There's no better way to get 2017 rolling than with an iconic artist who made it through 2016 relatively unscathed. Willie Nelson is this state's top musical icon, and the fact he's an aging one makes his star power even more precious after the Grim Reaper ran roughshod over 2016. Getting to see the 83-year old Abbott, Texas native at his Jan. 3 and 4 shows at the Granada Theater, when he's as popular as he's been in decades, is certain to be something you'll tell people about for years to come.
One of the many areas Nelson has become famous for is how many albums he records, and how many people he performs with. When he sang "the life I love is making music with my friends" in "On the Road Again," he really meant it, and still does. Here are seven of Willie Nelson's best duets.
"Seven Spanish Angels" with Ray Charles
Released in 1984, this epic tale of eternal love is a soul-drenched classic. Ray Charles had several country chart hits, but this was the biggest of them. Both Nelson and Charles often proved themselves to be crossover masters, performing with artists who may not have seemed to be a great fit at first, but offered immaculate results.
"Trouble Knows My Name" with Randy Rogers Band
Understandably, Nelson is perhaps the biggest hero many stars of Texas country look up to. And just as unsurprisingly, Willie has recorded songs with many of them, such as Aaron Watson and Pat Green. But in 2013 Randy Rogers Band released "Trouble Knows My Name," a reportedly true-to-life tale of crime and good times modeled after Nelson's "Me and Paul," a classic that details similar outlaw-style mischief. Having Nelson play guitar and sing on this galloping ode was a dream come true for Rogers.
"Mendocino County Line" with Lee Ann Womack
On his 2002 album, The Great Divide, Nelson, if we're all being honest here, probably missed more shots than he made thanks to some less-than- inspired pairings (Rob Thomas, Brian McKnight). But this tune, featuring fellow native Texan Lee Ann Womack, stood out immediately and is one of his top all-time duets. The song's gorgeous black and white video also belongs among his best. And for what it's worth, this song was Nelson's highest charting single in many years upon its release.
"Pancho and Lefty" with Merle Haggard
Though this legendary No. 1 hit from 1983 features both Nelson and Merle Haggard in top form, the true star here is the pen of Townes Van Zandt. The troubled songwriting icon has dozens of unassailable classics in his catalog, but this ambitious, sweeping tale is likely the greatest of them all.
"Reasons to Quit" with Merle Haggard
Another beauty with Haggard from the Pancho and Lefty album, this heartbreaker is sometimes forgotten when it comes to Nelson's best, likely due to the powerful title track, but it shouldn't be. Written by Haggard, the story of a man who knows booze and pills are ruining his life is the gut-wrenching bookend to so many of Nelson's party tunes. And be sure to check out Phosphorescent's excellent 2009 cover, included on his album To Willie, which is comprised entirely of great Nelson covers.
"Faded Love" with Ray Price
In the canon of songs every true country fan should know by heart, this 1950 tune written by the King of Western Swing, Bob Wills, is certainly among them. As much as Willie is a hero to today's Texas country greats, Wills, who had serious Dallas connections, was the giant everyone followed a couple of generations ago. It's fitting that this 1980 duet with one of Nelson's first employers, Ray Price, is also the highest-charting version out of the many times its been recorded.
"Good Hearted Woman" with Waylon Jennings
Any list such as this would be insanely incomplete without a collaboration with Waylon Jennings. Of course, there are plenty of other notable options but this one stands out. Willie's musical soulmate is as synonymous with the outlaw movement as anyone else, and this rollicking, honest-to-a-fault song encapsulates all that is beloved about the kind of country music they ushered in the 1970s. Legend has it that the tune was written by the pair during a poker game in Fort Worth, and in it, Nelson and Jennings are sort of sorry but not that sorry about being exactly who they are.
Willie Nelson with Runaway June January 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. at the Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Avenue, Dallas. Sold out. granadatheater.com.