I’ve always liked Willie Nelson’s singing and guitar playing, and wish his records had more guitar solos. Until I saw him live I had no idea how quirky and inventive his playing could be. I’ve only had that pleasure once, at a great old club called Lupo’s in Providence, Rhode Island. It was a relatively small venue to see someone like Nelson, and he had Billy Joe Shaver opening, and it was a terrific show.
I was particularly struck by how much Willie was enjoying himself — he had that great band, with his sister on piano and Mickey Raphael on harmonica, and he just kept playing and playing, then finally ended, came back for an encore, and played at least another half hour. The band looked exhausted, but he clearly didn’t want to leave, and neither did I.
I didn’t listen to his records all that often, but over the years I learned a bunch of his songs, more or less by osmosis. I rarely played them onstage, because my favorites tended to be too familiar — nobody needs to hear me sing “Crazy” after they’ve heard Patsy Cline, or “Night Life,” after all the great versions of that one, or “Funny How Time Slips Away,” or… well, a bunch of them. But somehow relatively few people have done “Bloody Mary Morning,” and it’s a fun one to pick and sing, and I love the weird formality of the language: “with forgetting her the nature of my flight,” and “with temptation and deceit the order of the day.” Chuck Berry sometimes used those kinds of locutions, and this song has always rested in my memory next to Berry’s “Promised Land” — it’s hard to come up with a third writer in the country or rock pantheon who was as skillful about mixing standard vernacular and high literary phrases in the same song.
I heard this on an LP called Honky Tonkin’, which I picked up in a cut-out bin for a buck or so — a good deal, since it also had Willie’s gorgeous version of “Crazy Arms,” and Gary Stewart doing “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles),” and Guy Clark doing “Rita Ballou,” and Waylon, and Bobby Bare — but honestly, until I just checked, all I remembered was that it had this one, bizarrely listed on the jacket as “Bloody Merry Morning.”