WILLIE NELSON’S RED-HEADED STRANGER : inducted to The Library of Congress National Recording Registry, June 23, 2009
As I make my way through my forties, I’m regularly surprised to see the periods of uncertainty and discord in the marriages of people in my age group. When I think back to my own childhood, I think of how many marriages I saw fall apart in the couples’ late 30s and early 40s. Willie Nelson was 38 when his second marriage ended after his wife found a bill from a local hospital for the birth of a daughter Willie had fathered behind his wife’s back. Phases and Stages was a deeply personal album, and one that resolved itself sadly – as his marriage had. After marrying the mother of his new daughter, Nelson released songs on compilation records as part of the burgeoning outlaw country movement, and Shotgun Willie, an album of successful, charting country songs. Given a few years of distance, Willie began to see redemption as possible. Columbia Records was excited to sign Willie Nelson in 1974, and gave him creative control on the first album, which was to be Willie’s testament to redemption. Red-Headed Stranger was delivered in 1975, much to Columbia’s disappointment. The album was the story of a preacher who discovers his wife in the middle of an affair and shots the wife and her lover dead. He then goes on the run, kills a potential horse thief, eventually falls in love and wants to change for the new love. Unlike Phases and Stages, Red-Headed Stranger ends with the preacher – many years later – walking with his wife and their grandchild. For the first time on the album, the preacher isn’t loaded with sorrow. The theme was decidedly like a Western movie, and Nelson used the simple instruments and arrangements of the frontier West (the album was only acoustic guitar, upright piano, and harmonica). Columbia Records was (not surprisingly) upset. They could not figure out how to release a concept album with outdated arrangements that ends with a murderer living a long and happy life with a wife and generations of happy offspring. They needn’t have worried. Released with little marketing push, Red-Headed Stranger quickly shot to number 1 on the country album charts and the song “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” - the preacher’s lamenting song for the wife he murdered – went to number 1 in the country charts and number 21 in the Hot 100 charts.
- The Red-Headed Stranger album on YouTube
- January 21: FRECKLES BROWN – Doing the Impossible, Because You Can
- June 22: KRIS KRISTOFFERSON - A Quiver Full of Arrows