Aquarium Drunkard Presents: To Willie, Love Aquarium Drunkard

Monday, May 6, 2013
Aquarium Drunkard Presents: To Willie, Love Aquarium Drunkard

Last Tuesday, Willie Nelson turned eighty years old. If you happen to have caught him live lately, that might take you by surprise. Willie won’t be the first touring octogenarian — Ralph Stanley’s still on the road at 86; Chuck Berry, who is the same age, is still banging around St. Louis; and Yoko Ono, 80, was alive and screaming on last year’s collaboration with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Even the Old Possum George Jones made the rounds right up to his death last week at the age of 81. But on-stage, Willie seems nearly ageless. His band might have lost a step in the last few years, but Willie, if anything, has only gotten better over the past decade or so. Despite (or perhaps because of) his battles with carpal tunnel, his playing has become freer, slightly more impressionistic, pushing him as near to the avant-garde as anyone who’s shared the stage with Toby Keith can reasonably get. This is not hyperbole.

But what truly separates him from his peers, aged or otherwise, is the songs. When Phosphorescent released their 2009 tribute album To Willie, we declared Willie to be “a master of the human condition, a lonely and frustrated chronicler of the Great Country Virtues — whiskey, Jesus, sin, redemption, murder, love doubt — plucking great stabs of heartache and celebration like so many nylon guitar strings.” Even at his age, having played the majority of the songs on his nightly setlist for over forty years, he still seems to know this about himself, or at least about his work as a writer and performer; he’ll goof his way through “Me and Paul,” raising his eyebrows ironically at drummer Paul English as he recounts their Nixon-era exploits, but when he shifts into “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” or “I Never Cared for You,” he sells it like the heartbreak’s still fresh. As long as those songs are around, it will be.

In honor of the eightieth birthday of The World’s Greatest Living American, twenty Willie favorites...

Based in Los Angeles, Justin Gage is the founder of the long-running, eclectic music blog Aquarium Drunkard. In addition to the blog you can catch his weekly radio show, Fridays, on SIRIUS XMU satellite radio -- noon-2pm EST.

Gage is also the founder of Autumn Tone Records and works as a music consultant and supervisor.

twitter: @aquadrunkard