September brings, for me, the memory of a September day in 1975. A song I had been listening to on the (AM) radio all summer long was “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” by Willie Nelson. Clearly a country song, it played on our local Top 40 radio station along with Elton John, Chicago, and John Denver. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” spoke to me. It was one of those songs that I couldn’t get enough of and every time I was lucky enough to hear it on the radio, I turned it up and soaked it in. Remember when you couldn’t hear a song on demand at any time?
On this particular September day I waited at the dentist’s office, flipping through a new magazine called Texas Monthly. An article entitled “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Willie” amused me and I was excited to read about Willie Nelson’s album The Red Headed Stranger with the song “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” I read every word and because it was praised so highly, I went straight to Cooper’s Grocery after the dentist visit and bought it.
Back at the house, I was studying the cover of the album with a cartoonish drawing of Willie Nelson. I assumed it was Willie, but couldn’t be sure since I’d never seen a picture of him, I’d never seen him on TV, and, again, pictures weren’t available on demand. I showed the album to my dad and told him, “I’ve got this great new album from this new guy, Willie Nelson.” Daddy scoffed and said, “Willie Nelson? He’s been around forever. He’s older’an me.” No way! Hard to fathom that this new artist I had fallen in love with because of a song could be someone my father had already heard of.
Sure, it turns out Daddy was right. But it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. I wore out the grooves of Red Headed Stranger. I changed my radio station so I could hear more songs from Willie Nelson. And I really hit the jackpot when he performed at the Field House of West Texas State University the next spring and I got to see Willie and the Family live and in person. I had to go to that concert alone because I was an anomaly among my classmates and was the only one that was climbing on board this Willie fan wagon.
It’s been a few years. I’ve bought many more albums and I’ve been to see Willie more times than I can count. I went to see Willie at the new Backyard in Austin this summer on a hot Sunday night. I also was lucky enough to be a young reporter and meet him backstage only a couple of years after I discovered his music. And over the years I have been lucky and blessed to be in the right place, the right job, or married to the right man to get to be backstage with Willie, in a control room with Willie, and sitting across the table at a restaurant with Willie. Each time I think it will be the last, but luck keeps me on a overlapping path with Willie and I am grateful for that.
A couple of years ago I got to thinking about that article that turned me onto The Red Headed Stranger in the first place. I could still remember that great title, so I Googled it and discovered the article online. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see it was written by the great Chet Flippo. While he wrote for Rolling Stone, he brought Willie Nelson to the rock world and insisted they pay attention. I had read lots of things by Chet Flippo through the years and was still reading his work on the CMT website. I went to that website and dashed off a little thank-you note to tell him about how he “led me to Willie” in 1975. A few weeks later, on Christmas Day, I got a short email note back from Chet, thanking me for my letter and pondering where my life might have gone if he had written about Black Sabbath that day instead.
Because of my love for Willie Nelson, I became a radio disc jockey, married a man that could understand how music transforms a person, and finally moved to Willie’s adopted hometown of Austin, Texas, and have made it my adopted hometown, too. This summer, I’ve thought a lot about that September that transformed my life. Chet Flippo passed away at the age of 69 on June 19th and immediately the memories were sparked.
I’m glad I was able to say thank you to Chet Flippo for the article. That article would rank low on an objective list of “The Best of Chet Flippo”, but his powerful words changed me and for that, I continue to thank him.
– Submitted by Janice Williams, Music Design