Willie Nelson’s ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’: Story Behind the Song

by Clayton Edwards

Willie Nelson is a household name. You don’t have to be a music historian or even an avid country fan to know about The Red-Headed Stranger. Through his acting, attitude, and activism Willie has transcended music to become a kind of American icon. This status did not come quickly or easily, though.

In the early days of his career, Willie only had a couple of top-ten hit songs as a performer. Most of his success in those days came from his songwriting ability. He was behind some of the biggest hits in country music history. It seems strange, then, that one of his most iconic tunes is one that he did not write. That song, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” was almost thirty years old before Willie Nelson released his version.

Willie Nelson’s Version of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”

Willie Nelson didn’t see much success as a performer in the first years of his career. He penned massive hits such as Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” At the time though, he had only had two top-ten hits and barely hit the top twenty a handful of times as a performer. When he released “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” it had been almost fifteen years since his last top-ten hit. This song would go straight to the top, cement Nelson as a singer, and become one of his most iconic tracks. The track hit number one on the Billboard Country chart, number twenty-one on the publication’s Hot 100 chart, and was number three on the year-end country chart.

The song was on Willie Nelson’s 1975 album “Red-Headed Stranger” which sold over two million copies. When the album was later adapted into a feature-length film, the song was included in the soundtrack.

“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” much like “On the Road Again,” would go on to be synonymous with Willie Nelson. It is widely regarded as Willie Nelson’s song even though he was not the first nor the last person to record it.

A Brief History of the Song

Willie Nelson is the reason most people have heard “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”

Before he released his version of the song, several other artists had recorded the song. In fact, some of the biggest names in country music have released their own arrangements of it.

Roy Acuff was the first to record the song. His name may not be familiar to some but he is one of the most historically significant artists in country music. In fact, when talking about Acuff the legendary Hank Williams Sr. told one music critic, “He’s the biggest singer this music ever knew. You booked him and you didn’t worry about crowds. For drawing power in the South, it was Roy Acuff, then God.” That’s some big praise coming from one of the genre’s biggest stars.

Hank Sr. is also among the greats who have released a version of the song. Slim Whitman and Charley Pride are also on that list. All of these renditions were released before Willie Nelson took it to the top of the charts. After Nelson, several notable acts, including Elvis have revisited the song. No act big or small will ever be able to match the arrangement that put the track and The Red-Headed Stranger on the map.