As America prepares to commemorate the 80th birthday of Willie Nelson on April 30th, the country music icon will be celebrated as Artist of the Month for April, 2013 by Legacy Recordings, a division of SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT. The celebration carries on all month, and includes the April 16th release of a new album, Let’s Face The Music And Dance, on Legacy Recordings.
Let’s Face The Music And Dance is comprised of 20th century pop, rock, jazz and country music classics and standards. It was recorded by Willie and The Family, the band that Willie started with his sister Bobbie Nelson in 1973, and that has been his touring and recording group for forty years. On April 28th, Willie and The Family will play a special “birthday” concert at the Back Yard in Austin, Texas.
Legacy’s Artist of the Month program was launched at the start of this year, commemorating Janis Joplin in January, Nina Simone in February, and Sly and the Family Stone in March.
In every case, the Artist of the Month program provides fresh perspectives on musical legends whose sounds continue to affect people’s lives. The program enables new fans and deep aficionados the opportunity to focus on an essential figure in pop music history, whose principal catalog is a cornerstone of the Sony Music archives.
For the truly multi-dimensional Willie Nelson – singer, songwriter, Gypsy jazz guitarist, producer, bandleader, family man, perennial touring musician, television and movie actor, entrepreneur, activist, philanthropist, founder of FarmAid, rancher, golfer, proud Texan, and godfather of music’s Outlaw Country movement – it has really been One Hell Of A Ride, as suggested by the title of his 4-CD Legacy box set of 2008, the year of his 75th birthday.
In 1975, some 15 years into his career, Willie scored his first Grammy Award®-winning #1 country hit on Columbia Records, “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” proving that Country Outlaws had earned a dominant chart role. He went on to amass more than 20 #1 hits over the next three decades, which read like a mini-history of country music: “Good Hearted Woman” (with Waylon Jennings), “If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time,” the Grammy®-winning “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” (with Waylon), the Grammy®-winning “Georgia On My Mind,” “Blue Skies,” “Heartbreak Hotel” (with Leon Russell), “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” the Grammy®-winning “On The Road Again,” “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground,” the two-time Grammy®-winning “Always On My Mind,” “Just to Satisfy You” (with Waylon), “Pancho & Lefty” (with Merle Haggard), “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before” (with Julio Iglesias), the Grammy®-winning “City Of New Orleans,” “Seven Spanish Angels” (with Ray Charles), “Forgiving You Was Easy,” the Grammy®-winning “Highwayman” (with Waylon, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson), “Living in the Promiseland,” “Mind Your Own Business” (with Hank Williams Jr., Reba McEntire, Tom Petty, and Reverend Ike), “Nothing I Can Do About It Now,” and 2002’s “Beer For My Horses” (with Toby Keith).
Starting back home in Texas in the early 1970s, Willie Nelson’s role (along with partners Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver and others) as he emancipated country music from Nashville’s homogenized strictures, is now widely acknowledged. In addition to eight Grammy Awards® from 1975 to 2008, Willie has received the Recording Academy’s prestigious Legends Award (1990) and Lifetime Achievement Award (1995). In 1998, he received Kennedy Center Honors.
Willie has also received strong recognition from within the country music establishment, which embraced the musical advances brought on by the Outlaw Country upstarts. In addition to his seven Country Music Association (CMA) awards from 1976 to 2002, Willie has also received the Entertainer Of the Year Award (1979) and in November 2012, the first inaugural Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. The Academy of Country Music (ACM) has honored Willie with five awards, including Entertainer Of the Year (1979). Other notable Country honors include the Minnie Pearl Award and Living Legend Award, both at the TNN/ Music City Awards in 1995. The annual BMI Country Awards conferred its President’s Award on Willie in 2001, and the coveted BMI Icon Award in 2007.
Such outpourings belie the humble origins of Willie Hugh Nelson, born on April 29, 1933, in Abbott, Texas. Willie arrived in Nashville in 1960, and was befriended by Hank Cochran, who got him signed to Ray Price’s music publishing company. Willie’s breakthrough came quickly, the year Faron Young cut the #1 hit “Hello Walls,” Patsy Cline recorded the #2 hit “Crazy,” and Billy Walker cut “Funny How Time Slips Away,” all in 1961.
After LPs on Liberty and Monument, Willie was signed to RCA Records in 1965. After making some 14 LPs for the label over the next seven years, Willie moved his family back to Texas. He soon became the kingpin of Austin’s hotbed of honky tonk, “cosmic cowboy,” and ’70s rock, populated by hillbilly hippies, folk singers and ‘ropers & dopers,’ all at home on the Armadillo World Headquarters concert stage.
Willie’s RCA deal ended in 1972 and he recorded two groundbreaking LPs on Atlantic: Shotgun Willie and Phases & Stages were critically hailed and signaled a new musical genre that would overtake the music for years to come: Outlaw Country.
The turning point was Willie’s self-produced Columbia debut LP of 1975, the RIAA double-platinum #1 concept album Red Headed Stranger (with “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”). Capitalizing on its success, RCA repackaged an LP’s worth of left-of-center tracks by Willie, Waylon, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser as Wanted: The Outlaws. It went to #1 and its first single, “Good Hearted Woman,” a duet by Waylon & Willie also hit #1. The project swept the CMA Awards for Vocal Duo Of the Year, Single Of the Year, and Album Of the Year. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” won Willie his first Grammy Award that year, for Best Male Country Vocal.
Eighteen years at Columbia (1975 to 1993) was a long time – they encompassed five U.S. Presidents, to put it in perspective, and more than 30 album releases. He charted 12 #1 country albums for the label, and another 12 reached Top 5; at the same time, there were 16 #1 country singles on Columbia, and another 30 that reached the Top 40. There were historic full-album collaborations on Columbia with Leon Russell, Roger Miller, Ray Price, Merle Haggard, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Hank Snow, and the Highwaymen (Waylon, Johnny Cash, Kristofferson).
In February 2012, after albums on Island, Sugar Hill, Lost Highway, Blue Note, and more, it was announced that Willie had returned “home” as a result of his signing to the Columbia Records-affiliated Legacy, and the release of a new album in May, Heroes. Produced by Buddy Cannon, it included songs from a variety of sources, and guests ranging from Willie’s son Lukas to Haggard, Kristofferson, and Shaver, to Sheryl Crow and Snoop Dogg. Let’s Face The Music And Dance, again produced by Buddy Cannon (and recorded at Pedernales Recording Studio in Austin, Texas) is the follow up.
As Legacy’s Artist of the Month, the spotlight continues to shine on Willie Nelson. “Motivated by the desire to do good for those who did good by him, he is still playing music for all the right reasons,” fellow Texan Joe Nick Patoski has written of Willie, “for the sake of music, and for the people who created that music. That drive and desire have rewarded him with a well-spent musical life, documented by these recordings that show a man in full, always changing, always moving, forever on the road again.”