Tag Archives: Country

Willie Nelson – Phases and Stages

Phases and Stages

Willie NelsonPhases and Stages Atlantic SD 7291 (1974)


If a thing is really worth doing, it may take fits and starts and many failed attempts to finally get it done in spite of the tremendous inertia that resists changes of direction in life.  That describes both the process of making Phases and Stages and its thematic subject matter.  Willie Nelson worked on this album for a number of years before its release.  Many of the songs had been written long ago, and he had recorded early versions for RCA that weren’t released.  When he went to Atlantic Records, he had to obtain clearance from RCA before he could re-record the songs for this album.  While Willie liked to record with his touring band, the plain fact is that most of those musicians were of fairly modest abilities.  Producer Jerry Wexler brought Willie to Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama, home of many great soul recordings, to create the album.  Rather than the touring band, Nelson is supported by crack session men.  It’s the finely-honed abilities of the supporting musicians that brings life to Willie’s music here.  He put them on the spot, perhaps forgetting he was the only one who had lived with these tunes for years.  But preventing anyone from settling into the familiar is a perfect match for the tone of the material.  Phases and Stage is about the dissolution of a marriage, with side one taking the woman’s perspective and side two the man’s.  This is Nelson’s second concept album, the first being Yesterday’s Wine.  Johnny Cash had pioneered the use of concept albums in country music.  With precedent behind him, Willie makes this one work.  What gives this album its strength is its ability to tap into the mundane aspects of a romantic breakup with poetic grace.  The proper songs are broken up by a 20-30 second recurring theme, “Phases and Stages.”  It’s hard to point to any faults on this one, save perhaps some people’s desire to skip the recurring theme.  Phases and Stages is one of Nelson’s most durable albums, among his very finest — maybe even his very finest.

Willie Nelson – Shotgun Willie

Shotgun Willie

Willie NelsonShotgun Willie Atlantic SD 7262 (1973)


After relocating to the Austin, Texas area and taking up residence at the Armadillo World HQ bar, Willie Nelson dropped Shotgun Willie on the world, his first album for the new country division of New York’s Atlantic Records.  Nelson had been around for a long time in the music business, but this record was different.  At the Armadillo, he had brought together conservative (redneck) country audiences and liberal (hippie) audiences.  A more telling description though is that he tried to drag rock fans into the country fold without alienating his base of country music fans.  He tried and succeeded.  He also adopted a new look inspired by Leon Russell, with long hair, an earring and a short, slightly unkempt beard.  His first offering for Atlantic, as the label’s biggest country act, broke from anything he had done before.  For what it’s worth, he never tried to repeat it, either.  This was a record infused with rock sensibilities, bolstered by an occasional horn section.  It was his first recorded in New York City.  Actually, the first tracks recorded ended up populating his later-released gospel album The Troublemaker, with the Shotgun Willie material recorded toward the end of the studio sessions.  His regular touring “Family Band” is present, but augmented by Doug Sahm (Sir Douglas Quintet) and his band, Johnny Gimble, and both Waylon Jennings and his wife Jessi Colter.  His sister Bobbie joins the band for the first time on piano, and she proved an invaluable asset through the years.  Even troubled soul/R&B visionary Donny Hathaway gets an arranging credit.  Willie by this point had completely shed the crooning style of his earliest recordings.  Though it’s worth noting that Willie’s vocals would continue to evolve, as would his guitar playing.  “She’s Not For You” ends up being the most telling performance in terms of they way Nelson would refine his distinctive clipped, start/stop singing and guitar style.  There are some great tunes here, like “Whiskey River,” which Nelson would almost religiously use as a concert opener for, well, forever.  It’s the prominent drum beat (much heavier on the bass kick drum than usual), electric guitar (sans a lot of slide or twang), and horns (in true Atlantic R&B style) that allow this album to completely break from the mold of Nashville-styled country music.  It also has an upbeat tone that contrasts to the typical collection of sad sack country weepers that would have been more typical of the day.  No need for a tear in your beer to enjoy it.  This album garnered Nelson his first real taste of success, his best-selling to date. He was also getting recognized as a peer by the biggest acts in music, and not just those in country music.  His days of being considered a second (or third) class performer were now over.  Willie had some more good things in store, with a number of great albums delivered in the coming years.  But his road to superstardom took its biggest turn right here.  The take-home lesson is that the folks in New York knew how to record better music than those in Nashville.  Willie, and his new manager Neil Reshen, worked hard to get the opportunity to be the guy who crossed over first.

Traveling These Roads Between Heaven & Hell: Johnny Cash, Singer of Songs

Bitter Tears: Ballads of the Americna Indian

My selections for a “virtual” compilation of music by Johnny Cash, in the spirit of Bob Dylan‘s Biograph.  In other words, this steps out from the usual canon of accepted Cash classics and presents some of the hits together with non-single deep album tracks, live recordings, B-sides, demos, and other overlooked treasures.  Don’t consider this exhaustive.  There are plenty of great Cash recordings not featured here.  The list provides links to single releases, if any, plus the first album releases.

Disc 1:

  1. I Walk the Line” (1956); Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1957)
  2. Folsom Prison Blues” (1955); Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1957)
  3. “I Was There When It Happened” Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1957)
  4. “The Wreck of the Old ’97” Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar! (1957)
  5. Hey, Porter!” (1955); Now Here’s Johnny Cash (1961)
  6. Get Rhythm” (1956); Greatest! (1959)
  7. Big River” (1958); Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous (1958)
  8. “Five Minutes to Live” The Man in Black: 1959-’62 (1991)
  9. Guess Things Happen That Way” (1958); Sings the Songs That Made Him Famous (1958)
  10. “The Ways of a Woman in Love” [alternate version] Roads Less Travelled: The Rare and Unissued Sun Recordings (2001)
  11. “Goodnight Irene” Original Sun Sound of Johnny Cash (1964)
  12. I Still Miss Someone” (1958); The Fabulous Johnny Cash (1958)
  13. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” Hymns by Johnny Cash (1959)
  14. “Drink to Me” Songs of Our Soil (1959)
  15. “The Great Speckled Bird” Songs of Our Soil (1959)
  16. Seasons of My Heart” (1960); Now, There Was a Song! Memories From the Past (1960)
  17. “Transfusion Blues” Now, There Was a Song! Memories From the Past (1960)
  18. The Rebel – Johnny Yuma” (1961); Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963)
  19. “In Them Old Cottonfields Back Home” The Sound of Johnny Cash (1962)
  20. A Little at a Time” (1962); Old Golden Throat (1968)
  21. Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)” (1962); Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963)
  22. “The Talking Leaves” Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (1964)
  23. “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow” Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (1964)
  24. “Custer” Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian (1964)
  25. Ring of Fire” (1963); Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash (1963)
  26. Understand Your Man” (1964); I Walk the Line (1964)
  27. It Ain’t Me, Babe” (1964); Orange Blossom Special (1965)
  28. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” Nashville at Newport (1995)
  29. “Ballad of Ira Hayes” Nashville at Newport (1995)
  30. “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s Forty Below)” Orange Blossom Special (1965)

Disc 2:

  1. “Mr. Lonesome” The Sound of Johnny Cash (1962)
  2. “The Road to Kaintuck” Sings the Ballads of the True West (1965)
  3. “Happiness Is You” Happiness Is You (1966)
  4. Johnny Cash & June Carter “Fast Boat to Sydney” Carryin’ On (1967)
  5. Folsom Prison Blues” (1968); At Folsom Prison (1968)
  6. “Dark as the Dungeon” At Folsom Prison (1968)
  7. “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” At Folsom Prison (1968)
  8. “Jackson” At Folsom Prison (1968)
  9. “I Got Stripes” At Folsom Prison (1968)
  10. “Greystone Chapel” At Folsom Prison (1968)
  11. “Tennessee Flat Top Box” Bootleg Vol. III: Live Around the World (2011)
  12. “Remember the Alamo” Bootleg Vol. III: Live Around the World (2011)
  13. “Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man” Bootleg Vol. III: Live Around the World (2011)
  14. “Ring of Fire” Bootleg Vol. III: Live Around the World (2011)
  15. “Darling Companion” At San Quentin (1969)
  16. A Boy Named SueAt San Quentin (1969)
  17. “(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley” At San Quentin (1969)
  18. Bob Dylan “Girl From the North Country” Nashville Skyline (1969)
  19. The Folk Singer” (1968); The Bootleg Series Vol. 2: From Memphis to Hollywood (2011)
  20. “Cisco Clifton’s Fillin’ Station” From Sea to Shining Sea (1968)
  21. “Daddy Sang Bass” At Madison Square Garden (2002)
  22. “He Turned the Water Into Wine” The Gospel Music of Johnny Cash (2008) (or version from the February 11, 1970 episode of “The Johnny Cash Show” – not available in album format)
  23. Sunday Morning Coming Down” (1970); The Johnny Cash Show (1970)
  24. “Girl From the North Country” (with Joni Mitchell) The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show: 1969-1971 (2008)
  25. Flesh and Blood” (1971); I Walk the Line (1970)
  26. See Ruby Fall” (1969); Hello, I’m Johnny Cash (1970)
  27. “Wanted Man” Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970)

Disc 3:

  1. Johnny Cash & June CarterIf I Were a Carpenter” (1969); Hello, I’m Johnny Cash (1970)
  2. “Orphan of the Road” Man in Black (1971)
  3. Singing in Vietnam Talking Blues” (1971); Man in Black (1971)
  4. You’ve Got a New Light Shining in Your Eyes(1971); Man in Black (1971)
  5. “The Battle of New Orleans” America: A 200-Year Salute in Story and Song (1972)
  6. Don’t Go Near the Water” (1974); Ragged Old Flag (1974)
  7. “King of the Hill” Ragged Old Flag (1974)
  8. “Southern Comfort” Ragged Old Flag (1974)
  9. My Old Kentucky Home (Turpentine and Dandelion Wine)” (1975); John R. Cash (1975)
  10. “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” På Österåker (1973)
  11. Johnny Cash & June Carter “The City of New Orleans” Johnny Cash and His Woman (1973)
  12. Orleans Parish Prison” (1972); Murder (2000)
  13. “Mississippi Sand” A Thing Called Love (1972)
  14. “Nasty Dan” (1974 or ’75); The Stars Come Out on Sesame Street (1979)
  15. Junkie” (1974); The Junkie and the Juicehead Minus Me (1974)
  16. I Hardly Ever Sing Beer Drinking Songs” (1975); Look at Them Beans (1975)
  17. One Piece at a Time” (1976); One Piece at a Time (1976)
  18. City Jail” (1977); The Last Gunfighter Ballad (1976)
  19. “Give It Away” The Last Gunfighter Ballad (1976)
  20. After the Ball” (1978); The Rambler (1977)
  21. “I Don’t Think I Could Take You Back Again” I Would Like to See You Again (1978)
  22. “Without Love” Rockabilly Blues (1980)
  23. “It Ain’t Nothing New Babe” Rockabilly Blues (1980)
  24. “Abner Brown” I Would Like to See You Again (1978)
  25. “Lay Me Down in Dixie” A Believer Sings the Truth (1979)
  26. The Baron” (1981); The Baron (1981)
  27. The Last Gunfighter Ballad” (1977); The Last Gunfighter Ballad (1976)

Disc 4

  1. “Cindy, I Love You” The Last Gunfighter Ballad (1976)
  2. “The Lily of the Valley” Personal File (2006)
  3. “No Earthly Good” Personal File (2006)
  4. “It Takes One to Know Me” Personal File (2006)
  5. “Highway Patrolman” Johnny 99 (1983)
  6. “Unwed Fathers” Rainbow (1985)
  7. “The Hobo Song” The Mystery of Life (1991)
  8. “Just the Other Side of Nowhere” Unearthed (2003)
  9. “Let the Train Blow the Whistle” American Recordings (1994)
  10. Delia’s Gone” (1994); American Recordings (1994)
  11. “Bird on a Wire” American Recordings (1994)
  12. “Spiritual” Unchained (1996)
  13. The Highwaymen “Live Forever [acoustic demo version]” The Road Goes On Forever: 10th Anniversary Edition (2005)
  14. “Ghost Riders in the Sky” In Ireland (2009)
  15. “Solitary Man” American III: Solitary Man (2000)
  16. “Rowboat” Unchained (1996)
  17. “Memories Are Made of This” Unchained (1996)
  18. “Country Boy” Unchained (1996)
  19. “I’ve Been Everywhere” Unchained (1996)
  20. “Country Trash” American III: Solitary Man (2000)
  21. “Field of Diamonds” American III: Solitary Man (2000)
  22. “Mary of the Wild Moor” American III: Solitary Man (2000)
  23. Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson “Unchained” VH1 Storytellers (1998)
  24. Do LordUnearthed (2003)
  25. I’ll Fly AwayUnearthed (2003)
  26. “Redemption Song” (with Joe Strummer) Unearthed (2003)
  27. “Help Me” American V: A Hundred Highways (2006)