On April 28, 2014, Wilie Nelson – the musician who’s known for his renditions of On the Road Again, To All the girls I’ve Loved Before and Always on My Mind, among other songs — received his fifth-degree black belt in the modern Korean martial art of gong kwon yu sul. the ceremony took place at Master Martial Arts in Austin, Texas, a studio operated by Sam Um. The following day, the country music legend turned 81.
Nelson, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, has practiced martial arts for much of his life. He began with Kung Fu lessons when he was a songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee. The past 20 years have seen him focus on the Korean arts, including tae kwondo and gong kwon yu sul. Nelson often can be seen practicing his techiniques, even when he’s on tour.
Farm Aid is coming to Raleigh, North Carolina’s Walnut Creek Ampitheater on September 13th, and this year Jack White will be joining board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews on the bill. Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Jamey Johnson, Delta Rae, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Carlene Carter, Pegi Young & The Survivors, and Insects vs Robots are also playing. Tickets go on sale August 1st at 10:00 am EST.
“In North Carolina and across the Southeast, family farmers have struggled to stay on the land, but they have also pioneered new roads to economic sustainability,” Farm Aid president Willie Nelson said in a statement. “This region knows the value of its farmers and offers increasing opportunities for new farmers to build a strong regional food system. On the Farm Aid stage Saturday, September 13, we’ll celebrate family farmers and the healthy communities they’re growing for all of us.”
The first Farm Aid, which was inspired by offhand comments Bob Dylan made about struggling family farmers at Live Aid, was held September 22nd, 1985 at Champaign, Illinois’ Memorial Stadium. With the exception of 1988 and 1991, it’s been held every year since, attracting everyone from Guns N’ Roses to Phish to Lou Reed.
“There is a fair-like feeling when you go to Farm Aid,” John Mellencamp said in a statement. “All day long, people are performing onstage and food from family farmers is being served. It’s a great occasion for families to come listen to great music and teach their children about where their food comes from. We’re proud to bring Farm Aid 2014 to North Carolina for the first time to feature the family farmers whose hard work and innovations are essential for all of us.”
Last year’s Farm Aid was held at the Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center, and featured the last major public appearance by Pete Seeger.
photographed by Danny Clinch / interview by Alex Scordelis
“Willie would like to see you on his bus now.”
For a country music fan, those words are the equivalent of inviting a Trekkie to spend time with Captain Kirk on the starship Enterprise. In terms of famous vehicles, Willie Nelson’s bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, is up there with the Pequod from Moby-Dick and the Batmobile. When the “Red Headed Stranger” just can’t wait to get on the road again, this is his trusty ride.
It’s a Sunday afternoon in West Hollywood, and Nelson’s mythical tour bus is parked on Melrose Avenue. Nelson, 81, is relaxing onboard, waiting to perform at John Varvatos’ 11th Annual Stuart House Benefit, which raises funds for a program that serves sexually abused children.
Varvatos boards the bus with me. Nattily dressed in a Sgt. Pepper-style military jacket, the Detroit menswear designer, a beacon of old-school rock cool, is visibly giddy at the prospect of spending time with Nelson. Last year, Varvatos appointed the country legend and his sons, Lukas, 25, and Micah, 24, to be the faces of his brand’s Fall/Winter 2013 campaign. At today’s benefit, Nelson’s sons will join their old man onstage to burn through a set of Willie’s timeless hits.
As expected, a haze of pot smoke lingers on the luxury liner. Nelson beckons us over to his breakfast nook. A cartoonishly huge Cheech-and-Chong-sized joint rests, unlit, an arm’s length away. Nelson flashes an impish smile, stretching the crinkles and crannies in a face that deserves to be chiseled on Mount Rushmore.
A celebrity-studded audience, which includes Amy Adams, Courtney Love, Gene Simmons and Jessica Simpson, has packed the venue, waiting for Nelson’s performance. But on the Honeysuckle Rose he seems blissfully unfazed by the hullabaloo outside. Maybe it is because he is in his element. Or maybe it is what he is smoking.
AS: Willie, you’re renowned for having a joke for every occasion. What’s the last good zinger you heard?
WN: Lemme think… You know what they call a guitar player without a girlfriend? Homeless.
AS: That’s a good one. John, you’re from Detroit, and Willie, you’re from Abbott, Texas, but you two seem to share a similar rebel sensibility. Why do you think you clicked when you worked together?
JV: We each have a pride in our roots, in where we started. If you lose track of that, you lose track of where you’re going with your life.
AS: There are city blocks in Detroit that are bigger than Abbott, Texas.
WN: There are a lot of things in Detroit that are bigger than Abbott.
AS: Last year, Willie, you and your sons shot a video for Varvatos at the Salisbury House museum in Des Moines, Iowa. What was your experience doing the ad campaign?
WN: Well, the boys were there. We got to dress up. John’s clothes look great, and we had fun doing it. We have fun every time me and the boys get together anyway, but if you get to dress up, that’s even more fun.
AS: Willie, you’re performing with your sons, Lukas and Micah, today. Why is it important for you to keep music a family affair?
WN: I have to keep an eye on ‘em. It’s just a lot of fun to play music with my sons, and they’re really good, which makes it even better.
AS: Willie, who did you look up to in terms of style when you were a kid?
WN: I was a huge Gene Autry and Roy Rogers fan. I liked their sequins and embroidered shirts.
JV: The Nudie suits — I’m sure you were into those.
WN: Oh yeah, loved the Nudie clothes. They were cool.
AS: John, music is the cornerstone of Varvatos — why is it important to you to incorporate icons like Willie Nelson in your work?
JV: It wasn’t something I consciously tried to do. It happened organically. And it’s blossomed into something that’s become synonymous with the brand. If I thought about it too hard, I think I’d ruin it. Just this morning, Bob Ezrin [Alice Cooper's producer] was introducing me to a big record producer, and he said, “John’s more of a music guy; fashion’s his part-time thing.” I took that as a huge compliment.
AS: Why’d you pick Willie?
JV: With Willie, you can’t put him in a box. When you think about all the music that he’s played, he’s one of the few artists in music history that doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre. I don’t think too hard about conveying a particular message with who we pick for our campaigns. It’s about working with icons. Willie’s music is transcendent. When you go to Willie’s shows, it’s a very broad demographic in the audience. There aren’t many artists who are able to cross generations like that.
AS: Speaking of icons, Trigger, Willie’s guitar, is an icon in its own right. Do you have an article of clothing that has as much wear and tear as Trigger does?
WN:[long pause] No. [laughs]
JV: I have a simple black motorcycle jacket that I’ve had since I was in high school. I saved every penny from delivering newspapers to buy it. It fits me a bit slimmer now than it did back in the day, which is cool. It’s the one piece where, if there was a fire, it’s the one article of clothing I’d want to save. But it doesn’t have as many stories in it as Trigger does. How old is Trigger?
WN: He’s 50 years old now.
JV: So yeah, he’s not as old as Trigger, but I have a lot of good memories with that jacket. The jacket is beat up and crusty now. But like Trigger has that hole in the middle — that changes the whole tone, right?
WN:, Yeah. Each time Trigger’s hole gets a little bigger, the tone changes.
AS: How much thought do you put into what you wear onstage?
WN: None. I just need a clean T-shirt.
JV: Annie [Nelson's wife] wants him to think about it.
Annie Nelson: [from the back of the bus] But that’s what people look for in Willie! They like that he doesn’t care.
AS: John, what can the average guy learn from Willie’s sense of style?
JV: Be yourself. Be comfortable. Follow your own path. It’s what he’s done with his music and with his style. Don’t try to be anybody else. It’s about style and not fashion. You can wear a black T-shirt and blue jeans, but it’s about how you carry yourself and your aura.
AS: Willie, I play guitar, and I’d be foolish not to ask: what’s the best advice you could give to a guitar picker?
AN: Get a real job.
WN: Ha! That’s funny. There’s a line in a song I just recorded: “Our mothers don’t know what we’re doing and why we stay up all night long / I told mine I was a drug dealer and she said, ‘Thank God you’re not writing songs.’”
AS: And John, what advice would you give to someone starting out in fashion?
JV: Be a sponge. Listen to people when you have the opportunity to learn.
AS: Thanks for your time, it’s been a…
WN: Wait, I was gonna tell you another joke.
AS: Please. Go for it.
WN: In a house of ill repute, there was a couple on the second floor gettin’ it on. They got too close to the window, and they fell out and onto the ground. But they just kept on going at it. Then a drunk walks up and knocks on the brothel door and says, “Ma’am, your sign fell down.”
JV: I think you just got the perfect ending to this interview.
For Farm Aid Concert tickets and information:
Farm Aid is coming to Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh, North Carolina on September 13! The concert lineup features Willie Nelson & Family, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, Jack White and more.
Get Your Tickets
Farm Aid 2014 Ticket Presale
Our ticket presale starts at noon EDT on Friday, July 25 at http://farmaid.tix.musictoday.com. A $50 Farm Aid Presale Pass (replacing our membership program*) gets you access to buy the best seats in the house a week before they go on sale to the public.
Farm Aid 2014 Ticket Sale
Tickets for Farm Aid 2014 will go on sale to the public on Friday, August 1, at 10 a.m. EDT. Tickets will be available at www.livenation.com, the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre box office, all Ticketmaster outlets or by phone at 800-745-3000. Tickets range in price from $49 to $175.
Farm Aid 2014 VIP Tickets
A very limited number of VIP tickets for the first ten rows will be available starting July 25 at noon EDT. Please contact email@example.com for more information.
Connect with Farm Aid
Stay connected with Farm Aid — sign up for our email list to receive concert updates, action alerts, and news about the issues you care most about.
“Willie Nelson, ladies and gentleman. We have had many many great musical performers and music acts on this stage and this theater has seen the best of the best, and no one is better than this guy, ladies and gentleman.” — David Letterman
Hide your husbands and lock up the children — Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie are on tour in California, opening for X!
Here’s the reported story on the picture: “Amy didn’t bring her own gum so she borrowed some from the wall [BubbleGum Alley]. Don’t worry. She put it back!”
So, no theft involved. It’s like Bike Share, only it’s gum share. Hope that girl’s tetnus shots are up to date.
July 13, 1978
by Chet Filippo
The desk man at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Holiday Inn shook his head when I asked for Willie Nelson. “Got no Willie Nelsons today.” He turned away officiously and resumed cleaning his fingernails with a Holiday Inn matchbook.
He was about as encouraging as my cab driver had been: “You goin’ to see Willie Nelson? Man, he was a no-show last week. They had ta haul that Wet Willie in; he play instead. You see Willie Nelson, you tell him for me, ‘Man, you die fast in this town.’ ”
I went back to the Holiday Inn desk man: “See here, I was really looking for the party of Fast Eddie and the Electric Japs.”
“Well, goddamnit, why dincha say so.” He started thumbing through registration forms: “Lemme see, Mr. Eddie ain’t here yet, but Mr. Snake is, Mr. Poodie is, Mr. Beast is….”
“Okay, gimme Snake’s room number.”
Poodie, who is Willie’s road manager, and Beast, his cook and caterer, would, I knew, be over at the coliseum setting up for the night’s concert. But Snake would be here, taking care of business. I would be hard pressed to say what Snake’s duties are exactly. He’s a lean, rangy ex-paratrooper who, if you ask him point-blank what he does, will reply with a slight smile: “What do you want done?” He is one of about twenty persons whom Willie Nelson has handpicked over the years to help him in his calling. The Electric Japs, a.k.a.
Willie Nelson’s Family, a.k.a. the Rolling Smoke Revue, are a devoted crew, all loyal to the point of being ready to jump forward and take the bullet — if, that is, Fast Eddie weren’t so proficient with kung fu that he himself would have already wiped out the gunman. If, that is, there were a gunman. Because everybody, it seems, loves Willie Nelson these days.
It wasn’t always thus, I reflected as I went off in search of Snake. Ten years ago, Fast Eddie couldn’t even get himself arrested in Nashville, despite the fact that he was the best songwriter to hit Music Row since Hank Williams, the king of them all. Everybody else was having hits with Willie’s songs — Rusty Draper with “Night Life,” Jimmy Elledge and Johnny Tillotson with “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Patsy Cline with “Crazy,” Faron Young with “Hello Walls,” Andy Williams with “Wake Me When It’s Over” and Roy Orbison with “Pretty Paper,” to name a few — but Willie’s own records went nowhere. Good writer, no singer, said Nashville’s establishment.
Now he rules country music. Oddly, the album that brought him the wide audience he now enjoys was not composed entirely by him. He wrote only five of the fifteen cuts on Red Headed Stranger, the brilliant allegorical album that forever changed Nashville’s idea of what is and is not country music. He wrote none of the songs on his current album, Stardust, a collection of “my favorite ten songs.” His record company, CBS, was not real hot about either album. Willie was supposed to be a country singer, so what the hell, they wondered, was he doing with these off-the-wall albums? But then, I remembered as I knocked on Snake’s door, Fast Eddie got his nickname by doing the unpredictable. Rules don’t mean a lot to him.
Snake opened his door: “Damn, I didn’t know you were coming. I guess it’s okay if you didn’t bring too many women. C’mon, Eddie’s just down the hall.”
Fast Eddie Nelson was in room 326, sitting barefoot, in jeans and a blue T-shirt, reading the trade magazines. “Shit, Eddie,” said Snake. “Stardust is seventy-six on the pop charts. We’re gonna sell 24million.” Willie laughed softly, as he always does.
I told him about the cabdriver: “And not only do you die fast, the driver said: ‘Shoot, I ain’t gonna pay no $8.95 for Stardust. Thoseold songs, I heard them before.’” Willie fell over laughing. “Why, hell yes,” he finally said. “Why buy old songs?”
“What happened to your beard, Willie?” I asked. He fingered his chin gingerly. “Aw, I shaved it for the summer. Gets too hot. How you doin’? Ready to go ride the bus with me, son?”
With the beard, Willie had always reminded me of a benign patriarch. Without it, the forty-five-year-old singer resembles a proud Indian chief: stark, chiseled profile, flowing red hair, deeply lined face and piercing brown eyes.
Eyes that don’t miss much. He is not the most talkative person around — lending credence to the theory that the best writers are watchers, not doers. Willie Hugh Nelson, a.k.a. Fast Eddie, is an intense watcher. I always get the feeling around him that he’s sizing me up: am I a potential song or just another disciple? He gets plenty of both.
Disciples are many and fanatical now that he positively exudes spirituality. I have heard first-person tales of marriages saved, of nervous breakdowns averted, of illnesses healed by the power of Willie’s music.
He was a Sunday school teacher in a Baptist church in Fort Worth when he had to decide about his career. Fort Worth in the 1950s was a shining jewel on the Bible belt, and some of the Baptists there felt that Willie’s singing in honky-tonks on Saturday night and then teaching God’s word on Sunday morning were incompatible callings. The Baptists uggested that he make a choice. He chose music. “I had considered preaching,” he now laughed, “but preachers don’t make a lot and they have to work hard.”
Still, he didn’t protest strongly when I suggested that he is pop music’s only preacher. “I have met people,” I said, “who have driven hundreds of miles just to touch the hem of your garment. Literally.”
He looked a little uncomfortable at the thought. “Maybe you’re exaggerating. I am religious, even though I don’t go to church. I believe in reincarnation. We’re taught to believe that all men are created equal and yet we know that one guy is born without eyes and one guy is born with eyes. So that’s not equal. They had to be born together in the beginning. At one time, we were all born at the same time. God imagines everyone, so we’re all images of him — in thebeginning. He made us all in the beginning and since then
we’ve been coming back and forth. First time we came in we knew a lot and we’ve lost it along the way. Being down here is kinda like goin’ through the university: you go through one grade at a time and if you fail, you gotta go back and take those tests again.”
He laughed at the analogy and fell silent for a moment. “But I know what you mean about fans,” he continued. “And I know what they’re doing. In their minds, they’re relating the music to something else, and I appreciate that. There are answers in music. Poems and music about our problems and situations are good for us to hear-how other people react to the same problems and live through them and survive. This is all put in songs; I guess the history of the whole world is in songs and poems.”
When I met Willie Nelson, backstage at the Dripping Springs Picnic on July 4th, 1972, I didn’t even know it was him. That picnic was a real oddity; a bunch of Dallas promoters booking Nashville singers into a cow pasture in Dripping Springs under an unmerciful Texas sun. The crowd was a hostile mix of young longhairs looking for their own Woodstock and traditional country fans who just wanted to get drunk. The truce was an uneasy one, broken by beatings of the longhairs by both the drunks and the security goons. I was standing backstage, talking about all this to a shorthaired guy who was wearing a golf cap and oversized shades. I didn’t know who he was until Tex Ritter walked over and introduced him to me as Willie Nelson. I was properly embarrassed, but Willie just laughed about it. We retired to the shelter of an air-conditioned Winnebago to have a beer and to talk.
He said he was tired of Nashville and had moved back to Texas for a while. He told me his history: born in Abbott, a wide spot in the road south of Dallas, April 30, 1933; parents separated; raised by his grandparents. As a boy, he worked in the cotton fields for three dollars a day. At age ten, he started playing guitar with a polka band in the Bohemian towns of central Texas, where German and Czech immigrants had settled. He tried for a baseball scholarship at Weatherford Junior College, failed. Did a stint in the Air Force. Tried being a business major at Baylor University, but preferred playing dominoes and music. Dropped out. Sold Blbles door-to-door. Sold encyclopedias door-to-door. Became a disc jockey, kept playing music on the side.
Taught Sunday school till that became a conflict with playing honky-tonks. Disc jockeyed all around the country. Played every beer joint there was. Taught guitar lessons. Finally sold a song in Houston for fifty dollars — “Family Bible” — and decided to take the money and head for Nashville, “the big time. Traveled there in a ’51 Buick that sank to the ground and died once he got there.
Hung out drinking in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge behind the Grand Ole Opry, where he met songwriter Hank Cochran, who liked his stuff and got him a publishing contract. Other people had hits with his songs but his own recording career languished. “I’m not worried, though,” he laughed as we emerged from the Winnebago just before his set. “I’ll do all right.”
Indeed he did. That picnic was pretty much a disaster, but Willie was carefully watching everything that was going on. Half a year later, he had long hair and an earring and was a cult figure in Austin rock clubs.
The next July 4th, we were all back at Dripping Springs for “Willie Nelson’s First Annual Fourth of July Picnic,” with performers like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm. This time, the longhairs weren’t beat up. It was the watershed in the progressive country movement. Prominent state politicians mingled with longhaired kids. University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal had his arm around Leon Russell. Peaceful coexistence had come to Texas, thanks to Willie’s pontifical presence. Two years later, for his 1975 picnic, the Texas Senate declared July 4th “Willie Nelson Day.”
From that first 1973 picnic, he had to take out a bank loan to cover his losses — too many gate-crashers — but he was established. Texas was his.
That picnic was also the first time that I had witnessed the uncanny ability of him to appear – or disappear – at exactly the right time. When the picnic ended at about four in the morning and the 50,000 or so people there were jamming the two lane highway that led back to Austin, I decided to find a back way out. I took off driving across flat ranchland and, finally, miles away, found an alternate highway. But between me and that highway was a locked cattle gate. I was just revving up my Chevy to ram the gate when, from out of the ghostly blackness, a Mercedes came roaring up beside me. Willie got out, nodded hello and held up a key. He unlocked the gate, smiled goodbye and drove off.
I don’t know how the hell he pulled that one off, but timing has been the key to his career. Right place at the right time. Seemingly, everything he has done has been wrong. His vocal phrasing is off the beat, the songs he writes are unconventional, his albums are unpredictable, his guitar playing is a startling mixture of Charlie Christian and Mexican blues picking (“Maybe I am half-Mexican,” he says, half-jokingly), he does not hang out with the right people and he has never compromised himself, so far as I can tell, in his entire life. “I don’t think he ever has a bad thought,” his harp player, Michael Raphel, told me.
Such people aren’t supposed to be successes in the opportunistic world of popular music. But, thought it took years, Willie Nelson managed to do it.
Viewed in retrospect, his body of songs is remarkable, a unified world of transgression and redemption, human suffering and compassion and joy, all told by an anonymous Everyman.
“Willie understands,” is the most-heard quote from his fans.
Alison Krauss is born in Decatur, Illinois, on this day in 1971. The fiddler/vocalist leads the bluegrass group Union Station, joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1993 and winning more Grammy awards than any other woman in history
Follow Billy Joe Shaver on facebook.
“Long in the Tooth” is available on vinyl with gatefold jacket and download card. It also includes liner notes by Steve Earle.
Itunes has a special, too:
Pre-order Long in the Tooth @iTunesMusic and instantly receive “Hard to Be an Outlaw” single feat. Willie Nelson.