As he emerged as a major figure in the 1970's, he made his own lifelong admiration for Wills clear. Wills in fact was a friend who in 1963 wrote the liner notes for Here's Willie Nelson, his second album for Liberty Records. Onstage Willie played tunes like "Stay All Night (Stay A Little Longer)" for years--still does. He wrote an appreciate of Wills for Country Music Magazine back in the day. One of his frequent collaborators, fiddler-mandolinist Johnny Gimble, was a former Texas Playboy.
Willie's Country Music article praised Asleep at the Wheel (who formed in Paw Paw, West Virginia, south of the Mason-Dixon Line), for their ability to re-create the Wills sound. After the band moved to Austin, they became friends and often shared stages together.
In 2009, they teamed up to record Willie and the Wheel, a western swing album widely praised by many (myself included) for re-creating the music in its loose jazzy manner without imitating. This is a live performance of one of the tunes: "Oh, You Pretty Woman," a tune Bob Wills recorded in 1941 with his big band version of the Texas Playboys.
First Willie and the Wheel.
Another, from February 16, 2009 Late Show with David Letterman: "Hesitation Blues," a song predating western swing made famous in that genre by Milton Brown and the Musical Brownies, the first great western band (Bob Wills hadn't yet formed the Texas Playboys). Paul Shaffer sits in on piano. The weird looking steel guitar is a four-neck, pre-pedal model.
And from December 1984, "After You've Gone," from an Austin City Limits tribute to Django Reinhardt teaming Willie (playing Trigger) with Django fan Merle Haggard, singer-songwriter Freddie Powers and a few members of Haggard's band the Strangers including trumpeter Gary Church, fiddler Jimmy Belken and former Texas Playboy electric mandoliinist Tiny Moore. Never mind the mistitle on the video. The song is a swinging take on the traditional "Columbus Stockade Blues." Willie's solo is full of Django licks.
This clip goes back to 1965. It's Willie from Ernest Tubb's syndicated TV show, singing "My Window Faces the South," first popularized by the great jazzman Fats Waller, where Bob Wills picked it up. Backing him, Willie are Tubb's blazing hot band the Texas Troubadours (Leon Rhodes, guitar; Buddy Charleton, pedal steel) and swing fiddler Wade Ray.