If there ever was such a thing as a country standard, it would be Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain.”
On this date in 1975, the red headed stranger was topping the country charts with his all-time heartbreaker, which was also his very first #1 single as a singer.
“Blue Eyes” was originally written by Fred Rose and performed by Roy Acuff, and has been covered by countless other country artists, like Hank Williams Sr. and Charley Pride, but was made most famous by Willie when he included it on his iconic 1975 Red Headed Stranger album.
Ironically enough, it was also the very last song Elvis Presley ever played before he died. Early in the morning of August 16th, 1977, he sat down to play it on his piano in Graceland, and later that day, he died from an overdose of prescription drugs.
Anywho, up until this point leading to Willie taking full control of his music, he had mostly found success as a songwriter with cuts like Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” Faron Young’s “Hello Walls.”
The first release with his new label Columbia Records, he was allowed to have full creative control of the process in every way with Red Headed Stranger, which also included Willie bringing in his own road band instead of using label-approved session musicians.
Red Headed Stranger is regarded by many as the greatest country album ever made, and it was certainly a turning point for Willie and his career, as he had already packed up his bags and left Nashville in pursuit of more independence back home in Texas.
Of course, he became a pioneer of the country outlaw movement in the 70’s, so it’s kind of needless to say, but that move changed the trajectory of his life and helped cement him as one of the best artists to ever do it, and in my opinion, the greatest songwriter to ever do it.
In 1975 at the 18th Annual Grammy Awards, he won the award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for “Blue Eyes,” the first of 12 he would go on to win.
Playing that song night after night back in the day took a toll on him, though.
Nelson was a notorious drinker back in the mid-to-late 70’s, saying in Hot Press interview that he would get extremely emotionally invested in the songs right along with audience:
“It’s really difficult to sing ‘Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain’ or ‘Always On My Mind’ without getting emotionally involved, especially when the audience gets emotionally involved and you feel their feelings.
You can only wallow in your own misery for so long without saying, ‘Wait a minute, I want a drink!'”
And 48 years later, it still resonates just as deeply and remains a timeless country song that is beloved to this day.
Gonna go have a good cry now…
“Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain”
I can never get enough of his live perfomance from Austin City Limits in 1976: