Young Hines’ recommendation: As music trivia has turned into an exponentially challenging game, I think it’s fair to recognize annually that there are new developing young minds amongst us and we should somehow refrain from the obligatory condescending knee jerk reaction of “oh my god I can’t believe you haven’t heard (insert artist or band)” when someone doesn’t remember a title or artist that you consider the bedrock of all that is music. With so many know it alls, one would begin to think it’s futile to even attempt sharing one’s experiences anymore let alone musical suggestions to generations plugged into the mainframe at the hip with the personality mean mode and median equivalent to Wikipedia for better or worse. That being said if you happen to be sitting alone as to not challenge publicly your own credentials, I would like to reintroduce you to Willie Nelson. If I could sit and play my Epiphone Casino with any human on the planet in a 12 bar blues jam, it would be Willie Nelson…in E.
I’m gonna tell you what I remember being told about the making of the Red Headed Stranger album. Not what I looked up and fact checked, (though I hope they’re similar), just the story that left an impression on me years ago no matter the degree of truthfulness. Burned into my memory is a story of a songwriter not from, but in Nashville with scattered songs amongst the stars like Patsy Cline singing his song Crazy. I heard he yearned to be the artist on the screen but the people that decided such things did not find him suitable. About the same time he’s realizing his musical fate in Nashville, his fucking house burned down. This event juxtaposed with doubt, he packed up his truck and moved to Texas. Once he got there and after some scratchin’, he was offered a record deal with some money up front to fund recording. It’s my understanding that instead of going into preproduction and tracking, he headed north to Colorado with his wife to go snow skiing with the money.
After the vacation he had to head back to Texas because the record was supposed to be done soon and he hadn’t even begun. I can see angel Willie and devil Willie on his shoulders struggling with the decision of spending the last few hundred (or thousand) bucks on another sack or getting back to a studio to get this record tracked on a budget….or both!!! Though I could relate to the former, I’m glad he chose the latter(s). Somewhere in the mountains at night, just before reaching Denver on the drive home he was talking to his wife about the impending deadline and how he found himself a little short on ideas and material. His wife said something to him that would steer the course of Willie’s album . She said “why don’t you write a record about that western gunslinging’ bedtime story you always tell the kids, you know the Red Headed Stranger?” With that sounding like a fabulous idea to Willie, they began banging out the lyrics together as the bright lights of Denver that sparkled like diamonds got closer. By the time they got back to Texas the next morning the songs were written and ready to go. Willie called on his sister and some others that would work on a budget and tracked the whole album in two days. The record company initially rejected it but somehow the record found life and it is now one of the best records I have ever heard. My point here is I think it’s good to remember that admirable people also benefit from bending or flat out breaking the rules. Yes it’s wise not to impede on others liberties to satisfy yourself, but there is also no need to cooperatively emasculate oneself. Willie’s Robin Hood story is one that doesn’t bore me.
New to Willie Nelson? Young suggests you start here: Beyond my ramblings, why should you listen to Red Headed Stranger? Let’s start with the sound. It’s the best Willie Nelson’s voice ever sounded on a medium. I’m sure he sounds this good all the time, it’s just that they captured it here. Beyond the vocals, everything else sounds warm too. The piano, the classical guitar played by Willie throughout, and don’t forget the bass harmonica! I’ve never seen any photos from this session and I don’t think I want to. Best left to my imagination. Now let’s talk about content delivered. It’s a story woven together mostly through the use of originals and a few well placed songs Willie didn’t write. My favorite line of the record comes in the song Hands on the Wheel, “I looked to the stars, tried all of the bars and I’ve nearly gone up in smoke…”. The record as a whole is a story of betrayal and redemption. Go buy the vinyl. I suggest going on Craigslist and find yourself and old 50’s turntable with tubes like a Califone or something. Once you get your hands on it take it somewhere and have them bring it up on a Variac and test the tubes all the while delaying your first real listen to Red Headed Stranger. Once everything is in order, turn out the lights and roast one while you get baptized in audio in the year of ’01 where the stories are over and a lesson’s begun.”
About our guest author, Young Hines: It shouldn’t surprise that Young savors Willie Nelson’s rags to riches story because Young himself has been part of a bit of a fair tale himself. His backstory is one where he was in a Beatles cover band (listen a few seconds of the clip from Rainy Day below and you can hear John Lennon singing through Hines from his cloud in the sky) when Brendan Benson (member of The Raconteurs with Jack White and a super-solid solo artist in his own right) heard his house painter playing Hines’ demo. In a flash. Brendan signed Young to his new record company, Readymade Records and the rest is history. Brendan released his debut with the label, Give Me My Change, a ’60s-pop-meets-’90s-Teenage Fanclub-era collection that will feel right at home in any mix targeted at those who relish great harmonies and catchy choruses. Hines is now on tour, so be sure to check his Facebook Page for tour dates and more info.