Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×
Search
Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

The Highwaymen Return

How the 1980s supergroup revived four careers — and country music itself


(Video) The Highwaymen: Friends Til The End Movie Trailer: The pioneering outlaw country music supergroup featured Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.

More than 30 years ago, four country music icons — Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson — gathered to record an album, Highwayman. Their project was far from a surefire hit: The "outlaw" country music they'd pioneered in the 1970s had faded away, victim to a slicker crossover sound (think Urban Cowboy).

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine. Find out how much you could save in a year with a membership. Learn more.

Join Now

Yet the chemistry among the musicians couldn't be denied. "You wouldn't think that our four uneven voices would blend," Nelson has said. "But they did." Mickey Raphael, who played harmonica on the album, recalls the men's differing styles. "Johnny was bigger than life. Kris was the revolutionary, and Willie was the jokester," he says. "Waylon was the conscience of the whole thing, very intense, the one who said, 'Don't screw this up.'"

Sign up for the AARP Leisure Newsletter — and get movie reviews, great games and more delivered to you every month

spinner image  The Legacy of the Highwaymen
The Highwaymen: Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson
Paul Spella

The others must have listened to Jennings. The album sold a million copies, leading to two follow-ups for the supergroup, who became known as the Highwaymen. Songwriter Jimmy Webb was blown away when he heard the cover of his title tune, in which each singer took on the role of a different character: “You couldn’t imagine better casting than that. They fleshed out the song and made it walk and talk.” The left-field hit was a vindication for counterculture country as well as for its leaders. Says filmmaker Jim Brown, who directed the new documentary The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End, "It shows that even if the powers that be don't think you're valuable, you still are."

AARP is the sponsor of The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End, which premieres on PBS on May 27.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?