During the arrival of Willie Nelson in Nashville in the 1960s, a lot of people wondered if he would fit in. During those days, he wore his hair short slick and precisely combed, dressed in nicely pressed suits, complete with shirts and ties which made him look like he would belong.
It was evident from the beginning, Willie Nelson was an artist more than he was a commercial writer. He didn’t really write what he thought was going to sell, instead, he wrote what he felt. When Nelson composed, he didn’t rely on straight country chord patterns or tried-and-true lyric formulas. He would blend his country concepts with jazz, blues, and even big band sounds. The results were often so different and so unique that it took a really good ear and sometimes a good imagination to determine the song’s potential.
One of Willie’s early Nashville efforts that no one wanted had been inspired by the room where he wrote it. One afternoon as he struggled to come up with ideas, Nelson began to think out loud. He would later tell his songwriting buddies how he came to write “Hello Walls,” a song about a lonely man who had no one but an unfeeling house to share his heartache with. Willie merely looked up and said “Hello walls,” which triggered the initial idea, so he went into the adjoining office to tell Cochran, his thought being that he and Hank might write the song together. Cochran determined the concept to be a little weird, but he said, “Okay, let’s do it.” Then Cochran unexpectedly got called out of the office for a phone call. By the time he got back, just ten minutes later, Willie had already written the whole thing!
Nelson pitched “Hello Walls” to every producer and record label in town, but got no takers. Most felt that it was just too quirky and almost comedic (even though it was supposed to be a serious song, not a novelty piece) and the industry brass simply thought that the seriousness of the message just wouldn’t get through to the audience. Depressed, Willie gathered with his friends down at Tootsie’s. He noticed that his buddy Faron Young was there and, needing money badly, he approached Faron with an offer to sell him “Hello Walls” outright for $400. Young wouldn’t buy the song, but he promised to record it later. Willie said he needed the money right now, so Faron gave him a $400 loan.
Young was in the midst of the hottest phase of his long career. A veteran of KWKH’s “Louisiana Hayride” program out of Shreveport, Faron had a smooth style that had first infatuated radio and record fans in 1953. In a span of eight years, the singer had produced thirty-five chart records and three number ones. His 1958 release of Roy Drusky’s “Alone With You” had spent thirteen weeks anchored atop the Billboard country chart. One of Nashville’s hardest-working stars, Young had spun off his good looks and easy charm and made several western movies. Yet, even as his star rose higher and higher, the singer never lost touch with his humble roots or his desire to help others. When he was in town, he was on the streets meeting the fans and spending time with new talent. Not long after Willie Nelson had arrived from Texas, he and Faron became fast-friends.[like_button]
True to his word, in early 1961 Faron took Willie’s unique ode about a man so lonely that he talked to an empty room, into the studio. Young cut “Hello Walls” with a very personal approach. Though his voice was as smooth as it had been on his ballads, there was an almost spoken quality about his rhythm when he sang Nelson’s song. Faron’s arrangement, therefore, seems to draw the listener into the plight of this poor, lost soul. The quirky little song that no one wanted was about to become one of only six number one records for the entire year of 1961.[like_button]
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