It has taken me ten-plus years to realize the monumental talent of Willie Nelson. His musical catalog is unparalleled in terms of variety–especially within the Country and Western genre. He’s recorded western albums, honky tonk, Outlaw country, country-rock, straight forward rock ‘n roll, contemprorary standards, even straight jazz. These are full albums, not just songs. He’s a relentless pusher of musical boundaries who excels in almost any performance format. Willie broke away from the traditional Nashville-based country scene and, along with Waylon and a few others, decided to make his home base in Austin. Thus, the “Outlaw Country” sub-genre was formed.
That’s an incredibly respectable feat, in my opinion. I’ve always admired artists who defy convention. Willie follows his muse wherever it takes him, and he’s left behind a musical legacy matched by few others in the last 50 years, regardless of genre.
Willie’s 1978 album “Stardust”created the mold for musical superstars performing contemporary standards. This template has been followed to this day by any number of musicians, but Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow, or (especially) Rod Stewart(get a haircut) can’t hold a candle to Nelson’s interpretations of popular music.
I think it’s supremely unfair for Willie Nelson to be judged as a perpetually stoned burnout by today’s society. I feel that’s the prevailing opinion held by many. He should be remembered as a genius whose contributions to modern music is incalculable. With that, he should be mentioned in the same breath as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan.
My uncle used to live a couple of blocks from Willie’s Lake Travis ranch, Pedernales. I’ve played his golf course (Willie’s cut ‘n putt) a few times and even got to peek at his recording studio adjacent to the pro shop. I happened to glance at his mail one time and each letter was addressed with only “Willie” and “Texas”. If you can receive your mail with only your name and state on the envelope, you are doing something right.
For a few months, my musical muse has led me to the country and western genre. I used to think Merle Haggard was my artist of choice, now I have to say he’s been trumped by Willie. As I’ve said before, the great news is I can hear them both on “Pancho and Lefty”.
A few of my favorite Willie albums (other than the one’s already mentioned)