Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Lukas Nelson on Working With Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

Thursday, October 11th, 2018


photo:  Neil Preston

www.Billboard.com
by:  Hilary Hughes

Bradley Cooper found the missing piece to his musical puzzle — and the living, breathing inspiration for Jackson Maine, the romantic rocker he plays in A Star Is Born, his directorial debut — strumming next to Neil Young in the middle of the desert.

It was a balmy October night in 2016, and Young was playing classic rock festival Desert Trip with Promise of the Real, the folk-rock outfit fronted by Lukas Nelson, Willie’s son. After the performance, Cooper asked Nelson to be both a musical consultant and a contributor to the soundtrack of his grittier, twangier update on the classic love story.

Before A Star is Born‘s much-anticipated release Oct. 5, Nelson spoke about his experience working with Cooper and his co-star, Lady Gaga.

How did that first conversation with Bradley Cooper go?

He’s a pretty serious actor and definitely takes his art very seriously, but in a level-headed way. I appreciate that very much. He came up to me and said, “I’d love for you to come and be a musical consultant on the whole thing.” I said, “Yeah, sure!” Stefani [Germanotta, a.k.a Gaga] came, and we ended up writing together a bunch. I produced it, and it just kind of grew from there. It was an organic sort of happening where we all really had a great thing going together, and then the band wound up being perfect for the movie, so, [Promise of the Real] ended up in the movie as [Maine’s] band. It’s kind of a full circle from Desert Trip to A Star Is Born, with those same musicians he was inspired by — us with Neil. He just kind of made that the template for what he was doing with this movie, in a way, or at least how he wanted to portray the character.

What was it like working with Lady Gaga?

I’ve been around successful people for a long time, and I know real good talent when I see it, just from growing up in the family I grew up in. She fits the bill. She’s quite a performer; she’s an actress; she’s just an entertainer, you know? When we were writing together, we definitely saw eye-to-eye. We kind of finished each other’s sentences a lot of times when we were writing. It just felt really natural. It’s a great collaboration and it’s a beautiful friendship that we have. I cherish her and her abilities and her heart. Same with Bradley: we’ve become really close friends and we love each other. It seems more like an extended family with those guys.

Does Jackson Maine remind you of anyone?

Me! Oh, man — he would study how I would hold a guitar, and then he would make it his own. We talked a lot about how to look and feel onstage, being in a band and what it’s like. It was so great to have Promise of the Real there in the movie… He was part of our band and that authenticity really shows.

Cooper was clearly an eager student, so as the person guiding him through that musical education, was there anything that surprised you about that process?

It was beautiful to watch him grow and see the level of dedication he put into it. Nobody will be able to say he didn’t give 100 percent and more. I think that that’s paying off for him. A lot of people are excited, and I don’t think they’re going to be disappointed, either. I was surprised at his level of musicianship. I didn’t realize that he was that into music and that he already knew so much. He’s definitely a musician; he just hadn’t tapped into it, and now he’s gotten the chance to. I hope he continues to do things as time goes by, musically, because he’s got a talent for it. He’s got an ear — the same with Gaga and acting.

In regards to writing, how did that differ from your experience writing your own music? Was it different to write from a fictional viewpoint as Jackson? Did you change anything up in terms of your approach?

In a way, it was more like playing with Neil, because I’m playing sideman: I’m stepping back from my lead role and playing sideman to other artists, who were Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Having that ability to be a lead, I think it’s also really important to know how to be in a band. The way that I approach my songwriting, I think there’s a lot of me in [A Star Is Born]. These are songs that I’ve written about my own life, and in a way they can be applied to any situation.

You’re obviously very familiar with Kris Kristofferson; you know each other well and have worked together, too. He starred in A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand. Have you and Kris ever discussed A Star Is Born?

No, Kris and I didn’t talk about it too much. But I know he’s really proud of Bradley and he’s happy to sort of pass the torch down. This movie’s been made four times, now; the first was in the ‘30s, almost in the silent film era. Then there was a later one with Judy Garland in the ‘50s, then in the ‘70s with Kris and Barbra Streisand, and then this one. There’s actually sort of a tradition of this movie being remade, you know, as time goes by.

Scenes like the ones filmed at Stagecoach and Glastonbury really highlight Cooper’s commitment to that authenticity. Why was it important for him to make those festival appearances?

I think [Stagecoach] was a big moment for him. Actually, we filmed the scene right before dad’s set. Dad actually cut his set short just a little bit to let us come on and film this little segment for the same crowd — it was right after Jamey Johnson played. It was fantastic. It was a big moment for him to be able to get up there and just take charge and sing and sing it well in front of tens of thousands of people.

That must’ve been cool for your dad, too, to witness your own major Hollywood moment!

I don’t know; I think he was on the bus at the time. He might’ve been chillin’. [Laughs.] I’m sure he heard it!

Do you enjoy musical theater and musical films, generally?

I really loved O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which was a great soundtrack and a beautiful movie with good music. That’s the only one I can think of. Of course there was the last A Star Is Born, which was great; then there was that movie with… oh, god, I can’t remember. Whitney Houston —

The Bodyguard?

Yeah, The Bodyguard! Right! I know that Stefani was really into that movie — it was part of the inspiration, she mentioned, for her, and other movies as well. They all did their research, Bradley and Gaga. This is gonna be a good one. My favorite is probably The Blues Brothers — the original Blues Brothers is fantastic. It has so many great musicians.

Let’s talk about Stefani’s Americana chops: she’s such a versatile performer, but how did she take to this material?

I think she’s just a consummate entertainer no matter what. Whatever she put her mind to, she’d do really, really well — she’s just that type of artist. The last record that she put out, Joanne, was my first introduction to her, really; I thought it was just fantastic. I heard her hit songs and they’re all great, but there were some songs that resonated with me on that record. There are some songs in this movie that really resonate with me, the ones with Mark Ronson that she wrote, and the band actually played it, so it was great to be a part of that in a way.

What happens after the movie premieres and you’re back to your life on the road? Will you incorporate these songs into your live shows?
I mean, probably, especially “Music to My Eyes.” There are songs that I’d probably want to play and cover, absolutely. I’ve thought about covering some songs of hers from before, too. “Million Reasons” is a great song; that’s just a classic song. I heard Bob Weir ?from the Grateful Dead covering that song not too long ago. She’s got a good sense of songwriting and song crafting and by anyone’s standards, not just an artist in the pop world.

 

Willie Nelson interview, the Guardian

Sunday, September 30th, 2018


photo:  Taylor Hill

At 85, Willie Nelson still spends half the year on the road and is busy supporting Texan Democrat nominee Beto O’Rourke. And the giant of country music’s 2,500 song catalogue just keeps growing.

www.theguardian.com
by: Rebecca Bengal

Soon after Nelson signed on to headline a major O’Rourke rally on 29 September, some conservative fans reportedly planned to boycott his music in protest. A doctored photograph went viral of Nelson in a Beto for Texas shirt, flipping off at the camera like his friend Johnny Cash. But an actual boycott appeared to be bogus, or at least overblown; and anyway, as singer Wheeler Walker Jr tweeted: “You can argue politics all you want, but you cannot argue Willie.”

A waxing harvest moon hovers over the latest incarnation of the Honeysuckle Rose, Nelson’s bus and home on the road. Annie D’Angelo Nelson, his fourth wife since 1991, greets me warmly. “Were you watching?” she asks, meaning the debate. “I thought Beto blew him away.” She is the dynamite to Willie’s calm when he ambles into the kitchen, his grey hair in two long braids. At 85, Nelson is still vigorously hale, as handsomely and admirably weathered as his battered guitar, Trigger. “Willie, you gotta look at her butt!” Annie says – my jeans are embroidered with a map of Texas. From the pocket I pull a “You Beto Vote For Beto!” sticker I picked up in Austin.

At Nelson’s annual Fourth of July picnic, O’Rourke, who played in punk bands growing up in El Paso, and who referenced the Clash in his Cruz debate, joined Willie onstage for It’s All Going to Pot and Will the Circle Be Unbroken. “We hit it off immediately ’cause he’s a musician too. He’s for the same things I’m for in Texas, which is letting everybody do what they want to,” Nelson says. He levels his steady gaze. “Ev-er-y-body.”

With President Jimmy Carter, 1979.
Pinterest
With President Jimmy Carter, 1979. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Texas looms large in all his music; in concert, his songs sound as if they were scripted to fill its enormous skies. “I miss it all the time,” Nelson says. “I miss the hot weather, I miss the cold weather, I have some ponies down there I like to see.” Nelson used to average 200 days a year on the road, now around 150; it’s his preferred way of being. His sister, Bobbie, the longtime pianist in Nelson’s Family band, says Nelson takes after their mother, a wanderer who left her and Willie with their grandparents when they were very young. The road gives him a rare vantage point; he has seen more of the US, and more of its changes, than most. He takes this in his stride. “I’ve moved around a lot in 85 years,” he says. “And I went through a lot of political spaces in our country – four years of this, eight years of that.”

Collective memory recalls Nelson allegedly getting high on the White House roof during his friend Jimmy Carter’s administration, but tends to forget Nelson’s long history of political involvement. Over the years he has lent his support to friends such as the irrepressible Texas governor Ann Richards, the satirist Kinky Friedman, even the independent presidential candidate Ross Perot. He supported Barack Obama and both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. He has spoken out against LGBTQ discrimination and covered the Ned Sublette song Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other. “I call myself a VI,” Nelson says. “Very independent.”

Without deigning to mention Trump by name, Nelson included the protest song Delete and Fast Forward, on God’s Problem Child in 2017, in apparent opposition to the president’s agenda of hate and divisiveness. Nelson was outraged by the detention centres and the forced separation of families: “I thought everything that happened there was unforgivable.” He opposes the proposed wall, too. “We have a statue that says: ‘Y’all come in,’” he says. “I don’t believe in closing the border. Open them suckers up!” When I ask how his 33-year-old charity Farm Aid supports immigrant farmworkers in the US, he is reflective. “We need those folks,” Nelson says. “I used to pick cotton and pull corn and bale hay and I’m lucky to play guitar now, but we have to have the people who want to work, and take care of them.”

Pinterest

Stardust, with Nelson’s searing covers of All of Me and Blue Skies, went platinum and earned a Grammy for Georgia On My Mind. My Way, Nelson’s 68th studio album and his second this year, with covers of Sinatra standards, is the latest chapter in Nelson’s singular interpretation of the Great American Songbook and a tribute to his longtime favourite singer. “Sinatra’ll lay down behind the beat and he’ll speed up and get in front of the beat,” Nelson says, “and I thought that was cool. I tried mimicking it a little and I wound up doing that a lot in my songs.”

He and Sinatra cemented their mutual admiration with a duet of My Way in 1993. “We used to play shows together in Vegas and Palm Springs,” Nelson remembers. After one gig, Sinatra invited Nelson to his place in Palm Springs. “I was in a big hurry to go somewhere, so I said, ‘I’ll catch you next time,’ and I never did see him again,” Nelson says. Sinatra died of a heart attack in 1998. “I always regretted that.”

Nelson with Waylon Jennings, celebrating their new new album, Waylon and Willie, 1978
Pinterest
Nelson (left) with Waylon Jennings, celebrating their new new album, Waylon and Willie, 1978. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

I repeat something Kinky Friedman said of him: “Willie walks through the raw poetry of time.” Nelson has written some 2,500 songs, and numerous books, including two memoirs, but there is a part of him that remains unspoken and essentially mysterious, perhaps even to himself. Early on, he wrote three of his best songs – Crazy, Funny How Time Slips Away and Night Life – in the span of a week; even in anthems such as Whiskey River there is pure and stealthy lyricism, songs that understand their listeners better than they can articulate. Does Nelson even know, I wonder, where some of his deepest words come from?

Not really, he admits. You know, every song I write that I’m proud of, I wonder how it got there. I think the same thing about Merle’s songs and Hank Williams. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry: what was Hank going through when he wrote that? He died when he was 29 – compared to him, I haven’t had a lot of rough times at all.”

But he has been through a mighty lot, I venture, thinking of the absence of his mother, of an often hard-lived life, of the loss of his son Billy to suicide in 1991. “I think there’s some things that can only come out in songs,” Nelson agrees. “You can write a beautiful book, but take verses out of it and put a melody to it and you’ve got another dimension.

“I wrote something the other day that said, ‘I don’t want to write another song, but tell that to my mind!’” he continues, laughing. “‘I just throw them out there and try to make them rhyme.’ I write everywhere, anywhere. I write a lot at home at night.”

“It’s like birthing babies!” Annie says from one of the bus’s built-in sofas. She doesn’t mind; in fact, she stays up listening.

He thinks in lyrics first; the music comes after. “Usually it starts as a poem,” he says. “At some point I’ll get up and go get the guitar and see what kind of melody those words suggest.” A song, he reckons, is just a poem with a melody. I say I’ve always thought that words and melody just naturally found each other in his songs. “Good!” Nelson says. “Fooled ’em again!”

As the Family convenes onstage, dust shines up in the spotlights and a musky cloud wafts up from the front row to meet it. Under the lights, Trigger’s moonfaced complexion is visibly cratered where Nelson has dug into the wood. The crowd is a smoky sea of grizzled grandpas, grandmas in Dwight Yoakam shirts, teenagers whose uncles played them Nelson, people on dates, people in wheelchairs and people who look like they might have just come from the rodeo down the street. Like Nelson says: “There are no political debates in my audiences.” When he and the Family play Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, it is at once pro-weed anthem and as gospel as Hank’s I Saw the Light. Nelson is the poet laureate of the guy in the parking lot; the girl, too.

At last when the house lights go up, a roadie gathers a bunch of rose petals scattered on the stage and tosses them unceremoniously in the direction of a few stragglers. “I don’t want it to be over!” says a veterinarian near me, eyes shining. “Willie’s even better than he was 10 years ago.” Her friend confesses she missed that concert – the last performance she saw here was the Spice Girls, 20 years ago – but in the meantime she has converted to Willie too. “We’re farm girls from Mansfield,” she says, reluctantly following the crowd out of the amphitheatre. The vet glances back at the emptying stage, and as Nelson has just done for us in song, voices the thing we are all thinking inside. “He’s the last of them,” she says. “The last of the real ones.”

My Way by Willie Nelson is out now on Legacy Recordings

Willie Nelson: Fighting for Farmers, (Bio) Fuel, and Hemp,

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

www.AustinFitMagazine.com
by: Melanie Moore

Driving into Willie Nelson’s ranch, off Highway 71 northwest of Austin, is like driving onto a movie set. Actually, it is a movie set; it’s been used in commercials, films, and TV spots. Cars leave dusty clouds behind as they wind around dirt roads right into the middle of an Old West town, a “main street” complete with saloon, church, and other buildings as well as corrals of horses. Inside the saloon, the wooden floorboards are uneven in places—they probably make a cool cowboy noise with your steps if you wear boots. But running shoes navigate the terrain just as well, which is what Willie Nelson had on, with workout shorts and a tee shirt, as he and his wife, Annie, welcomed guests into the saloon. A bar runs along one side, with a large flat-screen TV at the opposite end where FOX news was on but muted. The walls are decorated with old posters and photos, many signed by the legends in the photos with Nelson. In addition to a pool table, there is a round poker table, with chips and cards at the ready. Comfortable swivel chairs—on wheels that can get stuck in the uneven floorboards—surround the table. Nelson leans back in one and Annie perches on a bar stool behind him.

A few weeks prior to visiting with Austin Fit Magazine, Nelson had had to leave Colorado where he was on tour.

“Oh [my health is] all right,” he said. “I smoked cigarettes. I drank quite a bit. Emphysema.”

“You go up to altitude,” Annie interjected.

“And I woke up and I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “But other than that I’m in pretty good shape.” At 79, Nelson is a second degree black belt in tae kwon do.

“I ran to stay in shape,” he said. “You remember Charles Atlas and dynamic tension; it’s what Bruce Lee does. So I noticed a comparison between mental, physical, spiritual evolution. I think martial arts are one of the best things a person can get into. Back in Nashville, I got into kung fu; kicking and gauging. We used to go out and sign up kids to take kung fu lessons. It was a heck of a lot of fun.”

In terms of diet, the Nelsons “eat clean” and get their food from local farmers’ markets when they are on the road.

“I eat six times a day,” he said. He eats bacon, eggs, and potatoes.

“Look, it actually works,” Annie said. “It matters that it’s clean.” She makes a point to know the source of the foods they eat, rather than just buying whatever is in a store.

“The food that turns into energy,” Nelson said. “I grew up on eggs and potatoes. I can get by on [that]. If there’s some greens out there, that’s good. But that’s what I eat. Biscuits and gravy if you’ve got it.”

“For 25 years, Farm Aid has been [helping local farmers],” said Nelson, wasting no time diving into the subject he and his wife are passionate about. “And we’re still losing a lot of farms. At one time we had eight million family farmers; now we’ve got less than a half a million.” Nelson said the change is mostly in the Farm Belt, an area generally defined as the Midwest and central plains of the United States.

The family farmers are struggling because of the drought and because of the competition from what Annie Nelson termed “industrial ag.”

“Look at your food in the morning for breakfast,” Nelson said. “Most everything you’re eating came from 1,500 miles away when it could have been grown right over there. Get a local farmer to grow your bacon and eggs and your chickens, whatever you need in your garden. But trucking it 1,500 miles does a lot of damage to the environment and the price and everything. So sustainable, local agriculture is what Annie’s involved in a lot, and us too.”

“The U.S. is the only place that doesn’t have some sort of ban on GMO or control over GMO or labeling on GMO,” Annie said. (GMO is the acronym for genetically modified organism). “They have a terminator seed…they’ve patented something that’s a plant,” she said, referring to Monsanto, the herbicide and seed conglomerate.


“A farmer can’t keep his seeds from this year and use them again next year like he used to,” Nelson said. In addition to the genetically modified seeds which the company prohibits customers from saving from year to year, Monsanto, an American multinational agricultural biotechnology company, also makes pesticides which, according to Nelson, farmers are required to use.

“If I’m a farmer and I go to the bank and I want to borrow some money to do my crop next year, they’ll say, ‘Well, okay, but you’ve got to put so much pesticide, so much chemical, so much fertilizer on each acre or we’re not going to loan you the money. That way we know you’re going to get enough yield to pay us back.’”

“It’s really wrong,” Annie said, referring to Monsanto’s seed patent protection practices. She referenced the famous case of Percy Schmeiser v Monsanto which has become the iconic story of an agricultural David versus Goliath. Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer, was sued by Monsanto for having used their seeds without paying for them. Schmeiser held that the seeds had blown over from another farm; he had always been an organic farmer and not only didn’t use GMO seeds, he didn’t want them contaminating his fields. Over a decade later, after an appellate court battle, instead of paying Monsanto the $400,000 they said he owed, Monsanto paid him $660, which was the cost of removing Monsanto’s “Roundup ready” canola oil seeds from his land.

On its website, Monsanto has a page titled “Why Does Monsanto Sue Farmers who Save Seeds?” The company states that, “Since 1997, we have only filed suit against farmers 145 times in the United States.” The statement points out that Monsanto has patented seeds and “spends more than $2.6 million per day in research and development.” The statement continues with tautological explanations of the link between a company’s patents and revenue.

Monsanto has developed a seed that is resistant to Roundup, a powerful herbicide also sold by Monsanto. According to a June 2003 article in Scientific American, “Until now, most health studies have focused on the safety of glyphosate [the active ingredient in Roundup], rather than the mixture of ingredients found in Roundup. But in the new study, scientists found that Roundup’s inert ingredients amplified the toxic effect on human cells—even at concentrations much more diluted than those used on farms and lawns.“

“It went from weaponry to the food we eat,” said Ronda Rutledge, Executive Director of the Sustainable Food Center in Austin. Rutledge was commenting on Monsanto, a maker of Agent Orange, which, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, is “a blend of tactical herbicides the U.S. military sprayed from 1962 to 1971 during Operation Ranch Hand in the Vietnam War to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover.”

“The manufacturing companies [making Agent Orange] included Diamond Shamrock Corporation, Dow Chemical Company, Hercules, Inc., T-H Agricultural & Nutrition Company, Thompson Chemicals Corporation, Uniroyal Inc. and Monsanto Company, which at the time was a chemical manufacturer. Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange from 1965 to 1969,” according to Monsanto’s website.

The big issue, and the focus of worldwide “Occupy Monsanto” events in September 2012, is about labeling GMO foods. Proposition 37 (read the text at www.carighttoknow.org/read_the_initiative) is on the November 6 ballot in California and is being watched very closely by farmers, grocers, and consumers around the country because, as Rutledge said, “Many times, as California goes, so goes the country.” Her question, and the question of many organic and sustainable farm advocates and health-conscious consumers is, “If [GMO foods] aren’t bad, then why not tell us what’s in [them]?”

The battle heated up over the summer with Monsanto spending $4.2 million to defeat California’s Proposition 37, according to Truthout, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to providing independent news and commentary on a daily basis.” The Sacramento Bee newspaper characterized the situation as “a battle between organic farmers and food manufacturers on one side and, on the other, conventional grocery store brands and the biotech companies that make some of their ingredients.” The paper listed parent companies for Cheerios, Chef Boyardee, Nestle, Coke, and Pepsi, as well as Monsanto, DuPont, and Bayer that make pesticides and genetically modified seeds as those on the “no” side that had raised $32.5 million. On the organic side, the paper listed manufacturers including Lundberg’s, Nature’s Path, Clif Bar, and Amy’s Kitchen who have raised $4.3 million in support of the proposition. Whole Foods endorsed the proposition, but most grocery stores are opposed. It is a heated topic.

“I’m not willing to kill my child,” said Annie. “It’s not just low energy [food], it’s toxic. I need to know [what’s in the food I feed my family]. It’s still not okay. It seems to be more expensive [to buy organic produce]. … As long as it’s poor people, there will be poor kids dying. We need to force [GMO producers] to label the fruit,” Annie said. “When you educate people, they don’t mind spots on their [organic] food. Why would you give your kid a piece of fruit that even a bug wouldn’t want to eat?”

In addition to their opposition of GMOs and “industrial ag,” the Nelsons are also active in supporting alternatives to petroleum and petrochemical-based products. Their buses and trucks run on biodiesel.

“The diesel engine was invented to run on peanut oil,” Annie explained. “It was modified to be able to use petroleum-based diesel fuel.” They get their biodesel from a variety of sources. “We get it from restaurants,” she said. “We haul it back to the plant.” The oil used in fryers at restaurants can be used for biodiesel fuel rather than being thrown out after use. “That oil would end up in landfills or animals.”

“There’s no need to go around starting wars for oil,” Nelson said.

Nelson has formed Willie Nelson Biodiesel Company to distribute his own blend of biodiesel fuel called BioWillie. It’s available at various locations in Texas and along the Eastern Seaboard.

“We’re talking about doing something on the Lincoln highway, 180, as you move from San Francisco to New York,” he said. “The government wants to make that a biodiesel highway. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway and they’re trying to do the whole highway with alternative fuel, which is a great idea. And build plants along the way. They have the government supporting that so we’re going to do a tour there. We’re going to get Neil Young to start it out in San Francisco and bring it on. And we’ll get Jimmy Johnson or Luke [Bryan] somewhere along the way. Vegas along the way. We’ll do a final one in either New York or Washington and promote the whole thing with biodiesel.”

“The Obama administration facilitated it,” Annie said. “This has been a while, so now from Times Square to Lincoln Park in San Fancisco you can get a minimum of B20 on a trip.”

“We’re trying to coordinate it with my 80th birthday,” Nelson said, “which is April 30 next year. Somewhere along the way we’ll do a birthday bash, try to tie it all together.

Nelson is known for his support of hemp, and he notes that drafts of the Declaration of Independence were likely written on hemp. Much of the paper used in the 18th century was made of hemp, as well as sails, rope, and many other products.

“Anything that used to be made of hemp is now made out of chemicals,” he said. “There’s a huge push and drive in the States to bring back hemp. You can buy the material. You can bring the seed. There’s a huge market we’re not getting any money from, and it’s not just the drug. There’s a lot more involved.”

In addition to his music and activism, Willie Nelson has written a new memoir which will hit shelves November 13, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, from William Morris Publishers.

What would Willie like Austin Fit Magazine readers to know? “Family farmers kick ass. Find your farmer, not sharecroppers that grow for Monsanto.”

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

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

photo:  Laura Farr

www.ew.com
by:  Jeff Gordinier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And…how did you feel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson Interview: Country Music Magazine (March 1992)

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

img804

Country Music
March/April 1992
by Michael Bane

“And now, ladies and gentlemen,” the unseen Nashville Network announcer says in his perfectly modulated radio voice, “America’s favorite outlaw… Willie Nelson!”

And Willie Nelson strides to center stage, as he has a million times before — and as he probably will a million times more — oblivious to the incongruity of the words “favorite” and “outlaw” being strung together in his introduction; oblivious o the cameras and lights and dancers and producers and directors and general mayhem that accompanies any television production; oblivious as always to the storm o f controversy that has once again descended on his long-haired head.

Craggy and timeworn, he is as he has always been — unlikely golfer, long distance runner, famous songwriter, semi-fugitive from justice and, of course, the Lord High Zen Master of the Road.

“Howdy, folks,” he says in his perfect Willie Nelson voice.  Next he will say, “Good to see you,” and damned if he doesn’t mean it.

You’ve probably been reading a lot of news about Willie recently, and none of it has been good news.  Depending on which tabloid you happen to be reading at the time, Willie Nelson is broke, destitute, desperate and probably living in some cardboard box under an Intestate overpass.  He does, in truth, owe the internal Revenue Service around, o, say $16.7 million.  (“Say it real quick,” Willie confides, “and it don’t sound so bad.”)  The federales auctioned off his property to pay the debt, although, other than a few souvenir-hunters, there weren’t a lot of takers.  It just wouldn’t you know, be right, somehow, profiting from Willie’s Nelson’s distress.

 

I have caught up with Willie Nelson, whom I have known for the better part of two decades, to ask him two simple qustions I already know the answer to.  Both are pretty obvious.  The last time Willie and I talked, it was in a ritzy club in New York City.  Willie and Burt Reynolds, actresses Carol Lynley and Candice Bergen and me.  It’s sure as heck, I say, not the bad old days.

“No,” Willie laughs, “thank God, it’s not.”

Question One, then, is how did the bad old days come back with such a vengeance?

Question Two dates back to the first time we met, not surprisingly in another older and substantially more decrepit tour bus parked outside a gig in Charlotte, North Carolina, and where a younger Willie Nelson told a much younger me, win or lose, that this — the bus, the road, the gig — was his life, and he never wanted it to change.

Question Two, then is has it change?

Let’s let Willie answer in hs own words.

To Question One:

“Ah, Michael,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.  “You know how it is.”

And to Question Two:
“Look around you, Michasel,” he says, his arms encompassing the Honeysuckle Rose II tour bus, his manager Mark Rothbaum doing business in the back, Kris Kristofferson exchanging “remember when” stories with assorted Family members, all the flotsam and jetsam of a life of the road.  “Do you see anything different?”

That’s a fair question, but it’s not what you can see that gets you.  What happened to Willie Nelson was, as Robert Draper in his exhaustively chronicled financial story in Texas Month, said, not “a story of greed that backfired. It’s instead a story of generosity to a major fault.”

In a story that’s suitable for the lyrics of a country song, the single most successful act in the history of country music made it all, than gave it all way — unfortunately, before he had paid any of the taxes due.  In the scrambling to salvage his life and lifestyle, Willie Nelson has been forced to make decisions that make the bad old days look like a church picnic.  So far, he hasn’t had to race back into another burning house to rescue his legendary guitar, but it’s been close.

Might as well blame it on the road.

Here’s one of my favorite images of Willie on the road.  We’re out somewhere, Louisiana, I think, ten years or so ago.  Outlaw music is riding high, but Willie hasn’t yet reached the stature of saint –at least, not nationally.

The show’s been over for a while, and the road manager comes onto the bus.

“Well,” he says, “guess it’s time to get the money.”

Everybody laughs, and the road manager goes over to his briefcase, hauls out a battered Colt 45 automatic and racks a round into the chamber, clicking the safety on.  this is, for most of the history of country music, business as usual.  Pick up the gate money from the show promoter or the club owner, stuff the cash in a briefcase and walk it back to the bus, or whichever beat-up car or truck was carrying the freight.  The hardware, of course, was for that long, dark walk back to the bus, but it didn’t hurt for your average sleazypromoter to understand that this was serious business.

Other money came from song royalties and record company advances — no one ever expected the record company to sell enough records to pay off the advance — but it seemed like magic money, to be spent just about as quickly as a person could.   For people like Willie Nelson, the money got bigger.  Unimaginably bigger.  Once the Outlaw Train began rolling, around 1976, there was no stopping it.

Everybody, though, did start casting around for a conductor.

For Willie and Waylon Jennings, the conducter came in the form of a hot-shot New York music business wiz named Neil Reshen, who signed on as manager to both Willie and Waylon.  Reshen brought a shock of negotiating to small town Nashville.

“Why are they afraid of him?” Waylon told me when I was working on the Outlaws book back in the 1970’s.  “Cause he knows where all the bodies are buried, man!  I tell him, ‘You’re my old mean, dog.  I got you on a chain over there, and every once in a while I’m gonna pull it and you just bite.”

Unfortunately, the chain proved to be a speck too long, allowing the “ole mean dog” to bite the hand that held it.

“I can’t be sure the taxes are paid and records kept and also write songs and play music,” Willie says. “At some point you have to trust somebody.  And that’s always dangerous.”

Wilie broke with Reshen in 1978 and sued him two years later.  Onc particularly bitter point of contention being that, according to Willie, one of his manager’s prime dutie was filing Willie’s retruns and taking care of the taxes, something Reshen disputes.

Even more controversy swirled around the famous Fourth of July Picnics.  Willie has been concerned with Reshen’s handling of the events, and there were serious questions of where the money went.  Willie claimed that was something he’d like to know.  So did the IRS.

Willie’s troubles continued to escalate.  All his financial records for the 1975 through 1978 — the Outlaw Years — had been destroyed, and the IRS is aking $2 million for those years, according to Draper.  Willie and new manager Mark Rothbam went to one of the top accounting firms in the world, Price-Waterhouse, for financial hlep and advice.

What followed there, as evidenced bya 1990 lawsuit by Willie against Price Waterhouse, was nothing short of falling out of the frying pan and into the fire.  A serious of disastrous tax-deferred investments left Willie in worse tax shape than ever.  In 1984, the IRS began getting serious, demanding taxes due from the mid-1970’s, and tax notices began snow-balling.

And now we’re in Nashville where “America’s favorite outlaw” and Kris Kristofferson, in jeans and ragged T-shirts, are on the set of a television show performing to the vast chasm of the Operyhouse.

“They wanted us to wear tuxedos,” Kristofferson says later.  “Ha ha.”  Somethings, I suppose, never change.

Willie sings his barroom anthem, “Whiskey River,” and Kristofferson sings, “Me and Bobby McGee.”  Also, when he gets to the refrain of “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” he pauses.  “Just ask Willie,” he adds.  The crowd gives an appreciative laugh.

We are on the bus later, and we are laughing.  Kristofferson is telling Kris stories, Rothbaum is doing business and the whole bus has the atmosphere of an old club.  Earlier, I’d grabbed Rothbaum and asked how things were really going.

“Willie’s Willie,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

I grab Willie and tow him to the back of the bus.  We sit on the edge of the bed.  Willie with his hands clasped and his uncanny ability to tune out the entire rest of the world.

“How do you survive in all this crap?” I ask.

“I maybe even thrive in all this crap,” he says.

“Has it been pretty hard on you?”

“Not on me, Michael.  A lot of people worry about me, and it’s been hard on them.  I haven’t noticed any major changes in my life… You know, the road is really the only safe haven.  Once I get stopped in one place too long, I get in all kinds of trouble.”

“You told me once that it was hard to write when things were going too good…”

“Well, that’s true…” [laughter]

“Where are you living, anyway?”

“Well, I’ve still got a house in Austin and a house in Abbott, my home town.  I move around a bunch on my days off.  ‘Course, there’s not many of those this year.”

We talk about running, about doing Farm Aid in Russia, about Who’ll Buy My Memories:  The IRS Tapes.

“Somebody asked my bass player, Bee Spears, if I was in trouble.  Bee says, “Well, if he owed them $1 million, he’d be in trouble.  but he owes them $17 million, so they’re in trouble!”

“You still give away everything you get?”

“I try to.  It’s hard to carry all that shit.”

In the front of the bus, Kristofferson has everybody on the floor laughing, and, pretty soon, we join them.  Stories are the currency of the road, maybe what we’ve bought and paid for.  I can’t help thinking of another Kristofferson song, one I’d heard when I was just starting out on the road.  ‘Once he had a future full of money, love and dreams, which the spent like they were going out of style..”  I thought “The Pilgrim” was the most romantic song I’d ever heard.  Having it, losing it, still knowing that, “The going up was worth the coming down…”

Hell, maybe it still is the most romantic song I’ve ever heard.

— Michael Bane
Country Music (March/April 1992)

Willie Nelson on OBJECTified, with Harvey Levin

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

Aug. 26, 2018

Willie Nelson sits down with Harvey Levin to discuss his incredible life including his music, family and the time he got high at the White House.

Willie Nelson’s Trigger

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

This Willie Nelson story has everything: Trigger, weed, Woody Harrelson…

www.Austin360.com
By:  Jake Harris

Willie Nelson and his trusty guitar, Trigger, have been through a lot together. The beat-up Martin N-20 acoustic has been with Nelson since he purchased it for $750 in Nashville in 1969. Nelson has played the guitar at his famous Picnics and all over the world. But the famed guitar almost perished in a Christmas Eve fire in 1969.

The following bit of Willie lore might be familiar to many fans, but a 2015 Rolling Stone documentary on Trigger has been making the rounds on social media lately, especially on the r/Austin subreddit, and well, we never pass up an opportunity to talk about Willie Nelson.

The story goes like this:

On Christmas Eve 1969 in Nashville, Nelson was away from his Ridgetop home when he received a call that his house was on fire.

“I came home, rushed in, and I went in and got my guitar and a pound of weed,” Nelson recalls in the documentary. “I saved Trigger, so it was a good day.”

Nelson then took the house fire as a sign that he needed to relocate back to Texas — Austin, specifically.He took Trigger with him.

The full documentary is about 12 minutes long and is narrated by Woody Harrelson. It also features some more Trigger anecdotes like story of the time he had his daughter Lana hide the guitar when the IRS seized his possessions.

Willie nelson with Harvey Levin on TMZ (Sunday ight, August 26th, Fox News)

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

www.TMZ.com

OBJECTified, hosted by TMZ’s Harvey Levin, is a series on FOX News Channel (FNC) that features intimate interviews with high profile newsmakers and celebrities, who tell their life stories through the objects they’ve chose to keep over the years.  The objects become jumping off points in understanding how the experiences of the person shaped them into who they are today.

Catch it 2x SUNDAY on Fox News 8pm ET / 5pm PT and again at 11pm ET / 8pm PT

SUBSCRIBE: http://po.st/TMZSubscribe

Willie Nelson on NPR

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

www.npr.org
by:  David Greene

In Charlotte, N.C., back in May, fans at Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival only saw a few moments of the country legend. He walked stiffly across the stage, struggled to put on his guitar, then, clearly frustrated, he tossed his hat into the crowd and walked off stage. Nelson had already canceled a string of performances in February, citing a bad case of the flu. Some fans were wondering whether this was it. But just a few months later, he’s recovered and is back on the road again (including a re-do in Charlotte).

At 85, Nelson hasn’t had anything to prove for years. He established himself long ago as one of the most important voices in the history of the American Songbook, and yet, he’s still at it. He released a new album earlier this year called Last Man Standing. He has a tour scheduled through November and another new album slated for September.

“He said, ‘I meant to say welcome home Prodigal Son, but I was so stoned that it came out as Particle Kid,'” Micah recounts Willie saying. “It’s close enough. I like it better.”

When asked if they smoke as much as their dad, Willie interjects: “Nobody does.”

As much as Willie Nelson loves living, he’s done a lot of songs recently about dying (i.e. “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”). But his illnesses this year were serious, and Willie got nervous when it was bad enough that he couldn’t sing, his wife Annie says.

“We went to Maui. He got some fresh air, but it took a good month,” she says. “Then, he was a little nervous about it, but I heard him singing so I knew he was fine. He would sneak off in the music room and sing and pick.”

He came back fiercer than ever, Annie says, and his sons both say he’s been playing better than ever. “Just the last two shows have just blown my mind,” his son Lukas says. “We’re playing really good music and Dad is singing his ass off.”

Lukas, who has his own band called Promise of the Real that regularly backs Neil Young, has a voice strikingly similar to Willie’s. Lukas and Micah often play with Willie on tour, and the trio recorded songs together, collected on Willie and the Boys: Willie’s Stash Vol. 2.

“There’s nothing that makes a parent happier than having your kids up there doing things with you, especially if they’re good,” Nelson says.

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

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

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

Friday, July 13th, 2018

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.2

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.

At 85, Willie Nelson Knows the Secret to a Life Well Lived (AARP, June 2018)

Friday, June 29th, 2018

For 60 years, country music outlaw has set the bar for being true to yourself

Willie Nelson turned 85 in April, and though he still tours, drinks, vapes, writes and golfs, he’s smart enough to know where he is — on the flip side, the back nine. It gives him freedom; he’s down to essential things now, with time for only what he truly loves. Like his wife and children. Like his famous guitar, Trigger, the one with the hole worn through the top from strumming. Like Frank Sinatra and country music.

Willie’s taught us so much — how to be an honest outlaw, how to properly wear a bandanna, how to listen and how to be cool. Now just one lesson remains: how to remain yourself while getting old. “I don’t think that my attitude has changed,” he told me. “I’m still doing what I want to do, and I suggest everybody do the same thing.”

I could try to sell you on the importance of Willie Nelson, but why? He notched his first hit as a songwriter in 1960 with a tune called “Family Bible.” In the decades that have followed, he’s performed on 24 platinum or gold albums and composed dozens of pop and country hits, including iconic, timeless numbers such as “On the Road Again,” “Always on My Mind” and “Me and Paul,” about wild times on tour with his drummer, Paul English. He’s appeared in more than 40 movies and headlined thousands of sold-out concerts. He smoked a joint on the White House roof during the Carter administration in 1977; organized Farm Aid, the annual benefit for American family farmers, in 1985; and made more than a few men reconsider the practicability of braids. He has his own satellite radio station, Willie’s Roadhouse, which is partly programmed by his daughter Paula. He has his own brand of weed, Willie’s Reserve, a bespoke variety that’s been well funded by venture capitalists. Some of the labels in that line carry Willie’s sleepy-eyed countenance, making him a kind of Captain Morgan for the bloodshot set. He was at the center of a group of run-around country music pals — with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson — who played together as the Highwaymen. As one of two survivors of that crew, Willie stands as a last living link between Hank Williams, the Babe Ruth of honky-tonk, and Blake Shelton, a country star of the moment.

Of course, there have been hard times, for this is country music: drug busts and failed marriages. The first marriage, which lasted 10 years, gave Willie a lot of the heartbreak material that still turns up in his sad songs. And in 1990, after Willie followed some disastrous financial advice, the IRS seized about everything he had — saying he owed $32 million in back taxes — with the exception of his guitar and his voice, which he used to climb back out of the hole.

photo:  David McClister

These days, he seems more joyful than ever, as satisfied as any country singer who’s lived past 30. His album count is well over 100, and his latest, Last Man Standing, features all new, original songs. He’s at work on a collection of Sinatra tunes, including “My Way.” But Willie does not like to talk about his achievements or place in history or how it will all be tallied when he’s gone. Sing about it, write about it, sure — his current live show includes “Still Not Dead” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” — but discussing his legacy with a reporter is the worst kind of bad luck. He wants to talk about his life instead. He grew up in Abbott, Texas, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot 70 miles outside Dallas. “They say the population never changes,” he told me. “Every time a baby’s born, a man leaves town.” His parents divorced when he was an infant, leaving Willie and his older sister, Bobbie, who gives his band its piano distinction — her instrument sounds as rickety as a piano in a saloon in Deadwood, S.D., circa 1885 — to be raised by their devoted grandparents. Comfort came via radio, old-time music wending through a Texas night. It suggested another kind of existence.

At some point, Willie picked up a guitar. “I started when I was 5 or 6,” he told me. “I had one of those old Sears & Roebuck guitars with the strings high off the neck — your fingers literally would bleed. When they healed up, though, they were pretty tough.” He was soon singing and playing at churches and in town halls, his sister hammering away at his side. Other things happened: He joined the Air Force, worked as a door-to-door vacuum and encyclopedia salesman, and as a disc jockey. And wrote. Those first songs came under the influence of country legends. “Bob Wills era,” he said. “Spade Cooley. Tex Williams. All those great Western swing bands.”

Flat broke, Willie headed to Nashville, Tenn., the mecca of country music. That was 1960. He worked his way into the late-night lineup at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, which was across the alley from the Grand Ole Opry. Singers and songwriters partied at Tootsie’s from can till can’t. It’s where Willie debuted the songs — many now considered classics — that would become career-defining hits for other artists: “Hello Walls,” “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away.” One night he played a demo for Charlie Dick, a manager who happened to be married to Patsy Cline. Dick took Willie home, woke Cline and made Willie play her the demo tape. It was called “Crazy,” and it went Top 10 for Cline in 1961. Released before she died, it’s forever associated with the sadly beautiful mood of that short life.

Willie had a record contract of his own, but his voice was different from what you usually heard on the country charts. It had that old Western thing, the twang, but it was sophisticated, too, all about emphasizing certain words and drawing out certain syllables. It was only when he moved back to Texas that he found his audience and became not just a star, but the biggest star in country music. The rest followed as in a dream — surprising yet inevitable. Records and movies, sold-out stadiums, tours. He let his hair grow, braids thrown back, took up marijuana as a way to settle his mood. Before dope, he’s said, he was angry a lot of the time. His face became famous in the way of a few other faces: John Wayne, Dolly Parton, Louis Armstrong. It represented not just a catalog of songs but a way of being in the world.

By the mid-1970s, he’d become that rarest of stars — an icon admired by even bigger icons. Bob Dylan recalls meeting Willie and his sidekick, English, at film director Sam Peckinpah’s house in Mexico in 1972. Willie and English “had driven down there in an old blue Mercedes 300 from Texas,” Dylan said. “We were sitting around in the living room, and Willie played some of his songs: ‘Night Life,’ ‘Hello Walls,’ ‘Crazy’ — all the great ones. I thought these were the most perfect songs that ever had a right to be written. I thought he was a genius then, and I think the same thing now.”


photo:  Janis Tillerson

I’ve listened to Willie Nelson all my life but fell in love with him in 1992. It happened in a bar in New York City called the Lion’s Head. One night, I happened to play his version of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” on the jukebox. It’s a Fred Rose song, unspeakably sad, the story of a man mourning his wife and looking forward to meeting her in the next world. It carries echoes of the oldest American music. It’s an intimate hillbilly whine. Willie recorded it in 1975 for Red Headed Stranger, one of his first million-selling albums. It was among the breakthrough songs that took Willie from Nashville 1960 into the 1970s and beyond. He found his mature style on that song, realized that he could sing anything and make it new. I’d get drunk on the sort of drinks I figured Willie would order — tequila, beer — line up my quarters and play the song till the men at the rail begged me to stop. When you are 22 and lonely and far from home, you feel sorry for yourself in a way that is the essence of country music. His voice was humorous and sad and full of wisdom; I knew he’d understand everything. If I ever did get to meet Willie Nelson, I promised myself I’d ask him the secret of life.

I caught up with Willie on his tour bus 26 years later; it was in March, just before he went onstage at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C. He was sitting at a small table in back. Looking over his shoulder was Annie, his fourth wife. A makeup artist who met her husband in 1986 on the set of his made-for-TV movie Stagecoach, Ann Marie D’Angelo has been by Willie’s side through his health scares, pot busts, tax problems — “through thick and thin,” he’s said. “You can’t ask for anything more than that!” She travels with him and looks after his health — got him into bicycling, organic foods and living as if he intends to last. “Annie and I have been married since 1991 and found a way to make it work,” Willie has said. They have two adult children, Lukas and Micah, good musicians who often perform with Willie and their Aunt Bobbie. Willie was married three times before and had five other kids. In 1991, his oldest son, Billy, died at age 33. It’s something Willie never talks about, but it can be heard between every note of his most wrenching songs.

When we met, Willie was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans. He’s always looked like Willie — it’s one of those rare things you can count on — but looks the most like Willie now, in the middle of his ninth decade. His eyes are mischievous. One braid hangs down his chest; the other, down his back. His smile is wry, amused. When he laughs, he tilts back his head and stares at the ceiling. In short, Willie Nelson looks exactly like you want Willie Nelson to look.

I’d heard he does not like to talk, that he lets silence fill the gap between him and his interrogator, but I did not find that. Then again, I didn’t ask him dicey questions about politics or marriages. Instead, we talked about what he has loved: Hank Williams and Django Reinhardt, the highway when you are sober and the highway when you are drunk, the last bit of beer in the bottle, the last hour of night in the day.

Like Elvis, for example: “Did you know him?”

“Yeah, I met him a couple of times,” Willie said. “He did ‘Always on My Mind’ and ‘Night Life.’ ”

“Why did he have such a hard time?” I asked, meaning the isolation and the jumpsuits, the Memphis Mafia, pill addiction and early death.

“Well, it ain’t easy,” Willie said. “Once you think it’s easy, you’re in trouble.” To achieve fame, he added, “you’ve got to want it. And then, when you get it, you’ve got to still want it. A lot of people, when they get it, say: ‘Wait a minute, this is too much.’ ”

Willie once said that singing the same sad songs night after night had, in the past, driven him to the bottle. Why, though? I’ve always found that listening to sad music made me feel better.

“Whenever me or George Jones or whoever is singing those sad songs, there’s people out there that can relate to it, and that’s good,” he told me. “The problem can be that getting in that emotional state to sing that sad song to make all those people happy, you’re really putting yourself in a negative situation where you want to drink more.”

Whenever I asked about influences, the conversation turned to Hank Williams. Willie looked over my head when talking about Hank, as if he could see him out there, in his sequined Nudie (Cohn) suit. “He was an incredible writer, sang with so much feeling,” Willie said. “He was a sick man from the time he was born till he died, a sick man. He had a bad back and was always on some kind of pain medications or alcohol or whatever it took to get him up to the show. And he had a hard life. Died at 29. But nobody wrote better songs than Hank. It was the simplicity, melody and a line anybody could understand.”

photo:  LeAnn Muller

This led to talk of the old days, when the highway turned to dirt as soon as you left town.

“What was Nashville like in the ’60s?” I asked.

“Nashville’s always Nashville,” he said. “It’s where you take your goods to sell, and if you’ve got anything good, cool. If you don’t, they’ll let you know pretty quick. One thing about having a country hit is you can live on it forever. There are people who always like Hank Snow’s ‘I’m Moving On,’ and every time he toured, they’d want to hear that.”

In the ’80s, Frank Sinatra once opened for Willie at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, and they appeared together in a TV spot for NASA. Willie considered Sinatra a close friend. These two icons could not seem more different, and yet both were utterly unique vocalists who reinvented their genres.

“Do you feel like you learned anything from Sinatra?”

“I learned a lot about phrasing listening to Frank,” Willie said. “He didn’t worry about behind the beat or in front of the beat, or whatever — he could sing it either way, and that’s the feel you have to have.”

I asked about Frank’s work in the ’70s, when he turned out all those weak pop songs. I wondered if, after you get to the top, it’s easy to lose your way.

“You’ve got these guys over here saying you ought to do this and those guys over there saying you ought to do that,” Willie responded. “Next thing, you don’t know what to do.”

Willie was almost out of time. In a few minutes he’d have to head out onstage, where he’d summon all the ghosts, play all the hits. The audience would be older than it had been once, but you could tell the fans did not feel that age when Willie ran through “Whiskey River” and “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time.” It’s the sort of music that makes you wish you were back at the beginning, when the road seemed like it would go on forever.

I stood and he stood, and we shook hands. I felt warmth pass from him to me. I told him what “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” had meant to me when I was 22. He nodded like he already knew. Then, before he could slip away, I asked him the secret of life.

“It’s simple,” Willie said. Do what you want to do. “If I don’t want to do it, forget it. But if I do want to do it, get out of my goddamn way.”

Rich Cohen is the author of 13 books, the most recent of which is The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse.

 

Willie Nelson on World Cafe today

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

radio.krcb.org
by:  Mark Prell

World Café makes a pilgrimage to Willie Nelson’s tour bus! Willie released an album called Last Man Standing just days before his 85th birthday. Willie talks about how the deaths of dear friends like Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings influenced the title track, the prank he pulled when he was in the hospital recovering from a collapsed lung and shares insights about his favorite form of relaxation. Giggles ensue.

Tune in to World Café, with host Talia Schlanger, every weekday at 2:00 pm on KRCB-FM Radio 91 / streaming @ radio.krcb.org / Comcast Cable channel 961 all over the Bay Area / the FREE KRCB App @ iTunes & Google Play!

Listen to it here:

https://player.fm/series/world-cafe-words-and-music-from-wxpn/willie-nelson

Willie Nelson Interview, Billboard Country Music Summit, Nashville (June 5, 2012)

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

billboardinterview

photo: Michael Seto

www.CMT.com
by Edward Morris

Willie Nelson arrived 37 minutes late for his scheduled question-and-answer session Tuesday (June 5) at the Billboard Country Music Summit in Nashville. But the crowd was patient and gave him a standing ovation when he finally walked onstage.

Nelson was in town to perform later that evening with the Nashville Symphony and Wednesday on the CMT Music Awards airing at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CMT and CMT.com.
Wearing a black T-shirt and jeans and with his hair pulled back into a ponytail, Nelson looked and sounded considerably younger than the 79 years the calendar has imposed upon him.

He sat in a chair opposite Billboard‘s Ray Waddell, who primed him with questions about his long and laurelled career as a singer, songwriter and political activist.
On the matter of performing with the Nashville Symphony, Nelson was modest.

“They’re really good,” he said of the orchestra members, “and I’m kind of faking it now and then.”

Nelson’s sons, Lukas and Micah, appear on his new album, Heroes, and sometimes perform during his concerts.

“Working with your kids — there’s nothing better than that,” he said. “All the kids really make you proud when you’re out there.”

Asked if he encouraged his children to get into music, Nelson responded, “I left a lot of instruments lying around and kind of waited to see what they would pick up. For a long time, they didn’t pick up anything. Then, after a while, I saw Luke pick up a guitar, and Micah jumped on some drums, and it kind of caught on from there.”
Waddell pointed out that Nelson has recorded songs from virtually every musical genre and asked what made him choose one song over another.

“It’s one of those instant things,” Nelson replied. “When you hear a song or a melody or something, it hits you. It’s really not anything you have control over. You hear a good song and you wonder where it’s been all these years.”

So what led him to cover Coldplay’s “The Scientist” on Heroes, Waddell wondered.

“Lukas brought that to the studio, and Micah brought ‘Come On Up to the House,’ the Tom Waits song [also on the album]. So the kids have kind of been supporting me.”

Flashing back to when he first knew he wanted to play music, Nelson said the first guitar he picked up was an old Stella with its strings sitting high off the neck.

“My fingers were almost bleeding, but I didn’t care. I knew that was what I wanted to do,” he recalled. “I was about 6 years old.”

Waddell asked if it had been difficult for him to leave his native Texas to try his hand at music in Nashville all those many years ago.

“I had been told all my life that this was the place to go,” he said. “This is where the music folks are, and if you had something to sell, the folks here might buy it. It sounds commercial, but that’s the way it was to me back in those days because I needed some help. I was doing pretty good in Texas, but I needed to branch out a little bit.”

It was in Nashville, Nelson acknowledged, that he established himself as a songwriter. Reciting his successes, he said, “Faron Young did ‘Hello Walls.’ Billy Walker did ‘Funny How Time Slips Away.’ Patsy Cline did ‘Crazy.’ Roy Orbison did ‘Pretty Paper.’ Ray Price did ‘Night Life.’”

While Nelson customarily wrote songs by himself, he said he did occasionally write with others.

Hank Cochran and I used to write some together,” he said. “I remember one night in particular we were writing at my house out in Ridgetop [a community located north of Nashville], and we wrote seven songs that night. The last song that we wrote was ‘What Can You Do to Me Now,’ and the next day my house burned.”

In those early days, Nelson continued, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Nashville’s Lower Broadway was a songwriters’ haven, located as it was directly behind Ryman Auditorium, then the home of the Grand Ole Opry.

“I met Charlie Dick there, who was Patsy Cline’s husband. I brought ‘Crazy’ with me on a 45 [rpm record]. I had it on Tootsie’s’ jukebox. He listened and said, ‘I bet Patsy would like that.’ It was about 12 at night, and we’d had a couple of beers. He said, ‘Let’s go play this for Patsy.’ I said, ‘No, let’s don’t. Let’s wait until tomorrow.’ But he said, ‘No. Come on.’  “So I wouldn’t get out of the car. He went in and told Patsy that he had a song for her. She came out and made me come into the house. I sang the song for her. She loved it and recorded it the next week.”

Nelson next reminisced about his stint as a bass player in Ray Price’s band.

“First of all, Donny Young — or Johnny Paycheck [as he’d later call himself] — was playing bass for Ray, and he left the band. I was writing songs for Pamper Music, Ray’s publishing company.

“Ray called me and asked me if I could play bass, and I said, ‘Well, can’t everybody?’ So on my way up there on the bus [to meet Price], [steel guitarist] Jimmy Day taught me a few things on the bass. I played guitar and knew the top four strings were very similar.   “So I had something to go on, and he knew the Ray Price show. By the time I got there, I thought I knew it. Of course, I didn’t. I asked Ray years later if he knew I couldn’t play bass, and he said, ‘Uh huh.’”

Waddell next wanted to know what caused Nelson to leave Nashville after he had become a recording artist and return to Texas.

“My demo sessions were better than my records,” he said, “because I had the greatest musicians in the world [playing on the demos]. So I really loved my demos, but a lot of the time when [the labels] got through adding everything to it, I felt like it kind of watered it down a little bit. That was one of the problems I had with that kind of recording.”

Also, he noted, he had a big fan base in Texas and played there a lot. Often, it made it difficult for him to get back to Nashville in time to play on the Grand Ole Opry, where he performed regularly.

In Texas, he noticed the audiences looked a little different from those in Tennessee.

“I played a lot of places where there were longhaired cowboys and shorthaired cowboys, and the air was kind of smelling different,” he said. “And I noticed a lot of the people were getting along pretty good out there. So I said we might ought to try something different.
“This was just after Woodstock. So I thought we might try something in Austin or Dripping Springs. So me and Leon Russell and a few more of us gathered up and had a little show down there [in 1973]. . . . We had about 50,000 people.” Thus was born the first of a series of annual Willie Nelson Picnics.

On the recording side, Nelson had turned to making concept albums — including Shotgun Willie, Phases & Stages, Yesterday’s Wine and Red Headed Stranger — instead of the usual collections of unrelated songs.

“I don’t really know what made me think it would work,” Nelson reflected. But obviously it did.
Asked about the “outlaw” tag tacked to him after the release of Wanted! The Outlaws, the 1976 package of songs that also featured Waylon Jennings and Tompall Glaser, Nelson said, “I loved it. I thought that was the best sales idea we came up with. . . . I thought it was ingenious.”

He noted that the term “outlaws” was coined by Hazel Smith, who now writes CMT.com’s Hot Dish column.
Nelson also spoke fondly of touring with Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson as the Highwaymen.

“Every night I got to hear my heroes sing,” he said. He added that there were 278 pieces of luggage they had to lug around on the Highwaymen tour.
Nelson said he didn’t realize in 1985, when he helped launch the first Farm Aid to call attention to America’s embattled family farmers, that it would develop into an annual event.

“I really thought that if we did one Farm Aid and all the smart guys in Washington saw what was going on, they would do something about it. But then I found out that they were part of the problem — that the big corporations had taken over the farms, and they were trying to squeeze out the family farmers. And they’re doing a damn good job of it.

“What’s really going to have to happen is we’re going to have to get our farmers back growing food and fuel and keep us from going around the world and starting wars over oil when we can have our own resources right here.”

This remark drew cheers from the crowd.

“One of our biggest problems,” he continued, “is that guns and drugs are going back and forth across our southern border. . . . It would save a lot of money and a lot of lives by decriminalizing some of the less harmful drugs.”

He later referred to marijuana, the drug with which he’s become associated and celebrated, as “the best stress medicine there is.”
Waddell asked Nelson why he is so open to meeting with and helping younger artists. That question took Nelson back to the days when he was a fan looking toward his own idols.

“I remember meeting [Western movies actor] Johnny Mack Brown when he came to Hillsboro [Texas]. I shook his hand and got an autograph. I realize how happy that made me. So if I can make somebody else that happy, that would be a good deal.”

Returning to his new record, Heroes, Nelson had nothing but praise for Snoop Dogg, who sings with him on the raucous “Roll Me Up (And Smoke Me When I Die).”

“He didn’t rap it. He really crooned it,” Nelson marveled.

He confirmed the rumor that in the hard times of his early career, he sold the rights to several songs that are now priceless, among them “Family Bible” (which went for $100) and “Night Life.” He said at the time it made sense and helped him pay his bills.

“I really don’t feel horrible about it, but I wish I hadn’t.”

Summarizing the way he looks at life now, Nelson concluded, “I’m just glad for the moment. That’s about all I can think about right now.”

Meet Lukas Nelson

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018
www.Surfline.com
by: Dashel Pierson

Lukas Nelson is no stranger to life on the road. He just returned from Australia, before that Europe, and next all across America for a slog of performances with his band Promise of the Real, some gigs playing with Neil Young, and “a few shows with dad here and there,” too.
“Dad” is, after all, the guy who wrote the seminal nomad anthem, “On the Road Again” – so, yeah, he’s well-accustomed to tour buses and long stretches of sleeping in strange hotels.

“I really feel at home on the road,” Nelson told Surfline during a lull from his time on tour. “I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It gives me a sense of meaning and accomplishment and, yeah, I feel lucky to do it.”

Nelson, 29, was born in Austin, Texas. He’s one of seven children from legendary folk hero, Willie Nelson. But before he followed in his father’s footsteps, he and his mother moved to Maui, where Lukas spent his childhood surfing, skateboarding, and noodling around on guitar.

“They’re a lot different [Hawaii and Texas], but there’s a lot of similar mentalities,” Nelson said, reflecting on his childhood. “The people are good to one another, they’re kind, they’re conscientious and aware. Both were great places to grow up.”

And if being Willie Nelson’s son wasn’t enough when it came time to choose a career path, then growing up between these two distinctly different locations gave him that extra little push. As Nelson explained:

“Austin is a special place in terms of music, so that had a major influence on me. But Maui is too. I got lost in music on Maui, just jamming, and being introduced into reggae out there. I had a reggae band out there for a bit. It’s just different flavors of the same kind of spirit, so to speak.”

Also on Maui, Nelson became close with the Meola family and, specifically, the elder son, Matt. The two became inseparable, from going to the same school, to surfing with one another daily. They’d surf Ho’okipa, Honomanu Bay, Honolua Bay, and sometimes they’d traverse the island to Lahaina.

As for Jaws, Nelson never caught the bug – unlike his Maui cohorts like Matt Meola, Albee Layer, or Kai Lenny – although he’s not opposed to paddling out in the future, if the opportunity arose. “I’d be into [surfing Jaws] if I had the time to train beforehand, but right now, I don’t think I have that time,” he said. “Wiping out at Jaws is no joke. I’d need to make sure I’d be prepared for that. Maybe there’ll be a time in my life when I can get really into the training. I have a lot of respect for the ocean and I’m not going to try and do something that I’m not comfortable with.”

But whereas Matt and the other Maui boys took the path of professional surfing, becoming some of the most innovative aerialists and big wave specialists in the game, Lukas decided to focus on music.

“At a certain point, I knew that I had a talent for music and I just put 100% into it,” said Nelson. “Just like Matt put 100% into surfing, and he’s one of the best. It’s just a matter of choosing your passion and going for it.”

Soon, Nelson was playing gigs and forming his band, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. But before the band became the touring outfit for Neil Young – playing onstage with the fabled musician during bigtime sets, like the classic rock enthusiast’s answer to Coachella, Desert Trip – Nelson’s own band began as an homage to Young, and one song in particular.

“Neil’s song ‘Walk On’ – that’s the reason for the band’s name,” Nelson explained. “We were in love with that song, and especially the line that goes: ‘some get stoned, some get strange, sooner or later it all gets real.’ That rang true with us, and resonated with me.”

Not just the lyrics, but the message behind them rang true with Nelson. Through his upbringing, traveling to tour stops with “dad” during school vacations, he had a firsthand glimpse into the manipulative, occasionally toxic entertainment industry in which he planned to enter. And he decided to make a promise to himself, a promise to remain real.