Who would have thought that the country gospel tune that Claude Gray released in 1960 was all written by Willie Nelson? Yes, that’s right! Nelson was the brainchild of “Family Bible,” which earned Gray a spot on the Billboard Hot Country Songs.
Synopsis of the Song
American singer-songwriter Willie Nelson started writing “Family Bible” in 1957. During that time, he was a disc jockey in KVAN in the city of Vancouver in Washington. While making live performances, Nelson became a popular DJ hosting the show The Western Show.
While writing the song, he got inspired by his grandmother, Nancy Elizabeth Smothers. She would sing “Rock of Ages” and read from the Bible after supper. After finishing the song, Nelson played the demo for Mae Boren Axton after interviewing her on his show. Axton was very much impressed with Nelson. She then suggested that he go to Nashville and would serve as a full-time songwriter. With this in mind and him being denied a raise in pay by the station, he decided to move to Houston, Texas. And there, his journey to stardom began.
However, life was not so good to him that time and he encountered financial issues. Because of this, he eventually sold the song to Paul Buskirk. Upon having the song, Buskirk presented it to country music singer-songwriter and guitar picker Claude Gray.
The Song and its Story
Before becoming a big name in Nashville, Nelson found himself selling his self-written songs. While on his way to Houston, he paid a visit to the Esquire Ballroom to sell his songs to Larry Butler, a house band singer. However, Butler declined Nelson’s offer, including “Family Bible,” which he had just written. Nonetheless, he rather signed him to his band.
While in Houston, Nelson was also hired by guitar instructor Paul Buskirk to work as an instructor in his school. After having a dinner with Buskirk at a restaurant, he did not have money to pay the bill. Rather, he started singing “Family Bible” to Buskirk and offered him the song for US$50 and the cost of his meal. To help Nelson with his financial burden, Buskirk decided to purchase the song.
Upon buying the song, Buskirk convinced Claude Gray to record a set of Nelson’s original songs. This included “Family Bible,” “Night Life,” “The Party’s Over,” and “Leave Alone.” Produced by Bill Quinn, Gray recorded “Family Bible” on December 18, 1959, at Goldstar Studios. After its release, Gray’s recording of the song reached no. 7 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles. Also, Billboard remarked that the song was “very well done,” and gave it a rating of 3 stars out of 5.
Unfortunately, when the song was first published, it did not include any credit to Nelson as the songwriter. Instead, it named Buskirk, Gray, and Walt Breeland as those who penned it. Later, Nelson declared that he did not regret selling the song. In fact, he stated:
“I felt if I could write one hit song, I could write another.”
With Gray’s success from the hit, Nelson eventually moved to Nashville. There, he earned a recognition as a songwriter and was even rightfully credited for the song. In 1971, he then got his hands with his song and recorded it for his album Yesterday’s Wine. Following in 1980, he used “Family Bible” as the title track of his gospel album. He released it in the same year.
Watch Willie Nelson perform “Family Bible” live:
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