Last week, we did a feature on actors who are also great musicians and it brought quite a positive response. There will be a part two to come in the near future. In the past week I had a chance to listen to a brand new album by Willie Nelson titled “That’s Life” where he did the songs of Sinatra. I talked about on my Facebook page and shared the link.
This week I want to go back with some personal recollections of Willie and how this great album came together. I couldn’t be more pleased to feature this as it is music from two of my favorite singers of all time and masters of their craft, Frank Sinatra and Willie Nelson. The Sinatra connection for me was actually my father when he was a musician playing with the big bands in the 30’s and 40’s.
My first connection with Willie was way back in 1965 when I was doing some artist bookings and concert promotions in the New York-New Jersey area and one of the venues was a nightclub in the Statler-Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan that had been remodeled into a country music club called Nashville East. They used local bands for the entertainment, but once a month they would book a name country act for a Friday/Saturday run. One of the acts we had booked was a young singer/songwriter named Willie Nelson. (Yep, regular hair, dressed in a suit and tie). The Friday night shows played to about a half full club (about 150-175), the Saturday night shows were SRO and Willie was absolutely fantastic. It was just him, his guitar, the 5 piece house band as back up and he captivated everyone with that different voice and style. We would cross paths again in 1974 and that was at the beginning of his coming “outlaw” persona. Needless to say I have been a Willie fan since day one and have never been surprised at anything he has done musically or as an actor, the guy is strictly one of a kind.
So now about the Sinatra connection with Willie. Back in 1993 and in his late 70’s Sinatra did an album called “Duets” where he sang with a diverse selection of performers like Aretha Franklin, Gloria Estefan, Bono, Luther Vandross and more and it was a smash hit, still popular today. Then the following year, 1994, he did a Duets 2 album. Among those he did duets with were Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Wonder and Wllie Nelson where they did “A Foggy Day” and the Nelson-Sinatra connection was born.
They became good friends, had a respect for each other and their music. They had even discussed the possibility of doing an album together with Willie doing Frank’s songs and Frank doing Willie’s, a brilliant idea that could have been pure musical magic. I can still picture in my mind Frank doing Willie’s “Nightlife”. However, due to scheduling conflicts, etc. and then Sinatra’s passing 1998 the collaboration never came together and that is a shame. But Willie never forgot about Sinatra and has always managed to slip a Sinatra song into his stage sets. Check out Willie’s smash hit “Stardust” album from 1978 and his rendition of classic songs or his “Willie sings Gershwin” album and you can see doing Sinatra was not a stretch. In 2018 Willie did an album dedicated to Frank called “My Way” and it was an immediate hit. It still continues to sell and be heard with the great collection of Sinatra songs.
Now we come to his newest, and the 71st album of his long career, “That’s Life” that has a total Sinatra vibe, not only in the songs but in many other ways. The cover is a takeoff of Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours” album cover, there is a full big band plus strings and a duet with jazz pianist/singer Diana Krall. To complete the Sinatra vibe the album was mostly recorded in the same Capitol Records studio that Frank used back in the day. Topping it all off is that the album, released last month, debuted at #1 on the Billboard Jazz chart!
Willie may not have quite the rich timber in his voice at 87, like he did in years past, but he still has the sound, style, feel and total musicianship to make it all work very well. Add in his incredible guitar riffs on some of the songs and it is a great all around listen of classic Sinatra songs done as only Willie Nelson could do them. If you want something relaxing, enjoying and very entertaining, then I suggest getting a copy of “That’s Life” by Willie Nelson. Here’s a sample: https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=8cPuigClurE&list=OLAK5uy_l3_7h1Z5L-71dHvn_BVPZU2g-zlwF3iwQ
Now, if you will excuse me I have some Nelson /Sinatra songs to listen to while I get back to work. Have a fantastic day everyone and enjoy the music.
Art Koch, National Features & DVD Editor, NightMoves Magazine and AAN