Well, if you can believe it, today marks the 80th birthday of the Red Headed Stranger, aka Willie Nelson. For those of you marveling that the country music icon has made it this long, I was half surprised he wasn’t 80 a good decade or so ago. But all joking aside, Willie really is the stuff of legends, a truly gifted writer and musician whose well-documented off-stage antics have nearly overshadowed, as well as derailed, his impressive career on more than one occasion.
Truth be told, even though culturally speaking he’s been on my radar since my earliest memories, I never really took Willie too seriously until about the past five or six years when I picked up Red Headed Stranger on a whim and never looked back. I mean at the end of the day, this is the guy who penned the seminal country standard Crazy, and while Patsy’s version may be the definitive (at least most well known), to hear the man himself deliver a rendition always garners two enthusiastic thumbs up.
I’m not as well versed in his catalog as many, he’s been highly prolific, and a lot of that early stuff is pretty hard to track down, but I’ve heard enough covering the past five decades to appreciate the fact that even some of his more light weight efforts (the 80s weren’t a good time for many 60s/70s artists, but Willie fared better than others) carry a good sense of musicianship and an enjoyable, hum-along melody that makes albums like Island in the Sea less a guilty pleasure and more an overlooked, lesser gem.
Still, the 70s are recognizably his more critically fertile period (all you Willie scholars feel free to shoot me down), at least to the public eye, with albums like Shotgun Willie and, of course, Red Headed Stranger, and bleeding over into the early 80s with On the Road Again, etc.
Today’s TfT are some lesser-known cuts. Are You Sure?, from the 60s, is one of Karla’s favorite Willie tunes, and very old school country. Meanwhile, Bloody Mary Morning, a reasonably (though now forgotten) successful single from the divorce story album, Phases and Stages.
Make your day a Willie day.