What is 420 divided by 90? As you think about it, absorb the news that on the eve of Willie Nelson’s 90th birthday, he and Billy Strings released their own birthday present to the world — a surprise collaboration called “California Sober,” which, as you might be able to, came about as the title suggests, weed celebrates it as its own form of moderation.
It’s the first song to be released under Strings’ new deal with Reprise Records, following a long association with Rounder.
The music video shows the two collaborators and band members recording their parts individually, though a framing device lets Strings board a bus – presumably Nelson’s – which belches out a large volume of smoke as it exits at the end. Strings, a young neo-bluegrass picker who is now selling out shows across the country, is spotted with a joint hanging out of his mouth while performing one of the acoustic solos he’s famous for while wearing a shirt pointed to “Doobie” rhymes with “Scoobi.” Nelson isn’t so clear on his choice of cannabis, having reportedly quit smoking for edibles and other lung-protecting variations a few years ago.
Written by William Apostol, Aaron Allen and Jon Weisberger, the song is from the perspective of someone who’s grown into a mature adult and has given up pretty much all the vices in life – except for cannabis, which doesn’t count, is counted against less mitigating drugs or alcohol.
“Well, I used to love to wander around with my good friends and neighbors / Now I find I’d rather be in bed awake,” Strings sings at the beginning. “And I don’t get mean if I keep my enthusiasm clean / And keep the hard stuff and whiskey out of my head… / I can’t stay and party like I used to be / That’s how I’m California sober, as they say.”
Though Nelson didn’t co-write the song, those words would tie in with what he’s said about marijuana in the past and how he feels the recording saved him from becoming a mean drunk.
Fans of both artists can hope the song will premiere live this weekend, as Strings is on the bill for Nelson’s two-day birthday celebration at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday and Sunday.
The Bowl performance in LA is String’s last stop before touring May 11-12 with a sold-out two-night stand at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. His touring dance card is on full page during a three-night stand scheduled for New Orleans December 29-31. He will soon be returning to LA with a sold out night at Greek May 19.
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