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Willie Nelson Leads an Ageless Revolution

Age is no barrier for Superstars Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson


As octogenarian Joe Biden slowly shuffles across the stage at another campaign rally this summer, two of the greatest artists in popular music, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan, will get together for a series of concerts at the combined age of a remarkable 174.


For suddenly, as in presidential politics, longevity is now the order of the day in modern music.


Nelson turned 91 in late April, while Dylan was 83 around a month later. The pair will team up for 20 or more gigs across the U.S.-  June through September - as part of the 2024 Outlaw Music Festival Tour and somewhere in the expected festival lineup is another aging legend, 75-year-old Robert Plant.


In fact, the music circuit across America is currently littered with elderly superstars who helped define various musical genres in their lifetime.


Two of the greatest names in rock ‘n roll, “The Glimmer Twins” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards  - both now 80 - are enjoying one of their most popular and critically acclaimed U.S. tours as the Rolling Stones sell out concert venues on the promotional tour for their latest album Hackney Diamonds, released last October.


And not to be outdone, another British legend from the 60’s, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, recently announced - at the age of 83 - that he will tour later this year with his All Starr Band to promote an upcoming country album. His only remaining fellow-Beatle, Paul McCartney, now 81, spent much of 2023 on the road as part of his Got Back Tour.


Two other big names from the classic age of rock – Graham Nash and James Taylor – have already been halfway round the globe on tour during 2024.


Nash, now also into his Octogenarian years, set himself up for 2024 with an 11-gig solo tour across Australia in New Zealand in March under the banner: Graham Nash: Sixty Years of Songs and Stories. The former member of Supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young will soon recommence playing across the States with 17 shows scheduled in August alone, from Colorado to Massachusetts.


Meanwhile, acclaimed singer-songwriter Taylor, 76, entered his sixth decade of performing by pulling together some of the best musicians in the business - aptly titled the All-Star Band - for a 13-city romp from Japan and the Philippines, through Australia and New Zealand, before ending with two gigs in Hawaii in May. His sell-out shows had his - likewise aging - fans, begging for more!


English folk legend Ralph McTell turns 80 in December and he too has spent the early months of 2024 in the Southern Hemisphere, drawing packed audiences with his own reminiscence of six decades in the music business.


The country music genre has long had a reputation for artists continuing to perform past 70 – bluegrass legend Bill Monroe was still touring a few months before he died in his 85th year – so Nelson’s hectic schedule is no surprise. In fact, Willie has been out-lasted by country crooner Leroy Van Dyke who, at 94, recently announced he will tour with The Malpass Brothers in August.


What makes Nelson so special is that he still spends as much time in the studio as he does on tour. A week ago, he released The Border, his 75th solo studio album and number 152 in total. But hey, who’s counting?


Willie’s latest release was produced by long-time collaborator Buddy Cannon and together, Nelson and Cannon have written four of the ten songs, with others from the likes of Rodney Crowell, Mike Reid and Shawn Camp.


The Border received high praise from most of the critics, none of whom shed any doubt on Nelson’s ability to continue performing as a top-rated singer, songwriter and guitarist. “There’s not a bad song in the bunch,” declared the AP review, adding: “It’s a reminder of how lucky we’ve been to have had Nelson – arguably second only to Hank Williams in country music greatness – for so much longer.”


Indeed, several reviewers single out Willie’s guitar playing on his long-time, equally-aging instrument, affectionately known as “Trigger.” This from Texas Monthly, which claims to have reviewed all his albums: “Willie is in better voice and more active on Trigger than he’s been since 2018’s Last Man Standing.


It is not surprising to learn that Nelson’s favourite song on the album is not one of his co-writes but the title track from perhaps the most insightful singer-songwriter in Nashville, Rodney Crowell, a fellow-Texan and someone long admired by Willie. In fact, Crowell penned “The Border” – a co-write with Allen Shamblin – back in 2004, though it was first released as a duet with John Jorgenson, on Crowell’s  2019 album Texas.


It is sung in the first person of a Texas border patrolman reflecting on his futile and dangerous daily grind. And Nelson’s gritty distinctive vocals are perfectly suited to deliver Crowell’s sad reflections:

From the shacks and the shanties

Come the hungry and poor

Some to drown at the crossing

Some to suffer no more


There is something quite poignant in Nelson choosing to highlight Crowell’s song-writing prowess  by including both “The Border” and “Many a Long & Lonesome Highway” – a co-write with Will Jennings from 1989 – on his 75th release.


For in the aptly-named “Nashville 1972”  -  a song considered one of his finest  - Rodney reflects on life in the glory days of Music City. And one of the  central characters is none other than … Willie Nelson:

I first met Willie Nelson with some friends at a party

I was twenty two years old and he must have been pushing forty

There was hippies and reefers and god knows what

All I was drinking pretty hard

I played him this shitty song I wrote

Then puked out in the yard


It is hard to imagine that Rodney could ever write a shitty song. And even if he did, ageless Willie could make it sound good … at whatever age.


Paul Cutler

Editor Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation


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