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Willie Nelson releases “Red Headed Stranger”

April 30, 2020 in History

By Editors

The following content is sponsored by Legacy Recordings.

On May 1, 1975, Willie Nelson releases “Red Headed Stranger,” a concept album that would become the country music maverick’s first smash hit.

Born and raised in Texas, Nelson made his way to the country mecca of Nashville, Tennessee by 1960. He quickly earned a reputation writing songs for other artists—including “Crazy,” which became a huge hit for Patsy Cline in 1961—and went on to record more than a dozen albums of his own.

In the early ‘70s, frustrated by the smooth, heavily orchestrated Nashville sound, Nelson moved to Austin, Texas. Amid the city’s growing hippie music scene, Nelson felt free to be his offbeat, bandanna-wearing self. He released “Shotgun Willie,” considered one of his best albums, in 1973, followed by “Phases and Stages.”

But like his previous albums, neither of them sold that well, and when his record company, Atlantic, closed its country branch, Nelson was left without a label. Fortunately, his agent managed to negotiate a contract with Columbia that gave Nelson complete artistic control (a rare thing in the music business).

In January 1975, while driving home from a ski trip in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Nelson’s then-wife, Connie, reminded him of “Red Headed Stranger,” a ‘50s ballad written by Edith Lindeman and Carl Stutz about a grief-stricken cowboy that Nelson had played on the radio during his years working as a DJ. By the time they got back to Texas, he had spun the story of the song into the concept for his next album.

Combining Nelson’s songs with other songwriters’ work, “Red Headed Stranger” tells the story of the Stranger, a man with long red hair and blue eyes (like Nelson himself). After catching his wife cheating on him with another man, he kills them both, then goes on the run.

Nelson recorded the album in a small studio in Garland, Texas with a trusted group of musicians, including his sister and longtime collaborator, Bobbie. It took about a week and cost just $4,000 in studio costs. The sound was so spare—mostly just piano, guitar and drums—that executives at CBS Records (Columbia’s parent company) didn’t want to put the album out, saying it sounded like a rough demo and people wouldn’t want to buy it.

In fact, “Red Headed Stranger” hit number 1 on the country charts, and eventually went multi-platinum. The first single, “Blue Eyes Crying in …read more


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Amid 1918 Pandemic, Bootleg Whiskey Became a Respectable Medicine

April 30, 2020 in History

By Greg Daugherty

Prohibition proved no match for the deadly virus—at least for a while.

When influenza began to sweep through the U.S. in 1918, a frightened nation looked to an unproven but familiar remedy: whiskey. There was just one problem. More than half the states had passed Prohibition laws by then, making liquor difficult, sometimes impossible, to legally obtain.

As citizens in the so-called dry states pleaded for whiskey to prevent or treat the deadly virus, some resourceful officials hit on a solution: Liberate the vast stores of bootleg liquor that had been confiscated since the statewide laws went into effect. While some of that contraband had simply been poured down the sewers, much of it remained locked away as evidence or perhaps with an eye toward eventual repeal.

Newspapers across the U.S. reported that military doctors were administering confiscated whiskey in Army camps, which had been hard hit by the flu. In Richmond, Virginia, two railroad cars of it reportedly rolled into beleaguered Camp Lee. At Camp Dodge, Iowa, where more than 500 soldiers had already died, hundreds of quarts had been dispatched to fight the influenza, the papers reported.

The Spanish Flu Was Deadlier Than WWI (TV-PG; 5:42)

WATCH: The Spanish Flu Was Deadlier Than WWI

The Army was largely mum about what it was doing, while pro-Prohibition forces maintained that those stories were exaggerated, if not downright false. Some called them German propaganda, branding the reports a “Diabolical Hun Plot” meant to put American soldiers at risk from deadly alcohol.

But before long, officials were breaking out their bootleg whiskey for civilian hospitals, too. Hospitals in Omaha, Nebraska received 500 gallons, courtesy of the local sheriff. The commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service in Washington, meanwhile, ordered his revenue agents in North Carolina to distribute their confiscated whiskey to hospitals around the state.

See all pandemic coverage here.

Doctors debate whiskey’s medicinal merits

The medical community was divided on whether whiskey was of any real use in fighting the influenza or anything else. The highly regarded United States Pharmacopeia, which published standards for prescription and over-the-counter medicines, had dropped whiskey, brandy and wine from its listings in 1916. The following year, the House of Delegates of the American Medical Association had thrown its weight behind Prohibition, resolving, over the objections of some delegates, that “the use of alcohol as a therapeutic agent should be discouraged.”

A revenue agent wearing a …read more


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Steps Leading to the Fall of Saigon—And the Final, Chaotic Airlifts

April 30, 2020 in History

By Christopher Klein

The conflict in Vietnam ended in turmoil in 1975 with the largest helicopter evacuation of its kind in history.

The dulcet tones of “White Christmas” that crackled over Armed Forces Radio airwaves on April 29, 1975, failed to spread cheer across sunbaked Saigon. Instead, the broadcast of the holiday standard after the announcement that “the temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising” instilled fear and panic in all who recognized the coded signal to begin an immediate evacuation of all Americans from Vietnam.

Although the United States had withdrawn its combat forces from Vietnam after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, approximately 5,000 Americans—including diplomats, marine guards, contractors and Central Intelligence Agency employees—remained. President Richard Nixon had secretly promised South Vietnam that the United States would “respond with full force” if North Vietnam violated the peace treaty. However, after the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign, the North Vietnamese Army felt emboldened to launch a major offensive in March 1975.

“From Hanoi’s point of view, the turmoil leading up to and including Nixon’s resignation was an opportunity to take advantage of a distracted United States,” says Tom Clavin, co-author of Last Men Out: The True Story of America’s Heroic Final Hours in Vietnam. “North Vietnam never intended to abide by the 1973 agreement—its ultimate mission was to unify the country—but the political crisis in America allowed them to move up their timetable.”

North Vietnamese Capture Cities en Route to Saigon

A North Vietnamese armored car crashing through Independence Palace’s main gate in Saigon.

After winning a decisive battle at Ban Me Thuot and capturing the central highlands, the North Vietnamese Army swept south and captured the cities of Quang Tri and Hue with little resistance and no American response. The fall of Da Nang, South Vietnam’s second-largest city, on March 29 unleashed a furious exodus that included desperate residents clinging to the rear staircase and landing gear of a World Airways plane and falling to their deaths as it took flight. After watching news coverage of the incident, President Gerald Ford confided to an aide, “It’s time to pull the plug. Vietnam is gone.”

With little American appetite for re-engaging in the Vietnam War, Congress rejected Ford’s request for $722 million to aid South Vietnam. When communist forces seized Xuan Loc on April 21, South Vietnamese President Nguyen …read more