Willie Nelson Part Four
For those who like C&W, here’s Willie Nelson Part Four. I also have Disc Two on the end of this blog.
Shotgun Willie, released in May 1973, earned excellent reviews but did not sell well. The album led Nelson to a new style, later stating that Shotgun Willie had “cleared his throat”. His next release, Phases and Stages, released in 1974, was a concept album about a couple’s divorce, inspired by his own experience. Side one of the record is from the viewpoint of the woman, and side two is from the viewpoint of the man. The album included the hit single “Bloody Mary Morning.” The same year, he produced and starred in the pilot episode of PBS’ Austin City Limits.
Nelson then moved to Columbia Records, where he signed a contract that gave him complete creative control, made possible by the critical and commercial success of his previous albums. The result was the critically acclaimed, and massively popular 1975 concept album Red Headed Stranger. Although Columbia was reluctant to release an album with primarily a guitar and piano for accompaniment, Nelson and Waylon Jennings insisted. The album included a cover of Fred Rose’s 1945 song “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”, that had been released as a single previous to the album, and became Nelson’s first number one hit as a singer. Throughout his 1975 tour, Nelson raised funds for PBS-affiliated stations across the south promoting Austin City Limits. The pilot was aired first on those stations, later being released nationwide. The positive reception of the show prompted PBS to order ten episodes for 1976, formally launching the show.
As Jennings was also achieving success in country music in the early 1970s, the pair were combined into a genre called outlaw country, since it did not conform to Nashville standards. The album Wanted! The Outlaws in 1976 with Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser cemented the pair’s outlaw image and became country music’s first platinum album. Later that year Nelson released The Sound in Your Mind (certified gold in 1978 and platinum in 2001) and his first gospel album Troublemaker (certified gold in 1986).
In the summer of 1977, Nelson discovered that Reshen had been filing tax extensions and not paying the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) since he took over as his manager. In June, a package containing cocaine was sent from Reshen’s office in New York to Jennings in Nashville. The package was followed by the DEA, and Jennings was arrested. The charges were later dropped, since Reshen’s assistant, Mark Rothbaum stepped in and took the charges. Rothbaum was sentenced to serve time in jail. Impressed by his attitude, Nelson fired Reshen and hired Rothbaum as his manager. In 1978, Nelson released two more platinum albums. One, Waylon & Willie, was a collaboration with Jennings that included “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”, a hit single written and performed by Ed Bruce. Though observers predicted that Stardust would ruin his career, it went platinum the same year. Nelson continued to top the charts with hit songs during the late 1970s, including “Good Hearted Woman”, “Remember Me”, “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time”, and “Uncloudy Day”.
During the 1980s, Nelson recorded a series of hit singles including “Midnight Rider”, a 1980 cover of the Allman Brothers song which Nelson recorded for The Electric Horseman, the soundtrack “On the Road Again” from the movie Honeysuckle Rose, and a duet with Julio Iglesias titled “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”.
In 1982, Pancho & Lefty, a duet album with Merle Haggard produced by Chips Moman was released. During the recording sessions of Pancho and Lefty, session guitarist Johnny Christopher and co-writer of “Always on My Mind”, tried to pitch the song to an uninterested Haggard. Nelson, who was unaware of Elvis Presley’s version of the song asked him to record it. Produced by Moman, the single of the song was released, as well as the album of the same name. The single topped Billboard’s Hot Country Singles, while it reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100. The release won three awards during the 25th Annual Grammy Awards: Song of the Year, Best Country Song and Best Male Country Vocal Performance. The single was certified platinum; while the album was certified quadruple-platinum, and later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.
Meanwhile, two collaborations with Waylon Jennings were released;WWII in 1982, and Take it to the Limit, another collaboration with Waylon Jennings was released in 1983. In the mid-1980s, Nelson, Jennings, Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash formed The Highwaymen, who achieved platinum record sales and toured the world. Meanwhile, he became more involved with charity work, such as singing on We are the World in 1984. In 1985, Nelson had another success with Half Nelson, a compilation album of duets with a range of artists such as Ray Charles and Neil Young. In 1980, Nelson performed on the south lawn of the White House. The concert of September 13 featured First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Nelson in a duet of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother”. Nelson frequently visited the White House, where according to the biography by Joe Nick Patoski, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, he smoked marijuana on the White House roof.