|Studio album by|
|Genre||Country, outlaw country|
|Producer||Arif Mardin, Jerry Wexler, David Briggs|
|Willie Nelson chronology|
Shotgun Willie is the sixteenth studio album by Willie Nelson released in 1973. 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 Records 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 backup musicians, the Family, 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 with assistance from Wexler and longtime Neil Young collaborator David Briggs, 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 subgenre 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. Nelson, who had felt creatively hamstrung by RCA's strict recording practices in Nashville and frustrated at not being permitted to use his touring band in the studio, immediately felt a kinship with this younger audience:
- I liked this new world. It fit me to a T. I never did like putting on stage costumes, never did like trim haircuts, never did like worrying about whether I was satisfying the requirements of a showman. It felt good to let my hair grow. Felt good to get on stage in the same jeans I’d been wearing all damn day.”
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 asked Wexler if he was worried about the music not being commercial, Wexler replied, "Fuck commerce. You're going for art. You're going for the truth." In his autobiography Nelson later recalled, ""I'd never heard a record man talk that way. On the spot, I decided that Wexler was my man." 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.
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. Wexler had encouraged Nelson after singing the gospel album to start with the new one, to couple old material with new, and covers. He initially recorded twenty-three tracks along with his and Sahm's band, but Nelson still was not inspired. He 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 the nickname Nelson received after his daughter, Susie, warned him of the 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 he repeated the assault. Soon after Nelson returned home, Warren arrived in his truck with his brothers. The men shot 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 them to surrender. He completed the rest of the song with a reference to John T. Floore, owner of the honky-tonk Floore's Country Store. After hearing the completed song, Wexler decided that the album was to be named after it. Nelson later recalled, "Kris Kristofferson told me later the song 'Shotgun Willie' was 'mind farts.' Maybe so, but I thought of it more as clearing my throat."[full citation needed]
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. In his book Willie Nelson, Joe Nick Patoski notes the recording of the album "was sloppy and chaotic, technically and artistically uneven, with horns and strings occasionally bumping up against the musical core of Bee Spears, Paul English, Bobbie Nelson, Jimmy Day, and Willie...The music was more country than what was being played on the radio but somehow different. If there were slips and flubs, they stayed in."[full citation needed] The album includes Johnny Bush's Whiskey River"., which would go on to be Nelson's perennial show opener. In his autobiography he remembers, "In 1972, Johnny Bush called me with part of a song he’d written with Paul Stroud. I took the song the way it was but adapted it to my style, which was more blues than rock." Shotgun Willie is also significant for containing "A Song for You," written by Leon Russell, a key figure in Nelson’s creative evolution during this period. The song would become a staple of Nelson’s live show and he would later say, "He knocked me out...I understood how his image – with his crazy stovepipe hat and dark aviator glasses – added to his mysterious allure. Beyond the mystery, though, I heard that his musical roots and mine were the same: Hank Williams, Bob Wills, country black blues..." Nelson would record the duet album One for the Road with Russell in 1979.
Nelson was effusive in his praise for Wexler, whose laid-back, encouraging approach was the antithesis of what he had experienced in Nashville in the past:
- Wexler’s attitude really pumped me up. I cranked out songs, one after the other. The atmosphere was right. Whereas Nashville had always been uptight about musicians smoking dope in the studio, Atlantic didn’t give a shit. Wexler got high with us. Wexler never bugged me to put on sweeteners to stimulate sales. I felt free to tap into my imagination, no hold barred. I felt free to go against the grain in tunes like "Sad Songs and Waltzes, a story about why this particular song would never sell.
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. Several journalist were on hand during the recording, like Ed Ward from Creem, who later commented, "I'd underestimated the professionalism of all concerned, not to mention the core ensemble of musicians themselves, who decided to test the sound of the studio with a spirited version of 'Under the Double Eagle,' which left me awestruck: Willie wasn't only a great songwriter, he was a goddamn virtuoso on that battered Martin guitar of his!"[full citation needed]
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.
|Christgau's Record Guide||B+|
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". Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski writes that Shotgun Willie was Nelson's "creative declaration of independence."
All tracks written 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"||Tommy Duncan, Cindy Walker, Bob 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"||Leon 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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