by: Matt Wake
Don’t get distracted by the weed busts, biofuel venture or early-90s IRS pickle. Willie Nelson belongs to a select pantheon of artists outside rock and pop that transcends their genre – Bob Marley also comes to mind – because the songs and voice connect with people in such a universal way.
See for yourself when Nelson plays Von Braun Center’s Mark C. Smith Concert Hall (700 Monroe St.) at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $47.75 (plus applicable fees) and available at the VBC Box Office, ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000.
After plans fell through to interview longtime Nelson sideman Mickey Raphael – the guy whose harmonica playing puts the whiskey in “Whiskey River” – to preview the VBC show, I called four Huntsville musicians to get their perspective on Nelson music and magic.
Amy McCarley (singer/songwriter, solo artist)
The song: “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” It just has that ache about it – he’s obviously really admiring this person, the “angel.” And the simplicity is really striking. He really doesn’t say that much. If you look at the lyrics, the lyrics are pretty short, but he does so much with the imagery.
That voice: You know, a lot of people either love or hate Willie’s voice, but I think the thing people are drawn to – at least for me – you just get the sense that he’s a real person and he’s putting emotion in his voice. He may not hit real high notes, but you can feel him. Kind of like John Prine. He’s his own thing. That guitar He’s got a real stutter to his playing. He played at the VBC (in 2010) and until then I didn’t realize how much he could lay into that guitar. Lead singers…there aren’t too many that can play as well as he can. And I noticed last night my guitar is wearing down and getting paper thing right there, like his old beat-up guitar, Trigger.
Willie’s place among the all-time country greats: Isn’t he at the top? He’s one of my favorites.
Amy McCarley plays a radio show Thursday at Santa Rosa, Calif. radio station KRSH-FM. You can listen to the set here in Huntsville via krsh.com at 5 p.m. CST.
Matt Morrow (singer/songwriter, solo artist)
The song: “Always on my Mind.” I’m drawn to really sad and melancholy songs, and sometimes when you write a break-up song it’s all about what the other person did wrong, and sometimes it’s nice to realize what you did wrong because there’s never really a good-guy and a bad-guy in a situation like that.
That voice: He’s a very conversational kind of singer. It’s almost like he’s kind of talking to you. It makes it more intimate, like someone’s telling you something really personal.
That guitar: Well, he plays guitar sort of like he sings. There’s no showboating, and it’s sort of very plain-spoken and low-key. He obviously knows what he’s doing on the guitar but didn’t feel the need to really wail on it, and I’m not a fan of that kind of playing anyway. I like the simple, understated way of playing he has.
Willie’s place among the all-time country greats: Just for writing “Crazy” alone – that’s sort of “the” country song – he’s in the top five, maybe.
Matt Morrow plays Coffee Tree Books & Brew (7900 Bailey Cove Road) at 7 p.m. Oct. 12.
Olivia Gracey (singer/ songwriter with Just Gracey)
The song: It would have to be a toss-up. “Help Me Make It Through the Night” a cover he does of Kris Kristofferson and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” – I don’t know which one I like best, but I love them both. “Help Me Make It Through the Night” seems like it’s more personal, deeper and very sad song. It just gets right to the heart of me. But “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” I grew up listening to, and I just love how he does that one on the acoustic. That one was written by Fred Rose.
That voice: My dad, who’s a musician as well, when I started getting in the music business he started telling me, “Willie sings outside the box.” He doesn’t follow your typical lines that you’re supposed to sing within, and that’s what makes him so unique. His voice ranges from high to low and he brings it back at the end of verse. He might start you in one direction, but he’s going to take you somewhere else to get you to the end.
That guitar: I like the fact he’s played with the same guitar he has for years. It’s his baby. You’ve got one guitar you become one with – I think that’s awesome. And that’s what he’s done with his guitar Trigger.
Willie’s place among the all-time country greats: I’m a big fan of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton. He would have to rank there with the rest of them.
Find out more about Just Gracey, Olivia Gracey’s duo with her son Ty Gracey, by visiting reverbnation.com/justgracey.
Clay O’Dell (singer/guitarist, Cousin Boogie)
The song: I love the outlaw country. “Shotgun Willie” is one that comes to mind. I just think there’s a sparseness of the instrumentation, and it’s a short narrative, yet he gets into the same artistic narrative he gets into with some of his other things, like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” It’s sort of the worst-of-the-worst of those country characters. But Willie Nelson can make people identify with any character, even one they might not necessarily like.
That voice: I think the sound of his voice is so unique he can get away with more than a typically country artist can get away with. His voice is on par with the most unique voices in all of music. You don’t hear a lot of people do accurate covers of Willie Nelson, just like you don’t hear a lot of people doing Roy Robison justice, just because his voice is so uniquely Willie. It’s interesting to hear the difference between his version of “Crazy” and Patsy Cline’s version of “Crazy.” There’s something very vulnerable and honest about his voice.
That guitar: He’s always had a profound ability to play the same melodic line in his solos, but never play them the same way twice. And it’s just interesting to hear how he plays that classical guitar. It’s not like his solos are face-melting, like metal solos, but they’re always on-point. To me, it’s perfect every time he plays – however he changes it, and he’s