Willie Nelson stands in the pouring rain to meet and greet hundreds of fans that have just watched him perform the 2-hour plus set he plays almost every night somewhere in the world. Trigger, his 1969 Martin classical, and Snub-nose, his custom semi-hollow electric, have delivered for Willie another stellar show, and accompanied his 67 year-old voice through one classic song after another. Finally, some two hours after the show has ended, after Willie has obliged the last request from a fan, he sits down for an interview with Guitar Center.
GC: Congratulations on your Grammy nomination and your induction into the Songwriting Hall of Fame.
Willie Nelson: Thank you.
GC: I’ve often heard you refer to yourself as a guitar player, rather than a songwriter. Why is that?
Willie Nelson: That’s really the way I made my living when I was coming along, when I was a young musician, by playing guitar. I could sing a little bit and as the years went by I would sing a little more. But, I really started out playing guitar in my band and other bands.
GC: Have you come to terms with the fact that a lot people also think of you as a great singer/songwriter?
Willie Nelson: Actually, I think of myself more now as a songwriter than I do a guitar player because of guys like Jackie King (a current member of Willie’s band) and Django Reinhardt and all the great guitar players. It’s humbling to be in the presence of that kind of talent.
GC: How big was Django’s influence on your playing?
Willie Nelson: Very. A great deal more than I really thought. A lot of the stuff I was playing earlier, I found out later had come from some Django stuff, his rhythms.
GC: A sense of place permeates your music. I hear a lot more Texas than Nashville.
Willie Nelson: Since I come from Texas, there’s a lot of Texas in me. Just because I cross a state line, I can’t get it all out.
GC: Let’s talk about recording. When you record, what kinds of mic’ing and room choices do you make?
Willie Nelson: If I’m producing the album myself, either one of those things can happen. The last time I recorded was around Christmas time. I did two albums. One was an acoustic album called Rainbow Connection in my studio in Luck, Texas. Then, I went to Los Angeles for a big session for another album called The Great Divide. So I’ve done both extremes. Honestly, I’d just as soon have one mic with the guitar, play acoustic, and let the guitar run through the vocal mic. It runs engineers crazy when you want to do that. (laughs)
GC: I think you’ve earned it.
What are your thoughts on digital recording versus analog recording?
Willie Nelson: Used to be, I wasn’t sure. I have two studios, now. I have a big studio in Austin where I have a whole lot of equipment, both digital and analog. I have another little studio across the street (from where I live), where I just did Rainbow Connection, and it’s all digital. It’s hard for me to tell the difference in the sound.
GC: So you’re happy with it?
Willie Nelson: Yeah. We’re happy with it.
GC: Neil Young is one guy I can think of who seems to be on the analog side of the fence.
Willie Nelson: Maybe so. Of course, it’s everyone’s personal opinion, however they like to hear themselves. I think it has a lot to do with the building you’re in. The studio we’re in is all very old wood, so it’s like recording inside a big speaker. It really sounds good.
GC: With regard to your songwriting process, how do you introduce new songs to the band?
Willie Nelson: We have soundchecks every day. Whatever we’re working on at the moment, we’ll go over those songs at soundcheck. Hopefully, by the time we get to the studio, we’ve already worked them up. It will just be a matter of going in and putting them down.
GC: So everything’s worked out live?
Willie Nelson: We work it out live on the stage. We did one of them tonight, “The Great Divide.” That’s one from the new album that’s coming out that we’re doing on the stage. The other album, Rainbow Connection, I haven’t started doing that yet, but I will.
GC: How does Martin feel about you using one of their guitars (Trigger) for over 30 years?
Willie Nelson: I’m sure they like that. They’ve made a bunch of Trigger look-alikes and they’re great guitars.
GC: Have you ever had the desire to play another acoustic guitar?
Willie Nelson: I’ve never found anything as good to me, for what I was trying to get, as Trigger. I could play it acoustically. I can run it through an amp. It still gets a great sound.
GC: What strings are on Trigger?
Willie Nelson: There’s a guy named Tunin’ Tom that takes care of my guitar. He has a lot of different strings that he uses. I think he has one particular brand that he tries to find, but I’m not sure what they are.
GC: You also played an electric tonight.
Willie Nelson: I have an electric there, on-stage, the little Snub-nose I call it. I play the blues stuff with that. I play it more during a longer show, but mostly I stay with the acoustic.
GC: Finally, is there a point or year in your career you look on with more fondness?
Willie Nelson: This is better than anything. It has been very good for a long time. For a long time before that, it was fine. It wasn’t great. I was doing well and traveling around. But, then things starting clicking pretty much back when the Red-Headed Stranger album came out. Since then, it has been easier. Recently, the last couple of years, it seems like we’ve gotten hotter than ever.
GC: Thank you very much for sitting down with me at the end of a long night.
Willie Nelson: Thank you for waiting.
(Sorry, I don’t know who the interviewer is.)