Photographer Danny Clinch is having a sale for his incredible photographs at his website, including several of Willie Nelson. Also, his great book, “Still Moving” is also available.
Willie Nelson’s book, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” was published on November 13, 2015.
Willie Nelson’s new memoir is largely episodic, made up of randomMusings From the Road, as the book’s subtitle reads. In many ways, it reads like cloudy memories and sudden observations churned up during a dreamy, long, twilight reverie fueled by thick clouds of fragrant ganja smoke.
The fully-titled Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die also includes many photographs from over the years. Many of these are also dreamlike images and have never been published before.
The book itself is slim and modest, perhaps 6 by 9 inches, even in hardback, and — at only 175 pages long — is almost the size of a prayer book. I’m sort of surprised that this book wasn’t published on special rolling papers bound into a deluxe hemp folder.
It is best read episodically, a tiny bit at a time, rather than being absorbed in one rapid gulp. Small bites are good, like nibbles of popcorn during a leisurely, slow-paced movie.
By now, so many decades into his fabled life and career, Willie fans pretty much know what to expect from him. And he does not let his readers down with his Musings From the Road.
Kinky Friedman’s foreword to the book also does not disappoint. In summing up Willie’s abandonment of Nashville for Texas, he writes, “Willie told the Nashville music establishment the same words Davy Crockett had told the Tennessee political establishment: ‘Y’all can go to hell — I’m going to Texas.’”
Willie’s voice in the book is that of a gentle and knowing, but aging wise-ass. With a sense of humor. Here’s one of his jokes I can repeat here:
“A drunk fell out of a second-floor window. A guy came running up and asked, ‘What happened?’ The drunk said, ‘I don’t know. I just got here.’”
This amounts to a surprisingly succinct account of Willie’s life and career, told through his remembrances and sections told by his wife, children, other relatives, his band and many of his friends. And also many of the lyrics to his songs. It amounts to a scrapbook summary of his childhood, his adulthood, his family, his band and his life in music.
He begins with memories of a happy childhood in Abbott, Texas, where he and sister Bobbie were raised by their grandparents after their parents more or less went their own way. They grew up in an atmosphere of love, the church and music. Bobbie is still in Willie’s band and cooks for him on the bus. They return to Abbott as often as possible.
Willie recalls he began drinking and smoking at age 6. He would gather a dozen eggs, take them to the grocery store and trade them for a pack of Camel cigarettes. He preferred Camels, because he liked the picture of the camel on the pack. “After all, I was only 6. They were marketing directly to me!”
He became addicted to both cigarettes and drinking and finally kicked both habits — especially after his lungs began hurting — and traded them for a life of weed. After he was busted in Texas for weed, he formed the Teapot Party, which advocates legalization and he writes quite a bit about that in the book. He has, he writes, lost many friends and relatives to cigarettes and alcohol, but he knows of no marijuana fatalities.
He is happiest now, he writes, in his house’s hideout room on Maui, which his brother-in-law named “Django’s Orchid Lounge.” The “Orchid Lounge” part, of course, is obvious, from the Nashville beer joint where Willie got his Nashville start. “Django” is from the great gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, whom Willie feels is the greatest guitarist of all time. Ray Price, by the way, is Willie’s choice for the greatest country singer of all time.
Willie loves to sit in his Django’s Orchid Lounge and play dominoes and poker and chess with many of his Maui friends and such visitors as Ziggy Marley and Woody Harrelson while wife Annie cooks for everyone.
In addition to the photographs, Willie’s son, Micah, contributes several drawings.
Since the book is episodic, I can be, too. Here is my favorite self-description by Willie: “I have been called a troublemaker a time or two. What the hell is a troublemaker? you ask. Well, it’s someone who makes trouble; that’s what he came here to do, and that’s what he does, by God. Like it or not, love it or not, he will stir it up. Why? Because it needs stirring up! If someone doesn’t do it, it won’t get done, and you know you love to stir it up. … I know I do.”
Listen carefully to the music and the words of Willie. He is one of the few true giants to inhabit country music, and — when he and his few remaining fellow giants are gone — there’ll be no live artists remaining to remind the world of the true truth and majesty of great country music.
by: P. A. Geddie
It’s a Long Story: My Life
by Willie Nelson with David Ritz
Little, Brown and Company
I’ve read a few Willie Nelson books through the years and certainly many, many articles. We interviewed him a few years ago for a cover feature in County Line Magazine and reviewed one of his ex-wives tell-all books on him, one in which he said he deserved everything she dished out.
I’ve read and heard many stories on Willie’s “outlaw” ways but I was not prepared for the man I got to know in this book. It’s raw. Made me blush every now and then. But overall, Willie’s big heart comes through like gang busters.
Willie says of the book, “This is the story of my life, told as clear as a Texas sky and in the same rhythm that I lived it.
“It’s a story of restlessness and the purity of the moment and living right…. It’s the story of true love, wild times, best friends, and barrooms, with a musical sound track ripping right through it.”
That’s my favorite part of the book — the way it weaves his songs through the story. It’s very interesting to learn where he was and why and how he came to write the songs like “The Party’s Over,” “On the Road Again,” and one of my favorites “I Never Cared for You.” He also talks about the times in his life when he wrote “Pretty Paper,” “Mr. Record Man,” and we find out who Paul is in “Me and Paul.”
I also enjoyed learning more about his causes and the beginning of his Fourth of July and Farm Aid concerts and learned about the Dripping Springs Reunion of 1972 that started Willie’s annual Texas gatherings, this one with Buck Owens, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, and many other traditional artists and big country stars.
It was a three-day outdoor concert and some called it country music’s answer to Woodstock. It brought together all kinds of people, young and old, country cowboys and the longhairs as Willie called those leaning towards a more hippie-type lifestyle he’d started to embrace. People from very different lifestyles bonded over the music like they do where Willie’s concerned.
“It’s a Long Story” is full of moments that stirred my own memories as I recalled going to several of his concerts and songs that hold special meanings for me as I’m sure they do for many.
His book was one of eight or so I read this summer and as I was preparing to pass them over to my almost 90-year-old mother to read, I decided to hold his book out because of Willie’s colorful language and somewhat descriptive sexual escapades that I thought my mother might find offensive. Somehow it landed in her hands anyway, and despite my warning, she decided she wanted to read it anyway. She said she’d skip over the “bad stuff.”
When she got to the pages talking about the Dripping Springs Reunion in 1972 she had to call to tell me that she had been there!
My dad was a musician and active in bands during that time and they went with a friend. I remembered they talked for years about their trip to Dripping Springs and meeting Buck Owens but never in my wildest imagination did I connect that trip to one of Willie’s parties. It’s fun for both of us to think we’re a tiny little part of Willie’s story.
Willie Nelson is one of the most authentic people on the planet and this book made me feel like he was sitting across a table from me sharing his ups and downs over a cup of coffee in a diner perhaps with his music playing on the jukebox in the background as he tells the tales. It is a long story, but it never gets old and at the end of the day, through good times and bad, it’s a life and a book well done.
The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes
by Willie Nelson
Published by Random House in January 2002
They say writing the first line of a book is the hardest part. Thank God that’s over. Roger Miller said it must be true that the longer you live with your pet, the more you look alike. My neighbor came over this morning and chewed my ass out for shitting in his front yard. Thank you, Roger. I also have you to thank for the opening of my last book-“I didn’t come here and I ain’t leaving.”
My daughter Lana just asked me if I wanted a couple of ibuprofen. I said no, I save my pain for the show. We are in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a concert at Cains Ballroom, where Bob Wills and countless other great bands have performed in the last fifty years. The last time we were here, we had to move it to a larger place because of ticket sales, so we decided to do two days at Cains this time.
Lana, Kinky Friedman, and I are responsible for the contents of this endeavor, which is to be one-part song lyrics, one-part photographs, and ten-parts bullshit. That’s where I come in. I seem to be doing very well. I have ripped off my friend Roger twice already, bragged about how well we draw in Tulsa, and exposed my daughter Lana for offering me drugs before the show. How do you like me so far?
“You do know why you’re here?”
“Yes. There’s great confusion on earth, and the Power that is has concluded the following: Perfect man has visited earth already, and his voice was heard. The voice of imperfect man must now be made manifest, and I have been selected as the most likely candidate.”
“The time is april, therefore you, a taurus, must go. to be born under the same sign twice adds strength. this strength, combined with wisdom and love, is the key.”
Where’s the Show?/Let Me Be a Man
Explain to me again, Lord, why I’m here
I don’t know
I don’t know
The setting for the stage is still not clear
Where’s the show?
Where’s the show?
Let it begin, let it begin
I am born
Can you use me?
What would you have me do, Lord?
Shall I sing them a song?
I could tell them about you, Lord
I could sing of the loves I have known
I’ll work in their cotton and corn field
I promise I’ll do all I can
I’ll laugh and I’ll cry
I’ll live and I’ll die
Lord let me be a man
Please, Lord, let me be a man
And I’ll give it all that I can
If I’m needed in this distant land
Please, Lord, let me hold to your hand
Dear Lord, let me be a man
And I’ll give it all that I can
If I’m needed in this distant land
Please Lord, let me be a man
Lana, David Anderson, sister Bobbie, L.G., and Gates are regulars along with me on the bus, Honeysuckle Rose III. Ben Dorcy is not with us. Ben is now being preserved for trips in the near Austin area. At seventy-six-years young, he is cutting his world tours considerably. But for all the millions of Ben Dorcy fans, Ben is alive and well. Well, alive anyway. Thank you, Ben, for many years of faithful service and wisdom-“If you need a friend, buy a dog.” We’ll see you in Austin.
Cains Ballroom was good tonight. The crowd was loud, which I like. The girls were pretty, which I like, and the guys were friendly. I forgot the words to “Crazy” and that’s a first. Sammi Smith came by and sang “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Her son, Waylon, and Waylon’s dad, Jody Payne, joined in on “Hey, Good Lookin’ ” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Sammi’s still singing like an angel.
On the Road Again
On the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
I can’t wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Like a band of gypsies
We go down the highway
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turnin’ our way
And our way
Is on the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
I wrote this song on an airplane with Sydney Pollack and Jerry Shatzberg. We were talking about needing a song for the movie Honeysuckle Rose. Sydney was the producer and Jerry was the director. So I said, “What do you want the song to say?”
Sydney says, “Something about being on the road.”
“You mean something like, ‘On the road again, on the road again, I just can’t wait to be on the road again? The life I love is making music with my friends, I can’t wait to be on the road again?’ ” I said the words kinda bland I guess, maybe without any feeling or emotion.
Sydney and Jerry kinda stared at each other, and Sydney said, “But what about a melody?” I said, “I’ll come up with one before we get to the studio.”
At the time they were not that knocked out with the song. Of course they couldn’t hear the whole song like I could. They were very gentlemanly about the whole thing, not wanting to hurt my feelings and trying to act like they weren’t worried.
I think the more I talk about my hometown, Abbott, Texas, the better. Not only is it the only hometown I have, it is by far the most educational spot on the planet. I honestly believe I learned more in my first six years in Abbott than I’ve learned since. Smoking, drinking, and cussing are definitely three subjects in which I excelled.
Miss Brissler, our next-door neighbor, and my grandmother, Mama Nelson (who raised me and sister Bobbie from the time I was six months old), had already told us that if we drank beer, smoked cigarettes, and cussed, we were hell bound. At six years old I was well on my way. However, the first songs I remember singing were gospel songs. “Amazing Grace” was the first song I learned.
My first public appearance was in Brooken, Texas. We were at the annual Brooken Homecoming, with all-day singing and dinner on the ground. I was five years old. My poem was given to me by Mama Nelson to recite at the singing and performing part of “singing and dinner on the ground.” I guess I was nervous, because I started picking my nose until it started bleeding all over my little white sailor suit, trimmed in red. I did my poem . . .
What are you looking at me for?
I ain’t got nothing to say.
If you don’t like the looks of me
You can look the other way!
I have never had stage fright since.
There was always music in our home. My grandparents, Alfred and Nancy Nelson, were both musicians. They took music courses through the mail from the Chicago Music Institute. I could hear them at night practicing their music lessons. My grandfather, Daddy Nelson, was a voice teacher at one time, and they both knew a lot about music. We lived in a little house on the edge of Abbott, and I could hear every note they sang. I could also see the stars through the holes in the roof of that house. It was all very beautiful!
Soon after that time, I was given my first guitar. Up until then I had only written a few poems. Now I was able to learn to play guitar and write songs. It was a Sears and Roebuck Stella guitar. The strings were very high off the neck, so my fingers bled a lot. But they eventually got tough. Kinda like life . . . (more…)
by: Joe Nicki Patoski
Paul English was talking about breaking someone’s legs, cheerily using the threat as a means to get to the punch line of a story. The four men listening to him in the back of the touring bus hung on every word—because it was Paul, because it was very difficult deciphering his nasal mumble filtered through a twang, and because whatever he said was likely to be true.
“I told Lana we could do something,” Paul was saying. “We could break his legs. We have to do something to him. We cain’t go and leave him walking. We’d of done that to him. That’s nothing.”
He was discussing the shoot-out at Ridgetop back in 1970, just outside of Nashville, when Willie Nelson and Paul English defended a house full of family against Willie’s daughter’s husband and his gun-toting brothers, one of many larger-than-life incidents that have been burnished into legend over the course of the career of Paul English’s boss and best friend, Willie Nelson. In this particular story, Willie’s daughter Lana’s husband, Steve, had hit her, prompting Willie to go over to their house and slap Steve, pissing off Steve so much that he and his brothers drove over to Willie’s house and started shooting. The altercation ended with Paul firing .380-grain bullets from his M1 rifle into the bumper of Steve’s car to “get him to go on, goodbye.”
When Steve returned to apologize the next day, Paul told him he was glad he had kept driving away. “Otherwise, I would’ve had to aim to kill, rather than shoot to miss,” Paul said in a low growl that suggested a ruthless predatory killer, followed by a sharp cackle. Everyone hearing the story laughed. But Paul wasn’t kidding.
For almost fifty years, Paul English has spent his nights literally watching Willie Nelson’s back, as his drummer. The rest of the time he has functioned as Willie’s more figurative back—a job that runs 24/7.
From the drummer’s chair, English sees everything, just like the catcher on a baseball team. His oversight goes far beyond maintaining the odd, minimalist beats that guide Willie’s music. For him, the drummer’s chair is the perfect perspective for running the most storied touring organization in country music. More important than being Willie’s drummer, or his best friend, is Paul English’s combined role as the road boss of Willie’s traveling company, tour accountant, protector, collector, and enforcer, roles embellished by his proud past as a hoodlum, pimp, and police character. For all the good vibes that the Red Headed Stranger imparts at his Fourth of July picnics, Farm-Aids, and wherever he plays “On the Road Again,” there’s an understanding shared by one and all in this band of gypsies: Mess with Willie Nelson and the next thing you’ll see is the wrong end of a gun held by the Devil himself, Robert Paul English.
Say what you want about economics, ethics, efficiencies, legalities, and proper ways of conducting commerce in the world of entertainment. Anyone who’s survived six decades in the music business understands the value of having a police character in your organization. As Willie explained to an associate who’d wondered why he kept an asshole like Paul on the payroll, especially when he couldn’t keep time as a drummer: “He’s saved my life.” More than once. Besides, as the singer Delbert McClinton has observed, “Everyone in this business needs an asshole.”
That sort of explains why the asshole drummer who can’t keep time was once the highest-paid sideman in the business, getting 20 percent of all of Willie’s action as well as a fat salary for drumming and for doing the books, which he has done since he signed on in 1966.
Those songs, such as “Nightlife” and “Family Bible,” that Willie famously sold for fifty bucks a pop, giving up his publishing rights? Paul got them back.
No telling what his method of persuasion might have been, but with Paul there is always, always—to this very day—the veiled threat of violence bubbling under the surface. Often as not, the perception is tied to Paul’s fondness for guns, at least one of which is always somewhere on his person.
Largely thanks to Paul, Nelson was able to survive on the rough and rowdy honky-tonk circuit traveled by Nashville recording artists in the 1960s. He was also instrumental in running the road part of the business when Willie ascended to one-name superstar status in the 1970s and 1980s.
At eighty-two, a year older than Willie and four years off a minor stroke, Paul has slowed down considerably. But in the musical subgenre known as outlaw music, where country and rock have mixed it up ever since Waylon and Willie and the boys stepped forward, Paul English is that rare bird who really is an outlaw, a hoodlum-made-good as sideman, sporting so much character for a character that his boss wrote not one but two songs about him: the autobiographical “Me and Paul” and “Devil In A Sleeping Bag,” complementing Leon Russell’s tribute, “You Look Like the Devil.”
As his son Paul Jr. observed, “If you’re writing songs about shooting people, it’s nice to have a guy who’s shot people up there onstage with you.”
The high cheekbones, long sideburns, thin beard and goatee, the widow’s peak and slicked-back hair framed by designer glasses (whose tinted lens mask a glass eye) all telegraph Beelzebub, despite his age. Although he no longer wears the black satin cape with red lining that was once his trademark on stage, and he doesn’t appear to carry his “bidness” in his sock anymore, darkness shrouds Paul’s lanky frame—black shirt, black slacks, black hat, and black boots. It’s his favorite color, he’ll tell you.
Of all the characters in the merry-prankster rolling revue known as Willie Nelson and Family, no one—not even Willie—casts a shadow like Paul, Willie’s shadow for life. He first drummed for Willie on the fly in 1955, on Willie’s radio show on KCNC in Fort Worth, and he drums for Willie today, assisted for the past thirty years by his younger brother Billy, who also plays percussion.
Inside the Family, Paul is the ultimate authority. He’s the Judge. It’s the same role he played back in Fort Worth in the 1950s and early 1960s when the Dixie Mafia ruled the underworld. If two hoodlums had a beef that they couldn’t take to the police, they’d go to Paul. No matter what he decided, his word was accepted as law, because Paul English had the reputation among characters as a man who was even-handed, judicious, and demanded respect.
“I was a good street hustler because I treated it as a business,” he explained. (more…)
by: Blair Jackson
aving devoured Joe Nick Patoski’s entertaining and tremendously detailed biography, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, a few years ago, I wondered what Willie’s own autobiography (actually his second; the first came out in 2000) could add to my understanding of this wonderfully idiosyncratic artist. The answer is: plenty!
Reading It’s a Long Story: My Life feels a little like sitting at a neighborhood bar (or, perhaps more apropos, sharing a joint) and listening to Willie spin tales. It’s casual and conversational, irreverent and self-effacing, but also soulful and deep in places. It is also relentlessly upbeat and nice to just about everyone who gets mentioned in its brisk 375 pages. He has nothing but good things to say about his various wives (the breakups were usually his fault, he admits), his children (all of whom he adores), and every musician who’s ever played with him or influenced him. He paints himself as an iconoclastic screw-up who somehow managed to persevere and eventually thrive, even though he never quite fit in with the mainstream—all true.
You learn about the magic he heard in Django Reinhardt and Lefty Frizzell and Frank Sinatra, and the importance of his piano-playing sister Bobbie on his development and musical stability. His old pal Waylon Jennings helped him escape the clutches of a Nashville establishment that wanted to change him and tame him. (Producer Chet Atkins was one of many who did not “get” what was special about Nelson.) Moving back to his home state of Texas ultimately saved him and his career (his later IRS woes also get a lot of ink).
One thing this book does really well is describe how the details of his life affected his songwriting every step of the way. He goes almost line by line through songs such as “The Night Life,” “Crazy,” “Bloody Mary Morning,” and “The Party’s Over,” drawing parallels with his mindset at the time he wrote them. He also discusses how and why various songs he covered by other writers through the years resonated with him so strongly. His description of the more than two dozen diverse albums he recorded in the past decade alone speaks of his restless artistic nature and also his current relevance.
And then there’s his now-legendary beat-up old Martin classical guitar, which he nicknamed Trigger “thinking of the closeness between Roy Rogers and his beloved horse,” he writes. When Nelson’s spread near Nashville went up in flames in December 1970, “I managed to make it to my bedroom where, dancing between the flames, I grabbed two guitar cases. One contained Trigger and the other two pounds of primo Colombian pot.”
He writes plenty about weed, of course, but in the end not as much as he does about his abiding faith in Jesus. This is one complex fellow, filled with multiple conflicting impulses. And this book lays them out unflinchingly for all the world to see.
It’s a great read.
– See more at: http://www.acousticguitar.com/News/Review-Willie-Nelson-s-New-Memoir-Is-Full-of-Heart-Soul-Humor-and-Wild-Tales#sthash.8TNDDIFQ.dpuf
“It’s too long,” — Willie Nelson
When KSAT 12 News reporter Paul Venema asked Willie Nelson what he thought about his new autobiography, Willie said it was ‘too long’. I don’t disagree with him often, but he got it wrong this time. We fans can never get enough and love to read about Willie Nelson, his family, his band, his crew, all his good works, his music, his songs, his stories, his adventures. I’m looking forward to his next autobiography.
by: Paul Venema
BRIARCLIFF, Texas – Sitting on his ranch in part of what was once the set for the 1980’s movie “The Redheaded Stranger,” country music legend Willie Nelson discussed his latest venture into the literary world, a book titled “It’s a Long Story – My Life.”
“It’s a story of true love, wild times, best friends and barrooms,” Nelson wrote in the liner notes of the book that was released earlier this year.
Writing and singing songs that tell of love, hurt, happiness and just about everything in between have always been his strengths. The book, which he co-wrote with David Ritz, tells stories with those elements that make up the 82-year-old entertainer’s life.
“I’m not ashamed of anything back there,” Nelson said in an interview with KSAT 12 News reporter Paul Venema.
The book takes readers through Nelson’s youth in the small Texas town of Abbott to his friendships with world leaders and giants in the entertainment industry. Nelson openly shares his ups downs, his successes and failures — from broken marriages, skirmishes with the law, his IRS troubles, to his rise to the top of the country music world.
Modest and unassuming, Nelson joked about the book’s length of nearly 400 pages.
“It’s too long,” he said. “Don’t read it all. Just a few chapters, then put it down.”
Critics like Vanity Fair disagree with Nelson, calling him a “legend … one of those rare American icons that you’re not allowed to dislike.”
The book debuted at No. 5 on the New York Times best-seller list.
See the video here:
by: Mike Snider
Willie Nelson is asking you to buy his memories again, with his memoir It’s a Long Story (*** out of four).
Those who do will be treated to a smooth-spoken recollection of the country legend’s childhood and his eight-decade-long musical career.
The conversational tone echoes Nelson’s singing style. It’s natural, as if you were sitting across from the 10-time Grammy winner in his tour bus. As he spins his yarn, you can picture him occasionally puffing on a marijuana e-cigarette.
Nelson, who recently announced that his Willie’s Reserve boutique cannabis brand will soon go on the market, goes into his renowned use of weed here, including his tale of smoking a joint on the roof of the White House. “Unlike booze, (pot) never made me nasty or violent,” he writes.
A Long Story begins in 1990 when the Internal Revenue Service takes possession of his assets, telling him he owes $32 million in back taxes thanks to bad management. “My resources were few. The IRS’s resources were unlimited,” he writes.
Then he flashes back to his childhood in central Texas. Throughout the book, Nelson returns to his tax battle every few chapters.
Nelson’s singing style comes across in the telling and adds to the authenticity of the memoir. As a boy, Nelson is drawn to Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Ernest Tubb, all of whom sang conversationally.
As a pre-teen, he begins playing guitar in a polka band, then in a country swing band with his sister Bobbie and her husband, while also working at a radio station. He also sells encyclopedias before and after heading to Nashville in 1960.
Fans of his music will especially enjoy his insights into the songwriting process. “When songs fall from the sky,” Nelson writes, “all I can do is catch them before they land.”
For instance, he offers up the genesis for the song Night Life: “I heard myself ruminating … It ain’t no good life, but it’s my life. … It happened because I was living it.”
Eventually Night Life and other songs such as Hello Walls, Funny How Time Slips Away and Crazy will become hits for other artists.
Unable to achieve success on his own terms in Nashville, Nelson returns to Texas. “In Nashville, I’d caught hell for my idiosyncratic singing,” he writes. “For years, I’d heard producers tell me that my phrasing was off.”
But while recording 1973’s Shotgun Willie, famed producer Jerry Wexler tells Nelson “your phrasing reminds me of Ray Charles and Sinatra.”
What others considered a fault, Wexler “was calling an asset,” Nelson writes.
Nelson, who just turned 82, becomes a music legend, a movie star and a touring machine. Later, he records the double-disc The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories to help pay off the agency, which agrees to a settlement.
He remains prolific. Over the last decade or so, he’s performed on average 150 shows a year, and released no fewer than 17 albums including Django and Jimmie, due out June 2, an album of duets with Merle Haggard.
Near the book’s end, Nelson offers his refreshing take on the music industry today: “The only money I’ve ever counted on is the money I make when you buy a ticket to my show. And if hearing my record on your laptop or your smartphone motivates you to come see me, I’m a happy man.”
Just like this book — and its subject — direct and genuine.
It’s A Long Story: My Life
Willie Nelson with David Ritz
Little, Brown, 392 pp.
3 stars out of 4
A daughter’s personal biography of Willie Nelson
by Susie Nelson
“I wouldn’t want anything to change his loyalty. He has an enormous capacity for being loyal and, as a consequence, people are loyal to him. Paul English stuck with Dad through the lean years, selling his rental property and going without pay in order to help Dad follow his dream. His loyalty and consideration for other extends to everyone around him.
He is almost apologetic whenever he asks anyone to do something for him. ‘It’s almost like he works for you,’ his pilot once told me. He’s still the same appreciative boy from Abbott who used to ask for a ride to the baseball game in West.
In a way, Dad has never left Abbott, never forgotten where he came from. He still drops in on his boyhood friends from Abbott, and he still remembera and keeps in touch with all of the folks who helped him on his way up.
Of course he has never lost his touch with the fans. He will sign autographs as long as there is anybody asking for one. He has said over and over again that he can’t understand performers who think they are bigger than their fans, who won’t sign autographs, who cut the shows short or don’t even show up. ‘I always figure that if my audience shows up, I ought to show up too,’ he says.
The size of the audience doesn’t make any difference. He’ll put on the same show for one person crowded around the bandstand as he will for 70,000 screaming fans.
Dad is an extraordinarily popular figure, a hero and an idol to millions around the world. Very few people in history have the kind of following that Dad has. For some people, going to one of Dad’s concert is like a religious experience.
I think the source of his great and enduring appeal is the fact that he truly believes that in the grand design of the universe, he is no more important, no more unique, no better than any other individual human being on the planet. He communicates a true belief in equality, in tolerance, that we are all in this together. That’s what his music is all about. And that sums Dad up about as well as any I’ve heard.
Paul English tells a story that sums Dad up about as well as any I’ve heard.
After a concert, a woman came up to Dad, ‘I met you in San Antonio five years ago,’ she told him, ‘but I don’t suppose you remember me.’
‘No, I’m sorry, but I don’t,’ he answered, ‘but I sure appreciate you remember me.’
That’s my dad. And I love him.”
– Susie Nelson
by: John McMurtie
When Jimmy Carter nearly bounds out of a hotel armchair to greet a journalist, it’s refreshing to see that the 90-year-old former president has not been passing the time — like so many of us these days — deep in a smartphone. Instead, he’s holding a book, a murder mystery by P.D. James.
Carter has been an avid reader all his life, and he is certainly no stranger to the written word. He has just published his 29th book, “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety” (Simon & Schuster; 257 pages; $28). It’s a sweeping and often tender overview of his life in which he guides readers through his hardscrabble boyhood in the mostly African American community of Archery, Ga. (where he was raised in a Sears, Roebuck house and worked on the family farm), his time in the Navy (where Harry Truman’s order to end discrimination in the armed forces was “accepted with equanimity” — unlike what he witnessed at home), and, of course, his presidency and remarkably prolific post-presidency as a tireless activist. The book also includes some of his poetry and paintings; he recently finished a 30th book, a self-published collection of his art, which he took up in the Navy.
Carter lives in Plains, Ga., about two miles from Archery. He spoke about his book and current affairs on a one-day visit to San Francisco. His answers have been edited for length.
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Q: What are you reading now that you like?
A: I just got this when I was in Denver. [Holds up a copy of P.D. James’ novel “A Certain Justice.”] The people at Tattered Cover, which is my favorite bookstore in the nation, when I asked them if they had a recent P.D. James, they gave me a whole stack of P.D. James. I finished another book on the Kindle yesterday. It was a book by a Norwegian writer, an exciting murder mystery called “The Snowman” [by Jo Nesbo].
Before that I read the autobiography of Willie Nelson, who’s my buddy. Willie Nelson used to be a running partner of mine. He was a darn good athlete, by the way. I think he had four letters in high school. He still was an avid runner when I was in the White House. So he would spend the night with me on occasion at the White House, and as he said in his autobiography, he smoked pot on the roof. [Laughs.]
Former President Jimmy Carter once told Rolling Stone magazine that “all the good things I did as president, all the mistakes I made – you can blame half of that on Willie.”
Q: You stayed downstairs?
A: I did, yeah. He concealed his true partner and claimed that he was smoking with one of the servants at the White House, which was not exactly true. [Laughs.] It’s an interesting book. He extolls marijuana throughout the book, that he tried beer and tried whiskey and tried harsher drugs, but he settled on marijuana as the one that was for him.
Q: While we’re on the subject, what do you think of the direction the nation has taken, state by state, at least, as far as marijuana is concerned?
A: Well, I’ve commented on this a lot. In 1979, I made a major speech and I called for the decriminalization of marijuana. And it was well-received. When I was governor, we had a contest among southeastern governors, at least, to see who could have the smallest prison population. And so we decided among ourselves not to put people in prison for the possession of marijuana but to offer treatment for people who had an addiction. So when I was president, we evolved a nationwide policy, and that was one of the premises.
But at that time, we had one person per thousand who was in prison in America. A hundred people per hundred thousand. Now we have 750 people per hundred thousand. We have seven and a half times as many people in prison. And we have eight times as many black women in prison now as we did in 1981, when I left the White House. So that’s been one of the major concerns I’ve had as a non-lawyer, to criticize the American justice system, which is highly biased against black people and poor people. And it still is.
But I think there’s an awakening now of a realization that we too early congratulated ourselves on the end of racial prejudice and white supremacy. And that was a feeling that we had when I was president, that we had pretty much overcome that problem.”
— Jimmy Carter
by: George Vargas
Willie Nelson, cedar bark smoker?
Yes, indeed, as the country-music giant affirms in his new autobiography, “It’s a Long Story: My Life.”
“As a kid, I’d sneak off and smoke anything that burned,” writes Nelson, who performs here Friday at Harrah’s Resort SoCal in Valley Center.
“Loved to smoke. Would even smoke strips of cedar bark. The various substances have changed over the years, but the act itself has never ceased to satisfy me.”
Happily, Nelson’s musical legacy continues to burn even brighter than his long-avowed fondness for marijuana.
Now 82, Nelson is embarked on a joint summer tour with his longtime band and Alison Krauss & Union Station, although his Harrah’s show is, sadly, sans Krauss.
Blessed with an oh-so-supple voice, Nelson has released 17 albums in the last decade alone — and nine since 2010. They include last year’s “December Day,” which teams him with his sister, Bobbie (his pianist for the past half century), and this year’s “Django and Jimmie,” his first duo outing with Merle Haggard since 1983’s “Pancho & Lefty.”
Highlights on the album include “The Only Man Wilder Than Me,” “It’s All Gone To Pot,” “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash” and an inspired new version of Haggard’s classic “Swinging Doors.”
Nelson recently announced plans to launch Willie’s Reserve, a premium marijuana line, which will be sold in Colorado and Washington. In November, he’ll receive the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Past recipients include Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Carole King.
“My Life,” co-written with David Rich, is not Nelson’s first book. It was preceded by “Willie: An Autobiography,” “The Tao Of Willie,” “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” and “The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes.”
Nelson’s sense of humor is matched by his tenacity. Both have helped him greatly in a career that proceeded in fits and sparks, before finally igniting in the 1970s.
In 1961, four artists scored Top 20 hits with songs Nelson wrote: Patsy Cline (“Crazy”); Faron Young (“Hello Walls”); Ray Price (“Nightlife”); and Billy Walker (“Funny How Time Slips Away”). Yet, his first 14 albums were all flops. Undaunted, the Air Force veteran persevered, as befits a former encyclopedia and vacuum cleaner salesman.
“There’s a lot of similarities,” Nelson told me in a 1993 Union-Tribune interview.
“You’ve got to sell yourself first. And, once you do that, it really doesn’t matter what the product is; they’ll try to buy it from you, whether they like it or not. Door-to-door selling was the best education I ever had. My first door-to-door salesman job was back when I was a kid — so I’ve been selling one thing or another ever since I can remember.”
Willie Nelson & Family, with Emi Sunshine
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: The Events Center, Harrah’s Resort SoCal, 777 Harrah’s Resort Southern California Way, Valley Center
Tickets: $55-$125 (must be 21 or older to attend)
Phone: (800) 745-3000