Essential Atlantic: Willie Nelson, SHOTGUN WILLIE

Thursday, May 28, 2020
Willie Nelson SHOTGUN WILLIE Cover

For the next several weeks (or maybe just until we decide that we want to stop doing it, since normalcy seems likely to remain on hiatus for the foreseeable future), will be spotlighting an album from the Atlantic Records discography that qualifies as “Essential.” And what rigorous standards and/or mathematical algorithm did we use to come up with the criteria to define “Essential,” you ask? None at all. You’ll just have to trust our instincts. But they’re really good, we swear...

In 1972, Willie Nelson was put in a situation by RCA Records, with the label giving him the impression that if he didn’t his new contract sooner than later, then they wouldn’t release any more of his music. Instead, he paid off his old contract, moved to Austin,  and began to – for lack of a better phrase – reinvent himself. Not dramatically, mind you, but enough to cast off the shackles of Nashville and just be the Willie he’d always been beneath the costumes and haircuts he’d been stuck wearing at his label’s behest.

He hadn’t completely left Nashville, however, and when he took a trip there later in the year, he sang some songs at a party at Harlan Howard’s house, one which was attended by Atlantic Records president Jerry Wexler. In short order, Atlantic opened a country music division, and Wexler offered Nelson a contract that provided him with more creative control that he’d enjoyed at RCA, and Nelson – after confirming that a possible lack of commerciality wouldn’t be a problem – signed on the dotted line.

Between Nelson’s freed creativity, the production of Arif Mardin, and the enthusiasm of Wexler, the resulting album, SHOTGUN WILLIE, proved to be one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of Nelson’s career up to that point. It wasn’t a huge seller, mind you, so Nelson’s question to Wexler was a wise one, but it did sell better in Austin – his new home base, you’ll recall – than some of his earlier records had sold nationwide!

If you’ve never heard SHOTGUN WILLIE, you’re in for a treat, and if you have heard it, then give it another spin. It’ll be like visiting an old friend who never disappoints.


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