Willie, Wills and Will: Austinite gives Nelson's songs a Western swing makeover
Will Taylor and Strings Attached's new "House of Wills" deftly unites two country music legends by refashioning Willie Nelson classics with Bob Wills' Western swing flair. Taylor recently faced a genre-worthy predicament when called to play with Nelson on Sunday at the new ACL Live at the Moody Theater.
"I already had two shows (booked to support) this release that day," the Austinite says. "Ironically, I had to turn down the Willie Nelson (show) because I was doing my own Willie tribute." Taylor and Strings Attached launch the album Friday at Mercury Hall.
American-Statesman: What drew you to this music?
Will Taylor: When I discovered Bob Wills in the early '90s, that was my first foray into fiddle music. He was a fiddle player, but he was really into jazz and improvisation. He let his musicians be as creative and outgoing as they wanted to be. That's how I wanted the band to do it. I gave (the band) a lot of creative freedom to improvise and add flavor to the music. A lot of times they say jazz is the classical music of America. Western swing is the classical music of Texas.
What was most challenging about choosing from Willie's catalog?
Well, the sheer number of great, well-crafted songs and narrowing down to an evening's worth that people would know. At the same time, (the songs) would (have to) be flexible enough to be re-created into this new setting. Obviously, Willie is a fan of Bob Wills and jazz and his own guitar playing is patterned after Django Reinhardt.
Why did you do ‘Crazy' as an instrumental?
"Crazy" has been done plenty of times vocally and so well by Patsy Cline and Willie and others. I thought this would be great as an instrumental, and it would pay tribute to how powerful (Nelson's) melody writing is by arranging (it in) a big band, Count Basie, Stephane Grappelli style. We decided to throw people a bit and (take listeners) out of the context. I took a lot of freedom with that melody and created some variations, but you can hopefully hear the song in there.
What did you learn about Willie as a songwriter through this process?
As a songwriter, another great thing about Willie's music is that his melodies have a contour of their own that allows them to exist without the lyrics. His melodies don't just stay in one flat range. They leap around and dip, which is a lot more interesting than a lot of music we hear today.
You recorded mostly live. Why?
There's something about having all of the same musicians in the same room, breathing the same air, feeling the same energy that raises the excitement of the music. The interaction between the music takes on a whole new level. You're thinking, "Okay, we've gotta get it." A lot of times I miss the street feel of a live performance. With the Beatles, nobody says, "They should've edited that."
How do you personally relate to Western swing?
The Western swingers I've seen in videos are such gentle people. They all treat each other like family. Especially with Johnny Gimble and Ray Benson and all those cats, they're friends for life. It's not all about making a living and trying to make as much money in music. It's about the family element. They enjoy being around each other.
Will Taylor and Strings Attached