Sunday, April 8, 2012

Willie Nelson -- "Uncloudy Day" (1977)

Oh, they tell me of a home far beyond the skies
Oh, they tell me of a home far away
Oh, they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise
Oh, they tell me of an unclouded day

Most Saturdays and Sundays, I ride my bike to Lake Needwood, a small manmade lake that's only a few miles from my house.  Yesterday, I was struck by how clear the sky over the lake was:

Lake Needwood yesterday
I knew I heard a song with the phrase "uncloudy day" or "unclouded day" in the lyrics, so I pulled out my Blackberry and did a quick Google search.  When I saw the rest of the lyrics, I decided it was the perfect song to feature on 2 or 3 lines today.

"The Unclouded Day," was written by J. K Alwood, a United Brethren Church preacher, in August 1879.  Alwood was returning to his home after participating in a theological debate with an Adventist minister when he witnessed an unusual meteorological phenomenon.  He later described what he saw that night:

It was a balmy night in August 1879, when returning from a debate in Spring Hill, Ohio, to my home in Morenci, Michigan, about 1:00 a.m., I saw a beautiful rainbow north by northwest against a dense black nimbus cloud.  The sky was all perfectly clear except this dark cloud which covered about forty degrees of the horizon and extended about halfway to the zenith.  The phenomenon was entirely new to me and my nerves refreshed by the balmy air and the lovely sight. . . . To awake [the next morning] and look abroad and remember the night was to be filled with sweet melody.  Awhile at the organ brought forth a piece of music now known as "The Unclouded Day." 

A number of well-known singers (like Johnny Cash, Ralph Stanley, and Loretta Lynn) and not-so-well-known singers have performed "The Unclouded Day" -- there are hundreds of recorded versions available through the major online music sites -- and it took me a long time to decide which version to feature on 2 or 3 lines.

I chose Willie Nelson's recording of the song (which he calls "Uncloudy Day"), which made it to #4 on the Billboard country charts in 1977, for several reasons.  First, it features some nice gospel piano playing.  (Many of the recordings of this song are done bluegrass style, which is a little foreign to where I grew up -- I prefer gospel piano accompaniment.)  Second, it includes all four verses of the songs.  (Many of those who have recorded the song cut it down to two or three verses.)  Finally, hearing Willie Nelson sing a song is always interesting.)

Here's Willie Nelson's version (which includes all the words to the song):

The late Howard and Vestal Goodman were Southern gospel legends.  Here's a video of them singing "The Unclouded Day" on The PTL Club:

Here's Ralph Stanley's bluegrass version:

According to this video, "The Unclouded Sky" was the first song Johnny Cash ever performed in public.  He was 12 years old when he sang the song in a church in Dyess, Arkansas -- accompanied on the piano by his mother.

Finally, here's Willie Nelson performing the song once more in the underrated 1980 movie, Honeysuckle Rose.  (In that movie, Nelson was a touring country singer who had an affair with a very young Amy Irving -- she replaced her father in Nelson's band when he became too ill to go on the tour -- but patched things up with his wife, Dyan Cannon, when he returned home.)

Click here to buy Willie's 1977 version of the song from Amazon:

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