Archive for the ‘This Day in Willie Nelson History’ Category

Willie Nelson & Family at Kempton Community Center (October 10, 1998)

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

Thanks, Phil Weisman; cool poster!

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Farm Aid III (Sept. 19, 1987 (Lincoln, NE)

[Thank you, Phil Weisman, for sharing this clipping about Farm Aid III.]

Chicago Sun-Times
September 21, 1987

LINCOLN, Neb.  Fleeting remarks and lasting impressions from a full day at Saturday’s Farm Aid.

Most valuable players through out the evening’s part of the program were the members of John Cougar Mellencamp’s red-hot band.  After providing hard edge accompaniment for Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” they gave John Prine the sort of rough-hewn, roots-rock backing that he’s been missing since he quit working with Chicago’s Famous Potatoes.

The closing set by Mellencamp and band was one of the event’s most rousing.  On “Small Town” and “Pink House” the accordion and fiddle of his band’s expanded lineup fit just fine with the rock n’ roll rhythm section.  The two-song set, way too short for most of the crowd, provided a taste of what wil likely be one of the fall’s strongest tours.

While Willie Nelson received most of the credit throughout the day, and deservedly so, Mellencamp has also been a driving force behind Farm Aid during its three-year existence.  Both Reed and the Crusados thanked him specifically for enlisting their participation.

The most inspired music that was heard by no one at home came courtesy of Neil Young.  “Ain’t singing for Pepsi, ain’t singing for coke,” he sang.  “Ain’t singing for nobody, it makes me look like a joke.  This note’s for you.”  While Young slammed corporate sponsorship, the broadcast had cut to another commercial.

David Alvin has the distinction of being the only performer to play each of the three Farm Aids, as part of a completely different band.  He was with the Blasters at the first Farm Aid, a member o X at the second and the leader of his own band, the Allnighters at Farm Aid III.

The man who was formerly known as a songwriter and guitarist demonstrated that he had already become a far more confident singer than when he cut “Romen’s Escape,” his recently released debut album as a solo artist.  His afternoon set, mixing country ballads and hard-rock ravers, was one of the event’s highlights.

Dennis Hopper, who was raised on a Kansas farm, introduced country singer Lynn Anderson to the crowd as an “easy rider,” who offered to share her bus with other performers who needed a ride to Lincoln.

He later told the TV audience, “Big companies are interested in big profits.  Period.” an economic analysis that was sure to endear him to corporate America.  “Who would you rather see own America?” he asked.

Events such as this inevitably produce a rash of Bruce Springsteen rumors.  The day before the concert, the talk of the town was dominated by eyewitness accounts of Springsteen and Nelson enjoying dinner at a Lincoln country club.  It never happened, according to officials at the country club.

Willie Nelson interview in Entertainment Weekly, (September 18, 1998)

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

photo:  Laura Farr

www.ew.com
by:  Jeff Gordinier

Willie Nelson reaches across the table and whispers four soft words: “It’s good for you.” His brown eyes are shining like sunlight on the Rio Grande. His voice is rustling like wind through a wheat field. And between those burlap knuckles of his, well, he’s got a joint as fat as a rope.

It all feels like Luke Skywalker taking the lightsaber from Obi-Wan Kenobi. You can’t say no.

So I don’t. I inhale. Deeply. Which probably isn’t the smartest journalistic strategy in the world, considering that my life’s experience with ganja consists primarily of a couple of pathetic coughing fits in college. The thing is, there’s something so gentle about Willie Nelson, so utterly blissful and reassuring, that climbing into his tour bus feels like stepping into the lost ashram of a Himalayan mystic. Just the sound of his laugh can lower your heart rate. Besides, it’s late in the afternoon, and Willie’s tiny office on the bus, the Honeysuckle Rose II, is already so banked with sweet herbal fog that a plane wouldn’t be cleared for landing. A puff or two won’t make any difference, right?

It’s a busy day, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Willie’s supposed to ride the highway up to Boulder, Colo., to play songs from his haunting new album, Teatro, for radio station KBCO and a packed house at the Fox Theatre. Plus, he’s just been named a Kennedy Center honoree, alongside entertainers like Bill Cosby and Shirley Temple Black, so people keep calling the bus to congratulate him.

If anyone deserves an official blessing from the United States government, why not Willie Nelson? He wrote national anthems like “Crazy” and “Night Life” and “On the Road Again.” He’s saved Nashville from its cheesiest impulses with albums like Red Headed Stranger and Spirit and Stardust. His voice is seared on the American landscape as indelibly as the voices of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra. Besides, he’s done a guest spot on King of the Hill. “For me, Willie is what you’d imagine an elder would be like in native mythology,” says Daniel Lanois, Teatro’s producer. “Without saying too much, he projects an aura that just makes you feel good to be around.”

But there’s a fantastic irony here, too, when you think about a bunch of Beltway Babbitts squeezing into their tuxes and clinking their champagne flutes to the original Nashville outlaw, a man who’s wrangled with drug laws and the Internal Revenue Service, who’s crisscrossed miles of conservative highway with his beard and ponytails and beatific smile intact, who’s spent a large portion of his 65 years whispering four soft, subversive words to the stress-battered American people: It’s good for you.

“I was doomed to go to hell by the time I was 7,” Willie is saying, “because I had been told that if you smoke cigarettes and drink beer you’re going to hell. And by 7, I was gone.” Thus resigned to eternal damnation, Willie came up with the only spiritual approach that made sense: There’s nothing to hide, and nothing to get too upset about. “If you get up thinkin’ everything’s gonna be wonderful, you’re gonna find out somethin’ happened that wasn’t that wonderful,” he says. “And if you think everything’s gonna be terrible, then you’re gonna miss what was good. So there is a little bit of Zen in there: You shouldn’t be too elated at the good things, and you shouldn’t be too depressed at the bad things.” Not since Butch Cassidy has somebody so defiant been so laid-back about it.

You can ask Willie anything, good or bad, and he’ll respond with that sagebrush laugh and a flash of those muddy-river eyes. The night in 1970 when he dashed into the flaming eaves of a burning house to rescue a pile of pot? “A guitar and the pot,” he gently corrects me. The night when he walked out of a Nashville bar and stretched his bones in the middle of a busy road? “I was pretty drunk, but I do remember it,” he says. “It was one of those Russian roulette things, you know? You really didn’t give a damn, and yet you did. Just before the truck woulda hit me, I’d have said, ‘Why did I do that?’”

I ask whether it’s true that the first of Willie’s four wives tied him up and beat him purple as punishment for a drunken binge. Willie not only verifies the story, he muses over the method of bondage. “I think there were sheets stitched together, and then jump ropes to secure them,” he says. “Then she packed all of my clothes and left. So when I finally got out of the sheet, all my clothes were gone.”

The father of seven (and grandfather of seven more) waves toward a beautiful woman sitting toward the back of the bus. “This is Lana, my daughter,” he says. “Her mother was the one in that story you asked about.”

“I might’ve been 4 or 5,” says Lana, now 44. “She left us in the car waiting while she hit him with the broom. And she came runnin’ out and threw the broom on the porch and jumped in the car.”

And…how did you feel?

“Well, I hated to see Daddy get beat up with a broom!” she laughs whimsically. “But if my husband came home drunk, I might do the same thing.” “And,” Pop chimes in, “if he’d done it on more than one occasion.”

Willie gave up booze years ago—”To me, alcohol is not positive,” he says–but he’s been smoking weed since 1953, when a fiddle player in Fort Worth first passed him a joint. “It wasn’t a big deal back in the early days in Fort Worth,” Willie insists. “Most of the law enforcement agents were smokin’ pot. They’d bust other people, get the pot, and we’d sit around and smoke it. They realized it was a bad law, but they were makin’ the best of it.”

Texas troopers may be a bit more zealous these days, but whenever there’s a head-on collision between Willie and various statutes and ordinances, it seems like Willie’s the one who comes out unscathed. Four years ago he was arrested when police found him and a joint cuddling in the backseat of a Mercedes; pretty soon the charges were dropped. “There was no cause to give me any problems there that night, because I wasn’t botherin’ nobody,” Willie explains. “When it’s foggy and you’re tired, you pull over and go to sleep. You shouldn’t be harassed by the police department.” Eight years ago the IRS saddled him with a massive burden of back taxes—$32 million—but Willie struck a deal with the feds to whittle down the debt, paid off the rest, and moved on.

It’s been that way since Abbott, the lean Texas town where he baled hay and picked cotton as a kid. “We had no law in Abbott. There was nothing illegal,” he recalls as the Honeysuckle Rose II rolls through the strip malls and cheeseburger troughs of the New West. “I’ve kind of brought Abbott with me.”

In the front of the bus is a TV. CNN is blasting the news that Bill Clinton has bombed outposts in Sudan and Afghanistan—an event of weird significance for one of the stars of Wag the Dog. Willie asks if I want to watch a video. I suggest he might prefer to catch up with the military showdown instead. “The war’s about over, probably,” he laughs. “We’re gonna miss the whole f—in’ war, just goin’ to Boulder.”

Willie may come across as the un-Clinton—he’s inhaled, he’s fooled around, he doesn’t lie about it—but he’s actually quick to forgive Slick Willie his amorous misadventures. “I think any male on the planet will have sympathies for where he’s at,” he says. “Most of us can withstand everything but temptation. And a guy who’s bombarded as much as he is, as president? Most presidents are too old to worry about s— like that!” As for his own battles with temptation on the road, Willie and his crew long ago came up with an official policy: “We leave town early.”

Keeping on the move has always been a Willie trademark. Daniel Lanois is such a sonic perfectionist that it often takes him months to cut an album, but when the Grammy-winning producer of Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind and Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball hunkered down in an old California movie theater to record Teatro, it took…four days. Which is not to say it feels tossed off: A spooky flamenco hayride of a record, Teatro proves that after 213 albums over the course of four decades, Willie Nelson is hitting another moment of creative fervor. “I’m so used to making records where one has to labor, it sort of caught me by surprise,” Lanois marvels. “Willie really trusts first takes.”

Eventually Willie and I do watch a movie, an upcoming made-for-CBS Western called Outlaw Justice. My critical faculties are fairly warped at this point, but I think Willie and Kris Kristofferson play old gunslingers who team up to avenge the death of a fellow desperado, played by Waylon Jennings.

After a few minutes Willie picks up the phone. “Hey, Waylon,” he says. “I just watched you die again in that movie.”

Maybe it’s the thin Colorado air, but by now the phrase mile-high has taken on a new meaning. Suddenly I have come to believe that Willie Nelson is a great American sage, that sculptors should carve his saintly visage into Mount Rushmore, that Outlaw Justice is a cinematic masterpiece, that…er…uh, dude, could you pass the potato chips?

Willie Nelson & Family on Coney Island (Sept. 13, 2016)

Friday, September 13th, 2019
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www.ConeyIslandLive.com

Willie Nelson at the Ritz (November 11) ($2.00)

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

Willie Nelson & Family SOLD OUT (November 11, 2016)

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019
judejude

Thanks, Jude Ramirez

Willie Nelson and Jimmy Carter in Plains, GA (September 9, 2004)

Monday, September 9th, 2019


Thanks to Alice Kaufmann from Georgia for sharing her photos.

On September 9, 2004 Willie Nelson performed a concert in Plains, Georgia, for an upcoming TV special, “CMT Homecoming: Jimmy Carter In Plains”

The concert was filmed in September, for a special airing in December 2004, when CMT featured a special homecoming event, with the 39th President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, for an intimate look at the small town that he still calls home and where he spends the holidays with wife Rosalynn, his children and grandchildren – Plains, Ga.

In this one-hour documentary, CMT Homecoming: President Carter In Plains, President Carter welcomes his longtime friend, country legend Willie Nelson, to Plains for the reunion. Nelson joins President Carter for a tour of his childhood home, his boyhood haunts, and the town that holds a special place in President Carter’s heart. The two friends swap stories of what it was like growing up in small towns and reminisce about their friendship that has lasted decade.

In honor of Plains, Nelson performs for everyone in the town, and the fans get a surprise when President and Mrs. Carter join Nelson on stage for several gospel songs.

Willie Nelson – the Top Balladeer (New York Times) (September 9, 1981)

Monday, September 9th, 2019

WHY is Willie Nelson, who wears his long, graying hair in braids, dresses like a hippie and was singing honky tonk music in Texas roadhouses as long ago as the l950’s, America’s most admired pop balladeer?

Kenny Rogers sells more records with his saccharine love songs and stagey whisky-rasp, and Frank Sinatra is certainly still a force to be reckoned with, but it is Willie Nelson who has turned chestnuts like ”Georgia on My Mind,” ”Stardust” and ”Mona Lisa” into recent pop hits, and Mr. Nelson draws a more diverse audience than either Mr. Rogers or Mr. Sinatra. The last time he performed in New York, pot-smoking rock fans were sitting next to middle-aged businessmen and their wives and a few grandmothers, and all of them were hanging on to Willie Nelson’s every word.

The release this week of ”Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits” (Columbia records) offers some clues, both in the music it includes and in what it omits. On first hearing, Mr. Nelson’s dry, reedy tenor can sound deceptively thin, but listening to his hits back to back, one soon notices a sinewy strength that’s barely hidden behind his apparently vulnerable sound and casual delivery. One also notices that most of his hit records have used a sound, a kind of musical formula, that refers to several traditions, including country music, rock, folk and middle-of-the-road pop, without really belonging to any of them. Their most characteristic sound is a softly strummed acoustic guitar, a wailing harmonica played by his band’s most prominent soloist, Mickey Raphael, and Mr. Nelson singing, straightforwardly and with just a hint of melancholy, about faded loves, rejection in love, and men who are drawn to the open road and can’t seem to help themselves, men who live like cowboys not because they want to but because that’s what they are. A Land of Cowboys

Cowboys – there’s a clue. America needs its cowboys. There’s a cowboy in the White House, a cowboy who likes living on his ranch and gives press conferences with his boots on. There were latter-day cowboys in ”Urban Cowboy,” one of the most successful films and record-album soundtracks last year. There are more and more countryand-western clubs opening, and more and more city slickers in western shirts and boots to go to them, even in Manhattan. And Willie Nelson is a cowboy.

He’s still a convincing cowboy at the age of 48. He crisscrossed Texas for years, playing in roadside honky tonks. He peddled his songs in Nashville, and some of them, most notably ”Crazy” and ”Funny (How Time Slips Away),” became country standards. But record producers in Nashville didn’t think he could sing, and when he did get a chance to record, he was saddled with string orchestras and inappropriate material. By the time he finally became a full-fledged country star, in the mid-70’s, he had been branded an ”outlaw” by Nashville’s conservative country-music establishment, and although he has long since become a pop star, with a fistful of platinum albums and singles and several film roles to his credit, he still projects that outlaw image.

This is a curious thing. What one sees is an outlaw – a cowboy gone wrong. What one hears, especially on Mr. Nelson’s recordings of ”Stardust” and other standards, is a weathe red but reassuring voicesinging the old songs as if they really matte r to him, against a simple, folksy musical backdrop. Apparently, American pop consumers won’t buy records of songs like ”Stardust” when they are performed by entertainers who project an old-fashioned, sophisticated showbusiness image, but they will buy them wh en the singer is a longhaired, pot-smoking rebel.

The counterculture of the 60’s has become the mainstream culture of the 80’s, an d Mr. Nelson is the one American popular singer who gives the impress ion of being part of both the counterculture and the mainstream at the same time. Back to Honky Tonk

Interestingly, ”Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits,” a double album that includes two previously unreleased performances, has only one of his performances of pop evergreens on it -his hit version of ”Georgia on My Mind.” The rest of the album concentrates on hits that are clos er to country music and to country rock. There are several live performances recorded with his wonderfully idiosyncraticband, which l ayers electric guitars and back-country church-style piano over he avy bass and the two-beat cowboy drumming of Mr. Nelson’s long time sidekick, Paul English. There are tributes to Mr. Nelson’s honk y-tonk roots, including a fine reworking of Lefty Frizzell’s ” If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time” and two numbers, ”Fa ded Love” and ”Stay a Little Longer,” that were associated wi th the late Bob Wills, ”King of Western Swing” and probably the most popular Southwestern entertainer or all time. Mr. Nelson’s most celebrated duet with his fellow country ”Outlaw” Waylon Jennin gs, ”Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” is here, too.

So ”Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits” is really the best of Willie Nelson, country singer, an album for his hard-core fans. Perhaps he feels that with his albums of pre-World War II pop standards and his movie appearances, he has been neglecting the people who made his reputation in the first place. At any rate, he is still a winning country stylist.

And it is somehow reassuring, at a time when most country entertainers can’t wait to get that first pop hit and start wearing tuxedos and playing Las Vegas, to find one who knows who he is and what he comes from. Maybe that’s why his fans accept the long hair and the rumpled clothes; they are outward indications that no matter how successful he becomes, the inner Willie Nelson is not about to change.

Willie Nelson, Red Rocks, September 5, 2010

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

Waiting for the Willie Nelson and Family show to start with a bunch of Willie Nelson fans at Red Rocks is half the fun. Well, maybe not 50%, more like 25%, or at least a good 10% , but still lots of fun. We were all happy that the doors were open and we were ready for WN&F.

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Katrina and Lane, with this limited edition bandanna from Scooterville.

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Martha English sat out front for Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real set.

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WIllie Nelson with Wayne “The Trainwreck” Hancock (Salina, Kansas) (September 2, 2005)

Monday, September 2nd, 2019

People Magazine (September 1, 1980)

Sunday, September 1st, 2019
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People Magazine
September 1, 1980
by Cheryl McCall

Before he ever imagined the high life, the whiskey nights and the Bloody Mary mornings to follow, Willie Nelson yearned for the road and its promise of freedom.  As a Texas school boy, chopping cotton for $1.5o a day, he listened to the gospel songs of the field hands and daydreamed about moving on.  “I didn’t like picking cotton one bit,” he recalls.  “I used to stand in the fields and watch the cars go by and think, ‘I want to go with them.’”

Today, nearly four decades and a million miles later, Willie, 47, continues to heed the call of the highway.  Overtaken by success a mere five years ago with the release of his album Red Headed Stranger, he simply picked up the tempo and put his foot to the floor.  Once branded an outlaw by Nashville’s rhinestone-encrusted music establishment, Nelson has lately become an inadvertent and unassailable national monument.  No one really objected when Willie dropped a lyric from The Star-Spangled Banner at the recent Democratic National Conveniton.

Since Stranger went platinum in 1976, Nelson has added two more platinums, two double platinums, four golds and a whole atticfull of Grammys and Country Music Association awards.  Currently, with seven LPs on the charts plus his new double LP Honeysuckle Rose, Willie has taken his guitar and his low-key persona and is trying his hand at being a movie star.

As he tells it, his starring role as Buck Bonham in Honeysuckle Rose is one he could play almost from memory.  “I never did know you had to the trained to have your picture made,” drawls Willie.  “Maybe that’s the whole point — not knowing anything is maybe better than just knowing a little.  Besides, I can sympathize with Buck,” he adds. “He’s a married guy who succumbs to temptation on a potholed highway.  I’ve been that route myself.”

It shows.  On-screen, Willie projects the same earthy sex appeal and relaxed masculinity that give his life performances tension.  His face is as brown and creased as a walnut, the reddish hair and beard dusted with gray.  But the camera dimisses the etchings of age and lingers instead on the soulful brown eyes and the effortless smile.  When Nelson is teamed with Dyan Cannon, who plays his lusty wife, Viv, in Honeysucke Rose, the movie crackles with high voltage.  “Willie does it like a real person, which is what an actor is supposed to do,” says the film’s director, Jerry Schatzberg.  “He’s very natural in the love scenes because he’s had a lot of experience there.  The man’s been married three times and he knows what he’s doing.”

While Honeysuckle Rose borrows freely from the singer’s nomadic, loosely plotted existence, the unabridged script of Willie’s life story is part Grapes of Wrath, part contrified Battle of the Sexes.  Children of the Depression, Willie and his older sister, Bobbie, were raised by their paternal grandparents in dusty little Abbott, Texas after Ira and Myrle Nelson divorced.  While Bobbie learned piano from her grandmoteher, Willie was given his first guitar at 7 by his grandfather, a blacksmith who took mail-order music lessons.  When the old man died the following year, Willie kept his ear to the family’s wooden Philco radio, learning as many Grand Ole Opry songs as he could.  “He’d pick up things just like that,” says Bobbie.  “His ear is so fantastic, he doesn’t even know how good he is.”

Graduating from high school at 16, Willie left the cotton fields for a job as a disc jockey.  “When I found myself singing over the radio, I didn’t think life got much better than that,” he recalls.  For a while it didn’t.  He joined the Air Force in 1950, but was discharged with a back injury.  Afterward he enrolled at Baylor University, but spent most of his single semester there playing dominos.  

Dropping out, he was earning as little as 50 cents a night with a local band when he met and married Martha Matthews, a 16-year-old Waco carhop, in 1952.  “She was a full-blooded Cherokee.”  Willie recalls, “and every night with us was like Custer’s last stand.  We’d live in one place a month then pack up and move when the rent would come due.”  By 1958 Willie had three children to support.  He made ends meet, after his fashion, as a plumber’s helper and a door-to-door salesman, while working nights playing his songs in the honky-tonks.

The Nelsons drifted to Nashville in 1960, about the time their stormy marriage was nearing its end.  Martha resorted to bartending, while Willie hawked his satchel of songs on Music Row and drank up the profits at Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge.  In what turned out to be her final gesture of compassion, Martha had to rescue Willie from a drunken suicide attempt when he sprawled in the street outside Tootsie’s and waited for a car to run him over.

 The last night of their marriage was even more garish.  “I came home drunk,” Willie remembers, “and while I was passed out, she sewed me up in a sheet.  Must’ve taken her two hours.  Then she got a broomstick and started beating the hell out of me.  I woke up in this strait jacket, getting pounded like a short-order steak,” he continues.  “By the time I got loose, she’d lit out in the car with the kids, her clothes and my clothes.  There was no way I could follow her naked, and that was kind of the end of it.”

That was about the time his intensely personal, offbeat laments began turning into hits for better-known singers.  Night Life (which Willie had sold for $150), Crazy, Hello Walls and Funny How Time Slips Away all cracked the country Top 20 by 1963, and soon he was earning $600 a week in composer royalties.  (His own renditions weren’t selling then, because producers kept smothering his reedy baritone in syrupy strings.)  Over the years Nelson has composed more than 1,000 songs, while successfully avoiding the old Nashville formulas.  “I’d say that 99 percent of what I write has come from my own experience,” he says.  “A person could probably start from my first song and go all the way to my last and — if he knew what to look for — write my autobiography.”

Several painful chapters were inspired by his second marriage, to country singer Shirley Collie.  Husband and wife sang, recorded and traveled together until settling down on 200 acres near Nashville in 1964.  There Willie blew a small fortune fattening hogs (“I bought them for 25 cents a pound and ended up selling for 17”) while performing at the Grand Ole Opry.  When Willie hit the road again to recoup his losses, he left Shirley at home to take care of his kids.  Both drifted into smashing up cars, drinking, drugs and infidelity until the marriage simply died of neglect.

Still, Willie wasn’t destined for bachelorhood.  Even before the divorce from Shirley was final, he had gone ahead and married his present wife, Connie Koepke Nelson, 36, a factory worker whom he’d spotted during a club date in Cut and Shoot, Texas.  “When Willie came out to sing,” she remembers, “he looked down and smiled.  It wasn’t a flirty look, just a warm, neat feeling.  Before the night was over he asked for my phone number, and the next time he came through Houston he called.  I went to the show and that was it.”

By 1970 Shirley had moved out and Connie had moved in, but Willie’s career was going nowhere in Nashville.  Then his house caught fire.  “By the time I got there, it was burning real good,” Willie remembers, “but I had this pound of Colombian grass inside.  I wasn’t being brave running in there to get my dope — I was trying to keep the fireman from finding it and turning me over to the police.”  Willie saved the grass, but lost more than 100 tapes of songs he hadn’t yet recorded.  Still, out of the ashes came a sense of relief and a determination to abandon Nashville for Texas.  Installing his family in Austin, Willie bought a used Greyhound bus and began touring the county fairs, dance halls and violence-prone bars where he was known and loved.

Just as Merle Haggard was topping the charts with his hippie-baiting Okie from Muscogee, Willie — never a slave to fashion — began sporting long hair, a beard and and earring.  With fellow outlaws like Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Jerry Jeff Walker, he began forging the gritty Austin sound that finally brought him success as a singer.  Within six months of its release in 1973, the LP Shotgun Willie outsold all his previous albums combined; he was inducted int Nashville’s Songwriters’ Hall of Fame; and his first Fourth of July picnic draws 50,000 rockers and rednecks to the little hamlet of Dripping Springs, Texas.  Creative control over his recordings brought Willie a string of hit LPs that hasn’t been broken, and later led to his first movie role — as Robert Redford’s manager in The Electric Horseman.  Five more film commitments await, at a reported $1 million per roll, but Willie insists he’s not going Hollywood.  “I like making movies,” he said, “But it’s confining, and I don’t like to go too long without playing concerts.”

Willie and his extended family of 25 musicians and roadies average 250 days a year on tour, traveling in a convoy of three customized buses and two semis of sound gear.  Though he could comfortably afford to fly to his concerts, the bus is a kind of spiritual haven.  “I rest better because there’s no phone,” he explains, “and traveling is a big part of my life.  I haven’t seen much of the country, but I’ve been all over it a thousand times, just laying in the back with the blinds drawn.  I guess it’s the perpetual motion I like.”

Backed by what may be the highest paid band in country music (members earn $750 a night — $1,000 for cutting an album), Willie’s roistering performances always start on time and usually run through 54 songs.  Then he shrugs off his battered Martin guitar to sign autographs for perhaps another two hours.  Whether he’s playing Caesars Palace (where he’s paid $1.5 million a year) or a little Bible Belt fair, Willie’s accessibility is his immutable trademark.  “He just can’t say no to anybody,”  Connie says.  “I’ve seen Will so tired he can’t go any further.  Then someone will ask one more thing from him and he’ll do it.  He doesn’t ever want anybody to think that success has changed him.”

In some ways, of course, Willie has changed.  Though he and his sidemen continue to graze on $3, 500-a-pound Arkansas grass (“Most people smoke to get high,” says a friend.  “Willie smokes to get normal”), he has sworn off pills and cut back on his whiskey.  He offers no apologies for the marijuana (“I think most sensible human beings know it’s not something you send people to the penitentiary for”) but forbids the use of any other drugs — especially cocaine — by his band.  “If you’re wired,” he says simply, “you’re fired.”

Despite his new found willingness to set commonsense limits, Willie’s most powerful addiction is to life on the road.  “It’s been a strain on Willie and me to an extent, but we’ve never had trouble between us, ever,” reports Connie.  “I don’t worry about the women.  I trust Willie completely.  But sometimes I feel that he doesn’t need me.  He’s got the road and he’s got his life.  It’s real easy to feel pushed aside.”  This summer Connie and the kids have been touring with Willie — a visible rebuttal to stories linking Willie with actress Amy Irving, his adulterous interest in Honeysuckle Rose.  “Amy and I were friends during the movie and I hope we’re still friends.” says Willie.  “Anything more is only what people wanted to write about.”

There was a time when Willie’s definition of a successful performer was “anyone who got to play music and eat.”  Today he says, “I have all the material things I need and a couple I don’t.”  When their life in Austin became oppressively public, he, Connie and their two children moved to Colorado in 1977.  There Willie can hang his hat in a three-story chalet on 60 acres near Denver or at the family’s 64-acre Pedernales Country Club outside Austin, an 80-unit apartment complex, the 1,700-seat Austin Opry House and the previous Nelson residence — a 44-acre spread with $750,000 limestone ranch house hidden behind a wall topped with electrified barbed wire.  Around Nashville, his holdings include a music publishing company and 200 acres outside town.

Inevitably, becoming a man of property, as well as the father of five, grandfather of six and paterfamilias to a musical entourage, has given Willie a sense of responsibility that is occasionally burdensome.  “I’m not worried about the next car payment,” he says, “But I am worried about income taxes.  A lot of families (including numerous ex-in-laws) depend on me, and it’s a lot of pressure in some ways.  But we’re making more now than we ever did, so at least if I decide to hang it up for a couple of months, nobody’s going to starve to death.”  Shouldn’t his success entitle him to be a little more sanguine?  “Maybe,” he says.  “But I still get knocked off my feet like anybody else. I’ve had so many ups and down in the last 30 years that I’ve learned to live with both.  The successes are great, but they’re not going to last forever.  And I’ve come back from a lot of failures.”

paulafamily

Saturday, August 31st, 2019

Willie Nelson, Big Spring, TX (August 31, 1980)

Willie Nelson & Family at the Back Yard (August 23, 2012)

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Willie Nelson on eTown (August 22, 1996)

Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

On August 22, 1996, Willie Nelson performed at e-Town, a national radio show broadcast across the country.

www.etown.org

Patsy Cline recorded, “Crazy” on August 21, 1961

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

August 21 1961, Patsy Cline recorded the classic Willie Nelson song, ‘Crazy’. She was still on crutches after going through a car windshield in a head-on collision two months earlier and had difficulty reaching the high notes of the song at first, due to her broken ribs.