Beyond the Hook – Episode 5 – Willie Nelson

The C Word

Hi, we are moving back to the country in today’s Beyond the Hook colucast or (column/podcast) and my name is Jon McKenney WPGM intern. I hesitate to use the c word when referring to music because many people refuse to give country music a chance. I’ve heard it said a bunch of times, “oh, I like all music except country” or “country, god no!” or I can’t stand the twang, or it’s a bunch of hillbillies, or the cowboy clothes or the lost love, or truck driving, or drinking songs.” But that is a very snobbish attitude. Give country music an honest try. If you like rock and roll, blues, or folk, then you’ll like country. It’s American Roots Music. Country and the other genres I mentioned are like identical twins; it’s almost impossible, at times, to tell where one ends and the other begins. Country married R&B and Rock and Roll was born. I don’t want to beat a dead dog but many rockers have sung country and if you don’t believe me just ask the Beatles.

Today’s featured entertainer has written over 300 songs which many artists have performed and recorded. He has collaborated with such non country singers as Ray Charles, Jimmy Cliff, and Bob Dylan, among others. His best-known song has a hook that every popular songwriter can envy and it is these simple four words: “On the road again.” Yes, I am talking about The Redheaded Stranger better known as Shotgun Willie or Willie Nelson, along with his best-known song On The Road Again. How many people have repeated that phrase?

Willie Nelson
photo: Spotify

We get the hook after the introduction which leads into the chorus:

“On the road again

Just can’t wait to get on the road again.” It’s so simple.

Willies voice may not be one of the best and it’s a little ragged around the edges but it’s a distinct and individual sound. He words are clear, concise, and comforting. Willie sings like a friend, sitting with you while having a personal conversation. Nelson’s nasally sound can be called honky and maybe he is the classic example of what a honky is. In the sixties the term honky was coined by people of color as a white slur to counteract the ‘n’ word. It comes from the stereotype that all whites have that nasal honk when they talk. Of course, we know that’s not true but that’s how these things work and like anything else that sound can be used to create art.

A second hook could be just be part of the first one in the first chorus but it’s there.

“The life I love is making music with my friends

And I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

This may not be as popular as the line “with a little help from my friends” but among country fans it is very well known and when they hear that line most will sing along with it. That’s what a hook is. It’s the part that you get or it gets you.

A second or third hook, depending on how you are counting, comes halfway through the song when we hear an instrumental version of the choruses. Like many pop tunes On The Road Again repeats the same chorus and verse melody but without vocals. First we get Willie with ‘Trigger,’ the name he gives to his beat-up acoustical guitar with its signature sound. The second time around Nelson’s longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael chimes in with a bluesy rocky addition to the guitar. Raphael, like all of the band members, has been with Willie for a long time and he helps with the crossover appeal of the music. One word defines this break, “nice.”


Whoever makes up the labels for the music industry has called this style country and we generally accept that as true but is it strictly country? Speaking as a boomer and as a product of the sixties, I can only compare the On The Road Again sound with music from bands or musicians that I am familiar with. This could be a Canned Heat song, The Band has a similar sound, and The Grateful Dead believe it or not have a country flavor. By the way Jerry Garcia started out singing bluegrass and continued doing so right up until the day he died. Check out the duets with Garcia and David Grisman.

One last important bit of info: Willie Nelson is known for performing duets. Granted, most have been with other country artists, but there are many non-country pop singers who have graced the stage with Willie. The list is long, but to name a few: Ray Charles, Barbara Streisand, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, and Keith Richards. I could go on and on. This just points out the foggy continually shifting line between country and pop.

One last bit of information: I watched the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show recently where Dolly Parton was inducted and she is pure country. Pink introduced and inducted Dolly and sang a few of her songs. Dolly closed the show with their usual group performance which included the lead singer from Judas Priest, a metal band, Rob Halford. Country to and rock go together; just saying.

That’s today’s undereducated opinion so take it for what it’s worth and you know what they say about opinions. Next week is to be announced. If anybody is listening and has a suggestion, no matter how dumb you think it is, please communicate. So, adios and hasta la vista.