My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Wille Nelson

Spotlight Artist: Willie Nelson

willie_nelson300Our October spotlight artist is one of the most prolific and most recognizable figures in American music, regardless of genre. With his career now in its seventh decade, the impact of Willie Nelson as both a singer and a songwriter can not be overestimated. He was born in Abbott, Texas on April 29, 1933 and began his recording career in Vancouver, Washington in 1956 with song called “Lumberjack”. Two years later he returned to Texas and signed with the Houston-based label D Records, which twenty years later would launch the career of another Texan named George Strait.

Although his early recordings did not catch on, Willie enjoyed success as the songwriter responsible for such classics as “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Hello Walls”. He moved to Nashville in 1960 and a year later he had his biggest success to date when his song “Crazy” was recorded by Patsy Cline. He was signed by Liberty Records in 1961 and managed to score a couple of hits with “Willingly” and “Touch Me”, a duet with Shirley Collie, who would soon become the second of his four wives. Sustained success as a recording continued to elude him, however. Nevertheless, he was offered a deal with RCA Records in 1964, partly so the label could get first crack at his songs for its other artists. He scored some minor hits with his compositions “One In a Row” and “The Party’s Over” and a cover of Morecambe & Wise’s “Bring Me Sunshine”, but he had difficulty finding his niche, as the genre was still largely dominated by The Nashville Sound. Discouraged by his lack of success, he decided to retire from music and returned to Texas, settling in Austin. He found the hippie scene there more to his liking and it was there that the kernels were sown for what would eventually become known as Outlaw — a movement for which Willie, along with Waylon Jennings, Tompall Glaser and David Allan Coe, is credited with creating. When his deal with RCA ended in 1972, he signed with Atlantic Records and traveled to New York City to record the critically acclaimed Shotgun Willie, which was released the following year.

After a second critically acclaimed album for Atlantic, 1974’s Phases & Stages, Nelson signed a contract with Columbia Records that allowed him complete creative control over his music. The concept album Red Headed Stranger wasn’t exactly what the suits at Columbia had in mind, but when it was released in 1975 it became an instant critical and commercial success, ushering in the most successful phase of his career. The album included a cover version of Fred Rose’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”, which became Willie’s first #1 hit. He followed up the success of Red Headed Stranger with Stardust, a collection of pop standards that again proved the naysayers wrong by spawning three Top Five hits and spending the next decade on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It sold more than 5 million copies in the United States alone. It was also an international success, proving that Nelson had widespread appeal beyond the typical country music audience. He was named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association in 1979.

Wille remained a mainstay on country radio through the end of the 1980s but after that his success on the charts began to decline. He remained with Columbia through 1993 and after departing the label he continued to be prolific recording artist with output on a variety of major and independent labels throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. In the current decade, he is once again recording for Sony Music; Legacy Recordings will release a duets album, To All The Girls later this month.

Though Willie is also well-known for his activities outside of country music for a variety of reasons, including political activism, organizing the humanitarian Farm Aid concerts, getting into trouble with the IRS and indulgingin illegal substances, it is his musical legacy that we will focus on. Though we can’t possibly do justice to his acclaimed career in just one month, we’ll try to include as many of the highlights as we can.

Week ending 4/13/13: #1 albums this week in country music history

merle haggard willie nelson - pancho and lefty1968: Buck Owens – It Takes People Like You (Capitol)

1973: Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell – Dueling Banjos (Warner Brothers)

1978: Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson – Waylon & Willie (RCA Victor)

1983: Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson – Pancho & Lefty (Epic)

1988: K.T. Oslin – 80’s Ladies (RCA)

1993: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1998: Shania Twain – Come On Over (Mercury)

2003: Dixie Chicks – Home (Open Wide/Columbia)

2008: Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2013: Blake Shelton – Based on a True Story (Warner Brothers)

Week ending 5/19/12: #1 singles this week in country music history

1952: The Wild Side of Life — Hank Thompson (Capitol)

1962: She Thinks I Still Care — George Jones (United Artists)

1972: Grandma Harp — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1982: Always On My Mind — Willie Nelson (Columbia)

1992: Neon Moon — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2002: My List — Toby Keith (DreamWorks Nashville)

2012: Over You — Miranda Lambert (RCA)

Country’s greatest duos


Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner

Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner

Few things satisfy a country music fan more than when two of one’s favorite solo performers announce plans to go into the studio and record together.  Country music has a long and rich history of producing collaborations with such great chemistry that they threatened to overshadow the solo work of the same artists. Perhaps that’s why we don’t see country music stars pairing up to do duets on a regular basis anymore. Nowadays, Tim and Faith, or Reba and Vince, or Kenny and Dolly, will make guest appearances on one another’s albums but they generally don’t make duet albums anymore – or if they do, it’s a one time or very occasional special event.

Today, a duo is more likely to be two performers that perform exclusively together as an act – i.e., Brooks & Dunn, Sugarland, or Joey + Rory, as opposed to the old days when Conway and Loretta, George and Tammy, and Porter and Dolly regularly released duet albums concurrently with their solo work. Growing up I can remember listening to such classic pairings as Waylon & Willie, Waylon and Jessi, Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, and David Frizzell and Shelly West, in addition to the aforementioned Conway and Loretta, and George and Tammy. And then later, there were duos that collaborated less frequently, like Kenny and Dolly, Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart. Most of the Porter and Dolly duets were out of print and off the radio by the time I got into country music, but when some of their work was finally released on CD, it was like finding a long lost treasure.

Who are some of your favorite duos?