To all the girls and boys who have loved the music of Willie Nelson before, there’s plenty of good news ahead. The red-headed stranger, 78, has signed a new deal with Sony’s Legacy Recordings division that encompasses both new albums (with a total of five promised) and archival releases. Nelson, one of the most prolific recording artists of any genre, has maintained a release schedule that would make many a younger man envious. In 2011 alone, Nelson released one studio album and one live album, and saw collections from the many labels for whom he’d recorded. The Legacy announcement indicates that Nelson will serve as curator of his catalog and “will work with label archivists to select recordings, including previously released and previously unreleased tracks, for release in newly compiled collections and as bonus material on new editions of existing titles.”
Recording for the Legacy imprint brings Nelson full circle. Although the artist began his career at Liberty Records, the lengthiest stint of his early years was at RCA Victor. That label’s catalogue is now controlled by Sony/Legacy, including Nelson’s 1964-1972 tenure. After a brief sojourn to Atlantic, the singer’s 1975 Columbia release Red Headed Stranger kicked off a career renaissance. The Columbia recordings, too, are under the aegis of Legacy. It’s not hard to imagine a deluxe edition of that seminal LP. The singer/songwriter had written concept albums before, including Phases and Stages, a chronicle of a marriage, in 1974 at Atlantic. But even with its stark sound (the antithesis of RCA’s “countrypolitan” style) and raw story of a murderer on the run, Nelson’s conceptual work struck a chord with listeners. Red Headed Stranger sold millions, produced a hit single in its cover of Fred Rose’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and put Nelson in the vanguard of the young Outlaw Country movement. But Nelson never rested in one place for too long, using his freedom at Columbia to explore gospel, honky-tonk and finally, American popular standards with the epochal Stardust (1978). It was only appropriate, though, as Nelson had added to that esteemed songbook himself with compositions like “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” He would remain with Columbia for roughly twenty years.
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Enduring busts from both the Internal Revenue Service and local authorities, the resilient Nelson has continued to spread the gospel of music with a busy live schedule. He’s also remained committed to a variety of philanthropic activities, and his activism includes support for farmers and advocacy against horse slaughter and for the legalization of marijuana. The country legend and seven-time Grammy Award winner says, “I’m really happy to be back home with Sony Music. We have been partners for many years; all the way back to [publishing houses] Pamper Music and Tree Music. We share a great history, and I’m looking forward to many more years together.” Legacy’s Executive Vice President and General Manager Adam Block stated, “We couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity to work with Willie on this landmark partnership. There’s a natural and organic relationship between new recording projects and catalog activity that promises to ensure the lasting importance of Willie and his music.”
What would you like to see from the new partnership between Willie Nelson and Legacy Recordings? Which of Nelson’s recordings over a six-decade career are your favorites? Sound off below, and watch this space for the news of what’s coming next for Shotgun Willie. (Though unrelated to this announcement, a vintage live set from 1983 has already been announced by Shout! Factory for release later this month.) In the meantime, you might want to sit back and revisit One Hell of a Ride, the 2008 Legacy box set drawing on all periods of the troubadour’s long career. That’s quite an understated title, no?