Inductee Biography for JESSI COLTER
Jessi Colter was born Mirriam Johnson on May 25, 1943 in Phoenix, Arizona. She adopted her stage name, Jessi Colter, after her great-great-great uncle, Jess Colter who was a real life train robber and counterfeiter who rode in Frank and Jesse James’ notorious outlaw gang. Her mother was an ordained Pentecostal minister and Colter became the church pianist at age 11. As a teen, Colter’s musical talent impressed another Arizona native, Duane Eddy, who in l961, produced her first single “Lonesome Road”. Duane and Jessi were married in l962. For years, Jessi toured with Duane mostly throughout Europe. In l966 the couple settled in Los Angeles. He wrote and recorded the instrumental “Mirriam. Under the name Mirriam Eddy, Colter wrote some songs for Duane as well as “No Sign for the Living” for Dottie West and songs for Don Gibson and Nancy Sinatra. In l967, Eddy and Colter recorded the duet single, “Guitar on My Mind”, but divorced the following year.
Colter returned to Phoenix and it was there that she met Waylon Jennings who was so taken by her voice that he invited her to record a duet with him. Jennings then helped secure a record deal for Colter with his label, RCA and co-produced the tracks that would make up her l970 debut, A Country Star Is Born. By the time the record was released, the couple had already married. Colter married Waylon Jennings at her mother’s church on October 26, l969.
Under the name Waylon & Jessi, the duo released two Top 40 singles; a l970’s cover of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” and l971’s “Under Your Spell Again”. In 1975, Colter released her song “I’m Not Lisa” from her Capitol Records debut I’m Jessi Colter, and the song went to number one on the Billboard Country Chart and hit the top 5 on the Billboard Pop Chart. The album also produced another Top Five country hit for Colter, “Whatever Happened to Blue Eyes”.
In l976, Colter released two more highly successful albums of her own; Jessi and Diamonds in the Rough. Also in l976, Colter teamed up with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Tompall Glaser for the album Wanted! The Outlaws. At the time of its release, it was the biggest-selling album in country music history and the first country album to be certified platinum. Colter spent the rest of the decade touring extensively supporting The Outlaws album in addition to releasing Miriam in l977 and That’s the Way the Cowboy Rocks and Rolls in l978.
In l981, Colter and Jennings teamed up again and released an album of duets entitled Leather and Lace and the couple hit again with “Storms Never Last” and the medley “Wild Side of Life/It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”. In l982, Jessi produced her final hit chart hit “Holdin’ On” from yet another solo album Ridin’ Shotgun. Jesse’s final release in the eighties was l985’s Rock and Roll Lullaby. In the words of her friend and admirer Kris Kristofferson, Jessi’s “fierce commitment to being Waylon’s soul mate and Shooter’s mom put her own art in the background”.
In the nineties, Jessi focused her energies on performing children’s music and starred in the home video Jessi Colter Sings Songs From Around the World Just For Kids which featured a guest appearance by Jennings.
In 2003, Jessi showcased her legacy with the release of An Outlaw…A Lady: The Very Best of Jessi Colter for those of us who were part of the magic as it happened and for the new generation to come. Jessi’s overdue recognition in the form of her CD retrospective, her re-emergence as a recording and concert artist bodes well for the future of popular music when it can surely use someone of her vision, originality and accomplishment.