Working With Willie Nelson: Houston's Joe Sample Takes Us In the Studio

Categories: In Print

lipuma sample 0424.jpg
Photo courtesy of Joe Sample
Making American Classic (L-R): Producer Tommy LiPuna, unknown, Joe Sample
"I had always wondered how and where did the white musicians of Texas develop their music called country [Western] swing," Sample continues. "As a youngster, I listened daily to the country swing bands and during the early days of television, I watched and listened to programs featuring Texas swing."

I felt that it was going to be a wonderful experience working with Willie. We had a wonderful lunch and beer. Eventually, we began to work. Willie had a concept of recording the songs that he played during his formative days when he worked numerous bars and clubs around Houston. My early days were very similar to Willie's. I had played the same songs in local downtown clubs.

During that time, there were white clubs that featured black swing and R&B bands. I remembered almost all of the songs Willie wanted to record. It was as if I was re-living the '50s again. I knew that I would have to come up with arrangements for all of them.

While touring in Europe with Randy Crawford, I began doing my late nights on a keyboard.

When I returned to Houston, I sat and wrote the arrangements on manuscript. I traveled to New York and met Tommy and Willie. Willie was having a great time, everything was going very well. LiPuma and Willie were happy. I was just thrilled to work with a Texas legend.

Willie has a unique voice with dynamic character. It is the kind of voice that captivates and relaxes you. I was also thrilled to record with Christian McBride, Lewis Nash and Anthony Wilson.

Each song was recorded at least two times. Listening to the playbacks was fun. Willie was like a kid in a candy store. His beautiful wife, who helped him organize the event, was there blessing the music and recording.

Eventually, I knew that it was going to end. My work would be done and the rest would be up to Tommy and Willie.

Later I received a few copies of the recording and played it forever while driving around Houston. I was very proud of the project.

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The "unknown" person in the picture is the great Leon Russell. How soon we forget.

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