Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Brilliant and Brainy Books for the Beach: “It’s a Long Story: My Life”, by Willie Nelson (Time)

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

by:  Matt Peckham

Summer is a time of familiar comforts: the scent of sunscreen and the feeling of sand between toes, the taste of Bomb Pops and the sight of long, late, orange sunsets. But with the multiplexes filled with sequels, reboots, and retreads, and the beginning of a long election season crowded with familiar names, don’t you think something original is in order? In the spirit of getting out of our comfort zones this summer and taking a crack at something new, we asked recent Zócalo guests for the fresh and forthcoming nonfiction books they think curious people should bring to the beach, pool, bar, and porch this summer.

It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson

As a music journalist, I’ve interviewed Willie Nelson a few times—and yes, one of those times was on his tour bus. He was a candid and captivating storyteller, a warm-hearted outlaw with a unique perspective on his life as a singer, songwriter, and activist. And so first on my list of summer beach reads is his new autobiography. We all know Willie’s music, but equally interesting are his musical journey and his boundary-pushing, from bucking the established Nashville Sound of the ’60s to his current crusade to legalize marijuana. — Denise Quan, entertainment journalist and producer


Willie Nelson: It’s a Long Story: My Life (Wall Street Journal review)

Monday, May 25th, 2015

by:  Dave Shiflett

Music can be a hard life, as exemplified by the early departures of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Corbain and Amy Winehouse, all at age 27. Yet not every icon is doomed to a quick exit. Willie Nelson, at 82, is still playing 150 nights a year while occasionally denying Internet hoaxes that he too has gone toes-up. It’s enough to make you wonder what his secret is.

Willie—with whom the world is on a first-name basis—provides several hints in his candid, heartfelt memoir. “It’s a Long Story” will probably not be endorsed by the surgeon general, Sunday-school teachers or marriage counselors, but those of a traditional bent will be happy to learn that Jesus and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale are definitely in his backup band.

His enduring glory, we learn, did not originate in a stable relationship with his parents, who married when they were 16 and were divorced when he was 6 months old. Willie and his sister, Bobbie, ended up being raised in Abbott, Texas, by their grandparents Mama and Daddy Nelson. The Nelsons didn’t have much money but were rich with love—for each other, their grandchildren and the Baby Jesus. Willie got right with the Lord early on.



By Willie Nelson
Little, Brown, 392 pages, $30

“I was a believer as a kid,” he writes, “just as I am a believer as a man. I’ve never doubted the genius of Christ’s moral message or the truth of the miracles he performed. I see his presence on earth and resurrection as perfect man as a moment that altered human history, guiding us in the direction of healing love.” He also took to heart Norman Vincent Peale’s gospel of “positive thinking.”

His faith, however, didn’t inspire exceptionally close adherence to the rule book. He mentions that his Methodist church preached that “straight is the gate” but that he “can’t remember being afraid of venturing beyond that straight gate.” His walk on the wild side was under way by the time he hit double digits. He was using his musical talents to charm the local ladies by age 10 and discovered another keen interest. “As a kid I’d sneak off and smoke anything that burned. Loved to smoke. Would even smoke strips of cedar bark.”

Willie (with able assistance from veteran music journalist David Ritz) presents his story in a plainspoken, conversational tone reminiscent of his singing voice. He makes it clear that his lasting success cannot be attributed to matrimony, unless you mean the serial kind. He first married at 19 (his firecracker wife was three years younger), with two other stormy marriages to follow (his current marriage is holding strong). He admits that he didn’t practice monogamy nearly as much as guitar and could be prodigiously careless in covering his tracks. In one case he made the mistake of having the hospital where a love child was delivered mail the bill to his home. His wife was not amused.

But there is no doubting his devotion to music. By 14 he was playing in a polka band and had worked up enough confidence to book idol Bob Wills for a gig that provided him with his lifelong work ethic. Watching Wills perform that night, Willie is “transfixed” and feels as if Wills is telling him: “The job is to play like your life depends on it. . . . The job is to give the people what the people want and what the people need.”

While he would eventually get rich—he now divides his time between Maui, a spread in Austin, Texas, and his tour bus—things were desperately tight early on. He made ends meet by operating a tree chipper, selling encyclopedias and tapping the resources of working wives. Money was so scarce that he once offered to sell the rights to several of his early songs, including “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away,” for $10 each. Fortunately his offer was refused, and those songs have since deeply feathered his nest.

Readers hoping to pick up songwriting tips may be dismayed to learn that Willie’s songs came to him “prepackaged.” Composition has been so easy that he sometimes wonders: “Did I really write these songs, or am I just a channel chosen by the Holy Spirit to express these feelings?” He later acknowledges less celestial assistance, including borrowing the opening note to “Crazy” from “I Gotta Have My Baby Back” by Floyd Tillman. “Good songwriters,” he explains, “realize that a little borrowing now and then is part of the process.” Attorneys take note.

Country-music fans will enjoy recollections of the times he spent with Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Price and Johnny Cash. Willie’s relationship with Waylon was especially close and sometimes illuminated the mystical nature of popular music. As they prepared to sing a duet of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Willie asked whether his friend knew “what these lyrics are about.” Jennings responded, “No f—in’ idea, hoss.” They sang it anyway, as have over 1,000 other acts who have covered the deeply obscure if not flat-out incoherent megahit. His own hits, he adds, have sometimes confounded music-industry “suits,” who predicted that such triumphs as “Stardust” wouldn’t sell. “Last time I looked,” Willie says of the latter, “it had sold five million copies.”

He revisits other glories, and setbacks, including six claustrophobic months playing Branson, Mo., and a serious tangle with the IRS, which informed him, in his late 50s, that he owed $32 million in back taxes. He also lost a long-troubled son. Yet his positive attitude has never deserted him, thanks in part to the Good Lord, Norman Vincent Peale and a herbal supplement that is to his public persona what booze was to Dean Martin’s.

Willie’s long-standing relationship with marijuana has been no casual affair. When one of his houses caught fire he rushed inside to rescue his stash. He has toked high and low, near and far, and even on the White House roof during the Carter administration with a friend in high places, leaving one to wonder if the peanut was the only plant dear to the president’s heart. “I owe marijuana a lot. As I write these words on the verge of age eighty-two, I think I can fairly make the claim that marijuana—in the place of booze, cocaine, and tobacco—has contributed to my longevity.” It may be worth mentioning that Willie is also an avid golfer.

He ends the book in church, where he waxes somewhat humble about his long success. “I sing okay, I play okay, and I know that I can write a good song, but I still feel like I’ve been given a whole lot more than I deserve.” His many adoring fans would likely add that he gave as good as he got.

—Mr. Shiflett posts his writing and original music at

“It’s a Long Story: My Life”, by Willie Nelson

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

By James Courtney

It’s a Long Story: My Life
Willie Nelson with David Ritz |
Little, Brown and Company

Willie Hugh Nelson, known by the whole world simply as Willie (or The Red- Headed Stranger, if you have a flair for the dramatic), was born in the tiny north Texas town of Abbott. At 7, he started writing poems and shortly thereafter, as he learned to play guitar, he started setting poems to music.

Long before he penned classic country radio hits like “Crazy,” or helped define the outlaw country movement of the ’70s, or created the Farm Aid benefit concert, or championed marijuana legalization, or wore a hole in his trusty guitar Trigger, or got screwed by the IRS, or received the Lifetime Achievement Grammy, Nelson was instinctually writing songs as a way of expressing himself and of telling stories he deemed important.

His latest book, It’s a Long Story: My Life, is really just a natural extension of these instincts towards self-expression and storytelling. Billed as the definitive Willie Nelson autobiography — perhaps to distinguish it from earlier, less complete attempts — Long Story thrives on the basis of two factors: Nelson’s short sentences, chalk-full of his deadpan wit and the larger-than-life tales he shares.

Nelson, 82, spins humorous yarns and tales of palling around with famous buddies like Waylon Jennings, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and even President Jimmy Carter. Also here, however, are heartbreaking stories of familial strife, addiction and remorse — though rarely ever regret.

Nelson’s story, as he delivers it in Long Story, is wrapped up in the progression of American culture in the 20th century. He quotes Whitman on contradiction, advocates for gay rights, remembers helping Charley Pride break down color barriers in country music, details “bitch slapping” his daughter’s abusive boyfriend and tells about how it could easily have been him instead of The Big Bopper in that plane the day the music died. Through these stories and liberal plugs of quotations from his songs, Nelson unravels himself, but he also tells a story about all of us.

Nelson’s sage and easy-going spin on these various yarns, and the morals he offers up in his summations, are endearing and entertaining. The true Williehead will likely find no particularly new factual information here, but fans and initiates alike, as well as those with an interest in popular music history, will nevertheless find it essential reading.

Willie Nelson & Family and Fans at Mystic Lake Casino (5/16/15)

Sunday, May 17th, 2015



“Thank you Willie Nelson, for a beautiful evening of music! Thanks for showing the love and autographing my book.”

— Janine, from Minnesota.


Thanks to Janine, from Minnesota, for sharing photos from her Willie Nelson & Family concert adventure, with her family and friends.



Beanie, as she is affectionately known, has been celebrating Willie Nelson’s birthday in Minnesota for years.  Here’s pictures from this year’s party.


Favorite from another show


“It’s a Long Story: My Life”, by WIllie Nelson, with David Ruiz

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

by:  Chris Loudon

“Troubadour.” Willie Nelson was just a kid when he discovered the word and learned what it meant. He savoured it, accurately sensing that the concept of a travelling minstrel would define his entire life. His fervent wanderlust was inherited from his mom—a woman, he says, “who sought adventure and the open road.” She and Willie’s dad divorced when he was six months old and remained caring but distant parents. His paternal grandparents, taking responsibility for raising Willie and sister Bobbie in the tiny Texas burg of Abbott, nurtured his love of, and appreciation for, a wide spectrum of music. But as Nelson tells it—in precisely the sort of colourfully plainspoken way you’d expect—his musical journey didn’t truly began until, in his teens, he discovered jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Frank Sinatra was near as influential.

Major success didn’t happen until he was into his forties. Nelson devotes nearly half of his “long story” to two preceding decades as he bounced from Texas to California to Oregon to Nashville, working as a radio deejay and sideman for hire, finally breaking through as a songwriter with hits like Crazy (for Patsy Cline) and Funny How Times Slips Away. His inherent restlessness extended to his love life. He’s been married four times, with more than a few flings and flirtations.

It wasn’t until the mid-’70s that his career as a performer took flight. It was the dawn of “outlaw country” and Nelson emerged as the movement’s beloved, grizzled icon. Still, he refused to be pigeonholed, scoring with everything from classic honkytonk to gospel and Stardust, his landmark collection of vintage standards that remained on the charts for over a decade.

Though the book’s final third touches on such professional highlights as his establishment of Farm Aid, his ignition of the vibrant Austin music scene and his role, alongside Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson in the country supergroup the Highwaymen, two personal themes dominate. First are his long-standing troubles with the IRS that, with demands for $32 million in back taxes, nearly crushed him. More predominantly, there’s his outspoken affection for, and advocacy of, marijuana. He delights in telling of a clandestine climb to the roof of the White House during the Carter administration for a quick joint. “I couldn’t betray marijuana any more than I could betray a family member or a lifetime friend,” he says, “That’s because marijuana has never betrayed me.”

Across eight decades, Nelson’s serpentine road has often been a bumpy one. Along the way, he’s drawn inspiration from such disparate gurus as Khalil Gibran, Norman Vincent Peale and Edgar Cayce. All these years later, toting “Trigger,” the timeworn Martin N-20 guitar that’s been his trusty sidekick since 1969, he remains, quite simply, “a picker from Hill Country, Texas, who got more good breaks than bad and managed to keep from going crazy by staying close to the music of his heart.”

“It’s a Long Story: My Life” — Willie Nelson’s new memoir in stores now!

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015


The book is out! Thanks to Janine from Minnesota for showing us her copy.

USA Today Reading Pick for the Weekend: Willie Nelson: “It’s a Long Story: My Life”

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

It’s A Long Story: My Life
Willie Nelson with David Ritz
by: Mike Snider

What should you read this weekend? USA TODAY’s picks for the weekend include the new memoir by country star Willie Nelson.

It’s A Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson with David Ritz; Little, Brown, 392 pp.; non-fiction

Willie Nelson, 82, is asking you to buy his memories again, with his memoir It’s a Long Story.

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) it 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.

This day in Willie Nelson History: “The Tao of Willie” released (2006)

Saturday, May 9th, 2015


When the evenin’ sun goes down
You will find me hangin’ ’round
Oh, the night life, it ain’t no good life
but it’s my life

–Willie Nelson, “Nightlife”

Scuffling around as a young man looking for a way to get ahead, I landed in Fort Worth, where I played dance halls on Saturday night and taught Sunday school the next morning.

Church folks like to have a good time, too, so I used to sing “Amazing Grace” on Sunday morning to some of the same people who’d heard me sing “Whiskey River” on Saturday night. I didn’t have any problem with that, and neither did they.

The minister at the church, unfortunately, couldn’t see the beauty of this arrangement. Maybe he wasn’t aware that contradiction exists in all of us. Or maybe I hadn’t connected to him the way I had with his congregation.

Much of life can be summed up as connecting with other people. You may accomplish that with an easy smile, by being a good friend, or by lending a hand when you can. Maybe you do it through all of those and more. Someone repeatedly saying they’re your friend is not nearly so convincing as repeated displays of friendship.

In all things, your actions do speak louder than words.

The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart
Willie Nelson with Turk Pipkin

Willie Nelson: “It’s a Long Story: My Life”

Friday, May 8th, 2015



In stores now!


Willie Nelson autographs his new book in NYC today (“It’s a Long Story: My Life”)

Thursday, May 7th, 2015


Willie Nelson signed copies of his new book, “It’s a Long Story: My Life” The book is out! Buy a copy at your favorite locally owned bookstore if you can, or even a big chain, or you can order on Amazon, too!

story booky3

Willie Nelson and Jon Stewart on the Daily Show (5/5/15)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

In stores now: Willie Nelson new book: “It’s a Long Story: My Life”

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015


Thanks, Phyllis Rademacher, for sharing your photo of the new book today!

“Willie is in town and going home with me!! — at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Waco, TX”

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015


Thanks to Phyllis Rademacher, for sharing her photo from the Barnes and Noble in Waco, TX.

Willie Nelson Booksigning at Barnes & Noble in NYC (May 7, 2015) (“It’s a Long Story: My Life”)

Monday, May 4th, 2015
Willie Nelson’s new biography will be released this week, and he will be travelling and appearing on television to talk about it.   Next Thursday, May 7th, he will be signing books at the Barnes & Noble on East 17th Street in New York City.
Thursday May 07, 2015 12:00 PM
Union Square
33 East 17th Street
New York
NY 10003

Books must be purchased at this Barnes & Noble location for access to event. Book sales for this event will begin at 10:00 am on Thursday, May 7. Willie Nelson will only sign copies of It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson, no memorabilia.
Special Instructions:

This is a very limited event and book purchase does not guarantee event access or a signed book.

Willie Nelson: It’s a Long Story, My Life

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Willie Nelson's photo.

Willie Nelson’s IT’S A LONG STORY is out next week.  You can pre-order here: