On Septmber 2, 1978, Willie Nelson’s recording of the Irving Berlin song “Blue Skies” reaches #1 on the Billboard country chart.
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In 1983, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard recorded the hit album “Pancho & Lefty,” the cover of which shows the two country legends against a desert backdrop, Nelson smiling and Haggard working his characteristic stoic grimace. The best of friends.
The title song, however, was written in 1972 by the late Townes Van Zandt, and explores the consequences of betrayal. When Nelson and Haggard pull into the York Fairgrounds this Friday as part of their Last of the Breed Tour, they will no doubt perform the song along with numerous other hits.
Country-rocker Steve Earle once called Van Zandt the greatest American songwriter ever, “and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” Van Zandt is rumored to have replied that he had met Dylan and his bodyguards, and that there was little chance Earle would ever get near his coffee table.
Despite his well-known sense of humor, Van Zandt wrote some of the most hopeless and haunting songs in the country and folk songbooks. He was an American poet of the first order. Thorny, witty and relentlessly self-destructive, he was one of those artists who achieves ultimate recognition through the work of others.
Van Zandt was one of the songwriters every country crooner wanted to be, and “Pancho and Lefty” is the song everyone sang, including Emmylou Harris, Hoyt Axton, Delbert McClinton and bluegrass supergroup Old & In the Way. Â
Nanci Griffith gave a teary version on national television shortly after Townes died of heart failure in 1994.Â Dylan has even performed it on several occasions, the ultimate nod. Nelson and Dylan played it together on their recent tours together.
But perhaps the most memorable version of the song is the one Nelson and Haggard took to the top of the country charts. While the rest of the album is filled with workmanlike (though never unpleasant) efforts, the duo’s version of “Pancho & Lefty” remains strong today.
The song is the ultimate Old West fable, professing the lessons of loyalty and betrayal, the inescapability of consequence and the twisted nature of notoriety.
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In 1983, Nelson and Haggard were near the zeniths of their popular careers, ensconced in middle age, though in fine voice, and rapidly approaching a time when they would seem anachronistic next to mainstream country artists. Together they sing “Pancho & Lefty” as if spinning a yarn from some lonely barstool: Pancho was a bandit boys/ His horse was fast as polished steel/ Wore his gun outside his pants/ For all the honest world to feel.
Pancho is finally killed, we are led to believe, by Mexican police with the assistance of a man called Lefty. Even if he didn’t pull the trigger, Lefty is somehow complicit in Pancho’s death.
Lefty escapes to Cleveland with money nobody can account for. There he grows old, forgotten and living in a cheap rooming house, while Pancho, whose dying words no one heard, is celebrated in song and verse: The poets tell how Pancho fell/ Lefty’s livin’ in a cheap hotel/ The desert’s quiet and Cleveland’s cold/ So the story ends we’re told.
The final verse implores the listener to say a few prayers for Pancho, but to save some for Lefty, too, because he “only did what he had to do.”
When Nelson and Haggard perform the song this week, some will be listening for the prophetic overtones of men growing old and passing their winter years with memories of triumph and regret. But unlike Lefty, the sacrifices of these two performers have yielded great results.
Haggard has always been candid about the twists and turns in his life: how he fought off temptation when offered the chance to escape from a California jail, having been in and out of correctional facilities for much of his youth. Haggard chose not to escape, vowing instead to turn his life around through music.
Nelson nearly gave up on music when he couldn’t fit in with Nashville’s “countrypolitan” scene of the early 1960s. He found refuge in Texas and the outlaw movement of the 1970s.Â Nelson’s more recent public stand regarding his marijuana use and a fiercely anticonservative streak through his work with Farm Aid have no doubt cost him a few fans in Middle America.
But despite their choices, or perhaps because of them, Haggard and Nelson will themselves be the subject of song for future generations of poets like Van Zandt.
Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, at the York Fairgrounds, 334 Carlisle Ave., York. The concert opens the 2007 York Fair, which runs through Sept. 16. For more information, call 848-2596.
“We would like to thank everyone who came out this summer to see Willie Nelson and Family along with Old Crow Medicine Show.
OCMS is a great combination of musical talent featuring Ketch Secor, Critter Fuqua. Kevin Hayes, Morgan Jahnig, Chance McCoy and Cory Younts. Everyone had a musical blast together and we can’t wait for another paid summer vacation.
If you’re really looking for some good country music go see Old Crow Medicine Show. These guys are a lot of fun on stage and put on an fabulous concert. So until next time, Rock me Mama like a wagon wheel…”
To All the Girls (Legacy)
1.Dolly Parton – From Here To The Moon And Back
2.Miranda Lambert – She Was No Good For Me
3.Secret Sisters – It Won’t Be Very Long
4.Rosanne Cash – Please Don’t Tell Me
5.Sheryl Crow – Far Away Places
6.Wynonna Judd – Bloody Mary Morning
7.Carrie Underwood – Always On My Mind
8.Loretta Lynn – Somewhere Between
9.Alison Krauss – No Mas Amor
10.Melonie Cannon – Back To Earth
11.Mavis Staples – Grandma’s Hands
12.Norah Jones – Walkin’
13.Shelby Lynne – Til The End Of The World
14.Lily Meola – Will You Remember Mine
15.Emmylou Harris – Dry Lightning
16.Brandi Carlile – Making Believe
17.Paula Nelson – Have You Ever Seen The Rain
18.Tina Rose – After The Fire Is Gone
Photo: Lana Nelson
When Kris Kristofferson played the Boulder Theater he dedicated this song to Willie Nelson, and told his story about being inspired to write it while standing backstage, watching Willie Nelson perform and interact with his fans:
by Kris Kristofferson
Well here you are
The final attraction
From somewhere above
Your finest performance
I know what you’re making
Is some kind of love
Somewhere in your lifetime
You were dared into feeling
So many emotions
That tear you apart
But they love you so badly
For sharing their sorrows
So pick up that guitar
Go break a heart
Come on boy, get back up there
You can do it one more time
For Hank Williams, go break a heart
And Janis Joplin, go break a heart
And John and June Carter,
And Stephen Bruton, go break a heart
And Waylon Jennings,
go break a heart
And John Lennon, go break a heart
And Roger Miller, ”
And Jimi Hendrix, ”
And Mickey Newbury, ”
And maybe one time for me
Go break a heart
Not the Highwaymen, but another super group perform.
by: Stephen L. Betts
In 1979, the Bee Gees were busy extricating themselves from the growing backlash against the decade’s biggest phenomenon – disco. Arguably the biggest recording act on the planet, the brothers Gibb (Barry, Maurice and Robin) attempted to move past the dance-floor phenomenon of Saturday Night Fever, for which they penned several massive hits, including “Staying Alive” and “Night Fever,” with Spirits Having Flown, a still-danceworthy LP that featured blockbusters such as “Tragedy” and “Too Much Heaven.” The trio’s subsequent world tour would be filmed for a TV special which captured the group on stage in July during the second of a three-night stand in Oakland, Cailfornia.
The Bee Gees Special aired November 15th, 1979, on NBC and included the siblings being interviewed by British presenter David Frost, as well as behind-the-scenes footage of tour preparation, vintage TV clips from their native Australia (where they began performing as youngsters), plus an appearance from younger brother Andy Gibb, who was breaking through on the pop charts with his own string of career-defining hits at the time.
Among the most unexpected highlights of the 90-minute special was an impromptu jam session with two of the biggest country stars of the decade, both of whom would enjoy pop crossover success: Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell. During their onstage jam, with Nelson’s familiar backdrop, the Texas Lone Star flag, draped behind them, the Bee Gees, Campbell and Nelson performed a medley of rock, pop and country tunes that included the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” featuring Barry Gibb and Campbell’s high harmonies. After a line from the Fifties’ rockabilly hit “Party Doll,” Gibb once again took the lead on a soulful rendition of the Don Gibson (and Ray Charles) classic, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” as Campbell and Nelson offered guitar accompaniment. Sure, the horn arrangement can’t help but date the performance but it’s nonetheless a great treat to hear some of the music that surely influenced the brothers early on, leading, of course, to Gibb’s penning of the massive Kenny Rogers-Dolly Parton crossover hit, “Islands in the Stream” just a few years after this collaboration.
The medley concludes with the once-in-a-lifetime group performing the Bee Gees’ own “To Love Somebody,” (covered recently by Dwight Yoakam), as the clip transitions back to footage of the Spirits Having Flown World Tour. That song was performed yet again in 2012, when Barry Gibb, the last surviving of his brothers, made his Grand Ole Opry debut as a guest of Opry member Ricky Skaggs.
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Willie Nelson was interviewed in connection with his recognition by Texas Heritage Songwriters’ Association in 2008. Video Includes interviews with other artists and friends.
Willie Nelson and Lily Meola perform “Will You Remember Mine” at the Farm Aid concert in Raleigh, NC on September 13, 2014.
Farm Aid was started by Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp in 1985 to keep family farmers on the land and has worked since then to make sure everyone has access to good food from family farmers. Dave Matthews joined Farm Aid’s board of directors in 2001.
For more information about Farm Aid, visit: http://farmaid.org/youtube
Farm Aid’s performances are donated by the artists in order to raise funds and raise awareness for family farmers. They’ve raised their voices to help — what can you do?
Lily Meola has a new album coming out soon. Keep in touch with her, and hear her music:
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Its unfortunate that people remember Dusty Rhodes more for his dreadful polka dot wearing WWE run or his stint booking Jim Crockett Promotions than anything else. In his prime, no one could cut a promo like Big Dust. He may have hung on too long (a common malady in the pro wrestling world known as ‘Gagne-itis’) but during the 1970’s and 1980’s he was the real deal. No one oozed charisma (or, for that matter his own blood) more than Dusty. He’s never been given a lot of props for his skill as a worker, but don’t forget that much of pro wrestling is being able to make your opponent look good. No one absorbed a beating like Dusty Rhodes.
This is probably my all time favorite Dusty Rhodes promo. We’re treated to a clip of him against the One Man Gang (who would later be Akeem in the WWE) followed by a classic promo where he evokes the memory of the great Elvis Presley as he co-opts ‘The King’s’ trademark slogan of ‘TCB–Takin’ Care of Business’. As if that weren’t enough, the video ends with Big Dust on stage with the iconic Willie Nelson singing ‘Whiskey River’.
by Jim Murphy