Before adopting the stage name of Jessi Colter, American country singer-songwriter, Mirriam Johnson was raised within a strict Pentecostal household in Phoenix, Arizona. Her mother, who was a minister of their church, had the then 11-year-old playing the church piano. It wasn’t until after graduating high school in 1961 that she would begin singing in local clubs while still living in Phoenix. That same year, she married instrumental rock guitarist, Duane Eddy, as well as released two singles where only one would receive occasional airplay. Despite “Lonesome Road” being heard on the radio, it failed to chart. These songs were released while Colter was still using her original birth name.
As Time Passes On
A year after Mirriam Johnson divorces in 1968, she met with Waylon Jennings. He not only helped the songstress get back into the recording studio, recharging her aspiration as a country artist but also became her second husband. Now as Jessi Colter, she performed a duet with Jennings in 1970 and later that year released her debut album “A Country Star is Born.” However, it was not a commercial success and Colter would spend the next few years featured as a face among some recordings belonging to Jennings.
It wouldn’t be until 1975 when things began to look up for Colter’s career as this was the year she signed with Capitol Records and put forth her debut single, “I’m Not Lisa.” This proved to be the breakthrough she needed to carve a name for herself in the country music genre. Throughout Jessi Colter’s career, she has put forth a total of eleven studio albums, three compilation albums, and twenty-six singles.
Top 10 Jessi Colter Songs
#10 – The Old Rugged Cross (featuring Johnny Cash)
Although not officially released as a single, the 1987 duet performance by the combined talent of Jessi Colter and Johnny Cash makes this gospel country classic every bit as enjoyable to listen to as its original 1912 release as a hymn by evangelist George Bennard. The first time this song was released as a country gospel single was in 1952 by Ernest Tubb.
#9 – Maybe You Should Have Been Listening
Coming from the 1978 album, “That’s the Way a Cowboy Rock and Rolls,” the single “Maybe You Should Have Been Listening,” became a minor hit on the music charts shortly after its release. On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, it peaked at forty-five and with Canada’s RPM Country chart at sixty-one. It is one of eight singles coming from Colter as a solo artist that would become a registered hit within the country music genre.
#8 – I Thought I Heard You Call My Name
Coming from the July 1976 album, “Diamond in the Rough,” is the single, “I Thought I Heard You Call My Name.” According to the music charts, it became a minor hit as it peaked on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart at number twenty-nine and on Canada’s RPM Country chart at forty-eight.
#7 – It’s Morning (And I Still Love You)
The single, “It’s Morning (And I Still Love You), was released in 1975, followed by the album “Jessi,” which was released in January 1976. On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, it peaked at number eleven and with Canada’s RPM Country chart, at twentieth. It served to be one of three of Colter’s major hits as a solo artist.
#6 – Under Your Spell Again (featuring Waylon Jennings)
The 1972 album, “Ladies Love Outlaws,” was released by Waylon Jennings, which featured Jessi Colter performing with him the single, “Under Your Spell Again.” On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, it peaked at number twenty-five. For Colter, while she hadn’t yet established herself as a chart-hitting soloist yet, was already recognized not just as the wife of the legendary Waylon Jennings, but as one of the more recognized female vocalists that not only charted in the country music genre but in pop-rock as well.
#5 – Storms Never Last (featuring Waylon Jennings)
Among the many duets Colter performed with her husband, Waylon Jennings, “Storms Never Last” emerged as another hit the two country artists would add to their discographic portfolio. On the US Hot Country Songs chart, it peaked at number seventeen while with Canada’s RPM Country chart at eleventh. This song was the first of two hits that would come from the couple’s studio album, “Leather and Lace,” which was released in February 1981.
#4 – The Wild Side of Life / It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels (featuring Waylon Jennings)
Originally recorded and released in 1952 by Hank Thompson, “The Wild Side of Life” was the inspiration behind the 1952 answer song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” performed by Kitty Wells. For Jessi Colter and Waylon Jennings, they took both songs to combine them as one as a duet in 1981. On the US Hot Country Songs chart, the two-song combo peaked at number eleven while on Canada’s RPM Country chart at sixth. Since the February 1981 release of the duo’s collaborative album, “Leather and Lace,” it has become certified Gold by Music Canada and the RIAA.
#3 – What Happened to Blue Eyes
Coming from the album, “I’m Jessi Colter,” is one of two singles that would appear on the music charts for the country singer-songwriter. “What Happened to Blue Eyes” ranked in fifth place on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, as well as eleventh on Canada’s RPM Country chart. On the US Billboard Hot 100, this song proved to be the second cross-over hit for Colter as a soloist as it peaked at fifty-seven.
#2 – I’m Not Lisa
“I’m Not Lisa” was the breakthrough song Jessi Colter needed to emerge as one of the few outlaw country female artists during the 1970s as it peaked at number one on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and with Canada’s RPM Country chart and its Adult Contemporary chart. On the US Billboard Hot 100, I’m Not Lisa peaked at fourth place. It was also the first song that would have Jessi Colter recognized at a worldwide level. It charted as high as sixth in South Africa, seventeenth in Austria and New Zealand, and in Australia at number thirty-one.
This would also be the first time Colter would receive award nominations as I’m Not Lisa was nominated for Song of the Year and Single of the Year with the Country Music Association Awards. The Grammy Awards also recognized Jessi Colter with nominations, namely for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song. Although she didn’t win any official awards for this song, it still wins as the signature song for Colter as a soloist.
#1 – Suspicious Minds (featuring Waylon Jennings)
Newlyweds Jessi Colter and Waylon Jennings recorded and released “Suspicious Minds” in 1970, which appeared on the US Billboard Hot Country chart at number twenty-five, but performed even better when it was re-released in 1976. On the US Billboard Hot Country chart and Canada’s RPM Country chart, it peaked as high as second.
The duet’s performance of Suspicious Minds is part of the collaborative album, “Wanted! The Outlaws,” which featured the overall combined talent of Jessi Colter, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Tompall Glaser. In 1976, the album won Album of the Year with the Academy of Country Music Awards and in 1977, with the Country Music Association Awards. In 2007, the Grammy Awards issued the Grammy Hall of Fame Award, recognizing the album for its contribution to the country music genre. In sales, Wanted! The Outlaws became double Platinum Certified by the RIAA, as well as single Platinum Certification with Music Canada.
Feature Photo: Leffler, Warren K., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons