To celebrate the occasion and honor a bona fide songwriting hero, friend Nathaniel Rateliff dropped a new track called "Willie's Birthday" back on April 24. Today, Rateliff released a Rett Rogers-directed music video for the song.
"The world has gone crazy, but we've still got Willie, and all the good things he's done for us here," sings Rateliff, in a spot-on imitation of Nelson's songwriting style.
The three-chord song is reminiscent of Nelson's early work, replete with a plucky country bass line and a steel guitar. It includes harmonies from Bobbie Nelson, Mickey Raphael, Lukas and Micah Nelson, Nikki Lane, Courtney Marie Andrews, members of the Night Sweats and others — all remotely recorded, respecting social-distancing guidelines.
With star-wipes galore and Rateliff singing in the foothills and on a tractor, along with footage of all the other musicians recording from their own homes, the music video is about as joyful a birthday present as anyone could give these days.
The song is part of Rateliff's "Marigold Singles," a series of collaborations with legendary musicians that he's selling as a fundraiser for his foundation, the Marigold Project. "Willie's Birthday" is the B-side track; the A-side will include a Rateliff duet with Nelson. This will be the second in the series; the first was a tear-jerker collaboration with the late John Prine.
"Willie's Birthday" was scheduled to drop on vinyl, but printing was held up, so the record will come out this summer, on Rateliff's website.
Until then, you can light up a joint, play the video, and celebrate Willie's legacy of incredible music and heroic advocacy.
Update April 29, 2020: An earlier version of this story, about the single, was published on April 24, 2020.