Red Headed Stranger is the eighteenth studio album by American outlaw country singer Willie Nelson and released in 1975. After the wide success of his recordings with Atlantic Records, coupled with the negotiating skills of his manager, Neil Reshen, Nelson signed a contract with Columbia Records, a label that gave him total creative control over his works. The concept for the album was inspired by the “Tale of the Red Headed Stranger”, a song that Nelson used to play as a disc jockey on his program in Fort Worth, Texas. After signing with Columbia, he decided to record the song, and arranged the details during his return to Austin, Texas from a trip to Colorado. It was recorded at low cost at Autumn Sound Studios in Garland, Texas. The songs featured sparse arrangements, largely limited to Nelson’s guitar, piano and drums. Nelson presented the finished material to Columbia executives, who were dubious about releasing an album that they at first thought was a demo. However, Nelson had creative control, so no further production was added.
A concept album, Red Headed Stranger is about a fugitive on the run from the law after killing his wife and her lover. The content consists of songs with brief poetic lyrics and arrangements of older material such as Fred Rose’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”, Wolfe Gilbert’s “Down Yonder” and Juventino Rosas’ “O’er the Waves”. Despite Columbia’s doubts and the limited instrumentation, Red Headed Stranger was a blockbuster among country music and mainstream audiences.
It was certified multi-platinum, and made Nelson one of the most recognized artists in country music. The cover of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”, released as a single previous to the album full release became Nelson’s first number one hit. The title of the album would become a lasting nickname for Nelson. It was ranked #183 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and number one on CMT’s 40 Greatest Albums in Country Music. In 2010, it was inducted to the National Recording Registry.
In 1986, Nelson starred as the Red Headed Stranger in a movie of the same name, based on the story of the album. The album has had a strong cultural impact; the song “Time of the Preacher” was used often in the British television miniseries Edge of Darkness, and its lyrics were used in the first issue of the comic Preacher. (wikipedia)
Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger perhaps is the strangest blockbuster country produced, a concept album about a preacher on the run after murdering his departed wife and her new lover, told entirely with brief song-poems and utterly minimal backing. It’s defiantly anticommercial and it demands intense concentration — all reasons why nobody thought it would be a hit, a story related in Chet Flippo’s liner notes to the 2000 reissue. It was a phenomenal blockbuster, though, selling millions of copies, establishing Nelson as a superstar recording artist in its own right.
For all its success, it still remains a prickly, difficult album, though, making the interspersed concept of Phases and Stages sound shiny in comparison. It’s difficult because it’s old-fashioned, sounding like a tale told around a cowboy campfire. Now, this all reads well on paper, and there’s much to admire in Nelson’s intimate gamble, but it’s really elusive, as the themes get a little muddled and the tunes themselves are a bit bare. It’s undoubtedly distinctive — and it sounds more distinctive with each passing year — but it’s strictly an intellectual triumph and, after a pair of albums that were musically and intellectually sound, it’s a bit of a letdown, no matter how successful it was. (by Stephen Thomas Erlewine)
Billy English (drums)
Paul English (drums)
Bucky Meadows (guitar)
Bobbie Nelson (piano)
Willie Nelson (vocals, guitar)
Jody Payne (guitar, mandolin)
Mickey Raphael (harmonica)
Bee Spears (bass)
01.Time Of The Preacher (Nelson) 2.26
02. I Couldn’t Believe It Was True (Arnold/Fowler) 1.32
03. Time Of The Preacher Theme (Nelson) 1.14
04. Blue Rock Montana (Nelson) / Red Headed Stranger (Medley) (Stutz/Lindeman) 1.35
05. Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain (Rose) 2.19
06. Red Headed Stranger (Stutz/Lindeman) 4.00
07. Time Of The Preacher Theme (Nelson) 0.27
08. As I Am (Elliott/Bradbury) 1.47
09. Denver (Nelson) 0.53
10. O’er The Waves (Rosas) 0.47
11. Down Yonder (played by Bobbie Nelson) (Gilbert) 1.54
12. Can I Sleep In Your Arms (Cochran) 5.21
13. Remember Me (When The Candle Lights Are Gleaming) (Wiseman) 2.50
14. Hands On The Wheel (Caller 4.22
15. Bandera (Nelson) 2.16