Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Willie Nelson interview, with Chet Filippo (Rolling Stone July 13, 1978)

Thursday, July 8th, 2021

 www.RollingStone.com
by: Chet Filippo
July 13, 1978

The saga of the king of Texas, from the night life to the good life

The desk man at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Holiday Inn shook his head when I asked for Willie Nelson. “Got no Willie Nelsons today.” He turned away officiously and resumed cleaning his fingernails with a Holiday Inn matchbook.

He was about as encouraging as my cab driver had been: “You goin’ to see Willie Nelson? Man, he was a no-show last week. They had to haul that Wet Willie in; he play instead. You see Willie Nelson, you tell him for me, ‘Man, you die fast in this town.’

I went back to the Holiday Inn desk man: “See here, I was really looking for the party of Fast Eddie and the Electric Japs.” “Well, goddamnit, why dincha say so.” He started thumbing through registration forms: “Lemme see, Mr. Eddie ain’t here yet, but Mr. Snake is, Mr. Poodie is, Mr. Beast is . . . ”

“Okay, gimme Snake’s room number.” Poodie, who is Willie’s road manager, and Beast, his cook and caterer, would, I knew, be over at the coliseum setting up for the night’s concert. But Snake would be here, taking care of business. I would be hard pressed to say what Snake’s duties are exactly. He’s a lean, rangy ex-paratrooper who, if you ask him point-blank what he does, will reply with a slight smile: “What do you want done?”

He is one of about twenty persons whom Willie Nelson has handpicked over the years to help him in his calling. The Electric Japs, a.k.a. Willie Nelson’s Family, a.k.a. the Rolling Smoke Revue, are a devoted crew, all loyal to the point of being ready to jump forward and take the bullet – if, that is, Fast Eddie weren’t so proficient with kung fu that he himself would have already wiped out the gunman. If, that is, there were a gunman. Because everybody, it seems, loves Willie Nelson these days.

It wasn’t always thus, I reflected as I went off in search of Snake. Ten years ago, Fast Eddie couldn’t even get himself arrested in Nashville, despite the fact that he was the best songwriter to hit Music Row since Hank Williams, the king of them all. Everybody else was having hits with Willie’s songs – Rusty Draper with “Night Life,” Jimmy Elledge and Johnny Tillotson with “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Patsy Cline with “Crazy,” Faron Young with “Hello Walls,” Andy Williams with “Wake Me When It’s Over” and Roy Orbison with “Pretty Paper,” to name a few – but Willie’s own records went nowhere.

Good writer, no singer, said Nashville’s establishment. Now he rules country music. Oddly, the album that brought him the wide audience he now enjoys was not composed entirely by him.

He wrote only five of the fifteen cuts on Red Headed Stranger, the brilliant allegorical album that forever changed Nashville’s idea of what is and is not country music. He wrote none of the songs on his current album, Stardust, a collection of “my favorite ten songs.” His record company, CBS, was not real hot about either album. Willie was supposed to be a country singer, so what the hell, they wondered, was he doing with these off-the-wall albums?

But then, I remembered as I knocked on Snake’s door, Fast Eddie got his nickname by doing the unpredictable. Rules don’t mean a lot to him. Snake opened his door: “Damn, I didn’t know you were coming. I guess it’s okay if you didn’t bring too many women. C’mon, Eddie’s just down the hall.”

Fast Eddie Nelson was in room 326, sitting barefoot, in jeans and a blue T-shirt, reading the trade magazines. “Shit, Eddie,” said Snake. “Stardust is seventy-six on the pop charts. We’re gonna sell 24 million.” Willie laughed softly, as he always does. I told him about the cabdriver: “And not only do you die fast, the driver said: ‘Shoot, I ain’t gonna pay no $8.95 for Stardust. Those old songs, I heard them before.’” Willie fell over laughing.

“Why, hell yes,” he finally said. “Why buy old songs?” “What happened to your beard, Willie?” I asked. He fingered his chin gingerly. “Aw, I shaved it for the summer. Gets too hot. How you doin’? Ready to go ride the bus with me, son?” With the beard, Willie had always reminded me of a benign patriarch. Without it, the forty-five-year-old singer resembles a proud Indian chief: stark, chiseled profile, flowing red hair, deeply lined face and piercing brown eyes. Eyes that don’t miss much.

He is not the most talkative person around – lending credence to the theory that the best writers are watchers, not doers. Willie Hugh Nelson, a.k.a. Fast Eddie, is an intense watcher. I always get the feeling around him that he’s sizing me up: am I a potential song or just another disciple? He gets plenty of both. Disciples are many and fanatical now that he positively exudes spirituality.

I have heard first-person tales of marriages saved, of nervous breakdowns averted, of illnesses healed by the power of Willie’s music. He was a Sunday school teacher in a Baptist church in Fort Worth when he had to decide about his career. Fort Worth in the 1950s was a shining jewel on the Bible belt, and some of the Baptists there felt that Willie’s singing in honky-tonks on Saturday night and then teaching God’s word on Sunday morning were incompatible callings. The Baptists suggested that he make a choice. He chose music.

“I had considered preaching,” he now laughed, “but preachers don’t make a lot and they have to work hard.” Still, he didn’t protest strongly when I suggested that he is pop music’s only preacher. “I have met people,” I said, “who have driven hundreds of miles just to touch the hem of your garment. Literally.”

He looked a little uncomfortable at the thought. “Maybe you’re exaggerating. I am religious, even though I don’t go to church. I believe in reincarnation. We’re taught to believe that all men are created equal and yet we know that one guy is born without eyes and one guy is born with eyes. So that’s not equal. They had to be born together in the beginning. At one time, we were all born at the same time. God imagines everyone, so we’re all images of him – in the beginning.

He made us all in the beginning and since then we’ve been coming back and forth. First time we came in we knew a lot and we’ve lost it along the way. Being down here is kinda like goin’ through the university: you go through one grade at a time and if you fail, you gotta go back and take those tests again.”

He laughed at the analogy and fell silent for a moment. “But I know what you mean about fans,” he continued. “And I know what they’re doing. In their minds, they’re relating the music to something else, and I appreciate that.

There are answers in music. Poems and music about our problems and situations are good for us to hear – how other people react to the same problems and live through them and survive. This is all put in songs; I guess the history of the whole world is in songs and poems.”

Willie has compressed a fair amount of history in what I think is his best work – his three “concept” or storytelling albums. The first, the early – Seventies Yesterday’s Wine, is an obscure masterpiece. Wine was so far beyond anything out of Nashville that RCA was befuddled by it.

At the time, Willie’s house in Nashville had burned – there’s an oft-quoted story that he rushed back into the flames to save his guitar case, which contained an impressive quantity of marijuana – and he moved to Bandera, Texas. RCA called him on a Friday and said his contract called for him to be in Nashville on Monday to cut a new album.

He had no new songs whatsoever, but flew into town, took an upper and stayed up writing songs nonstop. The result was a moving collection of songs that Willie describes as “before life and after life.”

Phases and Stages, released by Altantic in 1974, was a compassionate account of a failing marriage, told from both the man’s and woman’s points of view. Atlantic was phasing out its country line at the time and didn’t promote the album. Exit Phases and Stages. Willie moved on to CBS and hit gold with Red Headed Stranger, a deeply moving, very moral tale of sin and redemption.

Columbia Records President Bruce Lundvall, along with other CBS executives, thought it underproduced and weird, but it, and the single off the album, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” broke the C&W crossover market wide open. (It also recently brought Willie a movie deal with Universal for a filmed version of Stranger and a movie based on Willie’s life.)

After the success of Stranger, RCA brought out The Outlaws, a compendium of material by Willie and Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser. It sold a million copies right out of the chute, and Nashville, which was accustomed to patting itself on the back for selling 200,000 copies of a C&W album, found its system obsolete.

Willie and Waylon, after being outcasts for years, were suddenly Nashville royalty. And Willie started telling CBS what he wanted done, rather than vice versa, which had been the Nashville way of doing business.

But Willie’s success really goes back further, back to a dusty pasture in central Texas in the summer of ’72. When I met Willie Nelson then, backstage at the Dripping Springs Picnic on July 4th, 1972, I didn’t even know it was him. That picnic was a real oddity: a bunch of Dallas promoters booking Nashville singers into a cow pasture in Dripping Springs under an unmerciful Texas sun.

The crowd was a hostile mix of young longhairs looking for their own Woodstock and traditional country fans who just wanted to get drunk. The truce was an uneasy one, broken by beatings of the longhairs by both the drunks and the security goons. I was standing backstage, talking about all this to a shorthaired guy who was wearing a golf cap and oversized shades.

I didn’t know who he was until Tex Ritter walked over and introduced him to me as Willie Nelson. I was properly embarrassed, but Willie just laughed about it. We retired to the shelter of an air-conditioned Winnebago to have a beer and to talk. He said he was tired of Nashville and had moved back to Texas for a while.

He told me his history: born in Abbott, a wide spot in the road south of Dallas, April 30th, 1933; parents separated; raised by his grandparents. As a boy, he worked in the cotton fields for three dollars a day. At age ten, he started playing guitar with polka bands in the Bohemian towns of central Texas, where German and Czech immigrants had settled.

He tried for a baseball scholarship at Weatherford Junior College, failed. Did a stint in the air force. Tried being a business major at Baylor University, but preferred playing dominoes and music. Dropped out. Sold Bibles door-to-door. Sold encyclopedias door-to-door. Became a disc jockey, kept playing music on the side. Taught Sunday school till that became a conflict with playing honky-tonks. Disc jockeyed all around the country. Played every beer joint there was.

Taught guitar lessons. Finally sold a song in Houston for fifty dollars – Family Bible” – and decided to take the money and head for Nashville, “the big time.” Traveled there in a ’51 Buick that sank to the ground and died once he got there. Hung out drinking in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge behind the Grand Ole Opry, where he met songwriter Hank Cochran, who liked his stuff and got him a publishing contract.

Other people had hits with his songs but his own recording career languished. “I’m not worried, though,” he laughed as we emerged from the Winnebago just before his set. “I’ll do all right.” Indeed he did. That picnic was pretty much a disaster, but Willie was carefully watching everything that was going on.

Half a year later, he had long hair and an earring and was a cult figure in Austin rock clubs. The next July 4th, we were all back at Dripping Springs for “Willie Nelson’s First Annual Fourth of July Picnic,” with performers like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm. This time, the longhairs weren’t beat up. It was the watershed in the progressive country movement. Prominent state politicians mingled with longhaired kids. University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal had his arm around Leon Russell. Peaceful coexistence had come to Texas, thanks to Willie’s pontifical presence. Two years later, for his 1975 picnic, the Texas Senate declared July 4th “Willie Nelson Day.” From that first 1973 picnic, he had to take out a bank loan to cover his losses – too many gate-crashers – but he was established. Texas was his. That picnic was also the first time that I had witnessed the uncanny ability of Fast Eddie to appear – or disappear – at exactly the right time.

When the picnic ended at about four in the morning and the 50,000 or so people there were jamming the two-lane highway that led back to Austin, I decided to find a back way out. I took off driving across flat ranchland and, finally, miles away, found an alternate highway. But between me and that highway was a locked cattle gate.

I was just revving up my Chevy to ram the gate when, from out of the ghostly blackness, a Mercedes came roaring up beside me. Willie got out, nodded hello and held up a key. He unlocked the gate, smiled goodbye and drove off. I still don’t know how the hell he pulled that one off, but timing has been the key to his career. Right place at the right time. Seemingly, everything he has done has been wrong.

His vocal phrasing is off the beat, the songs he writes are unconventional, his albums are unpredictable, his guitar playing is a startling mixture of Charlie Christian and Mexican blues picking (“Maybe I am half-Mexican,” he says, half-jokingly), he does not hang out with the right people, and he has never compromised himself, so far as I can tell, in his entire life.

“I don’t think he ever has a bad thought,” his harp player, Mickey Raphael, told me. Such people aren’t supposed to be successes in the opportunistic world of popular music. But, though it took years, Willie Nelson managed to do it. Viewed in retrospect, his body of songs is remarkable, a unified world of transgression and redemption, human suffering and compassion and joy, all told by an anonymous Everyman.

“Willie understands,” is the most-heard quote from his fans. There is really no one to compare him to, for his songs and his style are bafflingly unique. Take a fairly obscure one: “I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye,” written in 1965, is the only song I know about strangling one’s lover.

No wonder Nashville didn’t know what to do with him. Some of the lyrics: The flesh around your throat is pale Indented by my fingernails Please don’t scream, please don’t cry I just can’t let you say goodbye.

Willie’s explanations of his songs sound almost too simple: “I’d been to bed and I got up about three or four o’clock in the morning and started readin’ the paper. There was a story where some guy killed his old lady and I thought, well, that would be a far-out thing to do.” He laughed. “To write this song where you’re killin’ this chick, so I started there. ‘I had not planned on seeing you’ was the start, and I brought it up to where she was really pissin’ him off, she was sayin’ bad things to him and so he was tryin’ to shut her up and started chokin’ her.”

All very matter-of-fact. Did he consider alternate forms of murder? “Ah, well, chokin’ seemed to be the way to do it at the time.” Much of his earlier work is equally bleak: “Opportunity to Cry” is about suicide, “Darkness on the Face of the Earth” is a stark and frightening song about absolute loneliness, “I’ve Got a Wonderful Future behind Me” means just what it says.

Some of Willie’s best misery songs, written during his drinking days of the Fifties and Sixties, were inspired by his past marriages. “What Can You Do to Me Now?” and “Half a Man” resulted from incidents like the time Willie, the story goes, came home drunk and was sewed up in bed sheets and whipped by his wife.

Most Nashville songwriters were content with simple crying-in-my-beer songs, while Nelson was crafting his two-and-a-half-minute psychological dramas. His characters were buffeted by forces beyond their control, but they accepted their fates with stolid resignation, as in “One Day at a Time”: I live one day at a time I dream one dream at a time Yesterday’s dead and tomorrow is blind And I live one day at a time.

“I don’t know whether I’ve ever written any just hopeless songs,” he said. “Maybe I have, maybe I’m not thinking back far enough. I’m sure I have. Songs I’m writing now are less hopeless. I started thinking positive somewhere along the way. Started writing songs that, whether it sounded like it or not, had a happy ending. You might have to look for it.

Even though the story I’m trying to tell in a song might not necessarily be a happy story to some people. Like ‘Walking’: ‘After carefully considering the whole situation, here I stand with my back to the wall/I found that walking is better than running away and crawling ain’t no good at all/If guilt is the question then truth is the answer/And I’ve been lying to thee all along/There ain’t nothing worth saving except one another/Before you wake up I’ll be gone’ – to me that’s a happy song.

This person has resolved himself to the fact that this is the way things are and this is what ought to be done about it. Rather than sitting somewhere in a beer joint listening to the jukebox and crying. I used to do that too.” Is writing his form of therapy?

“Yeah, it’s like taking a shit.” He laughed his soft laugh. “I guess a lotta people who can’t write songs, instead of writing songs they’ll get drunk and kick out a window. What I was doing was kinda recording what was happening to me at the time.

I was going through a rough period when I wrote a lot of those songs, some traumatic experiences. I was going through a divorce, split-up, kids involved and everything. Fortunately now I don’t have those problems. But I went through thirty negative years. Wallowing in all kind of misery and pain and self-pity and guilt and all of that shit. But out of it came some good songs.

And out of it came the knowledge that everybody wallows in that same old shit – guilt and self-pity – and I just happened to write about it. There’d be no way to write a sad song unless you had really been sad.” Fast Eddie got up from his Holiday Inn bed and put on his blue Nike jogging shoes. “Gonna go out and run three miles,” he said. “Wanta come along?” “I can’t do 300 yards,” I replied. He laughed. Three miles later, Willie and entourage boarded his Silver Eagle bus for the drive to the coliseum.

Willie, reading The Voice of the Master by Gibran, assumed his usual seat, beneath the bus’ only poster, an illustration of Frank Fools Crow, the chief and medicine man of the Lakota Indian Nation. Underneath Crow is the Four Winds Prayer, which Crow once recited onstage at a Willie concert.

The prayer, which is addressed to grandfather God, asks for mercy and help from the outsiders encroaching on his people’s land. Without even asking Willie, I know why that poster is there. He and Chief Fools Crow are both throwbacks, remnants of the American West, honest men who try to tell the truth and who believe in justice.

I thought of a Willie Nelson song, “Slow Movin’ Outlaw,” that talked about that: The land where I traveled once fashioned with beauty, Now stands with scars on her face; And the wide open spaces are closing in quickly, From the weight of the whole human race; And it’s not that I blame them for claiming her beauty, I just wish they’d taken it slow; ‘Cause where has a slow-movin’, once quick-draw outlaw got to go? Symbolism with Willie is too tempting, I reminded myself, as the Silver Eagle threaded its way through Greensboro’s evening traffic.

Still, I couldn’t avoid thinking of another song as we arrived at the coliseum and Willie plunged into a backstage crowd that was one – third Hell’s Angels, one-third young people and one-third middle-aged folks in leisure suits. All of them said the same thing: “Wil-lie! Wil-lie!”

Some wanted autographs, some wanted to touch him, some just wanted to bask in his presence. The song I was thinking of was “The Troublemaker:” I could tell the moment that I saw him He was nothing but the troublemaking kind His hair was much too long And his motley group of friends Had nothing but rebellion on their minds He’s rejected the establishment completely. And I know for sure he’s never held a job He just goes from town to town Stirring up the young ones Till they’re nothing but a disrespectful mob.

The song’s about Jesus, in case you didn’t guess. The Hell’s Angels, working as volunteer security, parted a way for Willie and his band to pass through: Bobbie, his sister, who plays piano; guitarist Jody Payne, another ex-paratrooper; Chris Ethridge, who played bass with the Flying Burrito Brothers; harmonica player Mickey Raphael; and drummer Paul English, who’s been with Willie since 1954.

English was once what used to be called “a police character” in Texas, and not too long ago the FBI is said to have tailed Willie Nelson and band for a year because they were after a notorious police character that English once knew and they thought he might show up on the tour.

Leon Russell once wrote a song about English, called “You Look like the Devil.” He does, too, and he’s still the only country drummer to appear onstage all in black with a flowing black-and-red cape, goat’s-head rings and a five-inch-wide black leather belt embedded with silver dollars. Used to really freak out the country fans, but he’s as kind a man as you could hope to meet. He could be Keith Richard’s father.

Although the 17,000-seat coliseum was not full, it was a splendid evening of music: Billy Joe Shaver opened, followed by Emmylou Harris and then Willie. The bulk of his set was material from Red Headed Stranger, and when he started “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” in his powerful baritone, I heard actual gasps of awe from the front rows. Been a long time since I heard that.

When Emmylou came out to join him for the encores, it turned into a gospel-camp meeting with their voices soaring in “Amazing Grace” and Willie pointing his right hand heavenward. One of Willie’s friends, for a joke, once showed up at a concert in a wheelchair in the front row. During “Amazing Grace” he began shouting, “I’m healed. I’m healed.”

He dragged himself up out of the wheelchair and tottered a dozen steps before collapsing. There were “amens” from the folks around him. Another of Willie’s friends, a famous Houston attorney, once introduced one of Willie’s songs as evidence in a trial. He was representing a construction worker who had been maimed in an accident on the job. The lawyer recited Willie’s “Half a Man” and soon had the jury weeping: “If I only had one arm to hold you . . . ”

Over the years I have known him, Willie Nelson has not been known as an extremely talkative interviewee. I am not the most garrulous person in the world, either, so a lot of our taped conversations amount to lengthy, very profound silences, punctuated by the wheeze of long tokes.

One such exchange that seemed to take an hour:
1. Willie sang “Whiskey River.”
2. We both nodded affirmatively. No words needed. A toke.
3. Willie: “Went over to Peckinpah’s house.”
4. Me: “You talk to Dylan?”
5. Willie: “No. Dylan don’t talk a lot.”
6. Me: “I know.”
7. Willie: “He introduced himself to me and talked just a little bit. I saw him again the next night at a party over at Peckinpah’s house. He was a little shy, scared to death. They had him jumpin’ and runnin’on them horses down there and he ain’t no cowboy.” 8. Willie sang “Shotgun Willie.”
9. Me: “You write that?”
10. Willie: “Yeah.”
11. Me: “Good.”
12. Silence. 13. His daughter Paula Carlene came in.
14. Willie: “Go away. I’m busy.” 15. Paula: “Why can’t I stay?”
16. Willie: ‘Cause you’re a little ole girl.”
17. Paula: “Help me carry something.”
18. Willie: “I can’t. My legs are broke.”
19. A toke.
20. Silence.

He does talk, of course, if you ask the right questions. After Greensboro, when we landed in Roanoke, Virginia, Willie sat down before his evening jog to talk a bit. “Wasn’t Stardust a real gamble for you, a big risk?” I asked.

Willie settled himself in his Holiday Inn armchair. “Yeah, it was,” he said. “It’s too early to tell how it’ll do, but so far it’s outlived a few expectations. But it was a big gamble. I felt it’d either do real good or real bad. I had had the idea for some time but until I met Booker [T. Jones, who produced Stardust], I wasn’t really sure in my mind how well I could do these songs because of my limited musical ability, as far as writing down songs of this caliber.

These are complicated songs; they have a lot of chords in them. I needed someone like Booker to write and arrange. Once I got with him it was easy to do the album.” After so many years of trying, has success changed Willie Nelson?

Are you still writing songs?

“Well, a lot of people think my writing career is over, that I’ll never write another song. But I do have one or two left in me.”

He chuckled. “I do have some new ones, ‘She’s Gone,’ ‘Is the Better Part Over,’ ‘Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.’ I don’t think success has hurt or helped me. I still write when I get a good idea. I don’t write as much depressive music now because I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Do you feel any vindication now that you’ve succeeded when the Nashville establishment said for so long that you couldn’t be a singer?

“I feel a lot of self-satisfaction. I don’t know if vindication is the right word. Just knowing that I had been on the right track.” During all those years of trying, did you ever have self-doubts, think of quitting, think you were wrong?

“Not really. I never had any doubts about what I was trying to do, my songs or my music. I just felt it was good. I had some discouraging moments as far as record labels were concerned, and I thought about droppin’ out and quittin’ and never doin’ it again. In fact, I did quit several times. But it wasn’t because I didn’t think the music wasn’t good. I just thought it was the wrong time for me.”

When you first got to Nashville, was there any kind of group of young songwriters? “Yeah, there was a bunch of us. Roger Miller, Mel Tillis, Hank Cochran, Harlan Howard, myself. We were pretty close all the time. Stayed at each other’s houses and partied a lot. This was before Kris came to town.

By then I had already left Nashville, really. I had gone to the country and vowed not to return. Everything was goin’ wrong, and I just said fuck it all, I’ll never write again, never sing again, don’t wanta see nobody again, don’t call me.

I stayed out in the country a year and didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t work any dates. I let my beard grow. Raised some hogs. I lost more money in hogs than anybody. I had some fat hogs, too. I fed ’em that high-priced feed. All they could eat of it. Feed prices kept goin’ up and hog prices kept goin’ down. I lost about $5000 in three months there. On one load of hogs.”

Do you think what happened is that the public finally caught up to what you were doing?

“Yeah, I do. I’ve been told that my songs and me were ahead of my time for so many years, but if the times are catchin’ up to me – and it seems like they are – and if I don’t progress, they could very well pass me too. “But I wasn’t considered commercial in Nashville because my songs had too many chords in ’em to be country.

And they said my ideas, the songs were too deep. I don’t know what they meant by that. You have to listen to the lyric, I think, to appreciate the song. If you can hear one line of a song and have captured the whole of it and you can hum along for the rest of it, then those are more commercial. But mine usually tell a story.

And in order to get the whole thought, you have to listen to the whole song. And that requires listening, which people didn’t do till recently. I really believe that the young people, that rock & roll music, all of it has been good because if nothing else it cleaned out the cobwebs in people’s ears to where you would listen to lyrics.

The day of the writer and of the poet came. The Kristoffersons finally had a chance.” But, I pointed out, you paved the way for Kristofferson. “Well, Kris has agreed with that. He’d been listenin’ to me before he came to Nashville. Just as I’d listened to Floyd Tillman before I went to Nashville.”

I’ll bet, I said, that you had thought for years about doing an album like Stardust. Didn’t you listen to Sinatra and Crosby?

“Sure I did. Radio was the only thing I had growin’ up. We didn’t have TV. So I stayed with a radio in my ear all the time I was home. I turned the dial constantly, so I’d hear pop, country, jazz, blues, so I was accustomed to all types of music. My sister read music and took piano lessons and bought sheet music so I could learn the songs that way.”

Was growing up in Texas a big influence on your music?

“I think there’s a big freedom in Texas that gives a person a right to move around and think and do what he wants to do. And I was taught this way: anybody from Texas could do whatever they fucking wanted to do. And that confidence, shit, if you got that going for you, you can do almost anything. I believe that has a lot to do with it.”

Besides Texas, what were your biggest influences? I know you heard Ernest Tubb and Floyd Tillman and you liked them. But what else?

“Well, I used to work in the fields a lot, pick cotton alongside of niggers, and there would be a whole field full of niggers singing the blues. And I’d pick along and listen to that all day long. I loved to hear them sing.”

(Author’s Note: If you find that offensive, you should be advised that Willie Nelson personally risked his career and reputation by starting the career of Charlie Pride, the only prominent black country singer, at a time when C&W fans were not favorably disposed toward black singers. Nelson personally escorted him through the South and occasionally kissed him on the cheek onstage. Doing that in Southern honky-tonks was a brave, brave move.)

There is still argument in Nashville, I told Willie, over whether he beat the system or whether he made it work for him. What does he think?

He answered seriously. “I think I made it work for me. There’s no secrets about it. I think I kinda let it work for me. I waited till the time was right. Fortunately, all those years of waiting, I had some songs that I’d written that I could live off of and that let me keep my band together and keep my show on the road. Or else I’da had to have folded long ago. Gone back to selling encyclopedias door-to-door.”

He got up and we started walking down the corridor to the bus: time for another one-nighter.

“Willie,” I asked, “do you think that what you have done has permanently altered the Nashville system?”

He thought about that one for a long time: “The big change – now that we proved that country albums can sell a million units, naturally they’re gonna try to figure out how that’s done. No one had any idea there was that kind of market out there. Now they know that, and they’re firing at that market. Those guys just didn’t know that audience was there.

That’s what happens when you sit behind a desk a lot. You don’t get out there and see what people are paying money to go see. I been playin’ beer joints all my life; I know what those people like to hear.”

Two days later, I got a chance to see exactly what he was talking about. We arrived at Columbia’s Studio A in Nashville to find producer Billy Sherrill (one of the CBS executives who reportedly didn’t particularly like Stranger) sitting behind the board.

He and George Jones had been waiting for two hours for Willie. George Jones used to be the undisputed king of country, the staunch defender of the traditional country sound. Now, he’s decided to cut an album of duets with such people as Willie, Waylon, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

He and Sherrill finally saw the writing on the wall. Jones and Nelson, those two giants of country, greeted each other warmly. After one run-through of “I Gotta Get Drunk,” it was obvious who was king now. Jones was nervous and holding back on his vocals.

Willie tried to put him at ease: “You know something George? I wrote that song for you back in the Fifties but I didn’t have the nerve to pitch it to you.” “Hell, Willie,” said Jones, “I tried to find you once because I wanted to cut ‘Crazy’ but I couldn’t find you.”

Even after a couple more run-throughs, Jones was still having trouble harmonizing with Willie, and Sherrill called from the control room: “Okay, Willie’s stuff is good and we can overdub George later.”

They moved on to “Half a Man,” and Jones was still having trouble. “How the hell does Waylon sing with you,” he asked. “I’m used to singin’ right on the note. I could do two lines during one of your pauses.”

Willie laughed. Jones left for home, Sherrill left for his houseboat and Willie drove over to Municipal Auditorium and walked onstage to thunderous applause: his triumphant conquest of a city that had long spurned him.

Willie Nelson Interview (Modern Screen’s Country Music July 1997)

Thursday, July 8th, 2021

One-on-one With America’s Greatest Singer/Songwriter… Willie Nelson
by Elianne Halbersberg
Modern Screen Country Magazine
July 1997

It’s raining in Mississippi, which means “too wet to play golf” for Willie Nelson.  Instead, he’s enjoying, as he says, “great food,” which, in this case, is organically grown spinach, turnip greens and potatoes. This is significant for the man in charge of Farm Aid, and he has decided to spend this day granting interviews…although in Nelson’s case, they’re mostly conversations — relaxed and open to any subject.  Asked if he always schedules interview based on the weather, he chuckles, “I hadn’t really planned on golfing today. I was sitting here and Evelyn [his publicist] sent me a list of phone numbers.  I thought today would be a good day to start talking.  It’s nice to have people who want to talk to you — that makes my day!

Elianne Halbersberg:  Your publicist told me you usually schedule only 15-minute interviews.  How much can you accomplish in such brief soundbites?

Willie Nelson:  I don’t know. It depends how good I am at using a few words to say a lot.  It also depends on the particular writer who puts it down on paper making it sound better than I said it.  I may need your help on this!

EH:  Do you ever lose patience with interviewers?

WN:  Oh no.  I get asked the same questions over and over, three or four times today, even.  I usually just answer it differently, try to make it colorful.

EH:  Does the press really understand, in your opinion, what fans want to know?

WN:  I doubt it, unless they’re fans too. You have an opinion and it’s more powerful because you’re the press.  It’s like me and a song — we have an edge on the rest of the people.  A fan can only get his message across by reading your articles and buying my records.  Hopefully, they do both.

EH:  What DO fans want to know?

WN:  Everything you don’t want them to — they want to know that first!

EH:  In order to succeed, you must have self-confidence.  What’s the difference between that and conceit?

WN:  Not much!  It’s a thin line.  That’s a good question.  Neither one, in and of itself, is totally negative.  Or positive.  I think confidence is good, but it is very similar to conceit.

EH:  How do you know when you’ve crossed that line?

WN:  Your best friends may tell you.  But better to have that than the alternative.  It’s kind of like halitosis — bad breath is better than no breath at all.

DH:  A couple of days ago Marty Stuart told me, “I believe in friends like Johnny Cash and Willie.  They make the trends look ridiculous, thin, and vain.”  Aside from knowing Marty’s in your corner, how does such a comment make you feel?

WN:  I knew I was in trouble when I heard someone say, “I wish they’d play the old guys like George Strait and Randy Travis.”  You know, music changes, fads come along.  Remember when Ray Charles released ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ and brought millions of new fans?  Every time country goes through changes, it brings a lot of new people.  But it’s all phases and stages.  I never had that much radio airplay, never depended on it to make a living.  I depended on having a good band, doing a good show, and when you work clubs — which I still do because I enjoy them — you have the advantage of them being open every night, so with a poster, they can advertise who’s coming.  That gives a guy a chance to go to town without a record being played every day on the radio. 

Word of mouth is still the best advertising and if you do a good job, you’ll have a better crowd next time, then next year you play theaters, and so on.  The system fights the hell out of it and tries to tell you that getting played on their radio station is the only way.  There are several stations in any town, and if a guy really works and wants it enough, you can make your own record, sell it out of the trunk of your car, find a station who’ll play it, work a club, and work each town individually. 

A lot of people I know have put their futures in the hands of a record company and that’s not very wise, because you’re only as good a major label as your next record and they’ll drop you like a hot potato and then what do you do?

EH:  Sell your records out of the trunk of your car?

WN:  Right!

EH:  You’ve written so many classic country songs.  Do you appreciate your own compositions as much as country fans do?

WN:  Probably not.  I’m sure I take a lot of them for granted.  There’s a lot of my own songs I do every night, on stage that have the same special meaning to my audiences as certain songs (by other artists) that have touched me.

EH:  You’ve recorded approximately 100 albums!  Do you even remember all those songs.

WN:  I normally do. Some nights I forget “Whiskey River,” but we do 40 or so a night and they’re not always the same.  When I worked with Waylon, Kris and Johnny, I felt like I retired!  I was only working one-fourth of the time with my corner of the stage, my monitor, with the words — I felt like Frank Sinatra!

EH:  Do you ever play a song, the crowd goes notes, and wonder, “Why are they screaming for THAT one?”

WN:  No, because the ones they really like every night, I like, too, like “On the Road Again.”  Or “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” — I didn’t write it, but it’s still a great song.  “Always On My Mind” — I didn’t write that one, either, but I really enjoy singing it.  The audience knows that, and they like seeing somebody enjoying what they do.

EH:  Are you still in touch with President Jimmy Carter and his family?

WN:  Occasionally.  I talk to him about one thing or another, usually his Habitat for Humanity program.  We’ve done things together.  He’s a great man. He’d still have my vote.

EH:  Were you invited to Amy Carter’s wedding?

WN:  No, I wasn’t.  But, I move around so much, I’m sure [the invitation] is lying around somewhere!

EH:  I hear you’re cutting a reggae album.

WN:  I’ve already recorded it.  It probably won’t be out until the first of the year.  Island is using this year to still work Spirit.  It surprised me when Don Was brought up the reggae idea. I wasn’t sure how it would sound until we went to the studio and cut one of my obscure ’60s songs that i think only he remembered, with a reggae band.  It sounded so good, we thought maybe we should try to put out an album. So we went to Jamaica, talked to Island, I had Spirit with me, and we just did it.

EH:  Nashville still doesn’t get it, do they?

WN:  Not really, but Island does and that’s the big difference.  Label Chairman Chris Blackwell got it immediately, never hesitated.  It was completely produced, finished product.  All he had to do was put it out and advertise.  They’ve-done a great job.  I had been presented with problems with “Just One Love” and “Moonlight Becomes You” and fortunately there’s Justice Records.  If Island hadn’t gotten it, I’d have probably gone to Justice (in Texas) or kept looking.

EH:  Is it difficult coming to terms with people thinking you’re great?

WN:  No, but I used to think so. Now, thought, I can completely understand it.  Leon Russell — remember him? — once had people at a fevered pitch as only he can do.  It was right after he put together the “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour for Joe Cocker.  The first time I saw him, playing to tens of thousands every night, he stopped and said, “Be careful of who you let get to you.”  It’s a responsibility, a highly electrical period with everyone’s emotions out there.

EH:  Farm Aid has a website.  Are you into the computer onling thing?

WN:  No, that’s beyond me.  There’s one on the bus, the house, the office and, fortunately, someone knows all about it. You can’t do that and golf! It’s like fishing — there’s no time to fish AND golf.  Computers?  That’s completely out of the question.  I’m not going for it.

EH:  You recently won the Living Legend Award.  What does that mean to you?

WN:  [laughs] After the show, I asked them, “How do you find someone every year?”  Do they go through a list and ask, “Who’s living?  Give me the legend list?”  I dont’ know.  I guess it means, “We’re glad you’re still alive.”

EH:  Will we see another Highwayman tour?

WN:  Probably not.  It’s not likely we’ll tour… this week.  We may all tour individually, the four of us, but not this year.  “Ever” is a long time, putting out the word that it’s over forever, but Waylon wants it that way.

EH:  Maybe Sinatra could stand in.

WN:  He’d be a good one.  Or Billy Joe Shaver.  Or Merle Haggard.  Or none of the above.  Give me that legends list!

EH:  Does it really matter to you what critics think?

WN:  Not really. For most of ’em, their daddy’s got ’em there jobs anyway.  Otherwise, they’d be out on the streets selling drugs.  Critics are like the Bitch Box we had in the Air Force.  Any complaints, you wrote them down, you put them in the box.  It wouldn’t help at all, but you could bitch freely.  That’s a critic.

Willie on Weed (High Times, October 2005)

Sunday, July 4th, 2021

Willie on Weed
High Times Magazine
October 2005
by Richard Cusick

When it comes to grass, Willie’s fans divide into three distinct camps:  stoners like myself who view Willie Nelson as a sterling example of humanity; politically conservative country folks who dislike the pot thing but cry in their beers whenever he sings “Crazy”; and finally, fans who don’t smoke and don’t care, but remain mildly amused by Shotgun Willie’s outlaw ways.  So, unlike most marijuana activists, Nelson doesn’t preach merely to the converted.  Arguably, on the strength of his art and his living example, he’s helped change more minds about marijuana than any other American.

“They’re watching me,” Nelson acknowledges.  “I’m like the canary in the coal mine.  As long as I can remember the words to my songs and do a good show, they say:  “Well, it may not be affecting them so much.”

And so, despite incessant interview request, HIGH TIMES has always been treated like a red-headed stranger by the managers, press agents, record companies, road managers and assorted family members who get paid to look out for Willie Nelson’s best interests.  Frankly, I don’t think the man himself gave a shit one way or the other.  We were all waiting for the right moment to make it happen.  The release of Willie’s long-delayed reggae CD, Countryman, turned out to be the right moment.  One look at the cover art proved that.  There are actually two covers:  “One for Wal-Mart,” Willie noted, and one for every fan of the singer’s favorite plant — with a big pot leaf commanding the center.

It’s the hottest day of the year.  The temperature on the field of Prince Geroge’s Stadium in Bowie, MD, reaches triple digits, but the Bob Dylan – Willie Nelson show has attracted a particular rugged type of music fan willing to roast for hours in the sun to secure a good seat on the general admission lawn.  I’m scheduled to meet with the American music legend for an hour and a half, but a family member’s illness delays Willie by nearly an hour.  How to stuff 30 years worth of interview into 30 minutes?  My strategy involves breaking the ice by bringing the musician’s old friend Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Allen St. Pierre, NORML’s executive director, along for the ride.  Willie has been a member of NORML’s advisory board for 22 years, and so I assumed their reputations would precede me…

The familiar sound of his guitar floats softly from a state-of-the-art sound system shelved above our heads on board one of the world’s most widely travelled and legendary tour buses.  A copy of Bob Dylan’s autobiography sits on the soft brown-leather couch in the front, while Willie holds court from a corner booth.  We will talk for the next 40 minutes without interruption — save for one very unusualy exception.

HT:  You’ve done reggae songs before, but Countryman is your first full-blown reggae album.  How did that happen?

WN:  Ten years ago, I went to see Chris Blackwell when he was the head of Island Records in Jamaica, and we talked about putting out a reggae album, Chris loved the idea, but I also played him a CD I produced called Spirit, and he said, “I love Spirit.  Let’s put that out now and y’all go finish the reggae and then we’ll put it out.”

But they had a shakeup, and he left the label.  So for 10 years it kinda laid there, until the good folks after at Lost Highway picked it up and ran with it.

Keith Stroup:  Does the title Countryman refer to the ganja growers up in the mountians?

WN:  Yeah.  That’s right.

HT:  I’ve always thought reggae and country gospel are very similar, not in sound so much as in spirit.

WN:  The way the musicians tell me, reggae took off – Peter Tosh, Toots and those guys — was that reggae came basically from country music, from listening to the radio in the United States and hearing WSM play ’em some Grand Old Opry.  When they told me that, I started thinking about how country songs just naturally lend themselves to a reggae rhythm.

HT:  Does marijuana help your songwriting?

WN:  I wrote most of my good songs before I ever heard of marijuana or used it, and I’m not sure that it doesn’t slow down your writing.

HT:  Really?

WN:  Well, if you’re hungry or on edge and you’re writing, you could always just sit down and smoke a little joint and not worry about it.  But some things you need to worry about.

HT:  So taking that edge off sometimes isn’t a good thing.

WN:  Yeah.  You need that age.

(Bob Dylan quielty enters the front of the bus — Yes, really.)

WN:  Hey! Bob! (rising from booth)  C’mere.  (A brief hug and Willie returns to the corner booth.)Â

Bob Dylan:  They gotcha trapped.

HT:  We got him now.

BD:  I’ll come back.

WN:  All right.

(exit Bob Dylan)

HT:  You know, I named my daughter after than man!

WN:  You did?

HT:  We figured the name works for either a boy or a girl.

WN:  Yeah, that’s true.  Well, he’s a good guy.  Believe it or not, that’s the first time I’ve seen him this tour.  We’ve been out two weeks.  He was gonna play some chess.  He asked me if I want to play some chess, so we can do it tomorrow or the next day.

HT:  I believe we were talking about songwriting.

WN:  I started writing songs a long time before I started smoking.  Well, I started smoking cigarettes when I was 4.  I started smoking something when I was 4.  Cedar bark, Grapevines, Cotton leaves, Coffee leaves.  I even tried Black Drop one time.

HT:  Black Drop?

WN:  It was an old laxative in powder form.  Cedar bark, I smoked that.  And then I used to raise hens, so I would trade a dozen eggs for a pack of cigarettes back in those days.  About 18 cents, I think.  About 18 or 20 cents for a pack of cigarettes.  Lucky Strikes.  Camels.

HT:  In your autobiography, you said that marijuana got you off cigarettes and drinking.

WN:  Yeah.  I knew I was killing myself with cigarettes, and I knew I was really putting myself in danger with drinking so much, so somewhere along the way I decided.  “Wait a minute!  You know, do what you can do.”  In the early years, I drank all the time.  Mainly before pot.  Up until then, I was into whiskey and uppers.  You know, that’s the deal.  Truck drivers had the bennies when they made those LA turnaounds, and all that stuff was going around.  All the guitar players had it.

HT:  Fred Lockwood.  He was the first guy to ever turn you on to pot?

WN:  Yeah. A Fort Worth musician.  That’s right.

HT:  Fred Lockwood was not only the first person to give you a joint, as I understand it, he’s always the guy who gave you the line.  “I Gotta Get Drunk and I Sure do Regret It.”

WN:  There was two.  There was Fred Lockwood and there was Ace Lockwood.  They were brothers.  Fred was the one who gave me the line, “I Gotta Get Drunk and I sure Do Regret It” and his brother Ace went and gave me a itty bitty little snuff can full of pot one time.

HT:  So that was your first ime around the block?

WN:  I played a club there, and we played together.  These guys were musicians, so we went over to their house, and Fred and I were playing dominoes.  That was the first time I ever smoked it.  I think I smoked it about six months before I ever got high.  And then, all of a sudden:  “Oh yeah –that’s what that is.”

HT:  Willie, you’re a musician known for making political stands.  Not every musician does that.

WN:  I’ve let my beliefs be known and they turned out to be political.  I didn’t start out taking any political stands — just taking stands.

HT:  You just think a certain way and…

KS…groups like NORML start using you politically.

HT:  You’ve also been out front about your use of cannabis for a long time.  Have you taken a lot of flak for it over your career.

WN:  Zero that I know of.

HT:  It’s amazing how you get buy.

WN:  Well, I got busted.

HT:  750,000 people got busted for marijuana last year.

KS:  Yeah, but none of them got busted because they slept on the side of the highway and then raised the “hand-rolled cigarette defense.” Which I don’t believe has worked for anybody else — wasn’t that it?

WN:  You can’t assume that a rolled-up cigarette in an ashtray, looking through the window, is a marijuana cigarette.

KS:  In Texas, in particular!  I think of that as the Willie Nelson Defense.

WN:  I thought it was brilliant.

KS:  I did, too.

HT:  I hope you don’t mind my blazing, but I’m about to see Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan play.

WN:  You’ve gotta get there.

HT:  Well, I know you recommend moderation.

WN:  Moderation is always the key, even for pot.  You can over-do pot.  And it’s not for the kids… After they get 18, 21 years old, they’re going to try whatever they’re gonna try…

HT:  What’s the difference smoking pot 50 years ago and now?

WN:  It costs more money.

HT:  People say it’s better now, but I don’t remember not getting high 25 years ago.

WN:  No, I don’t either.  You know, it’s kind of like sex — there’s none bad, but there’s just some that’s better.  I think our tolerance is pretty good, too.

HT:  I ususlaly stop for a month every year or so.

KS:  I usualy stop for a few days every now and then — because I run out.

WN:  I intentionally let myself run out every now and then.

KS:  A couple of days into that, I usually say, “Let me rethink that decision.”

WN:  Either that or one of the guys’ll bring me one and say, “Here, don’t you think it’s time?

Words of Wisdom from Willie Nelson

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

www.ew.com
by: Marissa R. Moss

Read article here

riting ‘Letters to America.’ | CREDIT: PAMELA SPRINGSTEEN

Willie Nelson saw a sign the other day while out for a walk in Hawaii, where he’s been spending his (hopefully) last stages of quarantine. “It read, ‘husband for sale,'” he says laughing, Zooming in a black t-shirt with his wife Annie nearby. They’re fully vaccinated – Annie even helped administer some shots back home in Texas – and ready to get back to life. “We’ve been in jail together for a long time.”

For Nelson, who has spent nearly his entire existence on the road, that jail has been pretty miserable – he’s missed hugs, he’s missed friends, and, most of all, he’s missed being on stage singing his legendary songs (“If I wasn’t already on dope,” he says, “I’d go get on it”). But he also didn’t use that rare time off to bake bread like the rest of us. He released two records, First Rose of Spring and That’s Life, a memoir with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band, and a whole new book called Letters to America. Written alongside actor/director Turk Pipkin, it’s part patriotic guide, part self-help, part spiritual tome, part parenting and relationship manual, and part heartfelt confessions from one of our most beloved songwriters and entertainers. There are also a couple dirty jokes because, as Nelson sees it, “the best medicine is laughter.”

In Letters to America, we learn his family motto (“#1. Don’t be an a–hole. #2. Don’t be an a–hole. #3. You’ve got it: Don’t be a goddamned a–hole”), his songwriting advice (“listen to the world around you”), and some of his most direct and specific opinions about life, justice, and the future of our planet. Nelson doesn’t like to talk about politics in interviews or during concerts, but Letters to America is the answer to those who are curious as to why – and where he stands. Nelson declares definitively that Black, and Native American, Lives Matter, that the electoral college should be eliminated and that protecting the earth should be one of our foremost concerns, corporate interests be damned. In an age when we’ve never been further from one another physically, Letters to America manages to bring us even closer to the musician, father, husband, activist, and man of spiritual faith that Nelson truly is.

It’s good timing. As with Dolly Parton, we’ve turned to the 88-year-old Nelson for comfort through this “pandammit,” as he calls it, and as residents of a country struggling to confront both its inherent beauty and brutal, ugly truths. Since bringing together the hippies and rednecks in the sixties, Nelson’s music has been one thing, in an increasingly polarized world, most people can agree on – and without him ever having to hide what he believes or tailor his sound for the marketplace. He’s prolific and poetic, inclusive but unwavering, everyone’s compromise but without doing so himself.

Nelson wasn’t planning on being so direct in the title though. He wanted to call the book “Yesterday’s Wine,” after his song and album of the same name. “They decided that Letters to America would be a more saleable title, maybe,” he says. “So, whatever it takes.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, in addition to writing a book, you also launched an entire cannabis conference – and asked President Biden to make 4/20 an official “high” holiday). Do you feel like we’re making progress towards normalization?

WILLIE NELSON: Oh yeah, I think the public perception has changed dramatically over the last few years. And more and more people are realizing that [weed] is a medicine. And if used properly and not overdone, it can help you. It can help you sleep, it can also reduce pain. In fact, the two main things that I’ve heard about it is that it reduces pain and induces sleep. So that’s very positive.

And maybe helps people with a little bit of COVID anxiety.

Oh, absolutely.

Speaking of, you write “F— you” to COVID in the book. I think that’s cathartic- a lot of us just need to get that anger out of our systems.

I’m hoping other people will get the same idea, and then life goes on. I got a couple of shots. Kiss me, nothing makes me sick. I want to get back to hugging my relatives and friends again and not having to worry. I think we’re all ready for that. I think we’ve had enough of distancing.

This book is many things: political guide, memoir, personal advice to friends and family. Did you set out to create something that spans so much of your history and approach to life?

It’s sort of like when I write a song, which is not that much different from a book. You ask, “What do you want to accomplish?” I wanted to get people’s attention and tell them how we feel about this particular subject or that one, and how we think it’s important that you have an opinion and that you trust yourself and trust your opinions. And it’s believing in ourselves, especially when times are tough.

Did you discover some things while writing this book that you didn’t expect?

I think I discovered that I talk a lot.

It’s wonderful to read about your childhood, especially learning how you spent your days roaming free outside, playing dominoes, and making up songs. Are you worried that our screen-addicted kids won’t grow up to be songwriters, because they’re lacking that kind of existence?

I think we’re pretty creative, and I think we’ve figured out ways to do what we need to do. And if we listen to ourselves, listen to what your mind is telling you, it will tell you the right thing. George Jones had a song called “Choices” that said we’re living and dying with the choices that we make. And that’s very true.

Letters to America, you are emphatic about equality. “Equal rights for all,” you write, speaking to LGBTQ readers, and about the importance of bringing more women into the room.  You recently put that to action by inviting Margo Price to the board of Farm Aid, as the first female artist there. Why was she so important to bring into the fold permanently?

First of all, she’s incredibly intelligent and very competent. She’s absolutely capable of being on the board and doing and thinking for us and helping us go the right direction. She brings a lot to the table. She’s a good friend, and we’ve made some pretty good music together.

In the book you talk about genre, and how it’s a bit of a marketing construct. Margo is a great example of someone who is just making music and not trying to fit in a box. Do you feel like we’re heading to a place free of the need to categorize art in that way?

Well, my grandmother, who raised me and my sister, she told me the definition of music is anything that’s pleasing to the ear. And that sounds good to me. If it’s pleasing to the ear, then it’s music to the ear. So that put a whole new light on it for me.

The music is important, not what we call it.  

True. It can be a steel guitar or a symphony orchestra or just a voice acapella or voice and the guitar, and it doesn’t matter as long as there is feeling and talent involved.

You also address the different ways we carry grief, and how to deal with it. You’ve suffered a lot of loss throughout your life, but your advice is, “Missing ain’t living, and living works best when you’re strong.” Was that a difficult place to come to, because it’s not always our natural inclination?

What I have to keep going back to when all these bad things happen, is to what I was taught. A teacher friend of mine said once that whatever your hand is, you will have the strength to endure it, and you will not be asked to do anything you cannot handle. You may not think so, but whatever happens you will be given the strength to handle it and react.

That’s a learning process for sure.  

Well, you’re sure that you can’t get over whatever happens, you think you’ll never get over it, if a life is lost. But there is a way, wherever it comes from, that you’re given some inner peace to be able to live with whatever is going on.

One thing I’ve noticed as a listener of music in quarantine, is that a lot of songs have changed for me, because I’m not seeing them live. A happy song now can feel kind of melancholy. Have you felt the same?

Oh, yeah. It’s very strange. And it’s not any fun at all, to not be able to play music for a live crowd. I’ve never had that in my life, so I didn’t know how to react to it.  

There seems to be a light at the end of a tunnel, though.

The light at the end of the tunnel could be a freight train.

Hopefully not!

Everybody I know who’s qualified to entertain or works in the music business, we’re all trying to do the same thing, which is overcome this problem and bring music to the people. And the promoters and all the people out there who helped put shows together, the cooks and the bottle washers and everybody, they need a job, and we need to go out and play. We’re all looking forward to it, and I’m very anxious.

Though it wasn’t live and in-person, your Luck Reunion livestreams early in the pandemic were very healing. It felt like, OK, we’re all in this together.

The positive side of this whole issue is that even though we weren’t allowed to go out and play for a crowd, with the virtual concert a person could see the whole thing from their living room and all these different artists from all over the world came together to play.

Maybe there’s a lesson for the future there.

Yes, you could go out and do a concert and the whole world could hear you. That’d be cool.

So have you been working on new music in quarantine?

I’ve been writing a little. Let me see: “the day the earth quit turning, the day that time stood still, and we all had to keep our distance and we had more than time to kill. When Lord said, ‘Jesus, why don’t you go down there again, and help these people in the shape they’re in?’ And Jesus said, ‘Dad, I’m tired. Why don’t you go down there this time?’ And God said, ‘Are you out of your f—ing mind?'” I haven’t put a melody to it yet.

Willie Nelson, G.Q. Interview (May 11, 2012)

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021
mikebrooks3
photo: Mike Brooks

http://www.gq.com
by:  Dan Hyman

Willie Nelson doesn’t schedule interviews. Nowadays, his publicist rings him up, and when the country legend happens to pick up—which, judging by our multiple failed attempts to get him on the line, is a rare occurrence—he’s informed there’s a reporter on the other line. Would he like to chat, perhaps? He almost never says no. So on the first call that Nelson answers—our fourth attempt overall—we’re on the line with the man known as the Red Headed Stranger.

At seventy-eight, Willie Nelson is a relic. But he doesn’t see it that way, because the country star has managed to stay as busy as ever. He’s usually touring. When he’s not, Nelson is either at his Austin, Texas ranch or at his home in Maui. Time away, however, doesn’t often suit Willie well. He likes to work. And after all, how fun could resting on your laurels be when you’ve has sold upwards of 50 million albums?

Nelson is most excited about his latest endeavor, Heroes (due May 15), a full-length album he recorded last year with family and close friends, including Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson, and Jamey Johnson. Heroes is not your average Willie Nelson post-millennial release—the man, in addition to a trio of new originals, covers Coldplay and Pearl Jam. Nelson was in Mississippi when he hopped on the line with GQ, and talked about his new album, enjoying Amsterdam with his pal Snoop Dogg, and how he’s smoking as much pot as ever. 

GQ: Thanks for hopping on the phone, Willie!
Willie Nelson: Sure!

GQ: Heroes was a family affair. Your sons, Lukas and Micah, share writing credits on the album.


Willie Nelson: It was, and is always nice to work with the kids. But I also had a lot (of others): Kris (Kristofferson) and Jamey (Johnson) and Snoop and Sheryl Crow and a bunch of other great talent in there. (Billie) Joe Shaver. Ray Price. So a lot of my friends were in there.

GQ: Speaking of Snoop, I hear you shared some time together in Amsterdam.

Willie Nelson: Yah. I was in Amsterdam and I got a call from Snoop and he was, I think, in New York or somewhere and didn’t have anything to do. So he just flew over and we hung out for a few days.

GQ: I assume you two frequented a few of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops?

Willie Nelson: We had a cup of coffee or two [laughs]. We got to be good buddies.

GQ: I know you are also longtime buddies with fellow country icon Billy Joe Shaver, who also appears on the album.

Willie Nelson: Heck, yah! In fact the song, “Heroes”, I wrote that song about Billy Joe, really. We stay in touch. We text back and forth all the time.

GQ: And Kris Kristofferson, another longtime friend of yours, also makes an appearance.

Willie Nelson: We’re big friends. I saw him a little while ago. I was in Maui and he lives over there also sometimes. He’d come by. We hung out a little bit. Another time before, that he brought Muhammad Ali by.

GQ: Kristofferson and Ali. Quite the combination.

Willie Nelson: [Ali]’s an incredible guy. One time I think we were playing in Kentucky or something and he’d come by and say hello. And I brought him on the bus and we hung out a little bit. And I’ve got a punching bag in the back so I got him back there punching the bag.

GQ: You have some surprising covers on Heroesyour cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” in particular.

Willie Nelson: It was for a [Chipotle] commercial first and it was pretty well received, so we decided to put it out on the new album.

GQ: And Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe”? Can’t say I saw that coming.

Willie Nelson: My son Lukas knew that song and he brought it to the studio. And that’s really how that happened. He brought about half the songs to the studio.

GQ: Is that a different process than normal? Do you usually come up with the track list yourself?

Willie Nelson: [It happens] all kind of different ways. On this particular one, Luke came up with the song and naturally I liked the song. But I wasn’t familiar with it until we recorded it.

GQ: It’s interesting because “Just Breathe” sounds like it could have been one of your originals.
Willie Nelson: Aw, thanks!

GQ: I know you have a home in Hawaii. Have you been spending a good deal of time down there lately?

Willie Nelson: I just spent a couple weeks over there and we’re back traveling now. I’m in Mississippi tonight and then Illinois. I just enjoy both working and not working. And fortunately I work enough where I get that out of my system and then we take a few days off, take a rest. It’s working pretty good. We work a couple weeks and then we take a couple off.

GQ: What does Willie Nelson do in his downtime? Are his off-duty activities a bit different than in, say, 1975?

Willie Nelson: Oh, it’s the same stuff I was doing in ’75! I don’t notice any changes. I went for a bike ride a while ago, a little run. The weather’s nice here so I can get out. So I’m just doing whatever I can do. And when I’m off I’m either playing some golf or some poker or whatever comes up.

GQ: What motivates you to get up each morning and keep playing and writing music?

Willie Nelson: New music keeps coming along and every now and then I write some new things—there’s “Hero,” “Roll Me Up,” and “Come On Back Jesus” on the new album. Then I go back and do something in the show that we hadn’t done in maybe a long, long time. Like last night I did “I Guess I’ve Come to Live Here in Your Eyes”. And I recorded that twenty, thirty years ago. [Editor’s Note: Nelson recorded this track in 1996] Every now and then I’ll think of something to put back in the show. I just kind of play it off the top of my head. If I do it that way it keeps it kinda fresh.


GQ: People love to mythologize your marijuana intake. Is your current pot consumption level exaggerated?

Willie Nelson: No, I still probably smoke as much as I ever did! I use a few different methods now. I don’t smoke as many joints as I used to. I use vaporizers a lot. It cuts down on the heat and the smoke. And for a singer that’s not a bad idea.

GQ: I must ask. How’s your famous acoustic guitar, Trigger? She still receiving the finest of care?

Willie Nelson: Trigger’s doing great! Trigger’s probably in better shape than I am.

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

Friday, May 7th, 2021

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.”

Willie Nelson CMT Insider Interview (4/23/2010)

Friday, April 23rd, 2021
countrymusic

www.cmt.com

Even when his albums centered around pop standards, blues, jazz and reggae, Willie Nelson has always put his unique country spin on the music. With his new album, Country Music, he chose to delve deep into the kind of music he grew up hearing and playing.

Produced by T Bone Burnett, Country Music was recorded in Nashville with a band of local musicians that included Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller and Ronnie McCoury. The song selection includes new arrangements of traditional material and covers of songs popularized by Porter Wagoner (“Satisfied Mind”), Hank Williams (“House of Gold”), Ernest Tubb (“Seaman’s Blues”), Merle Travis (“I Am a Pilgrim”) and Al Dexter (“Pistol Packin’ Mama”).

During a recent interview, CMT Insider talked to the Country Music Hall of Fame member about the album and if there was a reason it had a specific release date of April 20 — also referred to by some as 4/20 or “Pot Day.”

Where did the idea for this album country music come from?

Nelson: My idea of country music is basically what this album has on it. It’s fiddles, steels, mandolins, and it just seems like a natural title. And underneath Country Music, I was tempted to say, “Lest we forget this is country music.”

What was the criteria for this album?

Well, T Bone Burnett produced it, and if you’ve got a good producer like that, you kind of just let him have the ball and run with it. And that’s what I did. He brought all the songs to the session except for “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” and all the musicians, he called them all together. He’s really the best at doing things like that.

I’ve read that you said three takes are enough if you’ve got the right people in the studio. Did you feel like you had that there?

Oh, yeah. And a lot of times, the first take is the best, so the second and third are just insurance.

A lot of people are saying Country Music is similar to yourStardust album because these songs are standards. Do you agree with that?

I do. It’s a Stardust in its own right. All of these songs are the same type of standard songs in the country music as theStardust album were in pop. So, yeah, there is definitely a connection.

Is there a song on this album that means the most to you personally?

They’re all really good songs that I grew up singing — “Satisfied Mind,” “Dark as a Dungeon.” You know, these days the mining songs are very special to me because of all the tragedies with all these mines. But all of these songs are very good songs.

The traditional song, “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” was one you hadn’t even heard before.

No, I hadn’t heard that. T Bone brought some good things to the session, but I had never heard that one. He brought a Bob Willssong I had never heard. I thought I’d heard all the Bob Wills songs, but “Gotta Walk Alone” is an obscure Bob Wills song that I had never heard.

You included Hank Williams’ “House of Gold” on the album and have said it helped get you through some hard times. What is it about his songs that have the power to heal?

Well, songs like “House of Gold” … it’s just pure Hank Williams. No one sings those like Hank did, but I sure love to try.

Is there a type of music that you wouldn’t touch these days?

Oh, I don’t know. There are probably lots of different things. … I’m just now aware yet.

You had carpal tunnel surgery a few years back. How is your hand doing?

The hand’s doing better. I’ve got a rotator cuff that’s torn, and it’s cutting down on my golf but … .

There was a lot of speculation about your reasons for releasing the album on 4/20. Is this a coincidence?

Well, you know, I wasn’t even aware of a 4/20 kind of the release date. I never put anything together — because I’m usually kind of slow on things like that — but I think it’s funny.

A district attorney in North Carolina is planning to prosecute some of your band members for possession of moonshine and marijuana. That’s kind of got to be disappointing.

Well, yeah it’s very disappointing. … To have a little moonshine, in North Carolina, I thought they put that in baby bottles. I didn’t know that was a problem.

We’ve been hearing rumors that you’re going to do a movie with Johnny Knoxville. Is that happening?

We’re certainly talking about one together. And that’d be great. I love Johnny. We’d have a lot of fun.

Anything new to report about your constant touring?

Not really. I’m having fun playing. We played … in Vegas for all the broadcast people, and we had the band from Nashville there. That’s happening a few more times. I think we’re doing it in L.A. and New York. I’m looking forward to it because these guys are very good.

And T Bone will be doing some performances with you, right?

He’s great musician, and any time he’s around, you feel a little better because you feel like he’s got your back. I’m glad to know he’s in the studio or on the stage or anything.

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

Monday, March 29th, 2021
Photo: Janis Tillerson

www.forbes.com
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]

Willie Nelson at 85: A Visit With the King of Night Life (April 2018)

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

Photo: Gary Miller

www.RollingStone.com
by: Patrick Doyle
April 2018

“What else we got?” Willie Nelson asks. He’s sitting with his famous battered guitar Trigger at his recording studio, located on the Cut ‘N Putt golf course he owns in Spicewood, Texas. He’s deep into a session of Frank Sinatra covers for a future tribute album. Nelson’s producer Buddy Cannon has given him plenty of chances to call it a day (especially because the singer was up until 4 a.m. playing poker), but Nelson keeps asking the control room to cue up more tracks. At one point, last night’s poker guests – Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey – pop in, but even they can’t distract Nelson. “We’ll let you focus, Willie,” Harrelson says with a smile, leaving the room. 

Nelson remains focused as he reaches his 85th birthday, which he celebrates on April 29th. He’s still sharp: “Sometimes I forget lyrics to new songs or whatever, but normally I can remember them pretty good,” he says. During a break from recording, he says the Sinatra release is actually a ways off; before that, he will release an album of new songs, Last Man Standing, his 19th new album of the last decade, and the continuation of his most prolific writing kick since the Seventies. After Last Man Standing, he will reissue his 1973 gospel album The Troublemaker, with songs, like “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” which still close his live show.

I want to re-release that one before the Sinatra album, to give me a chance to finish it,” he says. Nelson also still maintains a touring schedule that puts younger acts to shame, playing about 100 dates a year, two weeks on, two weeks off. The reason for the workload is simple. “I just enjoy playing,” he explains, “whether it’s on the stage, here in the studio, or wherever.”

The new song “Last Man Standing” is a tongue-in-cheek rocker about Nelson’s conflicted feelings about his status as country’s elder statesman: “I don’t want to be the last man standing / On second thought, maybe I do / If you don’t mind I’ll start a new line and decide after thinking it through.” “I was thinking about Merle, Leon Russell, Ray Price, Johnny Cash – all those guys gone on,” he explains. “You kind of wonder [about death]. I’ve been around a long time.”

Nelson’s pace is only surprising because just a few months ago he was questioning whether he would play in public again at all. In January, he walked offstage in California and canceled two months of dates, retreating to his place in Maui. Fans feared the worst. “I had the flu for, like, three weeks,” he says. “And that wasn’t no fun. I was a little uncertain about coming back and whether I could still do a show – it had been so long.”

The first show back was in St. Augustine, Florida on February 27th. The band didn’t know what to expect. “Willie came out of the gate just smoking,” says his harmonica player, Mickey Raphael. “We were all a bit nervous coming back out after so much time off, but the first night felt like we had never stopped playing. I couldn’t have been happier. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Ye of little faith.’ He blew us all away and all we had to do was hold on.” Asked what was going through his mind, Nelson is less sentimental: “I was just trying to remember ‘Whiskey River,’” he says with a smile. “We did it then; we did three or four more good shows shows in a row, so I got my confidence back.”

The tour wrapped at the Luck Reunion, a mini-festival at Nelson’s home, a mock old-West town he had built for the 1986 movie the Red Headed Stranger. After a day that included Kurt Vile and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Nelson’s ’94 pickup could be seen snaking down his long dirt driveway, past fields of horses, pulling up next to the stage. Nelson strapped on Trigger and led an audience through singalongs like “Crazy,” “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “On the Road Again.” (I wondered if Nelson had any reservations about opening his home to 3,000 fans, and he laughed. “Nah, that’s cool,” he says. “It’s a good place to play because it’s close to the house.”) Nelson noted that a lot of young faces had probably never seen him play before. He also had fun because he was joined by his kids, Lukas and Micah. “There’s no better feeling,” he says, “than having kids working with you and doing a good job.”

Nelson’s sons have had to reckon what it means to follow in the footsteps of a country legend. Lukas makes what he calls “cowboy hippie surf rock,” full of twang and occasionally even a Willie cover. Micah strays into stranger territory, making albums ranging lo-fi freak-folk to prog-metal with his various projects. I once saw him stun a New Jersey crowd while he was opening for his father with insane volumes and a guitarist who did contortions between arpeggios. Micah says it all makes sense if you listen to his dad: “He was doing things that really weren’t considered mainstream. Like to me, Red Headed Stranger [from 1975] is a punk record. In the context of what country music was supposed to be back then: very overproduced and shiny and rhinestones and strings. And he came out with Red Headed Stranger, the label thought it was a demo. He was just breaking down those barriers and fearlessly doing his thing. For me I realized at a certain point, I’m not gonna try to conform to what people might expect me to be doing because of my lineage. That would be dishonoring it. For me to fearlessly do my thing and just be myself – I can’t think of any other way to respect and honor his legacy. Because that’s what he did.”

By his own quick math, Mickey Raphael has played more than 5,400 shows with Nelson since he joined 45 years ago. The harmonica player is essentially the bandleader, and the biggest piece of advice he gives to musicians sitting is, “You have to watch him.” Nelson does not technically have a set list – though he always starts with “Whiskey River” and ends with a gospel medley – and he will routinely cut songs short, extend solos, or even repeat songs if he feels like it. “Every night is a gamble, like walking a high wire without a net,” Nelson says. Adds Raphael, ”If you’re reading a chart or singing or playing it by rote – you’re screwed.”

Kevin Smith, the band’s newest member, learned this lesson when he joined mid-tour, after the death of longtime bassist Bee Spears in 2011. A seasoned Austin bass player, Smith was “just jobbing around town” when Raphael called him at 8 a.m. one day, asking him to play the gig that night. “They weren’t terribly kind to me – they just did their regular thing,” Smith says. “And it went well and Willie walked past me and slapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Way to go.’ And that was pretty great.”

Smith spent the days on the road furiously learning songs only to have his lessons upended. “Willie would bust something out just to throw me sometimes, I think,” he says. “Sometimes I think he may be testing me. There are times when we’re playing and he’ll throw a curveball.” Smith struggled with one intro in particular, with Nelson and his sister Bobbie on piano soloing simultaniously. For Smith, it was hard to find the tempo. So he boarded Nelson’s bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, and asked him for advice. “I said, ‘Where do you want me to come in – should I listen to the piano, or listen to you?’ Smith says. “He just looked up for a second and said, ‘Just come in when you feel comfortable.’ And that’s the most advice or input I’ve ever gotten in my time with the band.”

Smith laughs. “I was talking to Willie one day about planning ahead when you’re playing And he said, ‘I know I’m doing good if I can’t remember what I’m doing.’ I think that’s a big part of his shows and who he is. When he gets out there, he really lets go of everything. I think he really goes into that other space that is fed by the music and fed by the energy and the people in the crowd, That’s where the really beautiful crazy accidents and lift offs and crashes come from.”

Other variables can affect Nelson’s performances too. He recently started his own cannabis company, Willie’s Reserve. Since he considers himself the “CTO” (Chief Tasting Officer), Nelson was trying out several strains before a show. This may be why, Raphael says, Nelson unknowingly re-started his set toward the end of a show. “We were three quarters into the show and he does ‘Stay all Night,’ which might have been the second song,” says Raphael. “He just lost his place. Then he does that by rote, so he did, like, the first 15 minutes of the show again. I didn’t tell him till he asked me. He said, ‘Have we done, ‘Good Hearted Woman?’ ‘Yeah.’ I don’t say anything unless he asks me.”

Read entire article here.

Willie Nelson featured SWSX keynote speaker (3/17/21)

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

www.Kfan.com
by: Harley Tamplin

Willie Nelson talks music, COVID-19 and marijuana in long-awaited SXSW keynote

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Willie Nelson reflected on music, marijuana and the COVID-19 pandemic during a SXSW keynote that was nearly 30 years in the making.

The 87-year-old country star and Texas icon headlined the second day of the virtual festival, touching on various subjects during a wide-ranging conversation with Andy Langer of Austin City Limits radio and Texas Monthly.

Remarkably, it was Nelson’s first ever speech at SXSW — in 1992, he was booked to deliver a keynote at 10:30 a.m., but Nelson’s tour bus didn’t arrive in time after a concert the night before.

In hindsight, Langer joked, it may not have been a good idea to book Nelson to speak at 10:30 a.m.

As a prolific musician who has written thousands of songs, Nelson said the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough as he adjusted to not performing in front of fans.

“I miss it a lot,” he said. “All the musicians miss it a lot, but I know I sure as hell do.”

In fact, Nelson misses playing live so much that “every now and then” he sits in his tour bus, which is parked outside his home, “to pretend I’m going somewhere,” he revealed.

But that doesn’t mean Nelson, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, is going to rush back into in-person concerts.

“I don’t know what it will feel like, because I don’t know what kind of comeback it will be,” he said, when asked how returning to the stage will feel.

“I don’t know who will be able to come to the show, and I don’t want to do a show anywhere, any time that has a danger of somebody getting sick. That’s going to have a lot to do with when I get back to work,” he added.

“It will be a challenge, and whenever we do get back it will be a sign of some sort of success.”

After decades in the business, music remains as important to Nelson as ever — and after all those years, he’s learned to trust his judgment about which songs people will like, he said.

“I know what I like, and I have to trust what I like as being good. So far that’s the way it’s been, I trust my opinion,” he said.

“We all react to the same thing. Music will move you. Period. It will make you laugh or cry, jump or clap your hands, and anything that will move you, do it.”

Read entire article here.

A conversation with Willie Nelson, by Peter Blackstock

Friday, March 12th, 2021

www.austin360.com
by: Peter Blackstock

Austin icon talks about new album, book, SXSW and more

“It’s been exactly a year that I haven’t done anything, been anywhere.”

It’s almost impossible to fathom this quote coming from Willie Nelson, who’s done everything and been everywhere for the better part of his nine decades on the planet. But pandemics have no exceptions for living legends, which means the man who wrote “On the Road Again” has been off the road since March 4, 2020.

“We played the Houston Rodeo,” Willie says, bittersweetly recalling the last full gig he played with his band before the coronavirus pandemic took over the world. “We had 80,000 people there. It was one of the best shows of the year. I remember it well.”

Speaking by phone from Luck, Texas, the sprawling horse ranch about an hour west of Austin that has been his home base for decades, Willie is in good spirits on a late February afternoon. (It’s about an hour past 4:20, for what that’s worth.)

We have lots to discuss in our 15-minute window: a new album of songs that Frank Sinatra made famous, his first-ever South by Southwest keynote address, possible plans for an in-person Fourth of July Picnic this year, a new book written with his pal Turk Pipkin, and more.

But first, we talk a little bit about the pandemic, and the toll it has taken. Willie wants to make it clear that he knows it’s been hard on everyone.

“I’m not the only musician who’s hating this,” he says. “There’s a lot of them out there, not only musicians, but everybody. Promoters, audience — everybody associated with music is really tired of this, and ready for it to go away.”

As for when that might be, your guess is as good as Willie’s. Check his website, and you’ll find four shows scheduled for April and May that seem questionable. But other dates in August — plus two October shows at Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels — feel more in reach.

“Well, you’ve got to be optimistic,” he says of the April dates, not giving up hope yet, even as he acknowledges the odds. “Personally, I’m thinking more about August-September.

“I know we set up Farm Aid for September 26, I think up in Raleigh, North Carolina. I think for sure by then we’ll be able to go out. Between now and then, I don’t know; we’ll have to look at it and see. I’d love to do them all, you know.”

FARM AID BECAME a virtual event in 2020, following the lead of both Willie’s iconic Fourth of July Picnic and the Luck Reunion mini-festival, a newer tradition that’s taken place during the week of SXSW over the past decade. The Luck Reunion livestream was a ramshackle but remarkably enjoyable affair, especially given that it was thrown together in a matter of days after SXSW got shut down in early March.

Willie’s hard-working Luck Productions crew spent the spring honing their livestream skills with a series of large and small events before an ambitious Fourth of July Picnic that blended live performances at Luck with recorded submissions from luminaries including Lyle Lovett, Ziggy Marley and Margo Price.

The Picnic, which began in the Austin area in the early 1970s and then hopscotched across the state and country for several decades, returned home in 2015 for a five-year run at Circuit of the Americas. Nelson says he has no plans to move it out of the area in the future. He fully expects to bring it back as an in-person event, perhaps by this summer if the dominoes line up right.

“We might have it here in Luck,” he says, intriguingly. When the pandemic hit last March, a 2020 Picnic site had not yet been announced, so it’s unclear as to whether Circuit of the Americas may still be in the cards.

“Last year I threatened to not do the Fourth of July Picnic until December, but I was just kidding,” he says with a chuckle. “But we’ll see. We’ll take it a little at a time and see what happens. Hopefully we can do the Fourth of July Picnic (this summer), and then everything around that.”

Read entire article here.

“Take care of yourself,” — Willie Nelson

Monday, March 1st, 2021

www.yahoo.com
Erin Donnelly

Willie Nelson, wellness guru? In 2015 the country music icon launched Willie’s Remedy, a line of hemp-infused coffee, tea and tinctures designed to “supplement a legendary life well-lived.” Now, just two months shy of his 88th birthday, Nelson is sharing his secret for longevity: staying active.

“If you want to live a long time, you have to take care of yourself,” the country music icon tells the Wall Street Journal in a new profile coinciding with the new release of his album of Frank Sinatra covers, titled That’s Life. “You have to pay for the day, every day. As you’ve always heard, if you don’t use it, you lose it. You need to move. So every day, I’ll jog or walk, do some sit ups — just a little something to pay for the day!”

It will come as little surprise, however, that the 87-year-old singer also credits his infamous weed habit for helping him ditch a hard-living lifestyle fueled by heavy drinking and up to three packs of cigarettes a day. Having battled breathing issues and emphysema in recent years, Nelson revealed in 2019 that he’d stopped smoking marijuana, though son Lukas Nelson later told fans that “between vaping, edibles, gummies, drops” and other ways to ingest cannabis, “I think it’s safe to say Willie will never stop enjoying Mary Jane!”

Those health issues haven’t slowed down Nelson’s musical ambitions, though the pandemic has.

“This is the worst time of my life,” he tells the newspaper. “I have never been this frustrated. I try to think positive, but I feel like I’m in jail — I can’t go here, I can’t go there — and that really pisses me off.”

Willie Nelson on Sunday Today with Willie Geist

Friday, February 19th, 2021

Willie Nelson interview “Country Music” (February 1976)

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021

Country Music Magazine
February 1976
by Patrick Carr

We begin with an ending of sorts. We are in Nashville on a drizzly night, packed into the Municipal Auditorium like so many high-rent sardines approaching the strung-out finale of the Disk Jockey Convenion 1975.

Taken together tonight, we are perhaps the most professional audience any of these Columbia/Epic acts are likely to play for at least another year: all of us are Somebodies in the country music business, and we’are all hip to the score. The Columbia/Epic actes bounce on stage and do whatever thing they do, three numbers each, one after the other. Tammy Wynette, Mac Davis, Barbara Fairchild, David Houston… it’s very democratic but pretty soon it becomes obvious which artists are getting corporate nod right now because all you really have to do is watch the company personnel pay or not pay attention. Nevertheless, it’s a subtle affair.

But when Willie Nelson and his band of gypsies make their entrance backstage, looking for all the world like some flying wedge of curiously benign Hells Angels, subtlety goes by the board and it’s plain that this year’s Most Likely To Succeed slot has just been taken with a vengeanance: a great shaking of hands begins.

The impression is confirmed when Willie proceeds to get up onstage with his full band (all the other acts were backed by the Columbia band) and play a 40-minute set that, except for a qute seemly absence of illegal drugs and teenage nudity among the audience, might just have well be happening in Texas on the 4th of July. This is the ending of sorts, and what it means is that after telling the Nashville powers-that-be to get lost and leaving town just three short years ago, Willie Nelson has become the country music wave of the future and is now accepting Nashville’s praise and promotional efforts on his own terms.

There is a postscript, though. Three or four hours later — after another couple of hundred handshakes, after attending a very high-rent Columbia party to which his band was not invited, and after behaving like a perfect gentleman through it all — Willie gets himself down to Ernest Tubb’s Record Store and plays for two hours while most every other star in town is out at Opryland all gussied up to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry amid great pomp and ceremony of the By Invitation Only Kind.

It isn’t that Willie couldn’t have shown up at the Opry — with his current Columbia-backed status, that’s a silly notion — and it isn’t that he’s trying a reverse-chic move like one of Nashville’s several dozen I’m-so-hip-isn’t-this-earthy tipes might attemps. It’s just that his old friend and musical hero Ernest was gracious enough to invite him, and that Ernest Tubb’s Record Store is still the best place in town to get down and play straight honky tonk music for the friends and neighbors.

Apart from being a rebel against Nashville’s creative restrictions, a culture hero, a real sweetheart, a person blessed with a highly sophisticated sense of humor, and the man who first made it possible for hippies and rednecks to co-exist under the protection of his music — all of which he is — Willie Nelson has always been one other thing. He has always been a wrtier and singer of the classic country honky tonk song, which is to say that he has always had a very precise, lonely, realistic understanding of the hard ways of this vale of tears in which we all live and suffer form time to time. This is the juke box Willie.

Historicallly, this music came out of more or less, his whol career up to today (which seems somewhat more optimistic when you consider the conclusions of the Red Headed Stranger album). It’s the kind of stuff — like “Hello Walls,” “Ain’t It Funny (How Time Slips Away),” “Pretty Paper,” “Touch Me” and all those other perfectly songs — that really say it to you when you’re down and getting kicked. Willie wrote most of it in Nashville when he was a highly-reputed songwriter trying to be a singing star, simultaneously going through the usual business of divorce, marriage, divorce, marriage and consequent craziness (or is that vice versa?) and running with the likes of Faron Young, Roger Miller, Mel Tillis and other distinguished crazy people.

A segment of my Willie Nelson interview:

Willie (laughing): “I think a lot of people got to thinking that everybody had to do the same thing Hank Williams did, even die that way if necessary. And that got out of hand. I always used to think George Jones got drunk because Hank Williams did, like he really thought that was what he was uspposed to do.”

Me: “You ever do that?”

Willie: “‘Course I did. That’s the reason I know it’s done.”

Me: “You still do it?”

Willie: “I still get drunk, but I’m not really mimicking anybody now. I have my own drunken style.”

These days, see, Willie won’t talk about the personal agonies of those Nashville years without humor, but it’s all there in the songs which made him one of Nashville’s most sought-after songwriters, and it came to a head during the years — his last year in Nashville — that gave rise to his Phases and Stages album. That year was a turning point, and it is chronicled in Phases and Stages. The album is an excruciatingly universal account of the way one man and one woman deal with their divorce (”That was the year I had four or five cars totalled out and the house burned down,” says Willie), but it ends with a very significant song called “Pick Up the Tempo.” It goes like so:

People are sayin’ that time will take
care of people like me
And that I’m livin’ too fast, and
they say I can’t last for much longer
But little they see that their
thoughts of me is my savior
And little they know that the beat
ought to go just a little faster,
So pick up the tempo just a little,
and take it on home….

For a man hitting the crucial age of forty, those are important lines. They speak of an affirmation of life and a determination to triumph over its emotional problems, and they represent Willie’s decison to leave Nashville, move back home to Texas, and finally realize his potential which is, in fact, exactly what he did. “I knew I only had a few years left to do what I was gong to do, and I had to make a move,” says Willie. “I wasn’t going down there to quit. I was going down there with a purpose.” the purpose, quite simply, was first to make himself a national recording star, and then to use that power base to make damn sure that people like him could be free to make their own music their own way without having to starve in the process.

Remember, Willie has a history in this department. It was he who first chaperoned Charley Pride into the country music concept scene, bringing him on stage in Louisiana — actually kissing him right there in the spotlights – and risking God only knows what kind of backlash in the process. The risk, once taken, paid off: Charley was accepted because Willie was behind him. Similarly, Willie, used his high prestige and general likeability in country music artist circles to ease Leon Russell into the Nashville scene by surrounding him with Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, Jeanne Pruett and a whole galaxy of main-line performers when he was cutting the sequel to his “Hank Wilson” album.

Willie can get away with heresy because more than any other artist occupying the often-queasy ground between because more than any other artist occupying the often queasy ground between country and something else, his country credentials are in order — more to the point — he has never betrayed his roots.

So Willie arrived in Austin (where he was already a star), formed his present band around himself and his old compadre drummer Paul English (of “Me and Paul” fame), began booking his own dates and managing himself, set up that first media-shocking Picnic at Dripping Springs, connected with the local power elite in the person of Darrell Royal (coach of the University of Texas football team and a very influential citizen), and quickly assumed the role of main Godfather in the Austin scheme of things. That, incidentally, is some gig: you don’t know what a loyal crowd is until you’ve been to Austin and watched a whole clubful of liberated young things worship the ground good ol’ Willie walks on to quite embarrasing excess.

Along the way — just before that first Picnic, in fact — Ritchie Albright of the Waylors suggested that he get in touch with Neil Reshen, a New york manager and fixit person who at the time was looking to consolidate his country music holdings. Reshin already had Waylon as a client, and Willie followed suit. This action signified the arrive with the neccessary teeth for the coutlaw allliance Willie had been pondering for years, and it became a classic Beauty and the Beast operation that continues to this day.

An example of the dynamics of that Beauty and the Beast relationship:

Willie on Neil Reshen: “He’s probably the most hated and the most effective manager that I know of. He enjoys going up to those big corporations and going over their figures. He’s so sadistic, he loves to do it.”

And once again, Willie: “At least you know where you’re at with Neil. Nowhere.”

And again: “Anyone who can learn to like Neil can like anyone. It’s a challenge to like Neil.”

“Willie, how are you doing on that?”

“I’m coming along, I’m coming alone. I can stay around him a little while now.”

Althought the mere mention of Neil Reshen’s name has been known to send secretaries to the bathroom and turn grown executives into violent monsters (”He’s another of those guys I don’t understand how he lived so long with somebody really hurting him,” says Willie), you have to admit that while Willie and Waylon (”It’s like having a maddog on a leash,” says Waylon) may have been able to get out of Nashville’s grasp without him. It’s only through this man’s unspeakably vicious yet effective manner of dong business, that the outlaw bid for independent power on country music has avoided bankruptcy and actually shown a profit.

So, with the active assistance of New York Neil, Willie has established the power base he was after. It is now possible for Willie to record with Waylon or Kris or Leon (he’s planning a whole Willie/Waylon joint album), and what’s more, with the formation of Lone Star Records, he can get people like Jimmy Day, Johnny Darrell, Floyd Tillman, Billy C., Bucky Meadows, his sister Bobbie and other Texas worthies into the recording studio and, since Columbia Records pays for promotion and distribution under a joint Columbia/Lone Star deal, actually get the finished product before the public. Like Willie says, “We’re all togethe

hr, and we have the same idea about what we wnat to do, which is to do our thing our own way. I’m trying to get these guys to do for themselves what they’ve been bitching about people not doing for them.”

Willie’s long affair with the business of honky tonk music represents one considerable side of his character which may be traceable to the fact that he and his sister Bobbi (”it’s alwyas been me and her”) were raised without parents. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson divorced when Willie was a baby and Bobbi was there, and so for the first six eyars of his life Wilile was with his grandparents. For the next tne year, he was raised by his grandmoter alone, grandfather having passed away. That of coruse is a vast oversimplification, but the roots of his two divorces and highly creative loneliness must lie buried somewhere in there, just as the roots of his present, almost uncanny serenity must be located in the emotional steps he took to overcome his personal problems. Whatever, it is an absolute fact that the presnet-day Willie Nelson is most definitely not an individual still in conflict with himself.

In a sense, Willie Nelson now is in some sort of still-perceptive, still creative cruise-gear, moving through a world of incredibly high pressure with almost perfect equilibrium. You can hear this feeling on the Red Headed Stranger album (a concept suggested and assisted by his wife Connie, with whom he does in fact seem quite happy) and you can see it when, dead center in the eye of one of this nation’s strangest cultural hurricanes, he drifts through the absolute mayhem of his Picnic and somehow manages to be a rock-like source of calm and competence for (literally) thousands of the most outrageously uncalm, incompetent hustlers, freaks and assorted weirdos ever assembled under one patch of Texas sky.

It also shows when, in the middle of yet another night of pushing his ragged band through a set of half-tragic, half-boogie music and watching with a smile as his audience stumbles and whoops its way towards unconsciousness, it comes down to just him and his Spanish-style, gut-string amplified Martin, and for a while the most carefully emotional, beautifully balanced little collection of mood notes in the world go soaring through the rancid air.

This is the musical legacy of Django Reinhardt, Grady Martin and the other psychological gypsy guitar pickers from whom Willie developed his style; it is also the mark of a man who has really seen it all and can still look it straight in the eye.

Atlanta, Georgia: Willie is on a First Class trip. Laid out in the back of the limousine behind his big spade shades, he is relaxing into the ways of being a star with records on the charts. There’ll be no more no-money dives to play, and for a while there won’t even be any songwriting unless the fancy takes him. Willie explains that he’s not one of those poeple who get headaches when they’re not writing, and since his next two albums — a Gospel album and an album of Lefty Frizzel songs — are already in the can, all he really has to do is keep on showing up for Willie Nelson concerts.

There are also some interesting projects in the wind, and they might even get done. there’s the issue of a Red Headed Stranger movie, for instance (”If I had the money and any idea about how to do it, I’d be somewhere doin’ it right now”,) and the almost equally interesting notion of Willie, Ray Price, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Johnny Bush getting together to do a couple of original Cherokee Cowboy dates.

Tonight Willie’s nose will be back on the grindstone as once again he takes the stage with his gypsies and plays for the sticky young drunks and dopers of Atlanta. Tonight, once again, he’ll be up there doing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” and “Eileen Goodnight” with whoever wants to join in (this time it’s Tracy Nelson and Linda Ronstadt and Mylon LeFevre), and tonight there’ll be another endless hillbilly amnesia session up in the hotel room.

Tomorrow there’ll be another bloody mary morning when Paul, bless him, has paid the bills and checked us all out and onto the road again. But now, just for a while, Willie is thinking about his Gospel album and remembering that he was asked to quit teaching in Sunday School when they found out that Little Willie played the local Texas beer joints at night.

“Were you a good preacher, Willie?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “I really was.”

“Are you a religious man?”

“Yes,” he says, “Probably more than I ever was. Y’know?”

Somehow, when you really get serious about Willie Nelson, the answer is not at all surprising.

Willie Nelson Interview (CBS) (January 2015)

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021