Music News

Willie Nelson’s Forgotten Projects

It hardly needs to be stated, but Willie Nelson is an American original — a legendary songwriter, tireless performer (at 75, he continues to tour relentlessly), fine actor, committed activist, and all-around cool dude. Over the course of his celebrated five-decade career, the country music troubadour has been quite the collaborator as well. Willie's most recent album, released six months ago, is Two Men with the Blues, on which he teamed up with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. In the past, he's also worked with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson (as the Highwaymen); with Julio Iglesias ("To All the Girls I've Loved Before"); with Ryan Adams (on 2006's Songbird); and with Aerosmith ("One Time Too Many"), to name a few. But perhaps you weren't aware of some of these collaborations:

Willie Nelson and Lil' Wayne

Tha Carter Family (2008)

After meeting in the Tonight Show green room and swapping stories about getting busted by the cops for stashing drugs on their tour buses, young Weezy and old Wheezy got together in New Orleans for this hip-hop reworking of standards by early-20th-century country group the Carter Family. Highlights include "I Ain't Going to Work Tomorrow [Got Money Remix]," "Chewing Gum (Inside a Lollipop)," and "Can the Circle of Cash Money Millionaires Be Unbroken."

Willie Nelson and Wilco

Little Mermaid Avenue (1999)

Upon hearing Mermaid Avenue (the 1998 album on which Billy Bragg and Wilco collaborated on songs featuring unearthed lyrics by his late, iconic father, Woody Guthrie), folk singer Arlo Guthrie thought it would be a good idea to have them cover some of his songs. On the eve of the recording sessions, however, Bragg canceled in order to perform a benefit concert for oppressed Nepalese yak farmers, and Willie — who'd been part of an all-star Woody Guthrie tribute album in the late '80s — stepped in at the last minute. However, after jamming through a 47-minute version of "Alice's Restaurant," they realized Arlo didn't really have any other good songs, and so, stumped for ideas, they resorted to filling out the rest of this double-disc with covers of songs from various Disney soundtracks, including "Under the Sea" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight."

Willie Nelson and Bob Marley

I'm So Fucking High Sessions ('75 bootleg)

Long a fan of both reggae music and marijuana — both of which influenced his 2005 album, Countryman — Willie traveled to Kingston, Jamaica, in 1974 with the intention of recording some tracks with Bob Marley. An album never materialized, but a year later, this bootleg vinyl emerged; purportedly Willie and Bob captured in the studio, all that can be heard across its 48 minutes is the frequent click of Zippo lighters, inhaling, the occasional cough, hysterical laughter, some humming, sporadic munching sounds, an occasional guitar chord, and a rambling, mostly incomprehensible story that seems to have something to do with Waylon Jennings, Elke Sommer, and several bales of cocaine. Copies are exceptionally rare, and have sold on eBay for upwards of $10,000.

Willie Nelson, Ronald Isley, and Marc Anthony

The Taxmen (2007)

Brought together by one common bond — their problems with tax collectors over the years — Willie, R&B legend Isley, and Latin-pop crooner Anthony briefly formed supergroup the Taxmen, recording one album before Isley began serving a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion. Featuring spoken-word interludes by Wesley Snipes, the album features such tracks as "Desperados Waiting for an Audit," "Jim, I Wore an Orange Jumpsuit Today," and "True Love Travels on a Gravel Road (To My Foreclosed Ranch)."

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Michael Alan Goldberg