Willie Nelson

Posted January 21, 2009 in

Willie Nelson has always been one major league screw-up, a guy whose dedication to the contrary capsized him as frequently as it brought him glory. His early years as a hit and run honky-tonk man were less than spectacular, and even when Nashville first began exploiting the quality of his songwriting, it was a rocky affair: Music Row execs sneered at Nelson’s offbeat vocal on his “Crazy” demo, yet it resulted in one of Patsy Cline’s biggest hits; ditto “Hello Walls,” another initially mocked original that re-asserted Faron Young’s primacy as one of country’s greatest stylists. For years, others benefited from Nelson’s compositions—Ray Price with “Nightlife,” Billy Walker with “Funny How Time Slips Away”—but Nelson himself, while revered back in the Lone Star dancehalls, seemed unable to fit in. Throughout the 1960’s, Nelson was a weird hillbilly enigma, one whose wardrobe was, for quite awhile, strictly limited to conservative business suits yet whom sang like an after-hours jazz cat and turned out increasingly unusual songs. By the early ’70s, Nelson was way out, with albums like the resolutely contemplative concept set Yesterday’s Wine and a rocky, ambitious socio-cultural agenda, exemplified by his groundbreaking promotion of large scale outdoor concerts; his first, in Dripping Springs, Texas in 1972, was a financial disaster that brought together such opposites as Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Roy Acuff and Tex Ritter. The really weird part is how America finally fell into synch with the misfit, and by the time of his break out Red Headed Stranger album and multi-platinum blockbuster Stardust, Nelson, who had often seemed like a renegade from Bizarro-Nashville, was a vastly influential artistic force and unquestioned shot-caller in boardrooms from Manhattan to Hollywood. It’s a position he has not only handily maintained but also one that he clearly does not plan to relinquish any time soon. (Jonny Whiteside)


Willy Nelson at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, 49500 Seminole Dr., Cabazon, (900) 252-4499; Fri., Jan. 23, 9PM. Tickets $35 and up, available at www.ticketmaster.com



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