One By Willie

One By Willie

In “One by Willie,” Texas Monthly’s John Spong hosts intimate conversations with a range of prominent guests about the Willie Nelson songs that mean the most to them. But this series isn’t just about the songs. It’s about what music really means to us—the ways it can change us, take care of us, and connect us all. Songs featured in the episodes can be found on Apple Music. Listen here.

Episodes

May 11, 2022 28 min
This week, one of America’s greatest living composers, Jimmy Webb, the writer of such classics as “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Galveston,” “Macarthur Park,” and “Wichita Lineman,” talks about another of his iconic songs, “Highwayman.” Willie, of course, recorded it with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson in 1985, and it went on to win that year’s Grammy for best country song, as well as give country’s first su...
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This week, Vince Gill—a 21-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, guitarist, and honkytonk historian—talks about “Healing Hands of Time.” It’s a song Willie’s cut several times, but Vince focuses on the version from 1976’s The Sound in Your Mind, before getting into the power of an irresistible first line in a lyric, the seminal role in country music history played by Willie and his old friend Ray Price, and why writing a song that...
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This week, we ring in Willie’s 89th birthday with his daughter Paula Nelson, who talks about “Devil in a Sleeping Bag,” off of his 1973 album Shotgun Willie. It’s a song Willie wrote about his longtime drummer and best friend, Paul English—who happens to be Paula’s namesake—and it gets her thinking about Paul’s dual role as Willie’s well-armed money-collector, a gunfight her dad was in, and hanging with Michael Jackson at the “We A...
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Singer-songwriter-superstar Kacey Musgraves goes deep into Willie’s back catalog to discuss “Are You Sure.” It was one of the first demos he cut when he moved to Nashville—though it’s probably best-known by the duet Kacey and Willie recorded for her Grammy-nominated 2015 album Pageant Material—and it prompts her to talk about what she calls “real-ass country songs,” the lucky joint Willie gave her, and singing “Rainbow Connection” ...
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April 15, 2022 1 min
Season 3 launches on April 20th with Kacey Musgraves, Vince Gill, Nathaniel Rateliff, Jimmy Webb, and many others.
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The original Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders squad burst onto the field back in 1972—the same year Title IX passed, the same year Deep Throat came out, and a year before Roe v. Wade. Sarah Hepola digs into the untold stories behind the global pop culture phenomenon, from the stripper who allegedly inspired the squad’s creation, to a scandalous Playboy cover shoot that was partly a battle over fair wages, to the ongoing debate about sex...
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This week, we celebrate Willie’s 88th birthday with singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow, who discusses what may be the single best-known song that Willie ever wrote, “Crazy.” She’ll walk us through what it means to compose a pop standard, explaining the differences she hears in Patsy Cline’s original, 1961 version and the one that Willie still does nightly, but she’ll also describe what it does to her heart when she hears her 10-year-old...
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Even though singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell had already been a diehard Willie fan for 10 years when Phases and Stages came out in 1974, he says he was positively gobsmacked by the album’s lead single, “Bloody Mary Morning.” On this episode he dives deep into all that, then goes on to describe his first recording session with Willie a few years later...including the red Camaro he saw doing donuts outside the studio when he got ther...
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Singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen first heard “Mr. Record Man” as a pre-teen Houston kid who’d just raided his older brother’s record collection. It’s another deep cut off Willie’s 1962 debut album, and it makes Keen think of a dance floor mishap at his first Willie show, the time his car caught fire in the parking lot at Willie’s 4th of July Picnic, and that uncanny Everyman quality that is such a big part of Willie’s appeal. Son...
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Singer-songwriter Shakey Graves—who answers to Alejandro Rose-Garcia when he’s not onstage—discusses Willie’s biggest pop hit singing solo, “Always on My Mind.” It had been one of Elvis Presley’s signature songs of the '70s before Willie covered it in 1982, and Alejandro explains how Willie managed to pull off the impossible: stealing a song from Elvis. Then he describes the undying appeal of a good power ballad and that surrea...
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March 23, 2021 25 min
Acclaimed singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, a four-time Grammy winner and certified roots music royalty, examines “Night Life,” one of Willie’s first compositions to earn its way into the American musical canon. It’s a song that makes her nostalgic for the clean-cut, smooth-crooning Willie of the early ‘60s, but also brings up the effect of a Depression-era upbringing on artists like Willie and her dad, Johnny Cash. Oh, and she also ...
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Acclaimed producer T Bone Burnett (Counting Crows’ August And Everything After; the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack; dozens of others) discusses one of the darkest songs Willie ever wrote: the early-60s murder ballad “I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye.” The song debuted on Willie’s 1966 album Live at Panther Hall in Fort Worth, Texas, and T Bone talks about being in the audience that night—because of course he was; he’s T Bon...
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Willie’s daughter Amy Nelson was just five years old when she first heard Kermit the Frog sing “Rainbow Connection” in The Muppet Movie, and she spent the next twenty years trying to talk her dad into recording it. In 2001, he finally did, with Amy—an accomplished musician in her own right—co-producing. She describes the way that session grew into a magical, extended-family affair mixing songs Willie once sang to his kids with a fe...
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February 23, 2021 27 min
Don Was, the legendary producer who recorded Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and the B-52s’ “Love Shack,” and has worked with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan, calls Willie’s recording of “Across the Borderline” his favorite track he ever worked on. It was the title cut to the 1993 album that breathed new life into Willie’s career, and it prompts Don to discuss the fragile magic of a perfect first take, what ...
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February 16, 2021 24 min
Singer-songwriter Steve Earle was a longhaired, seventeen-year-old San Antonio kid when he first heard “Local Memory,” a deep cut off 1973’s Shotgun Willie. He calls it the song that first taught him that a country lyric could read like literature. Steve goes on to describe the very real tension that still existed between hippies and rednecks when Willie played outside Austin in the early 70’s, and Willie's wonderfully off-colo...
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February 2, 2021 2 min
A new lineup of distinguished guests on their favorite Willie songs, from an Outlaw classic to a Kermit the Frog cover.
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November 27, 2020 27 min
Lumineers lead singer and co-songwriter Wesley Schultz first heard “Pretty Paper” when his parents played Willie’s classic, 1978 holiday album of the same name while driving around their New Jersey neighborhood looking at Christmas lights. The song is a Yuletide standard—so much so that a lot of listeners don’t even know Willie wrote it—and it prompts Wes to think aloud about the power of lonesome songs during the holiday season, g...
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November 20, 2020 24 min
Country music star Lee Ann Womack has been singing along to “Three Days” since she was a little girl raiding the record collection of her dad, who disc jockeyed at a small country radio station in East Texas. It’s a deep cut off Willie’s 1962 debut album, and it prompts thoughts from Lee Ann on the unexpected places where songwriters find the lines to write old-school country songs, the difference between Texas country music and th...
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Sonny Throckmorton is one of the greatest country songwriters who ever lived. He's the man who wrote “If We’re Not Back in Love By Monday” for Merle Haggard, “Why Not Me” for the Judds, and “The Cowboy Rides Away” for George Strait, among hundreds of others. On this episode, Sonny discusses a little-known, early Willie composition, “What a Way to Live”; the famous picking parties Willie used to host with legendary UT football c...
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Country music legend Wynonna Judd first heard “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” as a young girl splitting her time between her mom’s house in Los Angeles and her grandparents' home in rural Kentucky. It was Willie’s first #1 single and the song that finally made him a star, and on this episode of One By Willie, she talks about hearing it on the radio when she was first discovering music, about hanging out backstage with Willie at ...
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