08 January 2010


For a great many years, I avoided country music like it was the plague. The thing was, in my youth the only country I was exposed to was the 60's Grand Ole Opry style, with all the sequins, cheesy orchestration, and more slide guitar in each song than anyone could possibly need on a whole album.

Thankfully, the many years I spent on the retail end of the music industry allowed me to open my pallet to a much wider variety of music. Thanks to this, I belatedly became a huge fan of the Red Headed Stranger, Mr. Willie Nelson (as well as Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, and a host of other "country" artists with a bit more teeth than that schmaltzy crap).

For those of you who, like my former self, don't pay much attention to this particular style of music, here's the quick version of the beginnings of Willie's career. He moved from his home town in Texas to Nashville in 1960, hoping to land a recording contract. Things didn't work out right away, but he did manage to land a pblishing deal, and he began getting his songs recorded by other established acts, for whom they became big hits. "Crazy", "Hello Walls", "Funny How Time Slips Away". . . all Willie's.

After writing so many hits, he did get his contract, and released a handful of albums in the aforementioned schmaltzy style that was so big at the time. In the early 70's, he became one of the founders of the "outlaw country" style. This is the period that made him a legend. Basically, from this point on he's had full creative control over his music. Yeah, he may have made a few miss-steps along the way, but damn, the man is a legend for a reason.

Here's a batch of songs you won't find on his albums:

(files expired)

Willie Nelson - "Philadelphia Lawyer" (Woody Guthrie cover) From the Folkways: A Vision Shared tribute album. (buy)
Toots and the Maytals with Willie Nelson - "Still is Still Moving To Me" From Toots' album True Love. (buy)
Willie Nelson - "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (Nirvana cover) Recorded live in the studio for Triple M Radio in Australia.
Willie Nelson - "Cowboys are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other" (Ned Sublette cover) The story goes, Willie got a tape of Ned's version in the 80s, which he played on the tour bus for some time, before recording, and shelving, his own version. Two decades later, when Brokeback Mountain became a hit at the theaters, he finally issued his version, stating on a press release "The song's been in the closet for 20 years. The timing's right for it to come out. I'm just opening the door." This one would later be included on a compilation of Willie's tunes, but it's such a great song that I'm breaking my own rule and including it here.
Willie Nelson and Calexico - "SeƱor (Tales of Yankee Power)" (Bob Dylan cover) From the I'm Not There soundtrack. (buy) If Willie and Calexico record together again, could they call themselves Wil-co?
Ziggy Marley with Willie Nelson - "This Train" From Ziggy's album Family Time. (buy)

I'm not going to try to list all of his work, but here's a few albums you might want to pick up:

Red Headed Stranger, 1975 (buy)
Stardust, 1978 (buy) (covers album, not my personal favorite, but it was huge)
Honeysuckle Rose, 1980 (buy) (soundtrack)
Crazy: The Demo Sessions, 2003 (buy) (his earliest recordings)
Countryman, 2005 (buy) (reggae album)
Two Men with the Blues, 2008 (buy) (Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis)
Naked Willie, 2009 (buy) (60's-era songs, remastered without the schmaltz, much like The Beatles' Let It be. . .Naked)
Lost Highway, 2009 (buy) (compilation w/ "Cowboys are Frequently. . .")

Willie is always on tour. Check out his website for dates, and get out to the shows.

In completely unrelated news, I recently had a conversation with someone who is close to Irish band The Frames. I was told that, while nothing is official yet, there has been talk of hitting the studio later this year, and touring to celebrate their 20th year together. Yippee!


Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas said...

That Willie...I'd like to be Willie (or at least hang out with him) for a day.

Thanks for gathering up these tracks to share.

Linda said...

I enjoyed that, thanks. Willie is one of a kind.

ro said...

any way of re-upping this? thanks and i enjoy your blog.

DeadBilly said...

Give me a couple days & I'll re-up.