“Peace in the Valley”, with the art of Robert MacDonald
Promised Land Music is re-releasing Willie Nelson Peace in the Value album, originally released in 1994. Visit their website for great photos and more stories about Willie Nelson, and his music.
Dreaming of a Little Cabin
You Can’t Have Your Hate and Jesus Too
My Body’s Just a Suitcase For My Soul
I saw the Light
In God’s Eyes
A Beautiful LIfe
Kneel at the Feet of Jesus
Peace in the Valley.
Willie’s Deep Gospel Roots
Willie’s roots in gospel music go back to his childhood. In fact, his first public performance was delivering a short poem at a Methodist gospel picnic at age four in his home town of Abbott, Texas.
“I don’t ever remember not playing and singing gospel music,” Willie recalls. “My grandparents were music teachers and they were gospel singers. The first music that I heard was gospel music, so it’s not that unusual that I would be so much into it.”
Born in Abbott, Texas, in 1933, Willie was raised in a rich musical setting. Besides learning gospel music from his grandparents, he learned blues from local black farm workers, and pop, country, and jazz on the radio.
Original PEACE IN THE VALLEY
The PEACE IN THE VALLEY album got its start in 1987, as a Billy Nelson project. Billy loved gospel music and wanted to be a gospel singer. He wasn’t aspiring to be a superstar. He just wanted to do his music.
At a gospel music concert that year in Dayton, Ohio, Billy joined his dad on stage for a couple of songs, including Family Bible.
From there, the gospel album evolved slowly. Billy recorded two songs, Family Bible and In God’s Eyes, and Willie became more involved with the project, eventually recording enough songs for three albums.
“I was doing an album with Billy, my son, in Nashville. We didn’t know how it was going to turn out and really what we were going to do with it when we got through, but the guys sounded so great,” he says, of the musicians and singers whose voices are an integral part of the album’s full gospel sound – especially on the a Capella tracks like “Dreaming of A Little Cabin,” “A Beautiful Life,” and the Hank Williams classic “I Saw The Light.”
“I hadn’t heard a group of singers that close to traditional gospel harmony in so many years that I was very impressed and still am very impressed with those guys,” Willie says. “It just turned out so well.”
“Any good song to me is a gospel. ‘Stardust is a gospel tune as far as I’m concerned, and so is Amazing Grace,” he says, “The melody and the words are there and they reach across all the boundaries.”
It was during this time that Mae Axton encountered another Willie Nelson, Willie Nelson, Jr. (Billy). Billy had heard a song she wrote entitled My Body’s Just a Suitcase for My Soul, and fell in love with it. Axton wrote the song after an emotional visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. “I just picked up a pad and started writing. It was almost as quick as Heartbreak Hotel. I just wrote my thoughts.” The song is written from the perspective of a surviving Vietnam veteran. “I didn’t want him to be dead. I wanted someone to live and to cope, and to say something about this.”
Although her initial desire was for Willie to sing the song , Axton was thrilled to hear Billy’s voice bring her words to life. She was in the studio when Billy recorded it, and got emotional when talking about the first video of the song, “Seeing Billy and how beautiful he did it, half talking and half singing, and the scenes that were put with it. It was the vision I had when I wrote it.”
The original music video for My Body’s Just a Suitcase for My Soul is being reedited and updated for a May 2015 release. It features concert footage of Willie and Billy performing together, as well as video shot in the studio of Billy recording the song. The performance and recording video footage is edited with Vietnam War archival footage and other scenes filmed to meaningfully express the song’s deep message.
By 1991, the Family Bible Project (as it was then being called) had grown into a mix of gospel standards and newer songs written by Willie and others – enough songs for nearly three albums. Tragically, Billy died on Christmas Eve 1991.
Seeing the Light
PEACE IN THE VALLEY might have seen the light of day earlier, had the Internal Revenue Service not confiscated most of Willie’s earthly possessions back in 1991 during Willie’s well-known tax troubles.
By the fall of 1992, however, Willie was making amends with the IRS, and they began returning his possessions, among them the Family Bible Project tapes.
Robert MacDonald, Jr., Willie Nelson, Grant Boatwright
In 1993, at Willie’s request, producers Robert MacDonald, Jr. and Grant Boatwright met with Willie in Texas to discuss the potential future of the project. After several more meetings and kicking around various ideas, Promised Land Music was established in Nashville as the label for the album. MacDonald and Boatwright selected 10 songs and began mixing and then mastering the album.
The album was release in 1994 receiving much praise and positive reviews. It also was awarded Gospel Album of The Year by the ICMGA.