Documentary about the first country music supergroup features rare concert and behind-the-scenes footage.
The supergroup once dubbed “the Mount Rushmore of country music” — Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson — will be celebrated in The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End, an American Masters documentary set to have its world premiere Friday evening, May 27, on PBS stations nationwide.
Produced and directed by multiple Emmy Award-winner Jim Brown, the hour-long program features vintage performances, rare behind-the-scenes footage of life on the road and in the studio with producer Don Was, and new interviews with Nelson and Kristofferson. Also interviewed: Family members Annie Nelson, Lisa Kristofferson, John Carter Cash, and country artist Jessi Colter (Jennings’ wife). Artists influenced by The Highwaymen — including John Mellencamp, Toby Keith, Marty Stuart, and Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel — provide additional perspectives, as do Jennings and Cash via archival interviews.
Performances from a previously unreleased concert film with The Highwaymen — recorded live at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, in 1990 — demonstrate the group’s chemistry and the power of their combined music catalog, which includes “Highwayman,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “Always On My Mind,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Desperados Waiting For A Train,” “Luckenbach, Texas,” and “Silver Stallion.”
“Country music is America’s most popular music,” said Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters, “and I’m happy to add The Highwaymen to our growing list of master singer/songwriters, from Carole King and Loretta Lynn to Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles. Like many, I only wish I could have seen these giants live in concert, but this film gives you a front row seat and takes you backstage too.”
But wait, there’s more: In conjunction with the American Masters documentary, Columbia Legacy has released The Highwaymen Live — American Outlaws, a boxed-set of three CDs and a DVD (or Blu-ray) that includes (a) two audio discs recorded live at the 1990 Nassau Coliseum concert (b) an audio disc with tracks recorded live at various Farm Aid festivals, and (c) the aforementioned, full-length concert film recorded at Nassau Coliseum. (If you’re looking for a great Father’s Day gift to give a country music fan, well, take note.)
Both the boxed-set and American Masters documentary illustrate the enduring appeal of the country music supergroup.
“There’s the four of us standing there, grouped around microphones,” Waylon Jennings wrote in his 1996 autobiography. “The Highwaymen — John, Kris, Willie, and me. I don’t think there were any other four people like us. John says that we came together because we all have a life commitment to the music. We know the same songs, but we sing them from different perspectives.
“We can blend the early country of the Carter Family with Texas sing, southern gospel, and rockabilly, and each of us feels comfortable singing real slices of life. There’s not one of us who hasn’t come face to face with his own mortality, and many’s the time we’ve gone through our struggles and survivals together ... .
“That’s our friendship, unlocking any door that stands between us, and it keeps four very different individuals together.”
Here’s what producer-director Jim Brown has to say about The Highwaymen — Friends Till the End.