Willie Nelson interview with DJ Whoo Kid.
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Willie Nelson — A Real Man and His Music
Dallas Morning News
August 10, 1975
by Bob St. John
“I live one day at a time.
I dream one dream at a time.
Yesterday’s gone; and tomorrow is blind
And I live one day at a time” — Willie Nelson
You could call it a crowd or an audience. No matter, really, because the man and his fans are not bound by tags and labels and names that categorize them. The drifters are there, the denim crowd (real and dyed), the dreamers, the rednecks, the intellectuals who do not have stiff rods for backbones, and the suburbanites who have escaped the backyard tempo of flip-top beers and philosophical martinis.
“Willie!” somebody says, and everybody is picking it up. “Hello, Willie!” And the man, Willie Nelson, smiles and shakes hands which reach for him, and chats briefly as he moves across the floor, between tables. You see, Willie Nelson is touchable and touches. He is real. He has run the gauntlet of life’s deepest emotions and survived. And his fans, in him, have survived.
Now he is on the stage, talking to members of his group, his band. Blue lights, piercing, find him through the smoke-covered room with its beer smells, perfume — expensive and cheap. Now he has his guitar, worn like it’s owner, and the people begin shouting, stomping and cheering.
And he begins. “Well, it’s a Bloody Mary morning, baby left me without warning, sometime in the night. So I’m flying down to Houston, with forgetting her the nature of my flight. As we taxi towards the runway, with the smog and haze reminding me of how I feel. Just a country boy who’s learning that the pitfalls of the city are extremely real.”
A man in jeans, a cowboy hat, gets up and walks toward the stage and Willie leans down and shakes hands. A young girl runs up and Willie takes her hand, leans over and she kisses him on the cheek. “All the night life and the parties, temptations decide the order of the day. Well, it’s a Bloody Mary morning and I’m leaving baby somewhere in L.A…”
It is a loud, fast, foot-stomping song. But soon he will do something slower, sad, ballad-like. He will do them all. This is the Willie Nelson experience. On this night he went on at 10 and though the show is supposed to last a couple of hours, he sings and picks until almost 2 a.m. Willie is like that. He’s the only entertainer I’ve ever met who has been known to wear out audiences.
The people love it. So does Willie. Willie Nelson is not like so many top performers who give the impression they’re doing what they do as a favor to you, after you pay your money. Many seem to be looking for the quickest, most painless exit from the stage as they look blankly at the same faces in another town, another place. Willie Nelson enjoys himself.
Willie sings in a strong, clear baritone which can become very mellow and, at times, subtle. He has a person-to-person style, and his voice strikes chords in you if you have been lonely, happy, deserted, sad or under the compulsion of wanderlust. Some of his songs are fun, happy, some sad and haunting. Often when I listen to his lyrics and music I find in them a correlation to a truly good novel. You can read his song for a good story but, looking deeper, you find something more profound, allegorical. In one recent album, “Phases and Stages,” he takes a poignant look at the breakup of a marriage, one side of the album being form the woman’s viewpoint and the other from the man’s. Each is his own way goes through the stages of feeling hopeless and depressed, then becomes philosophical and, finally, rebounds. There are many different type songs, different eats, in the album, but together they paint a complete picture.
For years Willie was a word-of-mouth legend. Now, more than anybody, he is the catalyst of the current movement in music, a blending fo pop, country, rock, even some blues. It has been called “progressive country,” though Willie doesn’t care for that particular designation.
“I hate music labels,” willie was saying as we sat on the sofa of his office in the Willie Nelson Music Co. in Austin. “A label is just one man’s opinion and that doesn’t make it right. That’s this…this is that (he laughs). Labels put a bind on something, corner it and keep it from branching out.”
Willie was dressed as he often is, wearing a T-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes with no socks. His hair, shoulder length, was bothering him so he pulled off a piece of recording tape and tied it around his head, Indian style. Everybody is completely loose in the Willie Nelson Music Co., which publishes some of his music, and there seems to be a great deal of confusion, though it all produces success. I had the impression you might open a filing cabinet and find a potential hit song scribbled on a piece of paper, or maybe you’d find a piece of pizza. The office and the people who work for and with Willie reflect him.
One of Willie’s daughters, Lana, works in his office. When we walked in she jumped up and hugged his neck. Paul English, behind a desk in another room, is Willie’s drummer and longtime friend. After they greeted each other warmly, Paul began explaining a life insurance policy to Willie, who was putting on a tape of his new album, “The Red Headed Stranger.” Between phones ringing, conversations going on from all directions, I caught parts of the album. I heard enough of it to know he was doing something a little different.
University of Texas athletic director-coach Darrell Royal knows more about country-and-western music than anybody I know. Friends in the field say he’s a self-made expert. “Willie stays ahead,” says Royal, a close friend of Willie. “In recent years people are getting into what they’re calling progressive country. Willie was doing that 10 years ago. By the time people get into what he’s doing, he’s already gone on to something else. Willie stays a few years ahead of everybody.”
An extremely tall blond young lady with sharp features, a long, somewhat bent nose, was sitting in a corner of Willie’s office, which I learned is also an undesignated lounge area. She was staring at the wall. Near her a short, portly man was staring at the floor. While Willie talked over the telephone to his lawyer in new York I went toward them, looked at the woman, who was pretty but deadpan, and said, “Hello, how are you?” She looked right thorough me, then stared at the wall again.
When Willie got off the phone, the man got up and started telling Willie his problems, about his ex-wife and children. Willie listened sympathetically. I went into another room and Gene McCoslin, who used to manage KNOK radio station in Dallas and now works for Willie, told me the pair were entertainers. Willie had brought them from Las Vegas and put them on stage in Houston, using his band behind them. They had flopped and indicated to the band they felt the crowd might not like them. “Hell,” said English later, “I wasn’t worried about whether they liked them or not. I was worried about getting killed by irate fans.”
“I still think they are good,” said Willie. “The timing just wasn’t right.” Jody Payne, his guitarist, came in and greeted Willie like a long, lost friend. Later Willie was talking about his group — English, Payne, bass player Bea Spears, Mickey Raphael on the harmonica and Willie’s sister, Bobbie Nelson, on the piano. “The thing we have going for us is that we like each other,” said Willie. “We sincerely like each other.”
Word was out. Willie was in town, at his office. The place became Austin terminal. Willie left the door open.
I watched him. His face is worn, somewhat craggy and surrounded by brownish-red hair and a beard, salted with white. Lines around his brown eyes show that he has both cried and laughed a lot. If possible, his face seems both younger and older than his 42 years.
“I really do believe you have to suffer and feel things deeply to write about them,” he was saying. “I’ve got a lot to write about because, well, a lot has happened to me. Some of the best stuff I’ve written came easiest. Usually, the harder I work on something the less I’m pleased. There are no really new ideas. Anything original is something you do different, maybe saying the same thing in a different way.”
Short years ago Willie Nelson wasn’t as big an entertainer and didn’t seem to get much credit as a writer. Continually, I find people surprised to learn that Willie wrote this or that old standby. His song “Funny How Time Slips Away” was recorded by 80 artists, including Bing Crosby. He has written other classics in the industry such as “Hello Walls,” “Crazy,” “One Day at a Time,” “Night Life,” “The Party’s Over,” “My Own Peculiar way” and “I’ll Walk Alone.” “Bloody Mary Morning” is one of his recent songs which seems most likely to become a standard.
His songs have been recorded by the likes of Joan Baez, Frank Sinatra, perry Como, Aretha Franklin, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Lawrence Welk, Stevie Wonder, Ray Price, Harry James, Patsy Cline, Al Green and Eydie Gorme. The music is adaptable to many styles, many versions, but the definitive recordings of Willie’s song are done by Willie, who understands them best.
“I like all kinds of people, all kinds of crowds,” he continued when I go thim away from all the people. “I like to see them all laid back and listening to our music. I do try to be touchable. A lot of guys hire bodyguards. This was especially true during the era of the big stars. But it’s bull. Nobody needs them. People who come to see and hear you aren’t going to hurt you. They’re your friends.”
“You know, I don’t think there’s much difference in people. They’re the same, though maybe in different wrappings.”
I told him something he already knew, that his cult, his followers, come from all groups. “I think some of the young people listen and enjoy our kind of music and so do dads and mammas,” he added. “I hope maybe we can help them find out their parents aren’t so bad and help the parents find out all the kids aren’t Charels Mansons. (He paused, looked out the back door of his office, which was open.) Kids are a heckuva lot smarter than we were. I think they were just born with more sense.”
His wife, Connie, phoned and he talked softly to her. Willie has three kids — Lana, Billy and Susie — by a previous marriage. He and Connie, a pretty blond, have been marrried for some five years and have two small children, Paula and Amy. “One time we were playing at a place called Cut and Shoot, Texas,” said Willie. “Connie was a fan. She and a girl friend came to see us play. She sat at the band table and I saw her and said, ‘I want her.’ One of the guys went over and got her. She’s a beautiful woman.”
“Willie and Connie had just gotten back from Hawaii. “We were just sitting around the house,” explained Willie, “and she asked when we might go to Hawaii. I said, ‘How about tomorrow?’ We went for a week to get into the sun. We got burned the first day and it rained the next four. Rain didn’t matter. We were too sunburned to get out anyway. No, I don’t like to plan things. Most plans don’t work out. I just like to get up and do things.”
The Nelsons did live on a 44-acre ranch outside Austin. But, even for Willie, the curious got to be too much. When they found out where he lived they continually came out — friends, strangers, everybody. “Some,” he said, “would come by and stay for two days. So we made another snap decision, to sell the house and move into the city.”
We drove to his new house, on a quiet, residential street lined with trees. Odd, I though, how you can live in the country and be surrounded and yet find more privacy in the city, crowded with people. I told him it was a nice house. “I think I might just stay a couple of days,” I added, and he laughed.
It goes against his grain for Willie to be the superstar that he is becoming. He had tremendous reviews after playing at the Trouboudour in Los Angeles. On learning Willie was in town, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney attended his performance there. After hearing Willie in New York, critic Loraine Alterman wrote in the New York Times he did “country music that can move even those of us who think we despise it.”
“I don’t want to be a superstar because I don’t like the way they have to live,” said Willie. “I wouldn’t want to be like, say, an Elvis Presley. Besides, I’m basically lazy. I just need enough money to get by, to exist. I don’t like tours. You have to be gone too long. Now we have it down to where we work five, six days a month. And we like it around here — Austin, Dallas, Houston, places close. No, I don’t worry about exposure. Hell, I’m overexposed now.
“People who work all the time, they get to where you dread the next day coming, dread being there. When I entertain I enjoy it. I enjoy people and don’t want to work so much that I get caught up in it and forget that. I also want to live a life, be myself, not somebody else. I like freedom.”
Once Willie was playing in this place and a big fight started. People and chairs were crashing everywhere but Willie just kept on playing. Willie’s cool. “I tell you how cool he is,” said English. “We used to travel around in this old bus. One day we were moving on down this freeway and Willie and some of the guys were playing card in the back. Suddenly, the universal joint fell out and cut the brake lining. The driver yelled back he couldn’t stop the bus. Everybody was in apanic. ‘What we going to do, Willie’ somebody asked. Willie never looked up. ‘Deal,’ he said.”
At Willie’s office that day, a number of things were going on at once, but the big plans were for his annual Fourth of July picnic. This generally referred to as the “Woodstock” of country music. It’s an all-day singing and picking session in which some of the top names in the industry visit their friend Willie Nelson. Two years ago in Dripping Springs they stopped counting the people at 50,000. Last year in College Station it drew near 100,000, and this year estimates of the number who attended ran as high as 95,000.
For his latest picnic Willie had rented a 500-acre site 30 miles northwest of Austin near the hamlet of Liberty Hill. He hopes to keep the picnic there. It ahs plenty of parking room, trees for shade and it’s bisected by the San Gabriel River. Willie drove a group of us out to the site and, as we were heading toward the soft, rollling hills, Willie was saiyng, “I like all kinds of music. Just all kinds. I also play a little golf, and I guess my other pastime is thinking. I think a lot.”
I remembered a story Royal told about once when they were playing golf in Brownville. Willie was in the trees and couldn’t get a cart near where his ball had stopped. He yelled at Royal, on the fairway, to toss him a two-iron. Royal slung the club. Willie lost sight of it as it came down through the trees. It hit him right on the head. “Willie, you okay”? yelled Royal. Willie’s voice came out from the trees. “I don’t know yet. I might be dead.”
Our drive through the countryside was pleasant. Bluebonnets carpeted both sides of the raod and we passed through a small town which seemed, as do many small towns in texas, to have stopped in a time long passed. Willie was raised in such a town, Abbott, which is just off Interstate 35 some 30 miles north of Waco. I had visited there earlier.
Farm road 1242 cuts under the main highway and runs through what is downtown Abbott, a small, bunched group of buildings, many boarded up and closed. Chruches seem to be on every corner. They are far from boarded up. “See that spot over there,” said Jimmy Bruce, a parttime clerk in the post office. “Willie used to live in a hosue right over there. I was a neighbor. Yeah, he was a pretty good kid. He comes back here sometimes and plays benefits.
“When he was here the Hill County sheriff came out and gave them a little trouble. They were afraid he might attract the wrong kind of crowd. Some folks around here talk about Willie, but I liked him. Yes sir, I did.”
Willie was raised by his grandparents after his parents divorced. The old folks were very religious, the firs and brimstone kind. His grandfatehr, a blacksmith, died when Willie was six, leavin ghim in the care of his grandmoter, a music teacher. “Times were hard during the Depression, but we grew our own food and had a cow for milk,” Willie once told me.
Back then, summer nights were still, lazy, with outdoor smells and sounds of crickets and sometimes frogs. Willie would rest on his bed near a window and listen to revivals and church services at the tabernacle nearby. “I also did a lot of listening on the radio,” he said. “I’d catch the Grand Ol’ Opry and the rhythm and blues program from New Orleans. My granddad had taught me a few chords on the guitar before he died. So I bought me a $6 guitar and a chord book. I taught myself to play by putting my fingers on those black dots in the book. My sister Bobbie was the real musician. My grandmother gave her piano lessons and I can remember them practicing beside a kerosene lamp.
“The first time I performed in public I was about five. My grandmother dressed me up in a sailor suit and took me to one of those all-day picnics. You know, singing and eating and praying, and praying some more. So I got up to recite this poem. My nose started bleeding. There I was reading the poem and holding one side of my nose with my hand. I think everyone was glad when I sat down. I know I was.”
Willie and Bobbie would entertain at school. When he was 12 he joined his first band, a Bohemian polka band, which was formed by his brother-in-law, Bud Fletcher. Willie played the guitar and sang, Bobbie was on the piano, the high school football coach played the trombone and Willie’s father, a musician who’d come back into town during is travels, the fiddle. “Bobbie was the only one who was any good,” said Willie. “We never played the same place twice. We usually played on a percentage and I remember one night we cleared 81 cents each.”
But Willie had begun to jog down lyrics on scraps of paper, and he also was entertaining at a nearby beer drinking establishment, the Night Owl, managed by a big, robust woman named Margie Lundy. The original Night Owl burned a few years ago. The new place, on the same site, is smaller. Margie has been handling it all herself, since her husband died a few years ago. “Yessiree, I kept it going, though it’s not easy,” she was saying.
Traffic in the Willie Nelson Music Co. was winding down. The blonde entertainer was gone. As I left I kept thinking: Willie is there, among people, touchable. He is somebody, yet has control because inside he is not trying to play a part, to be anybody but himself. He is one of us. And Willie is… well, Willie is Willie.
Willie Nelson Interview with Joe Nick Patoski (Texas Music, April 2013) “Willie Nelson Birthday Issue”Wednesday, May 15th, 2013
by Joe Nick Patoski
Back in late January, I caught up with Willie Nelson for the first time since the biography I wrote Willie Nelson: An Epic Life was published.
We talked about music, his new recordings, Lance Armstrong, and life its ownself -and here’s the story:
Five years ago, my 500 page historical biography, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, was published on Willie’s 75th birthday. At least seventeen biographies and his own autobiography, ghosted by Bud Shrake, no less, were already out there, but you can’t write about Texas without writing about Willie. I already knew him as the most interesting person in the world, just as he struck me during my first interview with him back in 1974. It turned out there were a lot of new things to learn, and unlike the case with most public figures, the more I knew, the more I liked him. Since a whole lot of other folks feel the same way, I’ll be talking about him for the rest of my life.
Since the Willie book, I’ve been obsessing about football, the Texas high school version and the Dallas Cowboys version, so I hadn’t been inside the Willie bubble in awhile. With his 80th birthday rolling around, a fine, even number to stop and ponder, it was a good time to check in. A lot had changed, I quickly discovered. A lot remains timeless.
Nutty Jerry’s is a massive, utilitarian metal building a few miles east of Winnie, the southeast Texas farming community just off Interstate 10 that is home of the Texas Rice Festival. Nutty Jerry’s is the community’s big bar, dancehall, and all-purpose entertainment facility. On a Friday night in late January, it was also a tour stop for the longest running road show in music, the Willie Nelson and Family traveling revue, this particular leg being one week into the Old Farts and Jackass Tour.
A little more than a year earlier, on the morning of January 8, 2012, Kevin Smith got the call from Mickey Raphael: “Can you drive to Winnie tonight and play with the band?” Smith was the standup bassist for Heybale! the trad-county supergroup of hotshot pickers featuring Merle Haggard’s guitarist Redd Volkaert and Johnny Cash’s (and the “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”-vintage Byrds’) Earl Poole Ball, currently in their fourteenth year of Sunday night residency at the Continental Club in Austin. Smith had also logged time with High Noon, the retro country band, original rockabilly Ronnie Dawson, western-swinger Cornell Hurd, and had knocked off more than 160 dates in a year-long tour with Dwight Yoakum in 2006. He got on Willie’s radar three years later by playing on the Willie and the Wheel album and tour, when Smith was with Asleep at the Wheel.
“Tommy Tedesco, in that Wrecking Crew documentary, said there’s three reasons you should take a gig – the hang, the money, and the music,” Smith said, fairly beaming as he tuned up a bass on the crew bus before the show. “All three of those are just great here. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Bee Spears, the one player in the Family band who could hear and anticipate Willie’s sometimes unusual timing and his tendency to sing behind the beat, died from exposure after falling outside his home in Nashville on December 8, 2011. The loss of the forty-year veteran was the band’s first personnel change since rhythm guitarist Jody Payne retired in 2008 after thirty-five years on the road. Spears’ last gig, which was a few days earlier in Mississippi, happened to also be the very last gig for Chris Etheridge, Willie’s long ago bassist in the early 1970s, who sat in with Bee and the band, knowing he was dying of cancer.
In the wake of Bee’s sudden death, Billy English switched from drums to bass (regular drummer Paul English, Billy’s brother and Willie’s friend and bandmate for sixty years, was at home in Dallas recuperating from a stroke) and Willie’s son Micah filled in on drums to finish out the year’s dates.
Smith doesn’t just play bass. He also plays old-style slap bass with a big upright, bringing a new-old sound to complement the other addition, young gun guitarist Lukas Nelson, who opens shows with his band, Promise of the Real, before joining his father’s band as second guitarist
But on this balmy, late January evening, Lukas wasn’t feeling well, so his dad would have to handle the guitar chores alone, which actually turned out to be a good thing. Paul English had experienced a second wind and rejoined the family, playing and doing the books on the road. Paul allowed that he and Willie had played a round of golf had played a round of golf not too long ago but stopped after nine holes; they were two old duffers with nothing left to prove.
Music, however, was another matter. “I’m feeling good,” English smiled in his office in the back of the band bus, where he offices to keep the band’s books.
Poodie Locke, the garrulous stage manager for the band for the past 35 years and a legend in his own right, passed away from a massive heart attack in 2009. Filling his shoes was young John Selman, Poodie’s neighbor at Willie World. John, who joined the family after road managing Randy Rogers, had been at the job long enough to run a very tight ship. Shows were running on time from stage call to last note, performances consistently hitting the ninety minute mark, a cutback from the four-hour marathons of the 1970s, perhaps, but mighty impressive for a six-piece that included three octogenarians and one septuagenarian.
The three-bus, one-truck conglomeration was a lean, mean traveling machine, with music as the driving force binding everyone on board, one reason why Willie’s home base studio, Pedernales Recording, had recently gone private, so Willie can record whenever he wants.
Mickey Raphael, the Dallas-born harmonica man responsible for giving every WN tune its indelible ID, was almost giddy with the band’s renewed sound, the new crew boss, and the revived Paul. As the former “kid” in the band, Mickey went out of his way to mentor John Selman and now Kevin Smith in the Willie way. The infusion of youth was proving infectious.
photo: Mary Francis Andrews, Jazz Fest 2011
“Willie is just very personable, and he just loves his fans and he loves to play music…that’s the deal.”
by: Lorraine Caron
Willie Nelson and Family are in concert May 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the State Theater in Kalamazoo. Even if the name Mickey Raphael isn’t familiar to you, you have most likely heard his music. Raphael is the harmonica player in country music legend Willie Nelson’s band.
Nelson just celebrated his 80th birthday. When they first met up and Nelson invited him to join the band decades ago, Raphael was just 20 years old.
“When I went to work for him he was 39 years old and I tell people when I met him he was an old 39 and now I think he’s a young 80,” Raphael says. “His guitar playing is getting better, he’s so prolific on the guitar and I really think it’s just getting better.”
OK, so Willie Nelson keeps getting better as a musician, but what is he like to have as a boss?
“He’s a benevolent dictator,” Raphael says. “That’s the way I look at it. And he gives you enough rope to hang yourself. I mean, there’s been very little turnover in the band, except for people retiring or passing. And he’s great to work with and he gives you enough space to do what you do. He assumes that we will police ourselves.”
“First off, the sound of it and the fact that you control it with your breath,” he says. “It really becomes a part of you, because it is so personal. You can’t look down at the thing and see where you are, like with the guitar, you can look down at your fingers and look at the strings. With the harmonica it’s all happening in your head and your ear. It’s very cerebral and it takes a lot of training your ear.”
Raphael says his music career is still a work in progress and he’s always learning something new. Willie Nelson hasn’t slowed down a bit. He released a recording last year and another new one last month. Raphael says Nelson’s fans seem to grow more devoted all the time.
“Well, I think music is the common denominator and everybody loves music,” he says. “And, even if you don’t particularly like his song or the way he sings, I mean there’s a message there that everyone can relate to.”
Raphael says Nelson almost always stays after a show to sign autographs for fans.
“Willie is just very personable, and he just loves his fans and he loves to play music…that’s the deal.”
by: Tim Stegall
ACL Live at the Moody Theater crams to the rafters with generations of revelers, including University of Texas Longhorns (footballer Earl Campbell, now using a walker), dignitaries (Attorney General Greg Abbott), and all manner of tony individuals. Lots of well-groomed heads bob, the hair almost without fail blonde and of impressive height in the feminine class.
They’re here raising money for the Darrell K Royal Research Fund for Alzheimer’s Disease, dining on what from the mezzanine appears to be prime rib, and waiting on the evening’s musical entertainment. The event comes titled as “Ben Willie Darrell Present the 4th & Goal Gala.” Austin golf great Ben Crenshaw and late football legend Darrell Royal sandwich that marquee’s middle-name headliner, who’s likely much of the reason $1 million will be raised here this evening. Everyone knows Willie Nelson and Coach Royal were close friends.
When I last encountered Willie Nelson for this paper (see “Twisted Williemania,” Feb. 9, 1996), it was a transitional time in the local country singer’s career. He was past his IRS troubles from earlier in the decade, but declining record sales prompted Columbia Records – his label since 1975′s Red Headed Stranger LP – to release him. Never mind that he was still packing houses live. We sat aboard that era’s iteration of the famed Honeysuckle Rose, his tour bus, and watched a Beatlemania-like scene unfold outside Buffalo Billiards on Sixth Street. We wondered aloud if Columbia’s bean counters had been to a show and seen what we were witnessing.
Tuesday, two weeks before his 80th birthday on April 30, Nelson’s 61st studio album – Let’s Face the Music and Dance – arrives on Sony Legacy.
“Which is Columbia in a roundabout way,” notes the singer on the 2013 edition of the Honeysuckle Rose.
“I think they finally bought a ticket,” he laughs heartily across the kitchen table from me. “You’d think they’d catch a show every now and then!”
After his Moody performance, Willie’s wife Annie has arranged with the DKR PR to bring myself and a reporter from CBS News backstage. Walked onto the bus by the couple themselves, we’re welcomed into a clean, well-lit, and homey vehicle that runs on bio-diesel. Unlike in 1996, Bruce Springsteen isn’t walking out and greeting me as I climb aboard.
In fact, there are no hangers-on for Willie to shush as we talk, just longtime drummer/best friend Paul English (the subject of Willie’s “Me and Paul”) and pianist sister Bobbie Nelson (revisit “Sister Bobbie,” Jan. 18, 2008). The air definitely smells herbal, but not smoky – it could be air freshener for all we know. Willie still drinks strong post-show coffee, a silver laptop half-closed on the table between us.
The show itself differs from 1996, as well. Willie Nelson & Family constituted a sprawling outfit back then, with two drummers and as many guitar players, not counting Willie himself. They were loud, raucous, and powerful, bordering on a rock & roll version of Texan honky-tonk, taking in elements of blues and jazz. In 2013, Nashville guitar great Grady Martin and guitarist Jody Payne are gone, deceased and retired, respectively. And English’s full kit now strips down to a snare and brushes, with younger brother Billy on percussion. It’s a smaller band.
“It might be,” nods Willie. “We had a real tall guitar player out there, though. He makes it look like there might be more of us!”
“Nah,” snorts Ray Benson when asked if he’s joined the Family. “I had a night off [from Asleep at the Wheel], so I sat in. It’s easy – Willie plays all the leads.”
Willie’s son Lukas sometimes mans the electric guitar for his dad, while on bass, local rockabilly thumper Kevin Smith of High Noon fame got called in “about a year-and-a-half ago” by his own account – after the passing of longtime Family bassist Bee Spears. Still in the Family: Paul English, Bobbie Nelson, and Mickey Raphael’s idiosyncratic harmonica.
Raphael can thank the evening’s honoree for his intro to Willie. Darrell Royal’s widow, Edith, notes early in the evening at the Moody that an ASCAP executive introduced the Royals to a young Raphael prior to one of the frequent “pickin’ parties” the football giant hosted for musicians he admired.
Edith Royal: “He said, ‘I’ve got this harmonica player from over in Oak Cliff, and he’s about 15 years old. He’s just great. Can I bring him over? I want Willie to hear him play.’
“So [Raphael] brought his harmonica over – he was just a kid! [Willie] hired him right then. Been with Willie ever since. I said, ‘Mickey, I’ll introduce you to Willie if you’ll promise me you’ll never take up any of his bad habits.’ He said, ‘I promise.’ I said, ‘Now, you can try some of them, if you want to. But don’t take up any of them!’
“He’s a pretty neat kid. He checks in with me nearly every time they’re in town. And boy, he’s added to that band!”
Indeed. Mickey Raphael’s harp is as much Willie’s sonic signature as Willie’s own singing or guitar work.
With a tighter-knit group and a scaled-down presentation, Willie Nelson & Family 2013 are more dynamic, differing from the old power-blast. Bobbie Nelson appears to not miss it.
“We’ve lost some of our musicians, of course,” she says. “And there’s some music that doesn’t really require a lot. If you play freer with musicians, you don’t need a lot of extra things. You can get some feeling, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
She pauses, then smiles over her post-show glass of red wine. “We just love to play.”
Play they do, across a set sometimes familiar, sometimes not. Tonight might be the first time anyone’s heard Willie & Family not kick off with their famed boogie through Johnny Bush’s “Whiskey River.” It’s second in tonight’s set, a gateway into familiar medleys of early-Nashville song-mill hits (“Night Life,” “Crazy,” “Funny How Time Slips Away”), the Seventies heyday (“Good Hearted Woman,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”), and more recent triumphs (“Beer for My Horses,” his hit duet with Toby Keith recast as an audience sing-along). Then it’s an easy ride into some Hank Williams standards and a rousing, get-on-your-feet-and-clap gospel finish, with an appearance from daughter Amy. At 90 minutes, it’s compact, efficient, and typically satisfying.
The Family, save for Mickey Raphael, doesn’t play on last year’s acclaimed Heroes, the latest in a list of duet albums lengthy enough for a separate discography. Singing partners included Merle Haggard, Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow, Ray Price, Billy Joe Shaver, and several tracks with son Lukas. What makes Heroes unique among Willie’s duet collections is that it’s the first set of (mostly) Willie Nelson originals in a good long while.
“Probably,” he acknowledges. “We do a lot of covers.”
Let’s say you do interpretations.
Willie laughs. “Well, I do my version of things.”
You’re in a league with Sinatra – your interpretations brand a song uniquely.
“I just like singing the good songs. Whether they’re country or pop, it don’t matter. If I know it, I’d like to sing it.”
Which explains the latest disc, this time featuring the Family. Let’s Face the Music and Dance, a set of dance hall standards, ranges from Irving Berlin (the title track) to Spade Cooley (“Shame on You”) and seminal Willie influence Django Reinhardt (“Nuages”). There’s even a romp through Carl Perkins’ rockabilly classic “Matchbox.” Previously, Willie had a hit duet with Leon Russell on Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.”
“Elvis and Carl?” repeats Willie. “All them guys out of Memphis that came through [Sun Records] and kicked up a lot of dust for awhile? Yeah, I was paying attention. Carl Perkins – I liked ‘Matchbox’! He and I recorded down in my studio one time. He was a good artist.”
You’ve always had a little boogie in what you’re doing.
“Sister Bobbie and I grew up playing boogie woogie and gospel and all those together. It’s a combination of a lot of different kinds of music.”
That combination has served Willie Hugh Nelson well since his first professional gigs as a 10-year-old guitarist in John Rejcek’s band, playing Czech dances in his native Abbott. That was 1943. Seventy years later, Willie and Bobbie and Family make a lot more than the $6 take-home he enjoyed then. In an 80th year crammed with commemorative projects and events, Willie Nelson’s not looking at his watch.
“We’re still playin’ pretty good, and the crowds are good,” he shrugs. “Really no need to quit while we’re still having fun.”
Does 80 feel like a milestone?
“No more than 50, or 70, or 21. I thought when I made 21 it was a big deal! I thought I was lucky, after 21. Anything over that, as they say, was gravy. Eighty? It’s just another number, I guess.”
Does Darrell Royal’s passing from Alzheimer’s or mortality in general ever make you think?
“I’ve been so lucky/fortunate/blessed, all those words,” acknowledges Nelson. “I know a lot of people didn’t reach 80, and I haven’t got there yet. I’ve been lucky/fortunate/blessed to be able to still be doing what I’m doing and what I think I came here to do.”
“It’s wonderful how we have spent our lives,” agrees Bobbie Nelson. “I think we should never stop doing things, learning to do new things, and playing. I don’t need to quit. I’d rather do some more, too. The band has got a new album, and Willie used the band for the next album. It’s really … nice.
“I think country music is soulful music,” she adds. “I don’t think you can listen to country music without hearing the soul of the people. It’s about people, the lives of soulful people. It’s music that’s very similar to the old soul music. Country is about real people, happiness and sadness both.”
Harlan Howard said, “Country music is three chords and the truth.”
“There’s nothing like playing something from your very soul and your heart,” she nods. “A lot of musicians don’t get to do that.”
Read the entire article, and see photos, at The Austin Chronicle’s Website.
The Mystic Willie Nelson
by Nelson Allen
I arrive at Willie’s gate, considerably altered since I’d seen it last — a huge stone fence topped with barbed wire graced the front with some kind of electronic gate and get some guy on the other end, and resisting an urge to order a Moby Jack, inquire after Willie. “Willie’s sleeping,” the voice says. “Well, he told me to come out today,” I say. “Just a minute,’ the voice says. That, I thought, is probably the lowest job in the country music business — answering Willie’s box. Then Connie, Willie’s wife who looks like a country singing star herself, suggests over the box that I try and get back in touch with Willie later. “He’s sleeping,” she says. “He was out all night long last night and didn’t get home ’till seven this morning.”
I know that, since he was out with me, but it’s a few days later before we get together again This time Willie and family are ensconced in the Ramada Inn while remodeling is done at the ranch. (I’d run into a man who operates a landscaping business a few days before and he told me Willie had called him up and said he wanted some landscaping. “What exactly do you want planted?” he’d asked Willie. “I don’t care,” Willie replied, ‘just put some stuff out there.”) It’s two o’clock but getting somewhat familiar with Willie’s schedule i first go to the bar and call the room. “Willie’s taking a nap,” Connie says, “Could you come back around four?”
At four I knock on the door and am met by Willie himself and led into a large living room suite. Willie has on a fresh pair of overalls, a t-shirt, tennis shoes, black shades, and his hair is tied back still wet from a shower. “Sorry you had to wait,” Willie says shaking hands, and I notice as always the one incongruous element to his otherwise laid-back demeanor — the horseshoe diamond ring on his right hand pinkie.Â Horseshoe diamond rings are the sole sing of achievement for successful car salesmen and all country and western stars.
Except for a coiled and stuffed rattlesnake sitting atop the refrigerator, there is nothing in the place that doesn’t belong to the Ramada Inn. Willie has a couple of phone calls to take care of before we talk. They have to do with his recent subpoena to appear before a Dallas court inquiring into illegal drugs (not a charge or accusation by any means), and Willie talks to lawyers and whoever else openly and totally unconcerned whether I overhear the conversations or not.Â Connie informs hijm that he’s due to appear in San Antonio that night for an honorary award from a group of attorneys. “I don’t want to go,” he says but adds, “But tell ‘em something good like. . . like I don’t want to.” Willie turns to me waiting for the questions, waiting to give me some “different answers.” I had told him once that “the questions are always the same.’ “The answers are always different,” he’d said.
We had planned to visit a few places like the pool hall run by Willie’s folks and the local golf course, but with the recent success its been a while since Willie’s had the time to really hang around Austin much — pitching washers behind Bully’s, an east Austin bar, or playing golf with Darrell Royal, or just getting drunk with various Texas characters he’s met through the years.Â Since the CMA Awards he’s only been in town six days and more and more time is spent on the road. He purchased Porter Wagoner’s bus, and it’s been traveling from Atlanta to Jackson Hole to San Francisco and back again.Â Not long ago in Fort Worth he collapsed on stage. But no one has ever left a Willie Nelson performance disappointed, which is one of the reasons Willie scored so well when he first came to Austin.Â it was obvious from the beginning that Willie came to play. Lately he’s been saying that he expects his career to peak soon as all careers do. He still gets nervous — the “only time” is right before he first climbs the stage. I asked him it was true that he wasn’t writing the sad country songs anymore because things were going good. “Yeah, to a certain point it is,” Willie said, “I don’t write the real sad tearjerking songs that I used to write because i’m not real sad anymore.”
Allen:Â What happened to the movie you were going to do?
Nelson: Well, originally this was Ty Hardin’s idea. He went through three or four scripts before he found one that he really wanted to do and that he thought was the one that we ought to do. I told him I’d do it with him; I didn’t know anything about the movie but I was just going to get into it and try and learn, because I want to do the Red-Headed Stranger (as a movie).Â I wanted to do that, so I was going to learn about movies and this was going to be my education.Â But then Ty bailed out on it, he thought the script wasn’t strong enough. And then the guy that wrote the script was down there trying to get the show on the road… talking about maybe hiring another actor to play opposite me.Â It just got to be too big a hassle, too many things going wrong so I bailed out myself.
Allen: Have you thoutght about how you would go about making the Red-Headed Stranger into a movie?
Nelson: How I would make the film?Â Well, Jay Milner and a couple movie people are writing the script and i’ve been getting copies of it for a while and it looks pretty good.
Allen. That album always seemed like a movie to me anyway.
Nelson. Yeah, that’s going to be the problem. I can imagine it being such a good movie, but whether or not we can get that on the screen is another question. it might not come out the way i think it’ll come out.
Allen. If you can get the right director…
Nelson. Yeah, we need to get somebody that really knows what they’re doing. If we aren’t careful it could be like a bad fiddle player — if it aint good it’s terrible.
Allen. You’re on the road more now. How is life on the road?
Nelson: Well, I enjoy it. I was on the road a lot before I moved back to Texas and I slowed down a lot when I first moved back to Texas, but before that for about 12 or 15 years in a row I went pretty heavy. i started out with Ray Price and played bass with him, and he worked his ass off all the time. We went all the way up into Canada with him and then flew over to Alaska. We did a 90-day tour one time of one-nighters. I’m used to living on the road and Holiday Inns are just … I feel more at home in a Holiday Inn than I really do at home because the home that I have now I haven’t been in as much as I’ve been in Holiday Inns. They all look the same and you walk in one room and you say, yeah here we are again.
Allen. Everything’s right where you left it.
Allen: Have there been any disappointments along with all the success you had recently?
Allen. I guess the disapointments were when you couldn’t get them to promote your records?
Allen. You were quoted recently as saying your career was about to peak. Did you say that?
Nelson. Did I say that? It could be, it could be about to peak, but I don’t feel like it is and I don’t think that until I feel like it is that it is. But in some people’s minds it may have already started a downward trend, it may be crashing.
Allen: After you and Waylon won the CMA Awards
Nelson: No. Waylon and I are not going to be involved in any of the awards this year. Most of the awards that one of us is in, the other is in, and I don’t want that and he doesn’t either, so we’re just both taking our names out of the pot. Because we don’t want to be in competition with each other — we never have been — especially on national television. Just to sit there and look dumb while Waylon wins or I win, either way it’s not right.
Allen. With all your success, has it made it easier on people coming up, has it brought about any changes in the industry?
Nelson; They tell me that it has. I don’t know. I really don’t know because the people that I knew in Nashville, most of them are still there. Now whether anybody who moves into town now has a better chance than he would have a year ago or five years ago, I don’t know. I think.. that his appearance is not going to hurt him as much as it would have a year or five years ago. People who walked into Nashville with long hair a few years ago, uh, i started to say they couldn’t get arrested but actually that’s the first thing they could get was arrested.
Allen: Why all the new trappings, the voice box, etc., at the gate to your place?Â Why did that become necessary?Â Just too many unannounced visitors?
Nelson: Yeah, really. And I only get two or three days off at a time, and when I do, I like to have complete isolation and privacy in order to rest — sleep for 72 hours or something.
Allen: Is it becoming more difficult to just hang out around Austin like you did a couple of years ago?
Nelson: Yeah, it is. It’s hard to go anywhere and really just sit down and enjoy the evening.
Allen: That’s too bad in a way.
Nelson: In a way it is but I know it’s not going to last forever.Â Pretty soon I’ll be able to go drink a beer.
Allen: Have you given any thoughts to building your own club to hang out in?
No. I did that and wound up being… like I had an office to hang out in and everyone else hung out there, too.Â I opened up a pool hall so I’d have a place to go play pool and dominoes and I can’t go over there.
Allen:Â Why did you do that gospel album when you did?
Nelson: I’ve been trying to get that album out for a long time. They kept putitng me off form label to label. RCA wouldn’t let me do one. They thought I needed to be a more established country artist before I could do a gospel album. I’ve done 32 albums and only one gospel album. I’d like to do several more and I probably will over the years. But this is just something I wanted to do and they wouldnt’ let me. They said you can’t do that andÂ I said yes I can. Another one of these things. But they didn’t think gospel songs were commercial themselves and I knew they were because I knew that we were singing every night Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Amazing Grace and everybody would sing along. I knew that they would sell.
Allen: There’s a rumor that you disappeared for a peirod of time in the late 60?s. Is that true?
Nelson. I do that occasionally (laughing). I’m planning on disappearing in the next few minutes. How long a time did they sayÂ I disappeared for?
Allen: About six months.
Nelson: That’s probably true. I haven’t got to do that lately, but I’m glad you brought that up. it’s a good idea. I can think about that again for awhile.
Allen: You don’t want to say where you disappeared to?
Nelson:? Oh, no. I don’t remember where I was.Â I really don’t know whereÂ I went.
Allen: Have you ever read or studied much of Edgar Cayce?
Nelson: Yeah. I love Edgar Cayce. I really do. I think he was a smart man whenever he went to sleep.
Allen: I read Many Mansions years ago. Did you ever apply any of that to your own life?
Nelson: Yeah, a lot of that. In fact, I belong to that association there in Virginia Beach and they sent me all the literature and the books and everything that Edgar Cayce had… Well, not everything, I guess there’s 15,000 readings that he had all together and they’re all in the library there in Virginia Beach, and anybody that wants to see them can go over there and read them. He had so much to say about so many things that you can pretty well make a whole life philosophy out of what the man said. He went into reincarnation, he went into earthquakes, he went into pyramids, he went into the whole thing.
Allen: Has it led you to fashion your own beliefs in a certain way?
Nelson:Â Probably in a lot of ways it has.Â Between Edgar Cayce and a lot of the mystery schools that I’ve gotten interested in over the years like the Rosicrucians.Â There’s a lot of interesting things there, food for thought.Â A lot of it makes sense.Â It’s all based on reincarnation and karma and that’s logical to me.
Allen: Do you believe in reincarnation?
Nelson: Yeah. It’s the only thing that makes sense.
Allen: Have you ever given any thought to who or what you might have been in a previous life?
Nelson: No, I’ve thought about it, but I’ve never really cared, never cared enough to go ask someone who’s supposed to be an expert on that kind of stuff.Â I never really cared to go back into past lives.Â I think people can… if a guy really wanted to be a singer and couldn’t, but if he just kept trying and trying I believe that if he didn’t make it this lifetime he might make it the next lifetime.
Allen: It’s kind of encouraging.
Nelson: It’s a positive way to look at life. Everything moves in one direction, you either go up or back, you’re either progressing or regressing, one of the two; you never stay in one place. I don’t believe that everything ends pow and its all over. That just doesn’t make sense. You can’t destroy matter, if you stop it here, it comes to life over here. You can’t destroy energy.
Allen:Â Do you have an interest in yoga, kung fu, martial arts.
Allen: Is that something you were interested in or something you’re still into?
Nelson: I never have really quit. I still do yoga exercises practically every day. i don’t do kung fu much, but i still practice a lot of stuff that I used to do.
Allen: Where did you train for it?
Nelson: In Nashville. There’s a school there in Nashville.Â We used to go out to colleges and high schools there and put on exhibitions and try to raise interest… go out and break a few boards.
Allen: Do they have belts like in karate and judo?
Nelson: No in kung fu you’re either a master or a student.Â no in-betweens. I’m still a student.
Allen: What is the difference between kung fu and karate?
Nelson: I can’t speak about karate because I don’t really … but kung fu is probably 75 percent mental and 25 percent physical.Â It’s a lot of mind over matter more than brute strength. And karate I think is more physical, building up callouses on your hands, and we didn’t do that in kung fu.Â We didn’t goÂ into that heavy a physical thing. It’s just concentration and believing that you can do it.
Allen. Are the picnics over for good?
Nelson: As far as i’m concerned right now they are. There are too many problems involved to try and put ‘em on.
Allen: There seemed to both good and bad things come out of them.Â What did you like about them?
Nelson: Well, it was good for me first of all. A lot of people know the name Willie Nelson that didn’t know it then. That was one of the reasons that I put them on — to draw attenton to myself. It was a big hype for Willie is what it was. But I think the shows were good. I know we had some problems with crowds, not the audience.Â I think we had more problems with the backstage people then we did the audience. The people backstage were harder to please. If they’d paid and walked in the front they would have had a lot better time. Everybody wants backstage and that’s not really where it’s going on, it’s out front where the show is.
Allen: It seems like you’ve been catching a lot of crap in your home state lately. Are you getting tired of all that?
Nelson. Aw, yeah, I’m tired of it. A lot of that I don’t even read.Â I look at the title an dif it doesn’t look too good I’ll just pass on over that and look for some good news.
Allen: You did read the Texas Monthly story?
Nelson. Yes, I read that. Jan Reid’s story about the death of redneck rock.
Allen: All he did was talk about a term he’d invented anyway.
Nelson: That’s right.
Allen: I don’t know what he’ll have to write about next time.
Nelson: The reincarnation of redneck rock.
Allen: That story was offensive. It was so contrived.
Nelson: It was. It really was. He pissed me off right at first when he started calling me cocaine Willie. Now he could have called me anything else but, uh, I just don’t like cocaine and never have. In Fort worth I was never known as Cocaine Willie.
Allen: It kind of has a nice ring to it.
Nelson: Oh, it sounded okay.Â It wasn’t anything I wanted to sue him for but then when all that bullshit came up in Dallas those words came back to haunt me.Â They brought it up, well they called you cocaine willie so you’re probably involved in some of that.
Allen:Â I’ve heard that a lot of that came about because Gregg Allman released a lot of names when he was having trouble in Georgia.
Nelson: I understand that happened but I don’t think that my name would have been involved in anything that he would have turned in. The situation that I was in…there was a friend of mine that they were trying to get and they knew thatÂ I knew him and that I’d known him a long time and they knew we were good friends. so they just figured that I had to be involved in business with him.
Allen:Â A lot of people wrongly think that there were dope charges against you when you appeared before the grand jury even though that wasn’t the case.
Nelson: Well, that was what I was talking about. It was just one of those guilt by association things.Â I’d known (this guy) for years and years and years when he was in the automobile business. He and I played poker together. He’s still a good friend. I don’t know what he did other than sell cars and don’t want to know. It’s none of my business. I bought cars and trucks from him and have records to prove it and that’s the only business that I ever had with (him)… If they wanted to bust me on marijuana they could have done that years ago because everyone knows that I smoke a joint every now and then. Everybody also knows thatÂ I ain’t got any for sale. I smoke it all. But that was a bad thing really because they were trying to get (this guy) and they just knew that I was involved with it. And there may have been some people who said I was, too, because a lot of people get arrested for one charge or another and they become a snitch in order to get better treatment. They’ll say anything about anybody if it’ll to keep ‘em from getting a long sentence.
Allen:Â Do you think they called you up there because of who you are?
Nelson: I think they probably did it to cause some publicity. Ray Price also, they mentioned his name and Ray Price is no more involved in dope dealing than I am or you are. He picks and sings. He makes a lot of money doing that. He makes $10,000.00 a night, so he’s not gonna go out and mess up the whole thing over something stupid like that. He’s got everything in the world going for him and there would be no reason to do a thing like that. Anybody with any intelligence at all should be able to see that. If they’d had any narcs or snitches around me, and I’m sure they have had, all they found out was just exactly the truth because I haven’t got a thing to hide.
Allen: Did you sever your connections with the nightclub Whiskey River over all that?
Nelson: Well, that probably had something to do with it but i mainty just wanted to get out of the nightclub business. it’s just a hassle. But that’s a perfect name for a joint though. When I was thinking about really going into the nightclub business I was going to do a chain of clubs, the Nightlife, and franchise them and all that.
Allen: Tompall and Waylon are suing each other. Are you mad at anybody or is anyone mad at you?
Nelson: No. I’m just laughing at both of ‘em.
Allen: Do you plan on building a recording studio now?
Nelson: No, there’s enough good studios around without me building one. If I put one up I’d have to use it all the time and I like to move around and use different studios.
Paula Nelson and Johnny Goudie
• April 4th, 2013
“hello my friends! happy birthday to cory glaeser! he is the guy who wrote our theme song, “needle hits the groove”. i just love that dude. i hope you’re all doing well and you’re enjoying the month of april. i am. my allergies are a bit rough right now, but i’m making it. i’m getting ready to head out to head out to houston for a couple of days for a couple of shows with skyrocket. we’ll be at the houston pavilion on thursday april 4th at 7 pm and at the continental club on friday april 5th at 10 pm. what’s up?!?!?
my guest for episode 160 is the extremely talented and cool, paula nelson. i’ve heard about paula for years from friends of mine who play and have played with her. they’ve all told me how cool she is. so, last week when i went to my friend, todd wolfson’s monkeynest show, i got to see paula and her her band perform. i just loved it. she is a great singer, writes great songs and her band is incredible. the show made my night, so invited her over for a chat. she came over and we talked about siblings, writing songs, issues, san diego, being willie nelson’s daughter, animals and so much more. i really loved getting to sit down and talk to her. she has an amazing soul and she is super-cool. meet my new friend, paula nelson.
You can listen to the interview here.
Country Song Roundup
by: Judy Myers
When I was given the assignment to do a story on Willie Nelson, I couldn’t have been more pleased. You see, I’m a big Willie Nelson fan! Not only do I appreciate his song writing, but he’s one of the best song writers ever. Proof can be found in the listening to such songs as “It Should Be Easier Now” (one of my favorites), “Night Life”, “Crazy”, “Funny How TIme Slips Away”, “Hello Walls”, and I could go on and on… I really “dig” Willie’s singing. I’d just about rather hear Willie sing than anyone I can think of.
The day finally arrived and I met Willie at his office for the interview. His manner was charming and relaxed.
“Where do I start?” Willie asked.
“Why not start at the beginning”, I said.
“In the beginning I created”… he began laughing. Then he got serious and there followed a series of reminiscence that had me sitting on the edge of my chair, listening to Willie, who has a mind that works like a human tape recorder. He had almost total recall of everything. It was one of the most enchanting hours I’ve ever spent. Now, I want to share it with you…
“I was born in Abbott, Texas, on April 30, 1933. That’s in West Texas. My grandparents raised us, and my daddy (Ira) was a blacksmith. My grandparents taught music that they had learned by studying a correspondence course.Â My father got me a guitar when I was about four or five years old, and I learned to play. I guess I started writing songs when I was about eight or a little younger. My first song was pretty bad! My mother still has it, along with a lot of others in a scrapbook, and she says one day she’s going to publish it. I’d sure like to have that book, but she won’t give it up.”
“When I was thirteen, I started playing clubs with my sister, Bobbie.Â She played the piano, my brother-in-law was our manager and he played a broomstick. You know, a broomstick with a piece of shingle attached that he could beat back and forth to create a little rhythm. He later took up playing the bass, but mostly he just hit it and swung it around. My father played a little fiddle and rhythm guitar and I played lead guitar. We were called “Bud Fletcher and His Texans.” Bud is my brother-in-law.
We had a sign-on show on KHBR Radio in Hillsboro, Texas, every Sunday morning.Â We’d come dragging in after playing and driving all night, making us late most of the time. We were followed by preachers, and most of the time they directed their preaching right at us. You know, they thought we were wicked hillbillys.
“I was a relief telephone operator there in Abbott.Â We had a central switchboard and the woman who ran it liked to go out on Saturday nights so my sister or I would take over for her. My voice was changing then and I guess they thought I was a girl. They didn’t know I was a boy, but I sure knew everything that was going on in the county.
“My first real job was that of a tree trimmer. We went around cutting branches away from the high tension wires. Once my buddy was about forty feet up and needed a rope, so I took it up the tree. Then, rather than climb down, I decided to go down the rope. I got about four feet down and got my finger hung up. I couldn’t go up or down, and I was too far from my friend for him to help, so the only choice I had was to have him cut the rope. I fell down through those high tension wires and branches and I was able to get up and walk away, but I never went back to that job.
“Then I worked in a pawn shop, went into the Air Force, got out, worked as a bouncer in one of the roughest joints in Texas, (that didn’t last long, there was a fight every night, and I don’t like fights). I got married, worked as a parts man in an auto house, trimmed trees again, formed a band and started pickin’ again, made saddles, worked in the oil fields in Texas, got married for the second time, and worked for a short time at a radio station in San Antonio.
“I went to work for Johnny Bush. He had a band and I played lead guitar. I asked him if I could sing, so he did let me sing some, but then he asked me to just play guitar, I don’t think he liked my singing. I managed him for awhile.
“We moved to Pleasanton, Texas, where I saw an ad for a D.J. job on KBOP Radio. I had two kids by then, Lana and Susie. I’d never worked as a D.J., but I wanted that job. I went to see Dr. Ben Parker, who incidentally did more to help me than almost anyone.Â He asked me if I had any experience and I told him that I had. He then asked me if I was familiar with the board there. I said, “That’s a Gates board isn’t it? Anybody could see it was a Gates board, it was written right across it. I told him I didn’t know that board as I’d worked on an RCA Victor Board. I remember that’s what they had at the other station.Â He’d have to show me how to use that one because they looked different.
“My test was to do fifteen minutes of news…live…the first time I’d ever been on the air as an announcer. Then he gave me a commerical to do. It was for the Pleasanton Pharmacy. It went like this…’The Pleasanton Pharmacy Pharmaceutical department accurately and preciseley fills your doctor’s perscription,’ and after I got through with that, he knew I’d never done radio work. It was the hardest commercial I’ve ever done. He gave me the job anyway. Then he worked with me to show me all arbout radio work.
“Dr. Ben Parker really helped me a lot.
“I worked at KBOP for awhile, and then got itchy feet. I went to Denton, Texas where I got a job as salesman for KDNT radio. I wasn’t on the air so I didn’t like that much. I went on to Ft. Worth, where I worked with Uncle Hank Cragg on station KCUL. I learned some more about radio work from him.Â From there I went to KCNC and Western Express. I was still working nights pickin’.
“Well, I got itchy feet again.Â I decided we should go to San Diego. The only catch was, we didn’t have any money, and no car. I saw an ad in the paper where you could drive cars to different places. I went to see them and asked about taking a car to San Diego. They said that they had a car to go that way, and they would pay for the oil… but they had to know that I could get the car there. They said they would have to see at least $50.00. Well, I was down to my last $25.00, and that was that. However, i told them I’d go get the money as I didn’t have it on me. I went out and found a friend and asked him to let me have $50.00. I didn’t want to borrow it, I explained about the car. I just wanted to show it. He let me have the money and I took it to show, and they let me have the car.Â I gave the money back to my friend, but we still had to get to San Diego, buy gas and food, and only had $25.00 to do it on.Â Well, we made it, but I won’t go into details about how it was done.” He gave a sort of half chuckle.
“Well, when we got to San Diego, I couldn’t find any work.Â My wife got a job, and I didn’t like that much, her working and me not working. So I decided to go to my mother’s in Portland, Oregon and see what I could get there.Â I planned to get something going and then send for my family. So I started hitchhiking with $10.00 and a suitcase. That was some trip. We could get a whole story just out of the details of that trip alone. I’ll just tell one thing that happened along the way. I got to Orange, California.Â It was night time and I was tired and broke, and awfully tired of carrying that ole’ suitcase. I found a country music nightclub, went in, and found I had just enough money for one beer. By buying that beer and making it last all night, I was able to stay there without getting thrown out. When the band was packing up, I asked if they knew of anybody who might give me a job, but they didn’t. One old boy told me to stick around for a few mintues and he would make some phone calls for me and maybe find something. I waited and he did make the calls, but with no luck. Then, I had an idea. This old suitcase was getting heaver every mile, and I thought I could trust him, so I gave him my mother’s address in Portland, and asked him if he would send the suitcase to me there.Â Well, I never did see that suitcase again!
“I made Portland eventually. I got a job with KVAN in Vancouver, Washington, just across the river. I also had my own weekly t.v. show.
” I sent for my family to join me, and things were going pretty well in Portland but…..I got restless.
“On the move again, we headed for Springfield, Mo. On the way, we went through Denver, Colorado, and I got a job pickin’ there, at a place called “Heart’s Corner.” The guy that ran the place rented a guitar for me, and I guess I stayed there about six weeks. Then we were on the move again. When we got to Springfield, I ran into Billy Walker. He was working the Ozark Jubilee at the time. His wife and my wife had been friends in Texas, so they invited us to stay with them for a few days.Â Billy even set up an interview for me with Si SImon, who was running the Jubilee.Â Si didn’t seem to think I was too good, so I took the only job I could find, dishwashing.
I wasn’t too happy as a dishwasher, so I took my family and headed south to Waco, Texas.Â Right after that, we moved to Ft. Worth and I quit the music business for a year. During that time, I sold just about everything, door to door. They even made me manager for Ameriana Encyclopedia.
“But I wanted to pick. I went back to Waco, then to Houston.Â I had, in the meantime, written “Family Bible” for Frankie Miller, who was recording on Starday, but Don Pierce wouldn’t let him record it. When in Houston, I ran into a guy I’d known before, Paul Buskirk. I was pretty broke so I decided to sell the song, “Family Bible”Â Paul, Walt Breelin and Claude Grey split it three ways and gave me $25.00 for it.
“Looking for work, I went to the Esquire Club where Larry Butler was the head of the band. I asked him for a job, but he said that he didn’t need anyone at that time. I aksed him if he would buy some of my songs then, for $10.00 each. I sang him about ten or twelve of my best ones, including “Mr. Record Man”, “Crazy”, “Nightlife” and “What a Way to Live.” He wouldn’t buy my songs, not because they weren’t good he said, but because they were too good, and if I needed money that bad, he would loan me some, and he did.Â That kept me from being compeltely broke.
“Paul Buskirk had a recording studio and he offered me a job teaching guitar. Well, I didn’t know how to read music, but he said that was okay, he’d teach me.Â I got my first lesson on Wednesday, and gave my first lesson on Monday. I always managed to stay one lesson ahead of the students. They didn’t know any better, since I did know how to play, I didn’t know how to read music, that’s all, but I learned that.
“I finally went to work for Larry Butler pickin’ in the evenings, adn I worked the Sunday morning sign-on DJ show at KRCT radio, which now has the call letters, KIKK. Leroy Gloger was the manager there, and he fired me. That hurt my ego, and I left town.
“I took my family to Waco, and I headed for Nashville, and the first person I ran into there was my old buddy, Billy Walker. I sent for my family, and brought them to Nashville.Â Billy took me to Starday records and introduced me to Tommy Hill. I sang some of my songs for him, and he told me that he’d set up a recording and writer’s contract for me, but Don Pierce turned us both down.
“One night when a bunch of us were jammin’ in Tootsie’s, Hank Cochran heard me and took me to Pamper music, where I signed an exclusive writer’s contract.Â Faron young had heard me sing “Hello Walls” at Tootsie’s and told me that he wanted to record it.Â I was working on the road with Bobby Sykes, playing lead guitar and Faron, who was on the show that night, asked me to sing the song again so that he could learn it.Â I also sang “Coungratulations” that same night, and the next week, he recorded both of them, back to back.
“I moved my family into a trailer house, and I had three kids by then.Â I found out later that it was the very same trailer Hank Cochran and his wife and three children lived in when they first came to Nashville.Â It was green and ugly and the rent was $25.00 a week, and it was worth about $3.00, but they were always there to collect the rent eery rent day.
“I heard that Ray Price needed a man to play bass and front his band. I didn’t know how to play bass, but I told Ray I did, got the job, then went out and got a bass and learned real quick. If he ever knew I didn’t know how to play, he was kind enough not to mention it. I worked for Ray for a year.
“Crazy” was doing real good then, and Billy had recorded “Funny How Time Slips Away”, I wrote it for him, to follow “Thank You For Calling”. Joe Allison signed me to Liberty Records, and produced an album and single for me.Â The album was “And Then I Wrote” and the single was “Mr. Record Man.” I did two albums on Liberty.
“My marriage broke up about that time and I moved to Texas. I met and married my present wife, Shirley there. Incidentally, she was a regular on the Ozark Jubilee the time I went through Springfield, but we didn’t know each other then.
“I stayed in Ft. Worth until 1963. After that I went to California to run the office for Pamper Music. I didn’t like that because I wasn’t pickin’, just running the office. So we came back to Tennessee, and bought a farm at Ridgetop, just out of Nashville.
“I had been on Monument Records in the meantime, and had a record with them, but in 1964 I signed with RCA Victor. My first release for them was “Pretty Paper.” I’ve had six albums on Victor, and my latest single is, “Johnny One time”, written by Dallas Frasier. I am really sold on the song, and I think we’ve got the most commercial sound on it of any of my other records. Were hoping that this one will make it, but if it doesn’t, well, maybe next time.
“That’s it, up to now. I remember some things I left out, but let’s save them for next time.”
That’s Wille’s story, and the hour I spent getting it was one of the most interesting I’ve had in a long time. there’s nothing left for me to add, it’s all been said.
Even when his albums centered around pop standards, blues, jazz and reggae, Willie Nelson has always put his unique country spin on the music. With his new album, Country Music, he chose to delve deep into the kind of music he grew up hearing and playing.
Produced by T Bone Burnett, Country Music was recorded in Nashville with a band of local musicians that included Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller and Ronnie McCoury. The song selection includes new arrangements of traditional material and covers of songs popularized by Porter Wagoner (“Satisfied Mind”), Hank Williams (“House of Gold”), Ernest Tubb (“Seaman’s Blues”), Merle Travis (“I Am a Pilgrim”) and Al Dexter (“Pistol Packin’ Mama”).
During a recent interview, CMT Insider talked to the Country Music Hall of Fame member about the album and if there was a reason it had a specific release date of April 20 — also referred to by some as 4/20 or “Pot Day.”
Where did the idea for this album country music come from?
Nelson: My idea of country music is basically what this album has on it. It’s fiddles, steels, mandolins, and it just seems like a natural title. And underneath Country Music, I was tempted to say, “Lest we forget this is country music.”
What was the criteria for this album?
Well, T Bone Burnett produced it, and if you’ve got a good producer like that, you kind of just let him have the ball and run with it. And that’s what I did. He brought all the songs to the session except for “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” and all the musicians, he called them all together. He’s really the best at doing things like that.
I’ve read that you said three takes are enough if you’ve got the right people in the studio. Did you feel like you had that there?
Oh, yeah. And a lot of times, the first take is the best, so the second and third are just insurance.
A lot of people are saying Country Music is similar to your Stardust album because these songs are standards. Do you agree with that?
I do. It’s a Stardust in its own right. All of these songs are the same type of standard songs in the country music as the Stardust album were in pop. So, yeah, there is definitely a connection.
Is there a song on this album that means the most to you personally?
They’re all really good songs that I grew up singing — “Satisfied Mind,” “Dark as a Dungeon.” You know, these days the mining songs are very special to me because of all the tragedies with all these mines. But all of these songs are very good songs.
The traditional song, “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” was one you hadn’t even heard before.
No, I hadn’t heard that. T Bone brought some good things to the session, but I had never heard that one. He brought a Bob Wills song I had never heard. I thought I’d heard all the Bob Wills songs, but “Gotta Walk Alone” is an obscure Bob Wills song that I had never heard.
You included Hank Williams’ “House of Gold” on the album and have said it helped get you through some hard times. What is it about his songs that have the power to heal?
Well, songs like “House of Gold” … it’s just pure Hank Williams. No one sings those like Hank did, but I sure love to try.
Is there a type of music that you wouldn’t touch these days?
Oh, I don’t know. There are probably lots of different things. … I’m just now aware yet.
You had carpal tunnel surgery a few years back. How is your hand doing?
The hand’s doing better. I’ve got a rotator cuff that’s torn, and it’s cutting down on my golf but … .
There was a lot of speculation about your reasons for releasing the album on 4/20. Is this a coincidence?
Well, you know, I wasn’t even aware of a 4/20 kind of the release date. I never put anything together — because I’m usually kind of slow on things like that — but I think it’s funny.
A district attorney in North Carolina is planning to prosecute some of your band members for possession of moonshine and marijuana. That’s kind of got to be disappointing.
Well, yeah it’s very disappointing. … To have a little moonshine, in North Carolina, I thought they put that in baby bottles. I didn’t know that was a problem.
We’ve been hearing rumors that you’re going to do a movie with Johnny Knoxville. Is that happening?
We’re certainly talking about one together. And that’d be great. I love Johnny. We’d have a lot of fun.
Anything new to report about your constant touring?
Not really. I’m having fun playing. We played … in Vegas for all the broadcast people, and we had the band from Nashville there. That’s happening a few more times. I think we’re doing it in L.A. and New York. I’m looking forward to it because these guys are very good.
And T Bone will be doing some performances with you, right?
He’s great musician, and any time he’s around, you feel a little better because you feel like he’s got your back. I’m glad to know he’s in the studio or on the stage or anything.
portrait: Julian Schnabel
by: Stephen Mooallem
WILLIE NELSON: Outlaw, legend, Countryman, Rastafarian? It’s been a long and tempestuous road for music’s braided troubadour, and with a big-time movie, an old-time tour, and a good-time reggae record all on the go, he’s still the wildest ace in the deck.
Stephen Mooallem: So, this reggae record you’ve done, Countryman [Lost Highway], has been nearly a decade in the making.
Willie Nelson: Yeah. It started around 10 years ago when don Was and I went to Jamaica to see Chris Blackwell, who was the head of Island Records at the time. He had wanted us to do a reggae album, and we did one track, so we took it down to play it for him. He liked it, but I also took a copy of a CD I’d just produced called Spirit, and he liked that, too, so he said, “Let’s put that out now, then we’ll put the reggae record out later.” Meantime, the company had some shake-ups, so Chris moved into another spot, and the reggae album just lay around for a long time.
SM: Is reggae music something you’ve been into for a long time?
WN: No. When I first heard it, there was way too much rhythm for me. It took me a while to realize that they were doing something with all that rhythm and not just banging. So once I was able to figure out what was going on, I discovered how well country songs could adapt themselves to reggae rhythms.
SM: Why did you think they would adapt well? Were there similarities in any way?
WN: I tried doing my song “Undo the Right” in reggae style, and it turned out so well that I felt I could do any country song an put reggae rhythms behind it. Then these musicians told me that reggae started from people in Jamaica listening to music from United States radio. The people there had fiddles and guitars but no drums, so they added their own rhythms to what they were hearing. They swore that’s where reggae came from.
GM: How did you pick the songs for Countryman?
WN: A friend of mine told me I couldn’t do a reggae album without “The Harder They Come” and “Sitting in Limbo,” so I did those. Then I did a Johnny Cash song called “I’m a Worried Man.” When he found out I was doing a reggae album, he played me his song, and I said, “Yeah, that’d be good.” Then on the rest of them, I used a lot of my old songs — just country songs that I’d written back in the ’60s and ’70s.
SM: Was it hard waiting for this record to come out?
WN: Oh, yeah. But it’s the record business, so everything is different and strange. [laughs]
GM: You’re also in the new Dukes of Hazzard movie. How was that experience?
WN: Exceptionally good. Movies come along so rarely that when they do it’s kind of like a vacation. You pull the bus in there, and you stay for a week or two, and you get to see a lot of great people every day.
GM: You play Uncle Jesse in the movie.
WN: Most of my scenes are with Wonder Woman.
GM: Oh, Lynda Carter. Who does she play?
WN: She plays my girlfriend.
GM: Very nice.
WN: Yeah. She’s a great gal.
SM: Do you still like being on the road?
WN: Yes, I do. I enjoy being able to hang out during the day and not having anything to do until the nighttime. But I do run and try to stay in shape. With the way I abuse myself in the nighttime, I have to do something the next morning to at least even it out.
SM: Do you still keep late nights.
WN: No, I don’t really. A lot of the old things I used to do, I don’t do anymore. I don’t drink much anymore, so I have no reason to wake up feeling bad.
SM: Did you ever think when you were starting out that you would still be touring and playing music at this point in your life? What keeps you interested?
WN: Every day is a challenge, for one thing. And it keeps me off the streets. It keeps me from getting into trouble, because I don’t know how to do days off that well. For me, being out on the road, when you’ve got something to do every day, is good therapy. And my boys are playing with me, and they are just incredible musicians, so it’s fun to have them around.
SM: Do yout hinkyour sons are going to become musicians as well?
WN: No doubt. It just depends on how quick their mom will let them hit the road. She’s very interested in keeping them in school long enough to learn how to take care of the business part of it. I am, too, because i learned mainly by making mistakes. I started out playing in bands when I was around 8 or 9 years old, living in Abbott, Texas. I was living with my grandmother, who raised me. I’d play around town, in school and church and everything, and she said, “That’s all f ine, but I don’t ever want you to go on the road.” So there was a little old club down in West, Texas, about six miles south of Abbott. I went down there one night and played with a bohemian polka band. Nobody heard me, but I made $8. When I got home, my grandmother was a little upset. She said, “You promised me you wouldn’t go on the road.” Six miles away was “on the road” to her.
SM: What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever learned?
WN: Be careful what you say, and be careful what you promise, and be sure you’re able to do what you say you’ll do.
SM: Do you have a philosophy then about, how to go about things?
WN: Yes: Fortunately, we’re not in control.
by Robert Digiacomo
Atlantic City Press
Willie Nelson likes telling jokes. He’s included plenty of them in his new book “The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes” (Random House), a sequel of sorts to his autobiography “Willie.”
“The Facts of Life” is a compilation of anectdotes from the road, song lyrics surveying Nelson’s career, and, of course, his jokes, which fall into basic categories: dirty, as the book’s title suggests, and the dumb blond variety.
The bearded, ponytailed singer/songwriter — as well known in the last decade for his Farm Aid benefits and tax battles with the Internal Revenue Service as for his music — wasn’t worried about offending his readers, though.
“I was married to a blond for a long time and I have a blond daughter,” says Nelson, who is appearing at 7 p.m., Sunday, January 27 at the Tropicana. “Most of the blond jokes I’ve heard from them. I don’t think the blondes are offended. I don’t think they get half of them.”
All joking aside, Nelson, who has written the lyrics to ‘Crazy,’ ‘Hellow Walls,’ ‘On the Road Again’ and ‘Always on My Mine,’ among hundreds of others, uses the book’s 202 pages most effectively as a showcase for his songwriting.
“I think songs on paper — words on paper without the melodies — have a different impact and a different impression,” says Nelson, who was recently inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. “I wanted to see if mine came off just as well…. as they did with melodies.”
For his newly released album “The Great Divide” (Lost Highway) though, nelson took a different tack. He wrote only the title cut, choosing instead to record a collection of songs by other writers.
The album has been likened to Santana’s ‘Supernatural’ in its multigenerational assemblage of behind-the-scenes talent.
Among its 12 cuts are three songs by matchbox twenty’s Rob Thomas, who co-wrote the hit ‘mooth’ for Santana, as well as tune by longtime Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin and Cyndi Lauper (a cover of ‘Time After Time’).
Making guest appearances are Sheryl Crow, Lee Ann Womack, Kid Rock, Brian McKnight, Alison Krauss and Bonnie Raitt.
“It was all part of the information I had — it’s hard to disregard a guy who just sold 10 million albums,” Nelson says of his working with Rob Thomas. “Naturally, that was there, but it wasn’t the main reason I did it. I like the way he produced and what he did with matchbox twenty. It wasn’t just for the Santana success, but that was in the corner of my mind.”
The Country Music Hall of Famer says he relied heavily on producer Matt Serletic to assemble the writers and material.
“I tried not to get in his way,” Nelson says. “I believe if you have enough faith in a guy to say ‘produce me,’ you ought to let him do it. I looked forward to seeing what those guys would come up with.”
Despite the mix of writers, the album manages to make a personal statement about reaching a certain stage in your life.
“I think a lot of the songs have to do with the more mature audience,” Nelson says. “There’s a lot fo songs like ‘This Face’ and ‘Recollection Phoenix’ that are talking about everyone aging a little bit.”
‘This Face’ is especially poignant, opening with: ‘This face is all I hav worn n and lived in/Lines beneath my eyes, they’re like old friends/ and this old heart’s been beaten up/ My ragged soul, it’s had things rough. In fact, the emotions were so raw that Nelson wasn’t sure he wanted to record it.
“I wasn’t sure it might be calling too much attention to something, or people might think I was going for sympathy or something,” he explains.
Given the tilt of some of the material, Nelson’s label has high expectations the album will reach beyond a country audience to achieve crossover success.
For his first collection of new material in five years, Nelson has switched labels within Universal, from Island Def Jam to Lost Highway.
The new label not too coincidentally also released the hugely successful soundtrack to the move “O Brother, Where Art Though.”
“I wasn’t sure about it,” Nelson says of the change. “They convinced me Lost Highway was a good label. I started hearing good things about them. They had done the ‘O Brother Where Art Though’ record. Well, I said, ‘nothing wrong with that’ — it was like the Santana thing.”
The new label’s enthusiastic backing has helped to gain crucial radio support for Nelson, who, along with Waylon Jennings and Tompall Glaser, in the 1970s became known as one of country’s outlaws — traditional country artists who were ignored by the Nashville establishment.
“I think it’s a compliment to be called an outlaw, a guy trying to be independent and do his own thing,” says Nelson, whose first single is the duet ‘Mendocino County Line’ with Womack. “I know there’s a lot of them out there trying to do it. The opposition is probably as strong today or maybe stronger than when I first started singing.”
“I’ve been talking the last week to countles country music radio stations — they’re all waiting for The Great Divide, and I expect it will get more play. This is one of those cases where the record company is really behind it.”
Having yet another new release makes choosing his set list for his live shows that much more difficult.
And there’s likely to be more Nelson music in the near future — the versatile performer has four other albums in the can: reggae and jazz releases, as well as tribute albums to Hank Williams and Ray Price.
“Every night I do a lot of the older songs and a lot of newer song,” Nelson says. “When I do an album, I add them to the show. I have to figure out where to drop. It’s always hard to decide.”
by Jason Whitely
WINNIE, Texas — With a population of 3,400, almost everyone in this Chambers County town 60 miles east of Houston turned out recently when Willie Nelson paid a visit.
For at least 90 minutes a night, several times a week, Willie Nelson is in front of an audience somewhere. News 8 went on the road with him as well for a candid conversation with the music icon who turns 80 years old in April.
WFAA: “Are you smoking any more or less marijuana these days?”
WILLIE: “I think so (laughs). I think you nailed it right there.”
He’s approaching a big birthday but not counting the calendar.
WILLIE: “I’ve gotten to do a lot of things I’ve wanted to do.”
WFAA: “Anything you haven’t done?”
WILLIE: “If there is, I don’t remember! (laughs)!”
Nelson has recorded with everyone from Snoop Dogg to Barbra Streisand, has seven Grammys, 200 albums, and a new one called “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” due out within weeks.
If his legacy isn’t already established, he said he hasn’t given it much thought.
WILLIE: “Oh, I don’t know. I’m 80 years old practically now. So fifteen years from now, probably nobody will give a damn. ‘Willie who?’”
Willie Nelson is modest and humble.
He performs in New Balance tennis shoes and stays in shape cycling and with Tae Kwon Do.
WFAA: “You always seem so optimistic and so positive. What upsets Willie Nelson?”
WILLIE: “I like the way things are going. I have a positive attitude about the future. I have always — I haven’t always, I take that back — somewhere along the way, I decided that it’s better to think positive than negative. That was a huge turnaround for me.”
Coming up on 80, Willie Nelson has no plans to retire. But if there’s a second generation of music in this family it’s his 24-year-old son Lukas, already a dynamic musician in his own right.
“When I was young, probably 10 or 11, I asked my dad what he wanted for his birthday and he said, ‘I want you to learn how to play a guitar,’” Lukas recalled.
Lukas can sound a lot like Willie, but his talent on the guitar is much more complex. During one song while opening for his father, Lukas pulled the electric guitar up to his face and started playing it with his teeth.
Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn influenced Lukas. But the 24-year-old doesn’t discount his dad’s direction.
“He was also very helpful guitar-wise,” Lukas added. “He said, ‘Lukas, you’re good.’ — I must have been acting up — he said, ‘Lukas, you’re good… but you’re not that good.’”
WFAA: “You said you wouldn’t allow them on stage if they weren’t good.”
WILLIE: “If they weren’t good, no.”
Willie Nelson is the patriarch of pop country, the elder statesman of cool, and approaching 80 he still lives the life he loves.
Mother Earth News
Farm Aid’s Founder: Willie Nelson
It’s midwinter in Tampa, Florida, and as usual the weather is warm going on stifling. Willie Nelson really needs the air conditioner humming peacefully in his mobile home away from home, the Silver Eagle Honeysuckle Rose.
In his own, quiet, careful way, Willie’s all business today. Waiting in the cool, dark comfort of the bus for the horde of people his presence will draw to town tonight, he’s working hard: poring over snapshots of himself and his sister Bobbie outside the Abbott, Texas, church in which they learned to sing, for the cover of a genuine hard-core Christian mail-order gospel album; making little decisions about the set he and his band of honky-tonk gypsies will play tonight; ordering up a carefully nutritious chicken dinner from the kitchen bus that travels with his five-vehicle caravan, then forgetting to eat it; talking business with little haste or waste of words or energy, on the radio telephone at his elbow.
The business concerns the usual megastar matters — movie promotion, investment opportunities, the touring schedule, a $1.5 million book contract — but also something seemingly out of place in this context: the Farm Aid cause, Mr. Nelson’s foray into public service. Cocooned amid Tampa’s concrete consumerism, the former Bible salesman, and latter-day multimillionaire is taking time to help the family farmers of his country fight back against government policy, big business and the economics of scale.
There is something rather special about Willie Nelson. It was he, after all, who united the rednecks and the hippies and the surburbanites of the 1970s in appreciation of a style of country music considered both archaic and impossibly uncommercial by the Nashville powers-that-were. Likewise his image — a lovely blend of longhair, cowboy, rebel, hardcore party legend and wise old man — is suggestive.
It’s no wonder he’s such an institution. You can look up to some entertainers (Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Paul McCartney), but Willie invites involvement, not distance. The dominant element of his stare — a thoroughly savvy serenity — is mighty trustworthy.
That invitation to trust must have been part of his image all along. Certainly it was during his late teenage years, when he was already trying to get ahead in the world by promoting dance concerts throughout east Texas, earning his percentage from acts like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Milton Brown and the Brownies, Spade Cooley, and the legendary Ernest Tubb while he watched from the wings and learned the ropes. It also impressed the folks in the Nashville big leagues after Willie had decided to forgo his studies for the Baptist ministery in favor of a full-time career in the hillbilly highway nightlife; you need a lot more than even the kind of devasting song-writing talent Willie possessses to become a primary source for the Music Row hit machine the way he did in pretty short order.Â And when eventually his ambitions outstripped what Nashville was willing to offer and he made his legendary end-run around Music Row, his aura so impressed the college hippioes of Austin, texas, that not too long after he’d been among them they began to buy posters proclaiming, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and Willie,” and to enshrine them in their places of fun and meditation.
A Nashville executive describes his experience: “It was amazing, just wonderful,” says the Nashville executive. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Neil Reshen (Willie’s manager) was so bad — I mean, you really wanted to have the man arrested; the secretaries used to run for the bathroom when he showed up. But when you talked to Willie, it was like negotiating with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and you were so relieved you didn’t have to deal with Neil that you gave Willie whatever he wanted. But, of course, what Neil wanted and what Willie wanted were the same things. They were working the good cop, bad cop routine, the oldest con in the world, but they did it so well you didn’t realize what was going on till it was all over. And by then you’d done a deal you’d never have even dreamed of otherwise. Willie just outplayed me, and he ended up getting what he really deserved. And all that means is he’s smarter than I am. He just has to turn that smile on you, and you’re hooked. But now I take him seriously. He may be beautiful, but he’s not dumb.”
Such a man — with his hard-earned combination of country compassion, common sense and carefully honed business skills – would have been the perfect choice if American farmers had gone looking for a leader in their hour of need. That’s not how it happened, though. It was Willie who went unbidden to the farmers.
September 1985 was when it began, in Champaine, Illinois, as a notion kicked around between Willie and his crew in the wake of Bob Geldof’s Life Aid marathon. As Willie recalls, in the low-to-vanishing key for which he is renowned, “I have no idea how it got started. I was just sitting in the bus….”
Like a large proportion of the projects Willie judges worthy, the 14-hour Farm Aid benefit moved from the idea to action with little further ado. It was set up with minimum fuss and executed with slightly less toll and craziness than usually attends a mammoth outdoor music festival featuring multiple major entertainers. (Which figures. After more than a decade of organizing and hosting his legendary Fourth of July picnics, Willie is perhaps the world’s premier mastermind of such events.) When it was all over — when Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Alabama, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferosn, Bon Jovi, Joni Mitchell, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, Neil Young, Merle Haggard, John Cougar Mellencamp and some 45 other acts had done their thing and the TV viewers who watched them had sent in their donations — Willie and his crew suddenly found themselves in temporary possession of a great deal of donated money.
That came as something of a shock. “I figured people would respond,” says Willie, “but not nearly as well as they did, and as all that money started rollin’ in, I had to rethink my position. I realized I had to do a lot more than make some calls and go out and sing. My name was attached to that money, so by necessity I had to take responsibility and decide that I would be the one who writes the checks. So that’s what happens, nothing goes out without my signature on it. And so far, I know that every quarter of that money has gone to benefit the family farmer in some way.”
After Farm Aid One in Illinois and Farm Aid Two, held in Austin on the Fourth of July, 1986, the approximate total for which Willie has taken responsibility is $14 million.
And Willie doesn’t just sign the checks, he approves them.
“He makes the final decision,” says Caroline Mugar, the director of Farm Aid (Willie is Chairman of the Board). “We just do the research on what’s going on, who’s doing what where, what they hope to do and how they’ve used the money they’ve already gotten, and we make recommendations. Then Willie decides.”
by Mark Hinson
The Red Headed Stranger is no stranger to Tallahassee.
Willie Nelson has performed at the Civic Center, Ruby Diamond Concert Hall and The Moon several times over the past four decades. When he paid a visit to the Seven Days of Opening Nights in 2005, Nelson allegedly spent his pre-concert hours swapping stories and sipping whiskey with Florida State’s then-president T.K. Wetherell and visiting movie star Burt Reynolds in the president’s office.
The Nelson shows at Ruby Diamond Concert Hall and the Civic Center (in the mid-‘80s) were rather polite affairs compared to Nelson’s last three visits to The Moon. During Nelson shows in the nightclub, the beer flows freely and the bars are turned to wide open as Nelson and his band transform the club into a cow chip-kicking Texas roadhouse for the evening. It is the equivalent of seeing Willie Nelson in his natural habitat, somewhere along the shores of the great Whiskey River.
Even though Nelson is turning 80 in April (yes, 80), he shows no signs of slowing down. In 2012, he released his “Heroes” album, which included covers of songs by everyone from Tom Waits to Coldplay. His memoir “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From the Road” was published in 2012, too.
Here is what Nelson had to say about songwriting in his latest book: “I will never say anything to discourage a songwriter; but if you are a real songwriter, nothing I could say would discourage you, anyhow. If my opinion could change your mind about being a songwriter, then you weren’t really a songwriter to begin with and I would have done you a favor by making you look for a different career.”
And, man, has he written some great songs. They include “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “Hello Walls,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “On the Road Again” and the truly immortal “Crazy.” Nelson has landed 19 songs to No. 1 on Billboard’s country charts, including “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Blue Skies,” “Georgia on My Mind” and “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.”
Nelson is out on the road with his never-ending tour and was not available for a chat with Limelight, but he did talk to the Democrat’s sister paper, The Arizona Republic, when “Heroes” was released. The Republic’s pop music critic Ed Masley caught up with Nelson, who was kicked back in his famed tour bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, on the way to Corpus Christi. Here is a large portion of the interview that Masley conducted while Nelson was on the road again:
Question: How did the idea of an album (“Heroes”) with so many other voices come together for you?
Answer: Well, you know, it’s not a new idea. Me and Waylon (Jennings) did it back 20, 30 years ago in Nashville, and it kind of started a trend. But really, even before us, Red Foley and Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn all used to sing together and make records together. I always thought it was a good idea to have different singers get together.
Q: How did you go about choosing the people you brought in?
A: Oh, it was just kind of off the top of my head. I wrote a song called “Hero,” and I wrote it about (singer) Billy Joe Shaver because, you know, he’s one of my heroes. So is Kris Kristofferson. Ray Price. Sheryl Crow. All the guys on there are heroes of mine.
Q: Snoop Dogg sounds pretty good on “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
A: (Laughs) That’s one of the more popular ones. I do it every night. I close the show with it.
Q: What appeals to you about doing a Coldplay song or that Pearl Jam song you do on this album?
A: Well, the Pearl Jam song, (my son) Lukas brought it to me and said, “What do you think?” I said, “It’s great.” The other one was a commercial for Chipotle, that restaurant chain. I really wasn’t that familiar with the history of the song. It just seemed like a good song, and they wanted me to sing it for the commercial. Then, it caught on pretty good, and they decided to put it on the album.
Q: Do you find that your approach to writing songs has changed much through the years? (more…)