Several years ago, I was at the Ryman auditorium in Nashville for a Willie Nelson TV special. The show included many greats from Sheryl Crow to Keith Richards to Ray Price. Ryan Adams to Emmylou Harris. The show called Willie Nelson and Friends; Stars and Guitars was being taped for television. During commercial breaks there would be stage changes to be ready for the next act. So during one such change, the crew brings out a little wurlitzer keyboard. Then comes a pretty dark haired girl who sits at the keyboard. She is smiling and staring at Willie like she needs to pinch herself to believe she is there. When she opened her mouth to sing “Lonestar” with Willie, that Ryman audience took a collective breath at this beautiful unknown voice. She wouldn’t be unknown however for long. She soon would go on to win 5 Grammies. She is Norah Jones.
Ever grateful, but having moved long past the need for big radio airplay to feel successful, Jones has been one wonderful CD after another. she has even bucked label advice and made a record under the band name “The Little Willies” covering many great standards such Willie Nelson’s “I gotta get drunk”, and Gram Parson’s version of the Harland Howard classic “Streets of Baltimore”. In other words Norah Jones is carving her own musical road.
Many before her including Christopher Cross and Shawn Mullins, who scored big from out of nowhere, Norah was almost force fed upon us. Now that the rage has subsided we can let her stretch as an artist, and enjoy the journey with her music. It’s good stuff. Give it a shot if she has been on your back burner for a while.
My wife doesn’t get excited by very many songs. When she does I tend to listen a little closer. Such was the case when she was playing Patty Griffins CD “Children Running Through”. Her favorite song from that collection is “Up To The Mountain(The MLK Song). It didn’t take long to realize what a great voice Patty has, but the emotion in her writing and singing is what sells it for me. Patty is in a long line of great writer/performers like Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch.
Check out Kelly Clarksons version of “Up To The Mountain” on a broadcast of American Idol. Great version, but as it’s said in Nashville, “it all starts with the song”.
Pattys new work, “Down.Town.Church” is no deviation from her stellar work. The only word I can think of when I hear Patty Griffin is spiritual. She is headed out on tour with recent Shine A Light featured artist Buddy Miller.
Now you may look at this picture of Buddy Miller and say “Who the heck is this guy”. While Buddy is not a household name nor is his pic everywhere, his talents, both playing and producing, are everywhere. He has toured with Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, Shaun Colvin, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. If you have seen any of the Robert Plant-Allsion Krauss stuff on TV , that’s Buddy playing guitar. He has also produced Robert Plants new album.
Along with wife Julie Miller, Buddy has released several projects as well as ones by himself. You may recognize “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger” by Lee Ann Womack, thats Buddy’s writing and he has had song cut by The Dixie Chicks and Brooks and Dunn. Buddy may be one of those guys that has the coolest gig in the world. He writes and plays his own music, beholding to no one. Has major artists covering his songs (translation, lots of cash), guys like Robert Plant asking him to produce (lots more cash), and has the respect of everyone in town ! How can you beat that. Here’s a video with a couple of heavyweights, Phil Maderia and Don Was (producer of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson)
Walk with me for just a minute. The other day I heard Willie Nelson and Family were playing a show at the famed Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. It was too late for tickets as the show was sold out, like almost all are these days.
I read one time that when Willie started playing with Ray Price in the mid 60’s, that the first run was a string of 99 one nighters. Can you imagine? Nobody does that anymore. Before all of that, Willie had been in constant motion. Born in Texas but living many places while searching for his dreams to materialize. Landing in Nashville in the 60’s and becoming a pretty powerful songwriter, “Crazy” by Patsy Cline and “Funny How Time Slips Away”, just to name a couple. It wasn’t until his house burned down that he went back to Texas. He just wanted to play music and the crowds there were and are more open to music that doesn’t fit in the box. Thank God for that.
So anyway, back to the road. Willie is 76 and still on the road over 200 days a year ! When you look at the itinerary , there are still a lot of one nighters. It amazes me the energy it must take. It became a way of life long ago for him as well as his traveling family. I think he just loves to play and works off of the energy of the crowds. The idea of Willie conjures many impressions from people. His voice is an acquired thing and if you are looking for the perfect voice it’s not for you. But if you are looking for a storyteller, a voice that has heart and is totally unique, then give him a chance. In the current state of Country Music, and entertainment in general where you can’t tell one artist from another, his striking individuality is always refreshing. Some people look down on him due to his open use of weed. They say weed lessens someone’s drive, not Willie’s !
This writer has been enjoying Willie’s music since about 1978. It took me a little while, but I did get it and his voice now to me is like an old friend. It’s warm and reassuring. I like Emmylou Harris’ comment “That if America only had one voice it would be Willie’s”. I think he is more comfortable in his skin than most any other entertainer. Beyond a star, superstar, Willie is an honest American icon. His picking ain’t perfect, his look is worn, and his heart has suffered. Kind of like life itself, right ?
You don’t have to go out and buy his records or go to his shows, but a little light on someone who is marching to the drum God gave him, might allow your heart to just say “Ole Willie’s alright with me”. So I wish him well out there on the Worlds highways and biways, bringing his music, his heart and his love. Always giving ! Thanks Willie