Like the iconic “Red Headed Stranger” that he spent so many years making music with, Jody was a master of the guitar, a great contributor to the Willie Nelson and Family Band “Sound” and had a profound musical influence on an entire generation of musicians. Born on January 11,1936 in Garrard County, Kentucky Jody began his musical journey playing Bluegrass with Charlie Monroe (Brother of Bill Monroe) and eventually met up with notable Kentucky pickers including rockabilly innovator Orangie Hubbard and Dillard Anderson (Uncle of the fiery fingered guitarist Scotty Anderson).
After moving to Norwood, Ohio (more on this writers personal connection with that later) to finish out High School, Jody was drafted into the United States Army where he served two years before landing in Detroit, Michigan which led to a stint playing with Merle Haggard. He would also later play with Tanya Tucker and Leon Russell. When Jody met Willie Nelson, Ol’ Willie was playing bass in Ray Price’s Band and in 1973 was putting together what would become the classic Willie Nelson and Family Band lineup. It was from 1973 until his retirement in 2008 that Jody took his music all around the World with Willie.
What a TEAM they were! Jody always said, “I play what Willie DOESN’T play. I lay down a foundation for Willie to improvise and then I get my own licks in to fill it all up. Sometimes the best music is the space ‘between’ the music and notes and that’s where I try to fit in and bring us all together.” Jody played an integral part in the making of such ground breaking albums as Willie’s Red Headed Stranger, Honeysuckle Rose, and Stardust to name but a few.
In the LIVE shows, Jody was known for singing Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues” and also taking a turn as Willie’s duet partner for classics like “Seven Spanish Angels” and “Pancho and Lefty.” His voice was totally unique with a timber that was both gravelly and silky at the same time. He was Country to the bone, but Jody had SOUL and he could also Rock N Roll as is evident on the awesome cover of “Heartbreak Hotel” with Jody, Willie and Leon Russell. They completely took one of “The King,” Elvis Presley’s signature numbers and turned it into their own foot stompin’, raucous, roadhouse blues jams complete with burning guitar solos from both Jody and Willie and Mickey Raphael’s Harmonica ride bringing the song to a feverish pitch. When asked about how that particular version came about, Jody replied, “We were just havin’ fun and jammin’ and thought we’d take ’em back to Memphis. Plus, I got to throw in a few of my old friend Lonnie Mack’s tricks.” Check It Out.
Jody also appeared with Willie on the silver screen in the movies “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Songwriter” as well as numerous television appearances including the classic Austin City Limits.
It was on a string of Tour dates back in 1997-1998 serving as the opening act for Willie Nelson that I got to finally meet Jody in person. I had no idea at the time that we would become the best of friends and family over the years. The first show was in Owensboro, Kentucky and I came out and played a 30 minute solo acoustic set to open the show. I had long been a huge fan of Willie Nelson and Family and had even dedicated my 1st solo album My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys to Willie, Waylon and David Allan Coe. That night, being young and excited to play in front of my heroes, I played “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” and I also played “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and dedicated them to Willie and Jody and all of the Family Band. The late, great bass player Bee Spears came to me at the end of my set and said, “Thanks for playin’ our songs kid,” and Jody came up and introduced himself, shook my hand graciously told me, “That was really great, son. Could I please have one of your CD’s, I really enjoyed your music.” I was in hog heaven with my Honky Tonk Heroes and then I realized that in my “youthful exuberance” I had just played two of Willie’s tunes right before he was going play them! Mortified that I may have just blown my chance to ever jam with them again, I told Willie that I had just messed up and sang their songs in my set. Willie just smiled that devilish grin of his and asked “Well did they like ’em?” I nervously said, “Yeah they seemed to,” and Ol’ Willie just cracked up, patted me on the shoulder and said, “Well do ’em again next time.” I let out a huge sigh of relief, pleasantly surprised that there would indeed be a “next time.” The so called “next time” ended up being at Ft. Lewis in Washington State. I was on the bill with Willie Nelson and Jimmie Dale Gilmore and had hopped a plane out to do the show.
After sound check, we were hangin’ around havin’ a few beers when Jody sat down beside me and said, “You’re a long way from Kentucky, son, where are you actually from, Dallas?” I replied that I was from a small town called Norwood, Ohio which was a “City Within the City of Cincinnati.” Jody immediately lit up and told me he had graduated from Norwood High School in 1954. I was blown away to learn that my guitar pickin’ hero and friend had come from my hometown and graduated from my Alma Mater. Upon my return home, I told my Mom, Madgelee Hanes Moore that Jody had graduated from Norwood High in ’54 (Mom, herself was in the Class of ’55). Mom ran upstairs to retrieve a dusty old year book from Norwood High School 1955. “Take it to Jody on your next show together as he may not have gotten his with being drafted straight into the Army,” she said. Sure enough, that’s exactly what I did a few weeks later when I was called to do a festival in Evansville, Indiana with Willie Nelson and Family, Leon Russell and The Amazing Rhythm Aces. When I presented Jody with the old forgotten yearbook he was beaming and very thankful. He told me that day that I was one of the only guys he knew that he could call both “Brother” and “Son” and that he ought to be known as my “Godfather” and that’s how I always have and always will address Jody Payne ever since.
Our Friendship and Family grew over the years and we’d always have great jams whenever we would cross paths out on the road. In 2009 after Jody had been retired from the road and settled in to his home in Stapleton, Alabama with his wife, Vicki and son, Austin, I was just starting to pick up some steam with my outfit, the Dallas Moore Band. We had not seen Jody in a couple of years and we were playing close to his home at the Flora-Bama Lounge in Orange Beach, Alabama. Jody invited our entire band and crew to visit him at his Twin Oaks Ranch. We were honored and gladly accepted the invitation. I was unaware that Jody had suffered a small stroke awhile back and had not been playing guitar for quite some time. As soon as we arrived I was like a kid in a candy store as Jody and Vicki’s home is like a museum of memorabilia from his days on the road with Willie. Pictures of Jody with Willie and Waylon, John Anderson, and even Former President Jimmy Carter (Y’all remember when Willie made his way to the top of the White House?) are proudly displayed along with all of Jody’s Instruments. In one corner was the famous Jody Payne Lone Star Beer Guitar. Lining the walls were his various Telecasters, Strats, Acoustics and Banjos. He even came out of a back room with one of Waylon Jennings’ leather bound Telecasters and let me jam away. Talk about inspiration! Unaware that Jody had not been playing for a while, I wanted to PLAY with my hero. With not as much “youth,” but still heavy on “exuberance,” I retrieved his Martin Acoustic for him and grabbed a six string of my own and away we went. It was the 1st time Jody had picked up a guitar in months and we played for nearly six hours straight.
I got a call the next day from his wife, Vicki saying, “Dallas Moore, I don’t know what you are but you must be some kind of angel because you just got Jody Payne back playing music! He hasn’t put the guitar down since you left and is already starting to write again. Thank you so much, we love you!” I was humbled and blown away beyond belief that I had a small part in returning Jody to his music. He told me not long after, that since the stroke and the time off, he was actually playing better than ever and it felt like Mozart himself was channeling him because his fingers were playing licks and melodies he had never played before. I’m so glad I got to be a part of that transitional point in Jody’s life and it definitely set the course for our next musical adventure together.
On August 30, 2010, Jody Payne joined us as the featured guest on our Dallas Moore Band album Hank To Thank: Live at Historic Herzog Studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. The recording was being made to commemorate the 61st Anniversary of Hank Williams’ Legendary sessions that yielded six timeless Hank Classics including “Lovesick Blues,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and “My Buckets Got a Hole In It.” Before the show, in front of a sold out crowd there for the taping, Jody was honored with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation presented by Elliot V. Ruther. In Jody’s acceptance speech, he graciously thanked the people for supporting his life in music and was happy to return to his roots to make this historic recording honoring Hank Williams and Herzog Studio. Spirits were flowing in more ways than one when Mama Madgelee Hanes Moore joined Jody and I onstage for a haunting rendition of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” standing in the very spot where Ol’ Hank had originally recorded it 61 years before. It is absolutely magical when Jody sings his verse, “The silence of a falling star, lights up a purple sky. And as I wonder where you are, I’m so lonesome I could cry.” It is impossible to listen to it without getting chills and even the hardest of old cowboys and bikers will have a tear well up in their eye. Hank To Thank: Live at Historic Herzog Studio also yielded the “Crazy Again ” video which shattered all records by occupying the #1 Spot on the Yallwire Country Video Charts for over a year. The video had actually held at #1 for 57 consecutive weeks and then ran its course. It had not been in the Top 40 for almost two months and ironically, on the morning of Jody’s passing it returned to the top of the chart where it remains as of this writing for an unprecedented grand total of 59 Weeks! Check It Out.
Sadly, Hank To Thank was the last album released that Jody Payne played and sang on. It is a high honor of my life and career to have made this album together. Jody is in top form as he seamlessly bobs and weaves in and out with Dallas Moore Band guitarist Chuck Morpurgo aka “Lucky Chucky.” The two trade licks like two old jazz players in a late night back room bar. Jody came to love Chuck and always reveled in their jams together and was super encouraging and influential to his ever evolving style. Many times Jody would call up Chucky or myself to turn us on to some new music that we had not heard or tell us an old story of the Willie Nelson Family Band antics back in the day, “There was this one time at Caesars Palace with Willie and Bee Spears…..etc.” It was always a treasure to hear his voice on the other end of the line. It was also a privilege to give Jody a voice when he partook in an interview with myself and author Neil Alexander Hamilton for the book OUTLAWS STILL AT LARGE. I highly recommend y’all to check out Jody’s interview in our profile (Chapter 11) and read his insights and firsthand accounts on Outlaw Country Music from one who was there from its inception. Jody will be remembered as much for his love, encouragement and wisdom as he will for his musical mastery and talents.
Jody Payne remained a musician all the way until the end of his life, teaching guitar lessons at the Pickers Paradise in Stapleton, Alabama. He continued to pass on his wealth of knowledge and inspiration to a whole new generation of musicians. His influence on this writer and the Dallas Moore Band is immeasurable and we will continue to carry forth his spirit and music. For Jody Payne, it was all about the SONG. For in the end, it is the song that will outlive us all. In my eyes and in my heart, Jody WAS a song and in the words of Billy Joe Shaver, he will “LIVE FOREVER.”
Jody leaves behind his wife of 33 years, Vicki Payne and sons, Austin and Waylon Payne as well as a world full of friends and fans who will never forget this amazing music man. Jody would always joke and say, “I used to tell my mama that I was gonna be a guitar picker when I grow up. Mama would always say, Jody you can’t do BOTH!” I’m sure glad he never grew up because he sure did become a helluva guitar picker. I reckon I’ll sign off tonight the way Jody always signed off with me whenever we would part ways, by saying, “I Love You Man! See Ya Down The Road…..”
~ Dallas Moore
Photos by Jenna Danielle Moore
Dallas Moore is an Outlaw Country singer, songwriter and entertainer. He has penned the # 1 songs “Crazy Again” (featuring Jody Payne) and “Blessed Be The Bad Ones” and performs over 300 tour dates per year with The Dallas Moore Band. Dallas is also profiled in the book OUTLAWS STILL AT LARGE and his music is a fixture on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s OUTLAW COUNTRY, Channel 60. He currently resides in the South-Western Ohio countryside with his wife, Jenna Danielle Moore and dogs, Johnny Cash and Belle Starr. Visit DallasMoore.com and add him on Facebook.