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It’s time to roll up a few of your friends and grab tickets in the Farm Aid 2016 presale!
The Farm Aid Presale began on Wednesday, June 22, and will end Sunday, June 26 at 11:59 PM EDT, or when tickets sell out. The Presale is being administered by Ticketstoday.
As a thank you to Farm Aid supporters, every year we hold a ticket presale to give you access to some of the best seats at all ticket levels. Prices range from $49.50 to $189.50 and you can buy up to 4 tickets.
If you buy tickets in the presale and have questions about your order, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tickets go on sale to the general public on Monday, June 27 at 10:00 am EST, and can be purchased atwww.livenation.com.
Ticket prices range from $49.50 to $189.50.
A very limited number of VIP Tickets are available directly through Farm Aid’s Development Director Kari Williams email@example.com.
VIP tickets include access to VIP lounge and viewing area with HOMEGROWN food, beverages, private restrooms and seats in the first 11 rows of section 1, 2 or 3. VIP ticket prices range from $400 – $2,000 each.
Concert packages are available from If Only on June 27th. Learn more on the 27th at www.IfOnly.com/farmaid
Best of wishes to Dallas Wayne, singer songwriter guitar player and on-air talent for Sirius/XM Radio! Many happy returns of the day, Dallas.
Thanks, Phil Weisman.
photo: Danny Clinch
by: Neil Strauss
Kris Kristofferson: An Outlaw at 80
Country legend has faced memory loss and the death of old friends, and has also found peace – just don’t try to tell him what to do
Oh, my god, the son of a bitch is back,” announces Lisa Kristofferson as she stands in the kitchen of her Los Flores Canyon home in Malibu. The son of a bitch, who is next to her, is more commonly known as Kris Kristofferson. He has been her husband for the past 36 years. He also happens to be one of the greatest songwriters of all time (covered by Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley and some 500 others), not to mention an iconic actor in his own right (from A Star Is Born to the Blade movies).
Three decades ago, “the son of a bitch is back” may have been the rallying cry of Kristofferson’s girlfriends or wives after he went off on a drinking or cheating bender. But today, just weeks away from Kristofferson’s 80th birthday, it means something different entirely.
It means that the rugged, fiercely independent spark of consciousness that is Kris Kristofferson, which has been fading for the past few years due to memory loss, is brightening again – to everyone’s surprise.
For years, doctors had been telling Kristofferson that his increasingly debilitating memory loss was due to either Alzheimer’s or to dementia brought on by blows to the head from the boxing, football and rugby of his teens and early twenties. Some days, Kristofferson couldn’t even remember what he was doing from one moment to the next.
It became so bad that Kristofferson started writing a song about it. “I see an empty chair/Someone was sitting there,” it began. “I’ve got a feeling it was me/And I see a glass of wine/I’m pretty sure it’s mine.”
But then, like the chair and the wine, he forgot about the song. And it lay unfinished like many others he’s begun these past few years. In this case, his daughter Kelly completed the song, which remains unrecorded.
Then, earlier this year, a doctor decided to test Kristofferson for Lyme disease. The test came back positive. His wife believes he picked it up from a tick as he crawled around the forest floor in Vermont for six weeks while filming the movie Disappearances.
“He was taking all these medications for things he doesn’t have, and they all have side effects,” she says. She is wearing one of her husband’s tour merchandise shirts. After he gave up his Alzheimer’s and depression pills and went through three weeks of Lyme-disease treatment, Lisa was shocked. “All of a sudden he was back,” she says. There are still bad days, but “some days he’s perfectly normal and it’s easy to forget that he is even battling anything.”
Kris Kristofferson, Kris Kristofferson interview, Kris Kristofferson songwriting, Kris Kristofferson rolling stone
Kristofferson stands next to her, alongside the kitchen counter, a black T-shirt tight on his thin but still-solid frame, his gray goatee neatly trimmed. Behind him, there is a wall covered with pen and pencil marks, denoting the growth of his children, stepchildren, grandchildren and foster children. One would imagine that he’d be elated by his unexpected recovery.
“Yeah,” he replies, unconvincingly, when asked.
So you were never scared about losing your past? Kristofferson stares straight ahead, into a sweeping ocean vista, his sky-blue eyes shining brightly under a brow that thrusts out like a rock ledge. “What good would it do?” he says with a shrug.
Seventeen years ago, Kristofferson had bypass surgery. As he was being wheeled into the operating room, the doctor told Kris and Lisa that this would be a good place to say goodbye. “I hope it’s not goodbye,” Lisa said.
His response: “So what if it is?”
This blunt, fatalistic streak is something Kristofferson has carried with him for most of his life like a birthmark. It’s one reason directors like Martin Scorsese and Sam Peckinpah have cast him in their films.
“I really have no anxiety about controlling my own life,” Kristofferson says, taking a seat at the head of a wood dining table. “Somehow I just slipped into it and it’s worked. It’s not up to me – or you. I feel very lucky that [life]’s lasted so long because I’ve done so many things that could have knocked me out of it. But somehow I just always have the feeling that He knows what He’s doing. It’s been good so far, and it’ll probably continue to be.”
He pauses. “Now as soon as I said that, of course…” He looks upward as if a lightning bolt is on its way down to strike him.
And there he goes: Just on the verge of a happy ending, Kristofferson imagines the worst will happen instead. It’s a theme that runs through many of his best-known songs. Saturday nights end in Sunday hangovers (“Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down”). Great relationships end, leaving lifelong regret as their legacy (“Loving Her Was Easier [Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again],” “Me and Bobby McGee”). The perfect lover who sweeps a woman off her feet is destined to abandon her, robbing her of body, soul and pride (“The Taker”).
To spark his memory, Kristofferson has been going through all these old songs again. A box set of his first 11 albums, The Complete Monument & Columbia Album Collection, due on June 10th, rests on the counter. He has been listening to it album by album to get reacquainted with his life’s work. “It just takes you back like a picture of something would,” he says.
I bring him the box set. He examines the sleeves of each disc, which are designed like the original vinyl album covers. “I was also interested in seeing if they still sounded good to me,” he continues. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised, particularly with this one.” He points to his third album, Border Lord. “I can remember at the time being so disappointed at the reception it got.”
His wife sits to his left and looks at him, beaming at his recall. “To me, the song is what matters, not necessarily the performances,” he says as he moves a napkin to examine a picture of him in his twenties, looking disheveled in his meager Nashville bedroom. “Just the words and melody – that’s what moves your emotions.”
Kris Kristofferson; Willie Nelson; Merle Haggard
Kris Kristofferson with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard Danny Clinch
The box set is just one flake in a flurry of activity happening around Kristofferson this year. There was a celebration of his life and music at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville in March, for which he re-formed the Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Jamey Johnson and Waylon Jennings’ son Shooter. Kristofferson recently traveled to Canada to record with Gordon Lightfoot and Ronnie Hawkins. He played the lead in a new Western, Traded, also coming out June 10th. His upcoming album, The Cedar Creek Sessions, includes a duet with Sheryl Crow for his first-ever recording of “The Loving Gift,” a song made famous by Johnny and June Carter Cash.
He’s also embarking on a special string of summer dates with Nelson: Just before Merle Haggard passed away this year on his 79th birthday, he requested that his backing band, the Strangers, continue without him. So Kristofferson, his longtime friend, decided to bring the Strangers with him on the road for a few dates to perform his and Haggard’s songs together.
“I’m thinking of his face when he was dying,” remembers Kristofferson, who was touring with Haggard up until the end. “I had the highest respect for him. Knowing him and Willie and Waylon and Johnny Cash – that’s been one of the biggest blessings in my life.”
In his current state of mind, there is one period of his life that Kristofferson often returns to when reflecting on his past – a decision that, for him, changed everything. It was a combination of luck and choice. The year was 1965; the luck was that he was a captain in the Army and signed up to go to Vietnam, but was assigned a teaching position at West Point. The choice was to leave the Army instead. After reporting to West Point, he moved to Nashville to try to make it as a songwriter. As a result, this Oxford-educated Rhodes scholar soon found himself emptying wastebaskets at Columbia Recording Studios.
“I’m kind of amazed by the whole thing,” he marvels. “I was on my way to a totally different life. And all of a sudden I committed my future and all my family and everything to this! It was pretty scary.”
Kristofferson and Lisa say that his brother joined the Navy; his father was a two-star Air Force general; both grandfathers were in the military; even his great-grandfather was in the Swedish armed forces.
“Didn’t your mother say she would rather have a gold star in the window?” Lisa asks him. Kris gives a sheepish shrug. It is his way of saying, “I can’t remember.” It is an expression he uses a lot these days.
“When you have a family member that died during World War I, they would put a gold star in the window,” she reminds him. “And your mother said she would have rather had a gold star in the window than to see what you’re doing with your life.”
“She said that I was an embarrassment to the family,” he recalls a little later. “I’ve given them moments of pride, when I got my Rhodes scholarship, but she said, ‘They’ll never measure up to the tremendous disappointment you’ve always been.’ Why tell your kid that?”
But when his mother sent him a scathing letter disowning him, Kristofferson experienced something he’d been seeking his whole life: freedom. It’s an independence he’s embraced to this day. He bucked Nashville’s conventions, helping start the outlaw-country movement. More recently, he canceled a book contract for his autobiography because he didn’t want to work on a deadline. His latest album includes a song called “You Don’t Tell Me What to Do.”
“Even if someone tells him to have a good day, he’ll say, ‘Don’t tell me what to do,’?” Lisa says. “He’s unmanageable. You can’t manage him.”
Kristofferson looks down at the table and screws up his face as she speaks.
What were you just thinking? I ask.
“I…” He pauses and purses his lips. “I think it’s probably true.”
In several of Kristofferson’s songs, characters burn brilliantly in the present moment without a past or future, trading in “tomorrow for today” or proclaiming, “Yesterday is dead and gone/And tomorrow’s out of sight.” In an unexpected twist of fate, Kristofferson sometimes finds himself similarly marooned in the present moment due to his memory problems. Except unlike the characters in his songs, who usually find loneliness there, he says he feels remarkably content and well-supported.
Kelly has observed that he “forgets to get nervous,” and Kristofferson notes that a couple of years ago, his anxiety just went away. “He hasn’t always been happy,” Lisa says. “His nickname when he was doing Star Is Born was Kris Pissed-off-erson.” These days, one of his favorite things to do is simply mow the grass or weed-whack for hours at his primary home, in Maui.
He recently went to a reunion of the Pomona College football team, where he saw his former coach, who’s now 93. And he’s still in touch with his childhood nanny Juanita, who’s 93 and still calls her former charge mijo (my son).
“She probably saved my life,” he says. “Because God knows my mother was an asshole. And my old man was gone most of the time.”
He adds that without Juanita, he “probably would have ended up as some serial killer.”
Two weeks later, Kristofferson sits in a booth of a Malibu studio, playing the part of a ghost for an animated pilot for Fox. When he reads a line about cellphone coverage, Kelly laughs: “He doesn’t know what a cellphone is. He calls them hand machines.”
Afterward, the director asks Kristofferson to sign a guitar. “I’m not a very good guitar player,” he tells Kristofferson.
“Neither am I,” Kristofferson responds.
Self-deprecation is one of Kristofferson’s most conspicuous traits. He is especially down on his singing: “I don’t think I’m that good a singer,” he says. “I can’t think of a song that I’ve written that I don’t like the way somebody else sings it better.”
Yet even as he’s pushing 80, there is no shortage of demand for his voice – whether it’s films, TV dramas, cartoons, performances or albums. He has one of the most unique careers in music, which he says was inspired in part by seeing Frank Sinatra excel as both a singer and an actor.
Kris Kristofferson, Kris Kristofferson interview, Kris Kristofferson songwriting, Kris Kristofferson rolling stone
Kris Kristofferson, 1968 LFI/Photoshot
We drive back to his house with Kelly and her boyfriend, Andrew Hagar, son of Sammy. When asked half an hour later about going to the studio today, Kristofferson works his tongue around the inside of his mouth, thinking hard. “I’ll be honest with you,” he finally says. “I don’t remember going to the studio.”
Kris and his wife have spoken about Lyme disease, head injuries and aging interfering with his memory. But there’s one thing they haven’t mentioned: the smoking.
“Do you think the weed hurts your memory?”
He answers quickly and defiantly: “If it does, it’s too bad. I’m not quitting.” He pauses and considers it further. “I’m sure that it slows me down and doesn’t make me the sharpest-witted person in the room, but I’ll probably be smoking till they throw dirt on me.”
As we’re speaking, one of Kristofferson’s sons marches into the kitchen. He is known as War Pig, though he was born Jody. A heavyweight wrestling belt testifying to his prowess in the ring hangs in the living room. Each of Kris’ children seems to have taken on one aspect of his career, even down to his youngest son, Blake, who majored in creative writing.
One of the few ambitions that Kristofferson never got to realize was as a literary author. In his Maui home, there are trunks full of notepads – a treasure trove of short stories, journal entries and even novels, none of it published.
“You have stories from college on,” Lisa reminds him. “All through the Army, all through your time with Janis Joplin, all through your working in Wake Island, working in Alaska, working fighting fires and on the railroad. You even have stories from being a janitor in Nashville.”
“I don’t feel very creative anymore,” Kristofferson confesses a little later. “I feel like an old boxer.” He laughs. “The brain’s gone, but I can still move around.”
“He says that,” Kelly protests, “but he leaves little pieces of songs lying around the house all the time.”
Kristofferson considers this. “I may have some more creative work in me,” he finally admits, then concludes on a characteristically impassive note. “But if I don’t, it’s not going to hurt me.”
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/kris-kristofferson-an-outlaw-at-80-20160606#ixzz4CJjyUTY2
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Singer, songwriter, guitar player Freddy Powers has passed away. He was 84.
Sirius/XM Radio broadcast a tribute to Freddy Powers in 2012:
Willie’s Roadhouse salutes Texas songwriting hero Freddy Powers, author of five #1 hits for Merle Haggard (including “A Friend in California” and “Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room Tonight”), who is currently battling Parkinson’s Disease. Dallas Wayne will host this one-hour special, featuring songs written and recorded by Powers, as well as his emotional performance from Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic in 2010.
July, 2011Freddy received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Texas Music Academy
April 27, 2011Freddy Powers was Recognized and Honored by the “Center for Texas Music” and is a finalist for the title of “Texas State Musician”.
May 2007 Inducted in to Cowtown Society of Western Music as a Hero of Western Music October 1, 2006 Inducted into the Western Swing Society “Hall of Fame”
May 20, 2006 Received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Texas Guitar Association
April, 2006 The Freddy Powers Parkinson’s Foundation was founded to benefit Texans with Parkinson’s
March 12, 2006 Inducted into the “Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame”
See Freddy in the new Big and Rich video release “Coming To Your City” includes song “Filthy Rich” a Freddy, B&R, Bill McDavid and Sonny Throckmorton collaboration
The Country Jazz Singer Collectors Edition personally autographed….. AVAILABLE AT THE FREDDY POWERS WEBSITE and Waterloo Records in Austin, Texas order on line www.cdbaby.com/freddypowers or www.mytexasmusic/freddypowers
*New Freddy Powers “My Great Escape” cd Produced by and featuring Merle Haggard. Title cut “My Great Escape” written by Big and Rich also sing harmonies on this cut!!!!!!
“Freddy Powers Through the Years” features 50 years of Freddy’s music beginning at 23 years old and last song 73 years old.
more….. at www.freddypowers.com.
Ticket Presale Starts Tomorrow!
“Our ticket presale gives you access to the best seats in the house – before the tickets go on sale to the public. The Farm Aid presale starts tomorrow, Wednesday, June 22 at noon EDT – visit https://farmaid.org/tickets for all the information you need!
Public Ticket Sale
Tickets for Farm Aid 2016 go on sale on Monday, June 27, at 10 a.m. EDT. Ticket prices range from $49.50 to $189.50 and will be available for purchase atLiveNation.com, the venue box office and by phone at (800) 745-3000.”
by: Andy Greene
Farm Aid is coming to Bristow, Virginia’s Jiffy Lube Live on September 17th, with Alabama Shakes, Sturgill Simpson and Jamey Johnson joining Farm Aid board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews on the bill. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Margo Price, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and Carlene Carter will also be performing at the annual event. Tickets – which range in price from $49.50 to $189.50 – will go on sale Monday, July 27th at 10 a.m EDT.
“We’ve been fighting for family farmers for a long time, and that fight isn’t over,” said John Mellencamp in a statement. “At Farm Aid 2016, we’ll come together to stand up to the handful of corporations that control our food system. If you want a better world, it starts with you.”
Organizers first staged Farm Aid in Champaign, Illinois in September 1985 and have held the event nearly every year since, with everyone from Bob Dylan to Jack White to Guns N’ Roses donating their time to help struggling family farmers. This year’s event will mark the third time it’s been held at the amphitheater in Bristow, Virginia. (It was staged there in 1999 and 2000 when the venue was known as the Nissan Pavilion.)
“Folks are educating themselves about where and how food is grown — they’re hungry for the truth,” Nelson says in a statement. “Family farmers bring us good food, protect our soil and water and strengthen our country. The Farm Aid concert is a day for us to honor that truth and keep working for family farmers.”
Matthews will perform an acoustic set with guitarist Tim Reynolds, while Young will be backed by Promise of the Real, a collaboration that began at Farm Aid in 2014 when he invited Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah to join him on “Rockin’ In The Free World.”
Willie Nelson: The Vibes of Texas are Upon Us
Ask Willie Nelson, the guru of country music, about his brief career as a pig farmer, and the usually sublime Nelson explodes into embarrassed laughter. “You heard about that, did you?” he says when the laughter subsides. “Yes, I tried that. I really did. I lost a fortune on pigs. Had the fattest pigs in town — or the country, I should say. Paid 25 cents a pound for ’em, fattened ’em up for six months, and when I sold ’em, I got 17 cents a pound. Lost my ass and all its fixtures. But I later found out from the old-timers that you can’t just raise hogs one year and expect to make a killing and get out. You’ve got to stay with it.”
[Thanks so much to Phil Weisman, from Illinois, for sending me this magazine. I love magazines, especially from overseas. They are rare, and the interviews are always interesting. ]
The same rule applies to the music business, of course. But not long after his pig fiasco, some 10 years ago, Nelson sold his farm outside Nashville, where he’d gone in vain to establish himself as a singer as well as a songwriter, and returned to his native Texas. To some in Music city, it might have looked as if Nelson had given commercial stardom about as much chance as he did pig farming. But Nelson was committed to his own kind of music — simple but strong songs wrapped around his own soft baritone and acoustic guitar, rather than around the prevalent “Nashville sound” of layers of strings, singers — and syrup. instead of compromising his music, Nelson remembered the pig farming rule and decided to “stay with it,” although returning to Texas surely meant the end of his dream of national stardom.
But there, something extraordinary happened. By blending his own songs — “Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Hello Walls,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” — with traditional Texas, Mexican, blues, rock and even the old pop and country standards, Willie Nelson bridged the gap not only between country and pop, but between cultures. His concerts attracted a curious mixture of hippies and rednecks, youngsters and oldsters, conservatives and liberals. And soon people everywhere were talking about a revival of Texas music, and about the birth of something they called the “Austin sound.” What they were taking about mostly was Willie Nelson.
And they are still talking, far after most careers have seen their peak. “I’ve thought about that. I’ve wondered, ‘Well, am I peaking yet?'” says Nelson, 46 years old and looking every dusty mile of it, stretched out on his bus before a show. “So far, I don’t think we have peaked,” he continues. “I think everything just seems to be getting a little bit better every day.”
Indeed. Willie the Youth Hero is about to become Willie the Movie Star. His debut film, The Electric Horseman, with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, is due out in December. By the time it gets into the theaters, another movie, Sad Songs and Waltzes, which Nelson describes as “just an ol’ movie about a guy with a band on the road.” will have started production in Texas. Still another, The Songwriter, is due to get off the ground in 1980. And better yet, a film version of Nelson’s classic concept album, Red Headed Stranger, is now in the planning stages and Willie is holding out for Redford tn the title role. But if Nelson is happy about all that, he is most excited about the fact that Newsweek columnist Pete Axthelm is writing the story of his life, to be both a book and a movie.
How does acting compare to Nelson’s usual line of work? “It’s really easier,” he replies, setting his Adidas shod feet up on the cushion opposite him. “You’ve got more time to do what you have to do. The only thing about it is you never know how good you did until later. In fact, I still don’t know how good I did. Well, actually,’ he adds, looking sheepish, “I thought I was good.” The laughter rolls again. ‘”I mean, what I was doing wasn’t that hard, and there wasn’t really that much to do. They let you be yourself. In fact, they encourage it. The only thing about making movies is that they last from 10 to 12 weeks, and during that time, I don’t play as much music, of course, and I miss it. But when we start this next one, I’m planning on playing on weekends. I’m still trying to play 200 nights a year, and I’d go crazy not playing for three months.”
From the pace he sets when he’s not before the camera, some might say Nelson has already crossed that fine line. He has “four or five album projects going on in my head,” and several he’s working on now, including a collection of the songs of Kris Kristofferson. He’s thinking about a Christmas album, and a Son of Stardust LP, after his phenomenally successful album of pop standards. Early summer saw the release of his duet album with Leon Russell, with whom he toured for several months, and another album, with country giant George Jones, is ready to go. In between all that, he managed to play Las Vegas and put in an appearance at the White House, where he and Charley Pride presented President Carter — who shows up from time to time at Willie’s concerts, sporting a backstage pass — with a special award from the Country Music Association.
Today, about the only other place Nelson and Pride see each other is a at golf tournaments. But years ago, at the height of the civil rights movement, the two met in far less genteel surroundings — and performed to far less receptive audiences. When Pride had but one country single on the market, Nelson took him on a package tour. The first stop out — in Louisiana — Pride was refused registration in the hotel. At the show that night, Nelson gave Pride a 10-minute build-up, telling the audience what a big star they were about to see. Then he brought him out on stage — and kissed him full on the mouth. “I think them folks were so hot to lynch old Willie for puttin’ em on that they clean forgot that Charlie was black,” Nelson’s drummer, Paul English, was to tell a reporter years later. But “by the end of the tour, Willie was using him to close the show. He made Charley a star before he’d even cut an album.”
Mention it to Nelson and the trademark orange beard breaks for a smile. “Yeah, it was a little bit scary back in those days,” he admits. “And I guess it was the first time that a black kid had ever crawled up in front of thousands of white people and started singin’ country songs. That took a lot of nerve on his part, too.”
Nelson knows a lot about nerve. Not too many years before, he was playing places so mean that the owners had to string chicken wire across the bandstand to keep the musicians safe from flying beer bottles. That, of course, was before Willie cultivated the legion of fans that were “Matthew, Mark, Luke and Willie” T-Shirts and turn out 80,000 strong at his picnics every Fourth of July.
A lot of people have wondered which came first with Nelson and the Austin sound. Was the town already a hotbed for a new breed of musicians, or did Willie’s success make it so?
“All the ingredients were there,” he answers. “I just happened to stumble onto an audience, really. I saw that there were a lot of young people that liked country music, and I started looking for the young crowds because I enjoyed that energy. So we started seeking each other out, I guess.”
“But back to your question — I don’t believe in the Austin myth. I don’t believe the Nashville myth or the New York myth. I think there are good musicians all over the world making music. If they stop in Nashville, they’re not going to sound any different than if they stop in Austin. Now, there might be some towns where good musicians gather more than they do in other towns. Austin is that place, for sure. There’s probably more good bands playing live music in Austin than in any other city in the country. The climate is good, the attitude of the people is good, and then it’s just a nice place to go.”
Contrary to what other’s say about a growing deterioration of the “let’s-get-together-and-pick-and-be-friends” feeling in Austin, Nelson says the town “hasn’t changed much over the years. there’s more people down there now. But it’ s like Nashville and every other place — it’s grown.”
Nashville has grown particularly in its tolerance of country/rock and pop in the last few years, and especially in its attitude toward Willie Nelson. Where Nelson was once branded an “outlaw” for his approach to music, his lifestyle and dress (no Nudie suits for him), Nashville now welcomes him with open arms.
Of course, record sales have a lot to do with it. Wanted: The Outlaws, the album Nelson cut in 1976 with his pals Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser, was the first country album to “go platinum’ selling more than one million copies. Even Nashville is willing to let bygones be bygones in a situation like that. So much so that by the next CMA awards, Willie and Waylon were the toast of the town.
“That was a big evening,” Willie says, remembering. “I just enjoyed it.” that’s all? Just “enjoyed” it? Didn’t he really just revel in it? “Yeah,” he says, laughing again. “It was nice. It was real nice.” “They threw a big party for us. We played all night long, I think, at two or three different places.”
Suddenly, “outlaw” had new status. Everybody wanted to know ol Willie and ol’ Waylon, and be an outlaw, too, if he could. Of course, Nelson had had supporters in Nashville all along, among them Tom T. Hall, who wrote “Come on Back to Nashville” (Ode to the Outlaws)” for Nelson, Jennings and Roger Miller. The first time he ever heard of Willie Nelson, it was 1961, and Hall had just gotten out of the Army. “I was sitting one night listening to the juke box, and I heard Faron Young singing “Hello, Walls'” Hall remember. “I went over and watched the record turning around and around, and it said, “‘Willie nelson’ in little letters under the titles. I said, ‘There’s a new writer in Nashville, and boy, that sonofabitch can write songs.'”
Nelson laughs uproariously. “Well,” he says finally, “you know all songwriters are sonofabitches. You hear ’em say, ‘That sonofabitch can really write songs,’ or, ‘That sonofabitch can’t write.” He laughs again. “It’s kind of a brotherhood term, I think. At least I hope it is. I think everybody likes to be liked. I like people and there’s no reason for people not to like me, really. I don’t give ’em any reason. Try not to.”
And indeed, Nelson’s temperament has been described as “buddah-like.” He is a firm believer in the power of positive thinking, saying, “I just can’t be around anything or anybody negative.” Nor will he tolerate hassles or rush to keep himself on schedule. All in all, he seems perpetually “laid back.” In interviews, he appears to be the consummate “nice guy,” refusing to say anything critical about various of his musical peers, and politely skirting the issue on combustible topics.
But there are also reports of a reverse, dark side of his personality, of a temper that has at least once caused him to rip a ringing telephone off the wall. Which is it then, Buddha or Brutus? “Well, those are contradictory reports, I’d say, ” Nelson says between chuckles. “Somebody’s lyin’, he adds, “Or else they’re both right.” But in serious moments, Nelson does contemplate his self-image. “That’s a hard thing to talk about,” he says. “It changes every second. really. Basically, I’m pleased with everything. I like myself O.K. I don’t think there’s anything I’d like to change.”
Except perhaps the constant infringement on his privacy. Last year or so, the ultra-viligent fans forced Nelson to move his wife Connie and their two young daughters off their Austin ranch and retreat to the relative quiet of Evergreen, Colorado. Before they left, they made a last-ditch effort to curtail the fanatics — some of whom come because they believe Nelson has magic powers of healing — by constructing a six-foot-high, three-foot-thick stone wall around the property. Lest the die-hards think Willie was just kidding, a electrified barbed wire fence was strung atop the solid steel gate, just as he had along the wall. For those who like it in words, he posted “No Hunting or Trespassing” and “No Admittance” signs between the barbed wire. And for those with a legitimate message, he put in a closed-circuit television system and a call button with instructions to “Press the button, but do not hold the button down.” From the pictures, it looked more like a military post than the dwelling of a good ol’ boy turned country superstar.
How does anyone hold on to any semblance of normal private life in such a situation? “Well, I don’t know,” he says, running a hand over his face. “Of course, I haven’t had one of those in years. I’ve about forgotten what a private life is. But the kids do it out of love, so I guess that makes it all right. I moved mainly for my wife and family’s benefit, because I wasn’t there that much anyway. I just got ’em out of the line of fire a little bit.”
Years ago, when nelson was paying his dues in honky-tonks, not even his most reckless dreams allowed for success on this grand scale, or at least certainly not the kind of success that reportedly brings him $40,000 a night. “That’s right,” he agrees, shaking his pig-tailed head. “I never thought about it seriously. Of course, I didn’t know what to expect, but there’s no way you could imagine this — ever.”
but if Nelson is a national phenomenon, he is nothing short of Legend in Texas. In years to come, they’ll probably erect a statue to him there. the thought of it embarrasses the ever-humble Nelson, who says would be a waste of time and money. But if they do, he adds, “Tell ’em I’m not in favor of it unless we can approve and design it. It’d require a lot of thought, but there’d have to be a guitar on it, and a girl, and, of course, a horse…”
But not a pig. “Oh, no,” he says, “No pig. But you know, I was raised in a small farming town. (Abbott, Texas, just north of Waco), so I farmed all my life, really, Usually for somebody else. But I raised for the FFA, and back in school, I used to raise one pig at a time, to show. I just never tried to raise as many before as I did in Nashville. Never will again, either.”
Perhaps Nelson just wasn’t cut out for farming. Asked if he remembers the moment when he realized he’d “made it” in music, he hesitates not a minute. “Yeah, he says, “I was 11 years old. I’d been making $2 a day chopping cotton, and I went out one night and made 48 playing music. From that day on, I had it made. that was the turning point. That was it. No more cotton chopping for me.”
“But I couldn’t begin to tell you what it is I do, except exchange energy with the audience,” he continues. “I don’t know why we draw the old ones and the young ones, too, except the people come to be part of a togetherness, to be part of an audience that’s made up of all kinds of people of all ages. And then some people come to hear one thing, and maybe some come to hear something else. I don’t think I could define my style, though. I’m not sure I’d even want to. Bob Dylan said one time that when you start defining something, you destroy it. That sounded real wise to me. Ol Bob’s pretty smart. I think I’ll use that one. Besides, ” he says, staning up as his band plays the first chords of the show, “I’m not gonna question it. I’m just gonna enjoy it.”
Willie Nelson by Kevin Mazur in New York, 2002.
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Kevin Mazur has photographed music legends including Michael Jackson, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Bob Dylan, and Nirvana. He is also a co-founder of WireImage.