Waylon Payne’s career comes full circle with


Waylon Payne at the Parthenon at Centennial Park in Nashville , Tenn., Monday, Sept. 4, 2023.

On a recent sunny morning at the Parthenon in Nashville, a passerby paused to listen to a musician sitting on the steps, strumming his guitar and singing. The man extended some cash offering the player a tip.

The musician lowered his guitar and gracefully declined the monetary gesture, thanking him and telling him he was a good person for offering.

The man obliged, then stepped away and quietly googled the name “Waylon Payne.” After a minute, he came back, apologized and asked for an autograph and a photo with the acclaimed singer, who was having his photo taken for this story.

This is classic Payne, whose story, career, background and childhood are legendary, although not obvious at first glance. Payne is the child of Grammy-winning singer Sammi Smith (“Help Me Make it Through the Night”) and guitar player Jody Payne who spent the bulk of his career touring with Willie Nelson, who Payne says has been a constant force throughout his life.

After spending the bulk of his life around Nelson and “the boys” as he calls them, for the first time in his career, Payne is now embarking on tour as Willie Nelson’s guitar player.

Waylon Payne stands with his dog, Petey, at the Parthenon at Centennial Park in Nashville , Tenn., Monday, Sept. 4, 2023.

The letter that changed everything

In part because of his parents’ careers, Payne was mostly raised by an aunt and uncle in rural Texas. In fact, he didn’t even meet his father until he wrote his dad a letter at age 16. While his mom and dad were among the pioneers of the outlaw country movement of the early ’70s, Payne groomed his musical chops singing Amy Grant and Sandi Patty songs in the Baptist church.

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