The Story Behind “Just to Satisfy You” by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson and How It Became a No. 1 Hit Almost 20 Years After It Was Written

Waylon Jennings met songwriter Don Bowman in the late 1950s when they worked together at KLLL radio in Lubbock, Texas. The pair would clown around on the air so much the station had to ban them from being in the control room at the same time. Bowman eventually took a job at KDEO in San Diego, and the two went their separate ways.

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When Jennings got the job playing bass in Buddy Holly’s ill-fated 1959 tour, Bowman was writing novelty songs and got a record deal with RCA Records. After Jennings landed in Tempe, Arizona, where he played regularly at JD’s nightclub with his band The Waylors, Bowman brought him part of a song. The two finished the composition and created a country classic. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Just to Satisfy You” by Waylon Jennings.

A Partial Song

When Bowman approached Jennings with the partial song, the future outlaw country singer didn’t think he could be a songwriter. The songs he heard in his head didn’t sound like anything on the radio at the time. Bowman encouraged him, and they worked on it together. In The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits, Jennings said, “I never thought that song was finished in the beginning. We were gonna throw it away, but we turned it around and wrote another bridge, or another verse, and made it right.”

Jennings wrote about Bowman in his autobiography, Waylon, “I knew he could be funny. Don and I had always gotten in trouble at K-triple-L. One of the ways the station paid for their lease was that every 30 minutes, we had to announce, ‘Studios atop the beautiful Great Plains Life Building in downtown Lubbock, Texas.’ Well, one day, it sounded awfully funny for us to say,’ Studios in the basement of the ol’ courthouse, and it’s been condemned.’ We didn’t have to say that more than three times, and they had him on the carpet. We were a little out of control. We’d put on a long-play record and go out and bowl a few frames. Finally, they got to where they put up a sign saying, ‘Waylon Jennings and Don Bowman are not allowed in the control room at the same time while on the air,’ and posted it right next to the FCC regulations.”

Someone’s gonna get hurt before you’re through
Someone’s gonna pay for the things you do
How many hearts must break, how many will it take
To satisfy you, just to satisfy you

A Song Has to Have Humor

Bowman had success writing songs for the country novelty duo Homer & Jethro. His first single as an artist was “Chit Akins, Make Me a Star.” This was prophetic, as Chet Atkins would later sign Jennings to RCA Records. Jennings continued, “We wrote several things together, and I learned so much from working with Don. He taught me that you have to have humor, whether or not the song itself is funny. If you get too damn serious, it becomes work.”

Another love, another fool
To play your game
Another love, another fool
They’re all the same

RCA Records

Bowman connected Jennings with Jerry Moss of A&M Records, and they put him under contract. Several releases failed to find the charts as Moss pushed Jennings in musical directions different than country. Jennings wrote, “Herb [Alpert, A&M co-founder] kept looking for something in me he couldn’t find. It just wasn’t there, really. He truly liked my singing, and he wanted me to make it, but even if you get a bigger hammer, you can’t fit a round peg into a square hole.”

While he contemplated moving to Nashville, Jennings and The Waylors were making good money as the house band at JD’s. Willie Nelson, passing through Tempe and watching Jennings perform, encouraged the aspiring country singer to stay put as the money was so good. BAT Records released Waylon Jennings at JD’s, which contained “Just to Satisfy You.” Country singer Bobby Bare was passing through the Phoenix area where he heard the song on the radio. He found a copy of the single and took it back to his producer in Nashville. Chet Atkins agreed to let Bare cut the song, but he encouraged him to also record the flipside, the Ian & Sylvia folk song “Four Strong Winds.” Bare took that song all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard country chart. The following year, Atkins signed Jennings to a deal with RCA Records.

Someone’s gonna get hurt before you’re through
Don’t be surprised if that someone is you
You’re gonna find, when it’s too late, a heart that just won’t break
To satisfy you, just to satisfy you
How many tears were cried, how many dreams have died
To satisfy you, just to satisfy you

No. 1 on the Country Charts

Jennings went on to have success with RCA Records and included “Just to Satisfy You” on the 1969 album of the same name. The song wasn’t released as a single at that time. In the documentary Renegade Outlaw Legend, Jennings said, “We wrote ‘Just to Satisfy You,’ and I almost didn’t even try to record that ’cause I didn’t think it was any good at all. But that song has really lived down through the ages, you might say.”

The song’s real success came in 1982—19 years after it was written—when Jennings recorded it again as a duet with his old friend and advisor Willie Nelson. This time, it appeared on the Chips Moman-produced album Black on Black and was released as a single. It went all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Jennings and Nelson had other successful duets with “Good Hearted Woman,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay,” and “Take It to the Limit,” plus their collaborations on singles by The Highwaymen with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.

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