You don’t know me, but somehow, thinking back on things I feel as if I might know you a little. I certainly feel as if I know your voice as well as any voice I know. I’ve been listening to that voice a long time now too. If I remember correctly I heard your voice properly around forty seven years ago on a cassette tape. In our church there was a visiting student called John Fitzpatrick who was one of the loveliest fellows that came round our way. One day he couldn’t contain his delight that you had recorded an album of hymns we all knew from growing up. The Troublemaker was the name of that album and it made me rediscover the hymns my grandparents and parents knew as well as that I came to know and love your voice. I especially loved your treatment of ‘In The Garden,’ a hymn my grandmother sang often, and one night, on a whim I even sang it myself at the Royal Albert Hall during a gig.
However I need to go back to your voice. What was it that connected so much with me? Was it the vulnerabality, the colloquial stylings or the gentle vibrato or was it simply that you always told the story so simply? My friend, Beth Nielson Chapman says it’s the fact you sang as you spoke and she’s so right. Perhaps that’s why it sounds as great today as it did in the fifties but also allows us, the listeners to follow the song. Now, that is something you have always done so well.
You were a radio guy first Willie, and it’s through the radio you first let people hear your own songs. These songs! How could it be that someone could write songs which would become standards but have the confidence to make records which contained none of your own material? Why is it we associate you with songs like Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain, Georgia or Always on My Mind as much as we do, Crazy, Me and Paul or a late classics such as It Gets Easier? I think it’s because you are the rarest of people; the original artist. You write, you play that beautiful guitar, ‘Trigger’ you act and you keep singing. It’s the singing that has made you a fixture in the lives of so many music lovers. We love the stories of being the country outlaw who left Nashville and went back to Texas, we love that you’ve never followed a prescribed route and that has occasionally found you a little wide of the law but most of all we love the music you’ve given us.
I have a lot of albums on my shelves. I like to think I have some great ones, but I have to admit that I may have more of your records than anyone else’s. If I can share one problem, Willie, it’s this: In trying to condense your career into our two hour celebration for your 90th birthday I fear I really didn’t know how to do justice to the volume of material you’ve produced. You’ve paid tribute to all your great friends, Waylon, Bob, Johnny, Kris, Lefty and so many more. So, this Tuesday we are going to celebrate your records. You probably don’t have time to listen, but if you did, you’d feel a lot of love from Scotland. If you are interested it’s on BBC Radio Scotland from five past eight this Tuesday and you can hear it in Abbott, Texas anytime you like on BBC Sounds. If anyone else is reading this, you are welcome too.