Willie Nelson - vocals, guitar; Mickey Raphael - harmonica
This rare live performance by Willie Nelson, accompanied by his longtime harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, was captured at the 5th Bridge School Benefit, hosted by Neil Young. Also performing on the bill that evening were Young, Nicolette Larson, John Lee Hooker, Don Henley, and Nils Lofgren. Although the night was designed to provide financial support for the Bridge School, which educates severely handicapped children, the show ended up being an impromptu tribute to concert promoter Bill Graham, who had tragically died a week earlier in a helicopter crash.
Nelson performed an intimate, unplugged set that included his biggest original songs, including "Be My Valentine" and a medley of "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Crazy," and "Night Life." He also does a version of "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," "On The Road Again," and an encore of "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain." Nelson's interaction with the crowd is somewhat subdued, as were many of the night's performances, as everyone was grieving the loss of Graham.
Raised by his grandparents in Abbott, Texas after his father died and mother had run off, Nelson struggled through the late 1950s as a country singer and songwriter upon his release from the armed forces. He saw little success until Ray Price had a smash in 1961 with his composition, "Nightlife." That launched his career in Nashville and helped established him as a moderate country star and a massive songwriter. Faron Young took "Hello Walls" to number one for nine weeks, and Billy Walker made "Funny How Time Slips Away" into an even bigger hit. Nelson would hit pay dirt when Patsy Cline turned "Crazy" into a Top Ten pop crossover hit in 1963. He was offered a deal with RCA, though his career as a performer never really got beyond cult status while he was with that label.
Nelson's songwriting eclipsed his performing career enough so that he even took time off to work as a pig farmer in the late 1960s. By the turn of the decade, however, Nelson was ready to return to music, and he scored a deal on Atlantic. It would not be until 1975 that Willie Nelson would become a star in his own right, with the release of Red Haired Stranger, and his affiliation with the Outlaw country music movement that also included Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, a and Johnny Cash.
Although an iconoclastic figure in country music, Willie Nelson remains a true American classic. He has had success in numerous styles of music ranging from rock, jazz, and standards, and continues to record and tour all over the world.