41 years ago Willie Nelson recorded one of the most iconic songs of his career, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”. It was 1975 and he was tired of the music game, looking for a simpler, more honest approach to his music.
Autumn Sound, a tiny studio in Garland, Texas, served as Nelson’s retreat from the Nashville scene. He had recently been dropped from RCA after releasing 13 studio albums.
Nelson recorded “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” on Feb. 9 at the age of 42. The 1940s song, originally written by Fred Rose, tells the story of a preacher who kills his wife and her lover only to wander in mournful regret.
His 1975 recording of that song was stripped, simple and intriguing. The rest of the album Red Headed Stranger follows along the same lines. Unlike the punchier, fancier style of production coming out of Nashville, Nelson’s new album changed the game. He believed audiences were ready for it.
Columbia Records took a chance on this unlikely classic and gave Nelson full artistic freedom to produce the record. It is rumored he only spent $4,000 of a $100,000 advance from Columbia to make Red Headed Stranger. While record executives thought they would have to take a hit on the album, the recordings were an instant success.
The video for “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” captures the rustic lore of Red Headed Stranger. Nelson calls these stripped-down songs, “the real simple three-chord country stuff.”