Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Willie Nelson interview on PBS

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: the continuing musical saga of the great Willie Nelson.

Jeff is back with our profile.

JEFFREY BROWN: He’s 81 years old, hair still long, though no longer all red, more legend these days than outlaw, but, yes, still very much on the road.

WILLIE NELSON: And I can’t wait to get on the road.

And everybody say it right here.

JEFFREY BROWN: Willie Nelson has just released a new album titled “Band of Brothers,” the first in many years to feature primarily his own original material.

On his tour bus before a recent concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, I asked him about the burst of songwriting.

WILLIE NELSON: Well, I know that some days you write and some days you don’t. And you learn to live with that. Roger Miller said one time that the well goes try, and you have to wait until it fills up again.

JEFFREY BROWN: You know what makes a good song after all these years of writing?

WILLIE NELSON: Oh, I think I do.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes?

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: Indeed, Nelson has been writing songs and hits for five decades.

WILLIE NELSON (singing): Crazy for feeling so lonely.

JEFFREY BROWN: “Crazy,” made famous by Patsy Cline in 1961, “Always on My Mind” in 1982, and dozens of others from more than 100 albums.

All the while, he’s performed around the world, long ago becoming one of music’s best known faces and voices.

WILLIE NELSON (singing): Time just slips away.

JEFFREY BROWN: All this began in the tiny town of Abbott, Texas, a childhood in which he and his sister, Bobbie, who still performs with him on piano, were raids by their grandparents.

He wrote about those beginnings in his 2012 memoir titled, in pure Willie fashion, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

I read in your last memoir, you said that you actually started writing poetry as a kid.

WILLIE NELSON: As I kid, I had — before I could play guitar, I was writing poems. And then, once I had figured out a couple chords on the guitar, I started putting melodies to my poems. And nobody ever told me I couldn’t, so I went ahead and done it.

JEFFREY BROWN: But were the words first?

WILLIE NELSON: Usually, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Oh, really?

WILLIE NELSON: Usually a little line or something that is said, and then the melodies are out there.

JEFFREY BROWN: In that memoir, you write about working in the fields picking cotton in 100-degree-plus weather and thinking that maybe playing the guitar would be a better way of making a living.

WILLIE NELSON: I would see these Cadillacs drive by on the highway with the air conditioner and all, and I would get a little bit jealous.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes? You remember that feeling?

WILLIE NELSON: Oh, yes, heck yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Are you surprised these years later that it worked , that it worked out?

WILLIE NELSON: No. I’m a little surprised at the — how well it worked out.

JEFFREY BROWN: You are?

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIE NELSON (singing): We’re a band of brothers, sisters and whatever on a mission to break all the rules.

JEFFREY BROWN: Not only has it worked out, but it seems to have done so on Nelson’s terms. He had success as a songwriter in Nashville in the ’60s. Then from his new base in Austin, Texas, he helped create a new, more raw sound for country music dubbed outlaw country.

WILLIE NELSON (singing): Whiskey River, take my mind.

JEFFREY BROWN: He appeared on the first “Austin City Limits” program on PBS 40 years ago and in the ’80s was part of an all-star collaboration with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson called the Highwaymen.

Over the years, he’s become known for his activism on behalf of small farmers and for legalizing marijuana and for reaching new audiences with recordings of American standards.

WILLIE NELSON: I think innately knew that music draws people together and that good music is liked by almost everybody.

I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like “Stardust,” “Moonlight in Vermont,” or “Crazy Arms” or “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” There are just certain sounds, music, that sort of you know people are going to like it.

That was me. Oh, you like it. And you try it out on an audience and, sure enough, they like it, too.

JEFFREY BROWN: You come across in song and here in person as calm, gentle. I was a little surprised that I read in your memoir where you talked about the rage that was — that has been there at times and that drinking somehow pushed that and marijuana later kind of helped it, suppressed it.

WILLIE NELSON: Well, I think there must be a little bit of truth in high temper and red hair.

JEFFREY BROWN: High temper and red hair.

WILLIE NELSON: Yes. Have you heard that?

JEFFREY BROWN: I have heard of that.

WILLIE NELSON: Yes. Well, I was sort of living proof of that, I guess, because I had flaming red hair and a high temper.

And that’s something that I have to control and live with all the time. But at least I know what my problem is.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: Whatever you call it, even after all the awards and honors, there’s clearly still a drive to the man that comes out on stage, the guitar playing on a guitar famous in its rights, as well-worn as its owner, named Trigger.

WILLIE NELSON (singing): I can be moving or I can be still, but still is still moving to me.

JEFFREY BROWN: And the unique phrasing, often off the beat, that has made Nelson’s sing so familiar to millions.

Behind all this, it turns out, is a great deal of attention to keeping in shape. Nelson has a black belt in karate and another in Korean mixed martial arts.

While on tour, he told me, he rides a bike, works out with a punching bag, takes walks. And that’s how he can do this into his 80s.

WILLIE NELSON: Really, I think the best exercise that I do is singing for an hour-and-a-half out on the stage, because, yes, I use the lung, the biggest muscle in your body. And I use it continually. And I kind of watch myself and I kind of feel how that singing is helping me as I do it physically.

JEFFREY BROWN: After a show, you feel better?

WILLIE NELSON: Oh, I feel much better after a show. And so does my sister, Bobbie, and all of us in the band.

JEFFREY BROWN: So being out on the road and playing like this all the time you think is keeping you healthier?

WILLIE NELSON: You have to be a professional athlete to do it.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes?

A professional athlete maybe, but somewhere in every tour, he says, he decides, at least for the moment, that he’s had enough. He wrote of that on a new song titled “The Wall.”

WILLIE NELSON (singing): I hit the wall.

That really happens to you along the way. But I enjoy playing music. Then I get back doing it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. But what happens to you when you’re not playing that for too long?

WILLIE NELSON: You get bored to be at home, or you’re used to coming out and doing it. It is an addiction. There’s no doubt about it, but it’s one of the good ones, I think.

JEFFREY BROWN: And not only the performing, but the songwriting continues. Nelson has already announced that another album of new material will come out later this year.

WILLIE NELSON (singing): You can’t tell me what to do. You can’t tell me what to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That Willie Nelson is an inspiration.

 

Real Time with Bill Maher – Overtime (with Willie Nelson, Howard Dean….) (Jan. 24, 2013)

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

hbo

Thanks to Jenny Thompson for this cool screen shot of Willie Nelson from his appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

billmaher

Overtime: January 24, 2014

Bill ended the after-show, show, with, “Let’s get high, now that it’s legal.”

Willie Nelson interview @celebstoner

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

countryman

www.celebstoner.com
by:   Steve Bloom

We caught up with Willie Nelson on June 20 for an interview on The CelebStoner Show. The focus of the interview was Nelson’s new album, Band of Brothers. We also touched upon a variety of subjects related to marijuana.

It’s a good time for country music as far as marijuana advocacy, isn’t it?

I think so. I think it has a lot to do with Colorado and Washington, all the states that have legalized it. That’s a big deal. I probably was one of the most surprised. I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime, but here it is. The future looks good.

Have you been to Colorado since they started selling marijuana legally?

No, I haven’t been there.

I read that the governor’s office in Colorado contacted you to do a PSA about marijuana.

Yeah, we’ve talked about doing a couple of things. I don’t know, I may or may not do it. I haven’t decided yet.

What do you attribute to all these changes happening as far as marijuana laws?

One word: Money. There’s a lot of money in selling marijuana. If you can do it legally, that’s good. Why should all the criminals make the money? This is what people are thinking. If it’s happening, if it’s going to be legal, let’s tax it and regulate it, like we do with everything else and make some money off this. I think that’s one reason why people are talking this a little more seriously.

That’s what you said when we started the Teapot Party. What kind of message do you have for Teapot Party people out there who are looking for advice from you about what the Teapot Party should be doing at this point?

Voting. Find out who in their area believes the way they do and vote for them. Get out and go vote. If it’s the day to go vote, make sure you go vote before you burn one down. Don’t get high and forget to vote.

Willie Nelson: “I’m not a huge advocate of edibles.”

You’re supporting Wendy Davis for the governor of Texas. You’ve faced some backlash because of her support of abortion. Have you felt any of this negativity from some people?

No, I haven’t. Maybe some people feel that way, but they haven’t said anything to me. She came out in support of medical marijuana. That was the issue. I’m not really familiar with the other issues.

Some states have legalized hemp. Are we moving in the right direction as far as making hemp available to people?

Yeah, we are. More and more people are finding out the benefits of it – hemp and marijuana. The more they delve into it and research it, the more they realize, Hey wait a minute, we should give this another look.

How’s your biodiesel company, BioWillie, doing?

Right now we’re sending out trucks to a lot of the restaurants around gathering up vegetable oil and taking it to our plants and turning it into biodiesel. That’s working very well.

As far as your personal smoking habits, are you vaporizing? Are you dabbing using concentrates?

No, I don’t really like any of those things. But vaporizers are good for your lungs. Cigarette smoke will kill you. I never heard of anybody dying from marijuana smoke. Vaporizers I think are smarter.

Do you use a vape pen or an old-fashioned vaporizer?

There are a few of those little pens going around. I see them around California, those e-cigarette type pens. They’re all right.

The latest thing is states are passing new medical marijuana laws that don’t allow for smoking. What do you think of that?

I don’t think much of them. I’m not a huge advocate of edibles. There are people who do find it beneficial. There are kids who are benefiting from it medicinally. The Charlotte’s Web folks – they’ve found ways to use it where it’s helpful. As far as me personally, I don’t do the edibles because it’s a different type of high and I just don’t like that.

When you go home, do you go to Hawaii or do you stay in the continental U.S.?

It depends on how much time I have. If I have enough time I like to go to Hawaii and hang out for a few days. or I’ll go to Austin. I’ve got a couple of good horses down there I like to ride.

What’s happening with your daughter Paula’s pot-bust case?

They dismissed that. The judge threw that out and took it off the record. She’s fine.

How’s the current tour going?

Working with Alison Krause + Union Station and Kacey Musgraves and these great musician and singers, it’s really a lot of fun, we’ve had a good tour. I look forward to touring with those folks again one day. Kacey and I are planning on doing a song together, an old song I wrote called “You Sure This Is Where You Want to Be.” We’re going to do some recording together and that’s going to be cool.

I hear you have another album in the works called December Day.

It’s just with my band and my sister Bobbie. It’s mostly me and sister with a little harmonica and a little bass in there. We’re doing nine songs that I wrote and a couple of Irving Berlin songs – “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “What’ll I Do.” It’s coming out sometimes before the holidays, maybe October.

Your drummer Paul English was injured last year in a bus crash. How’s he doing?

Everybody’s fine. We’ve got a pretty good little band going. We’re having some fun out here.

Read the article, see photographs here.

Send your questions for Willie Nelson to ESPN SportsNation for LIVE CHAT (June 16, 2014)

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Before he was an American music icon, Willie Nelson was a songwriter, and a damned good one.

 

SportsNation: Willie Nelson Chat

http://espn.go.com

Listen to a sneak preview of “Bring it On”, from Willie Nelson’s new album, “Band of Brothers”

Before he was an American music icon, Willie Nelson was a songwriter, and a damned good one.

Ever heard “Crazy,” performed by Patsy Cline? He wrote that, and a slew of other hits, years before his own songs and vocal interpretations of others’ music sold millions of records across genres.

In his sixth decade in the music business, Nelson, now 81, is again emphasizing his own writing. He’s penned nine new songs for his new album, “Band of Brothers,” which is being released June 17. And here’s an ESPN.com exclusive: the premiere of the first track on the album, “Bring It On.”

All the good stuff that makes Nelson’s music instantly recognizable is here — the marvelous singing voice, the singular vocal delivery, the tone of “Trigger,” his irreplaceable Martin N-20 acoustic guitar. But more than anything, what comes across loud and clear in “Bring It On” is that the decades haven’t mellowed his fierce independence.

He’s been through his share of hard times — health problems, a run-in with the IRS and a marijuana possession charge in the great state of Texas — so it’s not hard to pick an enemy and imagine Willie staring ‘em down: “Well I know you’re out there ’cause I hear you breathin’/But it still don’t mean nothin’ to me/Bring it on.”

On the title track of “Band Of Brothers,” an ode to his fellow musicians, Nelson declares, “And I know you love me ’cause I love you too/But you can’t tell me what to do.”

As painfully shortsighted as it seems now, the Nashville establishment didn’t know quite what to do with Nelson as a recording artist when he arrived in Music City in the early 1960s. But the Nashville hit machine knew how to turn Nelson’s artfully crafted songs into gold. “Crazy” is the Nelson song everyone knows, but thumb through the country section at the used record store and you’ll find many more, such as “Hello Walls,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and “Night Life.”

It was only when he returned to Texas in the 1970s that Nelson became one of his generation’s defining voices — not just in the outlaw country movement, but across genres — as a songwriter and a performer.

And now, for the first time in a long time, Nelson is once more leaning on his own songwriting for a new album. “I got on kind of a writing kick,” he recently explained. “It’s good to be writing again.”

“The Wall,” another track from “Band Of Brothers,” will be available for download Friday, the same day National Public Radio is scheduled to feature the album.

 

Willie Nelson interview, ‘Stomp and Stammer’ (April 1999)

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

At 66, Willie Nelson is Still on the Road, and Headed for Another Joint

by Bob Townsend
April 1999

After the Yesterday’s Wine album came out a friend of mine got a call from a hippie fan in San Francisco who said, “I’m worried about Willie.  He thinks he’s Jesus.”

I got a kick out of that.  Just last year, one of those supermarket newspapers had a full page story about the face of Jesus suddenly appearing on the outside wall of a grocery store in South America  after a dramatic rainstorm.  Hundreds of people came to pray to the image of Jesus, and some of the sick went away cured.  A few days later, following another thunderstorm, a new figure appeared on the wall beside Jesus.  It was Julio Iglesias.

What happened, the rain had washed off the coat of whitewash that had covered a poster for “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

The supermarket headline said:  THAT’S NOT JESUS – IT’S JUST OLD WILLIE

– Willie Nelson
An Autobiography

It’s hard to say much about Willie Nelson without reverting to hyperbole, let alone spiritual metaphor.  But the man is a cultural icon like few others — fiercely capable of maintaining his artistic integrity while somehow being all things to all people.

An idol beloved by bikers and hemp smokers, old ladies and babies and almost everyone in between, Willie has done time in Nashville and Hollywood, recorded over 200 albums and, in a career that has spanned nearly 40 years, appeared in the guise of country-politan songsmith, redneck outlaw, rural folk hero, canny interpreter of sappy standards, savior of the family farmer, and David fighting the IRS Goliath.

An ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic wrote in the liner notes to the recent weirdo tribute Twisted Willie, he is the rare figure who ‘transcends genre and generation.”  But unlike many big stars, his larger-than-life persona exudse a mellow, comforting quality.  Willie is the wide-eyed, pothead rascal in red pigtails, T-shirt and running shoes, who seems to hold some cabalistic clue to the meaning of the universe.

“He has this presence that radiates out of him – an aura.”  Emmylou Harris has said, “You can feel it even when he’s not in the room.  If you want to understand what I’m taliking aobut, go to one of his concerts.  People act like they’re in church, as if he fills a spirtual void for them.”

That commingling of the everyday and the ethereal even translates over the telephone wire.  Calling from a stop in Albuquerque one afternoon, Nelson’s sonorous baritone fills the receiver like a familiar refrain.  “This is Willie,” he says.  And so it is.

Nelson is on the road again.  But isn’t he always on the road, if only in his mind?  Through he turns 66 this month – an age when most of his associates have retired, or set up shop in Branson — Willie is touring behind one of the most adventurous recordings of his career.

Teatro harks back to the turbulent early ’60′s, when Nelson sojourned in the wilderness of Nashville as a short-haired Music Row songwriter.  That’s when he penned such jazz-bent masterpieces as “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Hello Walls” and “Crazy”  — songs that forever changed the sound of country music, and gained Nelson his first measure of success.  But it was also a period when his personal life was disintegrating along with his first marriage.

With the help of producers Daniel Lanois and fellow traveler Emmylou Harrris, Nelson recalled those days in radical fashion on Teatro.  Recording in a converted Mexican movie theater, Lanois delivered the kind of cinematic energy he made famous in his work with U2, the Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan and lately, Harris herself.  But Nelson didn’t allow Lanois to go too far over the top, as he turned in one of his most battered and beautiful performances since the early ’70s, when he made Phases and Stages in Miracle Shoals with Jerry Wexler.

Nelson, who entrusted Lanois with nearly complete control of the Teatro sessions, is magnamimous in his praise for the shifting sonic textrues he conjured on the disc.  “I felt like I was lucky to get him” he says.  “I left it up to him, more or less, because his idea was to take the song, and the voice and the guitar and then build around it and enhance it.  I was interested to see what he would do, so I let him have a free hand.”

Interestingly, Nelson says he even allowed Lanois to pick the songs for the album.  “We started out with 100 songs, picked 20 of those, and then ten of those to record . I turned in new songs and old songs together.  And I felt like maybe all the new songs would get reocrded, but I was going to let Daniel choose the ones he liked.  He listened to the old ones and the new ones not knowing which was which, and he picked the songs that are on the album/  I left it enterely up to him.”

But there was one tune Nelson thought twice about:  “The one where I choke the girl.”  He says he thought the jealous murder ballad, “I Just Can’t Let You Say Good-Bye” was a tad too dark — even for an album that features, “I Never cared for you,” “I Just Destroyed the World” and “Darkness On the Face of the Earth,” in its exhibition of lovesick devastation.  “I probably wouldn’t have put it in.  But he liked it so well.  I even argued with him.  I said, ‘No.  You don’t want to put that goddammed song in there.”

Of course, listeners who’ve only heard Willie crooning with Julio or pickin’ with Waylon may be surprised by how much he risks on Teatro.  But longtime fans have seen Nelson through all manner of changes.  And as his continuing spate of concept albums (he recorded his first, Yesterday’s Wine, in 1971), duet projects and musical tributes prove, he clearly likes shaking things up from time to time.  “Maybe that’s what I do best,” he allows.

Nelson laughs easily when reminded of the grocery store Jesus story.  “Pretty weird,” he says.  But when it comes to accounting for all the fame, fortune and awards — such as being named a Kennedy Center honoree, and squeezing into a tux to stand alongside the likes of Bill Cosby and Shirley Temple Black — Willie cops the perfect Zen bastard blend of antic, irony and wistful awe.

“I guess I think, “Fooled ‘em again,’” he says.  “Dazzled ‘em with fancy footwork.’ But I do, I wonder about it occasionally — how it all happened, and how it all got to where it is — until I just give up wondering about it.”

When he was born in 1933, in the town of Abbott, in the midst of the Great Depression, it would have been pretty hard to predict that Willie Hugh Nelson would amount to anything.  It would have been nigh on impossible to foresee Red Headed Stranger, let alone The Electric Horseman, or Wag the Dog.

“I was doomed to go to hell by the time I was 7,” Willie recently told an Entertainment Weekly writer.  “Because I had been told that if you smoke cigarettes and drink beer your’re going to hell.  And by 7, I was gone.”

Willie found salvation in poetry and music:  “I started writing poems when I was about 5. And when I learned to play guitar I was about 6, so I started putting melodies to the poems.”  And he began embracing the whole wide world of sounds that emanated from the fields and churches of Abbott, and the air waves beyond.

“I listened to the radio a lot when I was growing up.  I listened to all the stations, from jazz, to blues, to boogie woogie, to country to WSLM in Nashville — and we listened to WLS in Chicago, and we’d catch a station out of New Orleans — so I just listened to everything.”

As to his distinction Django Reinhardt meets Bob Wills style of guitar playing, Wilie has a rather surprising explanation:  “I’ve always felt that I was about half Mexican.  And I may be, because I really love the Spanish flavors, and Mexican mariachi, and gypsy type music.  I was just born and raised around that kind of music and I love it.  So I guess that’s why you hear a lot of that in my music, because that’s part of me.”

One thing that hasn’t changed much over the years is the way he goes about writing a song, “I guess it’s always been the same,” he ways. “I get an idea and I write it.  But I have to have an idea to start with.  The melodies aren’t that hard, once you get the lyrics.”

Nelson says his early years as a songwriter, which Teatro reveals in stark relief, were a kind of excruciating conundrum.  “Nashvile was easy, really, because everything was formula.  If you wanted to write commercial stuff and you were a professional writer, it wouldn’t be a problem to do it.  I just wanted to write what I felt like saying.  And then, if at the same time I could imagine someone singing that song, then I would write it with a melody, or a rhythm that I felt like that one perosn might be comfortable with.”

“For instance I wanted to hear Billy Walker do “Funny How Time Slips Away’ and I wanted to hear Faron young do “Hellow Walls’ and wanted to hear Ray Price do ‘Night Life’ – so I just had these little ideas of what I wanted to hear, and I would try to work in that direction.”

Confronted with the standard show biz query as to if there’s anyone he hasn’t worked with that he’d like to, Nelson pauses to think about it for a moment.  “I would be sort of greedy and selfish if I said, “Oh I’d like to do this, and this, and this and this,” he says.  “Because I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of things with a lot of great people.  I’ve sung with B.B. King and Hank Williams and Ray Price and Faron Young and Lefty Frizell and Julio.  What else could I want?  I jokingly said the other day that I think Barbra Streisand and I ought to do something together.  But after I think about it awhile, maybe we could.  Like ‘A Star is Buried.’”

The Family, Willie’s legendary road band,  is another thing that has remained fairly constant over time.  His sister, Bobbie Nelson, can still be found on keyboards, offering an emotional and musical continuity that goes back to Abbott, where she and Willie learned to play through mail order courses taught to them by their grandparents.  And then there’s long time sidekicks, harmonica player Mickey Raphael and drummer Paul English.

“We’re more acoustic than we used to be,” Nelson offers.  “The instrumentation is a little different.  The bass player now is playing acoustic bass.  Paul is playing just the snare.  So we’ve reduced the loudness of the rhythms -  it’s a little more subtle.  And I like that because it makes everything stand out a little better.”

Willie says the current show runs the gamut from old favorites such as “Whiskey River” to several songs form Teatro and even a set from the jazz flavored instrumental album Night and Day that’s due out in July.

Asked if the new acoustic bent to his live performances is a sing he’s finally slowing down, Nelson says simply, “Mother Nature has a way of doing that to you.  But, he quickly adds, life’s too good, and he’s having way too much fun to ever consider retirement.

“I guess the best part of it is that I’m still here.  Still out here having a good time playing music and hanging out with my friends and family and fans — hey, let me put a melody to that and I’ll call you back.  But, seriously, that’s it.  I just enjoy what I do.  I don’t know why I’m still here.  A lot of my friends are gone.  And a lot of the guys that are my age decided long ago that they didn’t want no more of this stuff.  But I’m lucky.  I’m healthy and I enjoy what I’m doing.  People ask, ‘Why are you still doing this? And I say, ‘All I do is play golf and music.’  And don’t wanna quit either one of them.  I don’t really wanna quit nothin’”

Willie Nelson talks with Rolling Stone about new song, new album

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

www.rollingstone.com
by: Kory Grow

“I had been on tour, and, the next thing you know, I hit the wall,” Willie Nelson tells Rolling Stone. “It turns out it’s a pretty good song.”

“The Wall,” which appears on Nelson’s forthcoming album, Band of Brothers, is a sort of mea culpa for the country icon. He apologizes for getting burnt out, lashing out at his friends and loved ones and “taking things” to deal with the pangs of road life, as a plaintive harmonica wails in the background. It’s honest and soul bearing, and, in the end, he proclaims, “the wall came down.”

The video for “The Wall,” which Rolling Stone is premiering here, collects facts from throughout Nelson’s career that illustrate all he has accomplished in his 81 years. His first song was published in 1949, and he performed live for the first time three years later. He has appeared in more than 30 movies and TV shows. Most recently, as highlighted in the video, Nelson was deemed a fifth-degree black belt – as featured in Rolling Stone’s Everything Index.

Band of Brothers contains 14 songs total, nine of which are Nelson originals, making it the singer-songwriter’s first sizable batch of new songs since his 1996 album, Spirit. “I got on kind of a writing kick,” Nelson said in a statement. “It’s good to be writing again.”

The album also features Nelson singing songs by Vince Gill (“Whenever You Come Around”), Billy Joe Shaver (“The Git Go,” a duet with Jamey Johnson) and a track called “Songwriter,” about Nelson’s occupation, by Gordie Sampson and Bill Anderson. Band of Brothers, which was helmed by frequent Nelson producer Buddy Cannon, hits stores on June 17th.

Where Did Willie Nelson Rank Among the 100 Greatest Singers?

Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

cryintime

On January 8, 2008, Blue Note Records released, “Two Men With the Blues”

Willie Nelson – vocals and guitar Wynton Marsalis – trumpet and vocals Mickey Raphael – harmonica Walter Blanding – saxophone Dan Nimmer – piano Carlos Henriquez – bass Ali Jackson Jr. – drums

“These songs, heard this way with this group—that’s never been done before. Whatever I’m doing, if you put Wynton and these guys around it, that brings it up to a different level.” – Willie Nelson

A first-time collaboration between two American icons, Willie & Wynton discover common ground in their love of jazz standards & the blues on this sparkling set that brims with spontaneity, congeniality & fun.

www.newsweek.com

Wynton wears crisp suits, reads sheet music and is the musical director of New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. Willie wears crumpled jeans, wings it onstage and runs his concert venue, Willie’s Place, out of a truck stop in Abbott, Texas.

So what exactly do these music legends have in common? The blues, of course. Wynton Marsalis, 46, and Willie Nelson, 75, are the two men on the new CD “Two Men With the Blues,” a live recording culled from two concerts they played at Lincoln Center last year.

“I like playing with Wynton,” says Nelson, “because you know the piano player won’t show up drunk, and whatever comes out of it, it’ll be worth the listen.” They are playing venues including the Hollywood Bowl and “The Tonight Show” between breaks on Nelson’s tour and Marsalis’s Lincoln Center duties. Recently, the two chatted with NEWSWEEK’s Lorraine Ali in Nelson’s second home—his airbrushed, tricked-out tour bus:

ALI: Your collaboration has been described as “a summit meeting between two American icons.”

NELSON: I like the way they put that.

MARSALIS: I’m not an icon, he is.

NELSON: I thought an icon was one of those things on your computer screen. I’m not one of those.

MARSALIS: OK, I say this modestly—this is a historic event. It’s not a big surprise to have Wynton and Willie playing together, but to have this much attention for it, that’s a surprise.

But the attention makes sense: both of you are highly respected, and Willie, you can’t go anywhere without being recognized. NELSON: I’m offended if I don’t get recognized. I say, “Hey, man, don’t you know who I am? Perhaps you didn’t realize.”

MARSALIS: My son always says, “I want to repudiate you, Dad, but nobody knows who you are. When I have to explain who I’m repudiating, it’s not really worth it.”

Willie, I imagine you as an off-the-cuff player, but with Wynton, there’s the whole issue of keeping time. Is that a problem?

NELSON: Well, it’s a little different than when we just go up there and wing it for four hours and play requests. This has to be exactly right, especially because Wynton and the guys are reading off pieces of paper, and I’m just up there trying to remember words. These guys have a lot more to do and think about than I do. For me, it’s a free ride on top of their rhythm and rockin’.

MARSALIS: He’ll come in with a phrase, and we’ll think, “Uh-oh, he ain’t gonna make it fit.” And then he’ll collect it on the back end. It’s like somebody jukin’ or fakin’ on a basketball court. They take you this way, then come back that way. He’ll come in perfectly on key, on time, and we’re, like, “Damn!” It’s so natural and true.

Do you see yourself as an odd couple?

MARSALIS: No. As musicians, we like a lot of the same things.

NELSON:Â Louis Jordan’s “Caldonia.”

MARSALIS: Yeah, that’s right, or “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” See, we came up on the same sounds

Music aside, personality-wise, how is it working together? Is one of you…

NELSON: On drugs?

That’s not exactly where I was going.

MARSALIS: We really follow each other. I think we’re gracious that way. There’s no crazy soloing over one another.

NELSON: We [Nelson and his harmonica player] can’t play anything more than they [Marsalis and his quartet] can play. There’s only so many chords, and they know ‘em better than we do. Honestly, I don’t read music that well. Or I don’t read well enough to hurt my playing, as the old joke goes.

MARSALIS: And it’s not like we need to translate. We’re coming from the same American experience. The songs he picked to play,”Bright Lights, Big City,” “Basin Street Blues”we don’t need an arrangement for those. The grooves we play are shuffle grooves, swing. We grew up playing that music. There wasn’t one time where we had to stop and say, “Willie, what do you mean?” We are together.

NELSON: Even though some of us may not look all that together.

I heard you two barely rehearse.

MARSALIS: Willie doesn’t do two or three takes. Just once, and then, “That’s good, gentlemen.” That’s how we play. We record live.

NELSON: If you can play, then what do you want to rehearse for? Just play.

Willie, you still tour like mad. How different are the shows with Wynton?

NELSON: Honestly, it’s a lot easier for me to come out and work with Wynton and his guys, because in my shows I’ll go out and play for two hours or more. With Wynton, they’ve already played for an hour and a half before I come out. I come out and do the last 30 minutes, and all of a sudden I’ve had a great night.

Wynton, was there any sort of intimidation factor in working with a legend like Willie?

MARSALIS: I’ve been around musicians all my life. My daddy was a musician, and we played all kind of gigs. I played with philharmonic orchestras when I was 22 years old. That’s intimidating! This man is natural. He makes you feel at home. When he comes to rehearsal, there’s not 65 people around him, scurrying to make it all right.

NELSON: Send in the dogs to clear the place out first.

MARSALIS: It’s not like that. He’s very approachable.

NELSON: We used to work in clubs where we had to build up the crowd. We’d hop from table to table, have a drink with everybody, hoping they’d show up tomorrow night. By the time you made your rounds you’re about half drunk.

MARSALIS: How could you not love this man?

Willie Nelson with Larry King (4/7/14)

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Country music megastar Willie Nelson invites Larry aboard his tour bus for an open conversation about life as an octogenarian, the legalization of marijuana, & the 2016 presidential race.

Lukas Nelson interview

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Lukas Nelson
photo: Jennifer Bronenkant

www.theaggie.org
by: Zoe Sharples

Willie Nelson and Family will perform at The Mondavi Center on April 9 at 8 p.m. Lukas Nelson, Willie’s son, will open the show with his own band, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. Lukas is also part of Willie’s band. While traveling to Taos, N.M., Lukas spoke with MUSE in a phone interview about family, his music and being on the road.

MUSE: How is the tour going so far?

NELSON: It’s going really great. I just left Fort Collins and we stopped for only eight hours of rest. We were in Victor, Idaho; it’s where Wyoming, Utah and Idaho connect and Montana is close, just north. We played at a place called The Knotty Pine and before that we we were in Salt Lake City.

Your own band [Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real], opens for Willie and you also perform in his band. What do you like about touring with your dad?

I’ve been playing with my dad [Willie Nelson] since I was 13 years old. I used to be on stage playing percussion when I was three years old, running around on stage. He’s always been very family oriented and he’s the best father anyone could ask for. Being on stage with him really makes me proud. That’s where he’s most comfortable, I think. He surrounds himself with his family and a lot of people on the road.

What is Willie like on tour?

He’ll ride his bike and hang out on the bus. Sometimes, on tour, it’s so quick, I get 15 minutes to spend with him in a day. He stays up until between four and five in the morning. I’m a day guy and he’s a night guy but we hang out and have a glass of wine or something and talk about life.

Can you tell us what songs you’ll be performing?

We make a new set list every night. We look at the crowds and we try and read what they might like. Sometimes, when we’re performing with my dad, there’s an older crowd and we try not to blow their ears out. Sometimes when we tone it down we get a better reaction. Then we get people saying ‘just rock out.’

You sometimes perform with your brother Micah too. Is family important to you?

Family is really important to me. I have a lot of extended family that I don’t know very well. I believe that family is very important but I also believe that people really transcend family; like, there’s a lot of people that have dysfunctional families and their friends become their family. It depends how you define family but the people that matter are there for you always. Micah is one person who I can open up to completely.

Willie is known as an activist as well as a musician. How do you feel about the role of musicians in politics?

Well politics, that’s the world around you. You can choose to pay attention or you can choose not to. I don’t recommend, as a musician, endorsing a political party but to endorse ideals that you believe in is part of being a human being. I think, really, there’s got to be common sense in this world. As musicians, we go out and we love each other and we spread joy and happiness. Playing music is catharsis and we go out to let our souls free. When we have people coming out and letting go, that’s already a huge statement. It’s a personal preference but I admire people that have ideals.

What’s the most memorable thing to have happened on the tour so far?

Here’s a great story. I woke up a few days ago in Salt Lake City and we got a call from the guys at Park City, Utah, about half an hour away. Their artist had cancelled last minute and they heard we were playing and said “So you wanna play this gig for 5,000 people?” I’d just woken up and I was still asleep really. It was 11 a.m. and we had three hours to pack everything up and drive down there and we just rocked it. We killed the show for 5,000, got an incredible reaction and went back and played The State Room in Salt Lake City. That day was just a really memorable day and we pulled off two great shows.

Which musicians have inspired you?

I really got into Jimi Hendrix, when I started he was my idol besides my dad. Stevie Ray Vaughan as well. I started getting really into Ray Charles, he was a huge love. I listen to Neil Young now almost every day, he has been a great mentor. The Beatles are huge, [Led] Zeppelin — I could sit here for hours and name more. I like The Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire, I mean anything that has soul to it. But of those few, Jimi was the catalyst for me.

How would you describe your own style of music?

I think it’s a combination of all those that I love. It’s rock n’ roll, it’s poetry, it’s folk rock and it’s indie rock. Not one song is really in the same genre. We’ve avoided being signed for that reason. It’s hard for a label to figure out what we do. You have to see us live and it’s a matter of the crowd. We’ll play a bunch of original tunes and covers at the end, like my dad.

The album you’re working on at the moment will be your third after Promise of the Real in 2010 and Wasted in 2012. How is your new album coming along?

It’s nearly out and we’ve drawn up the final pieces. We’ll have a date for you guys soon. There’ll be a press release out soon, probably in the next two months. I’m really excited about it and I feel it’s the best we’ve ever done. It’s got a lot of soul and is positive and uplifting but also deep.

What are your future hopes for your own band?

I really hope to be pushing the limits. We’re a young, small band so we don’t have a lot of money to use in the studio but we want to get creative. We want to look at techniques to make the production better so hopefully we’ll keep getting better at producing. I want to explore electronic dance music and I want to collaborate with hip hop artists, my idols, like The Roots. There’s a lot of great music out there and I don’t feel like genre should have anything to do with it. As long as it’s got a good vibe.

ZOE SHARPLES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

Willie Nelson interview with Larry King

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Thank you, George Miguel, for sending this video.

Bobbie Nelson

Monday, February 24th, 2014


www.willienelson.com

By Todd Money
www.goupstate.com

Getting a job working for your sibling isn’t always the easiest or most advisable career move.  Bobbie Nelson, the sister of musical legend Willie Nelson, made the most of it. Never a stranger to music herself, Bobbie had played the Texas honky-tonks with younger brother Willie when they were in their teens, in a band with Bobbie’s husband and Ira Nelson, their guitar-playing father. But when her husband died in a car accident, she was left to raise three sons on her own. That brought her to business school in Fort Worth, Texas, where she aimed to learn secretarial skills.

It was music, though, that led to her first job out of college, with the Hammond Organ Co., where she was hired for her office skills – and her ability to demonstrate the company’s organs. Before long, she was working as a piano entertainer in restaurants, eventually making her living as a pianist in Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tennesee.

It was in the early 1970s when brother Willie, who had just signed a recording deal with Atlantic Records, asked Bobbie to join his band. Her playing mixed well with the rest of the band’s free-wheeling style on hits such as “Whiskey River” and “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” and more than 35 years and countless albums and concerts later, brother and sister are still playing together.

Recently, the lesser-known Bobbie has garnered a little spotlight of her own. In 2007, at the age of 76, she released “Audiobiography,” a debut album that shows off her understated and romantic playing style on some of her favorite tunes.

Bobbie Nelson, sister of legendary singer-songwriter Willie Nelson, talks about her career, her brother and life on the road.

Question: How’s it going on the tour?

Bobbie Nelson:  This is a great tour. We’ve just done Farm Aid up in Massachusetts, and I’m in New Jersey tonight, and we do Connecticut tomorrow night, and then we do (New York’s) Radio City Music Hall the next night, so we’ll be out a couple more weeks. Everything’s going very well. I’m very grateful.

Q:  You guys still share a tour bus, from what I understand, and you’ve been playing for 35 years or so. How do you kill time on the bus?

BN:  Willie is very busy, and he has all of his office there on the bus – his computers and phones and everything – so he actually does his office thing right there on the bus, and then we have our instruments. He’s got his guitar, and I have an electric keyboard … I can pull this little keyboard out, and we can practice and play music.

Q:  Musically speaking, it seems like Willie’s always had a thing for these really super-complex chords and neat chord changes and stuff. How much of that is your doing?

BN:  You know, we listened to the radio as we were growing up and listened to all kinds of music. That was, of course, during the big-band era, as well as all the border stations and all the country music that we listened to. He actually likes all the different kinds of music, the Latin rhythms and all the different, beautiful chords. He loves a lot of the jazz things.

Q: You can tell, just in the songs he’s covered over the years, how diverse his interests are.

BN:  Yes! I love chords, too, and as you study piano, you get into all of that. … And the music we grew up with in the church – those hymns have a lot of beautiful harmony.Q:  Are you surprised that so many of these songs over the years have become classics? Do you think Willie knows a song is a classic when he comes up with it?

BN:  No, I don’t think so. ¦ When he writes, he just writes, and I don’t think he’s really ever thought, “I’m gonna write a song that’s gonna be a classic or a hit.” He’s just composing. He’s just letting go of some of his feelings and his thoughts that he’s got.Q: You came out with an album last year. How did you pick the songs that went on that?

BN:  Willie had scheduled studio time, because he had written a couple of new songs. So we were off the road during our holiday season … We were waiting for (guitar player) Jody (Payne) to get back, to get to Austin. So Willie just said, “Sister Bobbie, why don’t you just go up there and warm up that old piano?”

So I went in the studio and just started playing this beautiful piano. I just was playing some of these songs I used to play when I played by myself, and also some of the boogies and things that we played when we were kids. And they recorded it. I didn’t know they were recording me. …

(Justice Records owner) Randall Jamail, we were having lunch one day, and we were talking about it, and I said, “I’ve had people ask me why I don’t write my autobiography. And I always feel that I can do it better with music, because my life and Willie’s life have just been music.” And he said, “Well, that’s what we’ll call your album – ‘Audiobiography.’ ”

Q: Do you have any plans to put out any more music?

BN:  They’re asking me if I will record some more … maybe if we’re off during the holiday season again this year, maybe I’ll have a little time to put into that.

Q:  Obviously, growing up with Willie, you’ve got a lot of interesting stories. Is there anything that people would be surprised to find out about Willie?

BN:  I don’t know, we’ve both done a lot of interviews … Willie has always been a wonderful person. He was a fun-loving kid, and he’s a fun-loving man. We have a lot of fun, and we both have the same feelings about wanting to make Earth a better place and making a better place for our children, and just to help humanity in general.

Q:  If there’s one thing that’s been the secret to you guys’ success over the years, what would it be?

BN:  Our grandmother took us to church every Sunday, and we were at prayer meeting every Wednesday night, and choir practice once or twice a week, and Bible school. The teachings that we were taught when we were growing up – our grandmother being one of these teachers … She had a love for music, as did my grandfather – so our lives have been about music. Learning music and performing it, and always trying to improve ourselves with our talents. I think that’s what has meant more to us than anything else, is the love we feel for others and the love we feel for music and performing it.

Barbi Twins Interview Willie Nelson for Origin Magazine

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

origin2
http://www.originmagazine.com/2013/12/31/willie-nelson-interview/

Barbi Twins: Why have you and your family become so active specifically in anti-horse slaughter?

Willie Nelson: I’m a little prejudiced when it comes to horses. I have always loved them. I currently have about 68; 25-30 were rescued directly from slaughter. I got involved 8 years ago when Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) first made me aware that American horses are being slaughtered and shipped overseas for human consumption. It’s a shame that horses – or any animal – be treated this way when horses are the foundation of America. Horses were a way to travel to get to where we are today, and it is our job to protect them.

BT: The wild horses have been in the news, but most people don’t understand that horse slaughter is legal. Can you explain what the government does?

WN: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency in charge of protecting wild horses, has been rounding them up at an alarming rate, supposedly for their own good. Sadly, there are more wild horses in holding pens than in the wild. Something is wrong with that, so we must act now before the BLM has managed these magnificent animals into extinction.

BT: Why should Americans be worried about horse slaughter still being legal?

WN: Americans don’t eat horses. They are not raised as food animals and they are treated with chemicals that render them unsafe for consumption. The regulations needed to change their status to “food animals” would cripple every aspect of the horse industry as we know it. Plus, it would be wrong.

BT: What benefit does horse slaughter have if most people are against horse slaughter?

WN: America’s horses and horse industry are under attack by a small group of folks out to line their pockets at the expense of our wild and domestic horses, American taxpayers, and those restaurant patrons who are ingesting toxic horse meat. However, we can pass the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which will ban the slaughter of all American horses for the purpose of human consumption, while also ensuring they aren’t sent abroad to suffer the same fate. My family has been working closely with our friend Chris Heyde at AWI on the SAFE Act and other important horse welfare issues for years. I encourage everyone to join with us by visiting www.awionline.org, taking action, and signing up for eAlerts today. Together we can make a difference.

BT: What can you tell people about how they can help stop horse slaughter of domestic and wild horses?

WN: Folks, please join my family and friends at the Animal Welfare Institute to see how you can help with this important American cause.

http://awionline.org


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Willie Nelson on NPR’s Piano Jazz (2/12/2002)

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

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www.npr.org by Grant Jackson

Follow this link to Listen to NPR’s Program:  Willie Nelson on Piano Jazz

Singer-songwriter Willie Nelson was born April 30, 1933, in the small farming community of Abbott, Texas. His early interest in music came about through singing in church, and he wrote his first song at age 7. By age 9, he’d begun playing in a local band; after high school, Nelson served briefly in the Air Force and studied at Baylor University. In the mid-’50s, he worked as a disc jockey in Texas and Washington state, played in honky-tonks and continued to write songs.

In 1960, he moved to Nashville, where he was signed to a publishing contract with Pamper Music. His song “Night Life” was a hit for Ray Price, and Nelson had a run of hits for other artists: “Hello Walls,” “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Crazy,” one of the greatest country hits of all time for Patsy Cline.

In spite of his songwriting successes, Nelson’s own singing career failed to catch fire in Nashville. He released a string of albums with middling chart success in the mid-’60s and early ’70s, and had all but retired from music when he relocated to Austin. It was there that his unique take on country mingled with the burgeoning counterculture, and outlaw country was born. The music was characterized by a raw, rock-infused approach, in contrast to the studio polish of the Nashville sound.

Nelson had a string of his own hits throughout the ’70s, sometimes with fellow outlaw Waylon Jennings, also a Texas native and one-time sideman to Buddy Holly. In 1975, Nelson began an unusual association with Columbia Records that granted him total creative control. Columbia’s gamble paid off, and Nelson’s first album in the partnership, the stripped-down concept album Red-Headed Stranger, yielded the No. 1 single “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” His 1978 album Stardust stayed on the country charts for 10 years. In 1982, Always on My Mind won the Country Music Association’s Album of the Year award, and its title song won Single of the Year. He also won five Grammys for his recordings of “Always on My Mind,” “On the Road Again,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” (with Jennings) and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Nelson has been nominated for 43 Country Music Association awards and won nine of them, including 1979′s prize for Entertainer of the Year.

In 2009, Nelson returned to his Texas roots on Willie and the Wheel, recorded with the band Asleep at the Wheel. The album features a set of traditional country and Western swing tunes, as recorded by bands such as Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

Nelson has been politically active on a national level since 1985, when he co-founded the Farm Aid music festival with Neil Young and John Mellencamp to raise awareness of the financial plight of family farms. He has also been an outspoken voice for the legalization of marijuana.

Fellow Texan and guitarist Jackie King has backed a number of music legends, including Bill Evans, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Jerry Garcia and Stevie Ray Vaughan. King got together with Nelson in 1984 to record a jazz album, Angel Eyes, and since 1999, King has been a permanent member of Nelson’s band, The Family.

On this episode of Piano Jazz, Nelson performs with guitarist King and host Marian McPartland, along with bassist Gary Mazzaroppi. The session includes a set of Nelson’s own tunes — “Crazy,” “Rainy Day Blues,” “The Great Divide” — and some of his favorite standards, including “Stardust,” “All of Me” and “There’ll Never Be Another You.”

“I had never met [Nelson] when he appeared on the program,” McPartland says. “But Jackie [King] and he got into such a fine session, when it was over he didn’t want to leave. He asked me to perform as his surprise guest that night at Irving Plaza, where we did several duets. The crowd must have been astonished when he introduced me rather than a cowboy.”

Originally recorded July 23, 2001. Originally broadcast Feb. 12, 2002.

Ray Price interview with Dallas Wayne, on SiriusXM Radio (2011)

Friday, December 20th, 2013

ray

Ray Price, “Father Good Times,” with SiriusXM Willie’s Roadhouse program director Jeremy Tepper (left) and on-air personality Dallas Wayne backstage at ACL Live at the Moody Theater in Austin, TX on New Year’s Eve 2011.

Airing Saturday 12/21 at noon ET and Sunday 12/22 at 9 pm ET on Willie’s Roadhouse.

It might be an exaggeration to say that all roads in country music lead to Ray Price, but not by much. The Country Music Hall of Fame member, who passed away at his home in Mount Pleasant, TX on December 16 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, was a pioneer on several frontiers and influential beyond compare. He introduced a danceable style of honky tonk that became known as the “Ray Price Shuffle” with his 1956 hit Crazy Arms, which spent 20 weeks at No. 1 and helped him survive the rock ‘n’ roll explosion (many other country stars of the day were not so fortunate). Not to mention his smooth crooning vocal style on later hits like Danny Boy and For the Good Times, which are worthy of comparison to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

As a bandleader, Price’s Cherokee Cowboys proved to be a finishing school for future stars and ace musicians like Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Bush, Buddy Emmons, and a young Willie Nelson, who faked his way on bass guitar to get the gig and wrote one of Price’s signature tunes, Night Life.

Willie remained lifelong friends with Price, who became an extended member of the SiriusXM Willie’s Roadhouse family. Here is a backstage interview with Dallas Wayne, following his performance at ACL Live at the Moody Theater (home to SiriusXM studios in Austin, TX) on New Year’s Eve 2011.

Willie Nelson: The Man Who Beat the System (Country Music Magazine) (May 1979)

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Country Music Magazine
February 1976
by Patrick Carr

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

A segment of my Willie Nelson interview:

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

Me:  “You ever do that?”

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

Me:  “You still do it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Willie, how are you doing on that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” he says.  “I really was.” 

“Are you a religious man?”

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

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