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April 15

It’s a Tough Life: Willie Nelson’s Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys

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Willie Nelson’s Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys cover with one of the pioneers of the Outlaw Movement and American musician Waylon Jennings in 1978 peaked at number one on the country music charts. Their song cover was included in their duet album Waylon & Willie and spent four weeks atop the country music charts. 

Not only that, but their rendition also cracked the Billboard Hot 100, ranking at number 42. And in 1979, the song bagged the two artists a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. 

Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys was a warning about the tough life of being a cowboy was originally co-penned by Patsy and Ed Bruce. In an interview with Patsy, she said that Ed had started writing the song on the way home from a recording session in Nashville. He had a verse and a chorus but he couldn’t finish it. Then one night, the couple decided to sit down and work on it together and they finished it. 

She also revealed that they initially titled it Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Guitar Players, but it didn’t sound very commercial so they decided to change it. Then Ed went on to record the song. 

The song was included in Ed’s 1976 self-titled album under United Artists Records. The original song peaked at number 15 on the Hot Country Singles chart and was also featured on Chris LeDoux’s 1976 album Songbook of the American West. 

In 1979, Willie Nelson‘s cover of the song with Waylon Jennings was featured in the film The Electric Horseman, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. In 2015, it was also featured in the Volkswagen Passat TV Commercial. 

Aside from Nelson and Jennings, the song was also covered by the country music group Gibson/Miller Band for their 1994 album Red, White and Blue Collar. Their rendition also garnered a spot in the charts, peaking at number 49 on the Hot Country Songs, and it was also featured in the film The Cowboy Way. 

While there were a lot of covers for this song, Nelson and Jenning’s collaboration remains to be the most popular. In fact, their sons Lukas Nelson and Shooter Jennings united to record their own version, which was used as the theme song to Netflix’s The Ranch. The series which was canceled in 2019, was starred by Ashton Kutcher, Sam Elliott, and Elisha Cuthbert. 

Willie Nelson’s Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys is one of the Willie Nelson songs that definitely deserves a listen. You can listen to the song about tough life in the video below. 


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Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson


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