Willie Nelson turns 74 today. He holds a special place in my heart - my dad didn't really like Willie back in the day, probably because my dad's never smoked a joint in his life, and I had to turn him on (just to the Willie). My own musical journey started with my parents' oldies and old-school country, then to the cock rock of my youth to alt/indie rock in high school until I finally started discovering more roots-based music, including Willie. I was able to come back around to some old-school country and change my dad's mind, not through talking, but by the music itself. Willie has a gentle, delicate touch with both his playing and songwriting. He picks and strums his beat-up old guitar Trigger with a loose, lively, jazzish feel, and once you learn to recognize it, his guitar playing is as unique as his voice. The jazzy vocal and guitar flourishes and constant nods to the old masters separate his music from standard country fare, and he and his music are national treasures that should be appreciated. If you've never seen him live, or even if you have, don't pass up an opportunity if he comes to your town.
Insound lists 168 albums with Willie Nelson - show the love if you don't actually own any Willie albums. I would start with "Willie and Family Live", seminal versions of lots of his songs including the whole Red-Headed Stranger Medley. The following show was recorded for possible release as "Willie and Family Live 2" but was scrapped and instead just leaked to fans, possibly because of the slightly reverb-y venue. The show was in an actual tent in Germany, called Sternenzelt (Star-tent), in the city of Bad Reichenhall. It was quite a long show, the entire thing fills up three CDs. This is about a third of it, several of the better tracks including a cover of Django Reinhardt's "Nuages" and the rare "Beer-Barrel Polka" for the German crowd. If you're interested in the entire show, it is still available on DimeADozen in lossless format - if you're not familiar with BitTorrent and want to download tons of great concerts like this one completely free and legally, check out the white BitTorrent How-To link on the right.
Happy Birthday, Willie!
May 24, 1998
Sternenzelt, Bad Reichenhall, Germany
1 Whiskey River
2 Stay All Night
3 Good Hearted Woman
4 Hello There
(Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away)
6 Night Life
7 Me & Paul
8 Me & Bobby McGee
9 Blue Eyes Cryin' In The Rain
10 Blue Skies
11 All Of Me
13 Spirit of E9
14 Poncho & Lefty
15 Milk Cow Blues
17 The Beer Barrel Polka
18 Everywhere I Go
19 The Party's Over
And if there weren't enough albums at Insound for you to buy, Willie's own site links to this Texas Roadhouse page with a few unique Willie CDs. And Willie also sells high-quality recordings of his concerts from his webpage. Several quality shows with varied setlists, but I bet you can count on a version of "Whiskey River"
Let's hang out with Willie and stay a little longer...
For Willie's 70th birthday bash (available on DVD) he was treated to perhaps the best Willie tribute song ever written:
...and here's Willie with some interesting things to say on the PBS program NOW:
... a tribute to Willie's ability - note that he's not completely familiar with the old Johnny Cash tune "Country Boy", yet manages to pick away a beautiful accompaniment anyways:
... one of my favorite Willie tunes:
... and finally, if you didn't catch the album where Willie did reggae (Countryman) and didn't totally suck at it, here's the video of his version of Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come":