Story Behind the Song: Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, ‘Unfair Weather Friend’
When Marla Cannon-Goodman wrote "Unfair Weather Friend" with her frequent collaborator Ward Davis, neither of them imagined that two of country music's greatest icons -- Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard -- would record it together, nor that it would become one of the final releases of Haggard's career. Below, Cannon-Goodman shares with The Boot the story behind "Unfair Weather Friend," and the surprising way it became a duet between Nelson and Haggard.
My best friend since I was 10 years old, Amy, her mother had just died. There had been a gathering of me and her and her sister and her sister’s best friend: All of us were around her mother’s bed; we were there with her until the end.
I was writing with Ward Davis the next week. I said, “This has been heavy on my heart all week. I’ve been dealing with that, since she’s my best friend, and I know she would sit there with me through all of that." I was thinking "Fair Weather Friend," and she’s not; she’s anything but that. There was a storm outside, and Ward said, “You know, it’s kind of like she’s your unfair weather friend.” So we sat there that day, and we wrote it.
Actually, at the time, Daddy [producer Buddy Cannon] was working on a project for Willie, on the To All the Girls ... album, [released in 2013]; he was doing the duet album. So Ward and I had the idea that maybe Sheryl Crow could do it as a duet. We pitched it to them, and they passed on it.
When it came time [to record Django and Jimmie], I was like, “Daddy, do you think "Unfair Weather Friend" might be good for them?” He said, “I don’t know! Send it to me. Pitch me.” So I pitched it to him, and he sent it to Willie, and Willie loved it. Willie sent it to Merle, and Merle loved it.
It ended up being something really special. They actually played it at Merle’s funeral, and my mom said that everybody in there was weeping. She said Annie [Nelson, Willie Nelson's wife,] turned around and said, “Tell Marla thank you for making me cry.”
It’s very surreal. Being able to meet them and talk to them, it was amazing. And to hear them sing our song, words can’t describe that.
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