There's no shame -- even for the most talented songwriter -- in recording someone else's verse; in fact, knowing when someone else has said it best can be an art of its own. Legendary Texan performer Willie Nelson stands as a prime example of an artist who knows exactly how to turn a strong cover into a blockbuster hit. Contemporary chart-topper Chris Stapleton seems to be taking a page from that songbook.
Stapleton recently announced the track list for a new album, From a Room: Vol. 1, due for release on May 5. He plans to release a new version of "Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning," a song Nelson took to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country charts in 1982.
That doesn't quite do the song justice. Some context: It was the third single from Nelson's album, Always on My Mind, which stayed on record buyers' minds a really, really long time.
That album spent more than half of the year it was released (22 weeks, to be exact) in the No. 1 slot on the country charts. It even peaked at No. 2 as a crossover. In total, it spent a remarkable 253 weeks on the charts.
That's almost five years of lovelorn Willie, y'all.
The '80s were young, and everything Nelson touched turned to gold -- sometimes quadruple platinum. But, he didn't do it alone. "Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning" was co-written by songwriters Donna Sioux Farar and Gary P. Nunn. Nunn's name might not resonate as far and wide as Nelson's, but back home in Texas, the 71 year-old is songwriting royalty.
Nunn's anthemic "London Homesick Blues" has opened and closed every episode of Austin City Limits since it became the live music television program's theme in 1977, and we've even argued that its kismet live debut in Luckenbach helped launch an entire new wave of country music. Coupled with "You Ask Me What I Like About Texas," and the Brownfield, Texas-raised Nunn seems to have said it all about Texans' deep and abiding love for the Lone Star State.
"Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning" likewise showcases his profound talent.
"Donna [Sioux Farar] said she had a great idea for a country song and rattled off the title..." Nunn told GuideLive. "She wrote the first verse and got it started, and then it took less than a half hour to write the rest of the lyrics and the music -- it just came out."
Stapleton's star has quickly risen since releasing his solo debut, Traveller, two years ago. But, though he is considered a "newcomer" -- he won the Country Music Association's Best New Artist of the Year in 2015 -- the Kentucky-born star has much more in common with a seasoned songwriter like Nunn than it may first seem.
Stapleton's lengthy career is full of No. 1 hits made wildly famous by other performers. George Strait, Kenny Chesney and Darius Rucker took his tunes to the top of the charts, and his writing credits appear on tracks recorded by Adele, Joss Stone and Sheryl Crowe. He fronted successful bluegrass band, The SteelDrivers, from 2008 to 2010.
Nunn traveled to Nashville last week to meet Stapleton at the historic RCA Studio A, a Music Row landmark where artists Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and Charley Pride recorded iconic country music.
Stapleton had originally thought Nelson penned the song until he did a bit of research, Nunn says, and the two connected from there. It's thrilling, he says, to have another major Nashville hit-maker choose to record the song and include it on a new album.
He calls the Stapleton "humble and kind."
"He did an extremely soulful performance on the cut and I couldn't be more proud," Nunn says.
From a Room: Vol 1 is slated for release on May 5. As the title suggests, a second volume is expected later this year.
Correction: This story originally referred to Nunn as "San Antonio-raised." We have no idea where that came from, except perhaps the fact that he received an Award of Appreciation from the San Antonio chapter of the Texas Music Association in 1990. We feel silly about the error, and apologize to the fine town of Brownfield, where Nunn was, reportedly, an all-around good kid.