Naked Willie: The 9513’s Review


Paul W. Dennis  

Being among the oldest contributors to this blog (born in 52), I am one of the few who remembers hearing Willie Nelson’s recordings on the radio during the period he recorded for RCA (1965-70). Even though he had no major hits while on RCA, Willie was greatly respected as a songwriter and personality. While he may not have received much airplay elsewhere, on WCMS-AM in Norfolk, VA, disc jockeys Russ Cassidy, “Hopalong” Joe Hoppel and “Carolina” Charlie Wiggs gave all of his records plenty of spins.

Readers to this blog know that I am a traditionalist in my country music tastes, but one who also has a taste for classic pop standards and jazz. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I liked Willie’s output while with RCA. During these years, Willie was at his absolute vocal peak (before time and 40 years of marijuana use had reduced his range). He was also, at this time, at his peak as a songwriter. RCA honcho Chet Atkins allowed Willie the freedom to record his own songs and hired the best country musicians to play his sessions (Bob Moore, Jerry Reed, Grady Martin, Jimmy Day, etc.).

The problem is that after making these brilliant country recordings, Atkins applied symphonic strings and the Anita Kerr singers on top of the mix before issuing the records. While I have no objections to the so-called “Nashville Sound” production when applied to Jim Reeves or many other singers, on Willie Nelson it was much like getting dressed in a tuxedo and tails and topping the outfit off by wearing a beanie with a propeller.

Despite the syrup poured over Willie’s recordings, I recognized the hidden gems that Atkins had recorded with Willie and hoped that someday Willie would revisit some of the songs with a more sympathetic backing.

Fortunately, Willie’s long-time harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, felt the same way about these recordings and secured Willie’s blessing to take seventeen of the RCA classics and “unproduce” them, stripping away the layers of strings and background singers, then remixing the band and Willie’s vocals to bring them front and center.

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