Before he was an American music icon, Willie Nelson was a songwriter, and a damned good one.
Ever heard "Crazy," performed by Patsy Cline? He wrote that, and a slew of other hits, years before his own songs and vocal interpretations of others' music sold millions of records across genres.
In his sixth decade in the music business, Nelson, now 81, is again emphasizing his own writing. He's penned nine new songs for his new album, "Band of Brothers," which is being released June 17. And here's an ESPN.com exclusive: the premiere of the first track on the album, "Bring It On."
All the good stuff that makes Nelson's music instantly recognizable is here -- the marvelous singing voice, the singular vocal delivery, the tone of "Trigger," his irreplaceable Martin N-20 acoustic guitar. But more than anything, what comes across loud and clear in "Bring It On" is that the decades haven't mellowed his fierce independence.
He's been through his share of hard times -- health problems, a run-in with the IRS and a marijuana possession charge in the great state of Texas -- so it's not hard to pick an enemy and imagine Willie staring 'em down: "Well I know you're out there 'cause I hear you breathin'/But it still don't mean nothin' to me/Bring it on."
On the title track of "Band Of Brothers," an ode to his fellow musicians, Nelson declares, "And I know you love me 'cause I love you too/But you can't tell me what to do."
As painfully shortsighted as it seems now, the Nashville establishment didn't know quite what to do with Nelson as a recording artist when he arrived in Music City in the early 1960s. But the Nashville hit machine knew how to turn Nelson's artfully crafted songs into gold. "Crazy" is the Nelson song everyone knows, but thumb through the country section at the used record store and you'll find many more, such as "Hello Walls," "Funny How Time Slips Away," and "Night Life."
It was only when he returned to Texas in the 1970s that Nelson became one of his generation's defining voices -- not just in the outlaw country movement, but across genres -- as a songwriter and a performer.
And now, for the first time in a long time, Nelson is once more leaning on his own songwriting for a new album. "I got on kind of a writing kick," he recently explained. "It's good to be writing again."
"The Wall," another track from "Band Of Brothers," will be available for download Friday, the same day National Public Radio is scheduled to feature the album.