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One By Willie

Author: Texas Monthly

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In “One by Willie,” Texas Monthly’s John Spong hosts intimate conversations with a range of prominent guests about the Willie Nelson songs that mean the most to them. But this series isn’t just about the songs. It’s about what music really means to us—the ways it can change us, take care of us, and connect us all. Songs featured in the episodes can be found on Apple Music. Listen here.
19 Episodes
This week, we celebrate Willie’s 88th birthday with singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow, who discusses what may be the single best-known song that Willie ever wrote, “Crazy.” She’ll walk us through what it means to compose a pop standard, explaining the differences she hears in Patsy Cline’s original, 1961 version and the one that Willie still does nightly, but she’ll also describe what it does to her heart when she hears her 10-year-old son singing “Crazy” in the kitchen. And then she’ll get into her long friendship with Willie…and that time he tried to pass a backstage joint to her dad.
Even though singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell had already been a diehard Willie fan for 10 years when Phases and Stages came out in 1974, he says he was positively gobsmacked by the album’s lead single, “Bloody Mary Morning.” On this episode he dives deep into all that, then goes on to describe his first recording session with Willie a few years later...including the red Camaro he saw doing donuts outside the studio when he got there. And you will not guess who was driving.
Singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen first heard “Mr. Record Man” as a pre-teen Houston kid who’d just raided his older brother’s record collection. It’s another deep cut off Willie’s 1962 debut album, and it makes Keen think of a dance floor mishap at his first Willie show, the time his car caught fire in the parking lot at Willie’s 4th of July Picnic, and that uncanny Everyman quality that is such a big part of Willie’s appeal. Songs from this and other episodes from One By Willie are featured on our Apple Music playlist:
Singer-songwriter Shakey Graves—who answers to Alejandro Rose-Garcia when he’s not onstage—discusses Willie’s biggest pop hit singing solo, “Always on My Mind.” It had been one of Elvis Presley’s signature songs of the '70s before Willie covered it in 1982, and Alejandro explains how Willie managed to pull off the impossible: stealing a song from Elvis. Then he describes the undying appeal of a good power ballad and that surreal time he signed Willie’s guitar.
Acclaimed singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, a four-time Grammy winner and certified roots music royalty, examines “Night Life,” one of Willie’s first compositions to earn its way into the American musical canon. It’s a song that makes her nostalgic for the clean-cut, smooth-crooning Willie of the early ‘60s, but also brings up the effect of a Depression-era upbringing on artists like Willie and her dad, Johnny Cash. Oh, and she also breaks out her cell phone to play one of her favorite covers of “Night Life”—by none other than Aretha Franklin.
Acclaimed producer T Bone Burnett (Counting Crows’ August And Everything After; the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack; dozens of others) discusses one of the darkest songs Willie ever wrote: the early-60s murder ballad “I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye.” The song debuted on Willie’s 1966 album Live at Panther Hall in Fort Worth, Texas, and T Bone talks about being in the audience that night—because of course he was; he’s T Bone Burnett—along with what it was like to produce Willie himself (2010’s Country Music), and why he calls Willie a holy man.
Willie’s daughter Amy Nelson was just five years old when she first heard Kermit the Frog sing “Rainbow Connection” in The Muppet Movie, and she spent the next twenty years trying to talk her dad into recording it. In 2001, he finally did, with Amy—an accomplished musician in her own right—co-producing. She describes the way that session grew into a magical, extended-family affair mixing songs Willie once sang to his kids with a few of his more grown-up favorites, resulting in Rainbow Connection, a 2002 Grammy nominee for country album of the year.
Don Was, the legendary producer who recorded Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and the B-52s’ “Love Shack,” and has worked with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan, calls Willie’s recording of “Across the Borderline” his favorite track he ever worked on. It was the title cut to the 1993 album that breathed new life into Willie’s career, and it prompts Don to discuss the fragile magic of a perfect first take, what it’s like to go out to eat with Willie and Ringo Starr, and the unusual sleeping arrangements Willie often makes when he’s out on the road.
Singer-songwriter Steve Earle was a longhaired, seventeen-year-old San Antonio kid when he first heard “Local Memory,” a deep cut off 1973’s Shotgun Willie. He calls it the song that first taught him that a country lyric could read like literature. Steve goes on to describe the very real tension that still existed between hippies and rednecks when Willie played outside Austin in the early 70’s, and Willie's wonderfully off-color nickname for him.
Introducing Season 2

Introducing Season 2


A new lineup of distinguished guests on their favorite Willie songs, from an Outlaw classic to a Kermit the Frog cover.
Lumineers lead singer and co-songwriter Wesley Schultz first heard “Pretty Paper” when his parents played Willie’s classic, 1978 holiday album of the same name while driving around their New Jersey neighborhood looking at Christmas lights. The song is a Yuletide standard—so much so that a lot of listeners don’t even know Willie wrote it—and it prompts Wes to think aloud about the power of lonesome songs during the holiday season, give an unexpected, apples-to-apples comparison between Willie and Bruce Springsteen, and explain how absolutely rare it is to find a Christmas song you can listen to all year long. Songs featured in this and every episode of One By Willie can be found on our Apple Music playlist
Country music star Lee Ann Womack has been singing along to “Three Days” since she was a little girl raiding the record collection of her dad, who disc jockeyed at a small country radio station in East Texas. It’s a deep cut off Willie’s 1962 debut album, and it prompts thoughts from Lee Ann on the unexpected places where songwriters find the lines to write old-school country songs, the difference between Texas country music and the rest of it, and the lessons that she and her two daughters—who are also both singer-songwriters—learned from going on tour with Willie. Songs from this and all episodes of One By Willie can be found on our Apple Music playlist at
Sonny Throckmorton is one of the greatest country songwriters who ever lived. He's the man who wrote “If We’re Not Back in Love By Monday” for Merle Haggard, “Why Not Me” for the Judds, and “The Cowboy Rides Away” for George Strait, among hundreds of others. On this episode, Sonny discusses a little-known, early Willie composition, “What a Way to Live”; the famous picking parties Willie used to host with legendary UT football coach Darrell Royal; the song Willie stole from Elvis Presley; and why it’s best not to play poker with Willie, no matter how nicely he asks you to. Music featured in this and every episode of One by Willie is available on our Apple Music playlist
Country music legend Wynonna Judd first heard “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” as a young girl splitting her time between her mom’s house in Los Angeles and her grandparents' home in rural Kentucky. It was Willie’s first #1 single and the song that finally made him a star, and on this episode of One By Willie, she talks about hearing it on the radio when she was first discovering music, about hanging out backstage with Willie at the CMA awards once the Judds—Wynonna and her mother, Naomi—became stars themselves, and about how kind Willie was when Wynonna introduced him to her grandmother. Music featured in this and all episodes can be found on our Apple Music playlist at
The first song that country star Jack Ingram ever taught himself to play on guitar was Willie’s #11 country hit from 1976, “I’d Have to Be Crazy.” On this episode, Jack talks about how learning it clued him into the complex simplicity of the best country songs, from which point he goes into the fundamental question—“To smoke, or not to smoke?”—that anyone has to ask themself the first time they get to meet Willie Nelson, and his song selection that time he played an informal, private set for former president George H.W. Bush. Songs featured in episodes of One By Willie are available on our Apple Music playlist
Alejandro Escovedo is almost surely the only artist who has shared bills with both Willie Nelson and the Sex Pistols. On this episode, the singer-songwriter—who was a major figure in the West Coast punk scene of the seventies and rode herd over the Americana movement in the nineties—talks about Willie’s 1963 single “Half a Man.” It’s a song that peaked at number 25 on the country charts back then, and it makes Alejandro think of his father, ghost stories, old pot dealers, and the left-field cowpunk music video that first put him on Willie’s radar. Songs from this and other episodes from One By Willie are featured on Apple Music:
Lyle Lovett first heard “Hello Walls” as a kid growing up in tiny Klein, Texas. On this episode, the four-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter talks about that song, which was Willie’s first No. 1 country song as a songwriter. Lovett also reflects on the solitary nature of songwriting, the kiss of gratitude that Willie planted on Faron Young (the singer who spent nine weeks at No. 1 with “Hello Walls” back in 1961), and the time Lovett got to record a different Willie song with the great Al Green.
The Grammy-nominated Americana singer-songwriter takes a look at Willie's #1 country hit from 1980, "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground," a topic that prompts her to do some deep thinking on the difference between writing a sad song and feeling the need to just sit and listen to one. From there, she goes on to describe what it was like to record a duet with Willie on one of her own sad songs, “Learning to Lose"—and then offers up one of Willie’s favorite dirty jokes.



Comments (3)

Constantine vonHoffman

This is a such a great podcast! Perfect host, great guests and... WILLIE,

Apr 6th


Such a GREAT idea: “One by Willie”! And BECITR! This song was so important to me when it came out. It changed my perceptions about what music can do at its simplest: three chords, minimal production, shadowy vocal harmony, organic wooden guitar sound, no-chops-showing-off guitar solo. It was the door into country music for me.

Mar 30th

Robb Clanton

I am really enjoying this podcast

Nov 6th
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