NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Uncle Willie Is About to Bust 80

This Legendary Artist Is Still Not Slowing Down

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

What has Willie Nelson not done in his almost 80 years on this earth? Well, he has not recorded a polka album, a zydeco album, an opera album, a classical album, a punk album, a disco album, a Hawaiian album, a rock opera or a collaboration with pretend-young-country-Outlaws. But I think that’s about the extent of the list.

Remember his reggae album Countryman? And you can look forward to his upcoming duets album with women singers, including Barbra Streisand. The man has been around the block a few times in the musical world.

If he had done nothing more than write such country classics as “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and “Funny How Time Slips Away,” his place in music history would be assured.

He has covered the genres of country, Outlaw country, country swing, jazz, pop, country-rock, and ethereal folk music. And three or four or five others that I don’t immediately remember.

He traverses so many decades of country music, both in Nashville and in Texas, it’s sometimes dizzying to try to add it all up.

He knew Hank Williams , he knew Bob Wills . He knew Lefty Frizzell . He knew Patsy Cline . He knew Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt and Bill Monroe . He knew Johnny Cash and Ernest Tubb . He knew Tex Ritter and a host of other honky-tonk legends. They’re all dead now.

Willie and Ray Price and Merle Haggard and George Jones are about all that’s holding up the edifice of traditional country music these days. Except for some of the younger whippersnappers such as Alan Jackson and George Strait and Jamey Johnson .

I would think that that amount of loss of your contemporary friends and fellow artists would be devastating to a serious artist. Willie seems to have handled it pretty well. He is a big believer in karma.

On April 30, he will turn 80, a birthday that will be marked by several celebrations, including one here in Nashville, a city he shed himself of decades ago — with good results. Obviously, a diet that is rich in herbs is healthy for a long lifespan.

It will also be observed by a series of recordings, the first of which is due for release on April 16. Willie’s new studio album is Let’s Face the Music and Dance. The title song is an Irving Berlin chestnut dating from 1935. That sort of sets the tone for this album of pop and jazz classics, country classics and a vintage rockabilly song. In some ways, the album is a return or a revisit to his epochal Stardust, the album of pop music classics that no one ever expected from a country singer but which turned the world of music on its ear.

For songs for Let’s Face the Music and Dance, Nelson draws on the repertoire of his guitar hero Django Reinhardt, legendary tunesmith Frank Loesser, country legend Spade Cooley, rockabilly star Carl Perkins and other varied sources from across the history of music. So, take another stroll through music history with Willie.