Willie Nelson – Yesterday´s Wine (1971)


Willie Hugh Nelson (born April 29, 1933) is an American country musician. The critical success of the album Shotgun Willie (1973), combined with the critical and commercial success of Red Headed Stranger (1975) and Stardust (1978), made Nelson one of the most recognized artists in country music. He was one of the main figures of outlaw country, a subgenre of country music that developed in the late 1960s as a reaction to the conservative restrictions of the Nashville sound. Nelson has acted in over 30 films, co-authored several books, and has been involved in activism for the use of biofuels and the legalization of marijuana.


Born during the Great Depression and raised by his grandparents, Nelson wrote his first song at age seven and joined his first band at ten. During high school, he toured locally with the Bohemian Polka as their lead singer and guitar player. After graduating from high school in 1950, he joined the U.S. Air Force but was later discharged due to back problems. After his return, Nelson attended Baylor University for two years but dropped out because he was succeeding in music. He worked as a disc jockey at radio stations in his native Texas, and in several radio stations in the Pacific Northwest, all the while working as a singer and songwriter throughout the late 1950s. During that time, he wrote songs that would become country standards, including “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Hello Walls”, “Pretty Paper”, and “Crazy”. In 1960 he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and later signed a publishing contract with Pamper Music which allowed him to join Ray Price’s band as a bassist. In 1962, he recorded his first album, …And Then I Wrote. Due to this success, Nelson signed in 1964 with RCA Victor and joined the Grand Ole Opry the following year. After mid-chart hits in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Nelson grew weary of the corporate Nashville music scene, and in 1972 he moved to Austin, Texas. The ongoing music scene of Austin motivated Nelson to return to performing, appearing frequently at the Armadillo World Headquarters.


In 1973, after signing with Atlantic Records, Nelson turned to outlaw country, including albums such as Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages. In 1975, he switched to Columbia Records, where he recorded the critically acclaimed album Red Headed Stranger. The same year, he recorded another outlaw country album, Wanted! The Outlaws, along with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser. During the mid-1980s, while creating hit albums like Honeysuckle Rose and recording hit songs like “On the Road Again”, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”, and “Pancho and Lefty”, he joined the country supergroup The Highwaymen, along with fellow singers Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. In 1985, he helped organize the first Farm Aid concert to benefit American farmers; the concerts have been held annually ever since and Nelson has been a fixture, appearing at every one.

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In 1990, Nelson’s assets were seized by the Internal Revenue Service, which claimed that he owed $32 million. The difficulty of paying his outstanding debt was aggravated by weak investments he had made during the 1980s. In 1992, Nelson released The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?; the profits of the double album—destined to the IRS—and the auction of Nelson’s assets cleared his debt. During the 1990s and 2000s, Nelson continued touring extensively, and released albums every year. Reviews ranged from positive to mixed. He explored genres such as reggae, blues, jazz, and folk.

Nelson made his first movie appearance in the 1979 film The Electric Horseman, followed by other appearances in movies and on television. Nelson is a major liberal activist and the co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which is in favor of marijuana legalization. On the environmental front, Nelson owns the biodiesel brand Willie Nelson Biodiesel, whose product is made from vegetable oil. Nelson is also the honorary chairman of the advisory board of the Texas Music Project, the official music charity of the state of Texas.

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Yesterday’s Wine is the thirteenth studio album and a concept album by country singer Willie Nelson. Nelson had been recording for RCA Victor since the early 1960s, and had no significant hits. By 1970, his recordings had reached mid-chart positions. Nelson lost the money from his song-writing royalties by financing unsuccessful concert tours that were generally unprofitable. In addition to problems with his music career, Nelson had problems in his personal life. He had divorced his wife, Shirley Collie, and his Tennessee ranch had been destroyed by a fire.

After moving to a new home in Bandera, Texas, Nelson was called by RCA producer Felton Jarvis about the upcoming scheduled recording sessions. At the time, Nelson had not written any new material. He returned to Nashville, where he wrote new songs to use with others from his old repertoire. These new concept songs were recorded at the RCA studio in Nashville in just two days.

Considered one of the first concept albums in Country music, Yesterday’s Wine is the story of the “Imperfect Man”, from the moment he is born to the day of his death. RCA originally released the singles “Yesterday’s Wine” and “Me and Paul”. The former peaked at number 62 in Billboard’s Hot Country Singles. The album failed to reach the charts, and a frustrated Nelson decided to temporarily retire from music, while still under contract to RCA Records. Later with his musical style revitalized, he returned to music in 1972.


By the fall of 1964, Nelson had moved from Monument Records to RCA Victor, under the leadership of Chet Atkins, signing a contract for US $10,000 per year. During his first few years at RCA Victor, Nelson had no significant hits, but from November 1966 through March 1969 his singles reached the top 25 consistently: “One In a Row” (number 19, 1966), “The Party’s Over” (number 24 during a 16-week chart run in 1967), and his cover of Morecambe & Wise’s “Bring Me Sunshine” (number 13, March 1969).[2] Up to 1970, Nelson had no major success. His royalties were invested in tours that did not produce significant profits. In addition to the problems in his career, Nelson divorced Shirley Collie in 1970. In December, his ranch in Ridgetop, Tennessee burned down. He interpreted the incident as a signal for a change. He moved to a ranch near Bandera, Texas and married Connie Koepke.[3] In early 1971 his single “I’m a Memory” reached the top 30. Felton Jarvis contacted Nelson for the recording of his next album.

Nelson had not written any material for the sessions by the time he arrived in Nashville in April 1971. While living in the new ranch, Nelson read the Bible, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, the works of Edgar Cayce and Episcopal priest A.A Taliaferro’s work. Inspired by his readings, Nelson decided to work in new material. On May 1–2, he wrote nine songs, combining new ones with previous material from his repertoire, such as “Family Bible”, to create the concept for the album. He recorded Yesterday’s Wine in four sessions, backed by David Zettner and the studio session players, beginning with two sessions on May 3 and finishing with the last two on May 4.


In his 2015 autobiography, Nelson reminisced about this turbulent time in his life: “I looked up and simply began asking questions. Rather than keep those questions to myself, I put them into songs. The songs became my own particular prayers, my own personal reflections. I strung those prayers and reflections together in a loose-fitting suite of songs. Music critics were throwing around the term “concept album”…I guess you could say that this new notion of mine came together as a concept album. Rather than try to write a bunch of hit singles, I simply followed the natural path taken by my mind”. According to Nelson’s biographer, Joe Nick Patoski, the new material portrayed “an idea that was so far-out that when it came time to record in early May 1971 producer Felton Jarvis had no choice but to let the tapes roll”.

The album describes the life of a man, called “The Imperfect Man”, from the beginning to the day of his death.[4][9] The story begins with a dialog between two characters. The first asks the other “You do know why you’re here?”, and the second replies: “Yes, there’s great confusion on earth, and the power that is has concluded the following: Perfect man has visited earth already and His voice was heard; The voice of imperfect man must now be made manifest; and I have been selected as the most likely candidate.” This statement is followed by “Where’s the Show” and “Let Me Be a Man”. In the medley, Nelson depicts the birth of the character, who implores God to become a man. The song is followed by “In God’s Eyes”, depicting the character learning to act as a good Samaritan. In “Family Bible”, the character describes his memories of and nostalgia for his childhood, the times with his family and the reading of the family Bible. “It’s Not for Me to Understand” depicts the character praying, after watching a blind child listening to other children playing and finding himself unable to understand why God allowed that to happen. God replies to the Imperfect Man, “It’s not for you to reason why, you too are blind without my eyes, so question not what I command”. In the last stanza, the character now expresses his fear of the Lord and his reluctance to question the unfairness of the world again. The medley “These Are Difficult Times / Remember the Good Times”, describes the character’s bad times and his recovery by remembering the good times. “Summer of Roses” depicts the character falling in love and in the prime of his life. It is followed by the anticipation of the beginning of the end in “December Day”, as the character announces “This looks like a December day. It looks like we’ve come to the end of the way”. “Yesterday’s Wine” finds the character drinking in a bar, talking to the regulars about his life, and reflecting on aging. In “Me and Paul”, the Imperfect Man remembers the circumstances in which he lived with a friend in past times. The album ends with “Goin’ Home”, as the character watches his own funeral.

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Of the writing of “December Day” and “Summer of Roses,” with Nelson remembered, “I couldn’t write a suite of songs, no matter how spiritual, without reference to romance,” he deemed “Summer of Roses” and “December Day” “love poems. In the first song, love was fleeting, tragically brief; in the second, love was remembered…” “December Day” had been recorded previously for Nelson’s 1969 LP Good Times. “Family Bible” was another old tune that Nelson, a struggling songwriter at the time, sold to Paul Buskirk for fifty dollars; Buskirk took it to Claude Gray, whose version charted at number 7 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs in 1960. A song based on his own youth, Nelson later insisted, “There could be no Yesterday’s Wine without ‘Family Bible.'” In his memoir Nelson wrote that “Me and Paul” was a song “that described the road that my drummer and best friend, Paul English, and I had been riding together”. The cover art was designed by Hartsel Gray and the liner notes written by Dee Moeller.

The RCA Records marketing department considered the album difficult to promote. In 2015, Nelson recalled the opinion of one of the label’s executives, who told the singer “It’s your fuckin’ worst album to date”. Nelson further added that another member of the label felt that the release was “some far-out shit that maybe the hippies high on dope can understand, but the average music lover is gonna think you’ve lost your cotton-pickin’ mind.” RCA released a single containing “Yesterday’s Wine” and “Me and Paul” on the flipside in October 1971. The single peaked at number 62 in Billboard’s Country Singles. The label pressed 10,000 units of the album, which was released in August 1971.

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Yesterday’s Wine failed to chart, and did not satisfy RCA’s expectations. Although his contract was not over, Nelson decided to retire because of the number of failures he had had. Nelson later wrote in his autobiography, “I think it’s one of my best albums, but Yesterday’s Wine was regarded by RCA as way too spooky and far out to waste promotion money on.”[9] In 2015 he added: “I was tempted to say something, to show how the songs fit together in one cohesive story, but I stuck to my guns and stayed silent…Nashville and I had been trying damn hard but we hadn’t really seen eye to eye for most of the sixties. I felt like I had shown goodwill and patience. I’d given the Music City establishment a fair chance. After Yesterday’s Wine, I cut other albums for RCA, but the story was always the same. The sales were slow and the producers lukewarm about my output. My career had stalled.” The album was later considered one of the first concept albums in country music. Meanwhile, author Michael Streissguth felt that Yesterday’s Wine “tried to be a concept album, but it lacked a clear thread, despite Willie’s claim to the contrary.”

Nelson moved to Austin, Texas and returned to music in the following year. He formed a new band and performed in local venues, as his act was rejuvenated by the burgeoning hippie scene of the city.

Music critic Robert Christgau gave the album a B+. Christgau observed: “The great Nashville songsmith has never bowled anyone over with his singing, and here he finds the concept to match.” The Reviewer felt that the “religious themes” present in the songs “tends to limit their general relevance.” Nathan Bush described Yesterday’s Wine for The New York Times as “the last and best of [Nelson’s] Nashville albums”, saying that it was “Organized in the manner of an epic poem, each cut a metaphor in the journey through life … it was Nashville’s first fully conceived concept album, and nobody knew what to make of it. It soon disappeared quietly and utterly.” Rolling Stone wrote: “[Yesterdays Wine] is the first of his bold, conceptual departures from country’s hits-plus-filler norm. Rather than tack rock guitar riffs onto modern honky-tonk sagas, Nelson absorbed the innovations of Bob Dylan and the singer-songwriters into his own distinct style. Even if the narrative concepts don’t always hold together, Willie hangs his most ambitious albums on some of his catchiest tunes.”

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The Fort Worth Star-Telegram welcomed it as “the usual heady stuff expected from this unique song stylist.” The Dayton Daily News gave it an A. The reviewer considered it “the most touching piece” that he “came across in many years”. San Antonio Express-News considered that Nelson’s “tearful voice” did #an excellent job in getting the message driven across in a collection of soft ballads”. The review described Nelson’s songwriting as “deft of handling meaningful words” in “Family Bible”, and his “mastery of the lyrics” on “Summer of Roses” and “December Day”. The piece concluded that it represented “a showcase for Nelson’s talents” and that it was “worthy of general listening, and listening again”.

AllMusic gave Yesterday’s Wine five stars out of five. Critic Nathan Bush compared it to Nelson’s subsequent album Red Headed Stranger, suggesting that while the story on Yesterday’s Wine “isn’t as tightly constructed”, it gave the album “a feeling of malleability that adds to its power”. Bush concluded that “Yesterday’s Wine provides further insight into the development of his art during this prolific period.”

In their book, The Listener’s Guide to Country Music, Robert Oermann and Douglas B. Green compared the album with Nelson’s later recordings for Columbia Records: “All of those are beautiful records. They’re all on Columbia and are made just the way Willie wanted them. It was not always so at his previous record label, RCA. Nevertheless, he made a few landmark recordings while he was with that company … Few of the songs on Yesterday’s Wine are well-known Nelson compositions, but all are minor masterpieces”. (wikipedia)


William Paul Ackerman (drums)
Jerry Carrigan (drums)
Roy M. “Junior” Huskey (bass)
Dave Kirby (guitar)
Charlie McCoy (harmonica)
Weldon Myrick (pedal steel.guitar)
Willie Nelson (vocals, guitar)
Hargus “Pig” Robbins (keyboards)
Jerry Dean Smith (piano)
Buddy Spicher (fiddle)
Bobby Thompson (banjo)
Herman Wade, Jr. (guitar)
Chip Young (guitar)
Dave Zettner (guitar)


01. Intro: Willie Nelson and Band / Medley: Where’s The Show; Let Me Be A Man 3.42
02. In God’s Eyes 2.24
03. Family Bible 3.13
04. It’s Not For Me To Understand 3.07
05. Medley: These Are Difficult Times / Remember The Good Times 3.17
06. Summer Of Roses 2.05
07. December Day 2.20
08. Yesterday’s Wine 3.16
09. Me And Paul 3.51
10. Goin’ Home 3.07

All songs written by Willie Nelson
except 03, written by Claude Gray, Paul Buskirk & Walter Breeland



It’s been rough and rocky travelin’
But I’m finally standin’ upright on the ground
After takin’ several readings
I’m surprised to find my mind’s still fairly sound
I guess Nashville was the roughest
But I know I’ve said the same about them all
We received our education
In the cities of the nation, me and Paul

Almost busted in Laredo
But for reasons that I’d rather not disclose
But if you’re stayin’ in a motel there and leave
Just don’t leave nothin’ in your clothes
And at the airport in Milwaukee
They refused to let us board the plane at all
They said we looked suspicious
But I believe they like to pick on me and Paul

On a package show in Buffalo
Wth us and Kitty Wells and Charlie Pride
The show was long and we’re just sittin’ there
And we’d come to play and not just for the ride
Well we drank a lot of whiskey
So I don’t know if we went on that night at all
But I don’t think they even missed us
I guess Buffalo ain’t geared for me and Paul

Well it’s been rough and rocky travelin’
But I’m finally standin’ upright on the ground
And after takin’ several readings
I’m surprised to find my mind’s still fairly sound
I guess Nashville was the roughest
But I know I’ve said the same about them all
We received our education
In the cities of the nation, me and Paul

More from Willie Nelson:

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