Monday, July 16, 2012

Willie Nelson's Sharing of the Wealth

It's strange, but the introduction to the Wikipedia entry for Willie Nelson doesn't mention his enormously popular 1978 album Stardust. This record was my introduction to his world. It catapulted Willie to a completely new level. Instead of simply being the guy who wrote Patsy Cline's "Crazy" or a member of the Outlaw Country gang (of which I was completely unaware), Nelson became not only a master songwriter, but a singer. Why, let's revise that: the guy was a crooner in his own way!

I started learning the classic country songs thanks to Willie's subsequent releases,  just as listening to Pete Seeger taught me the traditional folk songs. There are so many things that I love about Willie, but the best might be what he did after he hit the pop jackpot. He turned around and recorded many duet albums with other great country songwriters. The albums showcased his partner's hits. Before long, I got to know the names Merle Haggard, Faron Young, Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizell, and Ray Price.

I've been listening lately to San Antonio Rose, a 1980 release with Willie and Ray Price. Impossible for me to tire of this collection. Favorite cuts include Willie's classic "Funny How Time Slips Away" with its stop and start shuffling rhythm and "Night Life", a song Willie co-wrote. Why does this stanza from that song always creep into my mind?

Many people just like me
Dreamin' of old used-to-be's
And the night life ain't no good life
But it's my life

It's the song's attitude that sticks - the mixture of regret and defensiveness. I also love the guitar licks that surround the bridge.

Listen to the blues they're playin'
Listen to what the blues are sayin'

What a fabulous song! Ray Price shows his vocal chops with Floyd Tillman's "This Cold War with You" and "Crazy Arms" (the latter an enormous 1956 hit for him). Price is credited with introducing something called the 4/4 shuffle. I read it was inspired by Bob Wills, whose work is also featured here in the title track and the lovely "Faded Love" that brings the proceedings to a close.

Willie Nelson chose to honor his friends when he inherited a mass audience, and I'm so grateful that he did because I have learned so many great songs. He is a singer and songwriter and artist who has moved me deeply for years. Give this duet album a listen. I know you'll get the bug and search out other collaborations from this period. It's a real treasure trove!

Click here to enjoy 82 year-old Ray Price performing in 2009. Man, everything is completely intact. What a singer!

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