by: Patrick Doyle
“Hello, I know you!” Merle Haggard says as he emerges from the bedroom of his tour bus. He’s talking to Willie Nelson, who’s sitting in the bus’s cramped front quarters. Standing nearby, Nelson’s wife, Annie, asks the pair if they’ll sign a couple of acoustic guitars for a charity run by Matthew McConaughey, a friend of the family. “Absolutely not,” Haggard says with a smile. Later, when Annie takes a photo of the two signing the guitars, Nelson grins and gives the camera the finger.
It’s a perfect Saturday night in South Texas, where Haggard, 78, and Nelson, 82, are playing the last of three sold-out shows together at New Braunfels’ Whitewater Amphitheater. Haggard is about to play a set, during which Nelson will join him on “Okie From Muskogee,” “Pancho and Lefty” and a handful of other songs. Backstage, Nelson family members catch up; his rail-thin 90-year-old roadie Ben Dorcy (who was once John Wayne’s assistant) ambles around, smoking a pipe. Directly behind the stage, locals ride down the Guadalupe River in inner tubes, stopping on the bank to listen to the show. “We’ll get somebody out there to sell them tickets,” Nelson jokes.
Sitting side by side on the bus, Nelson and Haggard look like they could be a grizzled Mount Rushmore of country music. “It’s a mutual-admiration society with us,” says Nelson. “Merle’s one of the best. There’s not anyone out there that can beat him. Maybe Kris Kristofferson. But then you start running out of names.”
Haggard and Nelson are about to release a new LP, Django and Jimmie. (The title is a tribute to Nelson’s and Haggard’s respective heroes, Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers.)
One of the best songs is “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” an ode to their late friend and a meditation on mortality. “There’s a thousand good stories about John,” says Nelson. Haggard tells one, about the time Cash thought it would be hilarious to dynamite a broken-down car he encountered on the side of the road. “He hooks it all up, hits the plunger and blows it up. And he said, ‘Now, when that guy goes to tell his old lady his car blew up, he won’t be lying!’?” Nelson cackles, adding, “John used to say, ‘I always get my best thinking done when June is talking.’?”
“I didn’t know anything about marijuana,” Haggard says. “It’s fantastic.”
Nelson and Haggard met at a poker game at Nelson’s Nashville house in 1964, when both were struggling songwriters. (Neither would have major success until they left Nashville behind; Nelson for Austin, Haggard for Bakersfield, California.) They didn’t become close until the late Seventies, when they were playing casinos in Reno. “We’d play a couple of long shows a day, then spend all night long jamming,” says Haggard.
In 1982, they recorded Pancho & Lefty together at Nelson’s ranch near Austin, where they’d stay awake for days — “We were living pretty hard in that time period,” Nelson has said — playing golf and then recording all night (Haggard barely remembers singing his famous verse on “Pancho and Lefty”). At the time, they were fasting on a master-cleanse regimen of cayenne pepper and lemon juice. “I think Willie went 10 days,” says Haggard. “I went seven.”
“I still ain’t got over it,” says Nelson. “Still hungry.” Adds Haggard, “You’re still high!”
These days, they share a love of conspiracy theories (both are devoted fans of paranormal-obsessed radio host Art Bell) and making music with their children (Haggard’s son Ben plays guitar in his band; Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah frequently join their father onstage). “It’s as good as it gets, to have your kids up there playing,” says Nelson. “And they’re good!”
On the new album, the two cover Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright).” The track was recorded before Dylan criticized Haggard and other artists in a widely publicized MusicCares speech in February: “Merle Haggard didn’t think much of my songs, but Buck Owens did,” Dylan said. “Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody’s blessing — you figure it out.” Dylan later apologized.
Haggard (who toured with Dylan in 2005) thinks Dylan was talking about the Merle Haggard of the Sixties — the guy who took shots at hippies, weed and premarital sex in 1969’s “Okie From Muskogee.”
“I didn’t misunderstand Bob,” says Haggard. “I know what he meant. He figured I was lumping him in with hippies [in the Sixties]. The lack of respect for the American military hurt my feelings at the time. But I never lumped Bob Dylan in with the hippies. What made him great was the fact that every body liked him. And I’ll tell you one thing, the goddamn hippies have got no exclusive on Bob Dylan!” He pauses. “Bob likes to box — I’d like to get in the ring with his ass, and give him somebody to hit.”
In fact, these days Merle Haggard is far more liberal than the man in his classic songs. For one thing, he loves pot. “I didn’t know anything about marijuana back then,” he says. “It’s one of the most fantastic things in the world.” Did he and Nelson smoke in the studio? “Are you kidding me?” Haggard says with a laugh.
Soon, the conversation devolves to jokes. “You know what you call a guitar player without a girlfriend?” Nelson asks. “Homeless.”
Next, they talk current events, Nelson explaining the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit to Haggard. (“They stole more than they were supposed to,” he says. Haggard nods.) Asked if either has any thoughts about communicating with fans through social media, they shake their heads. “Just so long as somebody else can do it,” says Nelson. “That’s why I didn’t learn to play steel guitar.”
“What was that little girl that played steel in Asleep at the Wheel?” says Haggard. “Cindy Cashdollar. Everybody was trying to look up her dress.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” deadpans Nelson. “I think I had the wrong angle.”
By now, Haggard is supposed to be onstage; his son has been extending his three-song warm-up set for several minutes, telling the crowd his father will be out soon. These co-headline dates sold so well that Nelson says there will be more: “In fact, I was talking to some folks today — I was gonna see what they thought of making us do a tour of it when it comes out.”
He turns to Haggard. “We ought to do whatever we can get — as many days as we need to,” Nelson says with a smile. “Because I know it’s a good record. I think it might sell a couple.”
Always confirm shows and get tickets at www.WillieNelson.com, or the venue.
The Joint at Hard Rock
Lea County Events Center
Oct 15, 16
Los Angeles, CA
San Diego, CA
Avila Beach Amphitheater
San Luis Obispo, CA
Oct 22, 23
Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit
Billy Bob’s Texas
Fort Worth, TX
City Bank Auditorium
Lake Charles, LA
Silver Star Convention Center
Bancorp South Arena
It’s always a moving celebration, when Willie Nelson invites artists to join him back on stage for a grand finale at the end of the Farm Aid concert. Artists who generously gave their time to fly to the festival and perform, and probably have gigs the next night, come back together to sing gospel songs with Willie Nelson and family. This is only half the stage — the stage is so high, and it was so crowded in the photo pit, I couldn’t get everyone’s photo.
Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews host an annual concert to raise funds to support Farm Aid’s work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family farm food. Since 1985, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists who contribute their performances each year, has raised more than $50 million to help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.
Willie Nelson is not just a singer and song writer. Willie Nelson is an American Legend whose musical style has crossed every boundary. Now is your chance to own a beautiful Bedell Acoustic Guitar signed by the man himself. This elegant instrument comes complete with hard shell case, certificate of authenticity and a photo of Willie Nelson signing the guitar at his ranch in Texas.
The Bedell Earthsong Orchestra proves it is possible to create a guitar with incredible tone while honoring a complete commitment to forest stewardship. The Earthsong Orchestra is inspired by the beauty and wonder of the American landscape: the streams and deserts, swamps and forests, beaches and valleys, and all the natural wonders that grace this vast and diverse country, from shore to shore.
The Bedell Earthsong Orchestra isn’t just sustainable, it is also built using only American harvested woods: a salvaged Sitka spruce soundboard, Western bigleaf maple back and sides, an Eastern hard rock maple neck, and a walnut fretboard, bridge and peghead overlay. Bedell craftsmen have achieved unparalleled tone and projection from these plentiful American woods for a truly planet-friendly guitar made from ethically harvested trees.Donated by: Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson’s beautiful collection of songs honoring his friend Ray Price is available in your favorite record store, and from on-line stores as well.
Willie Nelson was a former member of Price’s Cherokee Cowboy and close life-long friend. Willie recorded the twelve-track album at Ocean Way Studios, where Price also recorded. Engineered by Fred Foster and Bergen White, the album features Vince Gill on six tracks.
1. “Heartaches by the Number (featuring the Time Jumpers)”
2. “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me) (featuring the Time Jumpers)”
3. “Faded Love”
4. “It Always Will Be”
5. “City Lights (featuring the Time Jumpers)”
6. “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me(featuring the Time Jumpers)”
7. “Make the World Go Away”
8. “I’m Still Not Over You”
9. “Night Life”
10. “Crazy Arms (featuring the Time Jumpers)”
11. “Invitation to the Blues (featuring the Time Jumpers)”
12. “For The Good Times”
by: Brittany Hodak
What do you get when you combine 30 of the biggest country stars on the planet and three of the most beloved songs of all time? ”Forever Country,” an impressive video mash-up of talent dreamed up by the Country Music Association to help promote the 50th CMA Awards, which air live on Nov. 2.
The video, which features big-name artists singing parts of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” debuted last night on ABC’s Dancing With The Stars. The show’s exposure helped the “We Are The World”-esque song once again rise to the top of the iTunes Country chart, where it first appeared last Friday when the single was released.
CMA Awards co-hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood join Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, George Strait and other A-listers on the project. The idea for the song and its accompanying video was born at a CMA board meeting as a way to celebrate the milestone of 50 years of Awards. Grammy and CMA Award-winning producer and songwriter Shane McAnally produced the track, which most artists recorded their parts on during the CMA Music Fest in June. The video was produced by Grammy-winning director Joseph Kahn, whose biggest artist-wrangling moment prior to this was directing 15 guest stars in Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” music video.
“When I first heard the idea of the mashup, I was like, ‘How’s that’s gonna work?’ because they’re three very different songs by three very different artists,” Underwood says. “I’m honored to be a part of it, and to be singing parts on ‘I Will Always Love You,’ which I actually do in my tour set, so it’s perfect.”
Despite her initial skepticism, the mash-up works surprisingly well. The song clocks in at just over four minutes, with most artists singing just one or two lines. “The people that came to it early had to cover a lot of ground, because I didn’t know if every line would be covered,” McAnally
“Some of those people were really generous with their time, singing a lot more than what ended up on the track. As we neared the finish line, it came down to some folks literally having just one line left they could sing, and it was like, ‘Please, God, just let this work with their voice.’”
Parton, Nelson and Denver are all former CMA Awards Entertainer of the Year nominees. “It’s a great honor and I’m glad to be part of it,” Willie Nelson says of the reimagining of his classic song. Urban, up for the Entertainer trophy this year, says “I’ve played ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ many, many times. As geographic as the song is in so many places, it’s also incredibly universal. I think that’s why songs like that transcend everything, because it’s about home and very universal, human things,”
The full list of artists in the video includes: Alabama, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Brooks & Dunn, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Brett Eldredge, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Ronnie Milsap, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, Rascal Flatts, Reba, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, George Strait, Randy Travis, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Trisha Yearwood.
The 50th Annual Country Music Association Awards will air live from Nashville on ABC on Nov. 2 at 8 pm EST.
photo by: Jason Riedmiller Photography
by: Brad Patton
The day-long festival, a late addition to the local venue’s calendar, had a little something for everybody as Lee Ann Womack, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Sheryl Crow, and Scranton’s own Cabinet filled the bill. Performances on the second stage included an acoustic set by Lukas Nelson and local artists, including members of Cabinet playing the music of John Prine, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams.
Young, the now 70-year-old rocker, took the stage just before 7 p.m. for a lovely solo rendition of “Heart of Gold,” accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica.
He then brought out his latest collaborators, Promise of the Real featuring Willie’s sons Lukas and Micah Nelson, for acoustic favorites “Out on the Weekend,” “Unknown Legend,” “Human Highway” with gorgeous four-part harmonies, “Harvest Moon,” and “Hold Back the Tears.”
Young then picked up his electric guitar and a multi-page setlist, tossed the papers to the floor, and started into “Powderfinger” from 1979’s “Rust Never Sleeps.”
Following that same album’s “Welfare Mothers,” Young and his cohorts then played a stunning, 11-minute “Cowgirl in the Sand.” The harmonies were back for 1969’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” the title track of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s second album.
Several minutes of instrumental buildup turned into a nearly-20-minute version of “Cortez the Killer,” followed by an equally outstanding take of “Fuckin’ Up” from the 1990 album “Ragged Glory,” his sixth LP with Crazy Horse.
Young and POTR then tore the roof off with a combustible “Rockin’ in the Free World,” complete with two false endings and some standout guitar work by Lukas Nelson.
photo: Jason Riedmiller
Willie Nelson, listed as curator of the Outlaw gathering, closed out the festival just one day after his closing set at the 31st Farm Aid in Bristow, Virginia.
Taking the stage with his Family and his ever-faithful guitar Trigger, the elder Nelson, now 83 and still showing no signs of slowing down, somehow managed to fit 19 songs into his hour-long set.
The early going was familiar to everyone who has seen Willie over the past few years, as he began with “Whiskey River,” “Still Is Still Moving to Me,” and “Beer for My Horses.”
Nelson then paid tribute to another musical outlaw, the late Waylon Jennings, with “Good Hearted Woman” and the chart-topping Waylon and Willie duet “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”
Even though the selection was fully expected, Nelson’s version of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” was especially good at the Outlaw, with his guitar playing nearly matching his heartfelt vocals.
After more of the usual suspects, such as “On the Road Again” and “Always on My Mind,” Nelson paid tribute to Hank Williams (on the day after what would have been his 83rd birthday) with spirited versions of “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” “Hey Good Lookin’,” and “Move It on Over.”
Mickey Raphael, Willie’s longtime harmonica player and right-hand man, sparkled on “Georgia on My Mind,” while Willie dug just a little bit deeper for a nice version of “Bloody Mary Morning.”
He then honored the late Merle Haggard with the duo’s “It’s All Going to Pot” and the late Ray Price with “Heartaches by the Number” before treating the crowd to the “new gospel” number “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” which featured some great background vocals by sons Lukas and Micah.
Nelson then closed the show with a medley of actual gospel tunes “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
Nothing has been confirmed yet, but here’s hoping the Outlaw Music Festival becomes an annual event on Montage Mountain.