Mr. Record Man
Willie Nelson is an American legend, and is nearly one of the last of the great country musicians from the 1950s and 60s. He would become a superstar in the 1970s thanks to a slew of hit singles and albums. He’s also written numerous songs that proved quite successful for others; “Crazy” for Patsy Cline, “Hello Walls” for Faron Young, “Pretty Paper” for Roy Orbison are but three that come to mind. Even today, in his eighties, he is a revered elder in the country music pantheon. Mr. Record Man, a compilation of his earliest single sides, compiles his lesser known—but not necessarily lesser—earliest releases.
Yet his success as a singer wasn’t always a given; for his ability to provide hit songs for others, his own solo career began with a series of great frustrations. His 1957 single for Starday was definitely an amateurish effort; A-side “Lumberjack” is bookended by silly sound effects, while B-side “No Place For Me” is an almost passable imitation of a b-list Sun Records artist. After that, his success as a solo act stalled out, and it seemed he would go the way of many a wannabe Nashville songwriter.
He would get better. It was producer Pappy Daily‘s belief in Nelson’s songwriting talent that Nelson that kept him going; Faron Young’s 1961 hit version of Nelson’s of “Hello Walls” would find Nelson’s luck starting to turn–even though that didn’t mean his solo career would take off He would sign with Daily’s D Records, and working with the legendary producer greatly helped Nelson’s craft, he would release two singles, both far removed from the amateurism of “Lumberjack.” Early numbers like “Mr. Record Man” and “The Last Letter” hint at directions later followed; the former, a honky-tonk ballad, the latter, a pop ballad with strings and orchestration. Both are fine songs and the impressive work of a young talent. Mr. Record Man concludes one-two-three combo punch of “Hello Walls,” “Crazy,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Though they’d been recorded earlier—and better—by other artists, Nelson’s versions are lovely enough, and show that he was on the way to earning his reputation as a master songwriter.
Also offered here are two singles of note. One single, credited to Paul Buskirk & His Little Men, features “Hugh Nelson” on vocals. Buskirk was a guitarist friend, and the two songs they recorded, “Night Life” and “Rainy Day Blues” had been rejected by Pappy Daily for being too bluesy. The second single, “Chain Of Love” and “Willingly,” was a duet with Shirley Collie; pairing his gruff voice with a tender one created a nice contrast and would set the stage for a career teeming with excellent duets with other voices.
It would take time for Willie Nelson to become Willie Nelson, and the early recordings found on Mr. Record Man definitely highlight how a very talented man went from average to exceptional over the course of a few short years. Perhaps the music found here might be of interest to more hardcore Nelson fans, but that doesn’t distract from the charm and the quality of the music.
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