Willie Nelson learned how to write songs from listening to Hank Williams, Bob Wills, and more. But one person, above all, taught him how to sing: Frank Sinatra. And, on February 26th, Nelson will release That’s Life, a new collection of Sinatra covers.
That’s Life digs a little deeper than his previous covers album, My Way; in addition to hits like the title track and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” he includes lesser-known classics like “Just in Time” and “The Lonesome Road” from 1959.
“I learned a lot about phrasing listening to Frank,” Nelson said in 2018. “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 has routinely visited Sinatra’s songbook over the years, first on 1978’s Stardust, full of standards that Sinatra popularized. That recond went quadruple platinum and became his most successful album ever. In 2018, Nelson released My Way, made up entirely of Sinatra songs, and won a Grammy.
One of Nelson’s favorite songs from the new covers album is “A Cottage for Sale,” written by Larry Conley and Willard Robison. Listen to the new version here. Nelson recently told Dallas Wayne on Sirius XM’s Willie’s Roadhouse that he first heard Jerry Jeff Walker cover the track. “I thought it was such a great song, and I found out a lot of other people did it too,” Nelson said. “I’m just glad to be able to do another tribute to him. I’m anxious to get it out there.”
Nelson recorded the new album with producers Buddy Cannon and Matt Rollings at Hollywood’s Capitol Studios, where Sinatra recorded his classics from 1956 to 1961. Sinatra was a huge Nelson fan — he reportedly called Nelson his favorite singer after hearing Stardust, and the two teamed up for a series of shows at Las Vegas’ Golden Nugget in 1984. Nelson was so big at the time that Sinatra opened for him.
The run didn’t last long: Sinatra canceled his appearances after the first night due to throat problems, although it became a music legend that Sinatra just didn’t like being an opening act. “That’s bullshit,” Nelson said later. “Like me, Frank wasn’t hung up on being the headliner. He was the consummate pro.”
Nelson has had a busy quarantine. He released a book, Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band, hosted several shows on his Sirius XM channel with his daughter Paula, and recorded many performances with his sons Lukas and Micah. “I’ll be glad to get out there to play anywhere as soon as we can,” he said recently. “Inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, I don’t care, as long as we can get a few people. This [pandemic] has been hard on everybody.”