It would take years for Jennings to overcome the horror and guilt--indeed, he never discussed the incident publicly until his book was published. For the next decade, despite incessant touring (and all the debauchery that came with it)--and even a starring role in the American-International flick Nashville Rebel--his recording career floundered.
Things turned better in the late sixties, when he married his fourth wife, Jessi Colter, who would stick with him right to the end. Moreover, after years of frustration dealing with Nashville record executives and producers--who produced a syrupy and smooth "Nashville sound" they weren't willing to change--Jennings turned to the harder-edged "outlaw country" that would make him a superstar:
Nashville had a definite, set formula for what a country record should sound like. There's more than one kind of country music though--a wide range that takes in everything from bluegrass to western swing. Their country was smooth and pop, one road that led to a Nashville Sound. Well, I couldn't do that. I didn't want to do that.
I had an energy, and it made them afraid. In response, they tried to control me, make me a cog in their machine, and it didn't stop with record production. Everybody got in on it: the marketing departments, the promoters, the talent bookers. "I didn't like his last album; he had some songs on there that sounded like rock and roll to me." Maybe there was a heavier bottom, a rock and roll beat driving a country song, but if there's no edge in the music, there's no edge in me.
By 1976, Wanted! The Outlaws, a compilation featuring Jennings, his pal Willie Nelson, Colter and other "outlaw" performers, became the first million-selling country album in history.
With huge success came all the excesses of superstardom, especially the narcotic kind. Jennings's 1977 bust made him even more of a folk hero ("Chet Atkins once told me that I was getting so much free publicity that he thought about committing a crime himself."), but his heavy drug use--not to mention the legal fees--left him on the cusp of bankruptcy by the end of the decade. (This may explain why he was "the balladeer" on The Dukes of Hazzard for its entire run, even for the "Coy and Vance" season.)