October 5, 2005
Payne drifts into film, playing rock legends
By Chris Morris
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "If you nail yourself
down to one thing, you're gonna have a hurt foot," Waylon Payne
Country singer-songwriter Payne has been a hard man to nail
down lately. The musician, who released a fine but criminally
overlooked album, "The Drifter," through Republic/Universal
last year, is branching into acting. Appropriately enough, his
first two roles find him playing musical legends.
In November, Payne makes a small but head-turning
appearance as piano-pounding Jerry Lee Lewis in James Mangold's
Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line," due November 18 from 20th
Century Fox. He succeeded that part with a starring turn as
star-crossed Nashville session guitarist Hank Garland in Rick
Bieber's independent feature "Crazy."
Getting into a musician's head is no stretch for Payne --
music is literally in his blood. His mother was the late Sammi
Smith, who turned Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through
the Night" into a No. 1 country hit in 1970. His father is Jody
Payne, for years the guitarist in Willie Nelson's band. He was
named after his godfather, family friend Waylon Jennings.
"I'm my mama's kid, I'm my papa's kid," Payne says. "I'm a
highwayman, a traveling child of rock 'n' roll."
Payne -- whose credits include two stints as a backup
singer for Shelby Lynne and songwriting for Pat Green -- may
have been ready to get off the rock 'n' roll road after his
experience with "The Drifter" last year. Cut independently in
Los Angeles with producer-guitarist Keith Gattis, the album was
picked up for release by Universal.
"My life turned into f---ing hell," Payne says. Despite the
presence of such powerful, personal songs as "Her," "Jesus on a
Greyhound" and the classic-in-waiting "The Bottom" (recently
covered by Charlie Robison), the album made scarcely a ripple.
Fortunately, Payne got what he calls "the audition of a
lifetime" and stepped into Mangold's high-profile feature for
his first acting job. "I'd always been intrigued by it," Payne
says of screen work. "If you're going to be committed to being
an artist, you've got to be open to new things."
He quickly segued to Bieber's film, which is being
co-produced by guitarist Steve Vai. Payne has the opportunity
to stretch in that toplining role: Guitar prodigy Garland, a
brilliant soloist featured on major hits by Patsy Cline, Elvis
Presley and many others, was a tormented soul whose playing
career was ended prematurely by a 1961 car accident. "It was a
heavy story," Payne notes.
Payne hasn't allowed the klieg lights to bedazzle him away
from music. Working independently, he has recorded a live album
and DVD at San Francisco's Fillmore with a hot band that
includes Lucinda Williams' ace guitarist Doug Pettibone. He has
started work on a new studio album, cutting some duets with
Deana Carter. He says there's the possibility he may cut some
posthumous duets, a la Natalie and Nat King Cole, with his
mother, whose '70s Elektra sides were recently unearthed in the
Warner Music vaults.
And he may become the subject of a feature documentary:
Director Margo Hamilton has been doggedly documenting his
slalomlike life and career since early 2003.
The past two years have been busy, bumpy and interesting
for Waylon Payne, but the musician is open to all his new
possibilities. "I believe that anything is attainable," he
says. "All you have to do is go get it."