Country music megastar Willie Nelson invites Larry aboard his tour bus for an open conversation about life as an octogenarian, the legalization of marijuana, & the 2016 presidential race.
Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category
by: Zoe Sharples
Willie Nelson and Family will perform at The Mondavi Center on April 9 at 8 p.m. Lukas Nelson, Willie’s son, will open the show with his own band, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. Lukas is also part of Willie’s band. While traveling to Taos, N.M., Lukas spoke with MUSE in a phone interview about family, his music and being on the road.
MUSE: How is the tour going so far?
NELSON: It’s going really great. I just left Fort Collins and we stopped for only eight hours of rest. We were in Victor, Idaho; it’s where Wyoming, Utah and Idaho connect and Montana is close, just north. We played at a place called The Knotty Pine and before that we we were in Salt Lake City.
Your own band [Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real], opens for Willie and you also perform in his band. What do you like about touring with your dad?
I’ve been playing with my dad [Willie Nelson] since I was 13 years old. I used to be on stage playing percussion when I was three years old, running around on stage. He’s always been very family oriented and he’s the best father anyone could ask for. Being on stage with him really makes me proud. That’s where he’s most comfortable, I think. He surrounds himself with his family and a lot of people on the road.
What is Willie like on tour?
He’ll ride his bike and hang out on the bus. Sometimes, on tour, it’s so quick, I get 15 minutes to spend with him in a day. He stays up until between four and five in the morning. I’m a day guy and he’s a night guy but we hang out and have a glass of wine or something and talk about life.
Can you tell us what songs you’ll be performing?
We make a new set list every night. We look at the crowds and we try and read what they might like. Sometimes, when we’re performing with my dad, there’s an older crowd and we try not to blow their ears out. Sometimes when we tone it down we get a better reaction. Then we get people saying ‘just rock out.’
You sometimes perform with your brother Micah too. Is family important to you?
Family is really important to me. I have a lot of extended family that I don’t know very well. I believe that family is very important but I also believe that people really transcend family; like, there’s a lot of people that have dysfunctional families and their friends become their family. It depends how you define family but the people that matter are there for you always. Micah is one person who I can open up to completely.
Willie is known as an activist as well as a musician. How do you feel about the role of musicians in politics?
Well politics, that’s the world around you. You can choose to pay attention or you can choose not to. I don’t recommend, as a musician, endorsing a political party but to endorse ideals that you believe in is part of being a human being. I think, really, there’s got to be common sense in this world. As musicians, we go out and we love each other and we spread joy and happiness. Playing music is catharsis and we go out to let our souls free. When we have people coming out and letting go, that’s already a huge statement. It’s a personal preference but I admire people that have ideals.
What’s the most memorable thing to have happened on the tour so far?
Here’s a great story. I woke up a few days ago in Salt Lake City and we got a call from the guys at Park City, Utah, about half an hour away. Their artist had cancelled last minute and they heard we were playing and said “So you wanna play this gig for 5,000 people?” I’d just woken up and I was still asleep really. It was 11 a.m. and we had three hours to pack everything up and drive down there and we just rocked it. We killed the show for 5,000, got an incredible reaction and went back and played The State Room in Salt Lake City. That day was just a really memorable day and we pulled off two great shows.
Which musicians have inspired you?
I really got into Jimi Hendrix, when I started he was my idol besides my dad. Stevie Ray Vaughan as well. I started getting really into Ray Charles, he was a huge love. I listen to Neil Young now almost every day, he has been a great mentor. The Beatles are huge, [Led] Zeppelin — I could sit here for hours and name more. I like The Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire, I mean anything that has soul to it. But of those few, Jimi was the catalyst for me.
How would you describe your own style of music?
I think it’s a combination of all those that I love. It’s rock n’ roll, it’s poetry, it’s folk rock and it’s indie rock. Not one song is really in the same genre. We’ve avoided being signed for that reason. It’s hard for a label to figure out what we do. You have to see us live and it’s a matter of the crowd. We’ll play a bunch of original tunes and covers at the end, like my dad.
The album you’re working on at the moment will be your third after Promise of the Real in 2010 and Wasted in 2012. How is your new album coming along?
It’s nearly out and we’ve drawn up the final pieces. We’ll have a date for you guys soon. There’ll be a press release out soon, probably in the next two months. I’m really excited about it and I feel it’s the best we’ve ever done. It’s got a lot of soul and is positive and uplifting but also deep.
What are your future hopes for your own band?
I really hope to be pushing the limits. We’re a young, small band so we don’t have a lot of money to use in the studio but we want to get creative. We want to look at techniques to make the production better so hopefully we’ll keep getting better at producing. I want to explore electronic dance music and I want to collaborate with hip hop artists, my idols, like The Roots. There’s a lot of great music out there and I don’t feel like genre should have anything to do with it. As long as it’s got a good vibe.
ZOE SHARPLES can be reached at email@example.com.
Thank you, George Miguel, for sending this video.
By Todd Money
Getting a job working for your sibling isn’t always the easiest or most advisable career move. Bobbie Nelson, the sister of musical legend Willie Nelson, made the most of it. Never a stranger to music herself, Bobbie had played the Texas honky-tonks with younger brother Willie when they were in their teens, in a band with Bobbie’s husband and Ira Nelson, their guitar-playing father. But when her husband died in a car accident, she was left to raise three sons on her own. That brought her to business school in Fort Worth, Texas, where she aimed to learn secretarial skills.
It was music, though, that led to her first job out of college, with the Hammond Organ Co., where she was hired for her office skills – and her ability to demonstrate the company’s organs. Before long, she was working as a piano entertainer in restaurants, eventually making her living as a pianist in Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tennesee.
It was in the early 1970s when brother Willie, who had just signed a recording deal with Atlantic Records, asked Bobbie to join his band. Her playing mixed well with the rest of the band’s free-wheeling style on hits such as “Whiskey River” and “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” and more than 35 years and countless albums and concerts later, brother and sister are still playing together.
Recently, the lesser-known Bobbie has garnered a little spotlight of her own. In 2007, at the age of 76, she released “Audiobiography,” a debut album that shows off her understated and romantic playing style on some of her favorite tunes.
Bobbie Nelson, sister of legendary singer-songwriter Willie Nelson, talks about her career, her brother and life on the road.
Question: How’s it going on the tour?
Bobbie Nelson: This is a great tour. We’ve just done Farm Aid up in Massachusetts, and I’m in New Jersey tonight, and we do Connecticut tomorrow night, and then we do (New York’s) Radio City Music Hall the next night, so we’ll be out a couple more weeks. Everything’s going very well. I’m very grateful.
Q: You guys still share a tour bus, from what I understand, and you’ve been playing for 35 years or so. How do you kill time on the bus?
BN: Willie is very busy, and he has all of his office there on the bus – his computers and phones and everything – so he actually does his office thing right there on the bus, and then we have our instruments. He’s got his guitar, and I have an electric keyboard â€¦ I can pull this little keyboard out, and we can practice and play music.
Q: Musically speaking, it seems like Willie’s always had a thing for these really super-complex chords and neat chord changes and stuff. How much of that is your doing?
BN: You know, we listened to the radio as we were growing up and listened to all kinds of music. That was, of course, during the big-band era, as well as all the border stations and all the country music that we listened to. He actually likes all the different kinds of music, the Latin rhythms and all the different, beautiful chords. He loves a lot of the jazz things.
Q: You can tell, just in the songs he’s covered over the years, how diverse his interests are.
BN: Yes! I love chords, too, and as you study piano, you get into all of that. â€¦ And the music we grew up with in the church – those hymns have a lot of beautiful harmony.Q: Are you surprised that so many of these songs over the years have become classics? Do you think Willie knows a song is a classic when he comes up with it?
BN: No, I don’t think so. ¦ When he writes, he just writes, and I don’t think he’s really ever thought, “I’m gonna write a song that’s gonna be a classic or a hit.” He’s just composing. He’s just letting go of some of his feelings and his thoughts that he’s got.Q: You came out with an album last year. How did you pick the songs that went on that?
BN: Willie had scheduled studio time, because he had written a couple of new songs. So we were off the road during our holiday season â€¦ We were waiting for (guitar player) Jody (Payne) to get back, to get to Austin. So Willie just said, “Sister Bobbie, why don’t you just go up there and warm up that old piano?”
So I went in the studio and just started playing this beautiful piano. I just was playing some of these songs I used to play when I played by myself, and also some of the boogies and things that we played when we were kids. And they recorded it. I didn’t know they were recording me. â€¦
(Justice Records owner) Randall Jamail, we were having lunch one day, and we were talking about it, and I said, “I’ve had people ask me why I don’t write my autobiography. And I always feel that I can do it better with music, because my life and Willie’s life have just been music.” And he said, “Well, that’s what we’ll call your album – ‘Audiobiography.’ ”
Q: Do you have any plans to put out any more music?
BN: They’re asking me if I will record some more â€¦ maybe if we’re off during the holiday season again this year, maybe I’ll have a little time to put into that.
Q: Obviously, growing up with Willie, you’ve got a lot of interesting stories. Is there anything that people would be surprised to find out about Willie?
BN: I don’t know, we’ve both done a lot of interviews â€¦ Willie has always been a wonderful person. He was a fun-loving kid, and he’s a fun-loving man. We have a lot of fun, and we both have the same feelings about wanting to make Earth a better place and making a better place for our children, and just to help humanity in general.
Q: If there’s one thing that’s been the secret to you guys’ success over the years, what would it be?
BN: Our grandmother took us to church every Sunday, and we were at prayer meeting every Wednesday night, and choir practice once or twice a week, and Bible school. The teachings that we were taught when we were growing up – our grandmother being one of these teachers … She had a love for music, as did my grandfather – so our lives have been about music. Learning music and performing it, and always trying to improve ourselves with our talents. I think that’s what has meant more to us than anything else, is the love we feel for others and the love we feel for music and performing it.
Barbi Twins: Why have you and your family become so active specifically in anti-horse slaughter?
Willie Nelson: I’m a little prejudiced when it comes to horses. I have always loved them. I currently have about 68; 25-30 were rescued directly from slaughter. I got involved 8 years ago when Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) first made me aware that American horses are being slaughtered and shipped overseas for human consumption. It’s a shame that horses – or any animal – be treated this way when horses are the foundation of America. Horses were a way to travel to get to where we are today, and it is our job to protect them.
BT: The wild horses have been in the news, but most people don’t understand that horse slaughter is legal. Can you explain what the government does?
WN: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency in charge of protecting wild horses, has been rounding them up at an alarming rate, supposedly for their own good. Sadly, there are more wild horses in holding pens than in the wild. Something is wrong with that, so we must act now before the BLM has managed these magnificent animals into extinction.
BT: Why should Americans be worried about horse slaughter still being legal?
WN: Americans don’t eat horses. They are not raised as food animals and they are treated with chemicals that render them unsafe for consumption. The regulations needed to change their status to “food animals” would cripple every aspect of the horse industry as we know it. Plus, it would be wrong.
BT: What benefit does horse slaughter have if most people are against horse slaughter?
WN: America’s horses and horse industry are under attack by a small group of folks out to line their pockets at the expense of our wild and domestic horses, American taxpayers, and those restaurant patrons who are ingesting toxic horse meat. However, we can pass the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which will ban the slaughter of all American horses for the purpose of human consumption, while also ensuring they aren’t sent abroad to suffer the same fate. My family has been working closely with our friend Chris Heyde at AWI on the SAFE Act and other important horse welfare issues for years. I encourage everyone to join with us by visiting www.awionline.org, taking action, and signing up for eAlerts today. Together we can make a difference.
BT: What can you tell people about how they can help stop horse slaughter of domestic and wild horses?
WN: Folks, please join my family and friends at the Animal Welfare Institute to see how you can help with this important American cause.
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www.npr.org by Grant Jackson
Follow this link to Listen to NPR’s Program: Willie Nelson on Piano Jazz
Singer-songwriter Willie Nelson was born April 30, 1933, in the small farming community of Abbott, Texas. His early interest in music came about through singing in church, and he wrote his first song at age 7. By age 9, he’d begun playing in a local band; after high school, Nelson served briefly in the Air Force and studied at Baylor University. In the mid-’50s, he worked as a disc jockey in Texas and Washington state, played in honky-tonks and continued to write songs.
In 1960, he moved to Nashville, where he was signed to a publishing contract with Pamper Music. His song “Night Life” was a hit for Ray Price, and Nelson had a run of hits for other artists: “Hello Walls,” “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Crazy,” one of the greatest country hits of all time for Patsy Cline.
In spite of his songwriting successes, Nelson’s own singing career failed to catch fire in Nashville. He released a string of albums with middling chart success in the mid-’60s and early ’70s, and had all but retired from music when he relocated to Austin. It was there that his unique take on country mingled with the burgeoning counterculture, and outlaw country was born. The music was characterized by a raw, rock-infused approach, in contrast to the studio polish of the Nashville sound.
Nelson had a string of his own hits throughout the ’70s, sometimes with fellow outlaw Waylon Jennings, also a Texas native and one-time sideman to Buddy Holly. In 1975, Nelson began an unusual association with Columbia Records that granted him total creative control. Columbia’s gamble paid off, and Nelson’s first album in the partnership, the stripped-down concept album Red-Headed Stranger, yielded the No. 1 single “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” His 1978 album Stardust stayed on the country charts for 10 years. In 1982, Always on My Mind won the Country Music Association’s Album of the Year award, and its title song won Single of the Year. He also won five Grammys for his recordings of “Always on My Mind,” “On the Road Again,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” (with Jennings) and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Nelson has been nominated for 43 Country Music Association awards and won nine of them, including 1979′s prize for Entertainer of the Year.
In 2009, Nelson returned to his Texas roots on Willie and the Wheel, recorded with the band Asleep at the Wheel. The album features a set of traditional country and Western swing tunes, as recorded by bands such as Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
Nelson has been politically active on a national level since 1985, when he co-founded the Farm Aid music festival with Neil Young and John Mellencamp to raise awareness of the financial plight of family farms. He has also been an outspoken voice for the legalization of marijuana.
Fellow Texan and guitarist Jackie King has backed a number of music legends, including Bill Evans, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, Jerry Garcia and Stevie Ray Vaughan. King got together with Nelson in 1984 to record a jazz album, Angel Eyes, and since 1999, King has been a permanent member of Nelson’s band, The Family.
On this episode of Piano Jazz, Nelson performs with guitarist King and host Marian McPartland, along with bassist Gary Mazzaroppi. The session includes a set of Nelson’s own tunes — “Crazy,” “Rainy Day Blues,” “The Great Divide” — and some of his favorite standards, including “Stardust,” “All of Me” and “There’ll Never Be Another You.”
“I had never met [Nelson] when he appeared on the program,” McPartland says. “But Jackie [King] and he got into such a fine session, when it was over he didn’t want to leave. He asked me to perform as his surprise guest that night at Irving Plaza, where we did several duets. The crowd must have been astonished when he introduced me rather than a cowboy.”
Originally recorded July 23, 2001. Originally broadcast Feb. 12, 2002.
Ray Price, “Father Good Times,” with SiriusXM Willie’s Roadhouse program director Jeremy Tepper (left) and on-air personality Dallas Wayne backstage at ACL Live at the Moody Theater in Austin, TX on New Year’s Eve 2011.
Airing Saturday 12/21 at noon ET and Sunday 12/22 at 9 pm ET on Willie’s Roadhouse.
It might be an exaggeration to say that all roads in country music lead to Ray Price, but not by much. The Country Music Hall of Fame member, who passed away at his home in Mount Pleasant, TX on December 16 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, was a pioneer on several frontiers and influential beyond compare. He introduced a danceable style of honky tonk that became known as the “Ray Price Shuffle” with his 1956 hit Crazy Arms, which spent 20 weeks at No. 1 and helped him survive the rock ‘n’ roll explosion (many other country stars of the day were not so fortunate). Not to mention his smooth crooning vocal style on later hits like Danny Boy and For the Good Times, which are worthy of comparison to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
As a bandleader, Price’s Cherokee Cowboys proved to be a finishing school for future stars and ace musicians like Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Bush, Buddy Emmons, and a young Willie Nelson, who faked his way on bass guitar to get the gig and wrote one of Price’s signature tunes, Night Life.
Willie remained lifelong friends with Price, who became an extended member of the SiriusXM Willie’s Roadhouse family. Here is a backstage interview with Dallas Wayne, following his performance at ACL Live at the Moody Theater (home to SiriusXM studios in Austin, TX) on New Year’s Eve 2011.
Country Music Magazine
by Patrick Carr
We begin with an ending of sorts. We are in Nashville on a drizzly night, packed into the Municipal Auditorium like so many high-rent sardines approaching the strung-out finale of the Disk Jockey Convenion 1975.
Taken together tonight, we are perhaps the most professional audience any of these Columbia/Epic acts are likely to play for at least another year: all of us are Somebodies in the country music business, and we’are all hip to the score. The Columbia/Epic actes bounce on stage and do whatever thing they do, three numbers each, one after the other. Tammy Wynette, Mac Davis, Barbara Fairchild, David Houston… it’s very democratic but pretty soon it becomes obvious which artists are getting corporate nod right now because all you really have to do is watch the company personnel pay or not pay attention. Nevertheless, it’s a subtle affair.
But when Willie Nelson and his band of gypsies make their entrance backstage, looking for all the world like some flying wedge of curiously benign Hells Angels, subtlety goes by the board and it’s plain that this year’s Most Likely To Succeed slot has just been taken with a vengeanance: a great shaking of hands begins.
The impression is confirmed when Willie proceeds to get up onstage with his full band (all the other acts were backed by the Columbia band) and play a 40-minute set that, except for a qute seemly absence of illegal drugs and teenage nudity among the audience, might just have well be happening in Texas on the 4th of July. This is the ending of sorts, and what it means is that after telling the Nashville powers-that-be to get lost and leaving town just three short years ago, Willie Nelson has become the country music wave of the future and is now accepting Nashville’s praise and promotional efforts on his own terms.
There is a postscript, though. Three or four hours later — after another couple of hundred handshakes, after attending a very high-rent Columbia party to which his band was not invited, and after behaving like a perfect gentleman through it all — Willie gets himself down to Ernest Tubb’s Record Store and plays for two hours while most every other star in town is out at Opryland all gussied up to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry amid great pomp and ceremony of the By Invitation Only Kind.
It isn’t that Willie couldn’t have shown up at the Opry — with his current Columbia-backed status, that’s a silly notion — and it isn’t that he’s trying a reverse-chic move like one of Nashville’s several dozen I’m-so-hip-isn’t-this-earthy tipes might attemps. It’s just that his old friend and musical hero Ernest was gracious enough to invite him, and that Ernest Tubb’s Record Store is still the best place in town to get down and play straight honky tonk music for the friends and neighbors.
Apart from being a rebel against Nashville’s creative restrictions, a culture hero, a real sweetheart, a person blessed with a highly sophisticated sense of humor, and the man who first made it possible for hippies and rednecks to co-exist under the protection of his music — all of which he is — Willie Nelson has always been one other thing. He has always been a wrtier and singer of the classic country honky tonk song, which is to say that he has always had a very precise, lonely, realistic understanding of the hard ways of this vale of tears in which we all live and suffer form time to time. This is the juke box Willie.
Historicallly, this music came out of more or less, his whol career up to today (which seems somewhat more optimistic when you consider the conclusions of the Red Headed Stranger album). It’s the kind of stuff — like “Hello Walls,” “Ain’t It Funny (How Time Slips Away),” “Pretty Paper,” “Touch Me” and all those other perfectly songs — that really say it to you when you’re down and getting kicked. Willie wrote most of it in Nashville when he was a highly-reputed songwriter trying to be a singing star, simultaneously going through the usual business of divorce, marriage, divorce, marriage and consequent craziness (or is that vice versa?) and running with the likes of Faron Young, Roger Miller, Mel Tillis and other distinguished crazy people.
A segment of my Willie Nelson interview:
Willie (laughing): “I think a lot of people got to thinking that everybody had to do the same thing Hank Williams did, even die that way if necessary. And that got out of hand. I always used to think George Jones got drunk because Hank Williams did, like he really thought that was what he was uspposed to do.”
Me: “You ever do that?”
Willie: “‘Course I did. That’s the reason I know it’s done.”
Me: “You still do it?”
Willie: “I still get drunk, but I’m not really mimicking anybody now. I have my own drunken style.”
These days, see, Willie won’t talk about the personal agonies of those Nashville years without humor, but it’s all there in the songs which made him one of Nashville’s most sought-after songwriters, and it came to a head during the years — his last year in Nashville — that gave rise to his Phases and Stages album. That year was a turning point, and it is chronicled in Phases and Stages. The album is an excruciatingly universal account of the way one man and one woman deal with their divorce (”That was the year I had four or five cars totalled out and the house burned down,” says Willie), but it ends with a very significant song called “Pick Up the Tempo.” It goes like so:
People are sayin’ that time will take
care of people like me
And that I’m livin’ too fast, and
they say I can’t last for much longer
But little they see that their
thoughts of me is my savior
And little they know that the beat
ought to go just a little faster,
So pick up the tempo just a little,
and take it on home….
For a man hitting the crucial age of forty, those are important lines. They speak of an affirmation of life and a determination to triumph over its emotional problems, and they represent Willie’s decison to leave Nashville, move back home to Texas, and finally realize his potential which is, in fact, exactly what he did. “I knew I only had a few years left to do what I was gong to do, and I had to make a move,” says Willie. “I wasn’t going down there to quit. I was going down there with a purpose.” the purpose, quite simply, was first to make himself a national recording star, and then to use that power base to make damn sure that people like him could be free to make their own music their own way without having to starve in the process.
Remember, Willie has a history in this department. It was he who first chaperoned Charley Pride into the country music concept scene, bringing him on stage in Louisiana — actually kissing him right there in the spotlights – and risking God only knows what kind of backlash in the process. The risk, once taken, paid off: Charley was accepted because Willie was behind him. Similarly, Willie, used his high prestige and general likeability in country music artist circles to ease Leon Russell into the Nashville scene by surrounding him with Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, Jeanne Pruett and a whole galaxy of main-line performers when he was cutting the sequel to his “Hank Wilson” album.
Willie can get away with heresy because more than any other artist occupying the often-queasy ground between because more than any other artist occupying the often queasy ground between country and something else, his country credentials are in order — more to the point — he has never betrayed his roots.
So Willie arrived in Austin (where he was already a star), formed his present band around himself and his old compadre drummer Paul English (of “Me and Paul” fame), began booking his own dates and managing himself, set up that first media-shocking Picnic at Dripping Springs, connected with the local power elite in the person of Darrell Royal (coach of the University of Texas football team and a very influential citizen), and quickly assumed the role of main Godfather in the Austin scheme of things. That, incidentally, is some gig: you don’t know what a loyal crowd is until you’ve been to Austin and watched a whole clubful of liberated young things worship the ground good ol’ Willie walks on to quite embarrasing excess.
Along the way — just before that first Picnic, in fact — Ritchie Albright of the Waylors suggested that he get in touch with Neil Reshen, a New york manager and fixit person who at the time was looking to consolidate his country music holdings. Reshin already had Waylon as a client, and Willie followed suit. This action signified the arrive with the neccessary teeth for the coutlaw allliance Willie had been pondering for years, and it became a classic Beauty and the Beast operation that continues to this day.
An example of the dynamics of that Beauty and the Beast relationship:
Willie on Neil Reshen: “He’s probably the most hated and the most effective manager that I know of. He enjoys going up to those big corporations and going over their figures. He’s so sadistic, he loves to do it.”
And once again, Willie: “At least you know where you’re at with Neil. Nowhere.”
And again: “Anyone who can learn to like Neil can like anyone. It’s a challenge to like Neil.”
“Willie, how are you doing on that?”
“I’m coming along, I’m coming alone. I can stay around him a little while now.”
Althought the mere mention of Neil Reshen’s name has been known to send secretaries to the bathroom and turn grown executives into violent monsters (”He’s another of those guys I don’t understand how he lived so long with somebody really hurting him,” says Willie),Â you have to admit that while Willie and Waylon (”It’s like having a maddog on a leash,” says Waylon) may have been able to get out of Nashville’s grasp without him.Â It’s only through this man’s unspeakably vicious yet effective manner of dong business, that the outlaw bid for independent power on country music has avoided bankruptcy and actually shown a profit.
So, with the active assistance of New York Neil, Willie has established the power base he was after. It is now possible for Willie to record with Waylon or Kris or Leon (he’s planning a whole Willie/Waylon joint album), and what’s more, with the formation of Lone Star Records, he can get people like Jimmy Day, Johnny Darrell, Floyd Tillman, Billy C., Bucky Meadows, his sister Bobbie and other Texas worthies into the recording studio and, since Columbia Records pays for promotion and distribution under a joint Columbia/Lone Star deal, actually get the finished product before the public. Like Willie says, “We’re all togethe
hr, and we have the same idea about what we wnat to do, which is to do our thing our own way. I’m trying to get these guys to do for themselves what they’ve been bitching about people not doing for them.”
Willie’s long affair with the business of honky tonk music represents one considerable side of his character which may be traceable to the fact that he and his sister Bobbi (”it’s alwyas been me and her”) were raised without parents. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson divorced when Willie was a baby and Bobbi was there, and so for the first six eyars of his life Wilile was with his grandparents. For the next tne year, he was raised by his grandmoter alone, grandfather having passed away. That of coruse is a vast oversimplification, but the roots of his two divorces and highly creative loneliness must lie buried somewhere in there, just as the roots of his present, almost uncanny serenity must be located in the emotional steps he took to overcome his personal problems. Whatever, it is an absolute fact that the presnet-day Willie Nelson is most definitely not an individual still in conflict with himself.
In a sense, Willie Nelson now is in some sort of still-perceptive, still creative cruise-gear, moving through a world of incredibly high pressure with almost perfect equilibrium. You can hear this feeling on the Red Headed Stranger album (a concept suggested and assisted by his wife Connie, with whom he does in fact seem quite happy) and you can see it when, dead center in the eye of one of this nation’s strangest cultural hurricanes, he drifts through the absolute mayhem of his Picnic and somehow manages to be a rock-like source of calm and competence for (literally) thousands of the most outrageously uncalm, incompetent hustlers, freaks and assorted weirdos ever assembled under one patch of Texas sky.
It also shows when, in the middle of yet another night of pushing his ragged band through a set of half-tragic, half-boogie music and watching with a smile as his audience stumbles and whoops its way towards unconsciousness, it comes down to just him and his Spanish-style, gut-string amplified Martin, and for a while the most carefully emotional, beautifully balanced little collection of mood notes in the world go soaring through the rancid air.
This is the musical legacy of Django Reinhardt, Grady Martin and the other psychological gypsy guitar pickers from whom Willie developed his style; it is also the mark of a man who has really seen it all and can still look it straight in the eye.
Atlanta, Georgia: Willie is on a First Class trip. Laid out in the back of the limousine behind his big spade shades, he is relaxing into the ways of being a star with records on the charts. There’ll be no more no-money dives to play, and for a while there won’t even be any songwriting unless the fancy takes him. Willie explains that he’s not one of those poeple who get headaches when they’re not writing, and since his next two albums — a Gospel album and an album of Lefty Frizzel songs — are already in the can, all he really has to do is keep on showing up for Willie Nelson concerts.
There are also some interesting projects in theÂ wind, and they might even get done.Â there’s the issue of a Red Headed Stranger movie, for instance (”If I had the money and any idea about how to do it, I’d be somewhere doin’ it right now”,) and the almost equally interesting notion of Willie, Ray Price, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Johnny Bush getting together to do a couple of original Cherokee Cowboy dates.
Tonight Willie’s nose will be back on the grindstone as once again he takes the stage with his gypsies and plays for the sticky young drunks and dopers of Atlanta. Tonight, once again, he’ll be up there doing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” and “Eileen Goodnight” with whoever wants to join in (this time it’s Tracy Nelson and Linda Ronstadt and Mylon LeFevre), and tonight there’ll be another endless hillbilly amnesia session up in the hotel room.
Tomorrow there’ll be another bloody mary morning when Paul, bless him, has paid the bills and checked us all out and onto the road again.Â But now, just for a while, Willie is thinking about his Gospel album and remembering that he was asked to quit teaching in Sunday School when they found out that Little Willie played the local Texas beer joints at night.
“Were you a good preacher, Willie?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says. “I really was.”
“Are you a religious man?”
“Yes,” he says, “Probably more than I ever was. Y’know?”
Somehow, when you really get serious about Willie Nelson, the answer is not at all surprising.
Willie Nelson‘s career has spanned well over 50 years. While the 10-time GRAMMY Award winner can’t narrow down one GRAMMY moment that has stuck with him, there is one memory he’ll never forget: the first time he heard his own voice.
“The first time I heard my voice played back after I recorded it on a tape recorder I was horrified,” he told Radio.com at Farm Aid. “I said, ‘No!’ but then after a few years of listening to it I got used to who I was and the songs I was writing were a little better than my singing.”
It’s been many albums since Nelson first heard his voice, and in 2013 alone he has already released two and is working on a third. Most recently he released To All the Girls… which drops today (Oct. 15). An album of 18 duets, Nelson, in an interview with Radio.com, said it was a challenge to figure out which gal should be featured on each track.
“It had a lot to do with who was available, who was in town. Buddy Cannon is probably the best guy to do these things because he’s a great producer. He got us all together,” Nelson said.
To All the Girls… includes 18 collaborations with everyone from Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn to Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. A particular favorite of Nelson’s is “Will You Remember Mine,” a track recorded with his “young friend from Maui,” Lily Meola.
But that’s not to say it’s the only song he has gravitated to.
“Dolly’s song is a great song, ‘From Here to the Moon and Back.’ It’s one of my favorites.”
“I’ve never had any problem making the music, the problem is giving the record companies enough time to sell it,” he confessed. “That’s been going on ever since I can remember, because it’s easy for me to go into the studio to record a song, and I realize it takes a longer time than that to market it.”
He’s soon headed into his renovated studio to get to work on his next release.
“I have a studio in Austin that’s opening back up. It’s been closed for a while,” he said. “We have some new equipment in there and we’re going to do an album with me and my band and sister Bobbie and do some original stuff. Some of the new stuff that I’ve written.”
Nelson’s songs have survived the test of time, and he said some tracks that mean more to him now than when first written include the ones that have endured like “Crazy,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Night Life,” and “On the Road Again.”
“I do those every day because I like them, the audience likes them,” he said.
To All the Girls… is available everywhere today.
New Country Weekly Magazine on the stands now — get your copy for more photos and stories.
by: Joseph Hudak
Willie Nelson has sung with everyone from Toby Keith to Snoop Dogg, but for his new duets album, Willie was at least a little more selective. All of his partners had to be lacking a Y chromosome. Which is pretty necessary when you title your album “To All the Girls.”
A collection of 18 duets, the project (set for an Oct. 15 release) unites Willie with all women singers, from old friends Rosanne Cash and EmmyLou Harris to contemporary stars like Miranda Lmabert and Carrie Udnerwood. The songs range from Willie’s own classics to American standards.
“There’s a lot of great gal singers out there, all good friends, and sounding great,” says WIllie. “They did a good job.”
Dolly Parton teams up with Willie on her own, “From Here to the Moon and Back,” Sheryl Crow suggested “Far Away Places” and upstart Lily Meola, a school mate of WIllie’s children in Hawaii, sings with her friends’ dad on Willie’s “Will You Remember Mine.”
“I had a lot of help from Buddy Cannon and he got a lot of these songs,” Willie says, creditiing the album’s producer. “He talked to Dolly and she wrote ‘From Here to the Moon and Back.’ I think it was in a movie once before (2012′s Joyful Noise), but it’s such a great song, we had to do it. She nailed it again. And Sheryl came up with the ‘Far Away Places’ idea herself. It was something she wanted to do with me, and it was a great choice. I love that song.’
The ladies praise for Willie is even more effusive. Carrie Underwood said she didn’t think twice about agreeing to perform with the outlaw legend on ‘Always on My Mind.’ “There is always so much going on, and people are doing tribute albums or duet albums, or something like that, and they asked me what we were up to. I said, ‘I would love to sing with Willie Nelson. It doesn’t matter what I’m up to.”
When Willie Nelson decided to release an album of American standards in 1978, many thought he was smoking something funny. But while that may have been true, Willie released the album anyway, and Stardust went on to become a monster success, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Counry albums chart.
In honor of it’s 35th anniversary, Willie celebrated the album’s longevity by performing it in it’s entirety over two nights this past August with a full orchestra of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
“I thought it went great. The only thing about those kinds of shows is there are no take twos” When it’s live, it’s fun,” Wille says with a chuckle. “Thats quite a challenge to do that, especially with those songs. And I’m so critical of myself I’m not sure whether I did good, great or horrible.”
By all accounts, the perormances were exceptional, further validating Willie’s instinct to record such songs as ‘Stardust,’ ‘Georgia on My Mind,’ ‘Blue Skies’ and ‘Unchained Melody’.
“That abum came out 35 years ago, and most of these songs are older than the kids who first heard it 35 years agao,” Willies says. “But I knew the quality of those songs and that kids would like them as much as I did when I was their age.”
by: Dave Thomas
The green room backstage at Billy Bob’s Texas might be a safe haven for performers, but don’t expect to find Willie Nelson hanging out in there. Just out the back door is a very large and very familiar bus.
Willie can’t be far. There goes “world’s oldest roadie” Ben Dorsey on a mission of some sort for his boss.
Inside the bus is the architect of 39 years of Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnics, pigtails and all, seated at a small table, drinking coffee from a “Old Whiskey River” coffee cup.
He extends a warm greeting — indeed, it could prove to be unnerving how he gives an interviewer his full attention despite who else might be with him, which, at the moment, includes his wife Annie and son Micah.
Willie is friendly but does not prove to be chatty over the course of a brief interview:
In 39 years the Picnic has changed a lot, what does it mean to you today?
“It’s a way for all of us to get together one day of the year, all my friends that I’ve played music with all our lives. The Fourth of July has always been the natural day to do it.”
What is the future of the Picnic?
“Oh, I don’t know. We’re taking it one year at a time.”
Do you think there’ll be a big 40-year celebration next year?
The days of the big outdoor Picnics, are they done?
“I don’t know. The thing about those is that they’re expensive to put together, for one thing, especially when you have them in somebody’s pasture. It was a great idea 40 years ago, but I think nowadays people are more accustomed to their comforts.”
Fort Worth certainly provides comfort for the fans (as opposed to a fest in a field), what is about Fort Worth that makes you want to come back?
“This is one of my old hometowns. I lived here, played here a lot and I just enjoy coming to Fort Worth for any reason.”
The Picnic has its regular crew of performers, but some have been missing recently. The Geezinslaws stopped coming after 2006. This is the second year without Leon Russell. Ray Price couldn’t make it this year, is it hard to put on these shows without your old friends here?
“Sure it is, yeah, sure it is,” Willie looks genuinely pained for a moment, surprising for a man who is relentlessly positive. “Maybe next year, they’ll be ready to play.”
Recently your sons Micah and Lukas and daughters Amy and Paula have made a new tradition of playing the Picnics. What does it mean to you to share this event with your family?
“It’s great to have your family on stage with you. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Thousands of fans out there are waiting for you, I’m sure many are wondering, how does Willie spend his Fourth of July before he takes the stage?
Willie laughs and glances around the bus. “This is it.” He adds that he does get to visit with old friends such as Billy Joe Shaver and “Whispering Bill” Anderson.
Having Bill Anderson step in for Ray Price, was that your idea?
“Yes. I’m glad he could come. I’ve always been a Bill Anderson fan, we’ve been writing music and hanging out together forever. He said he told the crowd, I’m not sure if you heard it, what I told him about his singing.”
No, I missed that.
“We were flying to Texas and he said, ‘Willie, how come you’re drawing so good down here and I just can’t seem to draw a crowd?’ And I said ‘Well hell, Bill, they drink beer louder than you sing!’”
You’ve described to me in a previous interview how you and Leon (Russell) were surveying the aftermath of the inaugural 1973 Picnic and kind of said to yourselves, ‘What have we done?’ Could you have imagined then that we’d still be having Picnics and talking about them in 2012?
“No, I figured we’d do one and have a lot of fun, then I wouldn’t have the nerve to do another one.” Willie laughs about it for a minute. “But I did.”
Anything you’d like to tell the Picnic fans?
“There’s been a lot of people who have come to the Picnics over the years, so tell them I appreciate it.”
by: Jason Schneider
Willie Nelson is 80 years old this year. While it’s a significant milestone for one of the true legends of American music, it’s just a number for the Red Headed Stranger, who continues to record and tour as prodigiously as he always has. Nelson’s latest album, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, is a wonderfully intimate collection of standards by the likes of Irving Berlin, Moon Mullican and Spade Cooley that showcases the current incarnation of his band, especially his sister and long-time pianist Bobbie. Exclaim! spoke with Nelson prior to a show in Cedar Falls, Iowa, an early date on his current tour that brings him to the Toronto and Ottawa Jazz Festivals in June, along with appearances in Windsor and Parry Sound, ON.
Did the idea for this album come from a desire to pay tribute to the musical bond you and your sister Bobbie have shared your whole lives?
Well yeah that, and the fact that we wanted to put out an album with the band. We lost [bassist] Bee Spears a while back, and Kevin Smith came in and is doing a great job playing bass. We just wanted to do an album together and record our sound as it is now. It turned out really good.
This is the second record in a row you’ve done with producer Buddy Cannon, the other being last year’s Heroes. You’ve worked with a lot of different producers over the past ten years. What is it about Buddy that made you come back to him?
He’s just real easy to work with, and he’s really good at getting good musicians together. He’s a good musician himself, a good singer. We’re working on another album now of duets with different girl singers. I’m trying to finish that up in the next few days and I’m looking forward to having you hear that one.
This isn’t the first time you’ve recorded some of these songs on Let’s Face the Music and Dance. Can you describe what it is about them that mean so much to you?
Well, they are songs that Bobbie and I grew up playing and we’ve kept playing our whole lives — “South Of The Border,” “Walking My Baby Back Home,” “Face the Music.” Actually, “Face the Music” was one we had to learn for this session. We knew a lot of other Irving Berlin songs, like “What’ll I Do,” and “Marie,” which we recorded, but “Face the Music” is an incredible piece of music. You just can’t jump out there and play it without working on it. We worked on it a long time.
Having that as the opening track definitely sets the tone for the entire album. And as a listener, it feels almost like you’re sitting in the room with all of you as you’re recording.
That’s basically what we did. We didn’t do a lot of enhancement on it. That’s pretty much the way we played those songs in the studio in Austin. It was easy to do. The biggest problem was deciding when to quit recording, because there was easily 20 or 30 other songs we could have done.
It’s also great to hear you playing so much guitar on this album, you sound as good as you ever have.
Well thank you, first of all. I think my style has always been just playing what I feel I want to play. Guys like Django Reinhardt and Grady Martin and Hank Garland, to me those were the guitar players. I managed to get by.
I guess as long as [your guitar] Trigger is holding up, you’ll be alright.
Yeah, Trigger’s healthy.
I really enjoyed your book that was published last year, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die. Was that a good experience for you, putting all of those stories together?
Well, it wasn’t really something I was jumping up and down to do. The folks from the book company made a nice offer, and I said, well heck, it wouldn’t require a lot of brains to write what I know. So, I just started writing in a journal on the bus as we were riding down the highway, writing whatever I was thinking at the moment. It’s not heavy.
You’ve known so many incredible people. Is there one piece of advice you’ve gotten from somebody that’s helped you keep going?
One did, yeah. An ex-father-in-law of mine who’s passed on now, his name was George Koepke, he was a really funny guy. Someone asked him his advice on something one day, and he said, “Take my advice, and do what you want to.” That was the best advice I could ever get.
That’s certainly been the hallmark of your success, especially from the moment you decided to leave Nashville. Working with Buddy has brought you back there in a small way. How does it feel to work in Nashville these days?
Well, these two albums with Buddy, we did them combining Nashville and Austin, really. We cut a lot of the tracks in Austin and did some overdubbing in Nashville, and on this new duets album we cut most of the tracks in Nashville with people like Barbra Streisand, Loretta Lynn, Rosanne Cash, Alison Krauss, and Norah Jones.
There is certainly a new generation of artists doing great work in Nashville. That must be heartening for you.
Yeah, it sure is. Miranda Lambert and I just did one of the last songs that Waylon [Jennings] wrote, and I did one of my songs with Norah. I’m looking forward to singing with all the girls in Nashville if I get a chance. Connie Smith, I’d love to do some kind of duet with her.
When you mention Norah Jones, it reminds me of how your styles just seem a perfect fit for each other. Is that a collaboration you’re hoping will continue?
Yeah, in fact we’ll be in Nashville together in a couple of days to do a few things. I always enjoy the chance to sing with her.
You’re about to turn 80. Tell me about being on the road now. As you mentioned, Bee is no longer there, but the Family is still together. Does it feel the same as always, or is every year a new challenge?
Well, yes to both of those. Every day is a new challenge. But I think we’re playing as good as we’ve ever played, maybe even better. I think this new album, Face the Music, is good, and it’s something we can do on the show. We can reproduce it live, and that’s always good. It’s great to have an album made with all the great musicians in Nashville or Los Angeles or New York, but it’s also great to have an album made with your band that you can reproduce every night.
I have to ask your view on the last U.S. election when the recreational marijuana legislation was passed in Washington and Colorado. Are you encouraged by that?
Yes I am. I think it’s a matter of time when the whole country will have to eventually head that way. If nothing else, it would be a positive step for the economy. Anybody with a mind for the bottom line can see where it’s better to have pot legalized and taxed and regulated, rather than let all the criminals make the money. I think a lot of the smart thinking people out there are beginning to put it together and are saying, wait a minute, Colorado and Washington are a little more progressive thinking than we are, so we better catch up.
You’ve also been a great spokesman for bio-fuels, and a pioneer in that area, with many other musicians have followed your lead. How is that work progressing?
Well, I think the bio-fuels, solar, wind, and all of these alternative energies are, just by necessity alone, getting more popular as time goes by. We’re better off going the way of bio-fuels and alternative energies, so we don’t have all the problems that we have with oil.
Are you still using your same biodiesel bus?
Yeah. We’re talking about maybe getting a new one, but this one’s still getting us where we need to go.
Well, thank you Willie, and have a great show tonight.
Thank you as well, and I look forward to coming back to Canada in June.
When Willie Nelson invites you onto his bus, you don’t hesitate to say yes! In this fun chat, the country legend talks to Country Weekly about his new album, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, his love of Irving Berlin and why music is one big melting pot. Plus, he even shares a (clean) joke.
To get more about Willie Nelsond, pick up the June 24 issue of Country Weekly, on stands now!
Sunday, June 27, 2010
By Dotson Rader
‘Since I was a kid, music was what I wanted to do,” Willie Nelson says. “I thought I could make it by my own talents. That’s what I wanted to prove.”
It is a hot, sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, and Willie sits at a table in his tour bus, the Honey-suckle Rose IV. Fitted out like a two-bedroom yacht on wheels, the vehicle is powered by biodiesel from his own alternative-fuel company, Biowillie.
“When I was about 12,” he says, “I had my first paying gig—$8 to play rhythm guitar in a polka band. Pretty soon, I ended up playing in all the bars within driving distance of Abbott, Tex.”
Abbott is the rural town in east–central Texas where Willie grew up dirt-poor during the Depression. By 6, he was writing songs and playing the guitar. Now 77, he’s still at it, touring on his fancy bus 200 days a year, playing to sold-out clubs and stadiums. This month, he and wife Annie, 50, will travel to Austin, Tex., for the annual Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic. The picnic is his Woodstock, with a hillbilly twang.
“I started it in 1973 to bring together different kinds of people, and that’s still what we do,” Willie says. It’s gotten bigger over the years, attracting rock bands, folk singers, rappers, and country stars who perform before as many as 20,000 music lovers of all ages, beliefs, and races. The event, just like the man himself, is a uniquely, magnificently American phenomenon. “It’s people drinking beer, smoking pot, and finding out that they have things in common and don’t really hate each other,” Willie says. “Music gives people a chance to enjoy something together.”
He sits with his elbows on the table, mellow and relaxed. He smiles a lot, and his deeply lined face is dominated by serene brown eyes. “A lot of country music is sad,” he notes softly. “I think most art comes out of poverty and hard times. It applies to music. Three chords and the truth—that’s what a country song is. There is a lot of heartache in the world.”
Willie has known his share of it. Three failed marriages, a son who committed suicide, troubles with the IRS, drug busts. “Anybody can be unhappy,” he says. “We can all be hurt. You don’t have to be poor to need something or somebody. Rednecks, hippies, misfits—we’re all the same. Gay or straight? So what? It doesn’t matter to me. We have to be concerned about other people, regardless.”
He is famously dedicated to helping others, giving away his own time and money, raising millions of dollars for small farmers and victims of natural disasters, war, and AIDS. Among his efforts are Farm Aid and the Willie Nelson Peace Research Institute. He is known as a soft touch. “I don’t like seeing anybody treated unfairly,” he says. “It sticks in my craw. I hold on to the values from my childhood.”
His was a tough and unpromising childhood. “I was 6 months old and my sister Bobbie was 3 years old when my parents divorced and gave us to my grandparents,” he recalls. (Bobbie, 79, his only sibling, plays piano in his band.) “I have no anger about my parents. They did us a favor. My grandparents were very reliable Christian people who gave us a good raising.”
At 2, Willie began going into the hot, unforgiving cotton fields with his grandmother. “I was too young to pick, so I’d ride on her sack,” he says. “She’d pull me on it, picking cotton, filling it up, making me a soft bed to ride on. The sack would start out empty, and before the morning was out, there would be 60, 70 pounds of cotton in it. Then, still just a little bitty kid, I got old enough to pull my own sack. As I got older, the sacks got bigger.”
When he was 6, his granddad died, and the family’s financial situation worsened. His grandmother took a job for $18 a week as a cook at the school cafeteria. “I worked there, too, carrying out the garbage to pay for me and Bobbie’s lunches.” Still, he recalls, “It wasn’t humiliating. Nobody else had anything to speak of in Abbott. I don’t remember ever going hungry.”
Willie was a good student and athlete, a popular kid, but he felt the pull of music and the tug of faraway places. “I saw Gene Autry and Roy Rogers movies every weekend,” he says. “They were my heroes. Riding my horse, shooting my gun, singing my songs, playing my guitar—that’s what I wanted to do.”
Following high school graduation, Willie joined the Air Force. The Korean War was on, and he was broke. “I joined because I knew that for four years, I wouldn’t starve to death,” he explains. “A lot of people joined up for that reason. I don’t think things have changed much in the world since.”
Willie served nine months before receiving a medical discharge due to back injuries. At 19, he married Martha Matthews, a beautiful 16-year-old. “I was always a sucker for long-black-haired women,” he admits. They quarreled, brawled, drank heavily, and had two daughters, Lana and Susie, and a son, Billy. Willie tried college but left after a year. He kept writing songs and playing music and also worked as a radio DJ, a door-to-door salesman, and a plumber. After 10 contentious years, his marriage collapsed.
In 1960, Willie went to Nashville and experienced his first big success—as a songwriter. He wrote “Crazy,” “Pretty Paper,” “Hello Walls,” and hundreds more, becoming one of America’s best composers of popular song. Overall, he has recorded over 300 albums that have sold more than 50 million copies and performed with the full range of the nation’s musical talent, from Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles, and Merle Haggard to Frank Sinatra, Bob Dyla-n, Dolly Parton, Norah Jones, and Snoop Dogg. His newest CD, Country Music, is hauntingly beautiful.
Willie married singer Shirley Collie in 1963, but the next year he began an affair with Connie Koepke, who was just two years out of high school. He and Collie divorced, and he wed Koepke in 1971. Their 16-year marriage produced daughters Amy and Paula and brought him and his family back to his home state. “I really felt like I needed to be in Texas,” he says, “playing to the people that were and still are my base.”
His fourth wife, Annie D’Angelo, entered his life as the make-up artist on the set of the 1986 film Stagecoach, co-starring Johnny Cash. (Willie has made 31 movies, few of them memorable.) He and Annie wed in 1991. Their marriage works, because, “well, I now understand a lot more than I did,” Willie says. “I’m not easy to live with. I’m pretty temperamental, you know. I’ve been used to doing things my own way for so long that I’m not interested in any suggestions. There was friction with my other wives. But it seems like Annie and I did okay with each other. It takes a special person to live with me.
“I’ve got great wives, great kids, great grandkids,” he boasts. “Both my sons, Micah and Lukas, are doing well.” (Jacob Micah, 20, and Lukas Autry, 21, are his children with Annie.) “Micah’s at college and has a band, The Reflectables. Lukas has a band, too, The Promise of Real.” Willie chuckles at those names. “Lukas has opened for Bob Dylan and B.B. King, so he’s doing really well. He’s also opened for me a few times, and he will again.”
Beyond aging, the reason Willie offers for his being easier to live with is his cutting down on liquor while increasing his intake of cannabis. He is an outspoken proponent of marijuana and strongly opposes hard drugs like meth and cocaine.
“Legalize weed,” he declares. “It’s 50% of what’s causing the problems along the border with the drug cartels. A lot of people who sell it want to keep it illegal because that’s where the money is. The cartels are now in hundreds of our cities, growing and selling weed. Legalize it, and it would stop all that immediately.
“There are many bands that are not here anymore because of the drugs and alcohol,” he adds. “I know a lot of singers who have ruined their careers drinking and drugging.”
Willie and his family have also suffered through the devastating consequences of drug addiction. His son Billy hanged himself on Christmas Day, 1991, at 33. He had been in and out of rehab for substance abuse, and his death was the worst event of Willie’s life. I ask about Billy.
“Death is not the ending of anything,” Willie says quietly. “I believe all of us are only energy that becomes matter. When the matter goes away, the energy still exists. You can’t destroy it.It never dies. It manifests itself somewhere else.” He pauses. “We are never alone. Even by ourselves, we are not alone. Death is just a door opening to somewhere else. Someday we’ll know what that door opens to.”
Willie smiles at me, looking impossibly tranquil, even beatific. “I believe that,” he affirms. “I really do.”
by Kevin O’Donnell
Willie Nelson may be one of the most prolific artists in pop music. Since the sixties, the Red Headed Stranger has released an average of one record per year and he estimates that he’s sitting on a wealth of unreleased material: “I’ve written thousands of songs and recorded thousands,” he says. Last week, Nelson, who just turned 77, released his latest album, Country Music, a mellow collection of country and folk standards he recorded with roots producer (and Oscar winner for Crazy Heart) T-Bone Burnett. Vulture caught up with Nelson on his birthday to talk about the record, his current weed-smoking habit, and his famously dinged-up guitar, Trigger.
First of all, happy birthday. What are you doing to celebrate?
Well, I’m playing a gig tonight in West Virginia. It’s business as usual. No party. Just another day.
Since the early sixties, you’ve released roughly one album a year. What’s your secret to being so prolific?
I would’ve thought I had put out one record a year. I just love to play music and I love to record. Usually the problem is with the record companies. It’s difficult for them to keep up with marketing because I come up with so much product. When I feel like recording, I do it.
Do you have a studio in your home?
My studio is outside of Austin, and it’s built on a golf course. We call it the Cut and Putt. You can go record, then play some golf, then go record again.
On your new album, Country Music, you collaborated with iconic roots producer T-Bone Burnett for the first time in your career. It’s surprising you guys have never worked together before.
Yeah, it is. He had asked me to come to L.A. and go to the Crazy Heart premiere. We’d played together and talked about doing a record. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I trust him as a producer. He brought all the songs to the sessions and picked the musicians and the studio. Everything that happened, he called the shots. To me, with a good producer, you can say, “Okay, you’re the producer. You get the music and musicians and I’ll play.”
Country Music features mostly covers of standard folk and country tunes — “Man With the Blues” is the only original on the album.
That song is over 60 years old. I wrote that one back in my early years as a writer. I first recorded it in a basement at my friend’s house in Vancouver, Washington. I wasn’t much of an artist back then at all, but I always thought it was a pretty good song.
You released the album on 4/20, the international holiday for pot smokers. Was that intentional?
I hope so. When I saw that it was coming out on 4/20, I thought, Well, someone was thinking.
What’s your current weed-smoking habit like?
I still smoke, but I’ve changed my habits a little bit. I smoke with a vaporizer; it’s easier on my lungs. I have several of them.
On your upcoming tour, you’ll be playing gigs at a few casinos. Are you much of a gambler?
No, but I like to get together with the guys and play poker. We don’t go gambling. We have our own private games. I have no idea if I’m good or not. Sometimes I win; sometimes I don’t.
Your guitar, Trigger, has been through quite a lot and has a giant hole in the body. How do you keep it from totally falling apart.
I’ve had to have it reinforced on the inside a couple of times, and I have to watch it in places. It does get a little fragile. But I keep it in a hard-shell case.
Trigger is famously scratched with signatures of various celebrities. Who was the first to sign it?
Leon Russell. I asked him to sign my guitar because he asked me to sign his. I started to sign it with a magic marker, and he told me to use a ballpoint pen and scratch it in there. I’ve had hundreds of signatures since then.