Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

“Letters to America,” — Willie Nelson’s new book

Monday, March 29th, 2021
Photo: Janis Tillerson
by: Steve Baltin

Willie Nelson’s forthcoming book, Letters To America, with author Turk Pipkin, finds the musical icon sharing his views on America, religion, faith and much more. When I spoke with Nelson he admitted some hesitation about whether he is qualified to share such wisdom. This despite the fact there is a mural in Austin, Texas that says “Willie For President.” And so many people support the idea that the mural has been declared a historical landmark.

The best part about Nelson is his humility. Just like friend and fellow icon Dolly Parton, who made national headlines for turning down a proposed statue of herself in Nashville, Nelson is sheepish about his beloved place in the world.

When I point out to him his national treasure status, and how like Parton, who has been deservedly canonized in the last year, he holds the same elevated regard from millions of music fans, he just laughs and says, “Oh, I don’t know all about that.”

I do. Nelson is a unquestioned American icon, which makes his latest album, That’s Life, even more special. It is Nelson covering some of his favorite Frank Sinatra songs, one music legend saluting another as a friend and fan.

I had the absolute joy and honor of speaking to Nelson about his fandom and friendship with Sinatra, the new songs he has been writing in the COVID pandemic, his favorite artists, cannabis, of course, and more.

Steve Baltin: You’re still in Hawaii these days, correct?

Willie Nelson: Yes, in Maui.

Baltin: I got to interview you son Lukas in August and he was telling me that the first four and half months you guys had dinner together every night at 5:30 which he hadn’t done since he was ten years old. I have spoken to hundreds of artists during this time. Some have really enjoyed their time with family and others who have lost their mind. How have you managed the two?

Nelson: I’m doing alright. I can’t complain. I’m really lucky. I heard there was this sign out in front of a window that said Husband for Sale. So I imagine there’s a lot of that going on.

Baltin: What do you think your wife would ask for you if you were for sale?

Nelson: She would probably be very reasonable. [laughs]

Baltin:  Lukas and I were joking at the time how a song like “On the Road Again” takes on such new meaning. When you’re playing in front of thousands of people again, what’s that one song for you that you just can’t wait to do and see how everybody responds to it?

Nelson: Well of course, “On the Road Again,” “Whiskey River,” “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “Always on My Mind.”

Baltin: When you get an opportunity as an artist to delve into somebody else’s songs, you hear these oftentimes in a new way. So were there Sinatra songs from this record that you particularly enjoyed doing, or that you got a new appreciation for?

Nelson: Oh yeah, it’s one thing to hear them and like them. Another to go into the studio and then turn on the mic and say, “You’re on.” It’s another deal entirely. I love all those songs and I felt like I could sing ‘em.

Baltin: Were there any songs in particular that really stood out to you?

Nelson: “Cottage For Sale.” If I had to pick a favorite, I think that would be it. It’s an incredible arrangement that Matt Rollings and Buddy Cannon and those guys came up with, all those fantastic musicians first of all. Just the arrangement itself knocks me out. And then the song is fantastic. We got a list, it’s checked out to see who all had recorded that song besides Frank. And I found out Jerry Jeff Walker had recorded it. And I listened to his record on it and it was pretty good. So a lot of us liked the song.

Baltin: I love that you refer to him as Frank. Did you guys ever meet? I’m sure you did at some point.

Nelson: Yeah. Oh yeah, we did. A couple of times, more than once. We did a commercial together, a hundred years ago, we did “A Foggy Day In (London Town).” It was on his album. And then more recently, we did some shows together in Palm Springs and in Vegas. And we got to be good friends. He’s always been my favorite singer. And I read somewhere that I was his favorite singer. So that knocked me out.

Baltin: When you go back into these songs do you feel like it brings you closer or it takes you back to even being that kid and hearing these songs?

Nelson: Absolutely. Every time I do it I think about it and I wish I could have spent more time with Frank.

Baltin: We’re getting to a point soon when you’re able to go back out on the road and do these songs. Are there any in particular that you’re really excited to do in front of an audience? You mentioned “Cottage For Sale” being the favorite of the record. Obviously too when you play a song live it changes. The audience brings their own feelings and interpretations to it.

Nelson: It’s true and you hope that they’re not too far apart [laughs]. But that’s an incredible song to start with. It’s got a lot of changes in it. I don’t know if you’re a musician or not but this song has some fantastic changes from A-Flat to D7 to A6 to E9, D minor, and it’s that way through the song. And all of those chords need to be there so it’s a big challenge to learn the song.

Baltin: You’ve done other Sinatra songs. Are you able to figure out what it is that makes Sinatra your favorite singer? Was there something about him in particular or was it just something that connects with you on a gut level?

Nelson: Well, first of all I love his voice. I love the way he phrased. I love the choice of songs. I love his acting. I thought he was a really great actor. I saw him and Dean Martin a few times together. They were incredible. I saw one time on a CBS show, Dean Martin said, “Frank, tell them about some of the good things the mafia does.” [laughs] So yeah, they were great folks.

Baltin: I’ve interviewed a lot of musicians about cannabis. If you ask any artist in the world who they most want to smoke with is, it’s always you. They all refer to you as the Godfather. So for you, given that everybody most wants to smoke with you, who is the artist you most want to smoke with?

Nelson: Well honestly, I have already had that dream come true with great friends of mine, like Snoop Dogg or Ray Price. There’s a long list of good buddies that I’ve had the pleasure of burning one down with, and I love ‘em all.

Baltin: Tell me about this book. I like the concept of it. Letters To America versus writing a traditional memoir. Was there one letter for you that really jumpstarted this idea of writing it in letter format?

Nelson: It started out another way. It started out to be called Yesterday’s Wine which is one of my albums And somewhere along the way it was decided to call it Letters To America. I feel like it might be a little presumptuous for me to go out there to write letters telling everybody what they ought to do. [laughs] But you know, Turk [Pipkin] is a great writer and I think he did himself well. And it may work. We’ll see how the people react to it.

Baltin: What were the things you noticed that could be improved and what is America to you at this point?

Nelson: Well America is, first of all, made up of a lot of different people. Every color, every denomination. And the big problem is trying to convince everybody that we’re all equal. There seems to be some idea out there that one is better than the other. And it’s an age old problem. It’s not something that we’re going to solve tomorrow. But as long as we know what the problem is, we’ve got a better chance of fixing it.

Baltin: As you started to do this book, what are the things that most bring you together with other people and make you enjoy stuff the most?

Nelson: I just wrote a song and in fact it’ll be on my next album, next year sometime. But it’s called “Energy Follows Thought.” It’s, “Imagine what you want, and get out of the way because energy follows thought. And be careful what you say.”

Baltin: How many songs have you written for the next album already?

Nelson: [laughs] About a dozen.

Baltin: I’ve joked with countless artists about COVID box sets because artists have had so much time to write. So have you been prolific during this time?

Nelson: Oh yeah, I have. I wrote one we can’t record but it was “The day the earth quit turning, the day the earth stood still and we all had to keep our distance and we all had more than time to kill. And God said, ‘Son go down there and help those people out.’ And Jesus said, ‘God, why don’t you come down here, I’m tired.’ And God said, ‘Are you out of your f**king mind?’”

Baltin: That sounds awesome. Why can’t you record that?

Nelson: [laughs] I don’t know. I can’t laugh about something so tragic.

Baltin: As we spent so much time talking about America, what are a couple of songs for you that would be on your America playlist? Those songs that when you think of America, really stand out or jump out to you?

Nelson: Bobby Bare has a good song out, I’m not sure whether he wrote it or not. I’ve been listening to it on the radio. “God Bless America, Again.” I feel that’s pretty much where we are.

Baltin: Is there one song you wish you had written. What is it and why?

Nelsom: [laughs] There’s a whole list of songs that I would have be glad to put my name on. Like “Stardust” and “Moonlight In Vermont” and all those great songs. But no, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Baltin: I was wondering as a fan if there’s that song and you think, “Ah, it’s just so perfect?”

Nelson: Well there’s a few. Ray Price had one, “It Will Always Be.” I thought he really did a great job. He was my favorite country singer. Well right along with George Jones and Vern Gosdin and some more folks. But there’s a lot of talent out there.

Baltin: What do you want people to take from this record when you hear it? What’s the one takeaway about Sinatra and the timelessness of these songs for you? Going back and listening to this as a whole work.

Nelson: Well I want them to want to hear it again and again. I want them to like it so much that they don’t get tired of listening to it. It’s like me listening to Frank and Ray Price. I never get tired of listening to them.

Baltin: You mentioned the Ray Price cover. Are there versions of songs of yours that when you go back and rehear them, that you’re like, oh that’s really cool because I never would have thought of doing that myself?

Nelson: Well Ray Price did “Night Life” like no one else could do it. Claude Grey did “Family Bible.” There’s just so many songs that people have already put their brand on that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Baltin: If you could match one song of yours to cover, what the one artist you would like to see cover that song. Is there a match of the one song and the one artist you would like to see?

Nelson: Unfortunately those people that I would like to see aren’t around. Like Nina Simone and Ray Charles. George Jones and Ray Price. All those folks are not with us. So it would be really difficult.

Baltin: Okay, I’m curious because Lukas and I talked about this. So when you guys were having dinner at home every night, what was the favorite quarantine meal?

Nelson: I’m a bacon and eggs guy and I don’t get much heavier than that.

Baltin: But there is such great food in Hawaii.

Nelson: Yeah, they have great bacon and eggs over here. [laughs]

‘Heartworn Memories”, by Susie Nelson

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2021

Heartworn Memories
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

Willie Nelson’s Letters to America

Friday, February 26th, 2021

Willie Nelson’s Latest Book Offers Fans an Intimate Look At the Iconic Musician’s ThoughtsOn America, Family, Faith, Music, and More

Willie Nelson’s Letters to America Releasing This Summer from Harper Horizon

Harper Horizon has acquired the exclusive rights to release and distribute the latest book from legend Willie Nelson. Willie Nelson’s Letters to America will arrive in stores on June 29, 2021, and is available for preorder now at

Written in collaboration with longtime friend and Texas Monthly contributing editor Turk Pipkin, Willie Nelson’s Letters to America is a collection of intimate letters reminding readers of the endless promise and continuous obligations of all Americans — to themselves, to one another, and to their nation— to stand with unity, resolve, and faith. 
Delivered with the same humor and poetic phrasing millions have come to love, Willie shares his thoughts on America’s past, present, and future, his closest family members, and his personal heroes, from the founding fathers to the leaders of future generations. The book also features Willie’s reflections on many of the classic lyrics that made him famous and loved by fans worldwide.

“We are witnessing a unique time in American history, between shifting cultural norms, political unrest, and the ongoing effects of the coronavirus, and it seems our nation is collectively reflecting on what it means to be an American,” says Andrea Fleck-Nisbet, publisher of Harper Horizon. “It seems only fitting that Willie Nelson, who has already so accurately defined the American spirit through his words and songs, now offer his thoughts on things we all hold dear: family, community, country, and faith. Harper Horizon is honored to carry Willie Nelson’s Letters to America to the nation.”

From his opening letter “Dear America” to his “Dear Road” epilogue, Willie digs deep into his heart and soul— and his music catalog— to offer fans, new and old, what can best be described as a sneak peek into the mind of one of America’s most iconic figures. 

“Jimmy’s Song”

Saturday, January 23rd, 2021

The Facts of Life: and Other Dirty Jokes
by Willie Nelson

“I wrote ‘Jimmy’s Song’ when my friend and bass player, David Zettner, was drafted into the army during the Viet Nam War.  I could have called it ‘David’s Song,’ but ‘Jimmy’s Road’ sounded more euphonious.  Thank you, Chet Atkins, for that big word.  He said that one time about some line I had written.  At the time I didn’t know what it meant — words that go together — but I said, ‘Alright Chet, thanks.’  I was relieved to find out later it was a good thing.”

Willie Nelson, “Still is Still Moving to me”

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

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

“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” Willie Nelson

Sunday, November 1st, 2020

“No one knows you like your sister,” — Willie Nelson

Monday, September 28th, 2020

From music legends and activists Willie Nelson and Bobbie Nelson, an uplifting story about an unbreakable sibling bond.

Posted by Random House on Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Willie and Bobby Nelson on Today Show and Jimmy Fallon — TOMORROW!

Monday, September 14th, 2020

Willie and Bobbie Nelson will be on NBC’s Today Show tomorrow morning, September 15th, and then tomorrow night they will appear on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. They will be discussing their new memoir: Me and Sister Bobbie.

NEW YORK – From legendary Grammy award-winning country singer Willie Nelson and his sister, Family band member Bobbie Nelson, comes ME AND SISTER BOBBIE: TRUE TALES OF THE FAMILY BAND, a heartfelt memoir of the lifelong bond between Willie and his only sibling Bobbie, who tells her own incredible story here for the first time. After being abandoned by their parents as very young children and becoming each other’s abiding relationship for more than  eight decades, this dual memoir, told in alternating chapters, weaves together Willie and Bobbie’s journeys as they experienced them both side-by-side and apart, with powerful, emotional never-before-told recollections from their personal lives and careers.

Through dizzying highs and traumatic lows, ME AND SISTER BOBBIE shows that nobody knows you like your family. ME AND SISTER BOBBIE was edited by Executive Editor Ben Greenberg and will be published on September 15, 2020 as a Random House Hardcover.

NEW YORK – From legendary Grammy award-winning country singer Willie Nelson and his sister, Family band member Bobbie Nelson, comes ME AND SISTER BOBBIE: TRUE TALES OF THE FAMILY BAND, a heartfelt memoir of the lifelong bond between Willie and his only sibling Bobbie, who tells her own incredible story here for the first time.

Me and Sister Bobbie: True tales of the family band

Friday, August 7th, 2020

Pre-order book here.

The untold story of Willie Nelson and his sister, Bobbie, who, over the course of their lives together, supported each other through personal tragedies and triumphs and forged an unbreakable bond through their shared love of music.

Abandoned by their parents as toddlers, Willie and Bobbie Nelson found their love of music almost immediately through their grandparents, who raised them in a small Texas town. Their close relationship—which persists today—is the longest-lasting bond in both their lives.

In alternating chapters, this heartfelt dual memoir weaves together both their stories as they experienced them side by side and apart. The Nelsons share powerful, emotional moments from growing up, playing music in public for the first time, and facing trials in adulthood, as Willie pursued songwriting and Bobbie faced a series of challenging relationships and a musical career that took off only when attitudes about women began to change in Texas. The memoir is Bobbie’s first book, and in it she candidly shares her life story in full for the first time. Her deeply affecting chapters delve into her personal relationships and life as a mother and as a musician with technical skills that even Willie admits surpass his own. In his poignant stories, Willie shares the depth of his bond with his sister, and how that bond carried him through his most troubled moments. Willie and Bobbie have supported each other through unthinkable personal heartbreak, and they’ve always shared in each other’s victories. Through dizzying highs and traumatic lows, spanning almost nine decades of life, Willie and Bobbie have always had each other’s back.

Their story is an inspiring, lyrical statement of how family always finds the way.

New Willie Nelson and Bobbie Nelson Memoir, “Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of The Family Band”

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

NEW YORK – From legendary Grammy award-winning country singer Willie Nelson and his sister, Family band member Bobbie Nelson, comes ME AND SISTER BOBBIE: TRUE TALES OF THE FAMILY BAND, a heartfelt memoir of the lifelong bond between Willie and his only sibling Bobbie, who tells her own incredible story here for the first time.

After being abandoned by their parents as very young children and becoming each other’s abiding relationship for more than  eight decades, this dual memoir, told in alternating chapters, weaves together Willie and Bobbie’s journeys as they experienced them both side-by-side and apart, with powerful, emotional never-before-told recollections from their personal lives and careers.

Through dizzying highs and traumatic lows, ME AND SISTER BOBBIE shows that nobody knows you like your family. ME AND SISTER BOBBIE was edited by Executive Editor Ben Greenberg and will be published on September 15, 2020 as a Random House Hardcover.

Additionally, a picture book by Willie and Bobbie Nelson, written with Chris Barton, tentatively titled Sister, Brother, Family: Our Childhood in Music, to be edited by Frances Gilbert, Editor-in-Chief of Doubleday Books for Young Readers, will be published in Fall 2021.

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

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

Willie Nelson: A Graphic History

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

by: T.J. Kirsch, author, and
Illustrators: Havard Johansen, Coskun Kuzgun, Jesse Lonergan, Jeremy Massey, Jason Pittman, Adam Walmsley, J. T. Yost.

Since he was a child in Hill County, Texas, he has been writing and performing for adoring crowds. Though his mainstream success did not come until later in his life, he has been determined to take his unique sound and voice to the people even before he was a household name.

There have been tragedies, missteps, IRS troubles, good times and bad along the way, but Willie continues to shine his positive outlook and project his humble voice out into the world. In this graphic novel biography, all the chapters represent a different era of his life and struggles – each illustrated by a unique indie comics talent.

You can pre-order a copy at Amazon for $19.99.

Willie Nelson and Bobby LiPuma

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020
by: Bobby Moore

Jazz Producer Tommy LiPuma’s Biography Tells Story About Willie Nelson

Jazz shapes the music of Willie Nelson, from his long-established appreciation for guitarist Django Reinhardt to his albums of standards. Those albums go beyond Stardust and include American Classic, a jazz-heavy 2009 collection produced by Tommy LiPuma.

American Classic included a re-recording of Nelson’s “Always on My Mind” plus duets with Diana Krall and Norah Jones. Any collection of older songs reinterpreted by Nelson hits the spot, be it this album or the following year’s roots music survey Country Music.

As for LiPuma, the Cleveland, Ohio native won five Grammy awards while working with the likes of Miles Davis, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney, Dave Mason, the Sandpipers, Natalie Cole, the O’Jays, Randy Newman, Leon Russell and Dr. John.

LiPuma, who passed away in 2017 at age 80, is the subject of jazz musician Ben Sidran’s recent book The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma.

“His experience encapsulates the modern recording industry,” Sidran says of LiPuma in a press release. “You can see the evolution of the way music was captured and recorded and distributed, how it evolved, and the impact of the technologies and the marketing strategies. You can read his story and get all that information just because of who he was and where he was, at exactly the right time.”

Sidran’s celebration of an American music master, released on May 5 by Nardis Books, includes the following excerpt about LiPuma’s working relationship with Nelson. As you might suspect, it’s part musical history lesson, part tale about smoking weed with Willie.

Willie Nelson and Tommy LiPuma, from The Ballad of Tommy LiPuma

Bruce Lundvall, the president of Blue Note Records, asked Tommy if he was interested in doing an album with Willie Nelson. “I loved Willie’s standards album,” says Tommy, “and my first thought was to use Joe Sample–like Willie, Joe is from Texas–so Joe and I went to Austin to spend a day at Willie’s ranch. How shall I put this? It’s a place of ultimate highness. It’s not like it’s over the top, but every so often, Willie’s got this smoking contraption that’s on a stand and he fires it up. Willie is high most of the day and into the night.

“We spent a whole day going through tunes. He was right there with us, and he was just great. He has a real ‘standards’ aesthetic. He really knows this stuff upside down, backwards and forwards.

“And at one point, when we had gone through all the tunes, he said, ‘Come on, lemme show you around the ranch.’ Willie’s got several hundred acres; there’s what looks like a Hollywood set on the property. We got into his truck and the first stop we made was this little church that looked like it was right out of the 1880s, pews and all. Then we got back in the truck and we ended up at what looked like a Western town, with a saloon with swinging doors, the whole thing. We went in and there were all his pals sitting around drinking beer.

“He’s got a lot of very interesting buddies. Not just the guys who were there drinking beer. At one point, I got thirsty and I said, ‘You got any water back there?’ He said, ‘Right over there,’ so I took a glass, and man the water tasted great! I made a remark, because there was no bottle on top of it, like at a water cooler, it was just coming from a pipe straight out of the wall. I said, ‘Is this your tap water?’ and he said a friend of his invented this thing that grabs the moisture out of the atmosphere and turns it into pure drinking water. Willie’s got some hip friends.”

A few months later, Willie, Tommy, and Joe all met up in New York at Right Track Studios, where they had a big studio for the band and a nice little isolation booth for Willie. Willie’s booth was connected directly to the control room, and of course wherever Willie goes, his pipe goes with him. You couldn’t enter the vocal booth unless you were willing to have an attitude adjustment.

Willie had parked his tour bus in front of the studio on Forty- eighth Street, and when he wasn’t recording, he would hang out there. He also slept on the bus. After a couple of days, somebody called Tommy and said, “Check out page six.” Tommy opened the ‘Daily News’ and read, “Willie Nelson is apparently in town recording an album at a studio on 48th Street. You can tell from the wafts of smoke coming out of this bus as you walk down the street.'” Pretty soon, Tommy was hanging out on the bus too, using Willie’s sound system to check out the recordings. By the recording’s conclusion, Tommy and Willie were like two old shoes.

“The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in your Heart” released (May 9, 2006)

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

On May 9, 2006, Gotham Books released “The Tao Of Willie: A Guide To The Happiness In Your Heart.” Willie Nelson co-wrote the book with Turk Pipkin.

The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart (Unabridged)
by Willie Nelson, with Turk Pipkin

The funny thing about advice is that no matter how good it is, most people are gonna do what they want anyway. That’s why my general philosophy has been never to miss an opportunity to shut up. So now that I’m writing a book in which I’m constantly giving advice, I must remind you to read the warning label on my bottle of wisdom.

Because something works for me doesn’t mean it will work for you, especially in large doses.

When a doctor prescribes a medicine, he doesn’t suggest you take the whole bottle, and neither does my part-time gynecologist alter ego, Doctor Booger Nelson.

Speaking of Doctor Nelson, did you hear about the woman who was such a fan of country music that she has a tattoo of Merle Haggard done in a very delicate spot, high on her right thigh, and a tattoo of Waylon Jennings high on the other other thigh.

Worried that the two tattoos weren’t recognizable, she slips off her undies, lifts her skirt to a guy in a bar, and says, “Can you tell who that is?”

So the guy puts on his glasses, looks real close, and says, ” I don’t know who those other two guys are, but the one in the middle is Willie Nelson!”

Willie Nelson in Mother Earth News (May/June 1987)

Friday, May 8th, 2020

Mother Earth News
May/June 1987
Farm Aid’s Founder:  Willie Nelson
Patrick Carr

It’s midwinter in Tampa, Florida, and as usual the weather is warm going on stifling.  Willie Nelson really needs the air conditioner humming peacefully in his mobile home away from home, the Silver Eagle Honeysuckle Rose.

In his own, quiet, careful way, Willie’s all business today.  Waiting in the cool, dark comfort of the bus for the horde of people his presence will draw to town tonight, he’s working hard:  poring over snapshots of himself and his sister Bobbie outside the Abbott, Texas, church in which they learned to sing, for the cover of a genuine hard-core Christian mail-order gospel album; making little decisions about the set he and his band of honky-tonk gypsies will play tonight; ordering up a carefully nutritious chicken dinner from the kitchen bus that travels with his five-vehicle caravan, then forgetting to eat it; talking business with little haste or waste of words or energy, on the radio telephone at his elbow.

The business concerns the usual megastar matters — movie promotion, investment opportunities, the touring schedule, a $1.5 million book contract — but also something seemingly out of place in this context:  the Farm Aid cause, Mr. Nelson’s foray into public service.  Cocooned amid Tampa’s concrete consumerism, the former Bible salesman, and latter-day multimillionaire is taking time to help the family farmers of his country fight back against government policy, big business and the economics of scale.

There is something rather special about Willie Nelson.  It was he, after all, who united the rednecks and the hippies and the surburbanites of the 1970s in appreciation of a style of country music considered both archaic and impossibly uncommercial by the Nashville powers-that-were.  Likewise his image — a lovely blend of longhair, cowboy, rebel, hardcore party legend and wise old man — is suggestive.

It’s no wonder he’s such an institution.  You can look up to some entertainers (Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Paul McCartney), but Willie invites involvement, not distance.  The dominant element of his stare — a thoroughly savvy serenity — is mighty trustworthy.

That invitation to trust must have been part of his image all along.  Certainly it was during his late teenage years, when he was already trying to get ahead in the world by promoting dance concerts throughout east Texas, earning his percentage from acts like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Milton Brown and the Brownies, Spade Cooley, and the legendary Ernest Tubb while he watched from the wings and learned the ropes.  It also impressed the folks in the Nashville big leagues after Willie had decided to forgo his studies for the Baptist ministry in favor of a full-time career in the hillbilly highway nightlife; you need a lot more than even the kind of devastating song-writing talent Willie possesses to become a primary source for the Music Row hit machine the way he did in pretty short order.  And when eventually his ambitions outstripped what Nashville was willing to offer and he made his legendary end-run around Music Row, his aura so impressed the college hippies of Austin, texas, that not too long after he’d been among them they began to buy posters proclaiming, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and Willie,” and to enshrine them in their places of fun and meditation.

A Nashville executive describes his experience:  “It was amazing, just wonderful,” says the Nashville executive.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.  Neil Reshen (Willie’s manager) was so bad — I mean, you really wanted to have the man arrested; the secretaries used to run for the bathroom when he showed up.  But when you talked to Willie, it was like negotiating with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and you were so relieved you didn’t have to deal with Neil that you gave Willie whatever he wanted.  But, of course, what Neil wanted and what Willie wanted were the same things.  They were working the good cop, bad cop routine, the oldest con in the world, but they did it so well you didn’t realize what was going on till it was all over.  And by then you’d done a deal you’d never have even dreamed of otherwise.  Willie just outplayed me, and he ended up getting what he really deserved.  And all that means is he’s smarter than I am.  He just has to turn that smile on you, and you’re hooked.  But now I take him seriously.  He may be beautiful, but he’s not dumb.”

Such a man — with his hard-earned combination of country compassion, common sense and carefully honed business skills – would have been the perfect choice if American farmers had gone looking for a leader in their hour of need.  That’s not how it happened, though.  It was Willie who went unbidden to the farmers.

September 1985 was when it began, in Champagne, Illinois, as a notion kicked around between Willie and his crew in the wake of Bob Geldof’s Life Aid marathon.  As Willie recalls, in the low-to-vanishing key for which he is renowned, “I have no idea how it got started.  I was just sitting in the bus….”

Like a large proportion of the projects Willie judges worthy, the 14-hour Farm Aid benefit moved from the idea to action with little further ado.  It was set up with minimum fuss and executed with slightly less toll and craziness than usually attends a mammoth outdoor music festival featuring multiple major entertainers.  (Which figures.  After more than a decade of organizing and hosting his legendary Fourth of July picnics, Willie is perhaps the world’s premier mastermind of such events.)   When it was all over — when Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Alabama, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson, Bon Jovi, Joni Mitchell, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, Neil Young, Merle Haggard, John Cougar Mellencamp and some 45 other acts had done their thing and the TV viewers who watched them had sent in their donations — Willie and his crew suddenly found themselves in temporary possession of a great deal of donated money.

That came as something of a shock.  “I figured people would respond,” says Willie, “but not nearly as well as they did, and as all that money started rollin’ in, I had to rethink my position.  I realized I had to do a lot more than make some calls and go out and sing.  My name was attached to that money, so by necessity I had to take responsibility and decide that I would be the one who writes the checks.  So that’s what happens, nothing goes out without my signature on it.  And so far, I know that every quarter of that money has gone to benefit the family farmer in some way.”

After Farm Aid One in Illinois and Farm Aid Two, held in Austin on the Fourth of July, 1986, the approximate total for which Willie has taken responsibility is $14 million.

And Willie doesn’t just sign the checks, he approves them.

“He makes the final decision,” says Caroline Mugar, the director of Farm Aid (Willie is Chairman of the Board).  “We just do the research on what’s going on, who’s doing what where, what they hope to do and how they’ve used the money they’ve already gotten, and we make recommendations.  Then Willie decides.”