Mr. Bingham with “The Weary Kind”, the song he wrote with T Bone Burnett for the film Crazy Heart. You can hear a little Stephen Bruton in there too.




Nanci Griffith was born to musical parents in Seguin, Texas, and was playing clubs down the road in Austin by the age of fourteen. She continued to write and perform while in college at the University of Texas, and became an important member of the seventies Texas songwriting scene, releasing three fine albums of mostly original material before moving to Nashville in 1986 to pursue her songwriting dreams.

Griffith has dabbled in numerous genres over the years, including country, folk, pop and torch. She calls her work “folkabilly”, but her best songs are sketches of the joy, loss and reflection that punctuate the tough paths of ordinary people. In other words, Griffith is yet another great Texas songwriter trading in real country music.

Others have mined her songs for their quality and the promise of commercial success, but you must hear these songs in her voice, lilting and childlike and completely original, evoking past lives lived simply and well.

Griffith has released some twenty albums in her career, winning a Grammy in 1994 for Other Voices, Other Rooms, a cover album of songs written by special songwriters. She has toured and recorded with the likes of John Prine, Iris DeMent, Tom Russell, Emmylou Harris, Phil Everly, Mary Black, Don McLean, Willie Nelson, Adam Duritz, Bernie Leadon, The Chieftains and others.

Three things to know about Nanci Griffith, (1) she was once married to the great Eric Taylor, and flew to Vietnam and Cambodia to honor his service during the Vietnam War, (2) as a young woman she worked as a kindergarten teacher, and (3) she performed at the Grand Ole Opry in 2003.

If you love Nanci Griffith, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Amanda Shires, Michael Fracasso and Shawn Colvin.




Having been mentioned, with other visionaries, in Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Name Droppin’”, Mary Gauthier has plenty of Texas cred and the life lessons to back it up. Gauthier writes dark pictures of lost love and life gone awry, and sings them deep like the brackish waters of a Louisiana bayou.

Michael had the opportunity to catch-up with Mary the other day…be sure to check out their discussion on sad songs.




Jeff wishes America a happy and thoughtful birthday. Onward and upward, people.







Thinking a lot lately about our friend, Jimmy LaFave. Always gives more than he takes. A lot more.

 




Another musical luminary from the Lubbock area, Butch Hancock is best known for his on and off collaboration with Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore known as The Flatlanders, but he has been gracing us with fines songs and storied solo performances for more than four decades now. Raised on a dry-land cotton farm in the big empty, he lived in Austin for a number of years before moving to Terlingua, Texas, a Big Bend “ghost town” perched above the Rio Grande and home to an ex-patriate community of artists and other rugged individualists.

Like Ely and Gilmore, as well as folks like Terry Allen and Jo Carol Pierce, Hancock is a wandering intellectual with little respect for appearances, social norms or cultural institutions. He looks out at the world and calls it like he sees it, and he sees it pretty clearly. Good or bad. False or true.

He sings in a dusty, far-away voice that is grounded in experience and a little regret, but all in all you get the sense that he has things pretty well figured out. He has a habit of penning absolute classics that find the grace in life’s moments of beauty, discovery and contradiction. Songs like “Boxcars”, “She Never Spoke Spanish to Me”, “West Texas Waltz” and “If I Were a Bluebird”. Existentialism and romanticism, loss and gain…songs that speak to the possibilities up ahead, just beyond the horizon.

Three things to know about Butch Hancock: (1) he is a charter member of the “Lubbock Mafia”, a cadre of talented musicians from the Hub City, many of which ended up in Austin, (2) he is as talented a photographer as he is a musician, (3) he is known for this quote about his hometown: “Life in Lubbock, Texas taught me two things. One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, dirty thing on the face of the earth and you should save it for someone you love.”

If you love Butch Hancock, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Joe Ely, Amanda Shires and Vince Bell.




If you grew up in small town Texas, or loved your grandmother, or ever chased the DDT truck down the street, you need to hear this one. McMurtry at his finest.







John Hiatt paints lost love in pastel regret. Ry Cooder soars on slide guitar.

 




It is no secret that West Texas produces musicians of uncommon creativity and grit, likely the result of too much flat land and steady wind. Insightful artists with on-stage mojo…indelible characters with plenty of that old Texas don’t-give-a-damn, contemptuous of white lies, cow pies and pigeonholes. Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Joe Ely and David Halley, to name a few. Butch Hancock, Amanda Shires, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Jo Carol Pierce and Tommy Hancock, to name a few more.

Then there’s Terry Allen, perhaps the most madcap of them all. A true renaissance man of letters, visual and recorded art, carrying more intellect, talent and taste than was meant to fit in the saddlebags of one dusty cowboy.

A son of Lubbock, self-exiled like so many luminaries of the high plains, Allen has lived in Santa Fe with his wife, Jo Harvey Allen, for decades, where they raised their musician son, Bukka Allen, who has since relocated to the green fields of Austin. Terry and Jo frequently dip down into Texas like a Comanche raiding party to spread their artistic seed, pillage a little and chew the fat with old friends.

Terry is a noted painter, songwriter, performer and playwright, while Jo is a similarly respected actress, writer and painter. His music could be described as the love child of Friedrich Nietzsche and William Burroughs singing in a nasally West Texas lilt. A cowboy with serious mental horsepower and artistic vision, he has produced ten albums of original and critically acclaimed work. Of particular note are 1975’s Juarez, 1979’s Lubbock (On Everything), and 1996’s Human Remains.

Three things to know about Terry Allen: (1) his father “Sled” played catcher for the St. Louis Browns in 1910, (2) another son, Bale Creek Allen, is a noted visual artist living in Austin, and (3) his visual art hangs in places like the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

If you love Terry Allen, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out James McMurtry, Vince Bell and Kevin Higgins.




A brutally beautiful portrait of intergenerational alcoholism. Recognition, confession and resignation. Isolation and loneliness. Mary Gauthier has her demons.

Check out her Austin Songwriter profile here.

 




Mr. Earle‘s tribute to a home in a very tough world. Sanctuary.




The legendary Butch Hancock sings his “Box Cars”. This man has surely earned these words.




Van the Man yodels through 0ne of his many classics, with help from the fabulous Georgie Fame.




The great Stephen Bruton tugs at the heart strings. Gorgeous remorse.




Patty brings you a little inspiration for your Saturday morning.




Mary Chapin Carpenter is a songwriter of uncommon depth and sensitivity who came of age in the seventies as a folksinger in the clubs of Washington, D.C. She began enjoying significant commercial success in the eighties, when Columbia Records began promoting her as a “country” artist, but never allowed her work to be processed, categorized or compromised, and has always spoken directly from a kind mind and a full heart.

She is especially revered for her consideration of the changing lives of women, perhaps most famously for the brilliantly caustic “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” from 1992, and her name is spoken in the same breath as that of Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier and Shawn Colvin. Carpenter has focused on other social and political issues that are close to her heart, often speaking for those on the wrong end of social power structures. Consider “John Doe No. 24”, her stunning portrayal of a child born without sight or hearing in long-ago New Orleans. Abandoned to the orphanages and institutions of the south, no link to the outside but his memory of the scent of blooming crepe jasmine.

Mary’s work is literary and profound, often evoking the gothic south of William Faulkner or Willa Cather’s vast Midwest. She recalls the strength and majesty of young love, or the dusty regret of passion that wasn’t quite strong enough to last. Like so many of our favorite artists, we smile through tears at the memories she pulls to the surface.

Carpenter’s songs have been covered by the varied likes of Joan BaezTony RiceWynona JuddTrisha Yearwood, and has recorded with folks like Colvin, Radney FosterDolly Parton and the Indigo Girls. Over her career she has won five Grammy Awards and a host of other formal accolades in the course of releasing fourteen albums of mostly original work.

Three things to know about Mary Chapin Carpenter: (1) she is distantly related to the late, great songwriter Harry Chapin, (2) in 2014, she released an orchestral album and performed it live at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and (3) she has coped with periodic bouts of depression with what she calls “the learning curve of gratitude”.

If you love Mary Chahttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azsSkWyxvu8pin Carpenter, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Ana Egge, Will T. Massey and Mary Gauthier.




Ben Balmer has the pedigree of a true troubadour. A son of Detroit, he has lugged his guitar, harmonica and imagination around the world, from Ann Arbor to Moscow, Tokyo, Seattle, Vancouver, New York, Delaware and the Great Southwest. Now he calls Austin home, and we’re damn lucky to have him.

His first full length album, Dug In, was released in 2012, followed by 2015’s Loose Lips, Sunk Ships, Bruised Hips, and Booze Sips. Surely there is much more to come. Bring it on, Ben!







Oklahoma is sort of the Bermuda Triangle of the Great Plains. We know there’s some magical stuff going on within those dusty borders, but we’re a little scared to head on in and check it out.

The musical magic is referred to as the “Red Dirt” scene, and a rich vein of that fertile ground runs right to Travis County. Some of our favorite artists carried a little of that dirt with them, folks like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jimmy LaFave, Kevin Welch, Travis Linville, even Michael Fracasso, and Austin music is certainly the better for it. In truth, the rambling red dirt of Oklahoma is a close geological cousin to the cotton fields and caliche flats of West Texas. It spawns poets of uncommon insight.

There’s a new kid out on there on the airwaves, name of John Fullbright, and he seems destined to take us a little further into the dust bowl frame of mind. Pause a little before you venture into the world of Fullbright, because he will grab hold of you with a steely grip. Every song will take you somewhere you’ve never been before, and in every song you will learn something more about yourself. Woody Guthrie would be quite proud.

A child of Okemah, like Guthrie, Fullbright cut his teeth with formidable Red Dirt artist Mike McClure. His breakthrough year came in 2012. A stunning performance at SXSW in March, the main stage at Kerrville Folk Festival in June and the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in July. In the middle of all that he released his debut album, From the Ground Up, to much acclaim, and the boy from Oklahoma was on his way.

He storms the stage with piano, acoustic guitar and harmonica, his voice weathered and high. His appearance is earnest and rosy-cheeked, somewhere between high school history teacher and a budding televangelist. He exhibits the wisdom of a thinking man twice his age, channeling a jailhouse full of old souls. He navigates the killing fields of love and bites down on the eternal social issues. His words will cause you to pause, maybe even change your own tune a little.

John Fullbright is a troubadour in the best sense, spreading an enriching gospel of finding what’s right in each of life’s precious moments, and railing against the rest like an angry archangel…a foe to hypocrisy and a friend to what’s right. Expect much more in the years to come.

Three things to know about John Fullbright: (1) Townes Van Zandt was an important and early influence, (2) his first significant public performance was at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah in 2005, and (3) in 2009, he released Live at the Blue Door, a great live album recorded by Travis Linville at the Oklahoma City club.

If you love John Fullbright, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Patty Griffin, Kevin Welch, and K Phillips.




The late Stephen Bruton started the tradition years ago, friends and fellow musicians gathering at the Saxon Pub every Sunday for an intimate evening of wit and improvisation. The current line-up usually includes Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Miles Zuniga, Jeff Plankenhorn, Bruce Hughes and John Chipman, but who knows who else will turn up? This Austin institution showcases some of the city’s finest musicians in a wonderfully relaxed setting.




I recently ran into an old acquaintance at, of all places, the Saxon Pub urinal. In the seventies Denny Freeman handled guitar duties for Paul Ray and the Cobras, a well-loved outfit that, along with The Fabulous Thunderbirds and others, helped revive the Austin rhythm and blues scene.

Paul was a smooth as silk crooner who could fill the air with sultry romance. The Cobras had a regular Tuesday night gig at the Soap Creek Saloon when it lay at the end of a dirt road somewhere out in Bee Cave. Yours truly was a regular, and these boys, Paul and Denny, Larry Lange, Rodney Craig the great Joe Sublett, helped set me on a righteous path.

Denny and I exchanged brief pleasantries but, under the circumstances, passed on the customary handshake.

I asked Denny what he had been doing for the last thirty-odd years, and he said not much, mostly hanging out and playing with various people in Austin, except for several years when he was on the road quite a bit. What pulled him out of Travis County? Not much, just touring and recording with Bob Dylan. Check out Denny’s work on Modern Times.

Over the years Denny has also worked with Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Taj Mahal, Percy Sledge, James Cotton, Lou Ann Barton, Angela Strehli, and many more.

In a sad coincidence, Paul Ray passed away on January 15, 2016.

These days, catch Denny at the Saxon Pub on Monday nights, when he lays it down with old pals John X. Reed, Speedy Sparks and the aforementioned Rodney Craig.

 

 




Austin Songwriter recently had the opportunity to talk with Whitney Rose, the young singer-songwriter and recent transplant from Canada who is making a big splash in Austin with her fresh approach to traditional country music.

It’s not easy to score a residency at the famed Continental Club, but Ms. Rose did just that shortly after moving to Austin from Toronto in 2015. Introduced to the club by Raul Malo of Mavericks fame, with whom she had collaborated for 2016’s Heartbreaker of the Year, she quickly fell in with the likes of Continental regulars Redd Volkert and Earl Poole Ball for a regular Happy Hour gig on Thursday evenings. She has also worked with members of Continental stalwarts Heybale!

“The folks at the Continental have been really supportive of me,” she said. And, given the pedigrees of the musicians that regularly haunt the venerable Austin institution, that it saying a lot.

Described by the New York Times as a ‘sultry country classicist”, Rose is an artist finding her unique voice, and a new American finding her way in a turbulent social and political time. When asked about influences, her answer illustrated the bridge she is crossing between Nashville and Austin. “Dolly Parton, of course, and Brennen Leigh,” another of Austin’s interpreters of classic country music.

She just released South Texas Suite, a gorgeous collection that is steeped in the diverse influences of her new-found home, and features most of her Continental Club friends. Now she is touring at a pace that would make Willie Nelson tired, hitting Canada, the U.S. and Europe between now and June 1st. She’s also finding time to work on another album, again with the help of Raul Malo, in Nashville.

Whitney Rose is finding her way in the rich world of new country music. We’ll certainly be watching!

 




Keep on looking!




Seela Misra‘s singing is powerful but vulnerable, yearning but confident, pulled from some deep place in a beautiful soul. Marry that voice with her compelling songwriting and you have another rising star in Austin.

She has a respected and growing body of solo work. She plays the El Mercado on Sundays with the Purgatory Players, and has worked with folks like the late Ian McLagan, Matt The Electrician, Tom Freund, Freedy Johnston and Ephraim Owens, as well as Austin bands Whammo and TOrcH.

Catch Seela for some gritty, lovely comfort.




  A lotta love, a little lust. Joe Ely slow dances his truck stop girl into highway heaven.




The sensitive boy from Canada with some sage and impossibly gorgeous advice.

 

 




BettySoo writes profound pop/folk with just enough country to makes things comfortable. At once powerful and vulnerable, she handles us like a big sister with everything in hand. BettySoo reminds us of both our strength and our fragility, but her real message is to carry on, through the trials of life and love, and find the joy. Always find the joy.

Michael caught up with her at the condo recently…




Jim Lauderdale’s baritone twang is booming and earnest and sketches a roadmap of the roots and pedigree of real American country music. The journey began in his North Carolina birthplace, headed west through his current home of Nashville, on to Oklahoma and through the whole state of Texas. It ended up at a truck stop in Bakersfield, California.

Lauderdale has been preaching the honest gospel since 1986, putting out twenty-seven albums of original work and collaborating along the way with the likes of Ralph Stanley, Buddy Miller, Nick Lowe, Robert Hunter and others. His songwriting evokes times past. Some have called him a “preservationist” or “revivalist” of old country, and he is certainly a chronicler of folk history. But while history is his canvas and his songs are steeped in the familiar country themes of struggle and loss, he also paints with a musical brush dipped in the colors of joy, hope and wonder.

On stage he is a sight to behold, holding his ground in a tastefully understated Nudie suit, graying main blowing and flowing like some kind of Fayetteville Fabio. His music lilts and swings in a kind of uplifting spiritual celebration, almost like a rural North Carolina Baptist church on Sunday morning. This is music that soothes the soul and shines a warm light on the days ahead.

Jim’s latest record, This Changes Everything, is a Lone Star state affair, recorded in Austin with help from folks like Chris Masterson, Brennen LeighNoel McKaySunny Sweeney, Kevin Smith and Bobby Flores. A number of Texas songwriters, including Bruce Robison and Hayes Carll, contributed to the songs.

A 2013 film, Jim Lauderdale: The King of Broken Hearts, documents Lauderdale’s long and storied career.

Three things to know about Jim Lauderdale: (1) as a youngster in New York City he worked in the mailroom at Rolling Stone magazine, (2) when he first moved to Nashville he lived on the second floor of Buddy and Julie Miller’s house, and (3) in 2016, he received the “WagonMaster Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Americana Music Association.

If you love Jim Lauderdale, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell and John Hiatt.




The empty spaces of West Texas have proven a petri dish for the fashioning of powerful but unorthodox art. Music, of course, but also literature, theater and the visual arts pour from the souls of a few brave thinkers driven exiled out on the endless prairie. Outsider pioneers like Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Joe Ely, Terry Allen, David Halley, Amanda Shires, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore…and, maybe most of all, a heretical spitfire by the name of Jo Carol Pierce.

If ever there was an artist immune to categorization, it is Pierce. Raised in and around Lubbock, where she met Ely and Hancock, and was briefly married to Gilmore, she moved to Austin in the seventies and began a life-long exploration of her endless creativity. Ultimately she would wear the hats of novelist, playwright, screenwriter and songwriter all equally well.

There are the plays: Falling, Papergirls, New World Tango, Bad Girls Upset by the Truth, and In the West, which was performed at the Kennedy Center in 1991.

Encouraged by Ely and Halley, Pierce took up songwriting in the eighties and began performing around Austin. In 1993, adoring local musicians cut Across the Great Divide: Songs of Jo Carol Pierce, a tribute to her work featuring interpretations by Ely, Gilmore, Allen, Halley, Darden Smith, Troy Campbell and the Loose Diamonds, Kathy McCarty, Gretchen Phillips, Rich and Kathy Brotherton, and others.

It is certainly plausible that plainness and desolation give rise to existential quandaries and soul-searching art. But then where are the profound messengers from, say, Las Vegas or Scottsdale?

Three things to know about Jo Carol Pierce: (1) she is life-long friends with Sharon Ely, wife of Joe, and Jo Harvey Allen, wife of Terry, (2) she and Terry wrote a play, Chippy, which resulted in the album of songs recorded by Terry, Ely, Jo Harvey Allen, Hancock, Robert Earl Keen and Jo Carol, and (3) she has more than a passing interest in the history of the Jacksboro Highway, the storied Fort Worth home of out in the open gambling, bootlegging and prostitution.

If you love Jo Carol Pierce, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Terry Allen, Butch Hancock and Blaze Foley.




Troy Campbell‘s House of Songs was recently profiled in Arts in Context on PBS. The “songwriter exchange program” founded by Campbell in 2009, and based in Austin, encourages and facilitates collaborations among songwriters from all over the world. Check out the program here.




This photo or Guy and Susanna Clark means something more to folks of a certain vintage. It’s the semi-hippie attire, for sure, and the old school VW, but something more. It’s the look in their eyes. The look of confident dreamers in love, looking out to a limitless horizon.

Yours truly is of that vintage, and remembers that feeling. It was the early seventies, the tail end of the sixties awakening. We had it all figured out. We had identified all the mistakes of the past, greed and war and hate and fear, and we were building a world of love that would soar into the ages like a dove above a field of wildflowers. We intended to march forward in peace, heal the wounds of history and live as one.

It all seemed so simple. You can see it in their eyes. It wasn’t that simple.




The incomparable Patty Griffin with her ode to the struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Do something beautiful today.







It’s hot out on the levee, even at night. Darden takes us there.




“Journeyman” usually refers to a seasoned and reliable guitarist or drummer, but what does it mean for a songwriter? In the case of Walt Wilkins, it means an everyman master who has portrayed, with passion and wisdom, all of the high hills and deep creases of our lives. A native of San Antonio and an Austinite for years, Wilkins is one of those artists who can only be fully understood through a grasp of his entire body of work, which is substantial. He emerges as a man of wisdom, a beacon for the rest of us, maybe even a healer.

Working quietly in the “next big thing” hustle of the Austin music scene, Wilkins has steadily gathered converts and friends, even a few disciples. His pieces resonate over time, simple in the beginning but becoming profound observations of universal truths.

Michael had the opportunity to visit with Walt in the condo recently…




Bruce Robison hales from the storied Texas town of Bandera, way out on the western edge of the paradise they call the Hill Country. One of the self-appointed ‘Cowboy Capitals of the World”, Bandera is a rollicking little town on the banks of the Medina River, famous for errant behavior, barbeque, the aforementioned cowboys, and great live music. Willie Nelson once wrote a lovely instrumental about the goings-on in Bandera County.

There are great old Texas families out there, the Potters, the Buckalews and most especially the Robisons. Bruce and musician siblings Charlie Robison and Robyn Ludwick grew up tossing hay, drinking beer and rope-swinging down on the deep part of the Medina. They all held the gift of song.

Bruce moved to Austin to make a name for himself and married the fabulous Kelly Willis in 1996. In recent years they have increasingly recorded and toured as The Bruce and Kelly Show, and the sum of their parts is something to behold. This writer swears he’s witnessed, in the course of a single live set, Kelly and Bruce tiff, sulk and then make up while duet-ing one of their gorgeous love songs. That’s drama worth the while, a marriage to admire.

Bruce is a worker and a craftsman. Each of his songs feels like he started with a novel and distilled it down to twenty lines that rhyme. The lyrics feel like a thrown rock dancing across deep waters, each skip pulling common feelings and memories to the surface. Take, for example, Travelin’ Soldier, an arid but moving journey through young love, leaving, longing, war and loss. Or Angry All The Time, an aching chronicle of good love lost to the darkness of our lesser selves.

Three things to know about Bruce Robison (1) he stands about 6’7”, which is pretty tall even in Texas, (2) his spent much of his childhood in the music bars of Bandera like The Cabaret, Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar and the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, and (3) he and Kelley now have a passel of children.

If you love Bruce Robison, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out James McMurtry, Mary Gauthier and Robert Earl Keen.




In a blast from past, three of Austin Songwriter’s favorites, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jeff Plankenhorn and Walt Wilkins, tackle an old Dylan tune.




Mary Chapin Carpenter with an almost impossibly beautiful story about an impossibly beautiful soul.




Everything’s gonna be alright!

 




Lyle Lovett

 




The genius of Kevin Russell. See his Austin Songwriter profile here.




Houston native Jack Ingram is one of those worthy songwriters who have flown a little under the radar. Maybe he’s just too pretty, or maybe his reputation is tainted by that time he spent as a fraternity boy at SMU. Either way, he is owed a fresh and diligent listen, particularly in light of his newest release, Midnight Motel.

Check out this pretty duet with Patty Griffin, “Seeing Stars”.

 

 




The magnificent Chris Smither does Rowland Salley’s “Killing the Blues”.




I guess we’ve all had our “Rosalie”. Or wish we did.




Kevin’s ode to the perils of young love. Barbara Maltese helps out.




Let’s take a ride out west, where the trees bend with the wind. Strong people, big sky, great music.




Take a trip to the mountaintop and turn your world from silver to blue.




Amanda Shires discusses her home in this piece by The Box.

The Meaning of Home




What can be said about this man that hasn’t already been debated, cussed and discussed? Not much, given his iconic status in country music and progressive culture, but maybe there is perspective to be gained about the larger than life existence of Willie Hugh Nelson, the favorite son of Abbott, Texas.

First, the voice. An natural instrument so extraordinary that it is instantly recognizable in every corner of the world. In the abstract it might be dismissed as a nasally Texas honk, but to listen is to bear witness to perfection: confident, controlled, welcoming and wise, a portal to other places, places of warmth, comfort and beauty. A voice unparalleled in popular American music, with the possible exception of Sinatra himself.

The guitar work is equally perfect, but understated, punctuating, almost hidden behind the voice. “Trigger”, he calls his instrument. Maybe the only classical guitar in American country music, and when he throws in a little lead the room goes quiet.

Then there is the writing. Willie has been performing for so long, often covering the work of others, that his songwriting prowess is sometimes overlooked. He started off in the fifties as a contract songwriter in Nashville. When the dust settles he will be remembered as a songwriter, having written or co-written over 2500 songs, including masterpieces like “Crazy”, “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Whiskey River”, “Night Life” and “Hello Walls”.

But Willie’s highest purpose is not the writing or the voice or the guitar. It is, rather, his status as an icon of decency and unabashed humanity, a fine soul tossed around by the storms of life. But Willie has always come up smiling, caring more about us than about himself.

He was the engine of the “outlaw” movement of the seventies, and the course of that bloodless revolution tells us much about the strength and character of Mr. Nelson. Certainly the cause, resistance to the commercialization of the American folk idiom by Nashville corporatists, was noble, and the leaders of the movement, Willie and Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Jessi Colter, Tompall Glaser and others, were certainly principled and courageous. But for Willie Nelson the movement was a natural and inevitable extension of his very being: a man who has lived his life with strength and conviction, with a personal and unerring sense of right and wrong, without a whit of concern for the opinions of others.

He has lived a generous life based completely on this notion of personal integrity and responsibility, and is universally loved by fans of all political persuasions. He has been an active proponent of LGBT rights, the ethical treatment of animals, the development of bio-fuels, and support for farmers through “Farm Aid”, which he began in 1985 with Neil Young and John Mellencamp.

Willie Nelson, one of the very tallest Texans.

Three more things to know about Willie Nelson: (1) he moved back to Texas in 1970 when his Tennessee home burned down after a long night of songwriting with his friend Hank Cochran, (2) he has appeared on screen over thirty times, including in movies like The Electric Horseman, Songwriter, The Red Headed Stranger, Barbarosa and Honeysuckle Rose, and (3) in 1980, he sang Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” at the White House with First Lady Rosalyn Carter.

If you love Willie Nelson, Austin Songwriter suggests you check out Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams and Roy Orbison.




Eric Taylor performs his pensive “Dean Moriarty”, with wife Susan, in The Netherlands.




Pretty memories from the very beginning of the Texas scene. We miss you, Buckwheat.




Jason and The 400 Unit with a gorgeous call to home.