Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

“Everything’s Bigger in Texas: The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman” by Mary Lou Sullivan

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

“It’s not the pot of gold that matters, it’s the rainbow.” — Kinky Friedman

Read entire article here.
by:  George Varga

Never tell author, singer-songwriter and former Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman you’re sorry for being late. Not even if you’re calling him a full day after a scheduled phone interview.

“Don’t apologize! That’s for Catholics and Democrats!” quipped Friedman, whose several dozen books include “Elvis, Jesus and Coca-Cola” and “Kill Two Birds & Get Stoned: A Novel.”

More examples of his brashness — and his remarkably colorful life — are highlighted in the new book “Everything’s Bigger in Texas: The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman” by Mary Lou Sullivan.

The 332-page biography includes a two-page foreword by Friedman, who writes: “I have no regrets about what I told Mary Lou or what she may have written. Like I say, there’s a fine line between fiction and nonfiction and I believe Jimmy Buffet and I snorted it in 1976.”

Here are edited excerpts of our interview with Friedman, whose songs were recorded by Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam and other admirers on the 1999 tribute album, “Pearls in the Snow.”

Question: Is happiness good or bad for a songwriter — or any writer, for that matter?

Answer: I think that if you’re happy and well-adjusted, you can forget it. You have to be miserable to write a good song. I’m kind of at a point of happiness right now, but I don’t want it to influence me too much. I really don’t want to be happy — and I’m a little too happy right now.

Q: You’ve had success in your life and you’ve had failure. Which has been a bigger impetus?

A: Well, my shrink, Willie (Nelson), says if you fail at something long enough, you become a legend. I like that one; that’s pretty accurate. … Unbounded success is much harder to deal with than failure. Failure is easy and anybody can deal with that. But success — I’ve noticed with the success I’ve had — is a harder thing to work with.

Read entire article here.

“All Over the Map” — by Michael Corcoran

Monday, March 12th, 2018

“All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music.”
Michael Corcoran. University of North Texas Press.

Advice: Read this book with your favorite music streaming device at hand. You’ll want to listen to every artist described by Corcoran, formerly of the American-Statesman and other publications, in this revised version of his 20o5 book about key Texas artists. You learn new things about some of them, such as Willie Nelson, Buddy Holly and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Others are musical pioneers who might sound familiar, but Corcoran, an historian as much as a journalist, has tracked down exactly what you need to know. The backstories about what he could or could not discover are as compelling as his authoritative takes on the 42 artists’ histories and musical contributions. Corcoran has chosen fantastic images for this UNT Press edition, and he doesn’t waste a word. As he did during his Statesman years, he can make other writers wish they’d produced this work. The book will wait at eye-level on my Texas  reference shelves for as long as they are standing.

Willie Nelson featured in “Celebrities That Served”, by Travis McVey

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

Willie Nelson with Jessica Simpson, USO tour in Germany (May 23, 2005)

Celebrities That Served by Travis McVey

As a veteran U.S. Marine and a Marine Guard under Present George H.W. Bush, Travis McVey is author of the book “Heroes of the Stage,” which profiles Country music artists who have served in the Military and the impact it has had on their careers, music and personal lives. The 284-page narrative was published by Hero Spirit.

Country Music Legend & USAF Veteran Willie Nelson


Willie Nelson was born April 30, 1933 in Abbott, Texas. His family was very musical and encouraged his talent as a child. Nelson first learned how to play music when his grandparents purchased mail order lessons and gave them to him at age six. It was by age seven when he had composed his very first song. Nelson had already joined a band by the time he was nine years old.

Nelson’s family owned a farm and his job was to pick cotton. Since he hated doing it so much, he decided to earn money in other ways. That included singing in local taverns for tips. In high school, Nelson toured with a band called the Bohemian Fiddlers, where his brother-in- law was a member.

Nelson graduated from high school in 1950. During this time, the Korean War had broken out and he decided to join the United States Air Force. He was stationed at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. Willie had to leave the Air Force shortly afterward (9 months) because he became plagued by back problems and was diagnosed by a doctor with this problem.

Once he was released from the military, he attended Baylor University for two years studying agriculture. While he attended classes during the day, he was a DJ at night. On the weekends, he sang at clubs and honky tonks where he got lots of recognition for his talent. He quit school to focus solely on his music career that was taking off.

After he quit school, he continued to sing and write songs. In 1960, he was offered a contract with Pamper Music. He also joined Marine Corps Veteran Ray Price’s band the same year. Nelson wrote “Crazy” for Patsy Cline, “Pretty Paper” for Roy Orbison and “Hello Walls” for Faron Young during his time as a bassist for Price’s band. His first album was titled “And Then I Wrote” which was released in 1962. It was such a hit, RCA Records signed Nelson to their label in 1965. He was also invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.

Nelson was working on a new album for RCA in 1969, but Atlantic Records wanted to secure a new deal with him. Once the deal was negotiated, Nelson became the first country artist to sign with Atlantic Records. He began a new sound called Outlaw Country. In 1973, his album titled “Shotgun Willie” was released. It did not sell well, even though music critics liked the sound. Nelson released a few more albums before switching labels again. During the 1970s Nelson began the first of many collaborations with Waylon Jennings. They released an album called “Wanted! The Outlaws” in 1976, along with Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser.

The 1980s had several hit songs for Nelson and included  “Pancho & Lefty”, “On the Road Again” and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”. In 1985, Nelson teamed up with Army Veteran Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Air Force Veteran Johnny Cash in the Highwaymen. Their album The Lost Highwaymen was a hit.

Nelson followed his friend Kris Kristofferson in to acting in the 1980s as well. He has had roles in several movies, but did not win awards for them. Some of his movies include The Electric Horsemen, Honeysuckle Rose, Surfer Dude and The Unforeseen. All in all, Nelson has appeared in over 100 movies.

Willie Nelson USAF Veteran/Farm Aid Founder

Nelson is an activist and has worked hard on many projects to better our country. One of his most important contributions has been the creation of Farm Aid, which started in 1985. Many of his friends signed on to perform during this multi-day music festival. The proceeds raised were used to help small family farmers in the Midwest from losing their farms. The festival was an annual event and is still held on a smaller scale today and has raised millions of dollars in much needed aid.

In 1990, the IRS and Nelson began a long and tenuous battle. They claimed he owed $32 million dollars in back taxes. Upon further investigation, Nelson’s managers did not pay the government and they squandered away a lot of his earnings. It took until 1993 to settle all of the cases and debt.

Country music star Toby Keith, checks out his new “Balls of the Eagle” t-shirt that was presented to him by Lt. Col. John Dunleavy, commander of 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at Logistical Supply Area Anaconda, Iraq, on April 28, 2008. Keith visited the 2-320th FAR to meet with Soldiers and take part in a re-enlistment at the battalion headquarters. Photo by 1st Lt. Jonathan Springer

During the 1990s and in to the 2000s, Nelson has had success with duets and collaborations with many artists. He went to #1 with Toby Keith singing “Beer For My Horses” in 2003. It won Best Video in 2004 from the ACM Awards. He and Lee Ann Womack had a hit duet with “Mendocino County Line”. An album by the title “Outlaws & Angels” was released in 2004. It had duets and collaborations on it with artists such as Kid Rock, Rickie Lee Jones, Keith Richards, Joe Walsh, Merle Haggard, Al Green, Lee Ann Womack and Lucinda Williams. In 2008, Nelson worked with Snoop Dogg and created “My Medicine”. Nelson has recorded close to 300 albums and wrote more than 2,500 songs as a solo artist and with other individuals.

During his career, Nelson has received many accolades. In 2005, 49 miles of State Highway 130 are named The Willie Nelson Highway. He belongs to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. He is a trustee to the Dayton International Peace Museum, which is in honor of his activism for tolerance of all people. Nelson has won 9 Grammy Awards, 8 CMA Awards, 7 American Music Awards and 5 ACM Awards. He was voted in to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993. He was inducted in to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001.

Nelson is a regular performer on the USO tour. He and other acts go overseas and perform for the troops in war torn countries and on military bases around the world.

Willie Nelson USAF Veteran/Country Music Legend
Willie Nelson USAF Veteran/Country Music Legend

During his life, Nelson has been married four times and has seven children. In the year 2004, Nelson and his wife became partners in an alternative fuel venture. They built two bio-diesel plants that produce fuel made from vegetable oil.

His first autobiography, which is self-titled, was released in 1988. A second autobiography called An Epic Life was released in 2008. Willie Nelson is one of the most familiar faces associated with Country Music and has contributed so much to the arts and entertainment of our great Nation. He has given so much of himself to others and brought much needed attention and change to some of the problems of our Country and continues that today. Willie has served our Nation in and out of uniform and supported and entertained our men and women who serve and is one of the Heroes Of Music…


Heroes Of The Stage/Country Serving Country by Travis McVey. A book about all the great country music artists that served in the military. Get your copy today at

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

Monday, February 19th, 2018


Saturday, December 23rd, 2017

This day in Willie Nelson history: “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” published 11/13/12

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Willie Nelson’s book, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” was published on November 13, 2015.
Nashville Skyline
Chet Flippo

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.

Willie Nelson featured in Watt Casey, Jr. book, “My Guitar is a Camera”

Sunday, November 5th, 2017

photo:  Watt Casey, Jr.

In 1974, while a roadie for a music touring company, Watt Casey Jr began photographing the famous and not yet famous musicians of American music genres of rock-and-roll, blues, country, and folk. Throughout his life he has photographed now iconic artists on and off stage including: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia, Fleetwood Mac, Muddy Waters, BB King, Steve Miller, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and many others. This exhibit features those captured by Casey’s lens over the last five decades.

Albany cattleman/photographer Watt Casey Jr. relives the eclectic Austin music scene in the 1970s in his impressive new book, “My Guitar Is a Camera” (Texas A&M University Press, $35 hardcover).

In photographs and accompanying text, Casey displays his up close and personal acquaintance with some of the greatest musicians of that era: Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Eric Clapton, the Eagles, the Oak Ridge Boys, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Kinky Friedman, Merle Haggard, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Fats Domino, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Carlos Santana, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Garcia, Leon Russell, Joe Ely – the list goes on and on.

Casey was a young photojournalism student at the University of Texas when he became fascinated with the music and the musicians playing in Austin. His photography pursuits would take him across the country in the ’70s and early ’80s.

“I had a front-row seat – or better – to one of the most creative, formative, and occasionally crazy times in Texas and American popular music history,” Casey writes.

Rock star Steve Miller encouraged Casey to put this collection together and even wrote a foreword for the book, calling it “a time capsule full of previously unseen treasures.”

Casey was featured this weekend at the Texas Book Festival in Austin. He will sign copies of his book at the Old Jail Art Center in his hometown of Albany from 5-6 p.m. on Nov. 11.

Willie Nelson: American Icon

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017
Willie Nelson:  American Icon
by:  Andrew Vaughn

A comprehensive exploration of one of the most iconic singer-songwriters in all of American music, Willie Nelson: American Icon (Sterling Publishing) by music journalist Andrew Vaughn, features more than 100 full-color photos and celebrates Nelson’s multi-faceted life and career as a troubadour, actor, author and social activist.

 Celebrate an American icon with the first full-color book that comprehensively explores the work and life of country superstar Willie Nelson.

Throughout his career, Willie Nelson—singer, songwriter, author, poet, actor, and activist—has won countless accolades as well as the hearts of listeners. To name just a few of his awards: He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, as well as the National Agricultural Hall of Fame (for his charitable work with FarmAid), and received the Kennedy Center Honors, the Gershwin Prize, and a Library of Congress Lifetime Award. In the US alone, Nelson has sold more than 40 million albums. This lavish volume, written by well-known music journalist Andrew Vaughan, features more than 100 photographs and illustrations. It’s a must-have for every one of Nelson’s millions of dedicated fans.


Willie Nelson Songbook added to Wittliff Collections at Texas State University

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University has announced a new archival project to gather materials from Texas musical history.

David Coleman, director of the Wittliff, says the plan is to build on an assortment of artifacts already on hand, like a songbook written by an 11-year old Willie Nelson.

“It’s got some great lyrics in it, just from an 11-year-old boy,” he says, including a song about the “hangover blues.”
“I think he knew pretty darn early what his path was.”

Credit Courtesy of the Wittliff Collections

The Tao of Willie: A Guide to Happiness in Your Heart (2006)

Sunday, May 28th, 2017


by Willie Nelson
with Turk Pipkin

This book is my way of sharing a little of what I’ve learned in seventy-two years of making music and friends on this beautiful planet.  I don’t know if the things I write here will change your life, but they sure changed mine.

The ways my life has changed seem pretty amazing to me.  For somewhere along the way, the freckle-faced, dirt-eating kid from Abbott, Texas, ended up being a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather with a family, friends, and work I wouldn’t trade for anything on earth. By hook or by crook, I seem to have stumbled onto something all of us search for in this great mystery of life.

Some would call it happiness, but I like to think that what I found is me.  That sounds simple enough, but the truth is, it took quite a while to do it.  Among other things, it took me learning that I had to quit trying to be something else.

Trying to be someone else is the hardest road there is.

I thought I’d tell you a little about how I got here, and maybe by getting to know me and a little about the path I’ve taken, you’ll find a path of your own.  Along the way, you’ll get to know both of us a little better.

That’s what we’re talking about, me and you.

So welcome to The Tao of Willie, my little guide to the happiness in your own heart.  From the get-go, we need to get one thing straight.  If you’re looking for a scholarly work about the ancient Eastern philosophy found in the Tao Te Ching, this may not be what you had in mind.

On the other hand, if you don’t know beans about the ancient Chinese philosophy called the Tao, there’s no reason to fret. You don’t have to know the Tao for the Tao to know you.

Whatever you think of the Tao, if my thoughts strike that bell of truth in your heart, it will also be ringing in mine.

That’s the way it is between friends.

WIllie Nelson, Ann Richards, Bob Bullock at the Raw Deal

Saturday, May 13th, 2017
by:  Michael Barnes

In 1976, Eddie Wilson left his grand experiment, the Armadillo World Headquarters. Four years later, the seminal 1970s Austin music-food-and-drink venue that he had founded at Barton Springs Road and South First Street closed for good.

As Wilson tells it in his marvelous new memoir, “Armadillo World Headquarters,” he next discovered an open spot at 605 Sabine St. — a half-block off East Sixth Street — that rented for $125 a month.

“The name of the joint was the Raw Deal,” he writes. “The modest-to-the-point-of-crude concept was that it would be a beer bar that also sold some stuff to eat.”

It was no Armadillo, but the Raw Deal attracted a storied clientele of artists, politicos and just plain barflies who epitomized a key strata of 1970s Austin cultural history. (Send your memories and images of both places to

With permission, here is an excerpt from the book that relates some of the more colorful and renowned customers who elbowed the bar at this grand old greasy spoon:

“Among my regular customers, Ann Richards was one of my favorite people to talk to. She and another well-known and powerful Texas politician, Bob Bullock, were very close to each other before they became non-friends. Bullock was state comptroller when I had the Raw Deal and was later elected lieutenant governor and served two terms. With the knowledge that, on occasion, I had special T-shirts printed, one day Ann came to me and asked if I might have some made in honor of her friend Bob.

“Bullock was in the middle of a campaign, and Ann wanted a T-shirt that would pay tribute to his notorious raging temper and mean-spiritedness. What about something that incorporated an image of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin? The more we talked about it, the more perfect it sounded.

“I called (artist) Micael Priest and asked him to create a drawing of Idi Amin wearing his military cap, standing tall behind an old-fashioned cash register, ringing up sales tax. I specified the words ‘Idi Amin for Comptroller’ should appear in large lettering. I sold dozens of the shirts to Bullock’s friends and enemies both — even to members of his staff. Once he found out about the T-shirts, sales immediately stopped. On election day, Bullock sailed to victory, but that was no surprise.

“In 1973, when Bullock was still the Texas secretary of state, he had been a regular at the (Armadillo) beer garden. He was politically ambitious, and it was known that he was thinking about running for either state comptroller or treasurer. Bullock’s daily companion was Ed Wendler, a significant political operator on a more local scale. Wendler was a lawyer who represented developers, a yellow dog Democrat street activist who favored pressed blue jeans. Feeling ballsy one afternoon, I stopped by their table to ask Bob if he’d made up his mind which office he planned to seek.

“‘Yup, just now, and you’ll be the first to know,’ he said. ‘I’ve learned that my liberal friends don’t trust me enough to want me as treasurer. I’ve also learned that they don’t know what comptroller means, so I’m going to take that one and shove it up their (expletive).’

“Later that day, as Ed and Bob were visibly approaching their limit, Bullock waved me over again. He wanted to know if I saw Willie Nelson regularly. At the time I did, and told him so.

“Bullock wanted me to ask Willie to play a fundraiser for his campaign. Then he went on to remind me that he had grown up in Hillsboro, the town next door to Abbott, where Willie had grown up. Willie would come to Hillsboro on the interurban bus, and when he got off the bus toting his guitar, Bullock and his buddies would give Willie a hard time.

“They’d make Willie take his guitar out of his case and sing a few songs under the implied threat that if he refused, they’d beat him up. Bullock seemed to think that was hilarious. Apparently, no one had told him that Willie was generally pleased to sing and play guitar for anyone, anywhere, at the drop of a hat.

“I said I’d be glad to pass along the request.

“I saw Willie a few days later and relayed Bullock’s request. Willie wanted to know what I thought of Bullock’s politics. I told him that Bullock had a future in whatever political arena he chose. Then Willie asked if there was anything else I thought he should know. The only thing I had to add was what Bullock had told me about when they were growing up, which I told him.

“Willie listened thoughtfully, scratched his chin, cocked his head, and said, ‘Would you mind telling Mr. Bullock from me to go (expletive) himself?’

“‘No, I don’t mind at all,’ I said.”


Willie Nelson, “Still is Still Moving to Me”

Monday, February 6th, 2017

When people ask me which of the songs Ive written are my favorites, “Still is Still Moving” always comes up near the top of the list.  The band and I play it at almost every concert, and I’ve recorded it countless times, as well, so you have got to figure the song means something important to me.

Sometimes I wonder if perhaps the song is me.

Whether you look at the song from the point of view of ancient philosophies or from the modern knowledge of quantum physics, there is great motion in all stillness, and true stillness at the heart of all action.

The early Chinese philosophers referred to hits in the concept of something called wu wei, which suggests fulfilling every task with the least necessary action.  Two notes are not required when one will suffice.  Twenty words may not say something better than ten, or one.  For me, that word is stillness.

No matter how still I am, the world around me is abuzz with activity, and the world within me as well.  Modern physics tells us that the atoms in our body ” and all the particles and forces that make up those atoms ” are never at rest.  While our bodies and the world around us seem solid, that physical appearance is merely an illusion, for each of our atoms is comprised primarily of empty space.

If your life in this modern world seems to pass you by at the speed of light, perhaps you could consult Einstein, who proved that the faster we travel, the more time is compressed.  That’s right, the faster we go, the less time we have.  So what is your hurry?

This may not mean much to you, but it must be quite traumatic for the atoms.  Would you like to hear an atom joke?  I didn’t think so, but here is one anyway:

A neutron went into a bar and says, “How much for a beer?”

The bartender says, “For you, no charge.”


The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart

The Tao of Willie Nelson
by Willie Nelson, with Turk Pipkin

Willie Nelson contributes to “The Right Words at the Right Time,”

Sunday, January 29th, 2017


“If I had to break it down, I’d say about 99 percent of the people in my life were telling me I wasn’t going to make it.  All that adversity and lack of faith ended up just strengthening my own convictions.  All that negativity really helped me in the end, because there’s no better inspiration for doing something than having somebody say that you can’t do it.”

Willie Nelson
The Right Words at the Right Time, Marlo Thomas and Friends

Willie: A memoir as straight forward as his songs

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

[Thanks again to Phil Weisman, for sending me this newspaper clipping/review.  The Chicago Sun-Times gave over 1/2 page to the photo and review.]

Chicago Sun Times
Sunday, November 6, 1988
by: Don McLeese

An Autobiography
Willie Nelson and Bud Shrake

With his autobiography, Willie Nelson not only gets the chance to set the record straight, he offers the same opportunity to his ex-wives.  Take, for example, the fabled incident from his first marriage in which his wife was so upset at finding him drunk again that she sewed him up between two bed sheets and proceeded to whack him out of his stupor with a broom handle.

Ridiculous, says Martha Jewel Mathews, who became Willie’s first wife when she was just 16.  “How dumb could I have to be to try to sew Willie into a bed sheet?” she asks in one of the book’s “Chorus” sections, which allow many of those who share Nelson’s life to give their side of the story.  “You know how long that would take to sit there and take stitch after stitch?”

“The truth is, I tied him up with the kids’ jumping ropes before I beat the hell out of him.”

Written with Bud Shrake (a former writer with Sports Illustrated and Nelson’s collaborator on the “Songwriter” film), Willie is not one of those show-biz sagas that is designed to reinforce an image, to celebrate the myth while sanitizing the man.  Neither is it a titilatting “tell-all” account, using scandal to boost sales.  As straightforward in its honesty as the best of Nelsons songs, the book offers a matter-of-fact, refreshingly frank account of how Willie Nelson came to be what he is, and how he feels about what he has become.

What he is, although he’s too modest in Willie to make the claim himself, is the greatest artist that country music has known since the late Hank Williams.  He’s also something of a sagebrush mystic, a believer in “reincarnation and the laws of Karma,” an environmentalist, an avid golfer, a long-distance jogger, a guy who gets along great with women until he marries them, and a firm believer in the medicinal powers of marijuana.

As an account of this life (Nelson apparently doesn’t remember much from previous incarnations), Willie doesn’t adhere to strict chronology, but most of the pertinent facts are here.  It relates his musical beginnings as a cotton-picking, mud-eating child who played guitar at 6, considered himself a “serious songwriter” at 8 and was a veteran at 11 of the polka-band circuit in small town Texas.

It shows his emergency as a hit songwriter, though his early efforts often proved more lucrative for others than they were for Nelson himself.  He sold all rights to “Night Life,” which has since been recorded by more than 70 artists, for $150.  “At the time he needed the money,” he explains, and the fact that the song was a hit “encouraged me to think I could write a lot more songs that were just as good.”

The country music establishment in Nashville never came to terms with Nelson’s artistry.  Though his “Crazy” was a smash for Patsy Cline, and “Hello Walls” did as well for Faron Young.  Nelson’s music had a sophistication beyond three chords, and his singing was too down-home conversational.  Eventually, Nelson returned to Texas, where he was branded an “outlaw” for following his own best instincts.

He has since progressed from barroom stages to stadium concerts, and now travels on his own Learjet, as well as by bus, while continuing to follow his own instincts.  The mythic “Red Headed Stranger”, a musical fable about frontier justice, was an unlikely candidate for mainstream acceptance, but it gave Nelson his popular breakthrough.  His record company advised against his “Stardust” collection of standards, and it won him a larger audience than ever.

In addition to offering plenty of advice beyond the usual bromides for those bent on a musical career, the autobiography documents the spiritual development of the man known to much of Texas as “Saint Willie.”  An inspiring as his progression from honky-tonk hotheadedness to metaphysical bliss may be there’s no question that Nelson’s contentment has cost him some musical creativity.

He admits that he writes from need, from hunger, and he maintains that for him to return to writing a “sad, negative song” would be bad karma.  Leaving songs of whiskey-drenched heartbreak behind, he finds it easier to record duets with the likes of Julio Iglesias.

The “Chorus” sections provide a more rounded portrait of the artist than most autobiographies offer, but the book would be even better balanced if it featured someone who isn’t just wild about Willie.  (His third wife, from whom Nelson is estranged, isn’t included within the interviews.  However as furious they might once have been at him, his ex-wives remain fond of Nelson; his friends from the scuffling days are still his friends; his band and business associates are unwaveringly loyal.

Even a man whose wife ran away with Nelson (to become the second Mrs. Nelson) proclaims that “IF there’s any man I’d like to run off with my wife, it would be WIllie Nelson.”



Willie Nelson at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Came to Austin for the Willie Nelson & Family Shows at the Moody Theater; Nice of Willie to meet me at the airport — at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.   In the bookstore, anyway.