RIP Jody Payne, Willie Nelson’s Longtime Guitarist

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Jody Payne, who for 35 years played lead guitar in Willie Nelson’s band The Family, died this past Saturday (Aug. 10), from heart complications. He was 77.

“Our friend will be missed,” read a note from Nelson on his Facebook page.

Payne had retired from Nelson’s group in 2008 and was leading a relatively quiet life in Stapleton, Alabama, teaching guitar and playing out occasionally.

“We created musical history,” he said in a 2011 interview regarding the decades he spent in Nelson’s Family Band. “I was just a small part of something people wanted to hear, and we entertained them.”

A native of Kentucky, Payne began playing music as a kid, and as a teenager he wound up backing country legend Charlie Monroe (brother of bluegrass founder Bill Monroe). During the 1960s, Payne played with more country greats including Merle Haggard, Ray Price, and Hank Snow. He eventually married singer Sammi Smith, who became a country sensation thanks to her cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” a massive No. 1 hit in 1971. The two eventually divorced, and Payne remarried in 1980.

Payne had met Nelson in the 1960s, but he didn’t join Nelson’s touring band until 1973. That was a period, though, when Nelson was not yet the household name he is today. (That all changed after the release of Nelson’s classic album Red Headed Stranger).

In the video below, Payne performs with Nelson in 1974, singing lead on a Ray Wylie Hubbard classic:


Twenty years later Payne sings “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle To You” with Nelson, but on a much larger stage at Farm Aid:


Payne is survived by his wife Vicki and two children, Waylon and Austin.

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