There’s simply not another artist on the planet who can compare to Willie Nelson.
And as of this past Friday, the Red Headed Stranger released his new live album, Willie Nelson Live At Budokan.
It was produced by Willie’s longtime harmonica player and friend Mickey Raphael, and includes sound of Willie’s historic 1984 Tokyo concert, which was the first time Willie and his family band ever played there.
Along with all the great live tracks I’ve added to my playlist, though, there are a few new live performances available now of some of his most iconic songs from that special show.
The first one being “Me and Bobby McGee,” which was of course originally written by Kris Kristofferson, who shared writing credits Fred Foster on the track, and first released by Roger Miller in 1969.
It was made most famous, though, when it was released posthumously by Janis Joplin. Her version hit #1 on the Billboard U.S. Singles chart in 1971, and Jerry Lee Lewis also released a version that went #1 on the country charts in 1971, as well. Kris actually didn’t even know Janis had recorded a version of the song until he heard it after she passed away.
Aside from those two, it’s been covered by tons of other country artists over the years, including Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and even Johnny Cash, just to name a few.
Willie Nelson actually first included a studio version of the country classic on his 1979 23rd studio album Sings Kristofferson, which consisted only covers of Kris Kristofferson songs. The album peaked at #5 on the U.S. Country albums chart.
And the other incredible live performance he released from 1984 is of “Stardust,” the title track of Willie’s 1978 album. It was actually a cover of Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish’s 1928 jazz song, but Willie insisted on recording it back in the 70’s, even though his label at the time, Columbia Records, told him he was crazy.
The label was certain that the younger audience Willie had wouldn’t care about the older songs he’d chosen to record for the album (many of them were favorites from his childhood), but he was willing to take the chance.
He knew that some of his older fans would know the original versions of the songs, and his younger fans would figure he had written them anyways, so it didn’t really matter. He also included his mega-hit, #1 version of “Georgia On My Mind” on that tracklist, which was also a Hoagy Carmichael original.
And thank the Lord he was so adamant about it, because his rendition is one of the most legendary, recognizable albums and songs he ever put out.
In terms of this new project as a whole, Willie says that he believes music has the power to transcend cultures and beliefs, so he’s excited to be able to bring this special show to people all over the world:
“I believe that music, not only country music, but I believe that music is a great communicator.
I think that it crosses all boundaries and I think that the people, regardless of whether they understand what I’m saying or not, they would feel what I’m saying and they will hear it in whatever language they are listening.
I think that is the great thing about music.”
A broadcast edition of Willie Nelson Live At Budokan is part of special programming premiering on PBS stations beginning this Saturday, November 26th, which will include live footage from the show.
The album is out on streaming platforms everywhere now, with a few of the other songs and rare footage up on Youtube, like a great video of “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground.”
Do yourself a favor and check these out first, though… Willie is second to absolutely no one, and this makes the case as good as any of his live performances from the prime of his career:
“Me and Bobby McGee”