Musician Amanda Shires first began playing the fiddle with the Texas Playboys at the young age of 15. That’s around the same time she saw another woman, Bobbie Nelson, pursuing a career in music – and Shires says that made it seem like a musical path for her was possible.
Shires, who would eventually meet her role model and even play on stage alongside Willie Nelson and the Family band, found her own success, not only as a solo artist but also in forming the country supergroup the Highwomen. Her newest album is a collaboration with the late Bobbie Nelson called “Loving You,” a concept that came about as she considered putting the song “Always On My Mind” on her 2022 album “Take It Like a Man.”
“I thought to myself, ‘Self, how do we make this the best version of this song?’ And I thought, I need to have Bobbie Nelson,” she said. “So I reached out and went to Texas to record it. And then, when we got in the studio together, we decided that we were making a record together now, and that ‘Always On My Mind’ would be on our record.”
Shires recalled “the magic” of Nelson as a role model to a young female musician.
“I’d seen her play a lot, you know, as a kid in Texas and saw her as the first side person – sideman, but sidewoman. And I thought during my time of doing that, I was like, ‘Well, if she can do it, I can do it,'” Shires said. “I saw her as a wizard and an effortless piano player and also as a real support in the band. And then later I came to understand her story and realized all that she had done as far as making the road a little bigger for women in the musician role and all that. I hadn’t really seen any other women in that role as far as a sideman. And then I learned a lot more about her story, about all that it took for her to keep her place in music and to have music.”
That story included Nelson having her kids taken away from her for playing in places that served alcohol and the subsequent work to get her kids back, then going to school for business and demoing Hammond organs when they first came out.
“She was not a drunk, and she was not at all an unfit mother. But in those days, you know, we couldn’t even have a credit card or own land without having it cosigned,” Shires said. “So she had to jump through more hoops than most. And I think she did a great job.”
Shires said that Nelson was very open to talking about anything.
“If you asked her any kind of question about any of it, she was ready to answer with a deep and real answer,” she said. “Like I even said, ‘How did you get through all this many years, not only in the music business, but as far as what had happened in your personal life?’ And she said, really, the only thing that she’d know to do is forgive, because that’s really the only thing you could do, you know?”
Selecting the songs for “Loving You” came about organically, Shires said, as she and Nelson went back and forth playing music together in the studio.
“Her and Willie were both big Bob Wills fans, and we did ‘Always On My Mind,’ and she was like, ‘You know what we should do? We should do “Summertime.”‘ And I was like, ‘Perfect, so we’ll do that,'” Shires said. “We just kind of like naturally found our way into recording songs that kind of matched the timeline of her life. We would be recording, and it wouldn’t feel like a whole day passed. And then there it was, passed, and then it felt like a renewal in the energizing feel to music.”