Willie Nelson, America’s most beloved outlaw, opens up about his craziest weed stories, the IRS, his pal George Clooney and the death of his close friend Ray Price in our new issue: http://rol.st/1pO1lqf
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He just released the acclaimed “Band of Brothers,” but already Nelson is looking ahead to future projects — and to the next night’s gig.
by: Kurt Wolff
Talking to Willie Nelson is, on one hand, a straightforward experience. He speaks calmly and in small bites, with a gentle laugh and friendly smile always on hand to put you at ease. He’s quick with an answer but also patient, thoughtful and willing to go deep when it comes to speaking about his long life experience, the varied terrain of American music, and where the two have (frequently) intersected.
A Willie Nelson conversation can also go in any number of directions. When Radio.com sat down with Nelson for a chat on his bus last month, the conversation started on topic with his latest album Band of Brothers. Soon, though, it moved into text messaging, concept albums, the enduring influence of the Grand Ole Opry, old friends of his like Billy Joe Shaver and Chet Atkins, and why he loves performing and touring so much (six decades down the road and “it’s still fun”). It’s a meandering path, but it’s a hell of a fun journey — and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Two key building blocks of Nelson’s long career came up repeatedly: songwriting and performing. The latter has always been at the heart of Nelson’s musical world. Even now performing is his chief occupation; he spends more nights on his tour bus than he does at his ranch in Texas.
As for songwriting, that’s what jump-started his commercial career, thanks to songs he wrote like “Crazy,” “Family Bible” and “Night Life.” By his own estimation Nelson has written thousands, and this year he added even more to the roster. His latest album Band of Brothers, released this past June, includes nine newly written compositions that have no problem standing on their own as part of Nelson’s extensive catalog.
“It’s been a while since I wrote that much,” Nelson told Radio.com. We were speaking on his bus before a July 12 show with his band, the Family, at Ravinia, a lovely outdoor amphitheater just north of Chicago.
Curiously, Band of Brothers is the first Nelson album to focus on newly written material since his 1996 album Spirit. What took him so long?
“Oh, I don’t know,” Nelson said. “Roger Miller said it pretty good, he said, ‘Sometimes the well runs dry. And you’ve got to wait till you live a while to let it fill up again.’ And I think there’s a lot of truth in that.”
When pressed, Nelson admitted that it wasn’t just surge of personal inspiration that got him writing again. He had some outside motivation.
“The secret ingredient here is Buddy Cannon,” Nelson said. “He and I work well together. And it’s rare I find anyone I can really feel comfortable writing with. But he and I kinda hit a stride there and wrote some pretty good songs.”
Cannon is a veteran Nashville songwriter and producer best known for his work with Kenny Chesney (he’s produced the bulk of Chesney’s albums, including his upcoming collection The Big Revival). All nine of the Nelson-penned songs on Band of Brothers were cowritten with Cannon.
That, however, doesn’t mean Nelson and Cannon sat down in a room together to hash things out, as is typical among many Nashville songwriters. Instead, they wrote songs by passing ideas back and forth via text messages.
“It just happened to be the easiest way to do it,” Nelson said. “I’ll write a verse, he’ll write a verse. One of us will put a melody down. And he’s got all those great musicians there in Nashville and he can cut the track. And next thing you know we’ve got an album.”
Nelson said he’s never written that way before, but he emphasized that “it’s a lot easier. You’re free to think or say or write what you want to. And Buddy does the same thing. He’s got great instincts, and we seem to be fairly successful together.”
Band of Brothers isn’t the first time Cannon and Nelson have collaborated. “I had him do some producing for me on a couple albums I did,” including recent releases Moment of Forever, Heroes and Let’s Face the Music and Dance. “We just became good friends and started having a good time writing and making records.”
Collaborations are nothing new to Nelson, of course. He’s recorded countless duets and he was part of country supergroup the Highwaymen that included Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. And of course he was often paired with Jennings during the 1970s, when both were branded ‘outlaws.’
“I met him in Phoenix,” Nelson remembers of his first encounter with Jennings. “He was playing a club down there, before he ever went to Nashville. We were both from Texas, so we had a lot to talk about—sit there and lie to each other. But then I saw his show and said, ‘You know, you ought to go to Nashville.’ And he told me, ‘Aw, I’m doing alright here.’ And I said, ‘How much you making here?’ And he said, ‘400 dollars a night.’ And I said, ‘Well s–t, stay here!’ But he didn’t listen to me.”
The 1970s were one of the most fertile periods in modern country music, with artists like Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, Tompall Glaser and Bobby Bare taking country in new directions. Leading the pack were Jennings and Nelson. Nelson’s albums from this period, including Yesterday’s Wine, Phases and Stages, The Red-Headed Stranger and Stardust, are among his most enduring.
Nelson was still signed to RCA and working with producer Chet Atkins (“we got along great together”) when he released Yesterday’s Wine. What helped that album stand apart, in addition to the fact that it contained such knockout songs as “December Day” and “Me and Paul,” was that the material was bound under a larger conceptual idea, in this case about the cradle-to-grave journey of an ‘imperfect’ man.
“There was, as far as I know, not that many concept albums in country music back then,” Nelson said, when asked how Yesterday’s Wine was received. “So I knew I was pushing a heavy wagon uphill trying to get that stuff out. Which is true. Commercially I don’t think it did that great. But I felt from a music standpoint it was pretty good.”
The album that made him a household name, though, was The Red-Headed Stranger. Released in 1975, it was his first for new label, Columbia.
Luckily for Nelson, his new contract allowed him full creative control of the release, because, as Nelson said, when the Columbia executives first heard the music, they weren’t sure what to make of it.
“I remember they didn’t think it was finished. They thought it was a demo. And I laughed, ’cause I’d kind of anticipated what they were going to think.”
The album, however, turned into a smash. “It restored my faith in the music fans and the people, because I had an instinct that they would like that,” he said of the album’s spare production and engaging storytelling. “I’d like to be able to do another one like that.”
It also earned Nelson his first-ever No. 1 single for “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Nelson said earning that chart-topping spot was a thrill but also something he took in stride. “If you’re exceptionally overconfident like me, you kind of accept it and expect it to happen,” he said of hitting No. 1. “And when it does you say, ‘See there? I told you!’”
In this day of genetically modified food and growth hormones, the best solution is to shop at your local farmers market. Better still, find somewhere you can plant your own organic crops.
Two on the bus
Annie and I have been married since 1991 and found a way to make it work. Annie travels with me now. The longest I’ve been off the road is a month. That’s why I’ve been married four times! It’s too much to ask the wives to stay home while you’re running around the world.
Ties that bind
I value family most. My sister, Bobbie, has been on the road with me for 50 years; my daughters Amy and Lana travel with me. When me and my sons, Micah and Lukas, play together, that’s about as good as it gets.
I wanted to do a duet with Barbra Streisand for 20 years, and she finally had a song written For us. I met her on the set of A Star Is Born. Once, between scenes, she sat on the floor of my bus, and I sang to her. Kris Kristofferson couldn’t understand why we got along so well, but I liked her!
I learned a lot from Leon Russell, who may be the best entertainer ever. He’s the first guy I saw throw his hat into the audience. That’s where I got the idea to do that. Ripped him off pretty good!
Move it or lose it
I don’t feel 81. I feel about 20. I’m exaggerating a little, but I just got my fifth-degree black belt in [the Korean martial art].
The power of positive thinking
When you think a negative thought, it releases poison in your system. Next thing you know, you wind up with cancer or other diseases. I try to live in the moment without regrets.
A toke a day keeps the doctor away
I’ll probably take a couple of hits before or after the show tonight. It relaxes me, and the medicinal form of pot can cure everything from stress to cancer. It’s a shame that it was thrown in with the other hard drugs. Now that the legalization has proven successful in Colorado and in Washington state, it’s just a matter of time before it’s legal everywhere. There’s a lot of money to be made from it, number one.
There’s a song on my new album, Band of Brothers, called “I’ve Got a Lot of Traveling to Do.” It’s true. For years I’ve said, “This might be my last tour.” But as long as I’m healthy and it’s fun and people show up, I’d like to keep doing it. It’s like the old saying, “Don’t slow down — they might be gaining on you.”
—Reported by Alanna Nash
July 13, 1978
by Chet Filippo
The desk man at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Holiday Inn shook his head when I asked for Willie Nelson. “Got no Willie Nelsons today.” He turned away officiously and resumed cleaning his fingernails with a Holiday Inn matchbook.
He was about as encouraging as my cab driver had been: “You goin’ to see Willie Nelson? Man, he was a no-show last week. They had ta haul that Wet Willie in; he play instead. You see Willie Nelson, you tell him for me, ‘Man, you die fast in this town.’ ”
I went back to the Holiday Inn desk man: “See here, I was really looking for the party of Fast Eddie and the Electric Japs.”
“Well, goddamnit, why dincha say so.” He started thumbing through registration forms: “Lemme see, Mr. Eddie ain’t here yet, but Mr. Snake is, Mr. Poodie is, Mr. Beast is….”
“Okay, gimme Snake’s room number.”
Poodie, who is Willie’s road manager, and Beast, his cook and caterer, would, I knew, be over at the coliseum setting up for the night’s concert. But Snake would be here, taking care of business. I would be hard pressed to say what Snake’s duties are exactly. He’s a lean, rangy ex-paratrooper who, if you ask him point-blank what he does, will reply with a slight smile: “What do you want done?” He is one of about twenty persons whom Willie Nelson has handpicked over the years to help him in his calling. The Electric Japs, a.k.a.
Willie Nelson’s Family, a.k.a. the Rolling Smoke Revue, are a devoted crew, all loyal to the point of being ready to jump forward and take the bullet — if, that is, Fast Eddie weren’t so proficient with kung fu that he himself would have already wiped out the gunman. If, that is, there were a gunman. Because everybody, it seems, loves Willie Nelson these days.
It wasn’t always thus, I reflected as I went off in search of Snake. Ten years ago, Fast Eddie couldn’t even get himself arrested in Nashville, despite the fact that he was the best songwriter to hit Music Row since Hank Williams, the king of them all. Everybody else was having hits with Willie’s songs — Rusty Draper with “Night Life,” Jimmy Elledge and Johnny Tillotson with “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Patsy Cline with “Crazy,” Faron Young with “Hello Walls,” Andy Williams with “Wake Me When It’s Over” and Roy Orbison with “Pretty Paper,” to name a few — but Willie’s own records went nowhere. Good writer, no singer, said Nashville’s establishment.
Now he rules country music. Oddly, the album that brought him the wide audience he now enjoys was not composed entirely by him. He wrote only five of the fifteen cuts on Red Headed Stranger, the brilliant allegorical album that forever changed Nashville’s idea of what is and is not country music. He wrote none of the songs on his current album, Stardust, a collection of “my favorite ten songs.” His record company, CBS, was not real hot about either album. Willie was supposed to be a country singer, so what the hell, they wondered, was he doing with these off-the-wall albums? But then, I remembered as I knocked on Snake’s door, Fast Eddie got his nickname by doing the unpredictable. Rules don’t mean a lot to him.
Snake opened his door: “Damn, I didn’t know you were coming. I guess it’s okay if you didn’t bring too many women. C’mon, Eddie’s just down the hall.”
Fast Eddie Nelson was in room 326, sitting barefoot, in jeans and a blue T-shirt, reading the trade magazines. “Shit, Eddie,” said Snake. “Stardust is seventy-six on the pop charts. We’re gonna sell 24million.” Willie laughed softly, as he always does.
I told him about the cabdriver: “And not only do you die fast, the driver said: ‘Shoot, I ain’t gonna pay no $8.95 for Stardust. Thoseold songs, I heard them before.’” Willie fell over laughing. “Why, hell yes,” he finally said. “Why buy old songs?”
“What happened to your beard, Willie?” I asked. He fingered his chin gingerly. “Aw, I shaved it for the summer. Gets too hot. How you doin’? Ready to go ride the bus with me, son?”
With the beard, Willie had always reminded me of a benign patriarch. Without it, the forty-five-year-old singer resembles a proud Indian chief: stark, chiseled profile, flowing red hair, deeply lined face and piercing brown eyes.
Eyes that don’t miss much. He is not the most talkative person around — lending credence to the theory that the best writers are watchers, not doers. Willie Hugh Nelson, a.k.a. Fast Eddie, is an intense watcher. I always get the feeling around him that he’s sizing me up: am I a potential song or just another disciple? He gets plenty of both.
Disciples are many and fanatical now that he positively exudes spirituality. I have heard first-person tales of marriages saved, of nervous breakdowns averted, of illnesses healed by the power of Willie’s music.
He was a Sunday school teacher in a Baptist church in Fort Worth when he had to decide about his career. Fort Worth in the 1950s was a shining jewel on the Bible belt, and some of the Baptists there felt that Willie’s singing in honky-tonks on Saturday night and then teaching God’s word on Sunday morning were incompatible callings. The Baptists uggested that he make a choice. He chose music. “I had considered preaching,” he now laughed, “but preachers don’t make a lot and they have to work hard.”
Still, he didn’t protest strongly when I suggested that he is pop music’s only preacher. “I have met people,” I said, “who have driven hundreds of miles just to touch the hem of your garment. Literally.”
He looked a little uncomfortable at the thought. “Maybe you’re exaggerating. I am religious, even though I don’t go to church. I believe in reincarnation. We’re taught to believe that all men are created equal and yet we know that one guy is born without eyes and one guy is born with eyes. So that’s not equal. They had to be born together in the beginning. At one time, we were all born at the same time. God imagines everyone, so we’re all images of him — in thebeginning. He made us all in the beginning and since then
we’ve been coming back and forth. First time we came in we knew a lot and we’ve lost it along the way. Being down here is kinda like goin’ through the university: you go through one grade at a time and if you fail, you gotta go back and take those tests again.”
He laughed at the analogy and fell silent for a moment. “But I know what you mean about fans,” he continued. “And I know what they’re doing. In their minds, they’re relating the music to something else, and I appreciate that. There are answers in music. Poems and music about our problems and situations are good for us to hear-how other people react to the same problems and live through them and survive. This is all put in songs; I guess the history of the whole world is in songs and poems.”
When I met Willie Nelson, backstage at the Dripping Springs Picnic on July 4th, 1972, I didn’t even know it was him. That picnic was a real oddity; a bunch of Dallas promoters booking Nashville singers into a cow pasture in Dripping Springs under an unmerciful Texas sun. The crowd was a hostile mix of young longhairs looking for their own Woodstock and traditional country fans who just wanted to get drunk. The truce was an uneasy one, broken by beatings of the longhairs by both the drunks and the security goons. I was standing backstage, talking about all this to a shorthaired guy who was wearing a golf cap and oversized shades. I didn’t know who he was until Tex Ritter walked over and introduced him to me as Willie Nelson. I was properly embarrassed, but Willie just laughed about it. We retired to the shelter of an air-conditioned Winnebago to have a beer and to talk.
He said he was tired of Nashville and had moved back to Texas for a while. He told me his history: born in Abbott, a wide spot in the road south of Dallas, April 30, 1933; parents separated; raised by his grandparents. As a boy, he worked in the cotton fields for three dollars a day. At age ten, he started playing guitar with a polka band in the Bohemian towns of central Texas, where German and Czech immigrants had settled. He tried for a baseball scholarship at Weatherford Junior College, failed. Did a stint in the Air Force. Tried being a business major at Baylor University, but preferred playing dominoes and music. Dropped out. Sold Blbles door-to-door. Sold encyclopedias door-to-door. Became a disc jockey, kept playing music on the side.
Taught Sunday school till that became a conflict with playing honky-tonks. Disc jockeyed all around the country. Played every beer joint there was. Taught guitar lessons. Finally sold a song in Houston for fifty dollars — “Family Bible” — and decided to take the money and head for Nashville, “the big time. Traveled there in a ’51 Buick that sank to the ground and died once he got there.
Hung out drinking in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge behind the Grand Ole Opry, where he met songwriter Hank Cochran, who liked his stuff and got him a publishing contract. Other people had hits with his songs but his own recording career languished. “I’m not worried, though,” he laughed as we emerged from the Winnebago just before his set. “I’ll do all right.”
Indeed he did. That picnic was pretty much a disaster, but Willie was carefully watching everything that was going on. Half a year later, he had long hair and an earring and was a cult figure in Austin rock clubs.
The next July 4th, we were all back at Dripping Springs for “Willie Nelson’s First Annual Fourth of July Picnic,” with performers like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm. This time, the longhairs weren’t beat up. It was the watershed in the progressive country movement. Prominent state politicians mingled with longhaired kids. University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal had his arm around Leon Russell. Peaceful coexistence had come to Texas, thanks to Willie’s pontifical presence. Two years later, for his 1975 picnic, the Texas Senate declared July 4th “Willie Nelson Day.”
From that first 1973 picnic, he had to take out a bank loan to cover his losses — too many gate-crashers — but he was established. Texas was his.
That picnic was also the first time that I had witnessed the uncanny ability of him to appear – or disappear – at exactly the right time. When the picnic ended at about four in the morning and the 50,000 or so people there were jamming the two lane highway that led back to Austin, I decided to find a back way out. I took off driving across flat ranchland and, finally, miles away, found an alternate highway. But between me and that highway was a locked cattle gate. I was just revving up my Chevy to ram the gate when, from out of the ghostly blackness, a Mercedes came roaring up beside me. Willie got out, nodded hello and held up a key. He unlocked the gate, smiled goodbye and drove off.
I don’t know how the hell he pulled that one off, but timing has been the key to his career. Right place at the right time. Seemingly, everything he has done has been wrong. His vocal phrasing is off the beat, the songs he writes are unconventional, his albums are unpredictable, his guitar playing is a startling mixture of Charlie Christian and Mexican blues picking (“Maybe I am half-Mexican,” he says, half-jokingly), he does not hang out with the right people and he has never compromised himself, so far as I can tell, in his entire life. “I don’t think he ever has a bad thought,” his harp player, Michael Raphel, told me.
Such people aren’t supposed to be successes in the opportunistic world of popular music. But, thought it took years, Willie Nelson managed to do it.
Viewed in retrospect, his body of songs is remarkable, a unified world of transgression and redemption, human suffering and compassion and joy, all told by an anonymous Everyman.
“Willie understands,” is the most-heard quote from his fans.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: the continuing musical saga of the great Willie Nelson.
Jeff is back with our profile.
JEFFREY BROWN: He’s 81 years old, hair still long, though no longer all red, more legend these days than outlaw, but, yes, still very much on the road.
WILLIE NELSON: And I can’t wait to get on the road.
And everybody say it right here.
JEFFREY BROWN: Willie Nelson has just released a new album titled “Band of Brothers,” the first in many years to feature primarily his own original material.
On his tour bus before a recent concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland, I asked him about the burst of songwriting.
WILLIE NELSON: Well, I know that some days you write and some days you don’t. And you learn to live with that. Roger Miller said one time that the well goes try, and you have to wait until it fills up again.
JEFFREY BROWN: You know what makes a good song after all these years of writing?
WILLIE NELSON: Oh, I think I do.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes?
JEFFREY BROWN: Indeed, Nelson has been writing songs and hits for five decades.
WILLIE NELSON (singing): Crazy for feeling so lonely.
JEFFREY BROWN: “Crazy,” made famous by Patsy Cline in 1961, “Always on My Mind” in 1982, and dozens of others from more than 100 albums.
All the while, he’s performed around the world, long ago becoming one of music’s best known faces and voices.
WILLIE NELSON (singing): Time just slips away.
JEFFREY BROWN: All this began in the tiny town of Abbott, Texas, a childhood in which he and his sister, Bobbie, who still performs with him on piano, were raids by their grandparents.
He wrote about those beginnings in his 2012 memoir titled, in pure Willie fashion, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
I read in your last memoir, you said that you actually started writing poetry as a kid.
WILLIE NELSON: As I kid, I had — before I could play guitar, I was writing poems. And then, once I had figured out a couple chords on the guitar, I started putting melodies to my poems. And nobody ever told me I couldn’t, so I went ahead and done it.
JEFFREY BROWN: But were the words first?
WILLIE NELSON: Usually, yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Oh, really?
WILLIE NELSON: Usually a little line or something that is said, and then the melodies are out there.
JEFFREY BROWN: In that memoir, you write about working in the fields picking cotton in 100-degree-plus weather and thinking that maybe playing the guitar would be a better way of making a living.
WILLIE NELSON: I would see these Cadillacs drive by on the highway with the air conditioner and all, and I would get a little bit jealous.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes? You remember that feeling?
WILLIE NELSON: Oh, yes, heck yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Are you surprised these years later that it worked , that it worked out?
WILLIE NELSON: No. I’m a little surprised at the — how well it worked out.
JEFFREY BROWN: You are?
WILLIE NELSON (singing): We’re a band of brothers, sisters and whatever on a mission to break all the rules.
JEFFREY BROWN: Not only has it worked out, but it seems to have done so on Nelson’s terms. He had success as a songwriter in Nashville in the ’60s. Then from his new base in Austin, Texas, he helped create a new, more raw sound for country music dubbed outlaw country.
WILLIE NELSON (singing): Whiskey River, take my mind.
JEFFREY BROWN: He appeared on the first “Austin City Limits” program on PBS 40 years ago and in the ’80s was part of an all-star collaboration with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson called the Highwaymen.
Over the years, he’s become known for his activism on behalf of small farmers and for legalizing marijuana and for reaching new audiences with recordings of American standards.
WILLIE NELSON: I think innately knew that music draws people together and that good music is liked by almost everybody.
I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like “Stardust,” “Moonlight in Vermont,” or “Crazy Arms” or “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” There are just certain sounds, music, that sort of you know people are going to like it.
That was me. Oh, you like it. And you try it out on an audience and, sure enough, they like it, too.
JEFFREY BROWN: You come across in song and here in person as calm, gentle. I was a little surprised that I read in your memoir where you talked about the rage that was — that has been there at times and that drinking somehow pushed that and marijuana later kind of helped it, suppressed it.
WILLIE NELSON: Well, I think there must be a little bit of truth in high temper and red hair.
JEFFREY BROWN: High temper and red hair.
WILLIE NELSON: Yes. Have you heard that?
JEFFREY BROWN: I have heard of that.
WILLIE NELSON: Yes. Well, I was sort of living proof of that, I guess, because I had flaming red hair and a high temper.
And that’s something that I have to control and live with all the time. But at least I know what my problem is.
JEFFREY BROWN: Whatever you call it, even after all the awards and honors, there’s clearly still a drive to the man that comes out on stage, the guitar playing on a guitar famous in its rights, as well-worn as its owner, named Trigger.
WILLIE NELSON (singing): I can be moving or I can be still, but still is still moving to me.
JEFFREY BROWN: And the unique phrasing, often off the beat, that has made Nelson’s sing so familiar to millions.
Behind all this, it turns out, is a great deal of attention to keeping in shape. Nelson has a black belt in karate and another in Korean mixed martial arts.
While on tour, he told me, he rides a bike, works out with a punching bag, takes walks. And that’s how he can do this into his 80s.
WILLIE NELSON: Really, I think the best exercise that I do is singing for an hour-and-a-half out on the stage, because, yes, I use the lung, the biggest muscle in your body. And I use it continually. And I kind of watch myself and I kind of feel how that singing is helping me as I do it physically.
JEFFREY BROWN: After a show, you feel better?
WILLIE NELSON: Oh, I feel much better after a show. And so does my sister, Bobbie, and all of us in the band.
JEFFREY BROWN: So being out on the road and playing like this all the time you think is keeping you healthier?
WILLIE NELSON: You have to be a professional athlete to do it.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes?
A professional athlete maybe, but somewhere in every tour, he says, he decides, at least for the moment, that he’s had enough. He wrote of that on a new song titled “The Wall.”
WILLIE NELSON (singing): I hit the wall.
That really happens to you along the way. But I enjoy playing music. Then I get back doing it.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. But what happens to you when you’re not playing that for too long?
WILLIE NELSON: You get bored to be at home, or you’re used to coming out and doing it. It is an addiction. There’s no doubt about it, but it’s one of the good ones, I think.
JEFFREY BROWN: And not only the performing, but the songwriting continues. Nelson has already announced that another album of new material will come out later this year.
WILLIE NELSON (singing): You can’t tell me what to do. You can’t tell me what to do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That Willie Nelson is an inspiration.
Thanks to Jenny Thompson for this cool screen shot of Willie Nelson from his appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.
Bill ended the after-show, show, with, “Let’s get high, now that it’s legal.”
by: Steve Bloom
We caught up with Willie Nelson on June 20 for an interview on The CelebStoner Show. The focus of the interview was Nelson’s new album, Band of Brothers. We also touched upon a variety of subjects related to marijuana.
It’s a good time for country music as far as marijuana advocacy, isn’t it?
I think so. I think it has a lot to do with Colorado and Washington, all the states that have legalized it. That’s a big deal. I probably was one of the most surprised. I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime, but here it is. The future looks good.
Have you been to Colorado since they started selling marijuana legally?
No, I haven’t been there.
I read that the governor’s office in Colorado contacted you to do a PSA about marijuana.
Yeah, we’ve talked about doing a couple of things. I don’t know, I may or may not do it. I haven’t decided yet.
What do you attribute to all these changes happening as far as marijuana laws?
One word: Money. There’s a lot of money in selling marijuana. If you can do it legally, that’s good. Why should all the criminals make the money? This is what people are thinking. If it’s happening, if it’s going to be legal, let’s tax it and regulate it, like we do with everything else and make some money off this. I think that’s one reason why people are talking this a little more seriously.
That’s what you said when we started the Teapot Party. What kind of message do you have for Teapot Party people out there who are looking for advice from you about what the Teapot Party should be doing at this point?
Voting. Find out who in their area believes the way they do and vote for them. Get out and go vote. If it’s the day to go vote, make sure you go vote before you burn one down. Don’t get high and forget to vote.
Willie Nelson: “I’m not a huge advocate of edibles.”
You’re supporting Wendy Davis for the governor of Texas. You’ve faced some backlash because of her support of abortion. Have you felt any of this negativity from some people?
No, I haven’t. Maybe some people feel that way, but they haven’t said anything to me. She came out in support of medical marijuana. That was the issue. I’m not really familiar with the other issues.
Some states have legalized hemp. Are we moving in the right direction as far as making hemp available to people?
Yeah, we are. More and more people are finding out the benefits of it – hemp and marijuana. The more they delve into it and research it, the more they realize, Hey wait a minute, we should give this another look.
How’s your biodiesel company, BioWillie, doing?
Right now we’re sending out trucks to a lot of the restaurants around gathering up vegetable oil and taking it to our plants and turning it into biodiesel. That’s working very well.
As far as your personal smoking habits, are you vaporizing? Are you dabbing using concentrates?
No, I don’t really like any of those things. But vaporizers are good for your lungs. Cigarette smoke will kill you. I never heard of anybody dying from marijuana smoke. Vaporizers I think are smarter.
Do you use a vape pen or an old-fashioned vaporizer?
There are a few of those little pens going around. I see them around California, those e-cigarette type pens. They’re all right.
The latest thing is states are passing new medical marijuana laws that don’t allow for smoking. What do you think of that?
I don’t think much of them. I’m not a huge advocate of edibles. There are people who do find it beneficial. There are kids who are benefiting from it medicinally. The Charlotte’s Web folks – they’ve found ways to use it where it’s helpful. As far as me personally, I don’t do the edibles because it’s a different type of high and I just don’t like that.
When you go home, do you go to Hawaii or do you stay in the continental U.S.?
It depends on how much time I have. If I have enough time I like to go to Hawaii and hang out for a few days. or I’ll go to Austin. I’ve got a couple of good horses down there I like to ride.
What’s happening with your daughter Paula’s pot-bust case?
They dismissed that. The judge threw that out and took it off the record. She’s fine.
How’s the current tour going?
Working with Alison Krause + Union Station and Kacey Musgraves and these great musician and singers, it’s really a lot of fun, we’ve had a good tour. I look forward to touring with those folks again one day. Kacey and I are planning on doing a song together, an old song I wrote called “You Sure This Is Where You Want to Be.” We’re going to do some recording together and that’s going to be cool.
I hear you have another album in the works called December Day.
It’s just with my band and my sister Bobbie. It’s mostly me and sister with a little harmonica and a little bass in there. We’re doing nine songs that I wrote and a couple of Irving Berlin songs – “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “What’ll I Do.” It’s coming out sometimes before the holidays, maybe October.
Your drummer Paul English was injured last year in a bus crash. How’s he doing?
Everybody’s fine. We’ve got a pretty good little band going. We’re having some fun out here.
Read the article, see photographs here.
Before he was an American music icon, Willie Nelson was a songwriter, and a damned good one.
SportsNation: Willie Nelson Chat
Before he was an American music icon, Willie Nelson was a songwriter, and a damned good one.
Ever heard “Crazy,” performed by Patsy Cline? He wrote that, and a slew of other hits, years before his own songs and vocal interpretations of others’ music sold millions of records across genres.
In his sixth decade in the music business, Nelson, now 81, is again emphasizing his own writing. He’s penned nine new songs for his new album, “Band of Brothers,” which is being released June 17. And here’s an ESPN.com exclusive: the premiere of the first track on the album, “Bring It On.”
All the good stuff that makes Nelson’s music instantly recognizable is here — the marvelous singing voice, the singular vocal delivery, the tone of “Trigger,” his irreplaceable Martin N-20 acoustic guitar. But more than anything, what comes across loud and clear in “Bring It On” is that the decades haven’t mellowed his fierce independence.
He’s been through his share of hard times — health problems, a run-in with the IRS and a marijuana possession charge in the great state of Texas — so it’s not hard to pick an enemy and imagine Willie staring ‘em down: “Well I know you’re out there ’cause I hear you breathin’/But it still don’t mean nothin’ to me/Bring it on.”
On the title track of “Band Of Brothers,” an ode to his fellow musicians, Nelson declares, “And I know you love me ’cause I love you too/But you can’t tell me what to do.”
As painfully shortsighted as it seems now, the Nashville establishment didn’t know quite what to do with Nelson as a recording artist when he arrived in Music City in the early 1960s. But the Nashville hit machine knew how to turn Nelson’s artfully crafted songs into gold. “Crazy” is the Nelson song everyone knows, but thumb through the country section at the used record store and you’ll find many more, such as “Hello Walls,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and “Night Life.”
It was only when he returned to Texas in the 1970s that Nelson became one of his generation’s defining voices — not just in the outlaw country movement, but across genres — as a songwriter and a performer.
And now, for the first time in a long time, Nelson is once more leaning on his own songwriting for a new album. “I got on kind of a writing kick,” he recently explained. “It’s good to be writing again.”
“The Wall,” another track from “Band Of Brothers,” will be available for download Friday, the same day National Public Radio is scheduled to feature the album.
At 66, Willie Nelson is Still on the Road, and Headed for Another Joint
by Bob Townsend
After the Yesterday’s Wine album came out a friend of mine got a call from a hippie fan in San Francisco who said, “I’m worried about Willie.Â He thinks he’s Jesus.”
I got a kick out of that. Just last year, one of those supermarket newspapers had a full page story about the face of Jesus suddenly appearing on the outside wall of a grocery store in South America after a dramatic rainstorm. Hundreds of people came to pray to the image of Jesus, and some of the sick went away cured. A few days later, following another thunderstorm, a new figure appeared on the wall beside Jesus. It was Julio Iglesias.
What happened, the rain had washed off the coat of whitewash that had covered a poster for “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”
The supermarket headline said: THAT’S NOT JESUS – IT’S JUST OLD WILLIE
– Willie Nelson
It’s hard to say much about Willie Nelson without reverting to hyperbole, let alone spiritual metaphor.Â But the man is a cultural icon like few others — fiercely capable of maintaining his artistic integrity while somehow being all things to all people.
An idol beloved by bikers and hemp smokers, old ladies and babies and almost everyone in between, Willie has done time in Nashville and Hollywood, recorded over 200 albums and, in a career that has spanned nearly 40 years, appeared in the guise of country-politan songsmith, redneck outlaw, rural folk hero, canny interpreter of sappy standards, savior of the family farmer, and David fighting the IRS Goliath.
An ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic wrote in the liner notes to the recent weirdo tribute Twisted Willie, he is the rare figure who ‘transcends genre and generation.” But unlike many big stars, his larger-than-life persona exudse a mellow, comforting quality.Â Willie is the wide-eyed, pothead rascal in red pigtails, T-shirt and running shoes, who seems to hold some cabalistic clue to the meaning of the universe.
“He has this presence that radiates out of him – an aura.” Emmylou Harris has said, “You can feel it even when he’s not in the room. If you want to understand what I’m taliking aobut, go to one of his concerts. People act like they’re in church, as if he fills a spirtual void for them.”
That commingling of the everyday and the ethereal even translates over the telephone wire. Calling from a stop in Albuquerque one afternoon, Nelson’s sonorous baritone fills the receiver like a familiar refrain. “This is Willie,” he says. And so it is.
Nelson is on the road again.Â But isn’t he always on the road, if only in his mind?Â Through he turns 66 this month – an age when most of his associates have retired, or set up shop in Branson — Willie is touring behind one of the most adventurous recordings of his career.
Teatro harks back to the turbulent early ’60′s, when Nelson sojourned in the wilderness of Nashville as a short-haired Music Row songwriter. That’s when he penned such jazz-bent masterpieces as “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Hello Walls” and “Crazy” — songs that forever changed the sound of country music, and gained Nelson his first measure of success. But it was also a period when his personal life was disintegrating along with his first marriage.
With the help of producers Daniel Lanois and fellow traveler Emmylou Harrris, Nelson recalled those days in radical fashion on Teatro. Recording in a converted Mexican movie theater, Lanois delivered the kind of cinematic energy he made famous in his work with U2, the Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan and lately, Harris herself. But Nelson didn’t allow Lanois to go too far over the top, as he turned in one of his most battered and beautiful performances since the early ’70s, when he made Phases and Stages in Miracle Shoals with Jerry Wexler.
Nelson, who entrusted Lanois with nearly complete control of the Teatro sessions, is magnamimous in his praise for the shifting sonic textrues he conjured on the disc. “I felt like I was lucky to get him” he says. “I left it up to him, more or less, because his idea was to take the song, and the voice and the guitar and then build around it and enhance it. I was interested to see what he would do, so I let him have a free hand.”
Interestingly, Nelson says he even allowed Lanois to pick the songs for the album. “We started out with 100 songs, picked 20 of those, and then ten of those to record . I turned in new songs and old songs together. And I felt like maybe all the new songs would get reocrded, but I was going to let Daniel choose the ones he liked. He listened to the old ones and the new ones not knowing which was which, and he picked the songs that are on the album/ I left it enterely up to him.”
But there was one tune Nelson thought twice about: “The one where I choke the girl.” He says he thought the jealous murder ballad, “I Just Can’t Let You Say Good-Bye” was a tad too dark — even for an album that features, “I Never cared for you,” “I Just Destroyed the World” and “Darkness On the Face of the Earth,” in its exhibition of lovesick devastation. “I probably wouldn’t have put it in. But he liked it so well. I even argued with him. I said, ‘No. You don’t want to put that goddammed song in there.”
Of course, listeners who’ve only heard Willie crooning with Julio or pickin’ with Waylon may be surprised by how much he risks on Teatro. But longtime fans have seen Nelson through all manner of changes. And as his continuing spate of concept albums (he recorded his first, Yesterday’s Wine, in 1971), duet projects and musical tributes prove, he clearly likes shaking things up from time to time. “Maybe that’s what I do best,” he allows.
Nelson laughs easily when reminded of the grocery store Jesus story. “Pretty weird,” he says.Â But when it comes to accounting for all the fame, fortune and awards — such as being named a Kennedy Center honoree, and squeezing into a tux to stand alongside the likes of Bill Cosby and Shirley Temple Black — Willie cops the perfect Zen bastard blend of antic, irony and wistful awe.
“I guess I think, “Fooled ‘em again,’” he says. “Dazzled ‘em with fancy footwork.’ But I do, I wonder about it occasionally — how it all happened, and how it all got to where it is — until I just give up wondering about it.”
When he was born in 1933, in the town of Abbott, in the midst of the Great Depression, it would have been pretty hard to predict that Willie Hugh Nelson would amount to anything.Â It would have been nigh on impossible to foresee Red Headed Stranger, let alone The Electric Horseman, or Wag the Dog.
“I was doomed to go to hell by the time I was 7,” Willie recently told an Entertainment Weekly writer. “Because I had been told that if you smoke cigarettes and drink beer your’re going to hell. And by 7, I was gone.”
Willie found salvation in poetry and music: “I started writing poems when I was about 5. And when I learned to play guitar I was about 6, so I started putting melodies to the poems.” And he began embracing the whole wide world of sounds that emanated from the fields and churches of Abbott, and the air waves beyond.
“I listened to the radio a lot when I was growing up. I listened to all the stations, from jazz, to blues, to boogie woogie, to country to WSLM in Nashville — and we listened to WLS in Chicago, and we’d catch a station out of New Orleans — so I just listened to everything.”
As to his distinction Django Reinhardt meets Bob Wills style of guitar playing, Wilie has a rather surprising explanation: “I’ve always felt that I was about half Mexican. And I may be, because I really love the Spanish flavors, and Mexican mariachi, and gypsy type music. I was just born and raised around that kind of music and I love it. So I guess that’s why you hear a lot of that in my music, because that’s part of me.”
One thing that hasn’t changed much over the years is the way he goes about writing a song, “I guess it’s always been the same,” he ways. “I get an idea and I write it. But I have to have an idea to start with. The melodies aren’t that hard, once you get the lyrics.”
Nelson says his early years as a songwriter, which Teatro reveals in stark relief, were a kind of excruciating conundrum. “Nashvile was easy, really, because everything was formula. If you wanted to write commercial stuff and you were a professional writer, it wouldn’t be a problem to do it. I just wanted to write what I felt like saying. And then, if at the same time I could imagine someone singing that song, then I would write it with a melody, or a rhythm that I felt like that one perosn might be comfortable with.”
“For instance I wanted to hear Billy Walker do “Funny How Time Slips Away’ and I wanted to hear Faron young do “Hellow Walls’ and wanted to hear Ray Price do ‘Night Life’ – so I just had these little ideas of what I wanted to hear, and I would try to work in that direction.”
Confronted with the standard show biz query as to if there’s anyone he hasn’t worked with that he’d like to, Nelson pauses to think about it for a moment.Â “I would be sort of greedy and selfish if I said, “Oh I’d like to do this, and this, and this and this,” he says.Â “Because I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of things with a lot of great people.Â I’ve sung with B.B. King and Hank Williams and Ray Price and Faron Young and Lefty Frizell and Julio.Â What else could I want?Â I jokingly said the other day that I think Barbra Streisand and I ought to do something together.Â But after I think about it awhile, maybe we could.Â Like ‘A Star is Buried.’”
The Family, Willie’s legendary road band,Â is another thing that has remained fairly constant over time. His sister, Bobbie Nelson, can still be found on keyboards, offering an emotional and musical continuity that goes back to Abbott, where she and Willie learned to play through mail order courses taught to them by their grandparents. And then there’s long time sidekicks, harmonica player Mickey Raphael and drummer Paul English.
“We’re more acoustic than we used to be,” Nelson offers. “The instrumentation is a little different. The bass player now is playing acoustic bass. Paul is playing just the snare. So we’ve reduced the loudness of the rhythms - it’s a little more subtle.Â And I like that because it makes everything stand out a little better.”
Willie says the current show runs the gamut from old favorites such as “Whiskey River” to several songs form Teatro and even a set from the jazz flavored instrumental album Night and Day that’s due out in July.
Asked if the new acoustic bent to his live performances is a sing he’s finally slowing down, Nelson says simply, “Mother Nature hasÂ a way of doing that to you.Â But, he quickly adds, life’s too good, and he’s having way too much fun to ever consider retirement.
“I guess the best part of it is that I’m still here. Still out here having a good time playing music and hanging out with my friends and family and fans — hey, let me put a melody to that and I’ll call you back. But, seriously, that’s it. I just enjoy what I do.Â I don’t know why I’m still here. A lot of my friends are gone. And a lot of the guys that are my age decided long ago that they didn’t want no more of this stuff. But I’m lucky. I’m healthy and I enjoy what I’m doing. People ask, ‘Why are you still doing this? And I say, ‘All I do is play golf and music.’ And don’t wanna quit either one of them.Â I don’t really wanna quit nothin’”
by: Kory Grow
“I had been on tour, and, the next thing you know, I hit the wall,” Willie Nelson tells Rolling Stone. “It turns out it’s a pretty good song.”
“The Wall,” which appears on Nelson’s forthcoming album, Band of Brothers, is a sort of mea culpa for the country icon. He apologizes for getting burnt out, lashing out at his friends and loved ones and “taking things” to deal with the pangs of road life, as a plaintive harmonica wails in the background. It’s honest and soul bearing, and, in the end, he proclaims, “the wall came down.”
The video for “The Wall,” which Rolling Stone is premiering here, collects facts from throughout Nelson’s career that illustrate all he has accomplished in his 81 years. His first song was published in 1949, and he performed live for the first time three years later. He has appeared in more than 30 movies and TV shows. Most recently, as highlighted in the video, Nelson was deemed a fifth-degree black belt – as featured in Rolling Stone’s Everything Index.
Band of Brothers contains 14 songs total, nine of which are Nelson originals, making it the singer-songwriter’s first sizable batch of new songs since his 1996 album, Spirit. “I got on kind of a writing kick,” Nelson said in a statement. “It’s good to be writing again.”
The album also features Nelson singing songs by Vince Gill (“Whenever You Come Around”), Billy Joe Shaver (“The Git Go,” a duet with Jamey Johnson) and a track called “Songwriter,” about Nelson’s occupation, by Gordie Sampson and Bill Anderson. Band of Brothers, which was helmed by frequent Nelson producer Buddy Cannon, hits stores on June 17th.
On January 8, 2008, Blue Note Records released, “Two Men With the Blues”
Willie Nelson – vocals and guitar Wynton Marsalis – trumpet and vocals Mickey Raphael – harmonica Walter Blanding – saxophone Dan Nimmer – piano Carlos Henriquez – bass Ali Jackson Jr. – drums
“These songs, heard this way with this group—that’s never been done before. Whatever I’m doing, if you put Wynton and these guys around it, that brings it up to a different level.” – Willie Nelson
A first-time collaboration between two American icons, Willie & Wynton discover common ground in their love of jazz standards & the blues on this sparkling set that brims with spontaneity, congeniality & fun.
Wynton wears crisp suits, reads sheet music and is the musical director of New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. Willie wears crumpled jeans, wings it onstage and runs his concert venue, Willie’s Place, out of a truck stop in Abbott, Texas.
So what exactly do these music legends have in common? The blues, of course. Wynton Marsalis, 46, and Willie Nelson, 75, are the two men on the new CD “Two Men With the Blues,” a live recording culled from two concerts they played at Lincoln Center last year.
“I like playing with Wynton,” says Nelson, “because you know the piano player won’t show up drunk, and whatever comes out of it, it’ll be worth the listen.” They are playing venues including the Hollywood Bowl and “The Tonight Show” between breaks on Nelson’s tour and Marsalis’s Lincoln Center duties. Recently, the two chatted with NEWSWEEK’s Lorraine Ali in Nelson’s second homeâ€”his airbrushed, tricked-out tour bus:
ALI: Your collaboration has been described as “a summit meeting between two American icons.”
NELSON: I like the way they put that.
MARSALIS: I’m not an icon, he is.
NELSON: I thought an icon was one of those things on your computer screen. I’m not one of those.
MARSALIS: OK, I say this modestlyâ€”this is a historic event. It’s not a big surprise to have Wynton and Willie playing together, but to have this much attention for it, that’s a surprise.
But the attention makes sense: both of you are highly respected, and Willie, you can’t go anywhere without being recognized. NELSON: I’m offended if I don’t get recognized. I say, “Hey, man, don’t you know who I am? Perhaps you didn’t realize.”
MARSALIS: My son always says, “I want to repudiate you, Dad, but nobody knows who you are. When I have to explain who I’m repudiating, it’s not really worth it.”
Willie, I imagine you as an off-the-cuff player, but with Wynton, there’s the whole issue of keeping time. Is that a problem?
NELSON: Well, it’s a little different than when we just go up there and wing it for four hours and play requests. This has to be exactly right, especially because Wynton and the guys are reading off pieces of paper, and I’m just up there trying to remember words. These guys have a lot more to do and think about than I do. For me, it’s a free ride on top of their rhythm and rockin’.
MARSALIS: He’ll come in with a phrase, and we’ll think, “Uh-oh, he ain’t gonna make it fit.” And then he’ll collect it on the back end. It’s like somebody jukin’ or fakin’ on a basketball court. They take you this way, then come back that way. He’ll come in perfectly on key, on time, and we’re, like, “Damn!” It’s so natural and true.
Do you see yourself as an odd couple?
MARSALIS: No. As musicians, we like a lot of the same things.
NELSON:Â Louis Jordan’s “Caldonia.”
MARSALIS: Yeah, that’s right, or “Saturday Night Fish Fry.” See, we came up on the same sounds
Music aside, personality-wise, how is it working together? Is one of you…
NELSON: On drugs?
That’s not exactly where I was going.
MARSALIS: We really follow each other. I think we’re gracious that way. There’s no crazy soloing over one another.
NELSON: We [Nelson and his harmonica player] can’t play anything more than they [Marsalis and his quartet] can play. There’s only so many chords, and they know ‘em better than we do. Honestly, I don’t read music that well. Or I don’t read well enough to hurt my playing, as the old joke goes.
MARSALIS: And it’s not like we need to translate. We’re coming from the same American experience. The songs he picked to play,”Bright Lights, Big City,” “Basin Street Blues”we don’t need an arrangement for those. The grooves we play are shuffle grooves, swing. We grew up playing that music. There wasn’t one time where we had to stop and say, “Willie, what do you mean?” We are together.
NELSON: Even though some of us may not look all that together.
I heard you two barely rehearse.
MARSALIS: Willie doesn’t do two or three takes. Just once, and then, “That’s good, gentlemen.” That’s how we play. We record live.
NELSON: If you can play, then what do you want to rehearse for? Just play.
Willie, you still tour like mad. How different are the shows with Wynton?
NELSON: Honestly, it’s a lot easier for me to come out and work with Wynton and his guys, because in my shows I’ll go out and play for two hours or more. With Wynton, they’ve already played for an hour and a half before I come out. I come out and do the last 30 minutes, and all of a sudden I’ve had a great night.
Wynton, was there any sort of intimidation factor in working with a legend like Willie?
MARSALIS: I’ve been around musicians all my life. My daddy was a musician, and we played all kind of gigs. I played with philharmonic orchestras when I was 22 years old. That’s intimidating! This man is natural. He makes you feel at home. When he comes to rehearsal, there’s not 65 people around him, scurrying to make it all right.
NELSON: Send in the dogs to clear the place out first.
MARSALIS: It’s not like that. He’s very approachable.
NELSON: We used to work in clubs where we had to build up the crowd. We’d hop from table to table, have a drink with everybody, hoping they’d show up tomorrow night. By the time you made your rounds you’re about half drunk.
MARSALIS: How could you not love this man?
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.