Larry Jon Wilson was late to the first day of filming for cult-classic outlaw country documentary Heartworn Highways, says producer Graham Leader, who had to track him down at his hotel room, drag him out of bed and bring him to the studio.
The recording session for Wilson’s song “Ohopee River Bottomland” is featured in the famous 1976 film, which screened this weekend at the first annual Pioneertown Film Festival in Pioneertown, California. Leader was there in attendance to give a Q&A after the screening, during which he regaled the audience with the story of how a hungover Larry Jon Wilson finally made it to the studio three hours after call time.
“I was shitting a brick because I was producing a film,” Leader said. “He was supposed to be at the studio at whatever it was, 9 o’clock in the morning. When we got there — this was our first day of filming, we didn’t know what the fuck was going to happen — he wasn’t there,” he added, laughing.
“So we set up, we got ready… and 10 o’clock, 11, 11:30, and our first day’s gone in the toilet. When you’re making a film, a lot of it has to do with creating confidence and a sense of unity and purpose. And I couldn’t find him. We didn’t have cell phones. I found out, finally, from his manager where he was staying, and he’d been performing the night before. I had to literally drag him out of bed, literally, at 12 o’clock. He was so sweet, but he was so hungover. He was such a wreck. And I had to literally bundle him into the car.”
Wilson released four studio albums in the 1970s, including New Beginnings and Let Me Sing a Song to You. He left the music industry in the 1980s and returned nearly thirty years later with a new record titled Larry Jon Wilson just a year before his death in 2010.
“I will tell you, that was the first thing we filmed, Larry Jon Wilson,” Leader said. “After Guy Clark sings ‘L.A. Freeway,’ the next song is Larry Jon Wilson in the studio. And that was a big budget day because I rented the studio for ‘Ohopee River Bottomland’ … I hadn’t even met Larry Jon, it was all done through his agent. I heard his music and thought he would be great to have in the film. He was a great guy.”
Despite the rough start to the day, Wilson perked right up “as soon as he got his guitar in his hand and he had a coffee,” Leader said, which is evident from the skillful performance he gave that day which ended up in Heartworn Highways.
“Larry Jon was such a hugely generous warm and giving talent,” Leader said. “So that was our first day. We were very lucky to get it at all. ”
Heartworn Highways also stars Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, David Allan Coe, Steve Young, Gamble Rogers, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, and The Charlie Daniels Band.
You can watch the original Heartworn Highways in full on YouTube, and you can stream Leader’s 2015 sequel, Heartworn Highways Revisited, on Apple TV+.
Main Image: Larry Jon Wilson in Heartworn Highways