Willie Nelson and Asleep At The Wheel – “Hesitation Blues”

Juli Thanki | September 17th, 2009


In 1933, the year Willie Nelson was born, “Hesitation Blues” had already been on record for nearly 20 years: The earliest version I can find, listed in the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings, was by the Victor Military Band in 1916.

In the intervening decades, it’s been recorded by everyone from Jelly Roll Morton to Reverend Gary Davis to Janis Joplin to Old Crow Medicine Show. Now it’s Willie’s turn on this opening track from Willie and the Wheel. Like the other classic tracks on this superlative album, “Hesitation Blues” was handpicked by Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler for Nelson to record with Asleep at the Wheel in the 1970s. 30-some years later, Wexler’s idea for an album finally saw the light of day. And boy, was it worth the wait.

Accompanied, of course, by the excellent musicianship of Asleep at the Wheel, Nelson sounds downright jaunty tackling Western Swing, infusing sterile mp3 with the warmth of yesterday. His immediately recognizable voice is contrasted with the lovely, polished harmonies of Asleep at the Wheel, and the juxtaposition is irresistible as a whiskey sour. Listening to the song, it’s near impossible to sit still or quit grinning, thanks to the jazzy horn section and rollicking barroom piano.

Not only is “Hesitation Blues” a wonderful collaboration between like-minded musical legends on one of American music’s most enduring songs, it’s one of the best singles of 2009. But it sounds as though it’s been here for a lifetime.

Thumbs Up

  1. Hubba
    September 17, 2009 at 11:20 am

    That kicks ass!

  2. Rick
    September 17, 2009 at 11:37 am

    I really, really like the entire “Willie & The Wheel” album but have to admit this is my favorite track by quite a margin. It is a darn near perfect re-interpretation of a classic old time tune with a perfect combination of dixieland jazz and western swing influences. This song just “rocks”!

    Fans of historical forms of country music will love this song while those with no familiarity will just scratch their heads. In my capacity as fill-in DJ at the Grand Ole Echo Club I’ve played this song between sets during their Americana oriented concerts with no response from the audience. On the other hand the performing honky tonk artists like David Serby thoroughly enjoy it!

    PS – My only complaint about “Willie & The Wheel” is the rolled off high frequency response of the album. I really have to crank the treble control up to get some life and sparkle in the sound. Hmm…

  3. Brady Vercher
    September 17, 2009 at 11:59 am

    For anyone that doesn’t have the album yet, it’s only $5.00 on Amazon MP3.

  4. JD
    September 17, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Rick…… if they put any more high end on Willie’s nasally voice I think my head would explode.

    Brilliant performance by The Wheel tho…

  5. Leeann Ward
    September 17, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    This is an awesome song from an excellent album. I bought it before it went down to $5, but it was well worth it. I seem to really like Willy’s side/concept projects. Willie’s voice still sounds great here, though it’s starting to sound more worn on his new, albeit great, American Classics album.

  6. Steve Harvey
    September 17, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    This track is a total killer! Jumps out of the stereo at you. It’s impossible not to involuntarily do the ‘Won’t you tell me how long/Do I have to wait/Can I get you now’ backing vocals – impossible I tells ya!
    Has anything more fun been released this year? No. The answer to that question is no.

  7. Stormy
    September 17, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Wel, I was going to listen to it until I found out it was going to jump out of the stero and kill me. Nice try Ray, better luck next time.

  8. Steve Harvey
    September 17, 2009 at 10:28 pm


    Won’t you tell me how long
    Do I have to wait
    Can I get you know?
    Must I hesitate

  9. Eric Jackson
    September 23, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Willie and the Wheel is the finest musical release of the year. Hesitation Blues is great, but my favorite track is I’m Sitting on Top of the World in which Willie shares vocals with Elizabeth McGovern.
    Willie and Asleep at the Wheel did a short tour earlier this year in which they performed all the tracks from the album, plus more. It was spectacular and I wish they would go back out again.

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