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Musical Buried Treasure -  Willie Nelson's <i>Crazy: The Demo Sessions</i> - 2003-03-04

When most Americans approach the age of 65, they start thinking of retirement and slowing down to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Then, there's Willie Nelson.

To commemorate the country music legend's 70th birthday on April 30, a slew of reissues of his older material is on the way, including Crazy: The Demo Sessions. It's a combined history lesson and buried treasure of an album.

Willie Nelson has recorded so many hit songs over the past few decades, it's hard to remember that his first claim to fame was as a writer not a performer. Or, that there was ever a time when he wasn't a big name in the music industry.

But as written in his biography, Willie Nelson was 27 years old, a husband, a father of three, and nearly broke when he made the journey from Houston, Texas, to Nashville in 1960. He considered the trip his final try at a career that had stalled as he moved from record label to label in his home state.

Not long after his move, Willie Nelson started recording his songs for a publishing company, in hopes of getting them to the attention of producers and performers.

Nelson's demos were recorded to give other, better-known performers an idea of how the tune was supposed to sound. Willie Nelson's version of Crazy clearly foreshadowed Patsy Cline's own torchy version of the song that would define her career.

Crazy is not the only hit to come out of Willie Nelson's Demo sessions. I've Just Destroyed the World was a hit in 1962 for country star Ray Price.

Later that year, Faron Young had a hit with Three Days. Willie Nelson resurrected that song on his 1998 album Teatro. The original, put down on tape almost 40 years earlier, sounds so good you'll wonder wheter it had to be re-cut and re-tooled at all.

The first half of the CD features songs recorded solo; just Willie Nelson and his guitar. The second half features Nelson and a studio band. The tracks were considered lost for decades, until the day in 1994, when a reel marked "demos" was discovered in a Nashville publisher's vault.

Though seven of the 15 songs have been released on "unofficial" or bootleg recordings, Crazy is the first time the songs have been digitally restored and available in a remastered collection. Among the previously unreleased tracks is one newly-discovered Willie Nelson song, called I'm Still Here.

There's more than just great music on this Willie Nelson demo collection. For computer users, the album also includes a video interview with legendary songwriter Hank Cochran, discussing how he discovered Willie Nelson. It also features extensive liner notes and rare photographs.

I've Just Destroyed The World is another song on The Demo Sessions that Willie Nelson fans will recognize. A fully-produced version appears on his 1998 Teatro album. The raw, original version is featured on the new collection.