Tougher Than Leather, Willie Nelson

by Matt Bjorke

Released a month after his duet album with Merle Haggard (Pancho & Lefty) Willie Nelson’s “concept” album Tougher Than Leather more or less “fell through the cracks” when it was overshadowed by that classic album. In its own right, Tougher Than Leather is a classic. The album tells the story of a western gunslinger who is haunted by the memory of his last victim’s girlfriend. The album goes on to tell the story of a man who is reincarnated into the “urban cowboy” era and finds the same woman. This is an album that skips through time and presents interesting songs and characters.

The melody is bittersweet and the lyrics are poignant as “Changing Skies” tells the story of that gunfighter as he struggles with his sin as he sees his foe pass away. As with any great Willie Nelson song, “Changing Skies” has an awesome guitar solo played on his legendary guitar named “Trigger.”

The title track is the song that tells the story of the gunfighter; “tougher than leather, should’ve known better, when he picked up the rose in his hand, and the town’s people froze when his hand crushed the rose and the rose petals fell crushed into the sand.” This memory of the death of that man and the “maiden” who lost him haunted him so much that he eventually died from his memory of the sin. Once again, Willie features a bluesy solo towards the end of the song.

“Little Old Fashioned Karma” tells a story of how you will reap what you sow. Karma says what goes around comes around and that you must treat others how you want to be treated, thus this harmonic track with a memorable melody doesn’t need to say much to get Willie’s point across.

“The Convict And The Rose” tells the tale of the urban cowboy man who reconnects with “Rose” only to be taken away from her by a crime (robbery) he didn’t commit. It is a neat tale of how in his second life, he gets to connect to the reincarnated woman who he hurt in the past. It’s tells a tale that finds the man falling in the hands of fate once again.

Tougher Than Leather features only 7 full-length songs and a several short instrumental interludes; it is a story album, a concept about reincarnation that Willie skillfully connects together. While the protagonist of the story is doomed to fate both times, at least in his second life he was able to connect to the woman. Fans of Willie Nelson who either missed this recording or are too young to remember it will most certainly enjoy Tougher Than Leather and the artistic statement it made and continues to make today.

Song List:

  1. My Love For The Rose
  2. Changing Skies
  3. Tougher Than Leather
  4. Little Old Fashioned Karma
  5. Somewhere In Texas (Part 1)
  6. Beer Barrel Polka
  7. Summer of Roses
  8. Somewhere In Texas (Part 2)
  9. My Love For The Rose
  10. The Convict And The Rose
  11. Changing Skies
  12. I Am The Forest
  13. Nobody Slides, My Friend
  14. Summer Of Roses/December Day (Previously Unreleased Bonus Track)

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