Producer Bruce Robison honors his hero with a live album recorded in Luck, Texas.
Just in time for Willie Nelson’s 90th birthday, we have One Night in Texas: The Next Waltz’s Tribute To The Red Headed Stranger, a star-studded album recorded live at Shotgun Willie’s ranch in Luck, Texas on May 1, 2022.
Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Margo Price, Shinyribs and Sheryl Crow are among the artists who were recorded as they performed some of Nelson’s greatest songs by singer-songwriter Bruce Robison, founder of the Texas-based all-analog label The Next Waltz.
“To put together a night of Willie Nelson music is a bit of a dream for me,” Robison posted on Instagram. “His songs and the vibe of The Family band was so formative that it is hard to measure. The music has always been a part of my life – a North Star. When we got together a bunch of friends for the band, playing this music, after these couple years [of the COVD-19 lockdown] – honestly, it felt like it was about more than just Willie.
“Then, the crazy group of guests signed on for the show, and then [Nelson’s older sister Bobbie] passed, and then Willie decided he would come play a set after us. The night just felt like some kind of celebration of life. When it was coming together I knew I had to try to record it.
“When I heard what was on tape, it sounded like magic to me. It sounded like 1973. It is definitely the sound of people having fun. This was a great night in Texas. The band was a runaway train and the singers were insane. Thanks to everybody who lent their talents to this.”
Among the stars who shine on One Night in Texas:
We caught up with Bruce Robison a few days ago to talk about One Night in Texas: The Next Waltz’s Tribute To The Red Headed Stranger. Here are some highlights from our conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Cowboys & Indians: Now as we understand it, this started out as a celebratory concert before there was any thought of recording it for an album.
Bruce Robison: That is true. The quick version of it, the people at the venue, which Willie owns, they just wanted to have a birthday party, which they thought was his 90th. And so they just reached out to me to be the band leader. And so in short order, we found out that it was actually his 89th, but they decided to go ahead and do it anyway.
And then they signed on all these crazy big artists. And then after his sister Bobby died, Willie decided to come play. And then it steamrolled so much that I felt like we needed to just try and capture it. So that it was just kind of on a lark that we recorded it. That night was just so magical. And when we listened back to it, it was just so much fun.
C&I: How difficult was it for you to get all of these stars to sign off on being included in the album?
Robison: It was tough — but it wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be. I thought it would be impossible, and we would try and just get a few of the people, but everyone agreed. [Laughs] We lied a little bit. We told people that other people had agreed, technically. And so we just said, “Hey, everybody’s in. Do you want to be in, too?” And then they all just went along.
C&I: Sounds like you’re a bit of a hustler, sir.
Robison: [Laughs] It started as this little bitty thing, and then it just got bigger and bigger and bigger. And it was really very organic, the way that it all happened. I don’t think it would’ve happened at all if anybody would’ve known what it was going to grow into. Somebody would’ve taken control of it out of our hands.
C&I: This sounds a little like the story director Robert Altman often told about making M*A*S*H off on a ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, where he knew the 20th Century Fox brass wouldn’t bother him because they were focused on two big-budget war movies — Patton and Tora! Tora! Tora! — filming elsewhere at the time.
Robison: Wow, that’s amazing. And it really is fun to be in the entertainment business when you’re able to do those things. Like, you’re just kind of saying, “We're going to do this thing,” but then you’re looking around saying, “Is anybody going to catch us?” Or, “Is anybody going to say no?” Or some email would come in from management saying, “Man, our legal department just figured out what the hell you're trying to do, cease and desist.” But that never happened. And what we were able accomplish — I’m very proud of. It’s a tribute, and I think it comes through on the album how we felt on that day. I’m very proud of that.