Willie Nelson has written and recorded some of the most enduring music of our time. He played a major role in helping to shape Austin into what it is today. He’s worked with some of the biggest musicians in every possible genre.
It’s working with his children, though, that makes the 79-year-old Nelson happy these days.
On his new album, “Heroes” (Legacy Recordings), Nelson’s son Lukas plays a central role, sharing songwriting duties and contributing vocals, as does his brother Micah.
“It’s probably as good as it gets for a parent to be able to work and sing and play and make music with their kids,” Nelson said over the phone recently from his tour bus.
“Especially if they’re good, and Lukas is really, really good. Him and Micah and Amy and Paula, I’ve got a bunch of talented kids, and it’s a lot of fun to play music with them.”
Lukas, who brings his band to the Center for the Arts in Grass Valley on June 7, wrote three of the songs on the album, including “No Place To Fly,” “Every Time He Drinks He Thinks of Her” and the sad and epic “The Sound of Your Memory.” Lukas and Micah also helped Nelson choose some of the covers on the album, including Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” and Tom Waits’ “Come on Up to the House.” Sheryl Crow joins in on the latter, adding a gospel feel.
Never one to shy away from performing the work of others, Nelson doesn’t overthink when it comes to choosing what he plays.
“I have to believe that my likes and dislikes can’t be that much different from the next guy, so I kind of go with what I like,” he said.
In addition to Nelson’s sons and Crow, “Heroes” is packed with guest spots from the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Merle Haggard and rapper Snoop Dogg, who steps into the unlikely role of singer on “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
“I thought he would probably rap it; I had no idea he was going to croon it. He did a good job,” Nelson said.
“Heroes” is the first release on a new deal between Nelson and Sony’s Legacy Recordings, which was Nelson’s label for nearly 20 years beginning in 1975. In addition to five new albums, the deal also involves archival releases that Nelson will help curate.
“A lot of those demos I did back in the early days, the ’60s back there, were pretty good I thought. They had good musicians, Jimmy Day and all the great pickers from Nashville. There are maybe a hundred of those,” Nelson said.
“And there were some pretty good records. I thought that some of those old demos were just as good as the released versions that came out later.”
Despite the excitement over the new album and archival releases, Nelson continues to feel the loss of longtime Family Band bassist Bee Spears, who died in an accident late last year.
“Losing Bee was one of those things you don’t get over. He was a good friend, and has been for many years, ever since he was a young teenager when he first came to work playing bass,” Nelson said. “You get pretty close to a guy when you play music every day and you ride the bus and travel together. It was a big shock, and he will be missed.”
1. “A Horse Called Music”Merle Haggard & Lukas Nelson
2. “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die”Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson
3. “That’s All There Is To This Song”
4. “No Place To Fly”Lukas Nelson
5. “Every Time He Drinks He Thinks Of Her” Lukas Nelson
6. “Come On Up To The House”Lukas Nelson; Sheryl Crow
7. “Hero”Billy Joe Shaver, Jamey Johnson
8. “My Window Faces The South”Lukas Nelson
9. “The Sound Of Your Memory”Lukas Nelson
10. “Cold War With You”Lukas Nelson & Ray Price
11. “Just Breathe”Lukas Nelson
12. “My Home In San Antone”Lukas Nelson
13. “Come On Back Jesus”Lukas Nelson & Micah Nelson
14. “The Scientist”