In the midst of resuming a sold-out slate of touring dates and announcing a June 19 headlining date at the Ryman Auditorium, Cody Johnson released the first song from his forthcoming, fall-released 18-track double album, a duet with Willie Nelson on the Red-Headed Stranger’s 1973 hit “Sad Songs and Waltzes.”
Johnson recalls hearing the song after playing a show at Midnight Rodeo in San Angelo, Texas. Awake at 3:00 a.m. and watching a Nelson performance on PBS’ Austin City Limits, he recalls, “You could tell that it was pretty early on in his leaving of Nashville because his hair wasn’t very long.” Regarding the era and the song itself, Nelson added, “Well, I went up to Nashville, and I had a pile of songs, and I sang ’em all for the record man, and the record man told me, sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year, son.”
The song profoundly connects with Johnson in a lesson that he still remembers to this day. “The way I am, the music I create, the way that I look, and the cowboy that I am hasn’t been a trend in Nashville for a long time,” Johnson says. Moreover, he adds, “being true to yourself is what makes for the best music and the most loyal fans.”
The collaboration with a “very gracious” Nelson involved a “very candid conversation with him, and it was one that meant a lot to me,” Johnson says. Joining a group of artists including Dolly Parton, Kenny Chesney, Kacey Musgraves, Sheryl Crow, Carrie Underwood, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, and Lee Ann Womack, who have partnered with him, Johnson’s throwback revives a legendary anthem.