The Willie Way
Willie Nelson continually astonishes the music industry in the most unpredictable ways. His landmark conceptual album, Red Headed Stranger, legitimized country music into the mainstream like no other album. He surprised everyone but himself with Stardust, the multi-platinum collection of Tin-Pan Alley standards. Always On My Mind proved Willie could not be forgotten. The quadruple platinum album won three Grammies, two Academy of Country Music trophies and four Country Music Association awards. Willie’s recent release, Band of Brothers, opened to favorable reviews, while topping Billboard’s Top Country Albums and reaching number five on the Billboard 200.
Invariably expanding his musical boundaries, Willie endears an ever growing audience, capturing our hearts and souls today with his re-release of PEACE IN THE VALLEY, an inspiring album stemming from his gospel roots.
Willie’s Deep Gospel Roots
Willie’s roots in gospel music go back to his childhood. In fact, his first public performance was delivering a short poem at a Methodist gospel picnic at age four in his home town of Abbott, Texas.
“I don’t ever remember not playing and singing gospel music,” Willie recalls. “My grandparents were music teachers and they were gospel singers. The first music that I heard was gospel music, so it’s not that unusual that I would be so much into it.”
Born in Abbott, Texas, in 1933, Willie was raised in a rich musical setting. Besides learning gospel music from his grandparents, he learned blues from local black farm workers, and pop, country, and jazz on the radio.
It was while working at a radio station in Vancouver, Washington, in 1957,that Willie met Mae Axton, who had written Elvis Presley’s 1956 smash hit Heartbreak Hotel. After interviewing Axton, he mentioned he was a songwriter and could he play her a song he’d written? Axton agreed, and Willie played Family Bible. “My chin hit the proverbial floor. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing out of this young kid,” Axton says, and recalls telling the young Willie, “If I could write half as well as you, I’d be the happiest woman in the world.”
Axton told Willie “You quit this job and you go to Texas – because back then it was real hot down there – and you go to Tennessee where people can hear your songs.” Not long after that Willie was in Nashville writing and/or pitching his future country classics like Nite Life, Crazy and Hello Walls. All triggered, by Willie’s song, Family Bible.
Original PEACE IN THE VALLEY
The PEACE IN THE VALLEY album got its start in 1987, as a Billy Nelson project. Billy loved gospel music and wanted to be a gospel singer. He wasn’t aspiring to be a superstar. He just wanted to do his music.
At a gospel music concert that year in Dayton, Ohio, Billy joined his dad on stage for a couple of songs, including Family Bible.
From there, the gospel album evolved slowly. Billy recorded two songs, Family Bible and In God’s Eyes, and Willie became more involved with the project, eventually recording enough songs for three albums.
“I was doing an album with Billy, my son, in Nashville. We didn’t know how it was going to turn out and really what we were going to do with it when we got through, but the guys sounded so great,” he says, of the musicians and singers whose voices are an integral part of the album’s full gospel sound – especially on the a Capella tracks like “Dreaming of A Little Cabin,” “A Beautiful Life,” and the Hank Williams classic “I Saw The Light.”
“I hadn’t heard a group of singers that close to traditional gospel harmony in so many years that I was very impressed and still am very impressed with those guys,” Willie says. “It just turned out so well.”
“Any good song to me is a gospel. ‘Stardust is a gospel tune as far as I’m concerned, and so is Amazing Grace,” he says, “The melody and the words are there and they reach across all the boundaries.”
It was during this time that Mae Axton encountered another Willie Nelson, Willie Nelson, Jr. (Billy). Billy had heard a song she wrote entitled My Body’s Just a Suitcase for My Soul, and fell in love with it. Axton wrote the song after an emotional visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. “I just picked up a pad and started writing. It was almost as quick as Heartbreak Hotel. I just wrote my thoughts.” The song is written from the perspective of a surviving Vietnam veteran. “I didn’t want him to be dead. I wanted someone to live and to cope, and to say something about this.”
Although her initial desire was for Willie to sing the song , Axton was thrilled to hear Billy’s voice bring her words to life. She was in the studio when Billy recorded it, and got emotional when talking about the first video of the song, “Seeing Billy and how beautiful he did it, half talking and half singing, and the scenes that were put with it. It was the vision I had when I wrote it.”
The original music video for My Body’s Just a Suitcase for My Soul is being reedited and updated for a May 2015 release. It features concert footage of Willie and Billy performing together, as well as video shot in the studio of Billy recording the song. The performance and recording video footage is edited with Vietnam War archival footage and other scenes filmed to meaningfully express the song’s deep message.
By 1991, the Family Bible Project (as it was then being called) had grown into a mix of gospel standards and newer songs written by Willie and others – enough songs for nearly three albums. Tragically, Billy died on Christmas Eve 1991.
Seeing the Light
PEACE IN THE VALLEY might have seen the light of day earlier, had the Internal Revenue Service not confiscated most of Willie’s earthly possessions back in 1991 during Willie’s well-known tax troubles.
By the fall of 1992, however, Willie was making amends with the IRS, and they began returning his possessions, among them the Family Bible Project tapes.
In 1993, at Willie’s request, producers Robert MacDonald, Jr. and Grant Boatwright met with Willie in Texas to discuss the potential future of the project. After several more meetings and kicking around various ideas, Promised Land Music was established in Nashville as the label for the album. MacDonald and Boatwright selected 10 songs and began mixing and then mastering the album.
The album was release in 1994 receiving much praise and positive reviews. It also was awarded Gospel Album of The Year by the ICMGA.
PEACE IN THE VALLEY Reborn (re-release)
While many Willie Nelson recordings have been re-released throughout the years and many have been the subject of new compilations, the PEACE IN THE VALLEY album is quite special.
“I was never totally satisfied with the first album. I feel I learned a lot in 20 years and I am very proud of the re-release.” Robert MacDonald, Jr. (Producer)
Much work and preparation went into the re-release, as the original 24 track studio tapes had to be salvaged. To do this, the original tapes were baked in a special oven, then all of the tracks from the tapes were transferred to a high quality state of the art digital format.
“Back then as a small independent label we had a tight budget, but now by having our own studio, I was able to literally spend several months going through all the takes, adding parts, and mixing the album the best I could.” explains, Robert MacDonald, Jr. (Producer).
The new version of the album also brings in some additional vocals as well as additional instrumentation. The album then underwent remixing and the use of new state of the art mastering techniques. The re-released album also features new sequencing, giving a whole new feeling to this previously released masterpiece.
Along with the re-release of PEACE IN THE VALLEY, there are also several videos in production including a video of Billy’s solo song, My Body’s Just A Suitcase For My Soul with Willie singing background vocals.
Billy always proudly referred to the album as “a Heaven of an album…”
Willie Nelson Peace In The Valley CD
The CD includes a jewel case and artistically illustrated full color CD booklet of Willie and Willie Nelson, Jr (Billy).
$11.88 Add to Cart
The digital download includes high quality MP3 songs, plus a complete digital version of the colorful CD Booklet. It is available instantly!
$9.88 Add to Cart