Willie Nelson Covers

photo by Lana Nelson, www.WillieNelson.com

Willie Nelson, with opening act Jamey Johnson, performs at 8 p.m. tomorrow night at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. $39.50-$52.50. 727-791-7400.

by Sean Daly

Willie Nelson turns 76 years old this April, but the ponytailed outlaw is far from becoming the Red Headed Retiree. As his biodiesel tour bus rolls into the Ruth Eckerd Hall parking lot in Clearwater for a show tonight, the hemp-cat pride of Abbott, Texas, is still cranking out records at a ridiculous rate.

In the past few years, he’s been especially focused on covers albums, his latest a tribute to classic western swing recorded with his buddies in Asleep at the Wheel. In ’08, Sony released a 30th anniversary version of Stardust, on which he famously embraced such standards as All of Me and Moonlight in Vermont. • With Willie and his trusty guitar (named Trigger) coming to town, I felt the urge to scroll through my trusty iPod (named Larry) looking for some of Nelson’s best covers — plus a few people who returned the favor.

Willie Covers Five Greats

Midnight Rider (the Allman Brothers Band): Anybody remember The Electric Horseman? Nelson not only co-starred in the movie but on the soundtrack, as well, where he ripped off a killer version of this lone-wolf special.

The Rainbow Connection (Kermit the Frog): With apologies to the moss-colored Muppet, Willie’s Rainbow is definitive, weepy and bittersweetly world-weary.

Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia (Jimmy Rodgers): Willie has always taken time to honor his elders, including this breezy nod to the Singing Brakeman.

Bring It on Down to My House (Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys): From the new album Willie and the Wheel, this one is a frisky frolic perfect for do-si-do.

Blue Hawaii (Elvis Presley): Whereas the King made it a song of seduction, Willie’s Blue bawler left a whole lot of regret on the Big Island. “Night and youuuu…”

Five Great Willie Covers

Crazy (Patsy Cline): The standard-bearer, the best. Willie wrote it, Patsy nailed it. Dazzling.

Hands on the Wheel (Norah Jones): Search out the YouTube live clip of Jones purring this yearning heartbreaker from the Red Headed Stranger album.

Pretty Paper (Roy Orbison): Nelson penned this holidoozy and gifted it to Roy, who slathered on his own high-lonesome malaise.

Funny How Time Slips Away (Al Green): For being such an upbeat dude, Willie Nelson wrote some seriously downer tunes. The Rev. Al cooks this sucker in organ swells and greasy gravitas.

Night Life (Aretha Franklin): Slowed down to a bluesy boil, the Queen gives this ode to midnight great moments of rafter-rattling thunder. “Oh, the night life, ain’t no good life, but it’s my life …”

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.

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