Night Life (Willie Nelson song)

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"Night Life"
Nite Life (Rx Records).jpg
Single by Willie Nelson
B-side "Rainy Day Blues"
Released 1960
Format 7" single
Recorded 1960 at Goldstar Studios
Genre Country
Length 02:35
Label RCA
Writer(s) Willie Nelson
Producer(s) Bill Quinn
Willie Nelson singles chronology
"What a Way to Live"
"Night Life"
"The Part Where I Cry"

"Night Life" is a song written by country music singer-songwriter Willie Nelson. Nelson was inspired to write the song during one of his trips from his home in Pasadena, Texas, to his work, singing at the Esquire Ballroom in Houston.

Due to financial issues, Nelson sold the song to guitar instructor Paul Buskirk for US$150. The recording of the song was rejected by Pappy Daily, owner of Nelson's label, D Records. Daily believed that the song was not country. Due to the amount of money that Nelson received for the song, he decided to master it on another studio. To avoid legal actions, it was recorded as "Nite Life" under the artist name of "Paul Buskirk and the Little Men featuring Hugh Nelson".

The song was later recorded by Ray Price as the title track of his 1963 album. The song became a hit for Price, who included it as the introduction of his act. That same year Doris Day recorded the song for her Love Him album. The song was later covered by Frank Sinatra and B.B. King.

Background and recording[edit]

After his son Billy was born in 1958, struggling with financial issues, Nelson moved to Houston. On the way, Nelson stopped by the Esquire Ballroom to sell songs to house band singer Larry Butler. Butler refused to purchase Nelson's songs, giving him instead a US$50 loan to rent an apartment and a six-night job singing in the club.[1] Nelson rented the apartment near Houston in Pasadena, Texas, where he also worked at the radio station as a DJ. During the same time, Nelson recorded for Pappy Daily of D Records. While working on the club, Nelson used the time of the thirty-mile travel from his home to the club to write songs. One night he was inspired to start the song after thinking the line "When the evening sun goes down, you will find me hanging 'round." Nelson's inspiration was completed on his way back, with the line "The night life ain't no good life, but it's my life".[2]

Nelson sold the song for US$150 to Paul Buskirk in 1960, while working at his school as a guitar instructor.[3] Produced by Bill Quinn, Nelson recorded the song at Gold Star Studios. The session band was composed of guitarist Buskirk, bassist Dean Reynolds, drummer Al Hagy, pianist Bob Whitford, steel guitarist Herb Remington, and Dick Shannon on saxophone and vibraphone.[4]

The recording of the song was turned down by Pappy Daily, who did not consider the song country. Nelson, who owed Daily the recording of other songs, had sold the "Night Life" for enough money to master the record on another studio. Daily threatened Nelson to sue him if he pressed the song.[3] Nelson and Buskirk took the tape from Gold Star Studios, and went to Bill Holford's ACA Studios to master the recording.[5] The song was recorded as "Nite Life", and the artist labeled under "Paul Buskirk and the Little Men featuring Hugh Nelson".[3] Released through Rx Records, few copies of the single were pressed,[5] while it received limited airplay by DJ Uncle Hank Craig on XEG.[6]

Later recordings[edit]

In 1960 Ray Price purchased the song and recorded a cover of the song as the titletrack of his 1963 album Night Life.[7] The song became a hit for Price,[8] who started to use it as the introduction in his shows, replacing the usual backing fiddles.[9] Price said in the introduction to the song that the song was "especially" written for him by "a boy down Texas way".[10] The single reached number 28 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles.[11] That same year, Doris Day also recorded the song for her Columbia Records album, Love Him. Al Hirt included the song in his 1964 LP Sugar Lips, singing the verses and playing behind the chorus. In 1965, Nelson recorded the song for his RCA Records release, Country Willie – His Own Songs. The liner notes of the album stated that "Willie writes the songs...You make them into hits", detailing the songs written by Nelson that were hits for other artists, listing Ray Price's recording of "Night Life".[12] A version recorded by Nelson and trumpeter Danny Davis in 1979 reached number 20 on Billboard's Hot Country singles in 1980,[13] and number 9 on RPM's Country Tracks.[14] A cover by B. J. Thomas peaked at number 59 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in 1986.[15]

The song was covered by several artists including Frank Sinatra, B.B. King, Dottie West and Rusty Draper.[8] David Lee Roth released the song as a single from his 1994 album Your Filthy Little Mouth.[16] Aretha Franklin released a cover on her album The Delta Meets Detroit.[17] Dolly Parton performed the song on television twice: on her 1970s variety show, and again on her 1980s television show. In 1974, Thin Lizzy released their album Nightlife, which includes the song "Night Life".

The 1960 recording of "Night Life" by Nelson was re-released, for the first time under his name, on Bellaire Records in 1963, along with its original B-side, Rainy Day Blues. Later it was included on Bear Family Records' compilation The Complete D Singles collection".[18]

In the 1969, "Night Life" was covered by Stan Webb, the singer with Chicken Shack and issued as the B-side to a well-received cover of I'd Rather Go Blind, sung by Christine Perfect (later Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac.

Chart performance[edit]

Ray Price[edit]

Chart (1963) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 28[11]

Willie Nelson and Danny Davis[edit]

Chart (1980) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[19] 20
Canadian RPM Country Tracks 9[14]

B. J. Thomas[edit]

Chart (1986) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[20] 59


  1. ^ Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake 2000, p. 116, 117.
  2. ^ Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake 2000, p. 117.
  3. ^ a b c Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake 2000, p. 118.
  4. ^ Bradley, Andy; Wood, Roger 2010, p. 80.
  5. ^ a b Bradley, Andy; Wood, Roger 2010, p. 81.
  6. ^ Smith, Michael William (April 25, 2013). "Mr. Record Man: Willie Nelson". Houston Press. Voice Media Group. Retrieved May 2, 2013. 
  7. ^ Cusic, Don 2011, p. 137.
  8. ^ a b Reinert, Al 1976, p. 102.
  9. ^ Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake 2000, p. 158.
  10. ^ Night Life (LP). Ray Price. Columbia Records. 1963. CS-8771. 
  11. ^ a b "Hot Country Singles". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 75 (41). October 12, 1963. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  12. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris 2003, p. 532.
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel 1989, p. 77.
  14. ^ a b "Country 75 Singles". RPM. Walt Grealis. 33 (4): 31. April 19, 1980. Retrieved April 24, 2013. 
  15. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2013). Hot Country Songs 1944–2012. Record Research, Inc. p. 333. ISBN 978-0-89820-203-8. 
  16. ^ Christe, Ian 2009, p. 14.
  17. ^ Bego, Mark 2010, p. 98.
  18. ^ Bradley, Andy; Wood, Roger 2010, p. 82.
  19. ^ "Willie Nelson – Chart history" Billboard Hot Country Songs for Willie Nelson.
  20. ^ "B.J. Thomas – Chart history" Billboard Hot Country Songs for B.J. Thomas.


  • Bego, Mark (2010). Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-786-75229-4. 
  • Bradley, Andy; Wood, Roger (2010). House of Hits: The Story of Houston's Gold Star/SugarHill Recording Studios. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-78324-9. 
  • Cusic, Don (2011). The Cowboy in Country Music: An Historical Survey with Artist Profiles. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-46314-5. 
  • Christe, Ian (2009). Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-53618-6. 
  • Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris (2003). Allmusic Guide to Country Music. Backbeat Books. ISBN 9780879307608. 
  • Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake (2000). Willie: An Autobiography. Cooper Square Press. 
  • Reinert, Al (1976). "Bringing it All Back Home". Texas Monthly. Emmis Communications. 4 (8). ISSN 0148-7736. 
  • Whitburn, Joel (1989). Joel Whitburn's top country singles, 1944-1988: compiled from Billboard's country charts, 1944-1988. Record Research. ISBN 9780898200706.