That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.
It was forty years ago that Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings won a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for their “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.” The year before, Nelson and Jennings had released the song on their debut collaboration Waylon and Willie. The song topped the country charts for four weeks in the spring of 1978, and its crossover appeal garnered it a #42 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. This was at the height of the outlaw country movement. That insurgent blend of country, rock, and pop redefined the genre and made it more palatable for those outside of Nashville who had a curiosity about honky tonks.
Of course, there is a much longer arc that connects country and rock and roll. That arc extends through Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, Gram Parsons’ influence on The Rolling Stones, and the songcraft of Townes Van Zandt. But near the beginning of that arc was Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. It was there that a blend of country and rock music known as “rockabilly” came into being, with Sam Phillips as its enthusiastic producer and promoter. The rockabilly of the 1950s is where the story of “Mammas” starts.