Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Lukas Nelson talks about new album, “Something Real”

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

by:  Michael Lello

Lukas Nelson, the son of Willie Nelson, has released a new album, “Something Real,” with his roots rock band Lukas Nelson & Promise of The Real.
Lukas Nelson’s profile continues to grow at a rapid yet sustainable pace, as his band Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real recently released a remarkable new album, “Something Real,” while its namesake is on call to work with heavy hitters like Neil Young and Bob Weir.

Playing a self-proclaimed brand of “cowboy hippie surf rock,” on “Something Real,” Nelson, the son of country icon Willie Nelson, and the burgeoning band take another step forward. And as Nelson sees it, the next album will be even better.

“We already have almost another album recorded, at least the demos are done,” Nelson says in an interview with HNGN, revealing that he’s also wirting with the aforementioned Weir of Grateful Dead fame and planning a record with kindred spirit Shooter Jennings. “This record that we’re releasing now is two years old, and that’s kind of frustrating sometimes to put a snapshot out of a 2-year-old piece of art, but it’s the nature of the business, and I’m already excited about the next one. We’ll put it out in the fall or sometime soon.”

Promise of the Real – Corey McCormick (bass), Anthony LoGerfo (drums) and Tato Melgar (percussion) – is Nelson’s top priority. That said, he is an artist of many ambitions, who, along with his band and brother Micah recorded with Young on his 2015 protest album “The Monsanto Years,” played on Young’s subsequent tour and has been a featured member in his dad’s band.

With all of this in mind, we spoke with Nelson about the making of his group’s latest album, how he embraces Willie’s legacy and why sometimes music is more than just music.

What was your mindset going into this album?

It’s funny. We hadn’t released anything in a while, but we knew we needed to get something out. We went down to San Francisco and got into a Victorian mansion called Westerfield House. It’s been a home to the likes of Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company and Russian embassy and a speakeasy,

What kind of impact did that atmosphere have on the music?

I’d say 75 percent of that material is San Francisco-born, so the vibe can’t help but be there.

Why did you put the song “San Francisco,” made famous my Scott McKenzie, on the album? Was it emblematic of the album?

Yeah, we were there, we were feelin‘ it, I wrote a bunch of music while I was there absorbing the vibes. There’s a certain darkness and a big change happening between the classes. On one hand you have an amazing economic growth and a lot of jobs being created and people making a lot of money working on things that are helping our world, arguably for the better, in the tech industry and all of the industries that are going up there, and then you have all those artists and people that can’t afford to live in those places anymore. So there’s a lot going on there, and I think that’s reflected in the record.

“Something Real,” the new album from Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real.
The album has a really live sound. It doesn’t sound like there were a lot of overdubs.

There weren’t many overdubs. We did a live track in one of the rooms, and I’d go up to the tower sometimes overlooking the city and I’d sing my vocals there and we’d light candles. It was basically live. We just put all the amps in different rooms and went for it.

When you play concerts, do you try to stick to the album versions or leave thingsopen-ended so you can jam?

Live is where we’re at. Live is where we really shine, so we’ve just grown so much as a band. We like to improvise, we like to change things up.

What does “cowboy, hippie, surf rock” mean?

Well, I was born in Texas, I also grew up in Hawaii, I surf, and I like to rock ‘n’ roll. I grew up with country music and I grew up with rock ‘n’ roll, so that blend is kind of what we jokingly refer to as “cowboy, hippie, surf rock.”

What kind of music were you exposed to growing up, and what did you think of yourdad’s music?

My dad’s music is what I grew up listening to, and he’s always been the greatest dad anybody could ask for. He’s led by example, and he’s given me my space. I’m not trying to run away from it at all. I’m proud that he’s my dad. I play my own music, but I’m also influenced by him and I sound like him when I sing. I can’t help it, and I’m not running away from it, but I do think I’ve learned to play guitar and I’ve learned to play piano andI’ve learned how to write music and songs, so I consider myself a growing artist with respect to my father but separate from him.

Have you befriended any musicians in the same situation?

Well, Shooter (Jennings) and I are working together. We recorded stuff together, andwe’ve done some tours together, so he and I have a lot in common, our dads being best friends and him growing up in a similar situation. He’s about the best guy you can be friends with.

How has your dad reacted to your growing success?

I think he’s really happy that I’m able to do what I want to do. He grew up in a world where it was a lot harder to get out there unless you played the game a little bit, and the irony is once he stopped playing the game and went down to Austin and grew his hair long and recorded “The Redheaded Stranger” and “Troublemaker” and worked with Waylan and all that, that’s when the game stopped, and that’s when he actually made it. He didn’t make it until he was 40 years old. I’ve learned a lot from him how to deal with the industry, andI’m still learning.

When did you realize you wanted to follow in your father’s footsteps and become a musician?

I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do. At 6 or 7 years old I had a dream that I was in front of like a million people, alone up there, and I was terrified, and I call it my conscious awareness, where usually you’d say you’re looking at the audience and what was more comfortable for me to shrink my awareness down to the center of my chest and look out through my chest, look out through my heart at the audience, and sing from that place. I had this vivid dream that this happened to me, and when I started singing from that place, I felt that people started cheering and the crowd went wild, the million people.

Neil Young and Willie Nelson are activists. Do you feel your music is more than just about music?

Yes. I feel like music is art, and art is also social commentary. Now I don’t believe it should all be social commentary, but I also believe that there is a role for social commentary in all art, music. I’m not one to shy away from that, although I do like art for the sake of art at the same time as well. I think there’s a good balance and a well-rounded artist will incorporate what he believes or what he’s come to know or a certain wisdom.

What was it like to record and tour with Neil for “The Monsanto Years”?

I mean it was amazing. Working with Neil was the most incredible thing. We’re going out to Europe, we’re going to jazz fests and we’ve got a live album that he’s putting together right now, and he’s just so creative and fun to work with. It’s a highlight of my life to do these things with him, no matter what it is, no matter what it’s for.

How would you compare “Something Real” and your next album?

The upcoming album is more mature, it’s just what you would expect from something two years later from a band that’s constantly getting better. I’m looking forward to releasing this record, and I think the next one is going to be even better, and the next one after that is going to blow people’s minds, and hopefully this one will in some ways too.

What are your thoughts on “bro country”?

Man, I don’t know about genres, music is music. You like it, you like it. Some of the pop stuff is good. There are some incredible songs being recorded. I don’t hate on anybody. I may not align myself to certain things, but I don’t judge, and I think that there’s some great music out there. The music with integrity shines through.

Willie Nelson talks to Dan Rathers about new business, “Willie’s Reserve”

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

Willie Nelson is a country singer, actor, activist, and entrepreneur. His latest business venture is his own line of marijuana called Willie’s Reserve.  The longtime weed enthusiast sat down with Dan Rather for a in-depth interview about his new brand of weed, which comes out in March.

“We are trying to grow the best,” he said.  His goal is for it to be not only the best weed, but for it to be affordable and within everyone’s budget. Willie’s Reserve is grown in Colorado, one of the four states where weed is legal for recreational use.  “There’s a bunch of gals up in Colorado that are running Willie’s reserve, we call the the High Women,” he tells Rather. “Women Who Grow, I think, is their legal name. They’re doing great work.”

The facility they grow in is larger than a football field and hopes to pave the way for more states to legalize marijuana. Rather points out that Nelson doesn’t need the money. Rather asks him, “Why are you doing it?” “To prove a point,” Nelson says. “And I felt that if you really believe in something, why not promote it?”

Meet Bobbie Nelson (1/10/2008)

Sunday, March 27th, 2016


photo:  Todd Wolfson
By Bill Deyoung

When Willie Nelson takes the Sunrise Theatre stage for his sold-out show Friday night, he’ll be accompanied by the same ragtag gang of bearded, road-hardened musicians that’ve made up his touring band for more than 30 years.

Look closely, however, at that petite piano player, with long, auburn hair usually topped with a wide-brimmed hat. That’ll be Bobbie Nelson, Willie’s older sister. She is not only his blood kin, she’s his oldest friend and the one musician who’s played alongside him since virtually the beginning. Her piano is the backbone of the band, which is officially called Willie Nelson and Family.

Bobbie and Willie were raised together in tiny Abbott, Texas, midway between Waco and Dallas. Raised by their grandparents, the siblings picked cotton, milked cows and faithfully attended the local Methodist Church, where Bobbie played the organ and they both sang in the choir.

At 76, Bobbie has just made her very first solo record. “Audiobiography” includes two guitar-and-piano duets with her brother, and a number of instrumental piano pieces ranging from church music to boogie woogie to Willie’s lounge classic “Crazy.”

“Whenever our band plays,” Willie Nelson said, “Sister Bobbie is the best musician on the stage.”

Q. Why did it take you so long to make your own album?

A. Before I went out on the road with Willie, I used to play in hotels, supper clubs, churches and all of those things. I had thought a long time ago that maybe I would have a record for sale, but I never did do that.

Then I was on the road with him all those years, and I was happy recording with him, and I guess I just didn’t feel the need to make an album on my own then.

When I was asked why I never wrote my autobiography, I said I thought I could do it best with music, because my whole life has just been music. I don’t separate myself from that piano.

Q. You and Willie started playing and singing together when you were very young in Texas. His career in Nashville started in the early ?60s; what were you doing then?

A. Well, I had never dated anyone in my life, because my grandmother was very strict. I married Bud Fletcher at 16; he was 22. Willie was 14. I was playing revival meetings with a minister; Bud organized our first band, with me and Willie and our father on rhythm guitar. Then Bud was killed in a car accident, and I had three young sons to take care of. So I moved to Fort Worth and taught music for Hammond Organ, and played in the church. I spent 10 years there.

In Houston, Willie was selling encyclopedias, sewing machines and vacuum cleaners, and playing some music at night. I moved to Austin in 1965 to play piano at the El Chico Restaurant. I opened a lot of hotels and taught music, and took a job playing piano at Lakeway Resort. Then he came to Austin and started playing at the Armadillo Word Headquarters, where he joined all the forces of the cowboys and the hippies …. (laughing).

Q. Willie had already been in Nashville, making records, for years before you started working together professionally in the early ?70s. How did that come about?

A. Willie said “Sister Bobbie, would you like to record a gospel record with me in New York City?” I was tickled to death. I’d never been on an airplane before. I’d never been anywhere except my trips to Nashville to visit him.

I farmed out my little job playing piano at Lakeway and flew to New York City and did the “Troublemaker” album, the gospel album. Willie’s wife took me up to the Empire State Building ? it scared me to death going up there ? and then they asked me to help on the “Shotgun Willie” album. And that went very well.

Then Willie said “I sure have missed playing with you.” I said, I missed playing with you, too. He said “What in the world are we waiting for? Let’s just don’t stop.”

Q. And you’ve been on the road pretty much without a break since the 1970s. Was that lifestyle tough to get used to?

A. Our first band, we played about the same stuff we’re playing right now on the road. Some of the very same songs ? “Down Yonder” and “Under the Double Eagle” and a lot of the country music we play.

But it was a new experience, because I didn’t drink, I didn’t do any of the habits of all of the musicians on the road, and I certainly didn’t dress the way they wanted me to dress, either. I’m use to getting dressed a little bit when I go to these cocktail lounges and perform. Or church.

Willie said “Just get you a pair of jeans, Sister Bobbie.”

I really did want to be a part of these guys. I didn’t want them to feel weird. Girls on the road, it’s another story. That used to be the rule ? no girls on the road. Somebody asked Willie, what about your sister? And he said “Sister Bobbie’s not a girl, she’s a piano player.”


Q. What’s it like playing in that band?

A. You know, we are so bonded. Those guys have been so wonderful to me. In February, after we got back from Europe, I had a couple of strokes ? I played three nights without anyone knowing ? and when I got back to Austin, I went to my doctor and I ended up with a pacemaker.

By April I was back on the road with everybody.

Q. You’re very protective of your brother, aren’t you? Is that part of your job?

A. It’s not part of my job. It’s that I’m older than Willie, and I took care of him from the time he was born. And later, he took care of me. We took care of each other. And we still do. That bond will always be with us.

Willie Nelson and Farm Aid

Monday, February 29th, 2016


photo:  Paul Natkin
by:  David Ritz

It all began with a few words from Bob Dylan onstage at the Live Aid concert in July 1985, asking: Couldn’t some of the money raised go to help American farmers?

“The question hit me like a ton of bricks,” remembers Willie Nelson, who was on the road that day, watching the event on his tour-bus TV. He immediately began looking into the state of American agriculture. This was a time when family farmers were suffering mightily. Thousands were being forced off their land and driven into bankruptcy.

1987: Mellencamp (left) and Nelson testified before the U.S. Senate with Sen. Tom Harkin.

1987: Mellencamp (left) and Nelson testified before the U.S. Senate with Sen. Tom Harkin.Farm Aid

Enter Nelson, who, a few days after Dylan’s remarks, met with his friend Jim Thompson, the then governor of Illinois, at the St. Louis Fair. With Thompson’s help — and the collaboration of John Mellencamp and Neil Young — the first Farm Aid concert took place that same summer, on Sept. 22 at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium in Champaign. More than $7 million was raised. Thirty years later, Farm Aid, an annual and much beloved American institution, has grown that number to $48 million.

Today, the 82-year-old Nelson remains fervently committed to the nonprofit that he helped to create.

What are your earliest memories of giving back?

Church. Ours was the United Methodist in the little town of Abbott, Texas, where I grew up. We had a collection box, and even though we were struggling financially, I knew there were folks with far greater struggles. As part of a loving community, I was taught the moral responsibility of helping those in need.

1990, Indianapolis: The fourth concert had environmentalists and consumer advocates join the cause. Pictured: Bonnie Raitt. 

1990, Indianapolis: The fourth concert had environmentalists and consumer advocates join the cause. Pictured: Bonnie Raitt. Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Of all the causes you might have championed, why Farm Aid?

Farming was my first job. I picked cotton. I pulled corn. I knew firsthand what it meant to farm. I knew damn well how tough it was. In high school, I was a proud member of Future Farmers of America. My farm roots are deep-seated in the soil of my personal story.

Willie Nelson Sick, Concerts Affected

In Farm Aid’s three decades, what is your most memorable moment?

It might have been that first one, because back then there was still uncertainty. Who knew if the idea would work? So it was a real thrill when the show sold out and 80,000 fans showed up. Beyond Dylan, Young and Mellencamp, we had B.B. King, Waylon Jennings, Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and a slew of others. Everyone was eager to pitch in.

1985, Champaign, Ill. The inaugural Farm Aid raised more than $7 million with a crowd of 80,000. From left: Cash, Nelson and Jennings. 

1985, Champaign, Ill. The inaugural Farm Aid raised more than $7 million with a crowd of 80,000. From left: Cash, Nelson and Jennings. Paul Natkin

Through Farm Aid’s history, what is your proudest accomplishment?

The fact that we’ve raised the public consciousness. There’s awareness today about the challenges of farming and the benefits of buying products on a local level — especially organic food — that was missing 30 years ago. Farmers’ markets have sprouted up. People realize the downside of shipping in food from hundreds of miles away — wasting money on costly fuel — when wholesome food can be grown and bought within a local area.

Do you believe the plight of the farmer has significantly improved?

There’s lot of work still to be done, but yes, I do believe real progress has been made. The proliferation of social media, for example, has been a good thing. All forms of communication help, especially when communication starts at the grass-roots level. Corporate-owned newspapers and magazines can be biased, but nowadays folks are looking beyond that; they’re hungry for the truth. Consumers are educating themselves about where and how food is grown.

2005, Tinley Park, Ill.: The 20th anniversary brought then-senator Barack Obama, who introduced Wilco. 

2005, Tinley Park, Ill.: The 20th anniversary brought then-senator Barack Obama, who introduced Wilco. Rick Diamond/WireImage

In addition to Farm Aid, for years you have been involved in the fight to legalize marijuana and recognize the benefits of hemp products. Are you still passionate about that cause?

More passionate than ever. I was recently encouraged to read about parents traveling to Colorado and Oregon where they could legally obtain marijuana so that, under a doctor’s care, their children’s seizures could be effectively treated. When it comes to pot, the dark ages may finally be behind us. It has been 25 years since I campaigned for Gatewood Galbrath, a Lexington, Ky., lawyer running for governor with a let’s-legalize-pot policy. We lost that battle, but now it looks like we’re winning the war. The decriminalization of marijuana is a growing and unstoppable movement. The good uses of hemp — for agriculture, clothing or the relief of serious pain — are well documented and irrefutable. Old prejudices die hard, but the anti-pot bias of a misinformed establishment is not long for this world.

2013, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: Pete Seeger, at age 94, served as the surprise guest, joining Nelson, Mellencamp, Young and Dave Matthews onstage for “This Land Is Your Land.”

2013, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: Pete Seeger, at age 94, served as the surprise guest, joining Nelson, Mellencamp, Young and Dave Matthews onstage for “This Land Is Your Land.”Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Do you think the world of today is a more charitable one than the world you knew as a younger man?

I’d like to think so, but I’m no social scientist. I’m just a picker from Hill County, Texas, who has led a very fortunate life. When I look back on that life, I remember acts of remarkable charity. My grandmother, the woman who raised me, was the most giving woman I’ve ever known. And of course during the different wars, you had many artists donating their services to entertain our troops abroad. But the advent of Farm Aid and many of the causes that followed brought on something new, something I hadn’t seen before.

Artists began banding together around urgent sociopolitical causes. In the past 30 years, that impulse — to address the pressing issues of our times — has strengthened. It goes beyond respecting the folks who grow our food. It even goes beyond the quality of the food itself. It’s about loving Mother Earth. Because we love her, we study her. And that study reveals her desperate state. It demands that we protect her from greedy and lethal exploitation. We need to be proactive about championing the causes that will preserve our natural resources and maintain a high quality of human and animal life. It’s a monumental task, but I have a deep belief in humanity. There are millions of good people committed to do the right thing. It’s just a matter of harnessing our energy, staying positive, remaining organized and fighting the good fight. Man, I’m ready to go! offers concert videos, in-depth news on food issues and a donation link.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 24 issue of Billboard.

Willie Nelson Interview at Luck, Texas

Sunday, February 28th, 2016
by: Paul Venema

BRIARCLIFF, Texas – Talking a break from his busy tour schedule, Willie Nelson put his unique spin on pot and politics during a relaxed visit at his Texas Hill Country ranch he calls Luck.

“When you’re here, you’re in luck. When you’re not here, you’re out of luck,” he declared.

Nelson chuckles when the topic turned to politics, “It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Nelson said about the 2016 presidential campaign. “I’ve seen the circus a few times but this beats any circus I’ve ever seen.”

“Seems like they’re just tearing each other down,” he said. “They can’t wait to say something negative about somebody and then they still want us to vote for them.”

Nelson said he is moving forward with his venture into the recreational marijuana business and plans to open stores marketing his brand that he calls “Willie’s Reserve” in Colorado this spring.

Asked whether he sees legalized marijuana in Texas he said, “We’re not totally stupid down here and all the old people are looking around and seeing all of the money they’re taking in in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and California.”

“Somebody’s got to be saying, ‘What the hell’s going on?’” Nelson said.

He was presented the Gershwin Prize by the Library of Congress this past November. The prize is the nation’s highest honor for popular song and he is the first country music artist to receive the Gershwin Prize.

Among past winners are Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney.

As for his unique singing style Nelson said “I like to sing it the way I feel it, and I feel it differently every time so I don’t get tired of hearing the same thing over and over again.”

As he approaches his 83rd birthday in April, Nelson said he is still in good health and has no plans to slow down.

“I’m going as slow as I want to. I’m almost stopped,” he laughed.

But with a tour schedule that includes over 100 dates a year, slow is a relative term.

“I seem to be doing pretty good,” Nelson said with a smile. “I made it up this morning.”

Willie Nelson’s Teatro

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

I listened to this album over and over while I worked yesterday.  It’s that kind of an album, you can’t get enough, it’s so beautiful. Originally released only on cd by Island Records in 1998, last year the album was made available on vinyl, on Record Store Day.  The artwork, yellow record, and even liner notes are all so beautiful.

 Here’s a track from the album:



On February 6, 2014, we were lucky enough to share a few minutes with Willie Nelson and Daniel Lanois, reminiscing about the good ol’ days of Teatro. Below is what unfolded. A big thank you to both Willie and Daniel, along with Seth Loeser, Meredith Louie, Henry Owings, Mark Rothbaum and Elaine Schock for making this possible.

— Matt Sullivan and Patrick McCarthy

WILLIE: Hey, Daniel. How you ‘doin?

DANIEL: Oh, Willie, I’m good. Nice to hear your voice. Are you on the road?

W: Yeah, we’re uh… somewhere out here. I think we’re in Oklahoma.

D: Right, right, right. Well, that’s good. Looks like we’re gonna put a little bit of life back into Teatro. That’s great, isn’t it?

W: Well, yeah. Heck yeah.

LIGHT IN THE ATTIC: To start, how’d the record come about?

W: Daniel, what do you remember about how it came about?

D: I’m sure Mr. Rothbaum was at the helm, but all business aside, when we decided to make the record, I wanted to make sure that Willie felt comfortable in the studio and that it did not feel like a usual recording session. I met Willie in Las Vegas, and we rode on his bus to California, where at the time I had the Teatro Recording Studios, an old cinema in Oxnard. We rode from Vegas, and Emmylou Harris joined us on the bus, and we went over some of the material on the bus.

I kept in touch with my crew back in California to make sure that the studio had a nice dance hall feeling because I talked with Willie on the bus, I said, “What was it like when you were getting started man?” He said, “Well, we were kind of a dance band, and people just were providing music for people on the weekends to dance to and have a nice time.”

And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to provide this tone for Willie? Have a kind of dance hall feeling in the place. So I set up three little stages — one for WIllie, one for Emmy, one for me. And then two drummers. It was a very beautiful, almost like a Cuban nightclub setting. And I think that really helped to set the tone of this album. Whatya think, Willie?

W: Yeah, that’s exactly it. And of course Emmylou was fantastic. We did a video, too. What song was the video, do you remember?

D: Well, we filmed the whole things with Wim Wenders.

W: Yeah, that’s right. Wenders.

D: It’s a beautiful film that goes with the whole thing. It never got aired a lot, but maybe we should try and knock on somebody’s door and say this is a good time to play the film. [laughs].

W:  You’re absolutely right.  Yeah, I think it deserves to have a chance out there.

D:  Yeah.  It was really a lovely, harmonious process.  I was happy to be on Willie’s bus.  We were just chillin’ and workin’ out the songs.  When I got to the destination, I made a decision to ask Willie to… the theatre had a nice parking lot, so there was plenty of room outside.  We sorta camped out outside, and Willie had his trailer there.  I just wanted to make sure that we didn’t burn out Willie, so I said to him, “Don’t even be in in the studio.  You stay out on the truck, and I’ll come out and get you, so that when you come in everything’s gonna be fresh.”  So I was rehearsing the band on the inside, and when I felt like the moment would strike, I’d go out and get Willie, and we’d get it in one or two takes.  [laughs]  We did that whole record in four days!

W:  Well, you know, when you’re having fun it don’t take long.

LITA:  Well said!  Willie, what are some of your memories of the album and the recording session?

W:  Well, I remember that we had some great rhythms there — I think two drummers and maybe a couple of bass players.  I’m not sure.  Who all played bass?  Did we have two or just one?

D:  No, no, no, Willie.  I played the bass.  I overdubbed the bass after!  So we had the two drummers, and then we had two keyboard players.  We had Aaron Embry, and then from Toronto a guy named Brian Griffiths on the guitar, the great slide player.  I think bass players must make too many mistakes, so I knew the arrangements, so I overdubbed the bass myself.

W:  Well, it turned out great.  I liked it.  I think it should have had a bigger run back there.  It was kinda quick — it came and went pretty quick, but maybe it’ll get another shot.

D:  Yeah, maybe it’ll get another shot.  And Willie, you’re absolutely right.  There was a very rhythmic foundation that we laid out which was petty sweet.  Those two great drummers, Victor Indrizzo and Tony Mangurian.  There was some kind of genius in inviting these two guys because one is a left-handed drummer and the other ne is a right-handed drummer, so they could sit at one big drum kit together and not get in anybody’s way!

[both laugh]

The one guy’s high hat is on the left, the other guy’s on the right.  it was pretty fucking funny.  But because they were literally sitting together, their rhythms were locked, so we had some very nice grooves going.  It’s hard to describe the full sensation of it.

W:  The theatre where we shot it, too, was perfect.  There was a great feel.  It was like a big nightclub or dance hall.

D:   Exactly.

LITA:  One of our favorite songs on the record is one that you wrote, Danel — the song, “The Maker.”  It’s a song that really captures the cinematic expansiveness of the album.

W:  I love, “The Maker.”

LITA:  It’s so cinematic and big.

D:  The good thing about “The Maker” is… I thought it was a good song for Willie because it gave him an opportunity to play with the phrasing.  The lyric lines are quite brief:  [sings] “Oh, deep water, black and cold like the night,” so it’s not a soaring melody.  It’s more of a standing melody, and I think that really suits Willie’s way of looking at vocal phrasing.  Willie, thanks for doing the song, man.

W:  Well, it was a lot of fun to sing.

LITA:  It’s been sixteen years now — what do you guys think of the record?  Do you feel it stands up?

W:  Definitely.  I’m just glad to see some folks payin’ attention to it again and thinkin’ about puttin’ it out there again.  It certainly deserves another shot.

D:  Is it sixteen years already?

LITA:  Yeah, 1998!

D:  Oh boy.  Well listen man, we have no shortage of passion and power and devotion to the music, s if an opportunity comes upt for us to go another rund sometime, Willie can count on me, how ’bout that?

W:  Well, you can count on me, too.  I’d love to do it.  Sounds like a good plan.

LITA:  That was our next question, so thank you!

D:  Well, we’re very driven by quality and magic.  I mean, we hope t get it… It helps when people are talented  [laughs], so we had a little bit f an advantage.  I think we had Mr. Nelsn in there on the vocals, so we had a pretty good chance.

LITA:  Any thoughts, Willie, on maybe performing the album live one of these days?

W:  Oh, that would be great.  I would be glad to do that sometime.  When it comes out, if we can promote it someway and showcase it, I think that would be a good idea.

LITA:  Maybe back at the theatre!  I think it’s for rent again. I eventually moved outta there.  It’s been a church since we had it, Willie, but I saw a “For Rent” sign on it, so…

LITA:  Well, the sound you guys got there was just magical.  We’re so thankful for your time and for your music.  You’ve brought a lot of happiness to us over the years, so thank you.

W:  Thank you very much.  It was good to hear from you, my friend.

D:  Willie, nice to hear your voice, and I’m looking forward to putting a little bit of juice back into Teatro, so if you get any additional ideas, gimme a call, ok?

W:  All right, same to you.

LITA:  Thanks so much.

D:  Thank you so much for your time, guys.

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

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

[I post this a lot, but it’s one of my favorites.  He was one of best interviewers I have ever got to read.  I miss getting to read Chet Filippo’s articles.]
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 ta 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? 1

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.

Willie Nelson on ESPN Sports Nation (June 16, 2014)

Monday, February 1st, 2016
Bristol, CT - June 16, 2014 - Digital Center 2 Plaza: Country singer Willie Nelson performs during an ESPN Newsmaker Luncheon (Photo by John Atashian / ESPN Images)

Bristol, CT – June 16, 2014 – Digital Center 2 Plaza: Country singer Willie Nelson performs during an ESPN Newsmaker Luncheon
(Photo by John Atashian / ESPN Images)

Nelson, 81, is in his sixth decade in the music industry that began when he started writing songs that included hits like Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”

“Band of Brothers” marks Nelson’s first album of mostly new, original content since 1996, whose single “Bring It On” can be heard here.

Send your questions now and join Nelson Monday at 1:45 p.m. ET!


Dan Rather interview with Willie Nelson (Jan 26, 2016) AXS TV

Monday, January 25th, 2016

“When it comes to country music, he’s about as big as it gets, but he’s also dedicated so much of his life advocating for causes he cares about. Willie Nelson has been connected to the fight to legalize marijuana for decades now. He even has his own brand of weed coming out in a couple of months. It’s called Willie’s Reserve.

Check out what Willie told me about this business venture that is rather “high” on his list of priorities.”

— Dan Rather

Check out our next Big Interview set to air this Tuesday, January 26th at 8 pm EST/7 pm CST on AXS TV.

Willie Nelson: There’s no stopping him

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

by:  Martin Chilton

Willie Nelson, who was born on April 30, 1933, in Abbott, Texas, is one of the finest country music singers and songwriters of modern times. Nelson has won 11 Grammys and acted in more than 30 films. He has also campaigned for the legalisation of marijuana. This interview with Martin Chilton was originally published in December 2012.

If there’s one soothing voice you want talking to you about the end of the world, then I guess country singer Willie Nelson will do just fine. But it’s just one of the odd subjects of an enjoyably eccentric conversation with one of America’s finest musicians in the lead-up to when the Mayans predicted it would all be over.

Nelson is still touring with a prodigious schedule, and has just published a memoir with the witty title Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die. The book went straight into the New York Times bestsellers list.  The Texan, who was born on April 30, 1933, seems to be in remarkably good shape. Nelson says: “I have always been interested in keeping fit and doing boxing and wrestling. As a youngster, I loved Charles Atlas, Bruce Lee and Kung Fu. But when I lived in Nashville I switched to doing Taekwondo.

“Last year, at the age of 78, I got my second degree black belt [he went on to get a higher degree black belt]. And singing is the best exercise – two hours a day will keep you in pretty good shape. I think it’s very important to learn from your own body. It doesn’t lie to you. If it feels good, do it. If it don’t feel good, don’t do it.”

Nelson is asked ad nauseum about drugs, because he is co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and is in favour of marijuana legalisation. I’m more intrigued by the fact that he now supposedly uses a vapouriser for his recreational inhaling. “Yes,” he cackles, “I now have what they call a vapouriser apparatus. It means there is no heat and no smoke, which is better for the throat of an old singer. But every so often someone will pass me a joint, and it would be impolite to refuse.”

His brilliance as a singer and songwriter has been widely recognised. This is the man who wrote Crazy (such a massive hit for Patsy Cline) more than 50 years ago, and who has won 37 major music awards, including 11 Grammy trophies. Yet he still talks modestly and enthusiastically about other musicians. Of jazz maestro Django Reinhardt, he says: “There is no doubt that he is the best guitar player ever. I never saw him live but I have watched him on video and have hundreds of his songs. I play Nuages most every concert, and I especially love Vous & Moi.”

British music never made much of an impression on the man who was born in Abbott, Texas. He explains: “I didn’t hear a lot of UK music, although I did record a version of the Beatles song Yesterday. I was more interested in the European jazz players. I loved Americans such as Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck, who just died, of course. I would loved to have recorded with Brubeck. Good musicians can play and record jazz and country. I grew up with country music and can adapt to jazz but sometimes jazz musicians have more trouble the other way because country is just not something they have grown up with.

Ray Charles could do both but then he could do anything. I still do everything off the top of my head, and if I make a mistake then it’s like the old joke . . . make one mistake people notice, make three and it becomes a hot lick.”

Songwriting is a craft he has always admired. He talks admiringly of somewhat neglected lyricists such as Lefty Frizzell. “I love him still,” says Nelson, “but I guess it’s only really people my age who know his work well. But the younger generation should know his music, and I always sing If You’ve Got The Money.”

Before Nelson made it as a singer, he paid his way writing songs for established artists. Once he’d made the breakthrough, he was free to write hit compositions for himself. Is it true he scribbled down On The Road Again on an airline sick bag? “It was pretty much like that,” he laughs. “I was travelling on an aeroplane with Sydney Pollack and Jerry Schatzberg and they said they needed a song for the film Honeysuckle Rose. So I just started singing, “I’m on the road again,” and I told them not to worry, the melody would come later. That was an easy song. My hardest song, I haven’t written it yet. I write less now than I ever did. I did a lot of writing when I was younger. I still write but don’t try to force a good idea. Once it starts coming you can’t put it off, anyway. It’s like labour pains.”

Love of music is in his bones. He spent a year teaching guitar in Houston and, like BB King, liked working as a radio disc jockey. Nelson says: “I enjoyed that and it was also a way to stay in music when I wasn’t playing regularly in clubs. I loved the fact that you could just go in an play a bunch of records that you liked. In those days, the DJ could just make his own show and play what he wanted, like Eddie Arnold, Django and Hank Williams. People used to love my programmes but in the end, and this is common now, programme directors always thought they knew best and there would be a falling out over what records should be played. I still do a bit for my XM Radio Channel 56 called Willie’s Roadshow.”

There really is no stopping him. Already set in motion for 2013, when he turns 80, are two new albums. Nelson says: “I have one coming out called Face The Music And Dance, with my band. I’ve always loved that Irving Berlin song. Then I have an album of duets with girls called To All The Girls. I sing with Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash and Barbra Streisand – that’s something I have long wanted to do. There will be 12 collaborations in all, with songs old and new. One song, brought by the producer Buddy Cannon, is a unknown song written by Waylon Jennings, one of the last he wrote, called She Was No Good To Me. And I get the chance to sing with Dolly Parton again, on a beautiful song she has written called From There To The Moon And Back.”

For good measure, he’s also just done a Christmas film called When Angels Sing with Lyle Lovett and Kris Kristofferson, and Nelson is talking about a couple of western movies in 2013, too. Does he call on his close pal (an incongruous duo they must make) Woody Harrelson for advice? “Oh, Woody’s great fun. He stays all the time. We hang out and play dominoes, poker and chess. He usually beats me at chess and I win at dominoes.”

He says it was fun writing his new book (his favourite novel is Huckleberry Finn) which ranges across music, anecdotes and politics. He talks about the struggles of ordinary American and farmers, environmental problems and about President Barack Obama. Nelson says: “He has been good for America and I knew him from when he was a young politician in Chicago. But when you get elected President I think the first thing they do is take you in a room and say you know you’re not gonna do sh-t. Your hands are tied and Congress have the whole thing locked down and we all get screwed. But Obama will do better this time. There are so many things going on in the world that he will be kept real busy with some major decisions.”

The book has downbeat moments (“the world is a sinking ship,” he writes) but in conversation he seems an optimistic man. Is that right? Nelson says: “Well, I really do believe that you can’t worry about yesterday or dwell on mistakes. There is a lot to worry about if you choose to. The doom-and-gloom people are out there. Only this week I was reading about how many people believe the world’s coming to an end this December 21st. But I see reasons for optimism. It’s like my song, It’s Always Now. Look for the hope.”

It’s always now,
And nothing ever
Goes away.
Is here to stay.
And it’s always now.

Who’d have thought it? Hope in a country music song. That’s Willie Nelson for you.


Dan Rathers Interviews Willie Nelson (airs Tuesday, Jan. 26)

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016


“I’ve had the good fortune to sit down with country music legend Willie Nelson several times in my life, and every time, I’m happy to report I learn something new. Check out our next Big Interview set to air this Tuesday at 8 pm EST/7 pm CST on AXS TV.

Willie has been lauded time and time again for being a gifted writer, a trait he discovered about himself in his early years. He was just six years old when he wrote his first poem. Check it out here.” — Dan Rather



Chelsea Handler talks about Willie Nelson

Friday, January 22nd, 2016


Chelsea Handler is all smiles as she makes an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Tuesday (January 19) in New York City.

The 40-year-old comedian promoted her four-part Netflix documentary series Chelsea Does where she tackles topics including marriage, racism, Silicon Valley, and drugs.

Chelsea revealed to Jimmy that she got really stoned with Willie Nelson.

“I was high for two days, I literally couldn’t open one of my eyes,” Chelsea joked. “He has his own line of weed for those of you who like weed. You smoke weed with him and you’re just like, I honestly couldn’t open my eye the next day. He’s so stoned, he probably didn’t even know I was there.”

Chelsea Does will be released on Netflix on January 22.

Read article here.

Willie Nelson interviewed by Dan Rather on AXS TV (Tuesday, January 26, 2016)

Thursday, January 21st, 2016


GRAMMY®-winning country music icon Willie Nelson sits down with Dan Rather in an all-new episode of THE BIG INTERVIEW, premiering Tuesday, January 26, at 8pE/5pP. During the candid hour-long discussion, the beloved author, poet, actor, and activist talks about the history and impact of his agricultural benefit concert Farm Aid, as well as the rise in organic products, and the ever-changing state of marijuana in America.

In 1985, Nelson, along with friends and fellow music legends Neil Young and John Mellencamp, spearheaded the Farm Aid benefit concert—a special event designed to benefit farmers who were at risk of losing their property due to mortgage debt. Now in its 30th year, the organization has grown tremendously, raising over 48 million dollars and attracting some of the biggest names in music, as they come together to support and honor the American farmer.

Delving into the tremendous response he’s gotten from both the music community and the public, in regards to Farm Aid, Nelson says, “Musicians know more about what’s going on out there than anybody else. They realized the farmers were in trouble. Thousands of musicians and pickers over 30 years have played Farm Aid for not one red nickel. I thought that there was a whole lot of people that came out for that first one, which showed a lot of interest. So, I felt like all those smart guys in Washington could see what the public wants, and they would do something about it. Naturally, that didn’t happen, so we had Farm Aid 2, Farm Aid 20, Farm Aid 30. And we’ll have Farm Aid 50 until they decide to do something about it.”

On the slowly-improving state of the agricultural industry, thanks in large part to the rise in demand for organic products, Nelson says, “People are finding out that they don’t have to get their food from 1,500 miles away, they can have their farmers around them grow what they need, and they can buy it at the local farmers market. And the farmers are becoming more and more aware of organic farming, so things are looking up, after all this time.”

Offering his concerns about the corporatization of the marijuana business, in this new age that finds the drug more accepted, available, and legal than its ever been before, Nelson says, “There’s already big companies, you know, and a few states that are already promoting their own product. And that’s cool. I would hate to see them start growing marijuana, and putting a lot of chemicals and pesticides on it, so that they can grow more, and more, and more, and make more and more money. They probably will do that, but I hope they don’t. I never thought it would get this far.”

Weighing in on the commonly held belief that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder narcotics, Nelson says, “I think that’s just a lot of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. They’ve heard that somewhere, so they repeat it. But, it’s not true. In fact, the opposite is true. I think more people are able to get off the strong, bad stuff by just smoking marijuana.”

Talking about his own brand of marijuana—Willie’s Reserve—which rolls out in March of 2016, Nelson says, “We were trying to grow the best… We want to regulate it, make it all worthwhile, on someone’s budget where they can afford it… [They’ve built a facility in Colorado] that’s bigger than a football field, where it showed marijuana being grown from the seeds, and it was quite amazing to watch all that, see how it progressed… I think Colorado probably has realized that there’s a lot of money there, and a lot of other states are lookin’ at the bottom line… and, ya know, those guys, they gotta see that. They gotta see what Colorado is doing, and how [many] taxes that’s bringing in to them.”

On why he’s decided to get into this booming business venture, Nelson freely admits, “To prove a point. When I got busted in El Paso a couple of years ago, I was reading about the Tea Party. So, I said, ‘Well, there’s a Tea Party, so why don’t I start a Tea Pot Party?’ And I did… I felt that if you really believe in something, why not promote it?”

To see more of this insightful episode, be sure to tune in to THE BIG INTERVIEW on Tuesday, January 26 at 8pE, only on AXS TV.

THE BIG INTERVIEW airs every Tuesday at 8pE, only on AXS TV.

Dan Rather interview with Willie Nelson to air on AXS-TV (Jan 26, 2016)

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

by:  Chuck Dauphin

Dan Rather has been perfecting his craft since 1950 — when he first went to work for The Associated Press as a reporter in his home state of Texas. And even though he’s been on the job for an amazing 66 years, Rather still gets excited when he gets the story.

His latest venture, The Big Interview, began its’ fourth season on AXS-TV on Tuesday (Jan. 12) at 8 p.m EST. The series features in-depth discussions with some of entertainment’s most iconic stars and is something in which Rather told Billboard he takes a great deal of pride.

“It’s a privilege and doing The Big Interview is something that I enjoy doing. The challenge has been to adjust my interview style somewhat,” he said, admitting that it is a little different than much of the hard news he has covered in the past. “I see it more of a conversation, instead of a breaking news story. I’m trying to get down to the essence of the person — beyond the professional and celebrity side and really dig down deep — because we have enough time to have a meaningful conversation.”

With this in mind, he said, he wants his subjects to “open up in a way that people haven’t seen on television before.”

The first performer interview of the new season is legendary rockerJohn Fogerty. Rather said the conversation runs the gamut of amazing highs and perilous lows, which he admitted surprised even him.

“Of course, I knew John Fogerty and his work, but what I learned was the importance — as well as the difficulty — of resilience,” said Rather. “He was at the very heights of success and then went through a period that took him to the depths. That is among the things he talked about. I gained a new perspective on how difficult resilience can be. We often talk about comebacks and it’s sometimes easy to take them for granted. But, in Fogerty’s case, the comeback was long, arduous, difficult and maybe not even yet complete.”

The next week, the veteran newsman will sit down with Academy Award-winning actor Benicio Del Toro and will close out the month on Jan. 26 chatting with Country Music Hall of Fame member Willie Nelson. Interviewing “The Red Headed Stranger” posed somewhat of a challenge to Rather, due to the fact that Nelson has told so much of his story before in various books, but added the singer always brings something new to the table.

“He’s such a strong storyteller and with his experiences, he has so many stories,” Rather said. “As well as I know him — and I’m proud to say that he’s a friend of mine — he told stories that has never been told before of what it was like coming up in the music world. He never ceases to amaze me.”

Over the first three seasons of The Big Interview, Rather has spoken with some of the most legendary artists in country music, with one of his favorite conversations coming last year with Charley Pride.

“I loved doing Charley,” Rather said. “There are so many surprises in doing the show and one of them is when I proposed doing a show on him, someone said ‘Well, he was big in his day, but does anyone care anymore?’ So, we did the show and had almost as much reaction to the interview as most of the ones we’ve done. I was really pleased to see that. Charley Pride is someone I’ve admired greatly because — beyond music — he’s one of the people who has saved his money and made some good investments in real estate. I admire him for his accomplishments as an entertainer, but also for his smarts as a businessman.”

As someone who has been on the front seat of history over the years, where does Rather see the journalism world today? At its heart, he believes the basic parts of the vocation are still in play.

“I still think it’s very valuable to serve an apprenticeship in journalism,” he said. “There’s an importance of covering what is going on at the police station, the city council meetings, even the boring zoning meetings. I think that is important for a young journalist. These days, I think it’s probably easier to get that experience in some form of social media. However, whether there’s an appetite for that kind of reporting on social media remains to be seen.

“I think it’s tougher to start out in journalism today because the audiences are more fractured that the idea of three or four networks having big audiences has just about passed. I think it’s more difficult, but the fundamentals haven’t changed. To be successful, you have to be able to write clearly, directly and quickly. You also have to have sort of a backbone and be persistent, because reporting requires you to be. Those things haven’t changed.”


Dan Rather interviews Willie Nelson in Austin

Monday, January 4th, 2016


Dan Rather on Twitter

I got a chance to chat w/ yesterday about his life and career. Look for the interview in 2016.