Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison is famous for writing highly intelligent, richly detailed country songs—that happen also to be incredibly sad, like “Angry All the Time,” which was a number one hit for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and “Travelin’ Soldier,” which scaled the same heights for the Chicks. He has always given credit for that tendency in his taste to his early immersion in Willie’s music, and one of the key records in that evolution was Willie’s 1974 concept album about the dissolution of a marriage, Phases and Stages.

Bruce was an eight-year-old growing up in the rural, Hill Country town of Bandera when his parents brought Phases home, and the album—or specifically, the eight-track—quickly went into heavy rotation. For Bruce, whose mom and dad would ultimately divorce, the songs struck two powerful chords. Though he was too young to fully understand them, the scenes described therein looked a lot like his own life. And the songwriting gave him a foundational understanding of just how deeply human and emotionally sophisticated country music can be.

(Read a transcript of this episode below.)

This week, Bruce focuses on one of Phases’s cornerstone songs, “Walkin,’ ” an aggrieved wife’s lyrical declaration of independence that Bruce calls “like breadcrumbs for how you gotta live.” From there he’ll get into two stellar tributes he’s created himself, his 2001 song “What Would Willie Do,” and the 2023 album of Willie covers that he produced and recorded with a star-studded lineup live in Luck, One Night in Texas.

But we’ll also discuss his childhood in Bandera. It’s a small town that figures large in Willie folklore, the first place he moved his band and family to when he finally fled Nashville in 1971. Bruce’s description of how locals received them will likely surprise you. (Spoiler alert: The hippies and rednecks would not start getting along until Willie moved to Austin a year later.)

We’ve created an Apple Music playlist for this series that we’ll add to with each episode we publish. And if you like the show, please subscribe and drop us a rating on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

One by Willie is produced and engineered by Brian Standefer, with audio editing by Aisling Ayers and production by Patrick Michels. Our executive producer is Megan Creydt. Graphic design is by Emily Kimbro and Victoria Millner.


John Spong (voice-over): Hey there, I’m John Spong with Texas Monthly magazine, and this is One by Willie, a podcast in which I talk each week to one notable Willie Nelson fan about one Willie song that they really love. The show is brought to you by Still Austin craft whiskey.

This week, we talk to singer, songwriter, and record producer Bruce Robison—who’s probably best known for writing “Angry All the Time” for Tim and Faith, “Travelin’ Soldier” for the Chicks, and “Wrapped” for George Strait—who’s going to talk about one of the cornerstones off of Phases and Stages, “Walkin’.” Bruce calls it one of the songs that taught him just how sophisticated country music can be, and it’s one that his parents played constantly when he was a little kid growing up in Bandera, Texas. Now, Bandera is, of course, a small country town that looms large in Willie folklore, the place he first moved his family and band when he finally fled Nashville. 

We’ll get into Bruce’s memories of just how weird a fit that was, and a spoiler alert: Willie didn’t bring the hippies and rednecks together until he got to Austin a year later. And then we’ll go into Bruce’s own masterful Willie tributes, the 2001 song “What Would Willie Do?” and his star-studded 2023 live album recorded in Luck, One Night in Texas, with a meaty cameo appearance by none other than Texas Monthly columnist Dave Courtney, a.k.a. the Texanist.

So let’s do it.

[Willie Nelson singing “Phases and Stages (Theme)” and playing introduction to “Walkin’ ”]

John Spong: All right so, where we always start is, of course, what’s so great about the song. And you want to talk about “Walkin’,” off of Phases and Stages, but can we talk about it independently of the album? I mean, what’s so great about “Walkin’ ” just on its own terms as a song?

Bruce Robison: Hmm. I thought that it was kind of poetic and where it’s like it has wisdom in it, the kind of thing you want if you walked up to the top of the mountain to the guru to tell you what it is. But it’s like a puzzle too. “Walkin’ is better than running away, and crawling ain’t no good at all.” And to me, it’s all about self-respect and the pain that everybody deals with, and when you’re . . . the reason why you would consider crawling, or staying, or going, or any of those things, which that whole record is about. So to me, it’s a person talking to themselves about what they know they need to do that’s so difficult when you’re in a relationship that ain’t working.

John Spong: Which is: leave it.

Bruce Robison: Yeah, yeah. That’s what the person is telling themselves, for sure. And that’s what, when I’m listening to those lyrics, they’re like little breadcrumbs on how you gotta live, especially whenever in the really hard times. 

John Spong: Because dignity is not a given . . .

Bruce Robison: Oh, hell no.

John Spong: . . . in those moments.

Bruce Robison: Not in my life, anyway.

John Spong: You seem to have brought some in with you today, so I’m grateful for that.

Bruce Robison: I bring it in everywhere, John.

John Spong: I love that because the wisdom part, I think I saw somewhere that you said you didn’t have to unlearn that country music was just this simple crying-in-your-beer stuff because this is where you went first, and it was this really involved and emotionally sophisticated country music. 

Bruce Robison: Yeah, that’s what my parents were listening to, and I heard that kinda fun, kinda simple, even on hokeyish kinda stuff later. But what year did this come out, Phases and Stages?

John Spong: ’74?

Bruce Robison: All right. So I was eight, but this was one of the records that they bought when they bought their new stereo system. And those eight-tracks, they played all the time. So yeah, I could tell, well, looking back on it, yeah, it seemed incredibly emotionally involved and sophisticated, but I guess I mostly thought about that way later on, when I started thinking about writing songs, is how different they were.

And then, you get tied up into how different the era must’ve been where somebody could go in there and try and do that, instead of just having a hit or playing a game or any of those other things, that they’re going to make some incredible artistic statement, marketplace be damned, or whatever.

So, there’s so many things about that era, the sixties [and] all the way through there where it felt like, boy, it was really a different world.

John Spong: It’s perfect because one thing I wanted to do differently this time is . . . so Phases and Stages comes out in March ’74, the song that went number one that week on the country charts—and it’s a slightly unfair comparison . . . it’s a song I love, and I know you do too, “There Won’t Be Anymore,” by Charlie Rich. And it was recorded in the sixties, but they released it in ’73, once he hit big. But to give a sense of what the world that Willie was introducing Phases and Stages into, and what the contrast was . . .

Bruce Robison: Right.

John Spong: . . . and so, country music’s going to go from this . . .

[Introduction of “There Won’t Be Anymore”]

Bruce Robison: Which, Willie did some of that.

John Spong: Yeah. And well.

[Charlie Rich singing “There Won’t Be Anymore”]

John Spong: There’s nothing wrong with that, but go from that . . .

Bruce Robison: Yeah.

[Willie Nelson singing “Walkin’ ”]

Bruce Robison: Man, what a beautiful song. That one, “If guilt is the question, then truth is the answer.” And that was, even more so, what, I guess, what I was trying to remember about . . . and then when he says, “Nothing worth saving except for one another,” you think it’s like a love song.

John Spong: Right.

Bruce Robison: And it is. But then, “Before you wake up, I’ll be gone.” And then he turns you, and then it’s just a gut punch. 

John Spong: Yeah. Well, that line—“If guilt is the question, and truth is the answer’’—is the one that’s always floored me. Because I couldn’t even figure out what it meant the first ten years probably that I was listening to it. But yeah, “If I’m learning the truth about what you’ve been doing to me, but maybe I’ve known the entire time, I’ve been lying to me all along” . . . that’s a pretty difficult realization.

Bruce Robison: For sure. Yeah. Yeah. And the song . . . I tend to . . . but the songs that I loved, and songs that I started writing and stuff, were very sad songs. And it’s a thing that you can think about now, that there is no sad songs. People don’t have any sad songs anymore, which is fine. But it’s one of those things about the culture when you look at that. And that I think is interesting about this music that came directly from the blues, from people whose lives were really hard. And so, this is just so close, straight through Lefty Frizzell and Willie and those folks who, when you look at their lives, were all from, what do you call them? Not agrarian necessarily, wasn’t a farmer, but just out there, rural.

John Spong: Well, and s—. Willie’s Dust Bowl. It’s, like, hard rural.

Bruce Robison: Yeah. Really hard, hard lives and kinda came in out of that first music of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family and all that. And then them just being one generation from that. And the songs were so incredibly sad and meant for people, I assumed, with hard lives. And that’s so different than what the culture is reflecting back to us now. Because people don’t write those kinds of songs anymore.

John Spong: Also, the poetry in it too, because the way he puts that, “If guilt is the question, and truth is the answer, I’ve been lying to me all along,” that’s poetry, but not flowery, show-offy poetry. It’s not—it’s sophisticated, but not highfalutin.

Bruce Robison: Well, I was lucky enough to get to hang out with Rodney Crowell some, and he’s a really big hero of mine, where I was able to talk with him about some of the things that I would love to discuss with some of these other guys that are really my heroes. And you just see how affected he was, and I’m sure Willie was, by those writers, whether it was Bob Dylan, or the way that the poetry infused things and expanded people’s minds about what popular music could do, but then also, I would imagine, what country music could do, and the way that that stuff was so good, and the way that it was affecting people. I played a thing for Billy Joe Shaver, and what’s the drummer’s name? Richie Albright?

John Spong: Yeah, Waylon’s drummer?

Bruce Robison: Yeah, Waylon’s drummer was there. And so, I got to chat with him and I was like, “You were going totally. . . . That music is so. . . . You’re just powering through.” And I was like, “It reminds me of The Band and Levon Helm.” And he was like, “I was listening to that all the time, and we loved that.” And I was like, “Really?” It’s hard to imagine, but he said they were. And when you think about, “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” or something like that, almost in the context of “Cripple Creek,” or these things that have such a heavy thing to it, that it’s just . . . or “The Weight,” or something.

And it’s just, I know that that music is so beautiful and great. And just the edge of respectability and what was possible then, I know that that was a beautiful time for all this stuff to come together. And for him to decide to, “Oh, this is what I’m going to do.”

[Willie Nelson singing “Walkin’ ”]

John Spong: So, Phases and Stages is a divorce record, but it’s a very unique divorce record in terms of the storytelling, right? What is the story on Phases and Stages and how’s it presented?

Bruce Robison: Well, I mean, he made it so simple, simpler than most of them are, right? I mean, has anybody done that, where one side of the record is from the woman’s point of view, and one side is from the man’s point of view, in this relationship that’s coming apart, which is just incredibly cool. 

John Spong: Yeah, no, I remember right about the time I got to know you, and we became friends, it was when I was in law school, and so it was since the early nineties and The IRS Tapes had just come out. And then, for people that don’t remember The IRS Tapes, it’s all solo acoustic stuff. It’s Willie and his guitar. He released it to try and pay off his IRS debt. But it’s the more obscure numbers, too. It’s not “Crazy.” It’s not “Funny How Time Slips Away.” It’s this incredible . . .

Bruce Robison: Right.

John Spong: . . . it makes it more intimate, I think, a little bit? A little more personal. But anyhow, one of the songs, there were three songs on it, which I didn’t know because I didn’t have Phases and Stages yet. There were three songs on it from Phases and Stages. And one was “Pretend I Never Happened.”

Bruce Robison: Right.

John Spong: And I remember there was a line in there, “You will not want to remember any love as cold as mine,” is what someone is saying as they go out the door. And I just remember thinking, at the time, that that sounded more like the way a woman might experience a breakup, it sounds like her sarcastically throwing back in his face, his tendency to make her feel. . . .

Bruce Robison: Yeah, it’s something, it’s meant to hurt. Yeah. It’s meant to hurt somebody.

John Spong: And reflect the hurt he caused by making her feel insufficient on the road up.

Bruce Robison: Right.

John Spong: So then, when you first explained to me that Phases and Stages was this side A, side B—

Bruce Robison: Did I?

John Spong: Female, male.

Bruce Robison: Yeah. Yeah.

John Spong: Yeah, you did!

Bruce Robison: Okay.

John Spong: I don’t want to sound goofy, but it changed my life.

Bruce Robison: That’s a good record. Yeah.

John Spong: Well, it just made me realize, and so that’s when I started listening to it differently and realizing . . . you can listen to Willie and enjoy it, or you can sit there and soak in it and think about it, and it can be appreciated on a number of levels.

Bruce Robison: Oh, man. And then my parents were getting divorced, and my friends’ parents all were, too. And this music, it was the story of what was going on. And so, that’s where it puts me back in, is there. I was eight years old. I couldn’t really make sense of any of the stuff that was going on. It was the seventies, and me and my friends were all a bunch of latchkey kids. But the songs in here were . . . I couldn’t understand it, but I knew they were talking about what we were going through.

And it was lo-fi in a way, too, what I was listening to. And in Bandera, what I remember—everybody, one of the things, I don’t know if it was really supposed to be a pejorative or not, but they were throwing around “barfly” all the time. “You barfly!” Barfly this, barfly that. And the record says, “You go out to play this evening, and play with . . .” I think on the record, it’s “fireflies.”

John Spong: On the lyric, it’s “fireflies . . . until the dawn.”

Bruce Robison: I heard “barflies.” And I was like, “Go play with barflies till the dawn.” On an eight-track stereo, I couldn’t hear that it actually was “fireflies.” And so, it was the eight-year-old just trying to make sense. I didn’t know what a “barfly” was, but Willie did.

John Spong: Did you just make this an even sadder record than it is?

Bruce Robison: Well, it can’t be any sadder. I mean, these people, I don’t think any of us understand what life was like back then, and they were a lot better than the people who this music all directly came from that were enslaved, for God’s sakes.

So to me, it’s the music of very common folks and trying to . . . the central question of “Why does it make you feel better?” And it makes me feel better when I’m listening to it, and I always just think that it makes you feel like you’re not alone. And that somebody else—because you look at this record, which is such a, to me, it’s like, “Oh wow, to do what he did, he did all this thing, and he’s telling this story in this new way, and it’s one side this and one side that” . . . [and he’s] telling [this] ancient story since the beginning of time.

John Spong: Yeah, since them first two.

Bruce Robison: It’s the same. The first two people. But that’s definitely what country music in a lot of ways has done, historically, is tell those stories of relationships and stuff and how hard life is. I don’t know if you can make it sadder. It’s that space where it’s coming apart. But it’s also funny where Willie also, he includes the ones about, “Here I’m going off to, I’m getting to get me a Bloody Mary, and then I’m going to go figure it out.” But then what’s going to come later on that night, when your realization of all this stuff that you can’t escape. And that’s what, all of those things, there’s so many—and that was where we started really, was that to me, those contradictions are as much in this song as anywhere, just those things where you get to that point of “I love you and this is not going to work.” So yeah, that’s this record, man. And it’s a good one.

[Willie Nelson singing “Walkin’ ”]

John Spong: You talk about growing up in Bandera, and everybody knows you’re from Bandera, but can you tell a little about the significance of Bandera in Willie’s career, the relationship between Willie and Bandera?

Bruce Robison: Well, I’ve tried to put it together because it was such a . . . you know, I love myths, and that’s the myth of him coming to Texas. And what he really did was he came to Bandera.

John Spong: And that’s ’71. He spends most of ’71 there.

Bruce Robison: Is that right?

John Spong: Yeah. After his house burns down, like, the day before Christmas in ’70.

Bruce Robison: Or it’s like, he moves to Austin. But he moved to Bandera, for whatever reason, I don’t know. And then when I moved there in ’70. . . . No, it had to have been before then. It was before I got there. Well, I don’t know, because I was that young. You’re probably right, because I was that young. But whenever I was old enough to understand certain things, then some of his folks were still around, and I knew. But Willie was gone.

Some of my, like my science teacher, Mr. Murrell, had one of the kids, that Willie’s kids were there, and Zettner was still playing with Arkey. And so—

John Spong: Willie’s old bassist, who at this point was his mural painter. And in-house artist.

Bruce Robison: And he played steel for, in Arkey Blue’s band.

John Spong: Oh, wow.

Bruce Robison: And so, he was still there. And I think there was another couple of folks that were from that whole crew that were still there. So you knew, or at least my parents were just talking about it. And they would be going to Floore’s to see him on Wednesdays and talking about it. But it was just all a mess of all of that music, with Jerry Jeff and all the people that were playing at the Cabaret, and just all of that whole crazy embroidery, crocheted denim, barfly lifestyle, which is what I remember of the seventies in Bandera. It was, Bandera was this really—it’s a place where people went to have fun. They had a bunch of bars, they had dude ranches. And so, it was pretty nutty in the seventies, even seeing that from a little kid who didn’t understand anything.

John Spong: The way I’ve understood it is, the house burns down, and he’s fed up with Nashville, anyhow. There were plenty of reasons to not be in Nashville or around Nashville at that point. And he asked a promoter—Crash Stewart?—to find him a place near a golf course.

Bruce Robison: Oh, really? So he’s playing golf already?

John Spong: Yeah. And so, they find Lost Valley Resort and Dude Ranch, pack everybody into the motor home. But it’s funny because I’ve got somewhere in here, there’s that Willie and Family album. That’s it. Willie Nelson and Family album from about that time, and that picture is from Ridgetop. I mean, they were insane-looking. They weren’t full-on hippies yet, but Waylon likes to say, “The problem for me in Nashville was that they thought it was too rock and roll. The problem with Willie is that they thought he was from another planet.” And he was out there. And so, they get there. And Freddy Fletcher—Willie’s sister Bobbie’s son, Freddy is a buddy of both ours—he was in the eleventh grade at that time, and he said, “When we got there, they hated us. Our house had just blown up. And then we show up. There’s twenty of us living communally.” This is a year and a half after the Manson family . . .

Bruce Robison: Well, that’s kind of what it looks like. I wasn’t going to bring that up, but when I was talking to Freddy, and we were reminiscing about Bandera, it was a really odd thing for me, too. Because he was talking about all of his friends, and he was going, I won’t name any names, they’re probably all deceased now, but he would say, “Oh, and her and that and oh man, man.” And I was like, “[Gasping] I still can’t talk about those people. They were the drug dealers, and they were that, don’t look at her car, don’t look at that thing.”

And they were the people in Bandera that you couldn’t be around. And I’m sure they would be my friends now, but in Bandera in 1972, it was like, “Do not talk to that person. They’ve got to be a drug dealer.” And they were just hanging out and partying with Willie’s people, which later on, I’m sure my mother would’ve just died to have been in the middle of. But it was really weird to hear those names. And then I hadn’t thought about them since the seventies, and I was like [gasps]. But that was their crowd.

John Spong: Freddy said there was a place, the Purple Cow. I think it was at the Purple Cow . . . because Freddie plays drums. He was playing with Zettner, he said, at the Purple Cow, and he actually mentioned a family’s name, and you’ve done a great job of stopping me from saying it, but he said they were mean. And they wouldn’t have been the dope-smokers. It would’ve been the more conservative locals who didn’t like them to be there. He said that he and Zettner were playing, and they walked in with a sack of rattlesnakes and just threw it into the middle of the dance floor while they’re playing—and left! Because the weirdos weren’t fitting in.

Bruce Robison: I never heard anything like that, but I heard a lot of crazy stories, a lot of them centered around the Purple Cow, which was next door to the cafe that my mother ran. And we were there every morning, and the things that were going on every weekend were just complete insanity.

But yeah, I can imagine that. But isn’t that funny? And that was always the thing between the two groups in Texas, and this and this and this. But not Willie. Everybody just . . . Willie gets a pass. But you’re right, this picture . . . yikes. 

[Willie Nelson singing “Walkin’ ”]

Bruce Robison: But that was why I wrote that song, I saw Poodie in Nashville . . . 

John Spong: “What Would Willie Do?”

Bruce Robison: Yeah. And there was somebody else there, and I knew Poodie, but the other person was . . .

John Spong: Oh, and Poodie being, for the uninitiated?

Bruce Robison: Well, he worked with Willie forever, and the other person that was with him was just, like, “Groombud” or something. I don’t know what his name was, but they were these two people . . . and I come from . . . that was a very small town, and where I come from is very working class, everything. But I was like, I could not hang out with these people every day. I loved Poodie, but I couldn’t live that way.

John Spong: Right.

Bruce Robison: And so, that was where he just seemed like this Jesus character, who was surrounded by these folks that was just like, “What?” I mean, yeah, you might want to drink yellow wine with them every now and then, which is what Poodie called tequila. And it was fun every five years. Or twelve years. Or whatever. But living every day? The crew was. . . . From the outside, I was like, “Wow, I couldn’t do that. Not every day.” So it seems really sweet. He loves everybody.

John Spong: It’s interesting because the song you refer to as “What Would Willie Do,” which is just this great song in its own terms, but it’s also this wonderful tribute to him. And it’s funny as s—, but it also has a depth and all that. But you write that in around 2000. And at that time, this big trend within the conservative Christian circles was the WWJD bracelets. And “What Would Jesus Do” was [on] bumper stickers everywhere. And so, “What Would Willie Do” . . . it was a good time for that.

Bruce Robison: Well, I don’t know. It probably had happened, but I had never seen anybody mess with that phrase before. I thought I was doing something new.

John Spong: No, you did it first as far as I know.

Bruce Robison: I don’t know. But I do know that when I put those two things together, I’d never seen that on anything else. And it was ripe for poking fun at. And then, when I put Willie’s story within the context of the Jesus story, it all matched up.

John Spong: It’s like a great documentary. I mean, there’s reporting in it.

Bruce Robison: It all matched up. I was like, “Oh, that part of Jesus, I can stick that in there.” But I was going to hell long before that. But it just seemed funny to me.

John Spong: Well, didn’t you write it—like, if I remember, you were mowing the lawn?

Bruce Robison: I was mowing the lawn.

John Spong: And it came to you, and then the lawn was done, and so was the song?

Bruce Robison: Well, that was when I was mowing the yard, and I think I had thought of the phrase. And then when I started, when I put it, I just tried to transplant it to the Jesus story. It was like it all matched up. And then afterwards, and I had all of those parts, and I went, I sat down with a guitar and I moved them around a bunch after that. But all the elements—it’s a comedy song, so it’s got a bunch of gags in it, kind of. And so, they were all . . . I was just chuckling to myself just like, “Well, that’s kind of funny.”

But the other thing was that on that same day that I saw Poodie, but earlier in the day—I always hated going to Nashville. I still don’t really like it very much, but I was trying to be a songwriter. And I was at this diner place and an old country star who, I won’t mention their name, but they came up and walked by me. And man, they had that thousand-mile stare that just, I just always . . . I see it sometimes, and it’s like living in that world, it feels like it sorta does that to you. But it didn’t do that to Willie, man. When you’re around him, he’s just present, and he’s cool, and he just seems like he likes everybody. And you hear all of these great stories. And you don’t hear stories of him being crappy to people.

John Spong: Never. Didn’t think of that.

Bruce Robison: And it’s like, how do you do that?

John Spong: Yeah.

Bruce Robison: I don’t have that patience, and nobody knows who I am. But I thought that was really amazing. And again, that was the first of putting him in this spot where he just knows more than we do.

John Spong: Than the rest of us.

Bruce Robison: Right. 

[Bruce Robison singing “What Would Willie Do?”]

John Spong: So you also created this other tribute to Willie: a big all-star, ninetieth birthday tribute album called One Night in Texas, which you cut live at Luck and released on your record label, the Next Waltz. And, if I’m remembering, when you started the Next Waltz, I think you even said it was inspired or intended to be kind of a nod to Willie and the Armadillo and old analog Austin, and you were gonna cut real-deal country acts doing real country songs the old-fashioned way. How does that turn into the tribute album?

Bruce Robison: We had been doing that, and the folks at Luck, which that’s Willie pretty much, they said, “Willie’s ninetieth birthday, let’s do a party, and will you be the bandleader?” And I was like, “Hell, I’ve been training my whole life for that. So that’s really cool.” And I was at dinner with the Texanist.

John Spong: Ah, the Texanist.

Bruce Robison: I was there with the Texanist.

John Spong: A small but pivotal role in so many great moments in Texas history.

Bruce Robison: So many. He’s the Zelig. Always on the periphery. And so, I got off and I was just feeling my oats and saying, “I’m doing this thing, doing this thing.” And he was like, “It ain’t ninety.” And I was like, “They would know. It’s Willie’s people. It’s Luck. This is who it is.” And then he had that stupid grin on his face, and I was like, “Damn it.” And so, I took it out and I texted, and I said, “Somebody said that it’s actually eighty-nine.” And twenty minutes goes by where I can tell they’re checking on it, and they come back, “Let’s do it anyway!”

John Spong: “Google it again! Google it again!”

Bruce Robison: Yeah.

John Spong: Yeah, this was two years ago, not one year ago. This was 2022, not ’23.

Bruce Robison: So anyway, they put together all the artists. It was really amazing. It’s wonderful that the Luck people . . . and it was Nathaniel Rateliff and Sheryl Crow and Robert Keen and Margo Price and—

John Spong: Steve Earle.

Bruce Robison: Steve Earle. Golly, it is amazing. So we just put on a big party.

John Spong: Wait, the band, I mean, that’s all cool because those are heavy-duty figures. The band you put together is just great. What were you trying to do with them?

Bruce Robison: Well, I’m [a] very passive-aggressive person, and I’m a big Willie Nelson fan, and I’ve seen a lot of things. And there are a lot of people . . . if you look at that thing, which is a bunch of people coming together playing Willie songs, there’s a lot of them. Most of them, I don’t like at all. And so, I was like, “Wow, this is somebody who’s letting me do what I would like to hear.” And so, we tried to recreate pretty much the era of when they did the Live record at the casinos.

John Spong: Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe or something like that.

Bruce Robison: Right. And so, I said, “That’s my favorite era of the band, and so we’ll put that together.” And—

John Spong: Two drummers.

Bruce Robison: Two drummers, one of them was Paul and one of them was Rex Ludwig. We didn’t do two bass players, but we got, I knew the right vibe, the person, and I picked all people who knew all those songs already. And Emily Gimble was the only Bobbie we could have.

So we did all that, and then we really went through a long thing to helping the people pick the songs. And then when the artists—we didn’t do it by popularity, it was just like it was trying to make a commune, where we were all just goofing off together, even though there were famous people there, and not-famous people there. And it was just so wonderful.

And then all the people . . . we had recorded it. And it turned out really good. And then all the people just said we could put it out, even the big stars and everything, so we made a vinyl thing. So the whole thing was just where the vibe of Willie just permeated through the entire project. And it was really—well, you know how it is, John, the who’s better whenever you’re with friends, and you’re just sitting there, and you’re having something cold to drink, and his music is just really incredibly, just can levitate you. And so, that’s what that night was like. It was great.

John Spong: That’s cool.

[Margo Price singing “Shotgun Willie”]

John Spong: That’s much of it.

Bruce Robison: Yeah.

John Spong: The thing . . . what we’re most proud of with this is that Rothbaum sends the episodes to Willie. And the idea that he’s hearing people celebrate and thank him . . .

Bruce Robison: Oh, man.

John Spong: . . . is powerful.

Bruce Robison: Yeah, you’d have to think he would understand the impact that he’s had. But those of us from Texas too, it’s just an amazing thing to see both what the impact that he’s had on the whole culture, and then also he’s the blueprint for people who wanted to do something good in music, that made you think that you didn’t have to follow the rules, and that there was a higher thing, trying to have some music that really spoke some truth in some kind of way. I mean, he’s a really gold standard in that way. And I hope he knows. He’s got to.

John Spong: Yeah. Oh. Yeah, I bet he does. But also that he doesn’t dwell on it.

Bruce Robison: Hell, no.

John Spong: He’s got a record to cut.

Bruce Robison: Yeah. True.

John Spong: Yeah.

Bruce Robison: True that. 

[Willie Nelson singing “Walkin’ ”]

John Spong (voice-over): All right, Willie fans. That was Bruce Robison talking about “Walkin’.” A huge thanks to him for coming on the show, a big thanks to our sponsor, Still Austin craft whiskey, and a big thanks to you for tuning in. If you dig the show, please subscribe, maybe tell a couple friends, and visit our page at Apple Podcasts and give us some stars. Oh, and please also check out our One by Willie playlist over at Apple Music.

Oh, and be sure to tune in next week to hear Grammy-winning blues singer and guitarist Susan Tedeschi as she talks about the Willie song she covers pretty much nightly with the family band she and her husband, Derek Trucks, lead, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces.”

We’ll see you guys next week.