Archive for the ‘Bobbie Nelson’ Category

Willie Nelson, Bobbie Nelson, “December Day” (with liner notes by Mickey Raphael)

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie
“December Day”

Liner Notes by Mickey Raphael:

Peering through the control room glass into the studio, a cloud of smoke rises from Sister Bobbie Nelson’s Bosendorfer grand piano. After four hours of non-stop recording with baby brother Willie, perhaps she has ignited the keys during this marathon session???

Listening back to “I Never Cared for You,” the interplay between Bobbie and Will on the instrumental intro “Ou-es tu, mon amour” sets the mood perfectly for the darkness the song portrays.

“Nuages,” a song written by French Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, showcases Willie’s dexterity and guitar genius.  Whenever we are just sitting around the bus, Willie will pick up a guitar and start playing.  Like the horse heading to the barn, he always gets around to “Nuages.”  It’s good mendicine for him.  And on this take, Bobbie’s piano provides the support that makes their performances seem effortless.

In the beautiful hill country near Austin, Texas you’ll find Willie’s Pedernales studio.  Willie and Bobbie are set up in the main room which is L-shaped and doesn’t allow direct eye contact during recording.  Without much discussion of an arrangement, Bobbie started playing and Willie began singing “Mona Lisa.”  That was the beginning of another magical session.

Recording engineer Steve Chadie and Willie’s friend and producer, Buddy Cannon were at the controls as it all happened. It’s kind of like photographing a ghost; you don’t really see it till the picture is fully developed.  Throughout these sessions Bobbie and Willie played continuously and seemed to never run out of song ideas — which is a producer’s dream (or nightmare).  Eventually songs had to be picked for the final selections.  With so many outstanding performances to choose from.  I’m glad I wasn’t a part of that process.

As long as I can remember.  Willie and Bobbie, who ride together on Willie’s bus, spend some of their traveling time jamming on their favorite songs.  Bobbie has a travels size keyboard on the bus and Willie’s guitar, Trigger, is always by his side.  This is where the idea for DECEMBER DAY was born.  “Why not record our favorite songs like we play them for ourselves?”  Bobbie asked.

In 2010 after ending a tour in Austin, Texas, the band, made up of Paul and Billy English, Bee Spears and myself, went in the studio to record with Bobbie and Willie.  The song “What’ll I do” is especially bittersweet because of the passing of Bee Speers.  Bee was Willie’s bass player for more than four decades and this was the last recording session he played with us.  He is missed by us all.

In 2012 while recording songs for the record LET’S FACE THE MUSIC AND DANCE, we would stray from the song list every once in a while.  Willie might call out a song title or Bobbie might have a suggestion and this was the fun part of recording with these guys.  You didn’t know where the music was going next.  “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was born from such a diversion.  We are all fans of the Irving Berlin songbook and of the Ray Charles version, so this was a perfect tribute to both.

In 2004, another impromptu visit to the studio resulted in three songs penned by Willie.  “Walkin'” is truly a classic.  Originally heard in the concept album PHASES AND STAGES, this version goes right to the heart.  Willie’s guitar solo hits you like a gunshot at the O.K. Corral.  If through is the question, then Bobbie is the answer as nothing rings more true than her piano.

“Laws of Nature” is an “a-ha” moment.  Willie writes like he’s talking to you face-to-face.  Bobbie provides the soundtrack for that conversation.  It’s easy to make records with these guys.  You just have to listen… and then  react from the heart.  It’s pretty primal.

The song “Amnesia” rounded out those sessions but honestly, I can’t remember anything about it.

Raised by their grandparents in Abbott, a small farming community north of Waco, Texas, Willie and Bobbie began a musical odyssey that has continued for over 70 years.  Daddy Nelson taught Willie how to play guitar when he was seven, and momma Nelson taught sister Bobbie the piano when she was nine.  Sundays were spent playing at the Abbott Methodist church and gave Bobbie and Willie the spiritual foundation that still can be found in their music.

When it comes to a brother-sister collaboration with the longevity of Willie and Bobbie, there is beauty in keeping things simple, “Less is more” is the underlying theme.  We’ve heard these songs before but not like this.  The spontaneity born out of familiarity is what this record, DECEMBER DAY is all about.

It’s not rocket science.  It’s alchemy.

Mickey Raphael
Nashville, TN


Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie
December Day
(Willie’s Stash, Vol. 1)

1. Alexander’s Ragtime Band (Irving Berlin)
2. Permanently Lonely (Willie Nelson)
3. What’ll I Do (Irving Berlin)
4. Summer of Roses / December Day (Willie Nelson)
5. Nuages (Django Reinhardt)
6. Mona Lisa (Ray Evans & Jay Livingston)
7. I Don’t Know Where I Am Today (Willie Nelson)
8. Amnesia (Willie Nelson)
9. Who’ll Buy My Memories (Willie Nelson)
10. The Anniversary Song (Al Jolson & Saul Chaplin)
11. Laws of Nature (Willie Nelson)
12. Walkin’ (Willie Nelson)
13. Always (Irving Berlin)
14. I Let My Mind Wander (Willie Nelson)
15. Is the Better Part Over (Willie Nelson)
16. My Own Peculiar Way (Willie Nelson)
17. Sad Songs and Waltzes (Willie Nelson)

Willie Nelson and Bobbie Nelson

Friday, September 30th, 2016

(Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

by Michael Corcoran

She had done whatever it took to raise three sons alone after their father died in an automobile accident in 1961. She demonstrated organs for Hammond, taught at J.R. Reed Music on Congress Avenue and at night played elegant solo piano at local lounges and restaurants.

But what Bobbie Nelson really hungered for, especially after her boys had grown up and moved out by the early 1970s, was to play again with her brother Willie. The pair had forged an undeniable musical bond since she was 6 and Willie was 4 and their grandparents showed them the chords to “The Great Speckled Bird.”

Then one day in early 1973, Bobbie got a call from Willie, summoning her to New York to play piano on his gospel album “The Troublemaker.” Willie had just signed a deal with Atlantic Records that gave him the creative control, including choice of session players, that had been denied him in Nashville.

So at age 42, empty-nester Bobbie Nelson took her very first airplane flight and embarked on a glorious musical journey that is still en route. Willie and “Sister Bobbie,” as she’s known in the extended Nelson family, have been musical partners for an incredible 70 years.

“There’s just no way to explain how lucky I am to have a good musician in the family,” Willie Nelson said last week from the tour bus he shares with his sister. “Whenever I’ve needed a piano player, I’ve had Sister Bobbie right there.”

While Brother Willie has become a major music icon, as instantly recognizable as anyone on the planet, Sister Bobbie has happily remained in the shadow, except for the one spotlight turn — usually “Down Yonder” from “Red-Headed Stranger” — she gets at each Willie Nelson and the Family concert. “I’ve always been very shy,” said Bobbie. “I sang a little when we were kids, mostly in church. But Willie had such a beautiful voice. I’d always tell him, ‘you sing, Willie, and I’ll play the piano.’ ”

This week, 76-year-old Bobbie stepped out of the background with her first solo album, “Audiobiography,” titled so because it’s the story of her life through the songs she’s played. “I’ve always expressed myself best through music,” she said recently at the Pedernales recording studio owned by her son Freddy Fletcher. “I remember when I got my first piano. I thought, ‘I’ll never be lonely again.’ ”

Not that there weren’t painfully trying times in the devout Christian’s life. She lost two of her three sons, Michael to leukemia and Randy in a car crash, in a six-month period in 1989. “Me and my three boys grew up together, and we had so much fun … and then to lose two of your three babies, well, it’s something you never get over,” Bobbie said. “It taught me to never take life for granted.” Another reminder came in March, when Bobbie underwent heart surgery to insert a pacemaker.

“I’ve never been so happy as this past April 15,” Bobbie said with a smile as radiant as Willie’s. “That’s when I flew to L.A. and joined up with the band. It’s just the most wonderful therapy in the world to play with Willie.” She said that sometimes when she’s away from Willie for more than a couple weeks, she gets a cold and feels worn down.

“Audiobiography” contains 10 piano instrumentals, bookended by a pair of Willie Nelson originals. It’s just Willie and Bobbie on those two new tunes, just like on their tour bus, where Bobbie slides a keyboard from the bottom of an adjoining bunk and Willie pulls out a guitar whenever inspiration hits. Even after two and a half hours on stage, the brother and sister — whose ages add to 150 — will often play gospel standards or work out new songs on the Honeysuckle Rose IV bus as it hurtles through the deep darkness between gigs.

It will also be just Willie and Bobbie on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Tuesday and “The Tonight Show” Wednesday, as the younger brother has pledged to promote his sister’s album however he can. “It’s long overdue,” Willie said. “Whenever our band plays, Sister Bobbie is the best musician on the stage.”

Bobbie Lee, born on the first day of 1931, and Willie Hugh, born April 30, 1933, were children of the Depression. Their biological parents were a pair of married teenagers who had recently moved from Arkansas to Abbott, a farming community about 70 miles south of Dallas. But Bobbie and Willie were raised by their paternal grandparents, whom they called Mama and Daddy.

“Daddy Nelson was the sweetest person I’ve ever known,” Bobbie said. “He had the most gorgeous tenor voice.” A proficient player of stringed instruments, Daddy Nelson taught Willie how to play guitar, while Mama Nelson, who lived to be in her 90s, showed Bobbie how to play piano. “It was just so amazing to us that I could play one part and Willie could play another and together we had a song. We’d look at each other and our eyes would light up.”

After Daddy Nelson died when Willie was 7 and Bobbie was 9, the brother and sister took to tunes, both spiritual and secular, to soothe their sorrow. “Playing music made us realize that there was something bigger out there, something more than human life,” she said.

They played together for hours every day, and on Sundays they played and sang at the Abbott Methodist Church (which Willie bought in July 2006 when he heard prospective buyers had planned to move it to another town). Bobbie, who could read music at age 6, also played at other churches in the area. When she was 16, she met 21-year-old ex-GI Bud Fletcher at a revival at Vaughn Methodist Church, near Hillsboro. The couple married a few months later, while Bobbie was a senior at Abbott High. “I’d kiss my husband goodbye every morning then get on the school bus,” she recalled.

Seeing so much talent in his new bride and the brother she called “Hughtie,” Fletcher organized a western swing dance band around them — Bud Fletcher and the Texans. A non-musician in the beginning, Fletcher took on the role of emcee, adding a Bob Willsian “Ah-HA” to hot solos, introducing band members and pumping up the crowd. He eventually learned to play bass fiddle and then the drums.

“Bud was one of those outgoing guys who could talk to anyone,” Bobbie said. “And he was a fabulous dancer.”

Bobbie became pregnant with Randy when she was 19; by age 23 she had three sons and was still playing in her husband’s band. But too many nights in a roadhouse were wearing Fletcher down. “Bud was a great person and we loved each other very much, but he was having a rough time,” she said. “That’s why, to this day, I hate alcohol. I’m so glad Willie doesn’t drink anymore.”

The young parents of three small boys also had very little money. In 1955, Bud’s parents went to court to get custody of Randy, Michael and Freddy and won. “Bud’s father was the road commissioner of Hill County and had a lot of influence,” Bobbie said. “They tried to portray me as unfit because I played honky tonk piano. It just broke my heart.”

Bobbie said she had a nervous breakdown after losing her children.

“The Fletchers hated the Nelsons,” said Freddy Fletcher. “They looked down on musicians and blamed my mother for getting my father involved, when in reality it was his idea to start a band.”

After she gave up the nightlife, took bookkeeping courses and got a job with the Hammond organ company in Fort Worth, Bobbie got her sons back after a year with their grandparents. She later divorced Fletcher and remarried, but that union ended in divorce after a few years, as did her third and final marriage in the late 1960s.

While Bobbie’s life revolved around her three sons, Willie had hit the jackpot as a Nashville songwriter. In 1961, three of his compositions were big country hits: “Hello Walls” by Faron Young, “Crazy” by Patsy Cline and “Funny How Time Slips Away” by Billy Walker.

“I was just so proud of him,” Bobbie said. “People got tired of hearing me say ‘my brother Willie wrote that one’ whenever one of his songs came on the radio.”

It was Bobbie, not Willie, who moved to Austin first. She came down from Fort Worth in 1965 to demonstrate a Hammond organ for the El Chico restaurant set to open at the spanking new Hancock Center. Impressed by her interpretations of such standards as “Stardust” and “Laura,” as well as her boogie-woogie and swing numbers, the owners offered Bobbie a job playing nightly. She later opened the Chariot Inn in North Austin and played regularly at the Lakeway Inn.

“When Willie called me (in 1973) to come to New York, I was ready,” Bobbie said. “I was always playing the piano, using music to survive, so I never got rusty.”

Although Willie and producer Arif Mardin had blocked out five days at Atlantic studio, Bobbie would be needed only the first day, when “The Troublemaker” was knocked out in ten hours. The next day, Willie was back with his band to record what would become “Shotgun Willie.” Bobbie had planned to do some shopping and then head home to Austin. “They must’ve missed me,” Bobbie said, “because when I stopped by the studio the next day, Willie asked me to stick around and play the piano some more.” Sister Bobbie has been with the Family ever since.

Willie said there’s an instinctive connection between him and his sister that he doesn’t feel with any other musician. “She knows what I’m going to do even before I do sometimes,” he said with a laugh.

In 1976, Willie bought Bobbie an $85,000 Bosendorfer grand piano like the one she played on “Red Headed Stranger.” But when IRS agents seized Willie’s property in 1990 to help satisfy a $16.7 million tax lien, Bobbie’s piano was among the Pedernales studio contents auctioned off.

Friends of the Nelsons bought the Bosendorfer and gave it back to Bobbie. It’s the piano she plays so exquisitely on “Audiobiography” and all of Willie’s records.

The brother and sister have never had an argument, Bobbie said, even after she was awakened by police in Louisiana in September 2006 and charged, with Willie and three others, with possession of a pound and a half of marijuana and three ounces of psychedelic mushrooms. The prim and proper churchgoer has never used drugs, but since they were found on the bus she was traveling in, Bobbie was cited with the others. “All I knew was that if Willie was going to jail, they’d have to take me to jail, too,” she said. But Willie and company were issued only misdemeanor citations and sent on their way.

In the mid-70s, when “Red Headed Stranger” hit and the parties and groupies got crazy, Bobbie didn’t ride with Willie and the band but flew to gigs and stayed in hotels. But she’s traveled with Willie since 1983 and has learned to tolerate the ever-present illegal perfume.

“I think he smokes (marijuana) too much,” Bobbie said, “but that’s just because I’m worried about his health.” Willie said his sister’s physical well-being is also foremost in his mind. “We were all very concerned (in March), but she has great doctors and they caught the problem early,” he said.

If any two people deserve to live forever, they are Bobbie and Willie Nelson, who have filled the air with beautiful music and helped whomever they could. But one day, one of them will have to go on without the other, a prospect neither Willie nor Bobbie wants to face.

“Every day is so precious,” Bobbie said. “Every time I play with Willie is a gift. We are just so blessed to be still doing what we’re doing after all these years.”

In a small Texas town in the 1930s, a 6-year-old girl and her 4-year-old brother learned the power and magic of making music together. And they’ve been doing it ever since.

Bobbie Nelson and Paul English (Denver, Colorado) (July 30, 2016)

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Thank you, Janis Tillerson, for these photos from Fiddler’s Green Saturday night.


Willie Nelson & Family, Fourth of July Picnic 2016 (Austin)

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016


Amy, Paula, Bobbie, Willie Nelson

Monday, June 27th, 2016


Thanks, Connie Nelson, for sharing this photo.

Bobbie Nelson, Paul English, Lana Nelson

Monday, June 20th, 2016

This great photo was taken at the BMI Awards Banquet on November 6, 2007, when Willie Nelson was honored with the BMI Icon Award.

Willie Nelson and Family

Monday, June 20th, 2016

Willie Nelson and Family

Texas Hatters

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Bobbie and Willie Nelson both wear hats made by Texas Hatters, in Lockhart, Texas. Paul and Billy English also had them hand make hats for them, too.

For more information about Texas Hatters, to see more pictures of their hats, and famous people wearing their hats — or to buy a hat for yourself, visit their website:

I think you’ll enjoy their history, from their website:

Marvin Gammage, Sr. had quit school to help take care of his family after his father lost an arm in a tragic incident. So, at the young age of 13, he was hired as a delivery boy at a hat company in Houston, Texas. He was a reliable and hard worker, which gained him a place as an apprentice hatter later on.

Despite his eighth grade education, he was a mathematical genius, which led to his other career in the chemical industry as a chemical engineer’s apprentice, or stillman, as I’m told he was called. This career moved him and family a few times and so the hat shop moved also.

Too often a move meant a new name for the shop; Houston Hatters, Pasadena Hatters, Abilene Hatters, Top Hatters and Marvin E. Gammage Hatters. It was in 1965 that he finally settled on Texas Hatters after his son, Marvin Jr., better known as Manny, made the statement, “You’re never gonna move outside of Texas Dad. So, why don’t you just call it Texas Hatters and you’ll never have to change it again.”

Manny had grown up in the hat business, as both of his older sisters, Alice and Sally, and younger brother, Gerry, had done, but for Manny, hat making was a calling not unlike the priesthood for some. He spent as much time as he could at his father’s shop watching and learning from his father and his mother. (more…)

Bobbie Nelson, Audiobiograpy

Saturday, June 4th, 2016


Track List:

  1. Back To Earth (With Willie Nelson)
  2. Boogie Woogie
  3. Crazy
  4. Death Ray Boogie
  5. Stardust
  6. The House Of Blue Lights
  7. Deep Purple
  8. 12th Street Rag
  9. Sabor A Mi
  10. Down Yonder
  11. Laura
  12. Until Tomorrow (With Willie Nelson)


photo:  Todd Wolfson

Willie and Bobbie Nelson, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Bobbie Nelson and her fans at the Luck Reunion Banquet Concert (3/18/2016)

Monday, April 4th, 2016


Bobbie Nelson always graciously stays after Willie Nelson & Family shows to greet fans, pose for photos, get hugged, and that’s what she did after the concert in Luck, Texas.


Meet Bobbie Nelson (1/10/2008)

Sunday, March 27th, 2016


photo:  Todd Wolfson
By Bill Deyoung

When Willie Nelson takes the Sunrise Theatre stage for his sold-out show Friday night, he’ll be accompanied by the same ragtag gang of bearded, road-hardened musicians that’ve made up his touring band for more than 30 years.

Look closely, however, at that petite piano player, with long, auburn hair usually topped with a wide-brimmed hat. That’ll be Bobbie Nelson, Willie’s older sister. She is not only his blood kin, she’s his oldest friend and the one musician who’s played alongside him since virtually the beginning. Her piano is the backbone of the band, which is officially called Willie Nelson and Family.

Bobbie and Willie were raised together in tiny Abbott, Texas, midway between Waco and Dallas. Raised by their grandparents, the siblings picked cotton, milked cows and faithfully attended the local Methodist Church, where Bobbie played the organ and they both sang in the choir.

At 76, Bobbie has just made her very first solo record. “Audiobiography” includes two guitar-and-piano duets with her brother, and a number of instrumental piano pieces ranging from church music to boogie woogie to Willie’s lounge classic “Crazy.”

“Whenever our band plays,” Willie Nelson said, “Sister Bobbie is the best musician on the stage.”

Q. Why did it take you so long to make your own album?

A. Before I went out on the road with Willie, I used to play in hotels, supper clubs, churches and all of those things. I had thought a long time ago that maybe I would have a record for sale, but I never did do that.

Then I was on the road with him all those years, and I was happy recording with him, and I guess I just didn’t feel the need to make an album on my own then.

When I was asked why I never wrote my autobiography, I said I thought I could do it best with music, because my whole life has just been music. I don’t separate myself from that piano.

Q. You and Willie started playing and singing together when you were very young in Texas. His career in Nashville started in the early ?60s; what were you doing then?

A. Well, I had never dated anyone in my life, because my grandmother was very strict. I married Bud Fletcher at 16; he was 22. Willie was 14. I was playing revival meetings with a minister; Bud organized our first band, with me and Willie and our father on rhythm guitar. Then Bud was killed in a car accident, and I had three young sons to take care of. So I moved to Fort Worth and taught music for Hammond Organ, and played in the church. I spent 10 years there.

In Houston, Willie was selling encyclopedias, sewing machines and vacuum cleaners, and playing some music at night. I moved to Austin in 1965 to play piano at the El Chico Restaurant. I opened a lot of hotels and taught music, and took a job playing piano at Lakeway Resort. Then he came to Austin and started playing at the Armadillo Word Headquarters, where he joined all the forces of the cowboys and the hippies …. (laughing).

Q. Willie had already been in Nashville, making records, for years before you started working together professionally in the early ?70s. How did that come about?

A. Willie said “Sister Bobbie, would you like to record a gospel record with me in New York City?” I was tickled to death. I’d never been on an airplane before. I’d never been anywhere except my trips to Nashville to visit him.

I farmed out my little job playing piano at Lakeway and flew to New York City and did the “Troublemaker” album, the gospel album. Willie’s wife took me up to the Empire State Building ? it scared me to death going up there ? and then they asked me to help on the “Shotgun Willie” album. And that went very well.

Then Willie said “I sure have missed playing with you.” I said, I missed playing with you, too. He said “What in the world are we waiting for? Let’s just don’t stop.”

Q. And you’ve been on the road pretty much without a break since the 1970s. Was that lifestyle tough to get used to?

A. Our first band, we played about the same stuff we’re playing right now on the road. Some of the very same songs ? “Down Yonder” and “Under the Double Eagle” and a lot of the country music we play.

But it was a new experience, because I didn’t drink, I didn’t do any of the habits of all of the musicians on the road, and I certainly didn’t dress the way they wanted me to dress, either. I’m use to getting dressed a little bit when I go to these cocktail lounges and perform. Or church.

Willie said “Just get you a pair of jeans, Sister Bobbie.”

I really did want to be a part of these guys. I didn’t want them to feel weird. Girls on the road, it’s another story. That used to be the rule ? no girls on the road. Somebody asked Willie, what about your sister? And he said “Sister Bobbie’s not a girl, she’s a piano player.”


Q. What’s it like playing in that band?

A. You know, we are so bonded. Those guys have been so wonderful to me. In February, after we got back from Europe, I had a couple of strokes ? I played three nights without anyone knowing ? and when I got back to Austin, I went to my doctor and I ended up with a pacemaker.

By April I was back on the road with everybody.

Q. You’re very protective of your brother, aren’t you? Is that part of your job?

A. It’s not part of my job. It’s that I’m older than Willie, and I took care of him from the time he was born. And later, he took care of me. We took care of each other. And we still do. That bond will always be with us.

Willie Nelson & Family at the Austin Rodeo (Mar 12, 2016)

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016


Thanks to Janis Tillerson from Texas for sharing photos from the Austin Rodeo this month.  Nice light!


Bobbie Nelson and Willie Nelson

Friday, March 4th, 2016


Willie Nelson, Bobbie Nelson, Paul English, Bee Spears (in the studio)

Monday, February 29th, 2016