Our musical influences, influences? If that makes any sense. Heartworn Highways, the legendary documentary film by James Szalapski that’s based on the roots and musicians who created outlaw country will be turning 40 this year. Though Szalapski’s film captured some of the founders of the Outlaw Country movement in Texas and Tennessee in the last weeks of 1975 and the first weeks of 1976, Heartworn Highways wasn’t released theatrically until 1981.
To celebrate the milestone, this year’s Record Store Day will see the limited print release of a boxed set which includes a DVD of the film, bonus footage, a double LP soundtrack on vinyl, and an 80-page book of interviews and unseen photos.
The original film features folk/country singers such as Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, David Allan Crowe, Rodney Crowell, Gamble Rogers, Steve Young, Larry Jon Wilson and The Charlie Daniels Band. Szalapski had a vision of capturing not just the soundtrack, but the lifestyle of the young artists and what it was like to be born and raised in the South at that time.
One of the most recognized scenes in the film is shot at Van Zandt’s trailer where he, his girlfriend and his dog share a space with Uncle Seymour Washington, who was born out of a slavery. It was there that Zandt performed “Waiting Around to Die” and tears stream out of Washington’s eyes. The song depicts the realism of being alive at that time and having really no one to turn to but yourself, and just doing what you can in life.
Many people favor this film for its truthful representation of the storytelling that goes along with outlaw country. It’s not just the music that is the wonder, but the words that are scribed in it’s spine. It created a whole new scene for many country music followers and also bent the musical genre beyond any way it had gone before. Some of today’s biggest folk stars, such as Willie Nelson, looked up to these guys and idolized them for going against the norm and creating something bigger than themselves.
Though their lifestyles may seem simplistic, a bit poverty stricken, and of course filled with plenty of bourbon and whiskey, there is no denying the large of amount of heart they put into their music and how that was their way of life. Going from place to place and being on the road, writing songs about the people you meet, partying all night and having a show the next day…it doesn’t seem like much has changed in the industry, but it’s always good to get insight to the organic beginnings of where things start. That’s exactly what this movie does for outlaw country.
To top the milestone of this fine film, the upcoming release of Heartworn Highways Revisited will feature some of today’s outlaw country stars and their take on how the people featured in the original created not just a new music genre, but a lifestyle as well. Musicians in this sequel will include Bobby Bare Jr., Shelly Colvin, Andrew Combs, Justin Townes Earle, Robert Ellis, Jonny Fritz, Josh Hedley, Phil Hummer, Nikki Lane, Langhorne Slim, John McCauley, Shovels & Rope. With Steve Young, David Allan Coe, and Guy Clark.
You can learn more about Heartworn Highways and the film’s soundtrack on the official website.