You could spend the better part of a day listening to, browsing through and singing along with Me and the Drummer, the handsomely enhanced CD from Willie Nelson and the Offenders. Although the album has been available via the Internet since late 1998, it didn’t appear in record stores — in a repackaged format — until June 6.
Issued on Luck Records, the album contains 13 songs, all but the title track written by Nelson. While the music itself is the stripped-down traditional style that first made Nelson famous, the technology supporting the multimedia features is strictly up-to-the-minute. Audio commentaries and still and motion pictures highlight many of the things most vital in Nelson’s life — from his small-town upbringing to his raucous, music-melding Fourth of July “picnics” to his unflagging support for farmers through Farm Aid.
Instead of recording with his regular road band, Nelson assembled an ad hoc group, the Offenders, consisting of the late Jimmy Day on steel guitar, Johnny Bush on drums, David Zettner on bass and Floyd Domino on piano. Guest pickers on certain tracks are fiddler Johnny Gimble and guitarists Freddy Powers and Clint Strong. Nelson produced the sessions.
The multimedia features are instantly accessible through a series of icons, one each for Farm Aid, Nelson’s hometown, his Fourth of July picnics and his 60th birthday party. Among the luminaries who speak, perform or simply appear are Waylon Jennings, drummer Paul (of “Me and Paul”) English, Nelson’s daughter Lana, former Texas Governor Anne Richards and current Governor George W. Bush, Dennis Hopper, Neil Young, Terry Lickona of Austin City Limits and John Mellencamp.
There is even a karaoke option that displays the lyrics and highlights in correct tempo the individual lines of the songs as they are being sung. Housed in the spine of the CD jewel case is a pair of miniature (and rollable) dice. The album has a suggested retail price of $16.98, but some stores will probably sell it for less.
Luck Records is based in Austin, Texas. Jimmy Luccesi, who both runs and records for the label, says it is principally owned by Nelson, Microsoft representative Sam Henderson and Sam Allred of the Geezinslaw Brothers.
“What Willie liked about this CD,” Luccesi observes, “is that it’s back to his old style. It’s back to using fiddle, pedal steel and all those instruments he didn’t use with his regular band. [He's] getting back to the country roots, with a little bit of that jazzy, bluesy kind of thing that he does.” The interactive media segments of the CD, Luccesi notes, took “about a year and a half” to complete.
Frank Jackson, of Southwest Wholesale Records & Tapes in Houston, the company that distributes the album, says he has shipped “around 10,000″ copies within the past three weeks. This week, Me and the Drummer debuted at No. 16 on Gavin’s Americana album chart.
The first single from the collection, “Rainy Day Blues,” entered Gavin’s Americana tracks chart this week at No. 14. It also will be included on the July 3 CDX compilation of new singles, which is sent to small country stations that do not report their playlists for the major music trade magazine charts. “We don’t feel like it’s anything that the bigger stations will give the time of day to, basically,” Jackson admits. He says Southwest will set up special programs to spotlight the album in cities where Nelson performs this summer.