By Jeremy Essig
For a man known as the Redheaded "Stranger," Willie Nelson has quite the roster of talented friends and associates.
Over the course of his almost sixty-year musical career, Nelson has found himself collaborating with artists ranging from Johnny Cash to Jessica Simpson. While not all have been as successful as his Highwaymen partnership with Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, or as uncomfortable as his "These Boots are Made for Walking" remake for the Dukes of Hazzard movie he did with Simpson, the diversity of artists Nelson draws to him is quite remarkable.
So, as his arrival in the St. Louis area on April 2 is being overshadowed by yet another collaboration (Nelson's May 15 Kansas City concert with Beck), let's take a look at eight of the more interesting parings in Shotgun Willie's chamber.
"The Warmth of the Sun" - Willie Nelson with The Beach Boys
According to a podcast hosted by this song's co-writer, Mike Love, the original version of "Warmth of the Sun" was written the same day in 1964 that President John F. Kennedy was shot While the song, on its face, deals with finding acceptance with the loss of a girlfriend, it's easy to draw a parallel to finding acceptance with the loss of a president.
Thirty years later, the Beach Boys would re-record the track with Nelson as part of a country tribute album called Stars and Stripes Vol. 1. The addition of Nelson's weathered voice in place of Love's adds a tone of sapience -- one where the realized acceptance could be of many lost loves, lost presidents or squandered youth.
7. "Slow Dancing" - Willie Nelson with U2
In 1989, U2's Bono wrote "Slow Dancing" with the intention of giving the song to Willie Nelson. For reasons unknown, the track would not reach Nelson until almost a decade later, and U2 would release a quiet acoustic version as a b-side to its 1993 single "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" -- a song that was itself written for Frank Sinatra.
U2 would eventually cut the track with Nelson in 1997, replacing the spare original backing track with a full band and supporting vocals by producer Brian Eno. In a weird juxtaposition, filling out the sound with keyboards and a guitar drenched in reverb gives the Nelson-sung version more of a U2 feel, while the stripped-down original featuring only Bono and the Edge is more reminiscent of classic Nelson sound.
6. "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" - Willie Nelson with Snoop Dog, Jamey Johnson and Kris Kristofferson
One looking for proof that people find each other through shared addiction need look no further than the combination of Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson. Though their journeys to musical stardom may have come through very different paths, it was perhaps inevitable that the two marijuana enthusiasts would eventually intersect.
While the pair would eventually collaborate on three different songs, "Roll Me Up..." may be the best, and also serves as proof of the old adage that anyone can sing country music. Rather than rapping, Snoop sings on the song's second verse and harmonizes with Nelson on the chorus, his flighty California drawl contrasting nicely with Nelson's defiance.
5. "Bloody Mary Morning" - Willie Nelson with the Supersuckers
In addition to peddling flannel shirts and mopey sadness, music in the '90s was also big on paying tribute. In addition to KISS and the Carpenters, alternative acts of the era also found time to tip their hats to the Redheaded Stranger on the 1996 album Twisted Willie.
As part of the album's promotional campaign, Nelson appeared with the Supersuckers on the Tonight Show to play his 1974 song "Bloody Mary Morning." Watching Jay Leno announce the Supersuckers is almost as bizarre as the combination of Waylon Jennings and L7 -- which appears on track two of the album.