One of the things I love the most about Willie Nelson is that he calls it like he sees it.
And he always has…
Willie left RCA Records in for Atlantic, and then Columbia Records, in the early 1970s, when he became a trailblazer of the country outlaw movement, along with his friend Waylon Jennings.
His first release with Columbia in 1975 after he left Nashville and moved back to Austin was what is widely considered one of, if not the, greatest country albums of all time, Red Headed Stranger.
And actually, the executives at the label were actually hesitant to release the album in its entirety, because they thought it was a demo at first.
And if it wasn’t for Willie’s good buddy Waylon Jennings, it’s likely that it never would’ve seen the light of day. You can read about that amazing story here, but long story short, Waylon basically told the record label the album was perfect as is and to leave it alone or he would walk.
Obviously, what made both Willie and Waylon so desirable to such large and different groups of people was their authenticity and willingness to do exactly what they wanted, even if it wasn’t necessarily the most popular thing.
In the “When Country Goes Pop” episode of Netflix’s 2021 This Is Pop series, Willie confirmed in footage from an old interview what Waylon had previously saidabout them being branded as country outlaws in the ’70s in the wake of their Wanted! The Outlaws record release:
“‘Outlaw’ is a term that someone came up with to try to sell records.'”
The release of that album was an attempt to capitalize on Willie and Waylon’s solo commercial success in the ’70s, and was a massive hit in 1976, becoming the first country album to ever be certified platinum (reaching sales of one million).
And Willie noted in another old interview with Waylon, that’s also featured in the episode, that he was protective over the genre and didn’t want to see a bunch of inauthentic artists coming in and trying to leech off their success:
“We don’t want a bunch of high rollers and rip-off artists from other parts of the world to come in here and foul it up for the rest of the people.”
And he’s continued to carry the torch for many decades since, even releasing his 97th studio album, A Beautiful Time, on his 89th birthday back in April, that’s just as good and country as anything he’s ever put out.
And how ’bout a little bit of the title track to that iconic record, “Red Headed Stranger”: