Cody Johnson has recorded a cover of Willie Nelson’s classic “Sad Songs and Waltzes” as the first single from his upcoming album. To make a bold move even bolder, Johnson recruited Nelson to sing and play on the tune, which originally appeared on the 1973 album Shotgun Willie.
Johnson’s version begins similarly to Nelson’s original, just an acoustic guitar and pedal steel to accompany Nelson’s wryly funny lyrics about writing a heartbroken song that no one will get to hear. But Johnson does modernize it a touch with the addition of a full band, including ringing electric guitars and drums. Still, he makes room for Nelson to have his own verse and provide a short-but-melodic guitar solo.
Johnson first heard “Sad Songs and Waltzes” more than a decade ago, watching a late-night episode of Austin City Limits that featured Nelson. Something in the song’s message of creating what you want in spite of what the market demands resonated with Johnson, who has built a formidable career for himself with the same kind of independent spirit.
“The way I am, the music I create, the way that I look, and the cowboy that I am hasn’t been a trend in Nashville for a long time,” Johnson said in a statement.
“Sad Songs and Waltzes” is the lead offering from Johnson’s upcoming 18-track double album, due this fall; it follows his previously-released duet with Reba McEntire, “Dear Rodeo.” Johnson’s last album was 2019’s Ain’t Nothin’ to It, released through a partnership with Warner Music Nashville. On June 19th, Johnson will headline a sold-out show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.