Today the honorable Texas Yoda turns 87. This is no small feat for anyone let alone a musician that has spent most of his working life on the road. In fact, he’s so indelibly tied to life on the road that one of his best known and most popular songs tells the tales of those asphalt escapades.
When the unthinkable (by most of us) happened and COVID-19 resulted in a nationwide lockdown impacting small businesses, in general, and specifically, the music industry – musicians, venues, and associated staff, for the first time in recent memory (not involving illness) Willie was off the road.
This worried me. COVID-19 has been documented a higher mortality rate in older folks, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Add to that being denied the opportunity to indulge in a profession you love (touring), and the passing of John Prine (and diagnosis of many others) and my worried mind goes to Willie.
Seeing Willie and his son Lukas MCing the recent 4/20 showcase brought me a lot of relief. Aside from some of the usual characteristics you’d expect of a Willie 87 year-old man he appeared happy and engaged as the artists lined up to sing his praises as well as some of their very fine tunes.
One of those artists was Nathaniel Ratelif who did a wonderful solo acoustic version of a new song created just for the occasion “Willie’s Birthday Song.”
Now the cut has been formally released and it sounds even better. Done in a time signature that will be familiar to any Willie fan. The video was shot in isolation, the video features performances and as it moves along stars move in and out o feature impressive array support from of long-time of Willie’s family sister Bobbie Nelson on piano, and famed harmonica player Mickey Raphael to some of the next generation Lukas and Micah Nelson, Matthew Logan Vasquez, Nikki Lane, and Courtney Marie Andrews
Rateliff finished the song on March 12th when he arrived home in Denver after postponing the And It’s Still Alright tour. Following social distancing guidelines, Rateliff assembled a talented group of family and friends for the song who filmed their performances for the Rett Rogers.
The song was clearly one done out of love and appreciation from all those involved. It ends joyously with a snippet of Willie being served a chocolate birthday cake and grinning from ear-to-ear.
“Willie’s Birthday Song” will appear on the B-side of a limited edition 7” that will be released this summer exclusively at online merch shop. The A-side will be a duet by Rateliff and Willie, which will at that time be available digitally. Proceeds will support Farm Aid, whose mission is to keep family farmers on their land, and StrongHearts Native Helpline, which confronts issues of domestic violence in the Native American community.
Go bless Willie Nelson and Happy birthday!