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AmericanalandWhere Country & Western Met Rock 'n' Roll$
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John Milward

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780252043918

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: January 2022

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252043918.001.0001

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The Red-Headed Icon

The Red-Headed Icon

(p.168) 12 The Red-Headed Icon

John Milward

University of Illinois Press

This chapter discusses how the inspiration for Willie Nelson's career reinvention came from a song he had sung as a Fort Worth deejay in the 1950s and to his kids at bedtime, “Tale of the Red Headed Stranger.” Nelson fleshed out the story of the enigmatic cowboy and his black steed with original songs (“Time of the Preacher”) and covers of Eddy Arnold's “I Couldn't Believe It Was True” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Red Headed Stranger (1975) became both a cultural signifier and a commercial smash, with “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” Nelson's first number-1 country hit. The country music maverick had hit the big time with an Americana concept album that felt familiar to anyone who had grown up watching cowboys at the movies and on television. It was the mainstream success of Red Headed Stranger that ensured a long and profitable run on the concert circuit; along the way, Nelson would release a steady stream of albums that ranged from the artistically inspired to the amiably workmanlike.

Keywords:   Willie Nelson, cowboy, Red Headed Stranger, country music, Americana

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