Tami Neilson

Tami Neilson

Being cradled in Roy Orbison’s arms as a baby, and singing a duet with Willie Nelson are only some of the many impressive aspects of Tami Neilson’s life. Hours before she headlined 2023’s TakeRoot festival in Groningen, the versatile Canadian songwriter with an incredibly powerful voice, treated us to the very first live performances of two songs from her upcoming Willie Nelson tribute album Neilson Sings Nelson – as well as her own stunning song Beyond The Stars, with her brother Jay stepping in on vocals for Willie Nelson who couldn’t join us in Groningen.

Please watch Always On My Mind, Sister’s Coming Home / Down At The Corner Beer Joint and Beyond The Stars below and read the interview I had with Tami Neilson right after filming this. This session features Jay Neilson on guitar and Mark Mariash on drums.

“Some of my very first memories were holding the Pretty Paper vinyl at Christmas time.”

“I wrote Beyond The Stars about the loss of my father and I wrote it as a duet with his voice singing to me in the second verse. So, when I went to record the song I thought: who on earth could fill the shoes of my dad. You may as well aim for the very, very top and then work your way down, so I aimed for Willie Nelson and the very top said yes. That song is special for so many reasons, there are so many layers to that song for me. Having Willie sing it with me… I still have to listen to it every once in a while to make sure it’s real. Like I’ve been asleep for the last two years and I dreamt it.”

Willie Nelson has always been a huge influence in Tami Neilson’s life. “From the time I was tiny, some of my very first memories were holding his Pretty Paper vinyl at Christmas time. When I look at the Stardust cover, I’m immediately sitting on our avocado green shag carpet in our classic late 70’s living room as a kid. He’s been the soundtrack to my life. As an artist, I’m often told that my greatest strength and weakness is that I cover so many genres in my music; I do everything from country to soul to rockabilly to blues.”

“While creatively I think it’s my greatest strength, because that’s the music I love, but I’m also told by people in the music industry, that it makes it hard to market my work. I can understand that if you’re looking at me as a product instead of an artist, but the thing is, Willie has always embodied that he’s an artist that has always been genre fluid. He’s covered everything from country to jazz, he collaborates with everyone from Snoop Dogg to Dolly Parton to Ray Charles and everything in between. I think he just did a concert with ZZ Top, you know?”

The night before we filmed Tami Neilson’s session and did this interview, Willie Nelson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Neilson laughs out loud and tells me: “I messaged Willie and said: ‘We already know that you rock, but I don’t think anybody can beat you in the rolling department’.”

“Willie has always very much made his own way, unapologetically.”

“Artistically and creatively, Willie has always been a true north for me. Even memories like growing up in a family band with my parents and my brothers. I said to him if you want to legally adopt me I’m happy to drop the ‘I’ out of my name. My parents had a good run, you know. They’ll understand. I remember going into records stores to look for our albums to see if a record store carried our Neilson Family albums and I would always head to the Willie Nelson section, because we were always filed after him. And so he’s just always been this presence.”

“Being a woman in my forties… he’s a man who did not have his mainstream success until he was in his forties and so just in every way he’s always been a real inspiration for me and has always very much made his own way, unapologetically.”

“And that’s the thing with Willie, when you get to know him, he’s a very trusting, generous, kind person. When you spend time in his presence, at first you’re shaking and nervous, and then you’re put at ease so quickly because he’s the most down to earth. You get to a point where you forget that he’s this world famous icon, because he doesn’t behave that way at all. Doing card tricks for you, and telling jokes. I just wanted to kind of pay tribute to him.”

“It’s really nice to do a project that’s just pure joy.”

Tami Neilson’s face lights up when she talks about Willie Nelson, and perhaps even more so when she tells me the story about how she came to record her upcoming covers album Neilson Sings Nelson. “In 2023 I went to play Luck Reunion in Texas, and I stayed for a few extra days with them, and hired out his studio. The Pedernales studio is not open to the public anymore, it’s just where he tracks his vocals and Trigger. But they let us go into those studios and record. I wanted to do an album of all his songs, and so this session is the first time we’ve performed them live.”

“It was just me and Jay. And then our other brother, I flew him down to document it, because he does all of my visuals and my videos. Him and his colleague came to film the whole thing, and then he quickly got roped into playing drums and singing. It was special. It was the three Neilson kids, the first time we’ve performed since we were in the family band, when we were teenagers. So that was really cool. The three of us recorded his songs, and there’s also an acoustic version of Beyond The Stars on there and it’s called Neilson Sings Nelson.”

“I’m not often a person that does covers, so I initially did the project to give it to him for his 90th birthday. But then I was like, I think we should share this. Because it’s just a really special project, honoring him.”

“For a lot of my original stuff I dig deep as a songwriter, because I sing about things that are important to me. I kind of challenge inequality and feminism and all those things. Those are all really close to my heart, and it’s something that I’m proud to sing about, but it’s really nice to do a project that’s just pure joy, and it’s like a palate cleanser.”

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Always On My Mind
(Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher & Mark James)
Tidal | Apple Music

Sister’s Coming Home / Down At The Corner Beer Joint (Willie Nelson)
Tidal | Apple Music

Tami Neilson

Apple Music


Filmed by David Lawson Froggatt & Matthijs van der Ven.
Edited by Matthijs van der Ven.
Audio recorded & mixed by Matthijs van der Ven.

Take Root Festival
Groningen, The Netherlands

Joey Ruchtie
Rachel Huneker
Jay Neilson
Mark Mariash

There is no better way to discover music than watching great musicians cover the songs they love. The Influences has been producing these videos ever since 2008.

Read more.

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