In his long and eclectic career, Willie Nelson has recorded country
music, standards, gospel, and much more. Now with the release
of Milk Cow Blues, his third album for Island Records and his
first blues release, Willie Nelson leaves his mark on yet another
chunk of the American musical landscape.
Milk Cow Blues combines the talents of Nelson, an array of special
guests, and the cream of the Austin, Texas blues community. Guest
stars on the album include B.B. King, Dr. John, young singer-guitarist
Susan Tedeschi, Keb' Mo', Francine Reed (who usually duets with
Nelson's fellow Texan, Lyle Lovett), and blues prodigies Johnny
Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
These players--including guitarists Jimmie Vaughan and Derek
O'Brien, keyboardist Riley Osbourn, drummer George Rains, bassist
Jon Blondell--have played with everyone from the Three Kings (you
know, B.B., Albert and Freddie) to Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan,
Albert Collins, and an entire galaxy of Chicago and Louisiana
blues stars who have come through Antone's doors.
Born in 1933 in the tiny Central Texas farming community of Abbott,
Willie Nelson grew up in a world permeated with music: The gospel
songs of the grandparents who raised him; the blues and Mexican
corridas that eased the labor of the cotton fields; the country
and Western Swing hits filling the airwaves from Nashville and
Fort Worth...and the inner music was inside of him.
"I was raised and worked in the cotton fields around Abbott
with a lot of African-Americans and a lot of Mexican-Americans,
and we listened to their music all the time. I guess that's why
I was influenced a lot by those around me--there was a lot of
singing that went on in the cotton fields," said Nelson during
a break at this year's annual Fourth of July Picnic.
That lifetime of appreciation figures heavily in the selection
of songs that Nelson personally selected for Milk Cow Blues. In
addition to the title track, the album also includes Nelson's
renditions of B.B. King's hit "The Thrill Is Gone,"
the Wilbert Harrison/Leiber & Stoller classic "Kansas
City," "Ain't Nobody's Business" (recorded by Billie
Holiday and numerous others), Bob Wills' "Sittin' On Top
of the World," Larry Davis' signature song "Texas Flood,"
(which also became a trademark tune for Stevie Ray Vaughan), Charles
Brown's mournful "Black Night," and others. Nelson also
dips into his own catalog for blues-tinted versions of his own
"Funny How Time Slips Away," "Crazy," "Rainy
Day Blues," "Wake Me When It's Over," and "Night
Since releasing his first single in 1957, he has given birth
to concept albums (his first, Yesterday¹s Wine, was recorded
in 1971), gospel albums, jazz albums, movie soundtracks, myriad
duet projects, Christmas albums, live albums, and an album of
standards (1978's Stardust), which has become a standard in itself.
His around-the-beat blues-flavored vocals set the Nashville musical
establishment on his ear. His spare-sounding breakthrough album,
1975's Red-Headed Stranger, went so against the Music City grain
of the day that his record company president first thought Nelson
had presented him with a demo. His early-70s merger of the traditional
country and long-haired hippie audiences was called suicidal at
the time, and has since come to be regarded as visionary.
Outside the recording studio, Nelson established himself as a
champion for the family farmer with his annual Farm Aid concerts.
His Fourth of July Picnics have for the past quarter-century served
as a rite of musical passage in Texas. His films include The Electric
Horseman (with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda), Songwriter (with
Kris Kristofferson), Wag the Dog (with Robert DeNiro and Dustin
Hoffman), and many others.
Today, Nelson divides his time between the road and his beloved
Pedernales recording studio/golf course in the Hill Country outside
of Austin, Texas. Often asked when he plans to retire, the 67-year
old Nelson invariably replies with a smile, "All I do is
play music and golf--which one do you want me to give up?"