In the Fall of 1969, Randy was touring with Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band. That November, they played two gigs at the Troubadour that were recorded and would be released as a live album the next year. But by December, the gigs were becoming more sparse and Randy decided to take up session work. Money was no doubt a factor in this decision. His wife was expecting in the Spring, and perhaps he was looking for steadier income.1
Randy’s stint as a session musician remains some of the most overlooked of his career. Between December 8th and December 19th, 1969, he played on two albums that would become a turning point in the careers of the artist. The first was James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James. Although Randy plays bass on only two songs (“Country Road” & “Blossom”), he would later say playing on this album was one of the highlights of his career.2 The second was the thirteenth album by one of country music’s original outlaws, Waylon Jennings.3
By all accounts, Jennings’ Singer Of Sad Songs, was recorded in true outlaw fashion. Jennings refused to record the album in Nashville (only the title track was recorded in Nashville), like all other RCA country artists at the time. Instead, he recorded the album at the RCA studios on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, using local LA musicians, one of which was Randy Meisner. It’s worth noting here that Jennings, who was first and foremost a guitarist, did play bass a couple of times early in his career, most notably for Buddy Holly & The Crickets (the famous story goes that Jennings gave up his airplane seat to the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson, who died in the crash that also killed Holly and Ritchie Valens.) So, Jennings knew a little something about bass players. Also on the session were Randy’s fellow Stone Canyon Band and Poor bandmates, guitarist Allen Kemp and drummer Pat Shanahan.4 The other musicians were former Cricket, Sonny Curtis, on guitar and fiddle, Carl Walden on harmonica, and Don Randi on piano and harpsichord.
Producing the album was Lee Hazlewood, who had just written and produced “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” for Nancy Sinatra (1967), which he had originally offered to Waylon to record, as well as the first and only album for the International Submarine Band, a group formed by then-unknown, Gram Parsons. Hazlewood had a reputation for being belligerent in the studio. One artist said of him: “He’s a son-of-a-bitch. He picks on musicians and yells at everybody.” According to former Cricket, Sonny Curtis, Waylon wasn’t happy with Hazlewood or his own performance. “We rushed it too much. We worked eighteen hours one session without stopping because we were behind.” Waylon was also suffering from a bad case of laryngitis.5
Randy plays bass on ten of the albums eleven tracks (except for the title track, which was not recorded in L.A.) Although uncredited with any background vocals on the album, his high voice is unmistakable on Waylon’s cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman,” especially on the line, “Honky Tonk girl.” Listen for yourself:
The album, although critically acclaimed, was not a big seller. Only the title track became a minor hit. Nevertheless, Randy was really given a chance to show off his bass playing chops on the album. Here are a four tracks that stand out, in my opinion:
1.) “Sick & Tired” (This is the second track on the album and the first with Randy, who makes quite an entrance with the bass line on this song.)
2.) “No Regrets” (Randy’s bass playing is noticeable, but understated. It really complements this Tom Rush folk standard. In 1974, Randy would appear as an uncredited guest on Rush’s Ladies Love Outlaws album, which includes a more electric version of “No Regrets” as opposed to the more acoustic original from 1968. Randy’s contribution to the album is the beautiful background harmony on “Claim On Me.” 6
3.) “Ragged But Right” (A 10 on the Randy Bass-O-Meter)
4.) “Donna On My Mind” (The song opens with just Waylon, Randy’s bass, and Shanahan’s drums.)
Waylon and Randy evidently remained friends following the recording of Singer Of Sad Songs. Stephen Love, who had a shortlived band with Randy in 1970 called Gold Rush and who eventually replaced him in the Stone Canyon Band, tells the following story of Randy introducing him to Waylon at the Troubadour in 1970. Love mistakenly says this introduction took place in 1969. It would have actually occurred in December 1970, after Randy returned to Los Angeles from Nebraska, with Stephen in tow. This would have been Waylon’s first-ever appearance at the Troubadour.7
On my first evening in Hollywood (circa 1969) Randy Meisner took me to the Troubadour to meet him and his band.. We went upstairs after the show so I could meet my first “STAR”..I still remember him shaking my hand and looking at my penny loafers… He asked me my intentions in Hollywood and I said I wanted to be a star also of course.. He laughed… said, and I quote.”Well…you better go out tomorrow and get some cowboy boots if you want that to happen” Then he gave me something that I had never seen before..Some white powdery substance that made me feel like Hercules… He said ” Welcome to Los Angeles” I would always see him at Willies BBQ’s year after year which I loved and he always looked to see if I had boots on which were Tony Lamas by then !! I have eight pair now thanks to him and Skip Battin who always had the best exotic boots hand crafted for him….Not bad for the first night in wonderland..Stephen A. Love, public Facebook comment, April 10, 2019
In 1983, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson released their third and final duet album entitled none other than Take It To The Limit, which included a cover of Randy’s classic hit with the Eagles. According to Nelson, he and Jennings wanted to record the song because it “bowled us over.” 8
1 On May 14, 1970, Randy’s boy/girl twins, Heather and Eric, were born (his son was named after Rick Nelson, whose real first name was Eric). Randy and his first wife also have an older son named Dana, born in 1963.
2 “This Eagle Is Flying With Poco,” USA Today, February 2, 1990
3 Another session Randy played on during this period was the second album by the folk duo, Compton & Batteau, called In California. Randy plays bass on “Homesick Kid.” See more sessions and guest appearances by Randy in our Discography.
4 When Rick Nelson died in 1985, both Randy and Waylon (and several others) were interviewed by Nelson’s manager Greg McDonald for a special televised tribute. Their interview clips appear next to each other in this clip, with Randy’s appearing first. Watch here.
5 Waylon: A Biography by R. Serge Denisoff, 1983
6 The background vocals on “Claim On Me” are credited as “Tim Schmit and friends.” The “friends” are Randy Meisner and Don Henley, who is also uncredited. This is reportedly due to “Elektra-Asylum head David Geffen’s reluctance to allow Columbia (Tom Rush’s label) to capitalize on the names of his acts.” (San Bernardino Sun, Dec. 22, 1974). Asylum artist, Jackson Browne, is also an unlisted guest on the album.
7 Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1970
8Willie: An Autobiography by Willie Nelson, 2000