Frank Sinatra and Willie Nelson were huge fans of each other, even playing a show together and teaming up for a series of PSAs in the 1980s. Nelson pays tribute to his favorite singer on My Way, out this Friday, and just released a video for “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” that showcases Nelson’s loose, indelible phrasing and jazz skill.
The song – written by Harold and Johnny Mercer – was first performed by Fred Astaire in 1943’s The Sky’s the Limit. But Sinatra made it his own when he recorded it four year later, the first of several versions he made over the years. In Music of the World War II Era, William H. Young and Nancy K. Young write that the song “has transcended time, emerging as possibly the ultimate saloon song and one of Mercer’s most memorable efforts, yet another 1940s song that has absolutely nothing to do with World War II.” Everyone from Chuck Berry to Ella Fitzgerald to Iggy Pop have also recorded the song.
Nelson filmed the video in Austin and Los Angeles. “I learned a lot about phrasing listening to Frank,” Nelson said recently in AARP. “He didn’t worry about behind the beat or in front of the beat, or whatever—he could sing it either way, and that’s the feel you have to have.”
Nelson is currently in the middle of a busy month. He plays this Wednesday at New York’s Forest Hills Stadium with Van Morrison, and is playing East Coast dates of the Outlaw Music Fest and Farm Aid with his son’s groups Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and Particle Kid, and more. “There’s no better feeling,” Nelson says, “than having kids working with you and doing a good job.”