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The Queen of Outlaw Country Music Jessi Colter talks faith and finding love again

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

After the country musician Jessi Colter released an album of spiritual songs in 2017, she didn't intend to record again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PSALM 23 THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD")

JESSI COLTER: (Singing) And I dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And I dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

KELLY: But a few years later, she found herself in the studio once again, rocking along with a full band in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S ALL OVER NOW")

COLTER: (Singing) When I was loving you, I gave all I had to give.

KELLY: Colter is the queen of outlaw country music, and along with her many solo hit records in the 1970s, she also performed with her late husband, Waylon Jennings.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNDER YOUR SPELL AGAIN")

JESSI COLTER AND WAYLON JENNINGS: (Singing) You've got me under your spell again, saying those things again.

KELLY: Jessi Colter is now out with a new album, the result of those Nashville recording sessions. It's called "Edge Of Forever." And on the track "Lost Love Song," she resurrects a tune by an unknown writer from a tape recording that Waylon handed her long ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST LOVE SONG")

COLTER: (Singing) The first time I laid eyes on you, I felt like a fool.

I think he must have had in mind that it would be something I would love, and I did. And it's just such an incredible description of love, and I never knew who wrote it. I don't believe Waylon knew because he certainly didn't tell me. You know, it's a heart-rending lyric.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST LOVE SONG")

COLTER: (Singing) If it hadn't been for love, (inaudible) myself. If it hadn't been for you, could have gone my own way.

KELLY: Jessi Colter, I'm going to ask - I guess it's a very personal question, but you mentioned this song came to you because your husband Waylon asked you to listen to it, thought you'd like it. I know you've lost him in the years since. I know you're remarried and happy, and that's great. And I'm going to ask you about that in a second. But I wonder, when you sing it now, who have you got in your mind? Who have you got in your heart?

COLTER: Oh, definitely. Mine and Waylon's relationship was - how can I put it? It was a great ride. A lady horseman friend of mine was widowed also, and she said my first ride was great, and my second ride is great.

KELLY: Yeah.

COLTER: But, I mean, you know, my experience is where I draw a lot of my lyrics from or somebody very close to me, you know, that I am going through something with. That's why I don't co-write and so forth, you know. But anyway, of course, that was part of my experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSI COLTER SONG, "SECRET PLACE")

KELLY: Speaking of making music with people you are close to, there are a few tracks on this album that your daughter had a hand in. You co-wrote and sang the song "Secret Place" with her. How did that come about?

COLTER: We wrote that quite a few years ago, and when Waylon heard it, he said, you've got to do this song. And I've just held it, then sung it. And it's actually paraphrasing the 91st Psalm, which is a great psalm of protection. I love it so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SECRET PLACE")

JESSI COLTER AND JENNIFER JENNINGS: (Singing) You'll be and I'll be hiding in the shadow of your wing.

COLTER: And Jennifer, too, loved it.

KELLY: Your daughter, yeah.

COLTER: Yes, my daughter, Jennifer. And she's very musical and very melodic. And I can't do that song without her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SECRET PLACE")

COLTER: (Singing) Let me mount up (ph) with the wind.

JENNIFER JENNINGS: (Singing) Like an eagle in the sky.

KELLY: You mentioned the Psalms, and I know your last album drew lyrics from the Book of Psalms. I want to talk about the church for a minute because your mom was a preacher. This album features a gospel tune, "Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus."

COLTER: I love it.

KELLY: Tell me. OK. Hold on. Let's let people listen then. And then I want you to tell me why.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T NOBODY DO ME LIKE JESUS")

COLTER: (Singing) His mighty hand tells me to pick up and to run, tells me I'm not fighting in private wars. He tells me my battle's been won.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: Tell me why you love it.

COLTER: I love it because, first of all, it's true. It's a true story. Nobody can do what Christ can do in your heart and your soul, your mind and your spirit. And I attended an entirely Black church for 10 years in Nashville, Tenn., and that song was in the congregation. James Cleveland, who is a gospel writer icon, he wrote the song. But I rewrote it, and it was just how I was feeling that day.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAN'T NOBODY DO ME LIKE JESUS")

COLTER: (Singing) Can't do nobody do me like Jesus. Can't nobody do me like Jesus.

KELLY: Do you think you wrote a different song than you would have at an earlier point in your life? Because this is a song that has to do with faith, and you've talked about questioning your faith at times in your life.

COLTER: Yes. I went through a period of, I mean, they call it New Age. There's nothing new about all those things that have been part of deception in our culture and our history. And so I lived that way, really, without my faith for almost 10 years. So when I returned, I returned, you know, really knowing what it is. And it's a great thing. It's a great thing to know God and to have faith.

KELLY: Well, let me start bringing this to a close by asking about two milestones for you this year. Aside from putting out this album, you got married again this year. And you turned 80 this year. And it makes me wonder if it's a different kind of leap of faith to find love later in life.

COLTER: Oh, definitely. This gentleman came as a rancher horseman friend. I had met him, but I had so much going on. It wasn't a time that I could start a relationship. And so then we reunited about three years later, and after a few dates, he asked me if I would like to go on a picnic. And I thought, well, this is different. I kind of felt like a teenager or something.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COLTER: (Singing) We talked and laughed a while just like we could stop time.

And, yes, it is a different kind of love at a different time.

KELLY: So you're happy.

COLTER: I'm happy.

KELLY: You're happy.

COLTER: It's fun. And he said during our wedding ceremony, every day is going to be the best day of my life. And I'm thinking, who could have a better attitude?

KELLY: Well, Jessi Colter, congratulations on new adventures and new love and a new album this year. It's been quite a year so far.

COLTER: Been terrific. And thank you so much. I appreciate it.

KELLY: That is Jessi Colter, and her new album is called "Edge Of Forever." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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