2015 CD REVIEW
WILLIE NELSON-MERLE HAGGARD
DJANGO AND JIMMIE (SONY LEGACY).
WILLIE & MERLE - POT SHOTS HIT THE JACKPOT
“It's all going to pot / whether we like it or not / as far as I can tell / the world's gone to hell / and we're sure gonna miss it a lot/ all the whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee / just couldn't hit the spot / I've got a hundred dollar bill / you can keep your pills / cause it's all going to pot.” - It's All Going To Pot - Buddy Cannon-Jamey Johnson-Larry Shell.
Octogenarian Willie Nelson and septuagenarian Merle Haggard hit the jackpot when they released their humorous booze and pills surrogate anthem It's All Going To Pot as first single from their third duet album Django And Jimmie.
High profile TV variety show appearances and mock shock media reaction to the song and humorous video, also featured on Nu Country TV , shot the album to #7 on Billboard' s all genre Top 200 sales charts on debut.
The disc honoured Belgian gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who died at 43 of a brain hemorrhage at Avon in France after a Paris concert on May 16, 1953, and Mississippi born singing brakeman Jimmie Rodgers, who succumbed to TB at 35 on May 26, 1933.
It was Merle's first Top 10 album in his 50 year plus career and Willie's fourth.
“Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers were very influential in both our careers,” Nelson explained of the album and title track that pays waltz-time homage to Django and Jimmie.
“I listened to both Jimmie and Django growing up, and I know Merle did, too.”
Nelson scored his first top 10 in 1982 with Always On My Mind that peaked at #2, To All the Girls #9 in 2013 and Band of Brothers #5 in 2014.
The Hag previously only scored one top 40 release - his first Willie duets disc Pancho & Lefty - that hit #37 in 1983.
So the duo struck while their pot was hot with their video for Alice In Hulaland as pipe opener for their headlining role at Willie's 42 nd July 4 picnic in Austin.
Willie maximised exposure by ensuring the pot song's co-writer and trio partner - Alabama born nouveau outlaw Jamey Johnson - joined them on vocals, bugle and flugelhorn on the CD and the Picnic.
The song's other composers were album producer Buddy Cannon and Larry Shell, co-writer of Nashville music industry parody Murder On Music Row that charted for Texan troubadour George Strait and Georgian superstar Alan Jackson despite not being released as a single.
It won them 2000 CMA vocal event of the year after another co-writer Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time's 1999 album title track version was voted Song of the Year at the 2000 International Bluegrass Music Awards .
But I digress.
The anthemic It's Also Going To Pot by Willie, 82, and young Merle, 78, was released back on April 20, aka 420, the day promoting marijuana usage - and also heralded the arrival of Willie's Reserve .
Willie's Reserve - his own brand of marijuana - is grown, distributed and sold by businesses in Colorado and Washington and will become available in other markets when state regulations allow.
“I am looking forward to working with the best growers in Colorado and Washington to make sure our product is the best on the market," said Nelson.
The duo's delivery of their song is pure horn driven western swing - fitting as it wasn't so long ago that Texans found in possession of marijuana were sentenced to swing under draconian drug laws.
And, of course, a throwback to Willie's classic song and book title Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die, featuring a foreword by singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman.
ANOTHER CASH CROP – JOHNNY
“Well, Johnny Cash wore black attire/ and he fell into that ring of fire/ he came up swinging like a boy named Sue/ and he married June Carter and he fired Stu/ he wrote his songs from deep within/ he hit the stage with a crooked grin/ he and I were both Highwaymen/ and that record became a smash.” - Missing Old Johnny Cash - Merle Haggard.
Fellow Octogenarian Bobby Bare joins Willie and Merle on Missing Old Johnny Cash - a tune penned by The Hag but featuring anecdotes from all.
Haggard says his song evolved organically and he wasn't even sure of the chord progression until they got into the studio.
“It came about around the time we were trying to put some songs together,” Haggard explains.
"I ran it by Willie, and he liked it. It was just some words that I had some chords to, but really not a melody to it."
Producer Cannon, added: "Haggard just had the lyric, and he created the arrangement on the spot. Johnny Cash and Merle, their history goes back. I think the first time Merle saw Johnny Cash, he was an inmate in one of the prison shows that Cash played. They were friends all the way up to the end."
One of Haggard's verses is self-explanatory.
“Johnny Cash was a friend of mine/ I knew him well for a mighty long time/ we shared the stage for many a show/ broke my heart to see him go/ Cash had the fire of a thousand men/ loving life was his greatest sin/ treated his fans like the next of kin. I'm missing ol' Johnny Cash.”
So what are those anecdotes shared by the trio?
Well, there's the time when Cash and his band set fire to some curtains in a chilly London hotel room to keep their hands warm and roasted hot dogs in the back of a limousine with ice cream sticks.
And, of course, another about the man in black jumped into a coffin in his suite and ordered room service.
ALICE IN HULALAND
“ Alice in Hulaland, come sit here on the front row/ and get close to the sound, as close as you can/ are you there for the melody, there for the lyrics/ or just for the boys in the band?” - Alice In Hulaland - Willie Nelson-Buddy Cannon.
More reflective is their mournful treatment of Where Dreams Come To Die and the not so cryptic heartfelt Unfair Weather Friend penned by Cannon's daughter Marla Cannon-Goodman and Ward Davis.
Shawn Camp and Marv Green borrow from Willie's late Texan duet partner Waylon Jennings in the theme for their laconic and wry Live This Long .
You get the message - the outlaws would have been a little more careful about their vices if they knew they were going to live this long.
Well, Willie and Merle have long out-lived Waylon, who died at 64 on February 13 in 2002.
So have many of the artists who performed at Willie's 42nd July 4 picnic in Austin .
Willie also honours Merle in their versions of Haggard songs Somewhere Between and Swinging Doors.
FAMILY BIBLE - $50 BARGAIN
“There's a family Bible on the table each page is torn and hard to read/ but the family Bible on the table will ever be my key to memories/ at the end of day when work was over and when the evening meal was done/ dad would read to us from the family Bible/ and we'd count our many blessings one by one/ I can see us sittin' round the table when from the family Bible dad would read/ I can hear my mother softly singing rock of ages rock of ages cleft for me.” - Family Bible - Willie Nelson- Walter M. Breeland-Paul F. Buskirk-Claude Gray.
Merle returns the compliment by covering Willie's 1980 gospel album title track Family Bible - written by Willie but sold for $50 to Paul Buskirk when the then struggling singer needed cash to pay for a meal.
Nelson began writing the song in 1957 as a disc jockey on KVAN in Vancouver , Washington , with his show Western Express.
His song inspiration came from his grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Smothers, who would sing Rock of Ages and read from the Bible after supper.
Nelson played the demo of the song he recorded on a reel-to-reel tape machine for the late Mae Boren Axton - Heartbreak Hotel writer and mother of late singing actor Hoyt - after interviewing her on the show.
Mae, who also later discovered Oklahoma star Blake Shelton and employed Texan singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen as her gardener, suggested he move to Nashville and try songwriting full-time.
Instead Willie headed to Houston , Texas , after being refused a raise.
After having dinner with Buskirk at a Pasadena restaurant Willie didn't have money to pay the bill so he sang Family Bible to him and offered it to him for $50 and the meal bill.
Buskirk bailed Willie out by buying Family Bible and taking it to singer Claude Gray whose 1960 version reached #7 on Billboard.
Nelson finally moved to Nashville where he enjoyed recognition for writing the song and finally recording it for his 1971 album Yesterday's Wine.
This disc, Willie's sixth for Legacy since 2012, features a nod to another pioneer - Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - and ends with Haggard' fitting finale The Only Man Wilder Than Me.
Guess who that's about.
Nelson and Haggard previously released the late Texas Townes Van Zandt's historic Pancho & Lefty as a honky-tonk hit in January 1983.
They also recorded 1987's Seashores Of Old Mexico album and 2007 double album Last Of The Breed with late Texan Ray Price.
And Haggard-penned A Horse Called Music - was the lead track on 2012's Heroes - Nelson's first album for Legacy.
So who are the musical mechanics fleshing out Django And Jimmie?
Haggard's son Ben plays lead guitar, Shawn Camp guests on acoustic guitar - sibling to Willie's trusty Trigger - Mickey Raphael harmonica, Mike Johnson steel, slide and dobro and Dan Dugmore on steel.
Other background vocals are provided by Alison Krauss, Wyatt Beard, Liana Manis and producer Cannon's daughter Melonie.
1. Django and Jimmie - written by Jimmy Melton and Jeff Prince
2. It's All Going To Pot - written by Buddy Cannon, Jamey Johnson and Larry Shell
3. Unfair Weather Friend - written by Marla Cannon-Goodman and Ward Davis
4. Missing Ol' Johnny Cash - written by Merle Haggard
5. Live This Long - written by Shawn Camp and Marv Green
6. Alice In Hulaland - written by Willie Nelson and Buddy Cannon
7. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright - written by Bob Dylan
8. Family Bible - written by Willie Nelson, Walter M. Breeland, Paul F. Buskirk and Claude Gray
9. It's Only Money - written by Willie Nelson and Buddy Cannon
10. Swinging Doors - written by Merle Haggard
11. Where Dreams Come To Die - written by Willie Nelson and Buddy Cannon
12. Somewhere Between - written by Merle Haggard
13. Driving The Herd - written by Willie Nelson and Buddy Cannon
14. The Only Man Wilder Than Me - written by Merle Haggard