If, like me, you like your country a little bit rockin’ from time to time, then this is for you.
Back in 1996, an all-star cast of musicians from across musical genres teamed up for a covers album in honor of the great Willie Nelsoncalled Twisted Willie: A Tribute To Willie Nelson.
Some of Willie’s friends and fellow country artists like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cashwere of course featured as well, and one of the abolsute best renditions on the album comes from a somewhat unlikely cast of artists.
The Man in Black teamed up with rock and roll/grunge royalty in Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, Alice In Chains drummer Sean Kinney, and Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil to put an incredible spin on Willie’s song “Time of the Preacher.” Cash’s son John Carter Cash was also featured on acoustic guitar.
And though this record was released a couple years after the tragic death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, it’s kinda cool that Cash teamed up with Cobain’s longtime friend and bandmate Novoselic, because Cobain was a huge fan of Johnny Cash himself.
So much so, that Kurt actually had aspirations to be like Johnny and said he wanted to “start playing acoustic guitars” and transition to being more of a singer/songwriter kind of artist one day, rather than a “grunge rocker”:
“It might be nice to start playing acoustic guitars and be thought of as a singer and a songwriter, rather than a grunge rocker you know?
Because then I might be able to take advantage of that when I’m older, and sit down on a chair and play acoustic guitar like Johnny Cash.”
He also seemed to really admire how much respect Johnny received for his craft from the entire world, adding he believed he could be taken more seriously if he went in that direction musically:
“And it won’t be a big joke, who knows?”
Of course, Nirvana has become one of the most well-known and popular bands of all time even decades later, and I don’t think most people ever thought of him as a joke, but it’s really interesting to hear his perspective on what made an artist “legitimate,” so to speak.
Anywho, this cover is basically a who’s-who of legendary grunge musicians, and is easily one of the coolest covers I’ve ever heard.
“Time of the Preacher” was the opener to Willie’s iconic eighteenth studio album Red Headed Stranger, which became his very first #1 country album, an all-time classic, and is often regarded as the best country album of all time.
Badass certainly doesn’t feel like a strong enough word for the performance of each artist here, and while a very far cry from the original with a very heavy rock production (obviously), I think is certainly something Willie Nelson would appreciate.
I mean, talk about a supergroup… to have been in the studio when this was recorded. A music lovers dream, one could say.
Do yourself a favor and hit play, you’re gonna want to hear this:
And speaking of the Nirvana/Willie Nelson connection, I hear there’s a little rendition of the red headed stranger singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” somewhere from when he was part of The Andrew Denton Breakfast Show Musical Challenge, Volume 2: Even More Challenged album in the early 2000’s.
While it’s basically been scrubbed from the internet, if anyone knows where to find a copy or clip of it, please let me know… I need it in my life.
And of course, I’ll leave you with the timeless country original version of “Time of the Preacher.” It says a lot that one song could be done so differently the way these two versions were, and still sound that damn good.