After years of writing country music standards like "Crazy" and "Hello Walls" for other artists, Nelson became a country music hero in the 1970s by stripping the strings and slick arrangements that dominated sequined Nashville tunes of the day. Nelson's rustic approach (and rugged appearance) gave his country music an authenticity that was missing from the Charlie Riches and Conway Twittys of the mid-1970s. Along with fellow industry rebels like Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, Nelson helped created a sub-genre of its own: Outlaw Country. People who couldn't stomach Tammy Wynette and George Jones singing about domestic discord could totally get on board Willie Nelson's fresh, rootsy approach to country music.
But even among his Outlaw brethren, Willie Nelson's music was tonally different. Nelson's music was often somber, compared to the sweaty, coke-fueled vamping of Jennings' barrel house shows, or even the Hollywood-produced music of fellow "Outlaw" Johnny Cash at the time (he had his own TV show). 1975's Red Headed Stranger was a melancholy concept album that put Nelson's creaky, pained voice that was never slick enough to break into the Nashville mainstream on full naked display. Along with a delicate jazz guitar approach, far removed from the telecasters of James Burton and the Gibson Doves of Hee-Haw, made this music universal by crossing genres (Nelson released an album of jazz standard covers, Stardust, shortly after Stranger). Red Headed Stranger was as lonesome as a Hank Williams tune, with the rawness of Jimmy Rodgers or the Carter Family, minus the twang and yodeling that had become a Nashville cliche.
|Gregg Allman with Willie & Trigger, Farm Aid, NYC|