|Studio album by Willie Nelson|
|Producer||Arif Mardin, Jerry Wexler, David Briggs|
|Willie Nelson chronology|
Shotgun Willie is a 1973 album by Willie Nelson. The recording marks a change of style for Nelson, who later stated that the album "cleared his throat". When Nelson refused to sign an early extension of his contract with RCA in 1972, the label decided not to release any further recordings. Nelson hired Neil Reshen as his manager, and while Reshen negotiated with RCA, Nelson moved to Austin, Texas, where the ongoing hippie music scene at the Armadillo World Headquarters renewed his musical style. In Nashville, Nelson met producer Jerry Wexler, vice president of Atlantic Records, who was interested in his music. Reshen solved the problems with RCA and signed Nelson with Atlantic Records as their first country music artist.
The album was recorded in the Atlantic Records studio in New York City in February 1973. Nelson and his usual backup musicians were joined by Doug Sahm and his band. After recording several tracks, Nelson was still not inspired. Following a recording session, he wrote "Shotgun Willie"—the song that would become the title track of the album—on the empty packaging of a sanitary napkin while in the bathroom of his hotel room. The album, produced mostly by Arif Mardin, included covers of two Bob Wills songs—"Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)" and "Bubbles in My Beer"—that were co-produced by Wexler. Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter collaborated on the album, providing vocals and guitar.
Shotgun Willie was released in June 1973. In spite of poor sales, the album received good reviews and gained Nelson major recognition with younger audiences. The recording was one of the first albums of outlaw country—a new sub-genre of country music and an alternative to the conservative restrictions of the Nashville sound, the dominant style in the genre at the time.
In April 1972, after Nelson recorded "Mountain Dew", his final RCA single, the label requested that he renew his contract ahead of schedule, with the implication that RCA would not release any further recordings if he did not sign. Neil Reshen, who Nelson hired as his manager to negotiate with the label, got RCA to agree to end the contract upon repayment of US$1,400 that Nelson had been overpaid. At the same time, Nelson had moved to Austin, Texas, to take a short break. Austin's burgeoning hippie music scene at venues like Armadillo World Headquarters rejuvenated the singer. His popularity in Austin soared as he played his own brand of music that was a blend of country, folk, and jazz influences.
During a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, Nelson attended a party in Harlan Howard's house, where he sang the songs that he had written for the album Phases and Stages. Another guest was Atlantic Records vice-president Jerry Wexler, who previously had produced works for artists such as Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Wexler was interested in Nelson's music, so when Atlantic opened a country music division of their label, he offered Nelson a contract that gave him more creative control than his deal with RCA. When Nelson was released from his RCA contract, he signed with Atlantic for US$25,000 per year, becoming the label's first country artist.
Introduction of the song "Shotgun Willie", opening track of the album.
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The recording sessions took place in February 1973, Wexler provided Nelson and his band with a studio in New York City, where most of the recordings were produced. Doug Sahm and his band were also invited to the sessions. During the first session, Nelson recorded the songs for The Troublemaker. Later, he proceeded with Shotgun Willie. He initially recorded twenty-three tracks along with both bands, but he still was not inspired. Nelson wrote the title song after one of the sessions. Pacing in his hotel room, he went to the bathroom, where he sat on the toilet and took the empty envelope from a sanitary napkin from the sink, and penned the song on that. The title of the song refers to a nickname Nelson got after his daughter, Susie, told him about domestic abuse suffered by her sister Lana. Nelson drove to Lana's house, where he fought with her husband Steve Warren, and threatened to kill him if ever hit his daughter again. Soon after Nelson arrived home, Warren arrived in his truck with his brothers. They started to shoot at the house with .22 caliber rifles. In response, Nelson and Paul English shot at the aggressors that retreated. When they returned later, Nelson took English's M1 Garand and shot the truck, causing the aggressors to surrender.
Most of the tracks were produced by Arif Mardin, with the exception of the two Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys covers, "Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)" and "Bubbles in My Beer," which were produced by Mardin and Jerry Wexler. The album also included Johnny Bush's "Whiskey River". During the recording, there were rumors that there would be appearances by George Jones, Leon Russell, and Kris Kristofferson that ultimately did not happen. Waylon Jennings joined the backing band playing guitar, and provided backing vocals for "Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)", along with Jessi Colter and Doug Sahm. Parts of the album were recorded in the Quadraphonic studios in Nashville, as well as in the Sam Phillips Recording studio in Memphis.
Release and reception
The album was released in June 1973. Although it received good reviews, it did not sell well, except in Austin, where it sold more copies than earlier records by Nelson did nationwide. The recording led Nelson to a new style; he later stated regarding his new musical identity that Shotgun Willie had "cleared his throat." It became his breakthrough record, and one of the first of the outlaw movement, music created without the influence of the conservative Nashville Sound. The album—the first to feature Nelson with long hair and a beard on the cover—gained him the interest of younger audiences. It peaked at number 41 on Billboard's album chart and the songs "Shotgun Willie" and "Stay All Night (Stay A Little Longer)" peaked at number 60 and 22 on Billboard Hot 100 respectively.
Rolling Stone wrote: "With this flawless album, Willie Nelson finally demonstrates why he has for so long been regarded as a Country & Western singer-songwriter's singer-songwriter ... At the age of 39, Nelson finally seems destined for the stardom he deserves". Robert Christgau wrote: "This attempt to turn Nelson into a star runs into trouble when it induces him to outshout Memphis horns or Western swing."
Billboard wrote: "This is Willie Nelson at his narrative best. He writes and sings with the love and the hurt and the down-to-earth things he feels, and he has a few peers." Texas Monthly praised Nelson and Wexler regarding the change in musical style:"They've switched his arrangements from Ray Price to Ray Charles—the result: a revitalized music. He's the same old Willie, but veteran producer Jerry Wexler finally captured on wax the energy Nelson projects in person". School Library Journal wrote: "Willie Nelson differs (from) rock artists framing their music with a country & western facade — in that he appears a honky-tonk stardust cowboy to the core. This album abounds in unabashed sentimentalism, nasal singing, lyrics preoccupied with booze, religion, and love gone bad, and stereotyped Nashville instrumentation (twangy steel guitars, fiddles, and a clean rhythm section characterized by the minimal use of bass drum and cymbals, both of which gain heavy mileage with rock performers).
Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote in his review for Allmusic:"Willie Nelson offered his finest record to date for his debut – possibly his finest album ever. Shotgun Willie encapsulates Willie's world view and music, finding him at a peak as a composer, interpreter, and performer. This is laid-back, deceptively complex music, equal parts country, rock attitude, jazz musicianship, and troubadour storytelling".
All songs written and composed by Willie Nelson, except where noted.
|2.||"Whiskey River" (Johnny Bush, Paul Stroud)||4:05|
|3.||"Sad Songs and Waltzes"||3:08|
|5.||"Slow Down Old World"||2:54|
|6.||"Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)" (Bob Wills, Tommy Duncan)||2:36|
|1.||"Devil in a Sleepin' Bag"||2:40|
|2.||"She's Not for You"||3:15|
|3.||"Bubbles in My Beer" (Duncan, Cindy Walker, Wills)||2:34|
|4.||"You Look Like the Devil" (Leon Russell)||3:26|
|5.||"So Much to Do"||3:11|
|6.||"A Song for You" (Russell)||4:20|
|Billboard Top LPs & Tapes||41|
|Shotgun Willie||Billboard Hot 100||60|
|Stay All Night (Stay A Little Longer)||Billboard Hot 100||22|
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- Christgau, Robert. "Willie Nelson". Robertchristgau.com. Retrieved September 21, 2011.
- "Billboard's Top Album Picks – Country Picks". Billboard (Emmis Communications) 85 (25): 76. June 23, 1973. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved September 21, 2011.
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- Hoffmann 1973, p. 49.
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