It's Been Rough and Rocky Travelin'

It's Been Rough and Rocky Travelin'

by Willie Nelson


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It's little wonder that Bear Family's collection of Willie Nelson's earliest recordings is titled It's Been Rough and Rocky Travelin': not only is it a lyrical lift from "Me and Paul" that fits neatly with their previous set, Nashville Was the Roughest -- an eight-disc box of his '60s RCA recordings -- but Willie's initial path was indeed bumpy, as he skipped through several labels before gaining success as a songwriter, and then spent a long stint at Liberty, where they were never quite sure what to do with him. All of this is documented on Bear Family's three-disc set, which begins in 1954 when Willie cut an audition record for the Texas label Sarg, then running through all of his local independent labels -- including songs he released on his own in 1957, songs that he cut while working as a DJ -- then gathering all of his sides for Pappy Daily's legendary Lone Star independent "D" before concluding with his complete recordings for the California pop label Liberty. If ever recordings could be called formative, it's these sessions. Almost every element of Nelson's music can be heard here, drawing equally from Western swing and honky tonk, all spun sideways by Willie's relaxed, jazzy delivery. There is ample evidence of his sly, skillful interpretive skills and plenty of his classic songs, including "Nite Life," "Crazy," "Funny How Time Slips Away," and "Hello Walls," the latter trio all recorded at the same September 1961 session for Liberty, which arrive just about halfway through this set, where they provide the crest of the wave that begins with the spare, dusty demos that start the first disc. There is a natural progression toward this idiosyncratic sound and the halting, sometimes awkward, early indie and demo recordings on disc one point toward it, and those initial Liberty recordings -- which commence with disc two -- are varied, even rich, with Willie already blending hardcore country with sophisticated Sinatra-esque phrasing. Once the hits started to come -- more for other artists than him -- things started going awry at Liberty, with the label never quite figuring out how to get him a bigger hit. They tried a bit of everything, having him sing duets with Shirley Collie, cut a little straight Texas country and Western swing, but generally directed him toward string-saturated pop arrangements where the orchestrations and backing vocals gradually get heavier. These wind up obscuring some otherwise very good songs -- written by Nelson, Hank Williams, Boudleaux Bryant, Floyd Tillman, and Fred Carter -- and straighten out Willie's phrasing, turning it into pleasantly bland countrypolitan. Bland has never been what Willie has done best and so hearing him in this silken straitjacket is odd, as he never sounded this constricted, not even when he was battling Chet Atkins at RCA. There are some period pleasures to be found in these plush strings, but it's the rare moments when Willie comes close to shaking off that straitjacket that provide compelling listening. Nevertheless, the whole package is interesting listening, a rough and rocky but sometimes rewarding first act to one of the greatest stories in 20th century American music.

Product Details

Release Date: 09/02/2003
Label: Bear Family
UPC: 4000127166647
catalogNumber: 16664
Rank: 89154

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Willie Nelson   Primary Artist,Guitar,Vocals
Glen Campbell   Guitar
John Gray   Guitar
Tommy Allsup   Guitar,Leader
Anita Kerr   Vocals
Jimmy Day   Steel Guitar
Grady Martin   Guitar
Billy Strange   Guitar,Leader
Johnny Western   Guitar
Israel Baker   Violin
Robert Barene   Violin
Harold Bradley   Guitar,Leader
Clyde Brewer   Fiddle
Bobby Bruce   Violin
Paul Buskirk   Guitar
Red Callender   Bass
Ray Edenton   Guitar
Buddy Harman   Drums
Roy Harte   Drums
Walter Haynes   Steel Guitar
Harry Hyams   Viola
Rufus Long   Flute
Leonard Malarsky   Violin
Wayne Moss   Guitar
Alexander Neiman   Viola
Roy Nichols   Guitar
Louis Dean Nunley   Vocals
Earl Palmer   Drums
Jim Pierce   Piano
Ray Pohlman   Bass
Jerome Reisler   Violin
Herb Remington   Steel Guitar
Hargus "Pig" Robbins   Piano
Ralph Schaeffer   Violin
Darrel Terwilliger   Violin
Joe Zinkan   Bass
Dorothy Ann Dillard   Vocals
Belnick   Violin
Gene Garf   Piano,Leader
Joseph R. Gibbons   Guitar
William Whitney Pursell   Piano
B.J. Baker   Vocals
Bob Moore   Bass,Leader
Karl Garvin   Trumpet
Dean Reynolds   Bass
Red Wootten   Bass
Fred Carter   Guitar
Shirley Collie   Vocals
Kelton Herston   Guitar
Thomas Lee Jackson   Fiddle
Sidney Sharp   Violin
Jerry Glenn Kennedy   Guitar,Leader
William Guilford Wright   Vocals
Douglas G. Kirkman   Drums
Ernie Freeman Combo   Conductor,Leader
John Peter DeVoogt   Violin
Lonnie Campbell   Drums
Hagy   Drums
Ozzie Middleton   Steel Guitar
Cameron Lavelle Mullins   Trumpet
Bobby Penton   Steel Guitar
William K. "Bill" Pitman   Guitar
David Raley   Fiddle
Reil Sisters   Background Vocals
Dick Shannon   Saxophone,Vibes
Johnny "Smitty" Smith   Bass
Bob Whitford   Piano

Technical Credits

Mark Collie   Composer
Jimmie Davis   Composer
George Jones   Composer
Willie Nelson   Composer,Producer
Hank Thompson   Composer
Floyd Tillman   Composer
Faron Young   Composer
David Sanborn   Composer
Irving Mills   Composer
Tommy Allsup   Producer
Roger Miller   Composer
Justin Tubb   Composer
Johnny Bush   Illustrations
Jimmy Day   Composer
Leon Payne   Composer
Joe Allison   Producer
Benny Carter   Composer
Walt Breeland   Composer
Boudleaux Bryant   Composer
Paul Buskirk   Composer
Sammy Cahn   Composer
Hank Cochran   Composer
John Franklin   Illustrations
Haven Gillespie   Composer
Marcus Miller   Composer
Fred Rose   Composer
Richard M. Sherman   Composer
Robert B. Sherman   Composer
Jule Styne   Composer
Scott Turner   Producer
Pete Wade   Illustrations
Hank Williams   Composer
Tibor Zelig   Contributor
Rich Kienzle   Liner Notes
Helen Carter   Composer
Paul Biese   Composer
Fred Carter   Composer
Shirley Collie   Composer
Danny Dill   Composer
Rex Griffin   Composer
Arthur Sizemore   Composer
Leverett   Illustrations
R.A. Andreas   Illustrations
Richard Weize   Reissue Producer,Tape Research
Jurgen Koop   Illustrations
Holger Von Bargen   Art Direction
Harry Akst   Composer
Grant Clarke   Composer
Darrell Edwards   Composer
Rusty Adams   Composer
Eva Sargent   Composer
Wolfgang Taubenauer   Artwork
Donald D. Davis   Composer
Ernie Freeman Combo   Arranger
Erich Hülsenbeck   Photo Restoration
Hank Craig   Composer,Producer
Charlie Fitch   Producer
Andreas Merck   Contributor
Harry Pease   Composer
Shirley Nelson   Composer

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