Archive for the ‘Family Band’ Category

Willie Nelson and family cover George Harrison

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021
by: Matthew Leimkuehler

The latest release from country legend Willie Nelson and his family band pays tranquil tribute to rock giant George Harrison.  

Nelson and company debuted Friday a subtle rendition of Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” the title track off his lauded 1970 post-Beatles solo album. 

The song features Lukas Nelson taking lead vocals, with his father Willie Nelson playing longtime guitar “Trigger” and adding backing vocals. Willie Nelson’s son Micah plays drums and bass on the recording, with sister Bobbie Nelson adding piano and longtime bandmate Mickey Raphael on harmonica. 

The song comes off “The Willie Nelson Family,” an upcoming album showcasing the musical DNA of Nelson’s family, including Bobbie Nelson, Lukas and Micah Nelson and daughters Amy and Paula Nelson. 

‘The Willie Nelson Family’ track list 

  • 1. Heaven and Hell (Willie Nelson)
  • 2. Kneel at the Feet of Jesus (Willie Nelson)
  • 3. Laying My Burdens Down (Willie Nelson)
  • 4. Family Bible (Claude Gray, Paul Buskirk & Walt Breeland)
  • 5. In the Garden (traditional)
  • 6. All Things Must Pass (George Harrison)
  • 7. I Saw the Light (Hank Williams, Sr.)
  • 8. In God’s Eyes (Willie Nelson)
  • 9. Keep It On the Sunnyside (A.P. Carter)
  • 10. I Thought About You, Lord (Willie Nelson)
  • 11. Too Sick To Pray (Willie Nelson)
  • 12. Why Me (Kris Kristofferson)

The album features a handful of Nelson originals, as well as takes on songs from Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams and the Carter Family. It debuts Nov. 19 via Legacy Recordings. 

“Working with family, creating music, is pure bliss,” Lukas Nelson said in a statement. “What a gift that we were all able to come together and celebrate the power of music during these troubled times.” 

And it isn’t the first time a Country Music Hall of Famer sat in on a session recording of “All Things Must Pass.” Celebrated studio musician and 2021 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Pete Drake played pedal steel on Harrison’s original version of the song. 

Nelson brings his family tour Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 to Nashville for two nights of intimate shows at the CMA Theater. 

Willie Nelson & Family

Thursday, July 8th, 2021
Portrait of Willie Nelson and Family during photo shoot at the Golden Nugget Hotel. Las Vegas, Nevada 8/1978 (Image # 1151 )

Friday, February 5th, 2021

Merry Christmas from Willie and the boys

Thursday, December 24th, 2020

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

Willie Nelson and Family and Friends,(Back Yard) (May 28, 2013)

Monday, May 28th, 2018


Thanks to Jim Eckenrode, for his photo from the BackYard on April 28, 2013, at the finale of the Willie Nelson & Family Show.

Willie Nelson & Family

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

Willie Nelson and Family

Grady Martin (January 17, 1929 – December 3, 2001

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Session guitarist Grady Martin was born on January 17, 1929, was born in Chapel Hill, Tennessee. Before he joined Willie Nelson & Family, Grady had played with Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Elvis Presley and Ray Price. He also wrote the song sung by Ronnie Milsap, “Snap Your Fingers.”


*Article originally printed in the August, 1984 edition of Country Song Roundup magazine.

Young country fans know Grady Martin as the lead guitarist in Willie Nelson’s band, but he is much, much more. His contributions to the development of the Nashville Sound as a studio musician in the 1950’s and 1960’s have been incalculable.

Put bluntly, there would be no Nashville music industry as we know it, were it not for Grady Martin. Country entrepreneur Tillman Franks thinks Grady belongs in the Country Music Hall of Fame. “There are five great musical geniuses that made Nashville Music City U.S.A.,” he says. “They are: recording studio innovator Owen Bradley, music publisher Fred Rose, Grand Ole Opry superstar Roy Acuff, and musicians Chet Atkins and Grady Martin. Of these five, Grady MArtin is the only one not in the Country Music Hall of Fame. As a charter member of the Country Music Association, I hereby nominate Grady Martin for the Hall of Fame in 1984.”

Franks said that in December 1983, at a tribute dinner held in Martin’s honor by the Nashville Music Association On that occasion, Grady was lauded by his peers and given the first Master Tribute Award, designed to honor the unsung heroes of music: the backup instrumentalists. On hand were Brenda Lee, Floyd Cramer, Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, The Jordonaires, and a ballroom of other celebrities. Willie Nelson hosted the tribute to his friend and bandmember.

Studio musicians got their due at long last that night. Finally it was stated publicly that Grady Martin was the session leader for the hundreds of hit productions that put Nashville on the map. He was a chief architect in the building of Music City.

Grady Martin was born 55 years ago, Jan. 17, 1929, 50 miles south of Nashville on a farm between Lewisburg and Chapel Hill, Tennessee. He grew into a strapping six-footer, but he always preferred making music to doing his farm chores. “My dad played the jug,” he chuckles, remembering his musical youth. “And my mother played the piano. My brother had bought a guitar for eight dollars and he wouldn’t let me fool with it much. I had to slip away to get it.” Maybe that’s why he took up the fiddle at age 13. “There was an old fella down the road named John Davis who played his fiddle at night on his porch. He went down to all the local dances and played.”

He inspired Grady so much that the youngster was soon one of the most accomplished fiddlers in the area. When Nashville radio star Big Jeff Bess came south for a show, Martin was played for him backstage. Impressed, Bess offered the 15 year-old a job.

“We had an early-morning radio show, and just played schoolhouses and anywhere we could. Four or five dollars a night was a good night’s pay. This was during World War II.” Bess was the husband of the legendary Hattie Louise “Tootsie” Bess, later immortalized as the owner of Nashville’s Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge Bar, across the alley from the Ryman Auditorium downtown, mother church of the Grand Ole Opry.

“I went up to the Opry one Saturday night and met manager Jim Denny. I was just askin’ for a job with somebody on the show. And he turned me on to The Bailes Brothers. So I traveled and appeared with them for awhile.” At the time the group was riding the crest of a wave of hits that included Dust on the Bible, I Wanna Be Loved (But Only By You), and As Long As I Live.

Martin toured with such Opry headliners as Jamup & Honey and Uncle Dave Macon. When he began appearing with trick fiddler Curly Fox and “The Sophie Tucker of Cowgirl Singers,” Texas Ruby, he switched to guitar. Thus, on that instrument he made his recording debut when Fox took him into a studio in Chicago.

He joined the band of Red Foley then about to become the biggest star of his generation of country vocalists. [A] 1949 Nashville recording session produced Foley’s huge number-one hit Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy. It was the first of many million-sellers that were to feature Grady’s guitar. “We recorded that at the Old Castle Studio that was in the Tulane Hotel on Church Street in Nashville.”

Artists like Carl Smith, George Morgan, and Little Jimmy Dickens began using him on their sessions. Hall of Fame member credits Martin and guitarist Jabbo Arrington for developing his hit sounds= with their twin-guitar playing.

Martin even played (fiddle) on a Hank Williams session. He also accompanied Williams to “The Kate Smith Show” in New York in 1952, country music’s debut on prime-time, nationwide network TV.

As Red Foley’s airplane pilot and lead guitarist, Grady Martin accompanied Foley on his commutes to Springfield, Missouri. There he became the band leader on the Foley-hosted “Ozark Jubilee,” the first network TV country variety series.

He maintained his ties to the infant recording center in Nashville, however. Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce, and dozens of other Nashville pioneers featured him on their hit records.

“I guess the person I played the most hit licks for was Marty Robbins,” says Martin wistfully of his old friend. That’s Grady’s Spanish-style picking embellishing El Paso, and on Don’t Worry he developed the electric fuzz-tone sound that was to influence an entire generation of psychedelic electric-guitar stylists.

He played vibes on Floyd Cramer’s timeless Last Date. He played dobro/guitar on Wilma Burgess’ lovely Tear Time. He banged tambourine and played the banjo lick on Wings Of A Dove by Ferlin Husky.

“On sessions that produced, like Johnny Horton’s Battle of New Orleans or Jimmy Dean’s Big John, I just went ahead and started it up without the producer. He trusted me and I loved it. When he’d come in later, we’d have a hit arrangement worked out.”

Grady also arranged (and wrote) Joe Henderson’s Snap Your Fingers (1962), perhaps Nashville’s first black top pop hit. The following year, he arranged and published Our Winter Love, one of Music City’s biggest ever pop instrumentals.

He played on all the hits of Patsy Cline and on all the worldwide million-sellers of Brenda Lee. He’s on Elvis Presley’s movie soundtracks. He’s on Gone (Ferlin Husky), Saginaw Michigan (Lefty Frizzell), Waterloo (Stonewall Jackson), Uncle Pen (Porter Wagoner, Grady’s last major session as a fiddler), Devil in Disguise (Elvis), Oh Pretty Woman (Orbison), I’m Sorry (Brenda) and For the Good Times (Ray Price).

Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, Dottie West , Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Larry Gatlin, and Kris Kristofferson records all feature Grady Martin. In fact, it would be easier to name the Nashville stars that he has not accompanied in the studios than it would be to list all he has.

“We worked round-the-clock back then. It was like being in a submarine. You’d ‘submerge’ and stay ‘down’ for hours, all night long and sometimes the next day, too. If you got tired you curled up under a piano for awhile and got up and played some more.”

Surrounded by such “A-Team” pickers as Bb Moore, Buddy Harman, Ray Edenton, Harold Bradley, Hank Garland, Pig Robbins, Pete Drake, Floyd Cramer, Tommy Jackson, The Anita Kerr Singers, The Jordonaires, and a handful of others, Grady Martin forged a sound and style. Never before or since in the annals of popular music have so few been so responsible for so many hits.

It was hard work, but what Grady remembers most are the good times the pickers shared in the good old days of Nashville recording. Today, he says those historic sessions are “all a blur to me. You can ask me anything except about dates and song titles.”

At his peak, his reputation spread to pop musicians like Perry Como, Al Hirt, Theresa Brewer, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Henry Mancini, Tab Hunter and Burl Ives, all of whom used his talent on records, Martin’s own recording group, The Slewfoot Five, was a pop/jazz act.

As the 1970’s dawned , Grady MArtin returned to playing live on the road. He served a stint in Jerry Reed’s band before Reed made so many movie-making commitments. Requested by Willie Nelson to play on the soundtrack of the film Honeysuckle Rose in 1979, Martin wound up serving as the model for the Slim Pickens character in the movie. He has remained with Nelson in the 1980’s, both touring and recording with the superstar. Nelson remembers Grady from when he played on a then-green songwriter’s first album. Now Martin plays guitar on such huge Nelson hits as the Merle Haggard duet, Pancho & Lefty.

That the spotlight is finally falling on him after years in the darkness of recording studios won’t change good ole Grady a bit. He remains a Buddah-like, lovable, modest country character without a trace of pretense. “Chet’s a star. I’m not a star,” he says. “Makin’ a good record and havin’ it accepted, just bein’ part of havin’ a hit record, that’s what mattered to me.”

Martin’s modesty might be one reason he has received so little recognition before now. “I really don’t do interviews. I never saw why anybody would want to write anything about me. I’m just a factory worker in the studio.”

He’s wrong. He’s much more than a “factory worker.” He’s 0ne of the creative geniuses in the history of country music.

Willie Nelson and Family and Friends @ 2015 Heartbreaker Banquet

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015


Thanks Janis from Texas, for more photos from Luck, Texas. Fantastic photos, as always, Janis!



Jody Payne

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

by: Jim Hannaford

STAPLETON — It’s hard to leave any job you love, but after 35 years, Jody Payne knew it was time to settle down and do some other things.

For Payne, retirement meant stepping down from a coveted and unique musical role that he’d enjoyed for what amounts to more than half a lifetime — being a supporting but pivotal part of Willie Nelson’s iconic sound, on stage and in the studio for a staggering number of shows and songs. From 1973 until 2008, he was in fact Willie’s right-hand man, a stylishly shaggy, go-with-the-flow counterpart playing solid, nimble rhythm guitar and singing sweet harmonies. Along with the rest of the famed Family Band, he often spent most of the year on tour.

These days, Payne has settled down a bit into a quieter and more routine life in Stapleton. At the age of 75, he’s playing occasional gigs and teaching guitar lessons and is able to take a breath and relax.

“I always said that if I could live anywhere it would be in the middle of Baldwin County, and that’s just about where I am,” the easygoing Payne said with a chuckle. “I really like it here. It’s a small town with friendly people.”

Payne’s ties to the area date to the 1960s, when he first played clubs in and around Mobile with the likes of saxophonist Dave Sandy and rockers The Dalton Boys before he joined up with Willie. Later he ran a bar, Jody Payne’s Crystal Palace, for a couple of years on the Causeway.

His wife since 1980, the former Vicki Fisher, is a Mobile native, but Payne’s own roots are in Kentucky, where he and his family members were sharecroppers and musicians. He played bluegrass music growing up and first went on the road in the ’50s with Charlie Monroe, brother of bluegrass patriarch Bill. The young Payne played a variety of music, first with his father and sister in a “family band” and later with ’60s rock and R&B. He first met Nelson in 1962, but the two connected more deeply in the early 1970s when he was touring with Merle Haggard as well as his then-wife Sammi Smith, whose classic recording of “Help Me Make it Through the Night” topped the country charts and sold two million copies in 1971.

They first played together on a show in Nelson’s hometown of Abbot, Texas. An ensuing three-and-a-half-decade association saw the Family Band make a shift from roughneck bars and backwoods honky tonks to swanky Las Vegas showrooms and stadiums and a string of movies and award-winning soundtracks.

The laid-back, modest Payne considers himself fortunate to have been a part of the Willie phenomenon that made the Red-Headed Stranger one of the most popular performers ever.

“We created musical history. It wasn’t me, it was us,” Payne said. “I was just a small part of something people wanted to hear, and we entertained them.”

The Family Band did some 200 shows a year, maybe more, and later the schedule was trimmed down to about 150, he said. One of their buses was actually certified as having traveled a million miles, with the same driver and the same musicians aboard. With these numbers as a ballpark figure, this means that Payne played somewhere between 3,500 and 7,000 shows with Willie.

“I miss the guys and I miss the sound, but I don’t miss the bus,” he said. “It got to where you knew what city you were in because of what the auditorium looked like, not what the city looked like.”

Though he’s retired from the road, Payne said music will always be a part of his life. He hopes to do some recording soon and is enjoying playing with other area musicians, including his students at Picker’s Paradise, the music store in Stapleton where he is teaching guitar for the first time in his life.

Alan Hartzell, general manager of the store, said Payne is a great addition.  “Jody’s always smiling, always level and, of course, he’s an amazing guitarist,” Hartzell said. “He’s great with kids, just as patient as he can be. He’s really humble for being who he is and for what’s he’s accomplished.” 

Rest in Peace, Chris Ethridge; thanks for the music

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Gijsbert Hanekroot, Getty Images

One of the men who helped Willie Nelson build his long and storied career has died. Chris Ethridge, a country rock bassist who’s perhaps best known as the co-founder of the Flying Burrito Brothers, died Monday (April 23) after being hospitalized in Meridian, Miss. last week.

“WN&F are sad to hear of the passing of Family member & friend Chris Ethridge he was a talented musician & we were honored to call him Family,” Nelson tweeted just after 1PM. Ethridge toured with Nelson for almost eight years and played on his 1978 single ‘Whiskey River.’

Last Thursday, Booker T. Jones tweeted that Ethridge didn’t have long to live. “Just talked to Chris Ethridge, (Burritos, Willie Nelson), hospitalized in Meridian, MS — send love and hope – doctors say he will pass soon,” he said.

Fellow Mississippian Randy Houser was also touched by Ethridge’s gift. “Just found out one of my dear friends passed away. sad day. Chris Ethridge you will be missed. Nobody played it like you brother,” he tweeted. Houser grew up in Lake, Miss., just 45 minutes down I-20 from Ethridge’s hometown of Meridian.

Ethridge founded the Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons in 1968 and released the critically-acclaimed and influential country rock album ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ in 1969. He would also later record with Leon Russell, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne.

Read article here.

Willie Nelson and Family

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Janis shared these pictures from Austin today. 

Martha and Billy English, and Janis from Texas, at the Gorge in Washington (7/4/07)

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Willie Nelson and Family

Sunday, February 8th, 2009