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One By Willie

Author: Texas Monthly

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In “One by Willie,” Texas Monthly’s John Spong hosts intimate conversations with a range of prominent guests about the Willie Nelson songs that mean the most to them. But this series isn’t just about the songs. It’s about what music really means to us—the ways it can change us, take care of us, and connect us all. Songs featured in the episodes can be found on Apple Music. Listen here.
46 Episodes
This week, Nashville super-producer Dave Cobb, whose work with some of the true artists in modern country music—Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlisle, Jason Isbell—has earned him nine Grammys, talks about “Time of the Preacher.” It’s the overture/aria to Willie’s classic Red Headed Stranger, an album that Dave calls a beautiful, barren landscape, and it gets him thinking about Pink Floyd, the real definition of “outlaw,” and the most important instrument an artist can take into the studio: A belief in themselves.
On October 16, 1992, just two weeks after famously ripping up a photo of the pope on SNL, Sinead O’Connor was booed off the stage at a Bob Dylan tribute at Madison Square Garden. Willie Nelson was also on the bill that night, and after watching that happen, he invited her to join him in the studio the next day. In this clip from OBW S2E2, producer Don Was gives the story behind the duet they recorded, a cover of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s “Don’t Give Up.”
This week, Americana singer-songwriter Waylon Payne talks about Willie’s 1970 cover of Joni Mitchell’s iconic “Both Sides Now.” Waylon, an NPR-darling as an artist now, grew up in Willie World; his mom, Sammi Smith—of “Help Me Make It Through the Night” fame—played package shows with Willie in the ‘70s; and his dad, Jody Payne, was Willie’s lead guitarist for almost forty years. Waylon walks us through all that, describing the way Willie songs were his lullabies as a kid, the incredibly difficult personal trials when he says Willie saved his life, and the time Willie paid his songwriting the highest praise possible. Note: the compliment wasn’t remotely suitable for small ears.
This week, Foo Fighters lead guitarist and Shred with Shifty podcast host Chris Shiflett discusses one of the original outlaw anthems, Willie and Waylon’s 1976 version of “Good Hearted Woman,” exploring the evolution of the movement and the creation myth behind the song’s recording, before grabbing a guitar and demonstrating what makes Willie an absolute one-of-a-kind guitar player.
This week, 8-time Grammy-winner Ray Benson—one of Willie’s best friends since moving his Western Swing band, Asleep at the Wheel, to Austin back in Willie’s urging, no less!—talks about a song Willie and the Wheel cut back in 1999, the Bob Wills classic, “Going Away Party.” Wills was, of course, a hero to both Willie and Ray, as was the song’s composer, the great Cindy Walker, who Ray calls one of the single greatest influences on Willie’s own songwriting. From there he’ll describe fifty years of friendship and collaboration with Willie, with cameos by George Gershwin, Floyd Tillman, and Robert Duvall.
This week, singer-songwriter and virtuoso fiddle player Amanda Shires talks about the title song to her new album of duets with Willie’s sister, pianist Bobbie Nelson, “Loving You.” It’s the only song Sister Bobbie ever wrote, a solo piano instrumental with a melody that Amanda says is all about love, faith, and family. She also talks about how Bobbie was one of her heroes long before they became friends and made this record, a role model as a trailblazing female in a male-dominated industry, as a musician more generally, as a mom...and just as a person.
This week, we ring in Father’s Day with Willie’s youngest son, singer-songwriter and visual artist Micah Nelson, who talks about “Still Is Still Moving to Me.” It was the closing track on his dad’s landmark 1993 album Across the Borderline, a high-octane, guitar-heavy anthem that kicked off the Living Legend phase of Willie’s career. Micah describes how much fun it is to play every night as part of the Family Band, before describing the drive to create he inherited from his dad, one of his dad’s favorite Roger Miller stories, and the magic of discovering old Willie records that others have forgotten.
Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher, storyteller, and best-selling author known for her work on vulnerability, shame, and empathy—though many of her fans just call her “an inspiration.” On this week’s OBW, she talks about Willie’s 1976 cover of “Amazing Grace” and the way her life was completely transformed the first time she heard it...before we move into the song’s history; her lifelong love of Willie; the concepts of faith, grace, and acceptance, more generally; and the most powerful performance of “Amazing Grace” she’s ever heard.
This week, one of the greatest, most innovative record producers in history, Daniel Lanois—think U2’s The Joshua Tree, Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, Peter Gabriel’s So—talks about the landmark album he made with Willie, 1998’s Teatro. He’ll start with a deep cut, “I’ve Loved You All Over the World,” but then, being Lanois, he’ll start to Cuban dance clubs, Texas honkytonks, and Mexican movie art that exists only in shadows...and to the way U2 tries to summon Willie when they write songs.
This week, legendary singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard—one of Willie’s oldest running buddies and a founding father of Americana music—talks about the signature song that opens every Willie show, “Whiskey River.” It might as well be the national anthem of Texas, but for Ray it prompts some highly personal, absolutely hilarious memories of times he’s heard Willie play it, before sending him deep into that time he was kidnapped by Willie’s road crew, the reasons drummer Paul English was NOT a fan of the Eagles...and Willie’s smile.
This week, we ring in Willie’s monumental 90th birthday with his son, acclaimed singer-songwriter Lukas Nelson, who discusses “I Never Cared for You.” It’s a favorite deep-cut of true Willie lovers, a song he’s recorded repeatedly through the years; the original, 1964 single was the record that first made Leon Russell a Willie fan. But Lukas focuses on the 1998 version off Teatro because he was nine years old and in the studio when it was recorded, a memory that prompts thoughts on Emmylou Harris’s harmonies, cave paintings, and covering Pearl Jam with his dad.
This week, we wrap up the special Live from Luck! mini-season of OBW with California-based singer-songwriter Natalie Mering—known to fans by her stage name, Weyes Blood—who will discuss another standard off of Stardust, Kurt Weill's 1938 composition, “September Song.” It’s a classic that Natalie discovered the same way Willie did, through a Frank Sinatra record, and it prompts crystal clear memories of the night she first heard Willie’s version and the way her appreciation of the song changed there and then. From there we get into the unlikely backstory of how Willie recorded it, with digressions on Lindsey Buckingham, Elvis, and Greek yogurt.
This week, in the third installment of OBW’s special, Live from Luck! mini-season, Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Steve Gunn discusses the penultimate track on Red Headed Stranger, “Hands on the Wheel.” It’s the song with which Willie wraps up the RHS narrative, when his roaming, vengeful preacher finally finds love and a home. And Steve, who first made his name as a virtuoso guitarist, focuses on the way Willie used subtle guitar-picking to bring the story to a ruminative, peaceful end...before getting into where he hears Django Reinhardt’s influence on Willie’s playing and why Trigger sounds like no other guitar in the world.
This week, in the second installment of OBW’s special, Live from Luck! mini-season, hardcore honky-tonker Charley Crockett talks about Willie’s little-known 1961 recording of “Face of a Fighter.” It’s another old Pamper demo, a barroom weeper Willie never did get around to cutting for a proper album, but one that, in Charley’s opinion, is so strong that if just about any other country artist had come up with it, it’d be the best song they ever wrote. From there he’ll get into the Willie songs he listened to as a homeless busker playing subway platforms in New York City, and the night a Willie song almost—not quite, but almost—kept him from going to jail.
This week, the podcast kicks off a special, Live from Luck! mini-season of OBW, four interviews conducted this March at Willie’s central Texas ranch with artists performing later that day at his annual Luck Reunion. Up first is three-time Grammy nominee Allison Russell, who discusses Willie’s landmark 1978 recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” It’s one of the most covered titles in the Great American Songbook, and Allison explains why she thinks Willie’s version is definitive... before explaining how his vocals make her think of Billie Holiday and why she played the Stardust album nonstop for her newborn daughter.
This week, Willie’s longtime producer and songwriting partner Buddy Cannon talks about one of the most iconic Willie songs of recent vintage, 2017’s “Something You Get Through.” The song was a cornerstone of Willie’s so-called Mortality Trilogy—a series of albums that found him in Aging Wise Man mode and passing along some hard-learned life lessons. Buddy will describe the poignant moment on Willie’s bus that provided the song’s inspiration and the unique, distinctly 21st Century method they use to write and record together...and then get into his own evolution from hardcore Willie fan in the sixties to invaluable collaborator and friend through the 2000’s.
This week, four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke—who in addition to being an acclaimed actor, writer, and director happens also to be a hardcore Willie nerd—discusses “Too Sick to Pray,” a meditative hymn from Willie’s beautiful, pin-drop quiet 1996 album, Spirit. Ethan says the song and album were touchstones for him when he first became a father in the late 90s, before going on to describe the way Willie’s music connected him with his own dad as a kid, peppering his memories with digressions on Bob Dylan, Henri Matisse, Johnny Cash, Dead Poets Society...and earlobes. Oh and he also explains why he thinks a Willie Nelson biopic has to be set in the here and now.
This week, singer-songwriter Norah Jones—a nine-time Grammy-winner and go-to Willie duet partner—talks about “Permanently Lonely.” It’s one of those songs Willie has recorded repeatedly, but she focuses on his early-sixties demo, sitting at her piano to illustrate the jazzy intricacies of the song’s melody, and marveling at what she calls the beautifully harsh poetry in its lyrics. She’ll also describe the way she leaned on Willie’s music when she left Texas for New York City, the first time she ever sang with him, and the truly wonderful way she came to appear on our podcast. And a hint on that last thought: Like most great Willie stories, it’s all about family.
This week, legendary Muscle Shoals bass player David Hood talks about recording Willie’s classic 1974 album Phases and Stages with his fellow Swampers, focusing on his favorite track on the record, “(How Will I Know) I’m Falling in Love Again.” Phases was, of course, named Willie’s finest album ever by Texas Monthly, and it prompts memories from Hood on the fabled R&B producer who brought the project to Muscle Shoals, Jerry Wexler; the mere two days they took to cut it; and the weird moment when Willie first walked into the studio.
This week, Americana singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff talks about the cut that closes Willie’s 1973 album Shotgun Willie, “A Song for You.” It was arguably Willie’s first iconic cover song, written by one of his closest friends and most important collaborators, Tulsa legend Leon Russell, and it prompts Nathaniel to think aloud about the biker funeral where he first heard it; the crazy, early-70s days when Leon and Willie first hooked up...and the great lesson Nathaniel learned from Willie on creating a space—and a life—that brings friends together to make music.
Comments (3)

Constantine vonHoffman

This is a such a great podcast! Perfect host, great guests and... WILLIE,

Apr 6th


Such a GREAT idea: “One by Willie”! And BECITR! This song was so important to me when it came out. It changed my perceptions about what music can do at its simplest: three chords, minimal production, shadowy vocal harmony, organic wooden guitar sound, no-chops-showing-off guitar solo. It was the door into country music for me.

Mar 30th

Robb Clanton

I am really enjoying this podcast

Nov 6th
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