Johnny Bush’s career as a solo artist was taking off in the early ’70s when he came to a disc jockey convention in Nashville to sign a deal with RCA records. That’s where the Texas native met RCA executive Jerry Bradley, who planted the seed for “Whiskey River,” a song that would blossom into one of the best-loved — and most recorded — in all of country music.
At the time, Johnny had already experienced sucess with a series of hits including, “You Gave Me a Mountain” and “My CUp Runneth Over.” Still, Jerry wanted him to write a very special song.
Johnny picks up the story.
“Jerry told me, ‘Johnny, what we’ve got to do now is, you’ve gotta write a hit.’ And I said, ‘Jerry, with all the songwriters in Nashville — Harlan Howard, Willie Nelson, Hank Cochran, Bill Anderson and people like that we can draw from — you want me to write the song?.”
But Jerry knew Johnny had a hit in him, and put the ball back in Johnny’s court.
“On my way back to Texas from Nashville,” continues Johnny, “I was on my tour bus and when I woke up in Texarkana, I had the idea about ‘Whiskey River.’ And by the time I got home, I had it written.”
Johnny’s recording of the song went on to becoem a Top 15 hit, but his longtime Texas buddy, Willie Nelson, recorded it and made it a huge hit in 1978 — and his signature tune. In fact, Willie has recorded the song over twenty times.
And it’s a good thing. The royalty checks from the song helped sustain Johnny through some lean years that resulted from a rare vocal disorder.
“I’d jsut released ‘Whiskey River’ and it was climbing the charts when it struck,” he recalls. As a result, Johnny’s career took a serious downturn and it would be years before his vocal problem was correctly diagnosed and treated. Now he’s got a new album, Green Snake, and is back working as many dates as he wants to.
But ‘Whiskey River’ and his pal, Willie, were always there for him. Willie even joined Trick Pony in recording the tune for the group’s upcoming album.
“I just hope it makes the cut,” says Johnny modestly. “You know a lot of time songs are recorded that never make it onto the album.”
The first band Willie Nelson joined played polka. He was only 10, but he brought several years of experience to the group.
His grandparents bought him a guitar from Sears when he was 6, and he started writing his own songs the year after that. He hasn’t stopped since. Almost 300 albums, more than 2,500 songs, seven decades, and countless of miles later, Nelson is one of the most recognized and revered figures in the world, let alone music.Nelson landed at No. 7 as the latest honoree on CMT All-Time Top 40: Artists Choice, a list of the most influential artists in history chosen by country stars themselves. Another honoree is named each week on CMT Hot 20 Countdown.
With such a massive catalog of songs and recordings, narrowing down his accomplishments to a short list is a challenging task, but in chronological order, here are 10 performances that have defined his career over more than five decades:
Nelson was relatively unknown when he wrote “Crazy.” In 1962, Patsy Cline was already a star and delivered the powerfully plaintive vocals we all know in one masterful take. She didn’t immediately warm to Nelson’s demo of the song, in which he monkeyed with phrasing — sometimes jumping the beat, sometimes lagging behind — but Owen Bradley, her legendary producer, heard potential. As for Nelson’s writing, he took country’s tear-in-my-beer sadness, mixed it with pop elegance and jazz irreverence to create an exquisite exercise in self-deprecation as well as one of country music’s most famous songs ever.
Its unmistakable percussive guitar and crazed songbird harmonica kick off almost every one of Nelson’s live shows, sometimes in a jazz-inspired rush, other times in a blues-soaked stroll. Nelson always picks the pace. Written by fellow Texan Johnny Bush and Paul Stroud, “Whiskey River” appeared on the 1973 album Shotgun Willie, Nelson’s decisive pivot from Nashville convention and toward the creation of Outlaw country. No, Nelson didn’t write “Whiskey River,” but like so many other songs composed by others that he’s recorded, it’s all his.
“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”
Just a sparse acoustic guitar and an inviting, campfire tenor carry this song, which became his first No. 1, earned him his first Grammy and introduced the world to Nelson as a recording artist. On the watershed 1975 album Red Headed Stranger, the song takes lovers’ separation to especially forlorn depths: “Love is like a dying ember, only memories remain/And through the ages I’ll remember blue eyes cryin’ in the rain.” Elvis Presley, Roy Acuff and others have also recorded the tune, which was written by Fred Rose, but Nelson’s aching rendition is the one that’s hung around.
“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” (with Waylon Jennings)
If you don’t smile when listening to Jennings join his friend for a song, honky-tonk may not be your bag — or you may just need to check your pulse. The two won a Grammy for this 1978 No. 1 smash written by Ed and Patsy Bruce, wryly admonishing and romanticizing cowboys in a rollicking warning for moms who probably weren’t considering pushing cowpoking as a career in the first place.
“Georgia on My Mind”
In 1978, Nelson also released Stardust, an album that took his flirtations with jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and pop, blended them with his country core and unveiled an entirely new sound that he’d been inching toward for years. He was already an outlaw and a superstar. Now he was an artist on par with the best. His haunting cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind” — an American classic indelibly sung by Ray Charles — won a Grammy, and Stardust stayed on country charts for a decade.
“On the Road Again”
Legend has it Nelson wrote “On the Road Again” in about 20 minutes on an airplane barf bag. The signature song with a runaway train beat was featured in Nelson’s 1980 film, Honeysuckle Rose. The recording notched him his fourth Grammy, as well as his first and only Academy Award nomination for best original song. These days, he usually winds down most shows with this autobiographical tribute to highways, old friends and new towns — a fitting farewell that captures his undiminished anticipation and love of performing.
“Always on My Mind”
Sister Bobbie Nelson kicks off this No. 1 hit from 1982 on the piano before her brother launches into a list of concessions about falling short as a lover. But, he pleads earnestly, he was thinking about her the whole time. His delivery clinched another Grammy, his fifth, and firmly cemented his role as the outsider insiders love to love. Written by Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher and Mark James, Elvis Presley offered a moving cover of the song not long after his separation from Priscilla, while Brenda Lee and the Pet Shop Boys have recorded it, too.
“Pancho and Lefty” (featuring Merle Haggard)
One of the greatest story songs ever written, “Pancho and Lefty” paired Nelson with fellow icon Haggard. A genius consistently ranked among the best songwriters to have ever lived, Townes Van Zandt penned the hardscrabble tale about bandits, betrayal and living with decisions made and originally recorded it in 1972. Nelson and Haggard’s definitive version plays like a John Ford film for your ears and climbed all the way to No. 1 in 1983.
“Highwayman” (with Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash)
Along with Kristofferson, Jennings and Cash, Nelson formed the Highwaymen, Outlaw country’s version of the Rat Pack, in the ’80s. The quartet’s single “Highwayman” — a trippy tale of reincarnation written by Jimmy Webb — topped the charts in 1985. All four take a verse with distinct style and swagger, and the result is an anthem celebrating the soul’s immortality that’s taken on an air of heightened poignancy with the passing of Jennings and Cash.
“Mendocino County Line” (featuring Lee Ann Womack)
Nelson is a generous and frequent collaborator. In addition to those on this list, his duet partners have ranged from Ray Charles, Julio Iglesias, Ray Price and Leon Russell, to Snoop Dog, Rob Thomas, Wynton Marsalis and Toby Keith. For 2002?s “Mendocino County Line,” he called on Womack. The dreamy remembrance of long-gone love sweeps listeners away thanks to Womack’s lush vocals. Ultimately, though, the track is grounded in the gritty, glorious Nelson — the eternal, offbeat metronome of American music.
Listen to Robert Ellis sing “Pretty Paper” at Rolling Stone:
By Marissa R. Moss
The south may still be saddled with the endless dew of a soggy summer, but it’s never too early to talk Christmas — humidity built the snowman, as John Prine once sang, after all. And Prine — along with Robert Ellis, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, the Band, Nikki Lane, Corb Lund and more — is just one of the heavyweights to contribute a holiday tune to An Americana Christmas, due out October 14th via New West.
While a bulk of the songs are previously recorded classics, like Dylan’s “Must Be Santa” and Cash’s “The Gifts They Gave,” Ellis, Lund and Lane all spun original numbers for this veritable lexicon of folk-country Christmas tunes. Lane’s sassy “Falalaalove Ya” is a raspy ode to an eternal season of mistletoe, while Lund’s “Just Me and These Ponies” is a twang-orchestral bummer about a lonesome cowboy who plays a smart foil to Santa and his reindeers. And Ellis, whose recent LP, The Lights From the Chemical Plant, is one of Rolling Stone Country’s 26 Albums of 2014 You Probably Didn’t But Really Should Hear, gives his spin on Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper.” It’s about the joys of the beloved holiday – which, with its green trees and wrapping (rolling?) paper, is also known as “all year” to the Red Headed Stranger.
Premiering exclusively on Rolling Stone Country, Ellis’s track adds a sweet, smooth shuffle to the song first released by Roy Orbison in 1963. “I chose to cut ‘Pretty Paper’ because I love Willie’s version and it’s a lesser-known Christmas tune with a little more depth to it than a story about reindeer — no offense to the reindeer,” Ellis says. “I also thought the song could get by with a more minimal arrangement for my version, which is why we only used one synth, a drum machine and vocals and piano. The lyrics are strong enough that it didn’t feel like it needed a whole lot.”
Though Ellis doesn’t currently have any plans for Christmas – he might visit family back in Texas and spend some time in San Juan — he’s certainly been busy of late. Nominated for several Americana Honors & Awards titles, including Album of the Year, he’ll head to Nashville this week to play a stream of AmericanaFest events. The highlight just may be a revival of his Whiskey Wednesdays at Robert’s Western World (transforming it, naturally, into Robert Ellis’, uh, Western World) with Hayes Carll and Caitlin Rose. He also produced Whiskey Shivers’ upcoming self-titled EP and lent his virtuosic guitar-stylings to up-and-comer Cale Tyson’s EP Cheater’s Wine, out October 28th. And he recently made the move from Nashville to New York City, a welcome change for the singer with a penchant for dancing to Macklemore at night clubs.
“New York City is great,” Ellis says. “I’ve been writing a ton and partying more. I take a notepad out when I ride the subway or ferry and work on new songs. It’s been a really inspiring place to be.”
Known for a style that fuses George Jones with avant-garde jazz and folk icons like Paul Simon – and, of course, Willie Nelson – Ellis hasn’t lost touch with his southern side even though he’s moved up east. “I’m still not sure how much irony is at play,” he adds, “but I get really excited lately when Florida George Line’s ‘Cruise’ comes on the radio.”
Here’s the artists and track listing for An Americana Christmas:
Luther Dickinson – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
John Prine – “Everything Is Cool”
Robert Ellis – “Pretty Paper”
Emmylou Harris – “The First Noel”
Johnny Cash – “The Gifts They Gave”
Corb Lund – “Just Me and These Ponies (For Christmas This Year)”
Dwight Yoakam – “Run Run Rudolph”
Bob Dylan – “Must Be Santa”
Valerie June – “Winter Wonderland”
Ronnie Fauss – “Everybody Deserves a Merry Christmas”
Max Gomez – “Season of My Memory”
Ben Keith w/ Neil & Pegi Young – “Les Trois Cloches”
The Common Linnets – “At Christmas Time”
Nikki Lane – “Falalaalove Ya”
Old 97’s – “Here It Is Christmas Time”
The Band – “Christmas Must Be Tonight”
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/premieres/hear-robert-ellis-cover-willie-nelsons-pretty-paper-20140915#ixzz3DRr7yzuh
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Seth Rogan has been hired to develop a television series based on the popular comic book, “Preacher”, and he has been tweeting pictures from his story board. His latest tweet shows plans to use Willie Nelson’s, “Time of the Preacher” for the opening scene.
Willie Nelson has a new album coming out, and this is the title song: “Band of Brothers”
Band of brothers
We are a band of brothers and sisters and whatever,
On a mission to break all the rules.
I know you love me cause I love you too,
but you can’t tell me what to do.
I really don’t know where I’m going,
and I really don’t know where I’ve been ,
but I can take you all with me,
I’d sure like to go there again,
Cause we are a band of brothers and sisters and whatever
on a mission to break all the rules
I know you love me cause I love you too,
but you can’t tell me what to do.,
no you can’t tell me what to do.
And when all of the songs have been written
and when all of the music is played
when the curtain comes down
we’ ll still be around to make sure the musicians are paid
Cause we are a band of brothers sisters and whatever
On a mission to break all the rules.
I know you love me cause I love you too
but you can’t tell me what to do
no you can’t tell me what to do