One By Willie

By Texas Monthly

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Episodes: 38


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.

Episode Date
S4 E3: Daniel Lanois on "I've Loved You All Over The World"
This week, one of the greatest, most innovative record producers in history, Daniel Lanois—think U2’s The Joshua Tree, Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, Peter Gabriel’s So—talks about the landmark album he made with Willie, 1998’s Teatro. He’ll start with a deep cut, “I’ve Loved You All Over the World,” but then, being Lanois, he’ll start to Cuban dance clubs, Texas honkytonks, and Mexican movie art that exists only in shadows...and to the way U2 tries to summon Willie when they write songs.
Jun 02, 2023
S4 E2: Ray Wylie Hubbard on "Whiskey River"
This week, legendary singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard—one of Willie’s oldest running buddies and a founding father of Americana music—talks about the signature song that opens every Willie show, “Whiskey River.” It might as well be the national anthem of Texas, but for Ray it prompts some highly personal, absolutely hilarious memories of times he’s heard Willie play it, before sending him deep into that time he was kidnapped by Willie’s road crew, the reasons drummer Paul English was NOT a fan of the Eagles...and Willie’s smile.
May 26, 2023
S4 E1: Lukas Nelson on "I Never Cared For You" (special Willie's Bday episode)
This week, we ring in Willie’s monumental 90th birthday with his son, acclaimed singer-songwriter Lukas Nelson, who discusses “I Never Cared for You.” It’s a favorite deep-cut of true Willie lovers, a song he’s recorded repeatedly through the years; the original, 1964 single was the record that first made Leon Russell a Willie fan. But Lukas focuses on the 1998 version off Teatro because he was nine years old and in the studio when it was recorded, a memory that prompts thoughts on Emmylou Harris’s harmonies, cave paintings, and covering Pearl Jam with his dad.
Apr 27, 2023
Live From Luck! Weyes Blood on "September Song"
This week, we wrap up the special Live from Luck! mini-season of OBW with California-based
singer-songwriter Natalie Mering—known to fans by her stage name, Weyes Blood—who will discuss another standard off of Stardust, Kurt Weill's 1938 composition, “September Song.” It’s a classic that Natalie discovered the same way Willie did, through a Frank Sinatra record, and it prompts crystal clear memories of the night she first heard Willie’s version and the way her appreciation of the song changed there and then. From there we get into the unlikely backstory of how Willie recorded it, with digressions on Lindsey Buckingham, Elvis, and Greek yogurt.
Sep 15, 2022
Live From Luck! Steve Gunn on "Hands On The Wheel"
This week, in the third installment of OBW’s special, Live from Luck! mini-season, Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Steve Gunn discusses the penultimate track on Red Headed Stranger, “Hands on the Wheel.” It’s the song with which Willie wraps up the RHS narrative, when his roaming, vengeful preacher finally finds love and a home. And Steve, who first made his name as a virtuoso guitarist, focuses on the way Willie used subtle guitar-picking to bring the story to a ruminative, peaceful end...before getting into where he hears Django Reinhardt’s influence on Willie’s playing and why Trigger sounds like no other guitar in the world.
Sep 01, 2022
Live From Luck! Charley Crockett on "Face Of A Fighter"
This week, in the second installment of OBW’s special, Live from Luck! mini-season, hardcore honky-tonker Charley Crockett talks about Willie’s little-known 1961 recording of “Face of a Fighter.” It’s another old Pamper demo, a barroom weeper Willie never did get around to cutting for a proper album, but one that, in Charley’s opinion, is so strong that if just about any other country artist had come up with it, it’d be the best song they ever wrote. From there he’ll get into the Willie songs he listened to as a homeless busker playing subway platforms in New York City, and the night a Willie song almost—not quite, but almost—kept him from going to jail.
Aug 18, 2022
Live From Luck! Allison Russell on "Stardust"
This week, the podcast kicks off a special, Live from Luck! mini-season of OBW, four interviews conducted this March at Willie’s central Texas ranch with artists performing later that day at his annual Luck Reunion. Up first is three-time Grammy nominee Allison Russell, who discusses Willie’s landmark 1978 recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.” It’s one of the most covered titles in the Great American Songbook, and Allison explains why she thinks Willie’s version is definitive... before explaining how his vocals make her think of Billie Holiday and why she played the Stardust album nonstop for her newborn daughter.
Aug 04, 2022
S3 E10: Buddy Cannon on "Something You Get Through"
This week, Willie’s longtime producer and songwriting partner Buddy Cannon talks about one of the most iconic Willie songs of recent vintage, 2017’s “Something You Get Through.” The song was a cornerstone of Willie’s so-called Mortality Trilogy—a series of albums that found him in Aging Wise Man mode and passing along some hard-learned life lessons. Buddy will describe the poignant moment on Willie’s bus that provided the song’s inspiration and the unique, distinctly 21st Century method they use to write and record together...and then get into his own evolution from hardcore Willie fan in the sixties to invaluable collaborator and friend through the 2000’s.
Jun 22, 2022
S3 E9: Ethan Hawke on "Too Sick To Pray"
This week, four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke—who in addition to being an acclaimed actor, writer, and director happens also to be a hardcore Willie nerd—discusses “Too Sick to Pray,” a meditative hymn from Willie’s beautiful, pin-drop quiet 1996 album, Spirit. Ethan says the song and album were touchstones for him when he first became a father in the late 90s, before going on to describe the way Willie’s music connected him with his own dad as a kid, peppering his memories with digressions on Bob Dylan, Henri Matisse, Johnny Cash, Dead Poets Society...and earlobes. Oh and he also explains why he thinks a Willie Nelson biopic has to be set in the here and now.
Jun 15, 2022
S3 E8: Norah Jones on "Permanently Lonely"
This week, singer-songwriter Norah Jones—a nine-time Grammy-winner and go-to Willie duet partner—talks about “Permanently Lonely.” It’s one of those songs Willie has recorded repeatedly, but she focuses on his early-sixties demo, sitting at her piano to illustrate the jazzy intricacies of the song’s melody, and marveling at what she calls the beautifully harsh poetry in its lyrics. She’ll also describe the way she leaned on Willie’s music when she left Texas for New York City, the first time she ever sang with him, and the truly wonderful way she came to appear on our podcast. And a hint on that last thought: Like most great Willie stories, it’s all about family.
Jun 08, 2022
S3 E7: David Hood on "(How Will I Know) I'm Falling In Love Again"
This week, legendary Muscle Shoals bass player David Hood talks about recording Willie’s classic 1974 album Phases and Stages with his fellow Swampers, focusing on his favorite track on the record, “(How Will I Know) I’m Falling in Love Again.” Phases was, of course, named Willie’s finest album ever by Texas Monthly, and it prompts memories from Hood on the fabled R&B producer who brought the project to Muscle Shoals, Jerry Wexler; the mere two days they took to cut it; and the weird moment when Willie first walked into the studio.
Jun 01, 2022
S3 E6: Nathaniel Rateliff on "A Song For You"
This week, Americana singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff talks about the cut that closes Willie’s 1973 album Shotgun Willie, “A Song for You.” It was arguably Willie’s first iconic cover song, written by one of his closest friends and most important collaborators, Tulsa legend Leon Russell, and it prompts Nathaniel to think aloud about the biker funeral where he first heard it; the crazy, early-70s days when Leon and Willie first hooked up...and the great lesson Nathaniel learned from Willie on creating a space—and a life—that brings friends together to make music.
May 25, 2022
S3 E5: Mickey Raphael on "The Words Don't Fit The Picture"
This week, Willie’s longtime harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, talks about a song Willie cut not long before leaving Nashville for good in 1972, the aptly titled “The Words Don’t Fit the Picture.” Mickey was just a sideman on the Dallas folkie scene when he first heard it, and it’s the song that made him want to play with Willie. He talks about that experience, plus what his fifty-plus years with Willie have been like, from joining the band to shows they played until dawn, mysterious stowaways who spent days on the bus, he and Willie’s onstage telepathy...and how their half-century of friendship changed his life.
May 18, 2022
S3 E4: Jimmy Webb on "Highwayman"
This week, one of America’s greatest living composers, Jimmy Webb, the writer of such classics as “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Galveston,” “Macarthur Park,” and “Wichita Lineman,” talks about another of his iconic songs, “Highwayman.” Willie, of course, recorded it with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson in 1985, and it went on to win that year’s Grammy for best country song, as well as give country’s first supergroup their name. From there, Jimmy touches on reincarnation, the way Glen Campbell got the song to Willie, et al.—with a weird assist from the Knack and “My Sharona”—and a great idea for Willie’s next album.
May 11, 2022
S3 E3: Vince Gill on "Healing Hands Of Time"
This week, Vince Gill—a 21-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, guitarist, and honkytonk historian—talks about “Healing Hands of Time.” It’s a song Willie’s cut several times, but Vince focuses on the version from 1976’s The Sound in Your Mind, before getting into the power of an irresistible first line in a lyric, the seminal role in country music history played by Willie and his old friend Ray Price, and why writing a song that helps people through a hard time—like “Healing Hands” and Vince’s own “Go Rest High on that Mountain”—matters so much more than having a #1 hit.
May 04, 2022
S3 E2: Paula Nelson on "Devil In A Sleepin' Bag" (special Willie's Bday episode)
This week, we ring in Willie’s 89th birthday with his daughter Paula Nelson, who talks about “Devil in a Sleeping Bag,” off of his 1973 album Shotgun Willie. It’s a song Willie wrote about his longtime drummer and best friend, Paul English—who happens to be Paula’s namesake—and it gets her thinking about Paul’s dual role as Willie’s well-armed money-collector, a gunfight her dad was in, and hanging with Michael Jackson at the “We Are the World” recording session—before closing with some sweet memories of her dad’s older sister, pianist Bobbie Nelson.
Apr 27, 2022
S3 E1: Kacey Musgraves on "Are You Sure"
Singer-songwriter-superstar Kacey Musgraves goes deep into Willie’s back catalog to discuss “Are You Sure.” It was one of the first demos he cut when he moved to Nashville—though it’s probably best-known by the duet Kacey and Willie recorded for her Grammy-nominated 2015 album Pageant Material—and it prompts her to talk about what she calls “real-ass country songs,” the lucky joint Willie gave her, and singing “Rainbow Connection” with him at the 2019 CMA awards. Oh and she also does the best Owen Wilson impression you will hear all year.
Apr 20, 2022
Introducing Season 3
Season 3 launches on April 20th with Kacey Musgraves, Vince Gill, Nathaniel Rateliff, Jimmy Webb, and many others.
Apr 15, 2022
New From Texas Monthly: America’s Girls
The original Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders squad burst onto the field back in 1972—the same year Title IX passed, the same year Deep Throat came out, and a year before Roe v. Wade. Sarah Hepola digs into the untold stories behind the global pop culture phenomenon, from the stripper who allegedly inspired the squad’s creation, to a scandalous Playboy cover shoot that was partly a battle over fair wages, to the ongoing debate about sexuality and women’s bodies in a post-#MeToo world. The result is a vibrant mix of history, cultural criticism, and storytelling, featuring interviews with New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino, award-winning novelist Ben Fountain, Oscar-nominated director Dana Adam Shapiro, local television sports legend Dale Hansen, folk-writing hero Joe Nick Patoski, and a whole bunch of cheerleaders whose names you don’t know yet—but should.
Dec 06, 2021
S2 E9: Sheryl Crow on “Crazy” (special Willie’s Bday episode)
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.
Apr 29, 2021
S2 E8: Rodney Crowell on "Bloody Mary Morning"
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.
Apr 13, 2021
S2 E7: Robert Earl Keen on "Mr. Record Man"
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:
Apr 06, 2021
S2 E6: Shakey Graves on "Always On My Mind"
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.
Mar 30, 2021
S2 E5: Rosanne Cash on "Night Life"
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.
Mar 23, 2021
S2 E4: T Bone Burnett on "I Just Can't Let You Say Goodbye"
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.
Mar 09, 2021
S2 E3: Amy Nelson on "Rainbow Connection"
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.
Mar 02, 2021
S2 E2: Don Was on "Across The Borderline"
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.
Feb 23, 2021
S2 E1: Steve Earle on "Local Memory"
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.
Feb 16, 2021
Introducing Season 2
A new lineup of distinguished guests on their favorite Willie songs, from an Outlaw classic to a Kermit the Frog cover.
Feb 02, 2021
S1 E8: Wesley Schultz on "Pretty Paper"
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
Nov 27, 2020
S1 E7: Lee Ann Womack on "Three Days"
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
Nov 20, 2020
S1 E6: Sonny Throckmorton on "What a Way to Live"
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
Nov 13, 2020
S1 E5: Wynonna Judd on "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain"
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
Nov 06, 2020
S1 E4: Jack Ingram on "I'd Have To Be Crazy"
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
Oct 30, 2020
S1 E3: Alejandro Escovedo on "Half A Man"
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:
Oct 23, 2020
S1 E2: Lyle Lovett on "Hello Walls"
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.
Oct 16, 2020
S1 E1: Margo Price on "Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground"
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.
Oct 09, 2020
Sep 25, 2020