Willie Nelson was struggling in Nashville when, in the early sixties, Harlan Howard, a hotshot songwriter at the time, took a shine to him and convinced Pamper Music, where Howard worked, to hire the fresh-faced Texan as a songwriter. Six decades later, Willie, with the help of longtime producer Buddy Cannon, pays tribute to Howard, who died in 2002, with a new album on which he covers ten songs written by his late friend. (It’s Willie’s 150th album, by our count, and his 71st best, by our estimation.) The lead track is a tight rendition of 1964’s rollicking “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” which Howard cowrote with Sherman-born Buck Owens, who performed it with his band, the Buckaroos, and made it a hit, reaching number one on Billboard’s country chart. Willie and the band embrace the original’s upbeat, boot-scootin’ rhythm; only in the bridge do they stray from (and improve upon) the Buckaroos’ efforts. The result is a tune even non–country fans can’t help but dance to.
This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of Texas Monthly. Subscribe today.