The Troublemaker (album)

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The Troublemaker
Studio album by Willie Nelson
Released September 1976
Recorded February 1973 at Atlantic Recording Studios, New York City, NY
Genre Country gospel
Length 44:24 (Original)
61:05 (2004 reissue)
Label Columbia
Producer Arif Mardin
Willie Nelson chronology
The Sound in Your Mind
(1976)The Sound in Your Mind1976
The Troublemaker
To Lefty from Willie
(1977)To Lefty from Willie1977

The Troublemaker is the twentieth studio album by country singer and songwriter Willie Nelson. 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.

Produced by Arif Mardin, the album was recorded in two days at 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. The release of the album was cancelled by Atlantic Records, that decided that the album was not right for the label. After Atlantic closed its experimental country music division, Nelson signed a contract with Columbia Records that gave him total creative control. After the critical and commercial success of Red Headed Stranger, the label published The Troublemaker in 1976. Its release had a good reception by the critics, while it charted on Billboard's Top Country Albums and on Billboard 200, at number one and sixty respectively. The single "Uncloudy Day" charted at number four on Billboard's Hot Country Singles.

Background & recording[edit]

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4]

The recording sessions took place in February 1973,[5] Wexler provided Nelson and his band with a studio in New York City,[4] where the recordings were produced by Arif Mardin.[6] Nelson began with The Troublemaker, a repertoire of classic gospel songs, recorded in a honky-tonk style.[7][8] Nelson called in his sister Bobbie to play the piano,[9] while Doug Sahm and his band also were part of the sessions.[4] The recording consumed two days,[10] after finishing the songs for The Troublemaker, Nelson recorded during the same sessions the album Shotgun Willie.[9]

Release and reception[edit]

The release of the album was cancelled when Atlantic Records felt that the album was not right for the label,[11] that later closed its experimental country music division.[12] It was later released by Columbia Records in 1976.[8] Nelson signed a contract with the label that gave him total creative control, the release was as well leveraged by the critic and sales success of his 1975 album Red Headed Stranger.[13] Upon its release, the album peaked at number one on Billboard's Top Country Albums and at number sixty on the Billboard 200. Meanwhile, the single "Uncloudy Day" peaked at number four on Billboard's Hot Country Singles.[6]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Billboard Favorable[14]
Stereo Review Favorable[15]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[16]
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars[6]

Billboard delivered a favorable review, describing the album as a "powerful LP, that is often lively and uptempo".[14] Meanwhile, Stereo Review felt that Nelson "hit it right on the button with his honky-tonk instrumentation".[15]

Rolling Stone favored the album, while attributed its success to the its link with the at the time ongoing Outlaw movement.[17] Stephen Thomas Erlewine rated the album with four-and-a-half stars out of five. He praised the interpretation of the gospel standards with a musicalization similar to Nelson's previous releases, and the selection of the songs that according to the reviewer gave the album a "unique, fresh feel".[6]

All songs are traditional except where noted. All arrangements by Willie Nelson

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Uncloudy Day"   4:40
2. "When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder" James Milton Black 2:43
3. "Whispering Hope"   5:35
4. "There Is a Fountain"   3:13
5. "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" A.P. Carter 4:35
6. "The Troublemaker" Bruce Belland, Dave Somerville 1:52
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "In the Garden" C. Austin Miles 4:08
2. "Where the Soul Never Dies"   4:14
3. "Sweet Bye & Bye"   2:39
4. "Shall We Gather" Robert Lowry 3:07
5. "Precious Memories" J. B. F Wright 7:36


The recording session featured:[18]

Chart positions[edit]


Chart (1976) Peak[6]
Billboard's Top Country albums 1
Billboard Top LPs & Tapes 60


Song Chart Peak[6]
"Uncloudy Day" Billboard's Hot Country Singles 4


  1. ^ Reid, Jan 2004, pp. 223–224.
  2. ^ Reid, Jan 2004, p. 79.
  3. ^ Kienzle, Richard 2003, pp. 250–251.
  4. ^ a b c Reid, Jan 2004, p. 224.
  5. ^ Inter Pub, p. 169.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "The Troublermaker – Willie Nelson". Allmusic. Allrovi. Retrieved June 12, 2012. 
  7. ^ Fillingim, David, p. 82.
  8. ^ a b Kienzle, Richard 2003, p. 251.
  9. ^ a b Freeman, Doug (January 18, 2008). "Sister Bobbie". The Austin Chronicle. Austin Chronicle Corp. Retrieved June 12, 2012. 
  10. ^ Kingsbury, Paul, p. 166.
  11. ^ Larkin, Colin, p. 301.
  12. ^ Nelson, Willie; Shrake, Erwin, p. 168.
  13. ^ Morthland, John, p. 412.
  14. ^ a b Billboard Staff, p. 129.
  15. ^ a b Stereo Review. Ziff-Davis Pub. Co. 41: 104. 1978.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  16. ^ Marsh, Dave; Swenson, John, p. 355.
  17. ^ Hume, Martha (January 13, 1977). "Willie Nelson – The Troublemaker review". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media LLC. Retrieved June 12, 2012. 
  18. ^ The Troublemaker (LP). Nelson, Willie. Columbia Records. 1976. 


  • Fillingim, David (2003). Redneck Liberation: Country Music As Theology. Mercer University Press. ISBN 9780865548961. 
  • Kingsbury, Paul (1995). The Grand Ole Opry History of Country Music: 70 Years of the Songs, the Stars, and the Stories. Villard Books. ISBN 9780679435563. 
  • Kienzle, Richard (2003). Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing, and Country Jazz. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-94103-7. 
  • Larkin, Colin (1998). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Country Music. Virgin. ISBN 9780753502365. 
  • Marsh, Dave; Swenson, John (1983). The New Rolling Stone Record Guide. Random House/Rolling Stone Press. ISBN 9780394721071. 
  • Morthland, John (1984). The Best of Country Music. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385191920. 
  • Reid, Jan (2004). The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-70197-7. 
  • Billboard Staff (Oct 2, 1976). "Billboard's Top Album Picks". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 88 (40). ISSN 0006-2510.