LD Note, 6-17-2021 — Thanks to a heads up from reader Brien Downes, this post now includes the full Door Is Always Open TV broadcast, which begins with a staged half-hour followed by an informal (and totally legendary) 45-minute guitar pull. Both sets are hosted by Waylon Jennings. I’m not going to annotate the stage performances, but their set times are below, I’ve also updated the Boar’s Nest times otherwise the notes would be very confusing. This post originally included a pair of 15-20-minute long videos, but they got taken down. Another set went up and THOSE got taken down. The third batch held steady until they didn’t. The Door Is Always Open is too good not to share and it’s not like anyone’s pirating Disney product. We’re talking about a 1984 TV special that’s been out of print for 30ish years. Again, slow clap for Brien …
Waylon Jennings hosts this amazing tribute to Sue Brewer, den mother to many of Nashville’s best singer/songwriters in the 1960s and ’70s. While her resume states that she managed George Jones‘ club, Possum Holler, and worked at Music City News, a now-defunct industry magazine, her claim to semi-fame was turning her apartment, “The Boar’s Nest,” into an open house for songwriters (hence the title of both the special and this post). In his autobiography, Waylon says, “The best music ever to come out of Nashville was written right on her floor.” It’s appropriate, then, that Willie, Waylon, and the boys pay homage to Sue with exactly the kind of guitar pull that occurred in her home a thousand times.
Sue Brewer died of cancer in 1981. Three years later, contemporaneous with this show, Waylon established The Sue Brewer Fund (Facebook page), which provides music scholarships for students at Belmont and Vanderbilt University. Pretty classy move for a so-called “Nashville bum.” In 1990, Sue was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame as an “industry representative.” I’m not sure that’s accurate. Sue Brewer didn’t represent the industry, she represented her friends, some of whom were the best goddamn songwriters Nashville’s ever heard.
Waylon Jennings & Friends – The Door Is Always Open: Tribute to Sue Brewer and the Boar’s Nest
Originally aired November 5, 1984
VARIETY SHOW PART 1 (0:00-32:51)
1:27 – Waylon Jennings, “The Door Is Always Open” intro
3:47 – Willie Nelson, “The City Of New Orleans”
8:59 – Waylon Jennings, “America”
12:35 – Hank Jr, “A Country Boy Can Survive”
19:12 – Kris Kristofferson, “Hello, Old Friend”
21:06 – Kris & Waylon, “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33”
24:26 – George Jones, “She’s My Rock”
27:24 – Jessi Colter, “I’m Not Lisa”
30:27 – Roger Miller, “Leavin’s Not The Only Way To Go”
32:52 – Waylon kickover to the guitar pull
GUITAR PULL (32:52-1:13:21)
33:25 – Waylon introduces Kris
33:40 – Kris discusses Sue
34:18 – Kris Kristofferson, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”
Country Weekly: What’s it like coming back to Nashville today?
Kris: I count my blessings every day, because when I got out of the Army (in 1965) and came here, I had no idea if I was going to make it or not, but I loved it so much. Particularly in that creative atmosphere that was on Music Row. Music Row didn’t look at all like it does now. In a couple of blocks there you’d see all your peers and the places where you’d pitch your songs. Then you’d go off to some house and have a guitar pull all night long. Or at the old Boar’s Nest, which was kind of a neat place. Sue Brewer owned it. There was girls there and rooms where you could find people sitting on the floor singing songs. It was a real creative time. I was so lucky, because although I didn’t get songs cut right away you could always find people who were excited about your music. That made me feel like I made it, even though I wasn’t getting them recorded. To me it was a soul saver.
—Country Weekly, October 1, 2009
37:00 – Waylon introduces Webb Pierce
37:10 – Webb discusses Sue
“Me and Merle (Kilgore) wrote a song up there one night. He wrote it and I cut him in on it. [extended laughter] Anyway, every once in awhile, Sue would say, ‘Hey, we gotta lighten up the place. It’s about time to have the national anthem for The Boar’s Nest.’ So, I’d sing this song.”
37:59 – Webb Pierce (w/Willie on guitar), “There Stands The Glass”
Webb Pierce died of pancreatic cancer on February 24, 1991. He was 69.
40:07 – Waylon introduces Mack Vickery
40:21 – Mack Vickery, “Honky Tonk Wine”
“I know you didn’t record this Waylon, but Mickey (Gilley) did. So did Jerry Lee (Lewis, Gilley’s cousin). Somebody had to show Mickey how to sing. Thank you, Mickey, for including it in the Urban Cowboy movie. You can cut that part out if you want to. [uproarious laughter]”
Mack Vickery and his mullet died of a heart attack on December 21, 2004. He was 66.
42:26 – Waylon introduces Willie
42:36 – Willie discusses Sue
“Well, I had a couple memories of Sue Brewer and The Boar’s Nest. I loaned one of ’em to Roger (Miller) ’cause he didn’t have any at all. [uproarious laughter] But, I’d like to do this song for Sue. I’m sure she’s been through this with all of us.”
43:00 – Willie Nelson, “I Gotta Get Drunk”
43:52 – Waylon introduces Roger Miller
44:24 – Roger Miller, “In The Summertime”
Roger Miller, one of my favorite singers, songwriters, and performers, succumbed to lung and throat cancer on October 25, 1992. He was 56.
45:15 – Waylon’s classic intro of Faron Young:
“Now, this next guy is a mess. When we first come to Nashville — I remember it was me and I think most of (us singers and songwriters) — the obstacle to get past was Faron Young. If you could mentally get over what he said to you, then you could make it in the business. [laughter]”
45:42 – Faron & Willie discuss the origin of “Hello Walls”
Faron: “Sue was really responsible for my biggest hit record. It was two people. Willie Nelson, he wrote it. But, I took the song out to The Boar’s Nest and a few of you guys was sitting around and I sang it and everybody laughed. They was going around saying, ‘Hello commode.’ ‘Hello bathtub.’ Hello sink.’ ‘Where did you get that terrible piece of material?’ And I sang it to Sue, she said, ‘That’s a hit, honey, you cut that thing.’ And me and you laughed all the way to the bank, didn’t we?”
Willie: “I tried to sell it to you one time, remember that?”
Faron: “He did. He tried to sell me ‘Hello Walls’ for $500. ‘Cause I told him how many it sold, he thought I was hyping it, you know? I said, ‘No no, don’t you sell this. I’m gonna loan you some money.’ And I loaned him the money and about six weeks later he got another check for like $20,000. I was sitting in Tootsie’s (Orchid Lounge in Nashville) and this arm came around my neck, it left my mouth open, and he french kissed me. [laughter] AND IT WAS THE BEST KISS I EVER HAD! [more laughter and catcalls] And we been close ever since!”
Willie: “I was gonna pay you that $400 back one time when I had it and you wouldn’t take it. He said, ‘No, you raise me a cow and whenever that calf gets old enough to butcher, well, you give her to me.’ She’s about 7,000 pounds now! [more laughter]”
47:08 – Faron Young & Willie Nelson, “Hello Walls”
Faron Young died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on December 10, 1996. He was 64. On that tragic note, I’d like to interject something in defense of country musicians, especially those who cut their teeth in the late ’50s-late ’60s like these guys. While country music is undoubtedly defined by its sad songs, the men and women writing those songs were often some of the funniest, sharpest, most creative motherfuckers in American music history. Sure, many of them endured tragic moments in their life and that sadness imbued much of their music. But, at their best — and what’s better than an informal, late night guitar pull? — they brought out the joy in one another that made the often painful process of being a working class stiff in a corrupt business worth it. Watch this special and take note of how much love and laughter is in the room. That’s not an aberration. Joy and humor were part and parcel of what made these guys tick and what gave their songwriting its human touch.
49:04 – Waylon introduces Buck Trent
49:20 – Buck discusses Sue
“First time I met Sue was in 1963 in Tulsa. I played Cain’s Ballroom and just as I come off the stage she walked right up in my face and said, ‘When you take me out for a late night snack I want you to bring that banjo with you.’ [laughter] So, every time I’d see her after that she’d say, ‘Don’t forget that banjo.’ [laughter] So, here’s a tune I wrote called ‘Banjo Buck.'”
49:47 – Buck Trent, “Banjo Buck”
There are bigger names and more well-known songs on this program, but I’m not sure anyone tops Buck Trent’s downtuning masterpiece. This is just flat-out astonishing musicianship.
51:03 – Waylon introduces Little Jimmy Dickens
51:20 – Little Jimmy discusses Sue
“Can I stand up? [laughter] I used to go by our lady Sue’s house because I was downtown and wasn’t sure whether I was in shape to drive home or not. I’d go there and she’d hide my keys and said, ‘You’re not leaving till you sing something that makes me hurt.’ And so I’d sing this.”
51:45 – Little Jimmy Dickens, “Take Me As I Am (Or Let Me Go)”
53:34 – Waylon introduces Harlan Howard
53:54 – Harlan discusses Sue
“I was living out in Madison (Tennessee, suburb of Nashville) back in the early ’60s. I’d get kinda restless and run down to Tootsie’s looking for Roger or Willie or Hank Cochran or just any of the guys to be around with. Of course, they’d run us off from Tootsie’s at midnight and we didn’t have no place to go. So, we’d grab a six pack or two and head up for Sue’s and continue on into the night. We all loved that gal ’cause she supplied us with a place to be. Here’s one of the songs I kinda tested on you back then.”
54:29 – Harlan Howard, “Busted”
Harlan Howard died on March 3, 2002. He was 74.
55:45 – Waylon introduces his next guest by saying, “In America, one of the great things to do is listen to Mickey Newbury sing.”
55:57 – Mickey Newbury (w/Willie on guitar), “Sweet Memories”
“I was one of Sue’s struggling songwriters in the early ’60s. Sue not only worked nights as manager of George Jones’ Possum Holler (a Nashville nightclub), she also worked for Faron Young’s Music City News to help support all of us.”
–Mickey quoted on the Mickey Newbury Web Board, July 8, 2011
Fun fact: Willie Nelson released his Sweet Memories LP in 1979 and the title track was a Top 5 country hit.
Mickey Newbury died of emphysema on September 29, 2002. He was 62.
57:48 – Waylon introduces Merle Kilgore (listed as Kilgore Trout)
58:11 – Merle discusses the origin of “She Went A Little Bit Farther” (co-written with Mack Vickery)
“Thank you very much, Waylon — and all my honored friends and guests. [delayed laughter] I’m so glad you came to honor me here. [more laughter] This place brings back so many memories of all the fights I had with all my wives. You know, when a man fights with a woman he has got to have a place to rest, and I found a lot of good friends resting. Mack Vickery [delayed laughter] had broke up with his second or third wife and I had just got handed the big paper from the deputy sheriff to move out from my either fourth or fifth wife. They told me never come back to Sumner County (Tennessee) ever a-gain. They used that word ‘a-GAIN.’ [laughter] When they say ‘a-GAIN’ you KNOW they’re serious. [laughter] That means, ‘Hillbilly, don’t ever come back!’ [laughter]
So, Vickery and I was talkin’ it over, Faron Young had passed out from exhaustion [loud laughter] of pickin’ and singin’ you understand. And so, Mack and I wrote (this) song right here. We wrote it real quick, then we did it over and over to polish it up, and Faron was going [makes snoring sound]. Every now and then he would raise up and say, ‘That’s pretty good. That’s pretty good.’ [makes snoring sound again] He recorded this song and it was a Top 10 song for me and Vickery (in 1968). Thanks to Faron Young. Wrote this for all of our wives.”
59:40 – Merle Kilgore, “She Went A Little Bit Farther”
Merle Kilgore died of heart failure (while receiving treatment for lung cancer) on February 6, 2005. He was 70.
1:01:30 – Waylon introduces Richie Albright
Waylon’s former drummer gives a testimonial, but doesn’t play. From the Waymores Outlaws website: “Richie Albright, Waylon’s original drummer, longtime friend, and right-hand man, joined Waylon and The Waylors in 1964. Richie not only toured and recorded with Waylon for decades, but produced or co-produced many of Waylon’s records that are still being played on radio today.”
1:02:34 – Waylon’s intro of Hank Williams, Jr. is redneck haiku, “He’s a lover, fighter, wild horse rider, a big game hunter, mountain climber, a hell of a good ol’ boy, and one of my best friends. Hank Williams, Jr.”
1:02:51 – Hank discusses origin of “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)”
“I’ve been blessed in a lot of ways. Number one, I was blessed because I was the son of Hank Williams. Number two, I was really blessed being around all these great songwriters and musicians I could steal from, which I stole everything I could. I wanna try to pay back a little bit to some of you guys.”
1:03:20 – Hank Williams, Jr., “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)”
Hank Williams, Jr. was both blessed AND burdened to be the son of Hank Williams, the greatest songwriter of all-time. (And make no mistake, I’ll gladly have Steve Earle drop me off at Bob Dylan‘s house, where I’ll stand on his coffeetable in Townes Van Zandt‘s cowboy boots and say that). Hank Sr. is a heavy legacy for anybody to live up to, let alone his own son. On top of that, the last 20-30 years have seen Bocephus evolve into a caricature of a parody of good ol’ boy country music. However, “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)” is one of the best country songs ever. The precursor to “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” — which was actually climbing the country charts when this TV special first aired — is a lament about growing old that’s deeply rooted in tradition and, intentionally or not, a variation on Tom T. Hall‘s equally classic, “Spokane Motel Blues.” Hank’s imitations of George Jones and Johnny Cash are spot on and his references to Waylon and Willie are filled with love. Whatever you wanna say about the scion of Luke The Drifter circa 2013, you simply cannot deny the talent circa 1984.
Incidentally, Max Johnston of The Gourds sang this at their New Year’s Eve 2007-08 gig at Jovita’s in Austin, TX, and it just might’ve been the greatest cover that band has ever done. Of course, I could be exaggerating because I love this tune so much.
“Nobody wants to get drunk and get ooh-wom-bomb-a-way.”
1:06:01 – Waylon introduces Mac Wiseman
1:06:07 – Mac Wiseman, “Jimmy Brown The News Boy”
1:08:43 – Waylon Jennings, “Nashville Bum”
“I’ve been chasin’ the big wheels
All over Nashville
Waitin’ for my big break to come
Livin’ on ketchup soup
Homemade crackers and Kool-Aid
I’ll be a star tomorrow, but today
I’m a Nashville bum
Well, here’s a song I wrote
By myself, note for note
With a lot of hype it might make number one
You can change a word or two
And I’ll give half of it to you
I’ll be a star tomorrow, but today
I’m a Nashville bum”
Waylon Jennings died of complications due to diabetes on February 13, 2002. He was 64.
1:09:34 – Waylon introduces songwriter Basil McDavid, who worked with Waylon and Jessi on 1981’s Leather And Lace LP.
1:09:51 – Basil discusses Sue
VARIETY SHOW PART 2 (1:13:21-1:38:56)
1:13:21 – Waylon introduces photo album segment
1:16:30 – Waylon Jennings, “On Susan’s Floor”
1:19:57 – George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
1:23:59 – Waylon Jennings & Jessi Colter, “I Ain’t The One”
1:27:06 – Hank Williams Jr., “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight”
1:30:02 – Merle Kilgore, “Mr. Garfield”
1:34:35 – Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”