Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Willie Nelson, 2008 Texas Heritage Songwriters’ Association Honor roll

Monday, August 24th, 2015

Willie Nelson was interviewed in connection with his recognition by Texas Heritage Songwriters’ Association in 2008.  Video Includes interviews with other artists and friends.

Willie Nelson Interviews (from CD Universe)

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

9840881 (2)

www.CDuniverse.com

“Included on this disc is an exclusive interview containing intimate details, rare insight, and other gems not previously available until now.”

www.cduniverse.com

The CD Universe site is slim on details of the source  or date of the interview(s), but it’s intriguing, and I think I have to order it.  It says it will be released on August 14th.   You can get pre-order your copy here.

Take a look at the track list:

 

Click to hear an MP3 sound sample Trk Song
1 Liking Songs He Writes
2 Farm Aid
3 Getting Good Ideas
4 Liking Jimmy Carter
5 Martin Guitars
6 Norah Jones
7 Ray Charles
8 Toby Keiths Politics
9 Bernie Writing Great Songs
10 Classical Martin Guitar
11 Downtime From Tour
12 His Band Still Being Together
13 His New Tour Bus
14 His Style
15 James Stroud Writing
16 Listening to Music
17 Nerve Damage
18 Writing Crazy
19 Writing On the Road
20 Talks About the Present Interview

Willie Nelson in “Angels Sing”

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Willie Nelson on the red carpet at South by Southwest.

photo:  Deborah Cannon

www.artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com
by: Mekado Murphy

AUSTIN, Tex. — The country music legend and occasional film actor Willie Nelson took time out from touring Sunday for a visit to the  South by Southwest film festival and the premiere of “When Angels Sing,” an Austin-made holiday film directed by Tim McCanlies. Harry Connick Jr. stars as Michael Walker, a family man who is Christmas-averse. He meets Nick (Mr. Nelson), who sells him his mansion for a steal, but Michael only later discovers that the house is on one of the most Christmas-obsessed blocks in town. The movie, which also features performances by Lyle Lovett, the Trishas, Dale Watson and others, plays as kind of a country-western version of “A Christmas Carol.”

In the film, Kris Kristofferson performs one of Mr. Nelson’s holiday songs, “Pretty Paper,”  and Mr. Nelson’s character sings a moving version of “Amazing Grace.” The screenplay, written by Lou Berney, is based on the book by Turk Pipkin, a friend of Mr. Nelson’s. Before greeting enthusiastic fans on the red carpet, and then heading  for a concert in Houston, Mr. Nelson, who will turn 80 in April, agreed to discuss “When Angels Sing,” life in the Austin area and his music career. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Q.  How would you describe the character Nick?
A.  I’m supposed to be some side of a half-crazed Santa Claus. Not really Santa Claus, but not really not.
Q.  What was the experience like playing that character?
A.  It was fun, working with Harry and Kris and all those good guys and friends of mine.  My sister Bobbie is in there, too. We did a song in church. It was a time that we could all spend together.
Q.  How was the shoot?
A.  It was real easy. We got to do it here at home [in Texas]. We shot most of it in Bastrop and that’s within driving distance from my house. So we drove to the set and back home every day. I’d love to do some more like that.
Q.  It sounds like you’re keeping busy with concerts as well.
A.  Yes, we’re playing Houston tonight and San Antonio the next night. We have a new record coming out named after an Irving Berlin song, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” And it’s with me and my band. It’s the first time me and the band have gotten together for an album in a while. It will be coming out in April.
Q.  I came across your statue in downtown Austin this weekend. What do you think of it?
A.  It’s a great tribute and I appreciate it. I love it when people go down there and get their pictures made or throw [stuff] at the statue. Whatever they do is cool.
Q.  What do you have planned next?
A.  We’re doing a duet album. If you remember my song “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” I’m doing an album with girls. I did a song with Barbra Streisand, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Alison Krauss, Rosanne Cash. Dolly wrote a great song in there, “From Here to the Moon and Back.” We did that song together. Sheryl Crow and I did “Far Away Places.” It was just a lot of fun singing with all the gals.
Q.  What’s your songwriting process like?
A.  It’s kind of like labor pains. But whenever I get an idea, I have to sit down and write it. Because if I put it off until tomorrow, I might not do it.

PBS: American Roots Music – Oral Histories (Willie Nelson)

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

header

photo: Anthony Scarleti

www.pbs.org

Can you describe the kind of music you heard growing up?

Well, I heard everything. We lived just across the street from two houses of Mexicans, they played their music day and night with their radio. So I was educated early in life on “south of the border” music. Most of the people that I lived and grew up with around there in Abbot [Texas] were Czechoslovakians. I learned a lot of polkas and waltzes. And from working in the fields with a lot of the black folks there, I learned a lot of blues. And working and going to church, I learned gospel. So I was pretty educated on a lot of different kinds of music while I was still pretty young.

That’s great. In Texas, there’s a kind of theme of dancing all Saturday night and praying all Sunday. People were all dispersed on the ranches, and they would come in and make community by having dances and so forth because the people were way out in the forests. Is that something you experienced?

Well, the town that I grew up in was a dry county, so if anyone wanted a beer they had to drive six miles south to a town called West Texas. Now down there, they danced and partied, and I’m sure a lot of those, you’d see them in church on Sunday morning. Because I played a lot of those bars down there in the early part of my life, I saw a lot of people from Abbot down there on a Saturday night, and I’d see them again on Sunday morning. So it wasn’t that unusual.

How did you come to start playing music?

My grandparents raised me from the time I was sixth months old, and they were both music teachers, so they started out giving us voice lessons. My sister didn’t really take to singing that much, but I enjoyed it, so I took all the lessons that I could from them. And they taught me to play, they taught my sister to play. My grandmother played the organ, piano a little bit, so she got a piano and an organ for our house early. My granddad got me a guitar when I was six years old. So from that time on, we were picking.

Where’d you get those early guitars? Guitars were just being mastered then, right?

Mostly there were Harmonies and Stellas back in those days, and I had a six dollar Stella for my first guitar.

When did you decide to become a musician, and what influenced you?

I think I always thought I was. I never even thought about doing anything else. I take that back. There was a while when I thought maybe I might want to get a law degree or something, so I went to Baylor University in Waco. I decided pretty quickly that I’d rather stay in music.

Can you describe your relationship with Johnny Gimble and who he was for somebody who wouldn’t know?

Well, I first met him when he was playing with Bob Wills. And he left Bob’s band and came back to his hometown in Waco and put together a band. I played with him on a few dates when he would be looking for a guitar player or a vocalist. And he turned me on to Django Rheinhart and to some great music and musicians.

Johnny Gimble was and is one of the greatest musicians, violinists, fiddle players, whatever you want to call him. We played a lot of music together around Waco and Texas. He played on my “Spirit” album, he played on the “Night and Day” instrumental album, and we’ve played on maybe eight or ten albums together over the years and an incredible amount of shows.

Now he turned you on to Django, and Django’s been a big influence on you for a long time.

Yeah, Johnny Gimble gave me some Django tapes back in those days. And after listening to Django and his music, I began to see where a lot of other music had come from, including a lot of the Western Swing. I could see that a lot of guitar players had heard of Django, and fiddle players like Johnny Gimble had definitely heard of Stephan Gripelli. So there were a lot of things there that I had seen in the Django tapes that I had heard before. And my dad played pretty good fiddle and pretty good guitar, but he sounded a little bit like Django and the rhythms that Django and his brother played. Before I really knew it, I had been introduced to Django.

Bob Wills was also a big influence, right? Can you describe him?

Bob Wills was my hero in those days. He was a bandleader; I wanted to be a bandleader. He had an incredible association and relation with his band. They watched him all the time, and he only had to nod or point his fiddle bow, and they would play. And they respected him a lot, and it was mutual respect. So I always thought that he was the greatest bandleader that I had seen.

His music’s a real American music, a real combination of different sounds. For somebody who’s not familiar with it, can you kind of break it down?

Well, the Bob Wills music, Western Swing music, is a combination of jazz and blues and that’s about it, I think.

Can you talk about the kind of music that came out of the honky-tonks?

Well, again, I think it was the blues connection that made these songs – the blues and the jazz that made even the country songs that we were all playing. We played them with that Bob Wills-Django influence whether we knew it or not. So it came out different. I think that had a lot to do with it. Now when we play ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,’ it still has a little blues feeling to it.

Were there certain blues artists when you were growing up that were significant?

Well, I loved Ray Charles and Satchmo (Louis Armstrong), and Louis Jordan. As far as blues were concerned, the first blues that I remember hearing, other than what I heard in the cotton fields and the juke boxes around West Texas, was the Bob Will’s music – the ‘Milk Cow Blues,’ and ‘Basin Street Blues,’ and all this blues that was coming from Western Swing.

He borrowed a lot of stuff called hokum blues. I don’t know if you’re aware of that – that was coming out of the black community, kind of bawdy stuff. Could you talk at all about that?

Well, it was obvious that he was getting it somewhere. He was getting that blues feeling, and it was showing up in his music. That’s why his music, I think, was so danceable. He was one of the biggest, greatest club bands, dance hall bands ever. I promoted him one time when I was fourteen years old, me and my brother-in-law.

What does that mean?

Well, I bought him and put on a show in Whitney, Texas. And Bob showed up, and he played, and we paid him, and it was a hell of a deal.

How important was radio to him and his audience in that circuit that he played in the Southwest? Didn’t radio kind of determine the touring circuit that he was on?

Well, radio and jukebox. Plus, he had a radio show in, I think it was Dallas or Fort Worth and he played music daily there. Two different times in his career he had a radio show there in Dallas and Fort Worth. He came back years later when he opened up what later turned into Dewey Grove’s Lawn-mowing Club – it used to be Bob Will’s Lawn-mowing Club. And he had a radio show there, daily, from Arlington, Texas. I went over a couple times and sang with him on his radio show. I’d sing ‘San Antonio Rose,’ and my phrasing was a little different from Tommy Duncan’s, so he didn’t really know where to come in and “Ah-ha” at.

The honky-tonk scene, how did that develop in the dance scene in Texas?

Early in life, I wound up in the beer joints in Texas, in West and Waco and different places, because that’s where I earned my money. I learned to play Lefty Frizzell and Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb and Roy Acuff, and whoever was hot at the moment on the jukebox.

Did you play that Jacksboro Highway? Can you describe what that is?

Well, I played a lot in Fort Worth in those early days, and I played a lot out on the Jacksboro Highway, which was the location of a whole lot of beer joints. Back in those days, Fort Worth itself was a pretty wild place, so naturally all the beer joints were subject to be wild at any given time.

When did you first become aware of Ernest Tubb?

I listened to Ernest Tubb on the radio when I was a kid growing up. He had a radio show in Fort Worth, and he came on every day and did a fifteen-minute radio show. I couldn’t have been over 6 or 8 years old. So I was turned on to his music real early. I learned most all his songs, ‘Walking the Floor Over You.’ Back there in the war he did ‘On My Way to Italy.’ Remember that?

I don’t.

Floyd Tillman did a song called ‘Each Night At Nine.’ It was about a soldier. I was turned on to Ernest Tubb, Floyd Tillman, Leon Payne…back in those days those were the folks that I really listened to.

Do you remember when you started hearing the electric guitar in Ernest’s music at all?

Well, I heard some guitar… naturally in Bob Wills’s music, he had electric guitar in there. Ernest Tubb had electric guitar in his music. So I was hearing electric guitars in country music pretty early.

Do you think the music was played a little louder in these dance halls because people were dancing?

One time I was flying on an airplane, and I just happened to sit next to Bill Anderson. He says, “You do pretty good in those clubs in Texas. I just can’t seem to catch on down there. Can you give me any pointers?” I said, “Well, I think they drink beer louder than you sing.” And he laughed a little and said, “You’re probably right.”

What about Ernest’s vocal style? Can you describe that? It’s a little different.

I was one of the few guys who could do a pretty good Ernest Tubb imitation. He had, to me, the perfect Texas voice. I thought that he personified what I thought someone from Texas should sound like. He was a gentleman, he could talk well and intelligently, and I just loved his voice.

Later you joined up with him, and when you went into Nashville you had a role on his TV show.

Ernest and I did about, I don’t know, a hundred and fifty television shows together. With Jack Green and Cal Smith and the Johnson Sisters and Wade Ray, and that was probably some of the best times of my life.

You sang a lot of gospel songs on that show, right?

Well, I had written some songs, ‘Family Bible,’ and two or three different songs, ‘Kneeling at the Foot of Jesus.’ So I did them occasionally on those television shows.

Can you tell us how you got to Houston from the circuit that you were playing?

Well, I was playing around Waco and decided to go to Houston and play. I went down there to look for a job, stopped at a place called Esquire Club, it was a Monday afternoon, I went in, and there was a band rehearsing. And it was Larry Butler (not the Larry Butler from Nashville but the Larry Butler from Houston, it’s a different Larry Butler). And I listened to them rehearse and drank a beer, and after they took a break I introduced myself to Larry, and told him I wanted to sell him some songs. And he said, “Well, OK, play me some of them.” I played him two or three of the songs, and he said, “Well, I love the songs. How much you want for them?” I said, “Ten dollars a piece.” He said, “No, they’re worth more than that, but I’ll loan you some money and give you a job if that’ll help you.” So he did.

Some of those songs were ‘Night Life,’ ‘Crazy.’

‘Mr. Record Man,’ ‘I Gotta Get Drunk, I Sure Do Regret It,’ ‘Hello Walls,’ no, ‘Hello Walls’ I hadn’t written yet…

When did you meet Billy Walker?

Well, I met Billy first in Waco. He was called the Traveling Texan, the Masked Texan, and he played the guitar and sang, and went up and down the highway, and played the Big D Jamboree in Dallas. I got to meet him one time when I played the Jamboree. And then later on in life I found myself in Springfield, Illinois, and it just so happened that Billy Walker was on the Springfield Jamboree up there with Red Foley and all the guys. I wanted to try out for a job there, so I looked up Billy Walker, and he took me to his house and took care of me and tried to get me a job with a publishing company there. I stayed around a few days and couldn’t really find a job and moved on South down to Houston.

When you were growing up, Lefty was somebody that influenced you. Can you talk about him, what made him special?

Well, I heard his music on the jukebox all the time in Texas. He had songs like ‘If You Got the Money, I Got the Time,’ ‘Always Late,’ ‘I Love You a Thousand Ways,’ ‘Blue Quiet Thoughts Will Do,’ and these were all very hot tunes in Texas. I didn’t get to meet Lefty until years later when we were both in Nashville, but I was a big, huge fan of his.

Did a tribute record to him?

Yes, I did.

Also, Hank Williams was probably coming into prominence as you were emerging?

Yeah, well, Hank and Lefty were moving along about the same time there. And Hank had big hits like ‘Lovesick Blues,’ and ‘Move It On Over,’ and ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,’ and I knew all those songs because they were always requested. They were on the jukebox, and I learned everything on the jukebox.

What made him special as a writer? He could really deal with pain and loneliness.

Well, that’s exactly right. He knew how to write about it, and write about life in terms that all of us can understand.

With both those guys, their careers were kind of cut short. Can you talk about that?

Hank died, I think, when he was 29 years old. Lefty Frizell lived longer than that. They both lived pretty hard and fast.

When did you decide to go to Nashville?

I was living in Houston, and I had a song called ‘Family Bible,’ that had been recorded by Claude Gray. It had become a number one song, and I decided that if I was ever going to, it was time to make a trip to Nashville and check it out. So I left my family in Houston and drove up there and again ran into Billy Walker, and he took me in again. My family got up there, and he took them in. And we lived with him for a couple of three weeks.

Billy describes you meeting him in a barn. I guess you were in a car because you had just come up and you were trying to get established, and he invited you to live at the house. Is that right?

That’s right. It was a nice period. I went up there not knowing anything hardly, or anybody, and pretty quick I happened to sort of get inside thanks to guys like Billy Walker and Faron Young and people like that. One of the first guys I met there was Charlie Dig who happened to be married to Patsy Cline.

What was the music business like in Nashville? When you went there, what did you find in terms of the way the writers and the artists were controlled and how records were made?

Well, I don’t think there’s any difference today than there was then. Whoever puts up the money wants to call the shots. If you can get by that, if you can get somebody to put up the money or put up your own money, go in and record your own album and say here it is, you might be better off. You might have a better chance because it’s real competitive. It’s more competitive, probably, in Nashville now than it was when I went there.

You had almost no problem getting established as a songwriter, right? I mean, your talents were really pretty quickly recognized as a songwriter.

Yeah, I was very fortunate to get listened to by some people who could really do something. For instance, Charlie Dig, Faron Young who went to the studio and recorded ‘Hello Walls,’ and ‘Congratulations.’ It was a lot easier than I expected it to be.

But you also wanted to be a performer.

I was a performer when I came to town, and it was difficult to find places to perform in Nashville. The bars and the clubs weren’t as plentiful as they were in Texas.

You were playing with Ray Price too, or was that later?

When I was there in Nashville, after a while Ray Price called me. He owned the publishing company that I was writing for. He called me and asked me if I could play bass. I said, “Of course, can’t everybody?” Johnny Paycheck, who, at that time, was going under the name of Donny Young, was playing bass for Ray Price, and Donny quit and went to California. So Ray called, and I was writing for him. So I joined up with Ray, and I played with him for over a year. By the way, I learned to play bass in Nashville on the way to the first gig.

Some people described the music that was coming out of there as being pretty cookie-cutter during that time: lush arrangements; artists didn’t really have a say. Very controlled. Not a lot of individuality.

One of the biggest problems, I thought, is that you had three hours to do four songs. That’s hard to do, especially if the band is not familiar with the songs when they get there. I always wanted to go in with my band and do it, because I knew we could knock them out. And it would be something that we could go out and perform, and it would be like the record. But that’s hard to do now.

What made you decide to leave Nashville?

I was working, most of my dates in Texas, driving back to Nashville mainly to work the Grand Ole Opry. Because you had to be there six months out of the year you had to work the Opry. You had to be there on Saturday night. I was working in Texas a lot, and it was really wearing me out, going back and forth just to get there Saturday night, and then go back to Fort Worth on Sunday. I finally left the Opry and decided that I would move to Texas. My house burned, so it gave me a real good excuse to leave early.

When that happened, you kind of found a new audience.

Well, I found the old audience again. I was raised up in the Texas beer joints, and they knew me a lot better when I left Nashville than they probably do in Nashville now. So when I got back to my old beer joints, I was at home again and met a lot of my old waitresses that took care of me. So, no, I got back to Texas, I got back in my element.

You seem to pick up a young element, a hippie element not usually associated with country music.

That’s true. I started playing places where a lot of hippies hung out, like Devil Road Headquarters in Austin, and different places around different towns. They would have their special places – the hippies went here, the rednecks went here. I tried to play in both places.

Your music didn’t really change during this period. I think you may have changed a little physically, but your music pretty much stayed on course, right?

I was trying to prove the point that the same people would like the same thing if they ever got together and listened to it. Hank Williams never fails. He would bring [people] together wherever [I went]. When I was playing with Ray Price, we’d always do a little Hank Williams. Of course, nobody knew who I was, so everything I did on those shows were other people’s songs, until ‘Bela Walsh,’ came out. But Hank Williams was my savior every night.

How did the whole outlaw thing come about? Was that marketing or a real thing, I mean, I know that there was this record that came out with you and Tom [Collins]. What was really behind that?

I think a lady wrote an article at the time that calls us outlaws. And someone picked up on it.

I think her name was Helen. I should know her name. She was a writer in Nashville, and she wrote an article about me and Waylan and Chris and a bunch of us and called us the Outlaws. I loved her for it, I thought it was great. Someone came along and decided it was a good marketing name, so all of a sudden now we were Outlaws, and there was an album out called “Outlaws” with me and Jesse and Tom and Waylan on it, and we did pretty good.

Where did ‘Red-headed Stranger’ come in?

‘The Red-headed Stranger’ is a song that was written by Arthur Smith.- no, I think it was written by two more people. But Arthur Smith recorded it back in the ’50s. I was a disc jockey then in Fort Worth, and I used to play it every day. I had a kiddie show from 1-1:30 in the daytime, when it was time for kids to take a nap, I would play children’s music, I’d play ‘Red-headed Stranger,’ and I played Tex Ritter’s ‘Blood on the Saddle,’ and all the different kid songs that I could come up with, and ‘Red-headed Stranger’ was one of the most popular songs that I played. I sang it to my kids every night. So several years later I had the opportunity to go on and do an album when I first signed with CBS. In our agreement, I could go in and do what I wanted to do any way I wanted to do it, and they would take it and put it down. So that’s when I wrote the ‘Red-headed Stranger’ album, and I took that song and I wrote from the first song from the time of the preacher all the way up to the Red-headed stranger, and imagined what would have happened after that. I wrote the concept album, recorded it, and gave it to CBS. They thought I’d gone insane because there wasn’t that much there. It was very sparse. But they put it out. I think Waylan shamed them into putting it out.

And that really changed it.

There were some good songs in there. ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’ was a big hit out of the album, and the album itself sold very well. A lot of young people liked it. They still like it. It was re-released last year.

How would you describe how you gained control of your own music? What were the steps that you went through to gain control of your own career?

Well, as I say, I had a clause in my contract which gave me artistic freedom. That was all I needed, I thought. That’s really all anyone needs. If you think you can do it yourself, do it. That makes less for them to do, and they can just sell it. And if it doesn’t sell, you’re screwed.

So you assumed total responsibility for everything, right?

Yeah, I bet everything I had on this one album. It was the first album with CBS, and it had to be good or else the second one they don’t normally get excited about.

Can you talk about Fourth of July?

I was living in Texas, picking a lot, and this was about some of the same time there had been a concert in Wichita where a lot of the young pickers were coming together and listening to all kinds of music – rock and roll, mostly, I suppose. But they were coming together. Big crowd, I forget how many thousands of people, and I thought it was a good idea. Someone did the same thing in Austin at a place in Dicken Springs, and it was the First Annual Dicken Springs Reunion in March. I was on the show with Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Roger Miller – a bunch of the traditional country people – Bill Anderson. And it wasn’t promoted, so it didn’t do that good, but I thought it was such a great idea, I felt like if we did the same thing further down in the year when the weather wasn’t so cold, like the fourth of July, it would be worthwhile trying to do it. So I started calling up friends and seeing who all wanted to come and work for nothing. And I rustled Kris Kristofferson, Tom T. Hall, Charlie Rich, and the Bees-in-Slaws, Asleep at the Wheel, and a whole lot of great talent was there. We showed up, and we played, and we had about fifty thousand people, so everybody got paid, and we decided it worked and we should do it again.

As you were doing that, another guy you liked a lot, Merle Haggard. He had some of the same heroes, Bob Wills, like that. What do you think he brought to country music?

Merle Haggard is one of my favorite artists and writers. He’s been good ever since he started. His first records were good ones. People immediately liked Merle because they knew talent when they heard it. He was an original, and he still is. He’s one of the few guys that are still out here beating the bushes up and down the highway. His writing is just as good as it gets, and his singing is…well, he’s Haggard. Everybody loves him.

Was his ‘Okie from Muskogee’ sort of tongue in cheek, or did that reflect his politics at the time?

I don’t know. I’ve sung it many times, sort of tongue-in-cheek. I’m not sure where he was mentally when he wrote it.

Farm Aid was also something that you established. Can you talk about that and what was involved?

Well, I remember talking to a lot of friends of mine that were farmers. And they were telling me that there was a big problem. And we traveled around the country a lot and talked to a lot of farmers in different parts of the country. But I asked some of my friends in Texas around Abbot and Hills Vern West where I came from if they were having any problems. They said, “Well, it’s getting kind of tight, but they’re really having problems in the midwest.” A few weeks later I was playing in Springfield, Illinois, and the governor, Big Jim Thompson, a good friend of mine, was there. And we used to have a ritual where every year he’d come on the bus and have a bowl of chili and talk. And this particular time, I ask him about the farm situation, and he says, “Yeah, it’s really bad.” So I said, “What can we do about it? Can we do a Farm Aid, or something like that?” He said, “I don’t know, we can try.” So he got the venue in Champagne, Illinois, and we did the first one 21 days later.

And how many years has that been?

I forgot. It’s fifteen or sixteen, I guess.

Raised a lot of money.

Not as much as we need. The problem is as bad if not worse than it was when we started, and we’re still losing three to four hundred farmers every week with all the droughts and the floods and all the problems they have. Their prices are way down, and what they buy is way up. We need a new farm bill, the Freedom to Farm Bill that both the Democrats and the Republicans sign into is horrible. So both the Democrats and the Republicans have got to get together and come up with a farm bill, or else we’re going to lose all our small family farmers, and when we do that, we lose the next rung on the ladder. Whenever five farmers go out in an area, one business in that town goes under, and the schools and the hospitals fall right along behind it. So all these people who get thrown off the land wind up in a big city somewhere becoming a part of the problem there. So we need to reverse that. We need to get them a farm bill that will get people back on the land. Yesterday, I think, or the day before, I played over in Harvard, and we played a show for a school for young farmers, and I thought that was one of the greatest ideas I had heard. A lot of the people there are bringing kids out of the city, putting them on the farm, letting them learn how to farm, and teaching them what it’s like, teaching them where their food comes from. And that’s what we need to see – more of that.

You know, we focus on some of the tejano musicians that I think you know and like. Little Joe Hernadez is one. Tell us about Little Joe and how you know him and what you think of his music.

Well, Little Joe and I are real good friends, and we’ve been playing music together for a long time. He’s done Farm Aids, and we’ve recorded together. I’ve done a couple of songs in Spanish with him – hope to do some more. We were talking not too long ago about getting together, doing some more recording, and maybe going to Mexico and doing a couple of shows down there.

What about Flaco Jimenez? Is he somebody that you’ve worked with?

Oh yes.

Tell me about Flaco and his music.

Well, Flaco’s a great accordion player. He and his brother both received the Texas Music Art Award. Several of us did, Tommy Lee Jones, a bunch of us. And both Flaco and his brother got the award. They both deserve it.

I know that you also are good friends with B.B. King and that he’s influenced you.

I love the way he plays. And if you’re going to play the blues, you need to listen to B.B. and start from there and do the best you can. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the guy.

And he’s the guy that’s lived that Delta experience and brought it up and electrified it.

And stayed with it. He stayed with the blues. He hasn’t tried to go into this direction or that direction because he didn’t need to.

Another type of music that we’re looking at that’s been kind of negated in America is that of Native Americans. Native American music is starting to cross over. And it’s the first music in America. Is there anything you can say to help people realize the importance and the beauty of that music?

Well, if you’ve heard it than it’s not necessary to explain it. It’s different music, and it’s coming from a different part of life. The Native American rituals, I think, are an important part of life, and they’ve put a lot of this in their music, and there’s great education there, if one would listen. Their music is not something that you go around whistling and humming all the time (unless you’re an Indian, I guess you would), but I think a lot of those bands out there are capable of playing blues, they’re capable of playing country. I mean, just because they’re Indians doesn’t mean they can’t pick. So they can play their traditional stuff, and they can play all kinds of music.

In the explosion of American musics that occurred during the 20th Century, how important is radio and records? I mean, this music came out of different ethnic groups, different regions of the country, and it seems like it exploded all of a sudden and was being recorded for the first time and being broadcast. How important is the radio to American music of the 20th Century?

For one, it’s important in trying to get people to hear you on radio. If you can get your music on the radio, which is harder to do these days. There’s not a lot of radio stations playing traditional like they used to be. There are a few, and there seems to be more and more coming along. But radio used to be really important to me because I didn’t get a lot of airplay. Still don’t get a lot of airplay. But it was important to me whenever I’d work for Alice Ray to have some radio station in that town would play my records before I come to town so I would be ensured of having a pretty good crowd, maybe. So I would promote all these stations and try to find somebody in town that would play. So radio was very important.

When you were growing up, what were some of the first things that you remember over the radio or on records very early on?

The Grand Ole Opry. I used to listen to WSM every Saturday night. That was Roy Acuff, it was Minnie Pearl…

If you were to summarize your music and what you’ve done so beautifully and so consistently for quite a while now, what do you think that you brought into the mix that was different that you feel is distinctly yours?

Well, I don’t really know about that. I know that I like to have freedom to play. I’m not locked into a lot of arrangement and things. Our band jams a lot. It’s fun, what we do, and I think people can see that we’re having fun, and that, I think, is infectious. You like to see a band that’s having fun.

If you were to summarize the main influences on your music…

I don’t know. I listened to everybody, so I’ve got to give everybody a little credit.

But what about those early influences. I hear a lot of different ethnic groups in your music.

Well, somewhere in there is a little gypsy music, a little Spanish, a little country, and a little blues. I think it’s a lot of different things.

Why do you feel that there’s such an explosion of American music in the 20th Century? At the beginning, almost no one really thought America had a musical tradition, it was such a young country, it comes from Europe, it comes from Africa. And we get all these things: gospel, Cajun, jazz, blues, country, tejano, just comes out. And it’s not the music that came over from Europe, it’s something that’s unique in America. Why does that happen in such a short time?

Well, I don’t know, but I think every country has it’s uniqueness, its own musical heritage. But it was a while before they discovered that we had one over here. And maybe it’s because it took it a while to develop. Maybe Jimmie Rodgers and Ray Charles and Hank Williams and Bob Wills had to sort of melt together into something.

What do you think the earliest strands of American music were?

Well, I don’t really know. The first music I remember hearing was on the radio like The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, and I’m sure before radio there were singers that I don’t know.

Out of the songs that other people have done of your own material, which one is probably the one that opened up your career the most? Would it be ‘Crazy’ or ‘Hello Walls?’

Well, definitely, ‘Crazy’ would have to be in there somewhere.

Can you sing a little for us?

Sure. [singing] “Crazy. Crazy for feeling so lonely. Crazy. Crazy for feeling so blue. You’d love me as long as you wanted. And then someday you’d leave me for somebody new. Worry. Why do I let myself worry? Wondering what in the world did I do? Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you. Crazy for trying, crazy for crying, and I’m crazy for loving you.”

Willie Nelson Interview (CBS) (January 2015)

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Willie Nelson in Interview Magazine, by Woody Harrelson (2015)

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

www.interviewmagazine.com
by: Woody Harrelson

“The first six decades of my life had been filled with drama,” Willie Nelson writes, with staggering, knee-buckling understatement, toward the end of his new memoir, It’s a Long Story (Little, Brown). Fifty-odd studio albums, more than a dozen film and TV roles, four wives, eight children, more awards and scrapes with the law than anyone can count—yeah, the first 60 years of Nelson’s life are to drama as the Pacific is to water. Deep with it.

But looking back, from his self-sustaining, solar-powered home in Maui, where he has lived for 30-some years, only soothes him for so long. “I just wanted to kick back, enjoy a smoke, and listen to the waves splash against the shore,” he writes. “But beautiful as it was, I couldn’t sit there for long. Something started calling to me. It was that same ‘something’ that had always been calling.”

Cue the guitar licks: “And of course it led where it always led: Back out on the road.”

At 82, Nelson (who wrote the song “On the Road Again,” among a thousand or more others) is the elder statesman of country music, a steadying and powerful voice in the industry and on environmental issues, and he’s still on the road much of the year. The music keeps calling.

In his unceasing, compulsive rambling about the country, the Depression-era baby and inveterate hustler from Abbott, Texas, has run with the best of ’em, smoked, jammed, and thrown bones with the rest of ’em. Over the course of his more than a hundred albums and 30 years of playing the Farm Aid concert, a benefit he created in support of family farmers, Nelson has played with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash to Waylon Jennings. He’s appeared onscreen numerous times, including in the movies The Electric Horseman (1979), Honeysuckle Rose(1980), and Red Headed Stranger (1986), and on TV shows, including Monk and The Simpsons. At the poker or domino table, he has lifted a small fortune off his Maui neighbors and best buds Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson—all the while burning more grass than the plains states in a drought. (And yet he has the kind of snap-trap memory and continual, thrumming, joke-telling patter of a sage.)

In the process, Nelson has become an enduring figurehead—the outlaw rider; the hippie-redneck activist; the legalization advocate; the ruffian, poet beatnik—and an endlessly beguiling, elusive man. Willie Nelson is already a legend, and still he rambles on.

As he tells his pal and fellow fan of the pipe, Woody Harrelson, it’s been quite a ride. –Chris Wallace

WOODY HARRELSON: Willieeee, I miss you, brother! Where are you?

WILLIE NELSON: I’m in Biloxi, Mississippi.

HARRELSON: Biloxi, whoa. I’m in London, so we’re close. [laughs] When are you going back to Maui?

NELSON: Around Easter. Will you be there?

HARRELSON: That depends. When is Easter?

NELSON: First week in April, I think.

HARRELSON: Oh, I’ll be there. I’m going to be there for three months. I’m trying to get some time off.

NELSON: Heck yeah, we’ll play some poker, dominoes.

HARRELSON: I got a lot to win back.

NELSON: You win a few thousand every day, and it won’t take you long. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: People know you as an affable, great guy who started Farm Aid. Most people wish you were president, and they don’t realize that you’re a fucking hustler. [both laugh]

NELSON: Don’t tell them about that.

HARRELSON: I’m proud of building the Woody wing on your house there in Maui.

NELSON: Hey, thank you, man. Owen [Wilson] was just there. He contributed a little bit.

HARRELSON: Before we start, do you have, like, a jay sitting around? Or maybe a Volcano or the pen, some kind of vaporizer or anything going on there? Maybe we can get stoned together.

NELSON: I’ve got at least four of each of those things. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: I don’t even know why I asked that.

NELSON: Yeah, really.

HARRELSON: Okay. So tell me about your grandparents, because they were a huge influence on you.

NELSON: My parents divorced when I was about 6 months old, and my grandparents raised me and my sister, Bobbie. I think they did a good job. They spoiled the hell out of us, but that’s what we needed.

HARRELSON: Why did you go to the grandparents? Neither parent could take you?

NELSON: They went different directions, and neither one of them had a way to take care of us. Really they did us a favor just by leaving us with our grandparents.

HARRELSON: This was around the Depression?

NELSON: Yeah, I was born in 1933.

HARRELSON: Do you have any memories of the Depression?

NELSON: I didn’t think we were any worse off than all of the other folks around us. Everybody I knew had to work in the fields, pick cotton, pull corn, bale hay; that’s the way we paid our way through school and bought our school supplies and things. My granddaddy died when I was about 6 years old, I think. And my grandmother took a job cooking in the school lunchroom. So she did great. She made $18 a week.

HARRELSON: That must’ve seemed like a small fortune.

NELSON: Well, it was. It took care of us.

HARRELSON: You really have a fond kind of vibe for your grandmother.

NELSON: And my granddad, too. He was a blacksmith, and I hung out in the blacksmith shop with him when I was a kid, watching him shoe horses. In fact, he got kicked by a horse one time, and he had to wear one of those rupture belts all the rest of his life. They were hard workers.

HARRELSON: Was he a disciplinarian?

NELSON: Well, he spanked me one time. I had to be 4, 5 years old, and I ran away from home. They brought me back and he whipped my little butt. He had one of those razor strops. You know, one of those wide, leather razor strops that you sharpen your razor on. And he hit me a few times with that. It sounded real terrible, but it didn’t hurt that much.

HARRELSON: But I’m sure you made a lot of crying noises so he’d stop.

NELSON: Oh, yeah. I screamed. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: You had that actor in you back then, didn’t you?

NELSON: Hustle! I had that hustle.

HARRELSON: When did you get your first guitar?

NELSON: I was about 5 or 6 years old, and I bought this guitar out of a Sears, Roebuck catalog. I think it was a Harmony guitar. My sister played the piano. She’s two years older than me, and I always wanted to play something. So my grandmother got the guitar for me, and showed me a couple of chords to start off. And then I got me a book. Next thing you know, I was playing along with sister.

HARRELSON: So when you graduated high school, around 1950, you joined the Air Force. What was that like?

NELSON: I didn’t care for it at all. The day I got in, I started trying to get out. I didn’t like taking orders that much, and I didn’t like getting up at dawn and marching and all that horseshit. I didn’t make a very good soldier, I’m afraid.

HARRELSON: I can’t imagine you taking orders.

NELSON: No.

HARRELSON: I mean, except from Annie [Nelson, Willie’s wife], obviously. [both laugh] So you weren’t a part of the Korean War?

NELSON: I never did go overseas. I spent all my time in Biloxi, Mississippi, right here where I’m at now. I took basic training down in San Antonio, at Lackland Air Force Base, and in Wichita Falls, at Sheppard Air Force Base. Then I spent my last few months in the Air Force here. I come back here to Biloxi quite a bit. I like it here.

HARRELSON: So out of the Air Force, you went to Baylor University?

NELSON: Yeah, I had some G.I. Bill coming. So I took what I had and went to Baylor there for a while, majored in dominoes. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: That’s what I want to know. When did you become a hustler?

NELSON: I’ve been playing dominoes all my life. When I was really young, the old men in Abbott all played dominoes. And when one of them would have to get up and go somewhere, they’d get me to come sit in. If I’d make a mistake, they’d yell at me and throw shit at me. So I learned to play dominoes pretty good. And some friends of mine, like old Zeke Varnon up in Hillsboro, who is the best dominoes player I ever met, showed me a lot of stuff. He was a card hustler, dominoes, pool … You name it, Zeke was good at it.

HARRELSON: I guess those are the people I have to thank for all the—what do you call it?—remuneration I’ve thrown your direction.

NELSON: I think remuneration is the word for it, yeah. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: Oh, man. I’ve experienced more pain in your house than I think anywhere.

NELSON: But you take it well, Woody. That’s what I tell them all.

HARRELSON: You notice how there’s just no shift from when I’m winning or losing—I just don’t care. I’m happy. So were you an encyclopedia salesman?

NELSON: I sold encyclopedias door-to-door. I also sold Singer sewing machines.

HARRELSON: Did you do well with that? Because I’m imagining Willie Nelson coming to my door to sell me something, whatever it is, I’m going to buy it.

NELSON: The big deal was to get in the door. When I would sell encyclopedias, I would drive down the road looking for a house with a swing set in the back, and I’d say, “Oh, those folks got kids. They need some books.” I’d knock on their door and sell them a set of encyclopedias, and those books were from $300 to $600. I’d look around the house, and if there wasn’t that much furniture in the house, I felt a little bad about selling a $600 set of books to people who couldn’t afford a couch. So I didn’t last at that job very long.

HARRELSON: The overly compassionate salesman. You just weren’t meant to do that, I think. How did you end up in Nashville?

NELSON: Well, when I was growing up, Nashville was the place to go if you had songs to sell and thought you had talent and wanted to tour and be on Grand Ole Opry [radio show]. It was the big deal back in those days to play the Grand Ole Opry. And you could travel around the world saying, “Hi, I’m Willie from the Grand Ole Opry.” And back in those days, it really helped you book dates. I had to quit the Opry because they insisted that you play it 26 weeks out of the year. They still do, I guess. But I was playing in Texas a lot, so it was hard on me to get back 26 weeks out of the year. I’ll always regret it.

HARRELSON: You were just driving back and forth?

NELSON: Yeah, and my good days were Friday and Saturday, so it was really cutting into my income to have to go all the way back to Nashville to play the Opry, and I was kind of torn between the two.

HARRELSON: But at the time, most anybody would have been frickin’ thrilled to be playing the Opry.

NELSON: Oh, yeah.

HARRELSON: I’ve got to backtrack. When did you say, “This is what I’m going to do”?

NELSON: I always knew that I wanted to do this. My first job was in a Bohemian polka band, the Rejcek family polka band in Abbott. The old man in the band had another blacksmith shop in Abbott, but he liked me. All he had was horns and drums, and I was set up over there with my little guitar with no amps or nothing. I would play as loud as I wanted to, and nobody could hear me. He paid me $8 or $10. I had been working in the fields all day for $2, baling hay, so that was a lot of money for me. He took good care of me. He had 20 children, I think, and they were all musicians.

HARRELSON: 20 kids, and I’m guessing different wives?

NELSON: Well now, that I can’t tell you for sure.

HARRELSON: I mean, you’ve got, like, 27 children and how many wives? Is it too early for that question?

NELSON: I don’t know how people handle 20 kids. I got a few, who I love dearly, but 20? Maybe if I went around the world, I’d have 20. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: You got at least 20 out there you don’t even know about.

NELSON: Lord willing! [both laugh]

HARRELSON: But officially, you have how many?

NELSON: Officially, we have Lana, who’s standing right here by me, my oldest, and her sister, Susie, and I had a son named Billy. He passed away. And Paula and Amy, from me and Connie. And Lukas and Micah, from me and Annie. I got a bunch of good kids.

HARRELSON: That’s a goodly number though. I lost track of how many that was …

NELSON: The boys are playing in the band with me tonight. Micah’s a great drummer, and Luke plays great guitar and sings, and they’re really helping us out on this tour.

HARRELSON: So tell me about this fellow Hank Cochran. He had a major influence on your life.

NELSON: Hank Cochran was a songwriter in Nashville, and he wrote for Pamper Music. Hank got me a job there at Pamper Music writing songs [in the early 1960s], with a $50 a week salary. So that set me up in Nashville. And then Ray Price, who owned Pamper Music, heard that I was a musician. And he called and asked me if I could play bass. His bass player, Donny Young, had quit on him, I think out in Nebraska somewhere. I said, “Sure, can’t everybody?” But I had never played bass a day in my life. So on my way to the first gig, Jimmy Day taught me how to play bass. Several years later I asked Ray if he knew I couldn’t play bass, and he said, “Yeah.” [both laugh] I didn’t fool him.

HARRELSON: At this time, you wrote a hell of a lot of amazing songs: “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy,” “Hello Walls,” “Wake Me When It’s Over.” Great songs that other people were performing, like Roy Orbison with “Pretty Paper.” I know you had to be glad to get a paycheck and have other people singing your songs, but were you frustrated at the same time?

NELSON: Not in the least. I knew what I could do, and I was getting my songs recorded. I was making money. I had no reason to complain about anything. I was touring with Ray Price, and whenever we would get home, we’d go into the studio and put down all these songs that me and Hank had written. The publishing company would give us three hours, and we’d see how many songs we could put down—we’d put down 20 or 30 songs in three hours.

HARRELSON: That’s outrageous!

NELSON: But I was performing. I was working Texas a lot, playing all of the beer joints down there, making a pretty good living. And, in fact, when I left Nashville, I went back to Texas and said, “Hey, I can make a living in Texas working the Broken Spoke and different places like that.”

HARRELSON: So that was all initiated when your house burned down in 1970? Was that kind of a blessing in disguise?

NELSON: Yeah, it really was. We were all living up there in Ridgetop, Tennessee, and writing songs and raising hogs. [both laugh] I decided I wanted to be a hog farmer, and I bought 17 weaner pigs. I think I paid 27 cents a pound for ’em. Brought ’em home and fed ’em for five months, sold ’em for 17 cents a pound. I lost a small fortune raising fuckin’ hogs. But I learned a lot. I learned I’d much rather be in Texas playing the beer joints. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: So when you got to Texas, you were already a known entity?

NELSON: More or less, yeah.

HARRELSON: So then everything started to really shift for you. You made Shotgun Willie [1973]. You made, like, three albums in succession.

NELSON: Red Headed Stranger [1975]—that was one of the first ones that started doing well. It had “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” My plan was to have the album come out the same time I had the movie come out. But you know how that goes—it took a decade before [the movie Red Headed Stranger] got made.

HARRELSON: Now, hold it. Was Red Headed Stranger the album that you just heard running through your head when you were driving through the night?

NELSON: Yeah. I was coming back through Denver, driving to Austin. The lights were really bright, so, you know, “The bright lights of Denver / Were shining like diamonds / Like 10,000 stars in the sky.” And, “Nobody cared who you were or where you come from / You were judged by the look in your eye.” So I kind of set the theme for the Red Headed Stranger. I had it pretty much written by the time we got home. It didn’t take that long. But then “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was already written. Some of those songs had been hits in the past, and I placed them in there because they fit the story.

HARRELSON: So by the time that album came out, your star had really ascended?

NELSON: Yeah, pretty good. And I got lucky.

HARRELSON: You still tour over 100 days a year, I think. Were you on that kind of pace already?

NELSON: Yeah. I’m trying to cut back. We’re playing a little less than we have been. I think we’ll all be able to stay out here longer if we do it that way.

HARRELSON: And it’s helping all your friends out, too, because then we get to hang with you more. And how could you possibly make more out on the road than you do right at home? [both laugh] So tell me how you met Annie, your wife.

NELSON: I was doing a movie, Stagecoach [1986], a remake of the old John Wayne classic. We were in Tucson, and Annie was doing the makeup on the movie. We were there together for several weeks.

HARRELSON: And how did it go from makeup artist to … home stylist? [both laugh]

NELSON: Well, she still does my hair.

HARRELSON: How’d you get into biodiesel?

NELSON: Well, just as an alternative to using a lot of oil. A lot of the truckers use it. We use it on our buses. I noticed the price of oil has come down a lot, so that makes it more competitive. You know, if a guy can fill up with regular gas rather than pay a little bit more for some biofuels, he might do that. We got a factory there in Hillsboro, where we go around picking up all the vegetable oil from the restaurants and turning it into biofuel. My old buddy Bob King in Maui, at Pacific Biodiesel, he kind of helped start the whole idea. He’s doing fine. You remember him, don’t you?

HARRELSON: Oh, yeah. I go there and fill up every time I need to fuel. The UN calls 2015 the International Year of Soils, and I know you’re really involved in helping farmers. How’s that going?

NELSON: From what I hear, the ones who have gone into organic farming are doing very well. A lot of people are realizing that it’s better for them to buy from a local farmer. Instead of having their breakfast come from 1,500 miles away, they can get the same bacon and eggs from the farmer a mile out in the country. So I see some progress. We’re doing another Farm Aid this year, on September 19. I think this makes almost 30 of them.

HARRELSON: Wow. I didn’t realize it was that many. That is a cool thing and a great event, but I’m sure you look forward to the day when you don’t have to do it.

NELSON: You would think that our real intelligent people there in Washington would see the problem and fix it immediately, but unfortunately, the big corporations have pretty much told them what to do. And big corporations like it the way it is, all the pesticides and chemicals that they put on the land. It doesn’t change, and I think you have to expect that from people. You have to judge other people against yourself. They say you’re not supposed to do that, but that’s the only way I can judge other people. I kind of compare them to myself. And I know there’s a lot of hustlers out there, in every walk of life. Whether they’re preachers or insurance salesmen, it’s about the same thing.

HARRELSON: I’ve stopped hoping for much from the politicians.

NELSON: Yeah, they’re all bought and paid for.

HARRELSON: But this is boring …

NELSON: Let’s talk about sex.

HARRELSON: Yeah. How old were you when you first started masturbating?

NELSON: Um, let me see. [both laugh] I remember the first time I had sex. I’ll never forget what she said. “Moooooo!”

HARRELSON: That is honorable. And very funny.

NELSON: Do you want to hear a good joke?

HARRELSON: Yes, I do.

NELSON: These people were in a courtroom, and they were accusing this guy of having sex with an animal. And so this lady said, “I only know what I saw. I was driving down the road, and I saw this guy out there with this sheep, and they were making love. And you’re not going to believe this, your Honor, but when they got through, the little sheep laid its head over on the guy’s shoulder and went to sleep.” And one of the guys on the jury punched another one in his elbow and said, “Yeah, it’ll do that.” [both laugh]

HARRELSON: I tell your jokes all the time—but when it gets met with a weird response, I always give you credit—the one about two nuns riding their bikes around the Vatican?

NELSON: And one says to the other, “I’ve never come this way before.” And the other one says, “Me neither, must be the cobblestones.” [both laugh]

HARRELSON: You probably have 52,000 jokes in your memory bank.

NELSON: You’re probably close.

HARRELSON: I’ve never seen you run out.

NELSON: I must enjoy telling them. I know I enjoy hearing ’em. And whenever I hear a good one, I kind of try to hang on to it and spread it around.

HARRELSON: Who’s influenced you the most?

NELSON: Well, we have to go all the way back to guys like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Floyd Tillman, Leon Payne, Ted Daffan, Spade Cooley, Hank Williams, Django Reinhardt. Me and Merle [Haggard] have a new album coming out called Django and Jimmie, about Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers. There’s a song that says, “There might not have been a Merle or a Willie without a Django and Jimmie.”

HARRELSON: Ah! And did y’all write together?

NELSON: Merle wrote a few in there. Merle wrote one about Johnny Cash, and he wrote one about us called “The Only One Wilder Than Me.” [both laugh]

HARRELSON: And that’s saying something.

NELSON: And we did a song on there, coming out 4/20, called “It’s All Going to Pot.” “Whether we like it or not / As far as I can tell, the world’s gone to hell / And we’re sure gonna miss it a lot / And all of the whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee, just couldn’t hit the spot / So here’s a $100 bill, you can keep your pills, friend / It’s all going to pot.” [both laugh]

HARRELSON: That is great, man! Willie, I got to say, it really blows my mind how you tour over 100 days a year, you come up with at least one or two albums a year, and then you’re also writing books—you have a book coming out, right?

NELSON: Right. It’s called It’s a Long Story. [Harrelson laughs] I reviewed my own book, and I cut a song called “It’s a Long Story” [sings] “It’s a long story, you’ll probably never make it to the end / There’s way too many words, way too many pages / Too much time to stop and start again / But if you love a good mystery, you’ll never find a better one, my friend / It’s a real whodunit, who lost it, and who won it / And who’s still around to lose it all again.”

HARRELSON: Nice, man! You know, I never told you what a big influence you’ve been on my life. I was living in Costa Rica with Laura, and our daughters, Deni and Zoe, and I came back to L.A., and my buddy Jim Brooks asked me if I wanted to go to a concert you were doing. I went, it was a great show, and afterwards, this beautiful woman, Annie, comes up and says, “Hey, I’m Willie’s wife. Why don’t you come back and hang on the bus?” I’m like, “Whoa, sure.” So we go back there, the bus doors open, all the smoke billows out like, you know, Cheech and Chong, and I look through the fog, and I see you in there, with a big old fatty, like, “Come on in. Let’s burn one!” [Nelson laughs] The first of, like, 97,000 joints we would smoke together. And we had the most amazing conversation. I really felt like I met a real soul mate—someone I would always know. Of course, that proved to be true, but one of the great things that happened on that occasion, when we first met, which is an example of your generosity, was you said to me, “I live in Maui. If you ever want to come over there and stay—even if I’m not there—you can do that.” So, of course, we took you up on it, and ended up in Maui. And now, almost 20 years later, I’ve been living in Maui, and it’s thanks to you. So thanks for being such a good influence on my life, bro.

NELSON: Well, you’re sure welcome. I was lucky. I got booked over there, and once I got there, I realized, “Hey, this would be a good place to stay.”

HARRELSON: Yeah, you got a great spot there on the water.

NELSON: One thing I want to run by you, you know our spot over there on the ocean, what do you think about us putting in a little floatin’ gambling casino out there, maybe a little houseboat, you know, and calling it Woody and Willie’s?

HARRELSON: I love that idea. Bring ’em up in a boat, get a little gambling done, and send ’em back home.

NELSON: Yeah, they can ski over or whatever.

HARRELSON: You’ll have Owen there every night, trying to win back what he lost the previous night. I love that idea. I’m in.

NELSON: I’ll see you in Maui!

Willie Nelson in Interview Magazine (2005)

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

img364
portrait:  Julian Schnabel

Interview Magazine
by:  Stephen Mooallem
August 2005

WILLIE NELSON:  Outlaw, legend, Countryman, Rastafarian?  It’s been a long and tempestuous road for music’s braided troubadour, and with a big-time movie, an old-time tour, and a good-time reggae record all on the go, he’s still the wildest ace in the deck.

Stephen Mooallem:  So, this reggae record you’ve done, Countryman [Lost Highway], has been nearly a decade in the making.

Willie Nelson:  Yeah.  It started around 10 years ago when don Was and I went to Jamaica to see Chris Blackwell, who was the head of Island Records at the time.  He had wanted us to do a reggae album, and we did one track, so we took it down to play it for him.  He liked it, but I also took a copy of a CD I’d just produced called Spirit, and he liked that, too, so he said, “Let’s put that out now, then we’ll put the reggae record out later.”  Meantime, the company had some shake-ups, so Chris moved into another spot, and the reggae album just lay around for a long time.

SM:  Is reggae music something you’ve been into for a long time?

WN:  No.  When I first heard it, there was way too much rhythm for me.  It took me a while to realize that they were doing something with all that rhythm and not just banging.  So once I was able to figure out what was going on, I discovered how well country songs could adapt themselves to reggae rhythms.

SM:  Why did you think they would adapt well?  Were there similarities in any way?

WN:  I tried doing my song “Undo the Right” in reggae style, and it turned out so well that I felt I could do any country song an put reggae rhythms behind it.  Then these musicians told me that reggae started from people in Jamaica listening to music from United States radio.  The people there had fiddles and guitars but no drums, so they added their own rhythms to what they were hearing.  They swore that’s where reggae came from.

GM:  How did you pick the songs for Countryman?

WN:  A friend of mine told me I couldn’t do a reggae album without “The Harder They Come” and “Sitting in Limbo,” so I did those.  Then I did a Johnny Cash song called “I’m a Worried Man.”  When he found out I was doing a reggae album, he played me his song, and I said, “Yeah, that’d be good.”  Then on the rest of them, I used a lot of my old songs — just country songs that I’d written back in the ’60s and ’70s.

SM:  Was it hard waiting for this record to come out?

WN:  Oh, yeah.  But it’s the record business, so everything is different and strange.  [laughs]

GM:  You’re also in the new Dukes of Hazzard movie.  How was that experience?

WN:  Exceptionally good.  Movies come along so rarely that when they do it’s kind of like a vacation.  You pull the bus in there, and you stay for a week or two, and you get to see a lot of great people every day.

GM:  You play Uncle Jesse in the movie.

WN:  Most of my scenes are with Wonder Woman.

GM:  Oh, Lynda Carter.  Who does she play?

WN:  She plays my girlfriend.

GM:  Very nice.

WN:  Yeah.  She’s a great gal.

SM:  Do you still like being on the road?

WN:  Yes, I do. I enjoy being able to hang out during the day and not having anything to do until the nighttime.  But I do run and try to stay in shape.  With the way I abuse myself in the nighttime, I have to do something the next morning to at least even it out.

SM:  Do you still keep late nights.

WN:  No, I don’t really.  A lot of the old things I used to do, I don’t do anymore.  I don’t drink much anymore, so I have no reason to wake up feeling bad.

SM:  Did you ever think when you were starting out that you would still be touring and playing music at this point in your life?  What keeps you interested?

WN:  Every day is a challenge, for one thing.  And it keeps me off the streets.  It keeps me from getting into trouble, because I don’t know how to do days off that well.  For me, being out on the road, when you’ve got something to do every day,  is good therapy.  And my boys are playing with me, and they are just incredible musicians, so it’s fun to have them around.

SM:  Do yout hinkyour sons are going to become musicians as well?

WN:  No doubt.  It just depends on how quick their mom will let them hit the road.  She’s very interested in keeping them in school long enough to learn how to take care of the business part of it.  I am, too, because i learned mainly by making mistakes.  I started out playing in bands when I was around 8 or 9 years old, living in Abbott, Texas.  I was living with my grandmother, who raised me.  I’d play around town, in school and church and everything, and she said, “That’s all f ine, but I don’t ever want you to go on the road.”  So there was a little old club down in West, Texas, about six miles south of Abbott.  I went down there one night and played with a bohemian polka band.  Nobody heard me, but I made $8.  When I got home, my grandmother was a little upset.  She said, “You promised me you wouldn’t go on the road.”  Six miles away was “on the road” to her.

SM:  What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever learned?

WN:  Be careful what you say, and be careful what you promise, and be sure you’re able to do what you say you’ll do.

SM:  Do you have a philosophy then about, how to go about things?

WN:  Yes:  Fortunately, we’re not in control.

interview
August 2005

Willie Nelson and Mickey Raphael

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

brenda

http://sacurrent.com
By Jeremy Martin

New to Willie Nelson?   Don’t cop to that shit around these parts, partner, unless you do it in a Martian accent.  In his 76 years, Abbott, Texas’s native son has done so many phenomenal things a list of them would amount to a religious text, but let’s put it this way: He wrote a hit song for Patsy Cline (“Crazy”) and appeared in a Snoop Dogg video (“My Medicine”). The words “living legend” aren’t really adequate; that should’ve opened up a wormhole in space-time. We’re still waiting for him to bring his Fourth of July Picnic back to San Antonio, but you’ve got a chance to verify his actual existence Sunday at the Majestic Theater, 224 E. Houston Street, on  February 28, 2010, majesticempire.com.

Mickey Raphael has played harmonica with Willie Nelson since 1973. He produced 2009’s Naked Willie, featuring Nelson recordings from 1966-1970 stripped of their Nashville studio flourishes. Raphael is currently working with Salvador Duran and Calexico’s John Convertino and Joey Burns to record a follow-up to his 1987 solo album Hand to Mouth.

How is Willie Nelson’s hand recovering? [He canceled a concert last month due to hand pain.]

It’s good. I mean he plays. He had that carpal-tunnel-syndrome operation — it’s been awhile back [2004]. … We’re out on the road now, but we just had a day off yesterday, and we’ve got a day off Monday, so he’s giving it some rest. … He’s the only guitar player we got, though.

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had playing with Willie Nelson?

[Performing in Amsterdam with] Snoop Dogg was pretty unique. We’ve gotten to play with U2.  Willie and I went to see Bono in Ireland, and they were working on a record and they asked us to come down and record a song that they released in Europe [“Slow Dancing”].  I don’t think it was a U.S. release. Willie and I played in Georgia at Ray Charles’s funeral. We just did this thing with Wynton Marsalis [2008’sTwo Men With the Blues].

How did you begin playing with him?

I met Willie through [former University of Texas football coach] Darrell Royal, at a jam session at the coach’s hotel room after a ball game. He had about 30 people in there … a bunch of musicians and just his buddies and stuff. They just sat around passing the guitar around. Willie sang some. I think Charlie Pride sang some; I can’t remember who else was there. And Willie just said, “Hey, if you ever hear we’re playing anywhere, come sit in.” I started checking his schedule and seeing where he was playing in Texas. … It just kind of segued into playing with him more often.

How did the idea for Naked Willie come about?

I just pitched the idea to the record label. I said, “We’ve got all these great songs from the ’60s, and I wonder what they would sound like without all these strings and background vocals. What would it sound like if Willie had been the producer?

So this was your idea?

Yeah, totally my idea.  Willie really heard it when it was finished.

The impression I’d had was it was similar to the way that Let It Be Naked had arisen— something that had been eating away at him for a long time.

No, no. It was something that had been eating away at me for a long time. •

http://sacurrent.com/music/story.asp?id=70955

Five Questions for Willie Nelson @Barnes & Noble

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

bn
www.barnesandnoble.com
by: Lauren Passell

Willie Nelson has been putting his stories to music (with his guitar, Trigger) for more than 60 years—and now he’s put his stories to the page, in his just-released memoir “It’s a Long Story.” We sat down for a few minutes with the country-music legend before he signed copies before an excited audience of fans at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York City.

BN:  You’ve been telling stories for years through song, and now a book. What’s your best advice for telling a good story?

WN: I would be the last one to give advice on anything.

BN: But you’re a gifted storyteller! How do you do it?  WillieN03

WN: Well it’s different selling a big, heavy book like this one, than writing a song.

BN:  How is it different?

WN:  With the book, I had a lot of good help. David (my co-writer) would ask me questions and did a good job taking what I said and making it sound half right.

BN:  You walk into a big, beautiful Barnes & Noble like this one. Which section do you head to first?

WN:  I like adventure and action books.

BN:  If we started a Willie Nelson book club, which book would you choose to make everyone read?

WN:  God’s Little Acre, by Erskine Caldwell.

booky5

www.macleans.ca

Read article here:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/5-questions-for-willie-nelson-at-his-bnauthorevent/

“Interview” with Willie Nelson, by Woody Harrelson

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

interview1138172.jpg
photo by: Shelly Katz

www.interviewmagazine.com
by:  Woody Harrelson

“The first six decades of my life had been filled with drama,” Willie Nelson writes, with staggering, knee-buckling understatement, toward the end of his new memoir, It’s a Long Story (Little, Brown). Fifty-odd studio albums, more than a dozen film and TV roles, four wives, eight children, more awards and scrapes with the law than anyone can count—yeah, the first 60 years of Nelson’s life are to drama as the Pacific is to water. Deep with it.

But looking back, from his self-sustaining, solar-powered home in Maui, where he has lived for 30-some years, only soothes him for so long. “I just wanted to kick back, enjoy a smoke, and listen to the waves splash against the shore,” he writes. “But beautiful as it was, I couldn’t sit there for long. Something started calling to me. It was that same ‘something’ that had always been calling.”

Cue the guitar licks: “And of course it led where it always led: Back out on the road.”

At 82, Nelson (who wrote the song “On the Road Again,” among a thousand or more others) is the elder statesman of country music, a steadying and powerful voice in the industry and on environmental issues, and he’s still on the road much of the year. The music keeps calling.

In his unceasing, compulsive rambling about the country, the Depression-era baby and inveterate hustler from Abbott, Texas, has run with the best of ’em, smoked, jammed, and thrown bones with the rest of ’em. Over the course of his more than a hundred albums and 30 years of playing the Farm Aid concert, a benefit he created in support of family farmers, Nelson has played with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash to Waylon Jennings. He’s appeared onscreen numerous times, including in the movies The Electric Horseman (1979), Honeysuckle Rose(1980), and Red Headed Stranger (1986), and on TV shows, including Monk and The Simpsons. At the poker or domino table, he has lifted a small fortune off his Maui neighbors and best buds Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson—all the while burning more grass than the plains states in a drought. (And yet he has the kind of snap-trap memory and continual, thrumming, joke-telling patter of a sage.)

In the process, Nelson has become an enduring figurehead—the outlaw rider; the hippie-redneck activist; the legalization advocate; the ruffian, poet beatnik—and an endlessly beguiling, elusive man. Willie Nelson is already a legend, and still he rambles on.

As he tells his pal and fellow fan of the pipe, Woody Harrelson, it’s been quite a ride. –Chris Wallace

WOODY HARRELSON: Willieeee, I miss you, brother! Where are you?

WILLIE NELSON: I’m in Biloxi, Mississippi.

HARRELSON: Biloxi, whoa. I’m in London, so we’re close. [laughs] When are you going back to Maui?

NELSON: Around Easter. Will you be there?

HARRELSON: That depends. When is Easter?

NELSON: First week in April, I think.

HARRELSON: Oh, I’ll be there. I’m going to be there for three months. I’m trying to get some time off.

NELSON: Heck yeah, we’ll play some poker, dominoes.

HARRELSON: I got a lot to win back.

NELSON: You win a few thousand every day, and it won’t take you long. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: People know you as an affable, great guy who started Farm Aid. Most people wish you were president, and they don’t realize that you’re a fucking hustler. [both laugh]

NELSON: Don’t tell them about that.

HARRELSON: I’m proud of building the Woody wing on your house there in Maui.

NELSON: Hey, thank you, man. Owen [Wilson] was just there. He contributed a little bit.

HARRELSON: Before we start, do you have, like, a jay sitting around? Or maybe a Volcano or the pen, some kind of vaporizer or anything going on there? Maybe we can get stoned together.

NELSON: I’ve got at least four of each of those things. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: I don’t even know why I asked that.

NELSON: Yeah, really.

HARRELSON: Okay. So tell me about your grandparents, because they were a huge influence on you.

NELSON: My parents divorced when I was about 6 months old, and my grandparents raised me and my sister, Bobbie. I think they did a good job. They spoiled the hell out of us, but that’s what we needed.

HARRELSON: Why did you go to the grandparents? Neither parent could take you?

NELSON: They went different directions, and neither one of them had a way to take care of us. Really they did us a favor just by leaving us with our grandparents.

HARRELSON: This was around the Depression?

NELSON: Yeah, I was born in 1933.

HARRELSON: Do you have any memories of the Depression?

NELSON: I didn’t think we were any worse off than all of the other folks around us. Everybody I knew had to work in the fields, pick cotton, pull corn, bale hay; that’s the way we paid our way through school and bought our school supplies and things. My granddaddy died when I was about 6 years old, I think. And my grandmother took a job cooking in the school lunchroom. So she did great. She made $18 a week.

HARRELSON: That must’ve seemed like a small fortune.

NELSON: Well, it was. It took care of us.

HARRELSON: You really have a fond kind of vibe for your grandmother.

NELSON: And my granddad, too. He was a blacksmith, and I hung out in the blacksmith shop with him when I was a kid, watching him shoe horses. In fact, he got kicked by a horse one time, and he had to wear one of those rupture belts all the rest of his life. They were hard workers.

HARRELSON: Was he a disciplinarian?

NELSON: Well, he spanked me one time. I had to be 4, 5 years old, and I ran away from home. They brought me back and he whipped my little butt. He had one of those razor strops. You know, one of those wide, leather razor strops that you sharpen your razor on. And he hit me a few times with that. It sounded real terrible, but it didn’t hurt that much.

HARRELSON: But I’m sure you made a lot of crying noises so he’d stop.

NELSON: Oh, yeah. I screamed. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: You had that actor in you back then, didn’t you?

NELSON: Hustle! I had that hustle.

HARRELSON: When did you get your first guitar?

NELSON: I was about 5 or 6 years old, and I bought this guitar out of a Sears, Roebuck catalog. I think it was a Harmony guitar. My sister played the piano. She’s two years older than me, and I always wanted to play something. So my grandmother got the guitar for me, and showed me a couple of chords to start off. And then I got me a book. Next thing you know, I was playing along with sister.

HARRELSON: So when you graduated high school, around 1950, you joined the Air Force. What was that like?

NELSON: I didn’t care for it at all. The day I got in, I started trying to get out. I didn’t like taking orders that much, and I didn’t like getting up at dawn and marching and all that horseshit. I didn’t make a very good soldier, I’m afraid.

HARRELSON: I can’t imagine you taking orders.

NELSON: No.

HARRELSON: I mean, except from Annie [Nelson, Willie’s wife], obviously. [both laugh] So you weren’t a part of the Korean War?

NELSON: I never did go overseas. I spent all my time in Biloxi, Mississippi, right here where I’m at now. I took basic training down in San Antonio, at Lackland Air Force Base, and in Wichita Falls, at Sheppard Air Force Base. Then I spent my last few months in the Air Force here. I come back here to Biloxi quite a bit. I like it here.

HARRELSON: So out of the Air Force, you went to Baylor University?

NELSON: Yeah, I had some G.I. Bill coming. So I took what I had and went to Baylor there for a while, majored in dominoes. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: That’s what I want to know. When did you become a hustler?

NELSON: I’ve been playing dominoes all my life. When I was really young, the old men in Abbott all played dominoes. And when one of them would have to get up and go somewhere, they’d get me to come sit in. If I’d make a mistake, they’d yell at me and throw shit at me. So I learned to play dominoes pretty good. And some friends of mine, like old Zeke Varnon up in Hillsboro, who is the best dominoes player I ever met, showed me a lot of stuff. He was a card hustler, dominoes, pool … You name it, Zeke was good at it.

HARRELSON: I guess those are the people I have to thank for all the—what do you call it?—remuneration I’ve thrown your direction.

NELSON: I think remuneration is the word for it, yeah. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: Oh, man. I’ve experienced more pain in your house than I think anywhere.

NELSON: But you take it well, Woody. That’s what I tell them all.

HARRELSON: You notice how there’s just no shift from when I’m winning or losing—I just don’t care. I’m happy. So were you an encyclopedia salesman?

NELSON: I sold encyclopedias door-to-door. I also sold Singer sewing machines.

HARRELSON: Did you do well with that? Because I’m imagining Willie Nelson coming to my door to sell me something, whatever it is, I’m going to buy it.

NELSON: The big deal was to get in the door. When I would sell encyclopedias, I would drive down the road looking for a house with a swing set in the back, and I’d say, “Oh, those folks got kids. They need some books.” I’d knock on their door and sell them a set of encyclopedias, and those books were from $300 to $600. I’d look around the house, and if there wasn’t that much furniture in the house, I felt a little bad about selling a $600 set of books to people who couldn’t afford a couch. So I didn’t last at that job very long.

HARRELSON: The overly compassionate salesman. You just weren’t meant to do that, I think. How did you end up in Nashville?

NELSON: Well, when I was growing up, Nashville was the place to go if you had songs to sell and thought you had talent and wanted to tour and be on Grand Ole Opry [radio show]. It was the big deal back in those days to play the Grand Ole Opry. And you could travel around the world saying, “Hi, I’m Willie from the Grand Ole Opry.” And back in those days, it really helped you book dates. I had to quit the Opry because they insisted that you play it 26 weeks out of the year. They still do, I guess. But I was playing in Texas a lot, so it was hard on me to get back 26 weeks out of the year. I’ll always regret it.

HARRELSON: You were just driving back and forth?

NELSON: Yeah, and my good days were Friday and Saturday, so it was really cutting into my income to have to go all the way back to Nashville to play the Opry, and I was kind of torn between the two.

HARRELSON: But at the time, most anybody would have been frickin’ thrilled to be playing the Opry.

NELSON: Oh, yeah.

HARRELSON: I’ve got to backtrack. When did you say, “This is what I’m going to do”?

NELSON: I always knew that I wanted to do this. My first job was in a Bohemian polka band, the Rejcek family polka band in Abbott. The old man in the band had another blacksmith shop in Abbott, but he liked me. All he had was horns and drums, and I was set up over there with my little guitar with no amps or nothing. I would play as loud as I wanted to, and nobody could hear me. He paid me $8 or $10. I had been working in the fields all day for $2, baling hay, so that was a lot of money for me. He took good care of me. He had 20 children, I think, and they were all musicians.

HARRELSON: 20 kids, and I’m guessing different wives?

NELSON: Well now, that I can’t tell you for sure.

HARRELSON: I mean, you’ve got, like, 27 children and how many wives? Is it too early for that question?

NELSON: I don’t know how people handle 20 kids. I got a few, who I love dearly, but 20? Maybe if I went around the world, I’d have 20. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: You got at least 20 out there you don’t even know about.

NELSON: Lord willing! [both laugh]

HARRELSON: But officially, you have how many?

NELSON: Officially, we have Lana, who’s standing right here by me, my oldest, and her sister, Susie, and I had a son named Billy. He passed away. And Paula and Amy, from me and Connie. And Lukas and Micah, from me and Annie. I got a bunch of good kids.

HARRELSON: That’s a goodly number though. I lost track of how many that was …

NELSON: The boys are playing in the band with me tonight. Micah’s a great drummer, and Luke plays great guitar and sings, and they’re really helping us out on this tour.

HARRELSON: So tell me about this fellow Hank Cochran. He had a major influence on your life.

Read entire article, see more photos:
http://www.interviewmagazine.com/music/willie-nelson#_

Willie Nelson on Late Night with Seth Meyers

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Willie Nelson on CBS This Morning

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

The singer and songwriter has always been a musical outlaw. He was inspired by blues, jazz, gospel, honky tonk and the ’60s hippy movement, and he created a sound all of his own and revolutionized country music. Willie joins “CBS This Morning” to discuss his new memoir, “It’s a Long Story.”

Willie Nelson on the View (May 6, 2015)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Willie Nelson: Vagabond and Icon (by Michael Corcoran)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Musician’s heart beats strong as ever: Willie Nelson, vagabond and now icon, is still crisscrossing American at 70

http://booknotes.weblogger.com/
by Michael Corcoran
2003

Willie understood. When Frank Sinatra kept touring well into his 70s, reading the words of his classic songs off giant TelePrompTers, critics and fans wondered why he didn’t retire. How much money did he need? But Willie Nelson knew that concert receipts had nothing to do with his friend and idol’s busy schedule. “When you sing for people and they throw back all that love and energy,” he says, “it’s just the best medicine in the world.”

With Nelson’s 70th birthday coming Wednesday, the eternal red-headed rascal has been inundated with tributes, including a celebrity-heavy affair in New York earlier this month that will be shown on the USA Network on May 26, Memorial Day.

The phases and stages of Willie’s career have found him evolving from the honkytonk sideman to the hit Nashville songwriter, from progressive country pioneer to crooner of standards. And now the iconoclast has become the icon, with Willie achieving American folk hero status.

This pot-smoking Zen redneck in pigtails, who sings Gershwin through his nose and plays a guitar that looks like he picked it up at a garage sale, transcends music and has come to personify the individual, the rectangular peg to the round hole of corporatization.

Willie’s the one producers called to sing “America the Beautiful” at the moving finale of the televised “A Tribute To Heroes” show after the Sept. 11 attacks. He’s played for worldwide audiences at former President Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. And he can have his bacon and eggs at any greasy spoon in the country and feel right at home.

Meanwhile, the journalists keep leading with the same questions about what keeps him going at the pace of a much younger man. Willie and the band he calls the Family are scheduled to play almost 180 dates this year, and the shows are two-and-a-half-hour affairs.

“I’ve been trying to take it easy for years, but this is what I love to do,” he says. “When I go home to rest, I get a little stir-crazy after a few days.”

Here’s a man whose office in Luck, the Western town he built near his “Willie World” complex of golf courses, condos and recording studios on Lake Travis, carries a plaque that reads, “He who lives by the song, dies by the road.” True to that motto, one of Roger Miller’s favorite sayings, Willie’s been home in the Hill Country a total of only two weeks this year.

It’s no wonder that “On the Road Again” is the easiest song Willie’s ever written. The producers of the 1980 film “Honeysuckle Rose” were looking for a theme song about vagabond musicians, and their star wrote the first words that popped into his mind: “The life I love is making music with my friends/ I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

It’s a simple existence made all the more comfortable because Willie is surrounded by people who’ve been with him for decades. Bassist Bee Spears has lived 35 of his 53 years in Willie’s band, which also features the barrelhouse piano of Willie’s 72-year-old sister, Bobbie, and Willie’s legendary running buddy, 71-year-old Paul English, on drums. Percussionist Billy English, Paul’s brother, is the new guy, having joined just 19 years ago. Harmonica player Mickey Raphael and guitarist Jody Payne are also relative newcomers, both joining the ragtag caravan 30 years ago.

“You can’t get out of this band even if you die,” Willie says with a laugh. “I’ve told the guys that we’ll just have ’em stuffed and put back up on that stage.”

Willie’s circle of fiercely loyal lifers include roadies (78-year-old Ben Dorcy has been with Willie since the early ’60s), sound engineers and managers. Meanwhile, his oldest daughter, Lana, travels with Willie and keeps up the willienelson.com Web site.

“We all act like we can’t wait to get off the road and catch a break from each other,” says stage manager Randall “Poodie” Locke, who joined up in 1975. “But after three or four days, we’re looking for excuses to call each other. Everybody’s wives or girlfriends are going, ‘Uh, Honey, don’t you got any gigs comin’ up?’ ”

Where’s Willie?

On the road again, they just couldn’t wait to get on the road that takes them to the Lone Star Park horse racing track near Dallas on a crisp recent evening. Some of the fans come early, looking for Willie’s bus, the one that has “Honeysuckle Rose” and an American Indian figure painted on the side.

A group of giddy grandmas stand outside the band’s business bus before the one with the “Ladies Love Outlaws” T-shirt gets up the courage to knock on the door. “Where’s Willie?” she asks the driver, who answers that he won’t arrive until showtime. When the women leave, Poodie says, “Willie makes every fan feel like they’re his friend. Because they are.”

With piercing brown eyes that seem to have the ability to make eye contact with thousands simultaneously and a world class smile that’s both frisky and comforting, Nelson turns concerts into lovefests and makes fans feel like they grew up next door to him.

To gaze at the social makeup of the line waiting outside the horse race track is to marvel at the range of Nelson’s appeal. There are older couples dressed in tight, rounded jeans and multicolored western shirts, who look like they used to see a pre-bearded Willie at the old Big G’s dance hall in Round Rock or the Broken Spoke. There are tons of college kids in ballcaps and straw Resistol hats, plus truck-driver types, budding socialites, bikers and hipsters with their neck tattoos.

But there are also many who just came to play the ponies and don’t even know Willie’s booked to sing after the night’s final race. When a young man with gold front teeth and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers hat worn sideways approaches the turnstile, the ticket taker jokes, “Are you here to see Willie Nelson?” A few Willie fans giggle as the man shakes his head and says, nah, he’s here to bet on horses. Then, as he passes, he leans back and says, “But I do like Willie Nelson.”

As long as he’s healthy and the people keep coming out. That’s how long Willie says he’ll keep this carnival, which commands upwards of $50,000 per show (and $100,000 for private parties), out on the road. Meanwhile, the 70th birthday peg has led to renewed interest in Nelson’s recorded legacy, with Sony reissuing an “Essential Willie Nelson” double disc and the Sugar Hill label getting critical raves for the recently unearthed “Crazy: the Demo Sessions” from the early ’60s. A recently remastered version of the 6 million-selling “Stardust,” Willie’s best-selling album, is turning a whole new audience onto the songs of Hoagie Carmichael and Irving Berlin, just as it did in 1978.

Although last year’s “The Great Divide,” an attempt to duplicate the “Supernatural” success of Carlos Santana by dueting with such hitmakers as Sheryl Crow and Rob Thomas, sold a relatively disappointing 361,000 copies, Willie and the Family are playing to some of their biggest crowds since the mid-’70s glory days of “Good Hearted Woman” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”

Now that Waylon, the Butch Cassidy to Willie’s Sundance Kid, has passed away, it’s up to Nelson to keep the outlaw country bus a-churnin’ down the highway. And with his role as the vortex of Texas singer-songwriting assured, Willie has picked up the younger high school and college crowd that goes batty for the likes of Pat Green and Robert Earl Keen.

Informed that a band member said, “It’s like 1975 all over again,” Willie lets out a laugh. “If he can remember 1975, he wasn’t in my band. But it does seem that the girls are getting younger and prettier. And they know all the words! I hear a thousands kids singing along to ‘Bloody Mary Morning’ and I think, ‘Y’all weren’t even born when that one was written.’ It just makes me feel great to know that these old songs are clicking with a whole new crowd.”

As with the Grateful Dead, Nelson’s spike in popularity so late in his career comes partly because he and the band promote a free-spirited lifestyle. But where the Dead (whose surviving members will join Willie at this year’s Fourth of July Picnic at the new Two River Canyon venue, just down the highway from Willie World) became synonymous with extended jams and mind-expanding drugs, the Willie way is built around short songs and long drives, a cowboy/ Indian fashion mix and tear-in-your-beer roadhouses. Above all, the band’s escapist bent is intensified with instinctive musicianship, a play-it-as-we-feel-it attitude that extends beyond the stage.

“Playing with Willie is tricky business,” bassist Spears says of the frontman who never met a beat he couldn’t tease. “If you try to follow him too close, he’ll lead you down to the river and drown you. You have to keep one eye on him and one eye on your part. Just play your part and trust that he’s going to come back and meet you at some point.”

Willie says the musical kinship between him and sister Bobbie, who ride the bus together, is almost telepathic. “Sometimes, she seems to know what I’m going to play before I do. I’ve played music with my sister almost every night of my life. There’s just this intense connection that really gets the whole ball rolling.”

Raphael says that if someone should die, the members of the Family have decided to carry on in missing man formation, as fighter pilots do after a comrade crashes. “But if anything happens to Trigger,” he says of the acoustic guitar that Willie’s picked a hole through, “that could be the show.”

The Martin classical guitar, which he bought sight-unseen for $750 in 1969, is Nelson’s most precious possession. That he lets friends, about 40 so far, carve their names into the guitar says as much about Willie Nelson, the unmaterialistic scamp, as the way he plays it with gypsy fingers and a jazzman’s curiosity.

At home in the crowd

“God bless ’em,” singer Marty Robbins once said of country music fans. “They’ll do anything for you but leave you alone.”

But no country star has ever handled the demand from fans to touch, to talk to, to have a picture made better than Willie. He spent the first part of his career trying to become successful and the rest proving that success hasn’t changed him a whit.

He’s got a bunch of burly guys, including a former Hell’s Angel named L.G., working for him, but Willie doesn’t allow them to lead him through crowds, even when about 3,000 people stand between him and the stage, as they did at the Lone Star Park show.

When the crowd lets out a roar because they’ve seen Willie in their midst, Mickey Raphael walks up to the window of the band bus, peers out at his boss signing autographs in the sea of hats and says, “Looks like we’ve got about 45 minutes,” then goes back to telling a reporter how he came to run away with this circus.

“My first exposure to the group was the cover of that (1971) ‘Willie Nelson and Family’ record. They were the freakiest looking country band I’d ever seen. Paul looked like the devil and was wearing a cape; Bee had on some furry diapers. I said, ‘Now, what do these guys sound like?’ ” After sitting in with Willie and the Family at a firefighter’s benefit in Waxahachie, Raphael starting playing at all the band’s dates in the Dallas area.

“Willie asked me one night, ‘Hey, Paul, what are we paying that kid?’ ” says English, the infamous raconteur immortalized in Willie’s song “Me and Paul.” The pistol-toting English has handled band biz on the road since 1966, when Willie enticed him to leave his business supplying call girls to Houston businessmen. “I said we weren’t paying Mickey anything, and Willie said, ‘Then double his salary.’ ”

Bee Spears, who joined the Family in 1968 when original bassist David Zettner was drafted into the Army, talks about his first Christmas out on the road with Willie: “We tried to make a snowman out of shaving cream, and we drew pictures of the presents we would give each other when we made it big. Willie had us believing that it wouldn’t be ‘if’ we made it, but ‘when.’ He knew that eventually someone was going to figure him out.”

Austin understood. It was here in the early ’70s that Willie Nelson found a kindred musical attitude. Even though he spends more of his time off the road these days in Maui, where his fourth and current wife, Annie, and their boys Luke, 14, and Micah, 13, live, he remains Austin’s spiritual adviser and greatest musical ambassador.

“Willie loves it in Maui, but he considers Austin his home,” says Lisa Fletcher, who’s married to Bobbie’s son Freddy Fletcher. “He’s got six children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and they almost all live around Austin, so he gets down here every chance he can.”

Austin and Willie go together in the minds of the masses, like Elvis in Memphis, but where Presley lived a fortressed life, Willie doesn’t think anything about jamming for hours at Poodie’s Hilltop Grill near his Lake Travis compound or popping in at Momo’s on Sixth Street to see his favorite local band, Los Lonely Boys. “The town’s grown so much,” Nelson says, “but I still like the vibe there. It’s still a music town.”

Watch the movies he made here in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and you’ll see that so many old landmarks are gone, including the Armadillo World Headquarters, where Willie mapped out the common ground between hippies and the rednecks. Also torn down was the Villa Capri motel, the scene for so many guitar-picking parties hosted by Willie’s buddy Texas Coach Darrell Royal. But Willie’s still Willie, and his set starts out the same way it has since 1971.

There’s the four or five guitar strums and Mickey’s snaky harp lines and then the unmistabkable nasal twang: “Whiskey river, take my mind/ Don’t let her memory torture me.” It’s a holistic hoedown as “Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)” follows, and then come patchwork versions of the early ’60s hits “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and “Night Life.”

Ain’t it funny how much time hasn’t seemed to slip away?

There’s a scene in “Honeysuckle Rose” when Amy Irving asks Willie if he ever gets tired of being everybody’s hero. His silence makes the question rhetorical, but after watching Willie hold court on his bus a few months ago outside Gruene Hall, with person after person telling him how much his music has meant to them and their recently deceased mother, it’s a question worth re-asking. Does Willie ever get tired of being everybody’s hero?

“I think when that line came up in the movie, the reason I didn’t say anything was because I was probably thinking, ‘That’s about the dumbest question I’ve ever been asked,’ ” he says with a huge Willie laugh.

What a stupid question. Who wouldn’t want to be loved by millions simply by being themselves? Who wouldn’t want to be paid handsomely to do the thing they’d do for free? He’s on the road again and again, playing, in the words of Mickey Raphael, “Carnegie Hall one night and some dump in Odessa the next.”

And so when Willie hits the big 7-0, it won’t be a star-studded affair at a huge Texas amphitheater, complete with fireworks. That would make too much sense. Instead, his bus, his home, is rolling towards Wednesday’s gig at the Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, La.

That’s so Willie.

On the road, he’s Willie Nelson, an American treasure and hero of the common folk. Now, who wouldn’t want to be that as often as possible?

 

Willie Nelson and Jon Stewart on the Daily Show (5/5/15)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015