Willie Nelson is about to turn 86, on either April 29 or 30, depending. (There’s an audio interview in which he explains the waffling. “I just do both days,” he says.) Meanwhile, in June, he’ll be releasing a new studio album, “Ride Me Back Home” — but just how far along that is into his discography is a matter for much greater confusion.
Wikipedia maintains this will be his 69th solo album. His label, Sony Legacy, claims it is his 74th. His longtime publicist says she has no idea but is sure it must be well into the triple digits. Allstar, which lumps collaborative and live albums in with solo studio efforts, lists 113 for Nelson.
Obviously it depends on which albums you’re including, among other factors. Do you count his duo, trio and quartet efforts? If you mostly don’t, should you still count the records where he’s co-billed with his sister but still does all the singing? How about the “…and Family” records? His infamous tax-debt-benefitting mail-order-only release, “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?” And of course there are the usual side projects that bedevil those trying to tally anyone’s catalog — although this is definitely not just anyone’s catalog — like Christmas albums, soundtracks and compilations.
Wikipedia may seem to be undercounting, but when you take their 69 base count and add 34 collaborative albums, 12 live records, two holiday sets and two major soundtracks (“Honeysuckle Rose” and “The Electric Horseman”), you come up with 119, which is six more than Allmusic’s all-consuming tally.
Should we get started on his singles… which definitely go into three figures, by anyone’s count?
Let’s just say it’s a shipload… although we would love to hear in the comments from anyone who thinks they can come up with a number that is more definitive than the aforementioned experts.
“Ride Me Back Home” is being described in press materials as “the conclusion of a trilogy about mortality” that included 2017’s “God’s Problem Child” and 2018’s “Last Man Standing”… although these were not the first times Nelson addressed the subject and odds are this won’t be the last. Of course, there were albums interrupting the trilogy, like last fall’s “My Way,” a tribute to the songs of Frank Sinatra.
The forthcoming collection includes three new songs Nelson co-wrote with producer Buddy Cannon for this, their 13th album together as well as the singer’s 13th album for Sony Legacy (of that, at least, the label can be sure). The rest of the collection is an eclectic lot, including a cover of Billy Joel’s not-so-mortality-themed “Just the Way You Are,” two Guy Clark songs (“Immigrant Eyes” and “My Favorite Picture of You”), Mac Davis’ “It’s Hard to Be Humble” (with guest appearances by sons Lukas and Micah) … and a cover of sorts of Nelson’s own 1972 oldie “Stay Away from Lonely Places.” (“I’m the biggest Willie Nelson fan there is,” said Cannon, “and I thought I knew every song that he ever did. But I had never heard that song”.)
While Nelson said he celebrates “both days” of his birthday, SiriusXM has scheduled a four-day celebration of his 86th for April 27-30, featuring performance audio from the recent Luck Reunion festival at his Texas ranch.
Fans in the Los Angeles area can turn out to see him when he headlines the third and final night of the BeachLife Festival in Redondo Beach on May 5, with Ziggy Marley, Grace Potter and Blues Traveler as support that day.