New Glaser book sets the record straight regarding origination of the term “Outlaw” in country music

Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective. As I told ‘The Tennessean’ in 2008, “since moving to Nashville twenty-five years ago, I have met people whose lives do not remotely reflect the caricature of what many outside our city presume to be a ‘Nashvillian’ or the Nashville experience.” “Underground Nashville” thus explores the soul of the city, not its surface—offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew


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New Glaser book sets the record straight regarding origination of the term “Outlaw” in country music

By Dave Carew

In one of its more myth-debunking chapters, a new book by Dennis Glaser challenges the long-held contention that Hazel Smith—and Hazel Smith alone—came up with the term “outlaw” to describe the brand of country music first popularized by Waylon Jennings, Tompall Glaser, and others in the 1970s. (Dennis Glaser is the cousin and former manager of Tompall Glaser. His new book is entitled Music City’s Defining Decade: Stories, Stars, Songwriters & Scoundrels.)

How does Glaser know the “conventional wisdom” doesn’t offer the full story?  Because he was literally in the room when the term “outlaw” was being debated.

“What I did,” Glaser writes in an e-mail to Underground Nashville, “and what Hazel Smith takes credit for having done, is define the term, based on the dictionary definition.”

Why is that a big deal?

“Waylon Jennings and Tompall were reluctant to ‘accept’ the use of the word, fearing that it would tend to identify them as crooks, bandits, etc.,” Glaser writes. “So, having been a journalist all my life up to this point, I immediately sought out the dictionary, and then wrote a memo which dealt with ‘outlaw,’ ‘progressive,’ ‘cowboy,’ etc.”

It was that memo, Glaser asserts, that significantly helped calm Waylon’s and others’ nerves about the term “outlaw.”

The classic album Wanted: The Outlaws—featuring Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser—went on to become the first country album to sell more than one million copies.  Thanks—in a small but not insignificant way—to Dennis Glaser’s trusty dictionary.

Music City’s Defining Decade: Stories, Stars, Songwriters & Scoundrels is now available from 

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter.” He also is a freelance book editor, publicist, and copywriter.


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