And Then I Wrote
His first album, recorded for Liberty Records, 1961-1962, in Nashville and Los Angeles, showcases Willie as a distinctively hip, almost fully formed vocalist who happens to be covering his own songs.
Live Country Music Concert
Released by RCA in 1965, this captures Willie live at Panther Hall in Fort Worth, his home away from home during his Nashville years, backed by Johnny Bush and Wade Ray, covering the Beatles' "Yesterday" and his own "I Just Can't Let You Say Goodbye," a deliciously twisted telling of a murderous crime of passion committed by a scorned lover.
Cut for RCA in 1971, Yesterday's Wine may have been a commercial flop, but it was eons ahead of its time – a cosmic concept album about life, death, and eternity.
Red Headed Stranger
His first album for Columbia, issued in 1975, was a wholly original Gothic Old West saga built on ballads that were performed simple, spare, and stark. In the role of producer as well as performer and songwriter for the first time, RHS is Willie's "My Way."
Memphis producer/performer/soul-definer Booker T. Jones and Willie H. Nelson met on a beach in Malibu in 1978 and discovered their shared appreciation for hits from the Great American Songbook that they both grew up with in Texas and Tennessee. The result transcends country and soul music and elevates Willie to American icon status.
Pancho & Lefty
With Merle Haggard, issued in 1985 by Columbia, P&L stands out among the slew of collaborative adventures Willie embarked upon once Pedernales Studio was up and running adjacent to the Cut N' Putt golf course. Ray Charles, Julio Iglesias, Faron, Lefty, Leon, Ray, Bush, Dolly – whom didn't he record with other than Streisand? – were all memorable efforts. He and Merle doing Townes Van Zandt was simply the best.
The album Willie did in 1995 for Island prompted Willie to retool his live sound to where the audience appreciates the subtler dynamics, such as Willie's guitar picking, which is more out-front than ever before.