But as pioneers of the country outlaw movement in the 70’s, rest assured that they are most certainly very real, and part of what has made them musical icons.
Because they were such close friends, though, it meant that they weren’t afraid to tell each other what they were really feeling, and even get into arguments and fights every now and then.
Willie once said that they argued like an old married couple and “fought about everything,” and in fact, Waylon’s classic song “Bob Wills Is Still the King” was spawned out of a fight they had over some sort of booking disagreement.
Waylon says he was “mad at Willie,” so he wrote his friend a letter giving him a piece of his mind:
“I really wrote that song ‘cuz I was mad at Willie, and it was a letter. I thought I’d write him a letter in rhyme.
And the more I got along with it I go, ‘Hmm, this ain’t bad.’ Willie gon’ really like this. He gonna wish he had one like that. Sure enough, he got for or five of ’em.”
While most people think of this song as a tribute to Waylon’s love and appreciate for Bob Wills and his music, and it is to a certain extent, it’s really meant to be a petty letter to his friend Willie, reminding him who was actually the king of country at the time.
I mean, he says it plain and simple in the closing lyrics:
“If you ain’t never been there Then I guess you ain’t been told That you just can’t live in Texas Unless you got a lot of soul.
It’s the home of Willie Nelson The home of western swing He’ll be the first to tell you Bob Wills is still the king…”
I’m sure in the moment he was probably incredibly annoyed with Willie, but I know the red headed stranger has to look back on that and laugh now. Actually, knowing they both had a great sense of humor, I’m sure they both did pretty often.
That’s about as authentic as it gets, and a pretty damn funny story between two best friends who happen to be some of the greatest to ever sing or write country music.
Waylon released the song in 1975 on his Dreaming My Dreams album, and it also appeared in August of 1975 as the B-side of “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”, the second single from the album, and eventually cracked the Top 10 on the country charts.
He penned his letter to Willie on a plane between Dallas and Austin, which ultimately became the song we all know and love, and even played it for a rowdy crowd at one of Willie’s first annual Fourth of July Picnics many decades ago just as one last jab, I assume.
Of that performance, Waylon remarked in his 1996 book Waylon: An Autobiography that it got so out of hand while he played “Bob Wills Is Still the King” that women started taking their clothes off, which led an orgy taking place on one side of the audience… simply WILD. You can’t make stuff like that up…
And personally, I can’t imagine a more outlaw, wild (and petty) story for a classic country song than this one.
Only Waylon and Willie, honestly, and I love them for it.
You can hear Waylon talk about it some himself after this performance of it for his Live from Austin, TX album in 1989: