First stop: country. Season one features some of country music’s most legendary artists including Johnny Paycheck, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones and more.
In addition to selling 40 million records and producing chart-topping hits like “She’s All I Got” and “Take This Job and Shove It,” country music outlaw Johnny Paycheck became notorious for living the part. He was known for his music, grand theft auto, drug binges and stints in jail. At the height of Paycheck’s fame, he shot a man over a turtle soup recipe, which led to a high-profile trial, a prison sentence and one of his greatest hits, “Old Violin.”
One of the pioneers of rock’n’roll, Jerry Lee Lewis also happened to be a country music singer who liked to call himself “The Killer.” He made a name for himself not just as a magnetic piano-playing singer, but also as an impulsive, gun-wielding wild man, who stoked epic rivalries with the likes of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. The Killer also notoriously married his 13-year-old second cousin, setting off an epic worldwide scandal.
He was a poor boy from a bootleggers’ town in the Texas backwoods. She was a cotton-picking Mississippi girl dreaming of stardom in Nashville. Together, George Jones and Tammy Wynette became the first power couple in country music. They were perfect in the public eye, but their tumultuous relationship was punctuated by George’s alcohol-fueled escapades and his paranoia over Tammy’s romantic past. She tried to keep the marriage from turning toxic, singing “Stand By Your Man,” her greatest hit, onstage with her husband every night.
Collaborating on 33 hit songs and nine studio albums, George Jones and Tammy Wynette projected an image of marital bliss. Backstage, real life was more of a mess, highlighted by actual gunplay, an accusation of poisoning and ingenious disappearing acts in the name of alcohol. The marriage was ultimately sacrificed, but the music survived. Despite George’s split personalities and Tammy’s endless string of men, the two maintained an artistic partnership that stood the test of time and gave them one of their greatest hits, “Golden Rings,” about love and marriage.
By all accounts, Billy Joe Shaver should never have made it in country music. A poor Texas kid from a broken family, he lost three fingers in a sawmill accident before ever writing a song. Despite his physical challenge, Shaver landed in Nashville as a singer/songwriter with hard luck songs about real life. A chance meeting with Waylon Jennings in the back of a peanut trailer led to the breakthrough 'Outlaw' album Honky Tonk Heroes, featuring Waylon singing songs written by Billy Joe. A decade later, Shaver made a name for himself after shooting a man at a roadside tavern for allegedly talking to his soon-to-be ex-wife. The gun play led to a celebrity trial and a shocking verdict. And, of course, Billy Joe wrote a song about it.
The father of 'Outlaw' country music, Waylon Jennings grew up in Texas with dreams of making it to the Grand Ole Opry. Following a musical partnership with Buddy Holly that ended in his first experience cheating death, Waylon eventually made his way to Nashville where he became roommates with Johnny Cash. The singer, like his pal Johnny, never quite fit in with the Nashville sound, although they both found the Nashville speed to their liking. It took a move back home to Texas and a reunion with his old friend and fellow outcast Willie Nelson, for the charismatic Waylon to breathe new life into country music, and finally do things on his own terms.
Fed up with Nashville's unwritten rules, Waylon Jennings put on his famous black hat, bucked the system and became one of country music's original outlaws. He recorded what he wanted and how he wanted, usually high on cocaine in a studio known as "Hillbilly Central." He also hired Hell's Angels for protection and as babysitters for his kid. Despite a string of hits including "Honky Tonk Heroes" and "Luckenbach, Texas," Waylon was targeted by the Feds for his coke-fueled antics. It only made his legend grow. After writing "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand," Waylon shocked Nashville by quitting drugs, cold turkey, and getting sober all on his own.
A legend in country music circles, and a complete unknown to most fans, Blaze Foley burned bright on the Austin, Texas music scene before being silenced well before his time. He was an intimidating physical presence with a wry sense of humor and the voice of an angel who battled his demons by writing songs about them. Blaze hated hypocrisy as much as he loved booze and duct tape. He became best friends and brothers in self-destruction with another singer/songwriter, Townes Van Zandt. And he died tragically while trying to defend a friend from harm, but not before writing his greatest song, “If I Could Only Fly.”