Classic Country Singles: Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”
August 24, 2008
Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson
Written by Ed Bruce & Patsy Bruce
Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson collaborated at numerous stages of their careers, and it is one of the most famous alliances between two stars in country music history. One of the pinnacles of the Waylon and Willie partnership is “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” a warning to the mothers of little boys with big dreams of the wide-open range. As they explain, “They never stay home, and they’re always alone, even with someone they love.” Surely this was no unfamiliar feeling for both men, notorious for their restless (and sometimes reckless) ways. In fact, the song is the very definition of many a man’s heart in just under three minutes.
In the verse, the song tells of the dangers involved with living a life. Often misunderstood, these men sin in the evening just to set out for greener pastures when the morning comes. The two living legends take turns teaching the lessons learned on that long and winding way, advising mothers to mold their young ones into “doctors and lawyers and such” because cowboys “ain’t easy to love and they’re harder to hold.” In their own personal experience, the twosome have seen that cowboys will only leave the women in their lives with sadness and a song. The whining steel guitar in “Mammas” seems to sympathize with both the emptiness of those left behind and the stubborn pride of the cowboys who leave.
Ed Bruce and Patsy Bruce composed the song, and Ed even made the charts with his own version, but it was the Jennings-Nelson combination that galvanized it. Culled from the classic duet album Waylon & Willie, a platinum disc for the pair. “Mammas” peaked at No. 1 in March 1978, spending four weeks atop the Billboard magazine Hot Country Singles chart. In fact, it finished 1978 as the No. 1 song of the year and earned the duo a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.
“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” is the the latest in a series of articles showcasing Classic Country Singles. You can read previous entries at the Classic Country Singles page.