released Out
of the Ashes, her first solo Country album in more than 20
In search of
creative feedback, she took the first song she wrote for the
album to producer Don Was, who had produced albums for her late
"Bring me 10
of those and we'll go into the studio," said Was, who was
knocked out by what he heard. He assembled musicians from among
friends she had worked with throughout the years and began the
engineer Ray Kennedy, Was and Colter crafted an album that
documents her journey through grief and loss to acceptance and
"I feel it's
my responsibility to work to my full capacity, no matter what it
takes," she said. "But it's been a rocky four years.
Waylon is woven into my heart, and I have to make very
deliberate strides to function independently of him, but it's
been absolutely life preserving to write the experience."
recording of Tony Joe White's "Out of the Rain,"
features background vocals from both White and Jennings (Waylon).
Shooter and Colter wrote and performed "Please Carry Me
Home," originally recorded for Songs Inspired by the
Passion of the Christ. And she co-wrote "You Can Pick
'Em" with Lyle Lovett and band member Ray Herndon.
eighth solo album entered the Billboard Top Country
Albums chart a week after the newly released compilation of Waylon's
16 Greatest Hits. At the same time, Shooter's sophomore
effort was climbing the same chart. It was the only time a
mother, father and son have had albums on the chart at the same
enjoyed a life and a career that is unique in Country Music.
From her early writing career, to having hits of her own, to
being part of the first Platinum Country album and being the
first lady of "Outlaw Country," Colter has handled her
successes and her tragedies with singular grace. Asked what
she's learned, and what advice she would pass on, Colter said,
"Develop your craft, dedicate your ambition to the greater
purpose that God has for you, and spend time with your