100 Greatest Women, #87: Jessi Colter

Jessi Colter.

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#87

Jessi Colter

2008 Edition: #80 (-7)

The original female outlaw.

Jessi Colter has been immortalized as the only female on the legendary country album Wanted: The Outlaws, where she shared billing with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser and hubby Waylon Jennings. But long before that – many years and a husband before that – she had established herself as a songwriting force to be reckoned with.

Jessi was raised in a musical church-going family, and she got her first big break in the music industry when she met and married rock legend Duane Eddy. She spent many years trying to get her foot in the door as a singer, recording for independent labels with little success, but she thrived as a songwriter. Artists as diverse as Don Gibson and Nancy Sinatra cut her songs, and Dottie West actually charted with one of them (“No Sign of Living.”)

However, it was her second marriage to Waylon Jennings, shortly after her divorce from Eddy, that helped her find her voice as an artist. Jennings became not only her life partner, but her singing partner as well. She scored her first hit when they collaborated on a cover of the Elvis Presley hit “Suspicious Minds.”

It was in 1975 that she finally had a hit on her own, and it was a big one. “I’m Not Lisa” is a classic record, one that aptly captures the pain of dating someone who hasn’t gotten over the one who came before you. It was a #1 hit, and earned her a Grammy nomination. A few other hits followed, and she established herself as an albums artist, having three top five solo albums in only two years.

Her participation in Wanted: The Outlaws, which was essentially a compilation album with a really cool concept, earned her a CMA award for Album of the Year. Colter’s career cooled down a bit after that, but she was back with a vengeance in 1981, when she released a duet album with Jennings titled Leather and Lace. One of the hits from that album, “Storms Never Last”, had been released by Colter a few years earlier. That performance remains a living testament to the love Jennings and Colter shared.

Colter spent most of the eighties and some of the nineties touring with Jennings, but when he started to fall ill, she retreated from the public eye to take care of him. After his passing, she went back into the studio, releasing the wonderful Out of the Ashes in 2006. One year later, she released her autobiography, An Outlaw and a Lady: A Memoir of Music, Life with Waylon, and the Faith That Brought Me Home. An additional album, The Psalms, followed in 2017.

Essential Singles

  • Suspicious Minds (with Waylon Jennings), 1970
  • I’m Not Lisa, 1975
  • What’s Happened to Blue Eyes, 1975
  • Storms Never Last (with Waylon Jennings), 1981
  • We’re Still Hanging in There, Ain’t We, Jessi (with Jan Howard and Jeannie Seely), 2017

Essential Albums

  • I’m Jessi Colter (1975)
  • Jessi (1976)
  • Diamond in the Rough (1976)
  • Leather and Lace (with Waylon Jennings) (1981)
  • The Psalms (2017)

Industry Awards

  • Country Music Association
    • Album of the Year
      • Wanted: The Outlaws, 1976

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #86. Allison Moorer

Previous: #88. Neko Case

1 Comment

  1. Since I was never a Waylon fan and knew little about Jessi Colter before reading this article I’m surprised that I have one of JC’s essential singles – “Storms Never Last” by Camille Te Nahu (Gisborne, NZ) and Stuart (Stuie) French (Tasmania, Australia). I don’t recall how I came to buy this one Camille & Stuie song and I never checked to see who wrote it. I-Tunes indicates that I’ve played it 33 times.

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