Willie Nelson’s ‘The Troublemaker’ Was at #1 44 Years Ago: Story Behind the Country Gospel Album

Willie Nelson has always walked his own path. Even though he’s classified as one of the “last true outlaws” in the county music universe, he never let that— or anyone else— put him in a box. 

Nelson is the true embodiment of inclusion behind country music. You can rock a cowboy hat with braids, get arrested on marijuana charges, and record an award-winning gospel album. Not only does Nelson remind us of Jesus in the way he looks (they were both rebels when it came to the long hair), but his lyrics also represent the spiritual parables you often find in the Bible. 

As a child, Nelson often found himself in the pews, singing hymns alongside his sister, Bobbie. When he released The Troublemaker in 1976, Nelson proved he wouldn’t be constricted by organized religion or country music executives. 

Willie Nelson’s Take on Gospel Music

A year after releasing The Red Headed Stranger, Nelson began working on his twentieth studio album, The Troublemaker. After disagreements with multiple record labels, Nelson partnered with Columbia Records. After the label gave the star his freedom to have creative control, he began his foray into his gospel work. 

In true Wille-Nelson form, The Troublemaker is a tenacious, individualistic take on the Gospel genre. He’s not reliant on a singular method. Nelson transforms the album into four themes: gospel music, country music, protest rally, and a celebration of Jesus Christ. 

Even for a non-believer, it’s difficult not to sing along to tracks like “Uncloudy Day” and “Precious Memories.” In “Roll Up Yonder,” Nelson makes sure to give fans guitar licks in between gospel lyrics. 

In addition, the album’s magic is that Nelson can transform timeless songs into rare eccentric pieces giving it its own feel. 

Listening back to the album, Nelson still captures the hymns’ traditional charm while showing some “amazing grace” with originals. He reminds us that even sinners have the right to praise their maker, even if it’s in an unconventional way.