Willie Nelson “Devil in a Sleepin’ Bag” (1973, Atlantic)
by Douglas Newman
I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to say a few nice things about Willie Nelson. And now that Damn Fine Day has selected Willie’s “Devil in a Sleeping Bag” as its pick of the day, that chance is now upon me. There’s a famous quote by Steve Earle, who when referring to the genius of singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, boldly proclaimed, “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” Ask me about Willie Nelson and I’d second that statement, but for good measure I’d also stand on Johnny Cash’s coffee table too.
And in terms of his interpreting skills I’d gladly hop onto tables owned by Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald as well. That’s right, I think Willie Nelson rivals Dylan, Cash, Sinatra and Ells in terms of songwriting talent, impact on modern music, and certainly when it comes to a larger than life personality.
Willie Nelson is a true renaissance man and I don’t think he gets the critical respect he deserves. Miles Davis recognized the man’s gifts, even wrote a tune about him, “Willie Nelson,” recorded during the 1970 Jack Johnson sessions.
Today’s Damn Fine Day pick is a nice example of Nelson’s songwriting prowess, a blues stomper featuring a gloriously shambolic and “quintessentially Willie” acoustic guitar solo and road weary lyrics that reference everyone from Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge to Connie and the kids. It’s a humble admission from the ultimate road warrior that there are times he’s ready to sell his beloved bus and pack it in. Of course once he gets it off his chest, Willie will be ready to be “on the road again,” spreading his genius throughout this great land. Long live Willie!
Devil in a Sleeping Bag
“We were headed home in Austin Caught pneumonia on the road Taking it home to Connie and the kids A wheel ran off and jumped a railroad Then ran through a grocery store
If you want to buy a bus I’m taking bids And the devil shivered in his sleeping bag He said traveling on the road is such a drag If we can make it home by Friday we can brag And the devil shivered in his sleeping bag
[ guitar ]
Well I just got back from New York City Kris and Rita done it all Raw perfection there for all the world to see Lord I heard an angel singing In the Philharmonic Hall Rita Coolidge Rita Coolidge cleft for me And the devil shivered… And the devil shivered in his sleeping bag.”
–Devil in a Sleepin’ Bag Willie Nelson