Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Five Questions for Willie Nelson @Barnes & Noble

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

by: Lauren Passell

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

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

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

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

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

BN:  How is it different?

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

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

WN:  I like adventure and action books.

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

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


Read article here:

“Interview” with Willie Nelson, by Woody Harrelson

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

photo by: Shelly Katz
by:  Woody Harrelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILLIE NELSON: I’m in Biloxi, Mississippi.

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

NELSON: Around Easter. Will you be there?

HARRELSON: That depends. When is Easter?

NELSON: First week in April, I think.

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

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

HARRELSON: I got a lot to win back.

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

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

NELSON: Don’t tell them about that.

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

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Yeah, really.

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

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

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

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

HARRELSON: This was around the Depression?

NELSON: Yeah, I was born in 1933.

HARRELSON: Do you have any memories of the Depression?

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

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

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

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

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

HARRELSON: Was he a disciplinarian?

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Hustle! I had that hustle.

HARRELSON: When did you get your first guitar?

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

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

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

HARRELSON: I can’t imagine you taking orders.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HARRELSON: You were just driving back and forth?

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

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

NELSON: Oh, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Lord willing! [both laugh]

HARRELSON: But officially, you have how many?

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

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

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

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

Read entire article, see more photos:

Willie Nelson on Late Night with Seth Meyers

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Willie Nelson on CBS This Morning

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

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

Willie Nelson on the View (May 6, 2015)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Willie Nelson: Vagabond and Icon (by Michael Corcoran)

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s Willie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At home in the crowd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s so Willie.

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


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

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

See Willie Nelson on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart tonight! (5/5/15)

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015


Willie Nelson is a guest on the Daily Show tonight, and will talk about his new book, “It’s a Long Story:  My Life So Far”, among other things.


Willie Nelson is a singer-songwriter, actor, activist and the author of “It’s a Long Story: My Life.” He has recorded over 60 studio albums, including “Songbird” (2006), “Across the Borderline” (1993), “Honeysuckle Rose” (1980), “Stardust” (1978), “Red Headed Stranger” (1975) and “Shotgun Willie” (1973). Nelson is a seven-time Grammy Award winner, and he has received American Music Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards and Country Music Association Awards. Nelson appeared in over 30 films and co-authored several books. He is one of the co-founders of Farm Aid, and he is also involved in activism for the use of biofuels and the legalization of marijuana.

Willie Nelson on NPR

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

It's a Long Story

The first thing you notice when you get on ‘Willie Nelson’s tour bus is a pungent aroma. Parked outside a gigantic casino and performance venue in Thackerville, Okla., Nelson offers NPR’s David Greene a joint, which Greene declines. Nelson says he understands.

At 82, Nelson is still touring the country, still an advocate for legalized marijuana — he’s even started a new company to sell weed in Colorado — and has a new memoir out called It’s A Long Story. The country legend recently spoke to Greene about the mystery of Willie Nelson, how ex-wives are really “additional wives” and why no one can tell him what to do.

“A friend of mine once said, ‘It’s my mouth, I’ll haul coal in it if I want to,’ ” Nelson says. “I thought, ‘That’s pretty cool. I’ll use that.’ I don’t think anybody should tell me or you or anybody what to do. I think the Bible says it’s not what goes into your mouth that counts; it’s what comes out.”

Producers would tell you your phrasing is off. What does that mean?

It means change producers.

Touché. What does that mean, your phrasing is unique?

If you’ve got to explain that, you’ve got the wrong one. There are so many beats in a measure, you have so much time to get in so many beats, some people lay back to the last minute. … Some do a beat every quarter. However you feel it is the way you should do it.  Sinatra’s best asset was his ability to phrase. He’s my favorite singer. It’s how you say it.

I did a lot of reading before coming to meet you. People who know you very well say you remain a mystery. The true Willie Nelson doesn’t come out easily. We know this whole massive catalog of songs; can we know you through that catalog? Do you remain a mystery?

I don’t know … I loved every song Hank Williams wrote. Doesn’t mean I knew him any better. Music says a lot about you. I’m guessing … maybe so? Maybe my music does tell stories I wouldn’t be able to tell any other way unless it was through a song.

Amazing story you tell in the book: You land in jail in the Bahamas because of your love of pot. Two days later, you’re at the White House having dinner with President Carter. That evening, you said a friend of yours, a White House insider, knocks on your door, takes you on a tour and lights up a joint.

Hrm. Were you there?

No, I just read the book.

[Laughs.] I didn’t know I put that in the book.

No. No. Most of the women in my life knew that they were taking a big chance with a guitar player, anywhere. Not that that’s an excuse. Guitar players do like women. That’s why we got into the business; we like girls. That can lead to trouble if you’re planning family life. Which I did. I have four wives, kids, grandkids, I love them all. There’s no such thing as ex-wives; there’s only additional wives.

I see there are photos behind you, [including] one of your late son, Billy …

Oh, there he is, with his daughter, my granddaughter. There he is on Scout, his pony. Another one back here.

He died a very early death. You outlived a son. You lost people you played on stage with. You talk about Jennings, Cash, … How does that loss around you impact you and your life today?

Me and Merle were talking, ain’t many of us left.

Merle Haggard.

We were chuckling about that. Where’d everybody go? The fact he and I are still here is probably a miracle in itself.

Raelyn Nelson talks about new single, new video, and asking Papa Willie for Advice

Monday, May 4th, 2015


The Raelyn Nelson Band from Nashville released a new single earlier this month, “Brother”, and the song has been exciting  everyone who hears it.  The band’s self-made accompanying music video has been burning up the internet.  Impossible to watch it just once — you just have to hit re-play.

The song’s got a familiar country theme about a cheating heart,  a somebody done somebody wrong song.  But the lively hip young RNB twists up the plot  when the girl calls her brother and tells him about the cheating boyfriend.  And the band’s creative video takes you along on the chase as the boyfriend is on the run from the brother.  I said it was exciting!

The RNB is made up of Raelyn Nelson, Jonathan Bright [JB], Preachie Rutherford and Paulie Simmons, from Nashville.   Last year they released their self-titled debut album, a collection of original material written by the band.  The album includes the sweetest duet with Raelyn and her grandfather, “The Moon Song”.    The single, “Brother”,  and their debut album is available for purchase at the band’s website store.

Raelyn kindly gave me some time on the phone last week from her home in Nashville to talk about the new song, “Brother”, the video, and life in general.

LL:  I’m really enjoying your new song, “Brother”.  It’s so good.  What’s the story behind that song?

RN:  Well, [laughs] the story is kind of boring.  I was watching a show on television where this girl’s boyfriend was cheating on her.  And so she called her older brothers and told them about it.  I watched that, and I thought, “Well, that could be fun.”  I couldn’t think of any song written about someone calling their big brother when their significant other cheats on them.   I had some lyrics and a melody I’d been working on and once I saw that TV show, I started writing it down and putting it all together.   Then I got with JB [Jonathan Bright] to finish it and he always rocks it up for me.

LL:  Your music video for “Brother” is so entertaining. I can’t stop watching it.   Is it true, your band made the whole thing yourself?

RN:  Yes, we did everything ourselves.  It grew from us just sitting around one day and throwing out ideas.  JB had just got a Go-Pro (small, mountable video camera), so we knew we wanted to use that for a project.  But we didn’t know who we wanted the person to be – should we film it from the perspective of the boyfriend or the brother?”  And the scenes of the band performing are from our little studio, our regular band space.  Believe it or not, we did that take over thirty times, to get it right, to get the timing right.  And then JB was running around with the Go-Pro, playing the video on his phone for the FaceTime part.”

LL:  Did you expect the video to be so good?  Or to be so popular?

RN:  It was so cool and fun working on it together.  When we were making it we felt like it was something special.  We were thinking, “If this comes out the way it is in our brains, if this video comes out like that, it will be awesome.  It was so exciting watching it come together.  People say that the music video world is really going down and losing importance, but on the internet, it’s huge.  If you have a really good song, and a good idea, a video can go viral.

And I got to use my young-ins in the video. The boys are twins, so they were the brothers.  One of them runs up and swings the bat, and the other one stands with the bat at the end.  My daughter was riding the scooter in the video.  I home school them, and so one day it was like, “Okay youngins, today we’re having acting class.”  It was great.

LL:  You and Jonathan Bright have a very creative relationship.  How did you meet him and your other band mates?

RN:  I was so lucky to meet JB.  We met originally through a mutual friend in Nashville.  JB is a producer and a long time musician, and I went over to his place to record some of my music.  We decided to try and write some music together and we really liked what we were coming up with.

We wanted to do a project together and we thought, ‘How do we do this?”   He had always done rock, so he was thinking about doing a country project.  I have these country melodies and he has that rock background.

But when we started working on the project, and listening to what we’d done, JB said, ‘Let’s get a combo together and see what happens, so he grabbed his Defense Wins Championships (DWC) bandmates and we’ve been playing together since 2012!”

LL:  I like the term that someone in the Nashville paper coined for your sound, “Country Garage Rock”.  Do you like that?

RN:  Yeah, our music kind of naturally grooved into this rock country thing because of our individual inspirations.  Basically, I am country and they rock.  And I get to sing my country melodies louder over their guitars, and I really like what we do. I’m proud of it.

Everyone might not get it.  Papa Willie’s fans, the traditional country music lovers might not get into it.   Or the punk rock music fans may not be into the country thing.  But somehow it works, and I think there is a little bit of something in there for everyone, to catch their attention.


You can also purchase the band’s album here:

LL:   You released your album last year, and now you are giving us a new single, with a video.

RL:  Yeah, we’ve decided to do something new this year.  Instead of working several months recording an album and then working to promote it for over a year, we’re going to periodically release singles.  “Brother” is the first of our new singles that we are going to release, along with the music video.  This is something I’d like to see my favorite artists do, too. Us fans want new music all the time!!!

LL:      Your music video went viral.   Is social media major part of your marketing plan?

RL:     We think social media works well with our plan to release a new single and music video every month.  “Brother” and the video has proven that it might work.  I am not saying we are not ever going to make an album, or ever going to sign with a music label, but right now, the way things are going works for us.  We want to be ahead of the game and keep doing it.

And we have made good connections, like Rolling Stone, who we met at Farm Aid.  They have been so good to us and receptive.  When we finished making the video, I e-mailed the link, and said, “Hey, check out this video.”  And then I heard back, ‘Yes! We are going to run it.’  We are so lucky to have those connections. The Rolling Stone Country guys are good people.

We have all these ideas, but we don’t always have the money to carry them out.  It’s fun and challenging to be innovative and try to figure how to carry out these ideas on a budget. “How am I going to do this without the money?”  We just have to be creative and figure out how to make new music and promote it, and how to make it happen.   If you make enough noise, people notice you.  With the internet, people want new music now, now now.  With the singles, we can give a lot of attention to each song.   And then we can get it right out to our fans, along with a music video, too.  And a special tee shirt!

If you work at it, you are feeding your music to the people, and each song gets more life.  I take a lot of time writing these songs.  I am not a quick song writer.   We spend a lot of time on each song before we put it out for the world to hear.  We want to highlight each song instead of just combining it in an album.  I think it’s a modern way to do things in the music industry.  It’s the new path.

Artists can show their fans what they have been up to for the past couple months. You can see what the artists are doing, new videos, and new music.  And they wouldn’t have to do a reality show, or be on social media constantly to try to keep in touch.  They can share their craft, their art directly to fans.

We want to be inspiring to other people, too, people who want to do it themselves.  You can do it.  Just get out there and do it.  It takes a lot of work, but it if it’s your thing and its fun – it’s not really not work at all.

LL:  Do you like writing and collaborating with others?

RL:  It’s a special thing to be able to write with someone.  JB and I have a good friendship connection so we can say, ‘I don’t like that.’   Or, ‘I really like that.’.  It’s a special relationship that doesn’t come around so often, especially in a song-writing town like Nashville.

I get stuck sometimes when I write songs.  And it’s nice to be able to call someone up and say, “Hey, I’ve got this idea, what do you think about this?.’  I write with friends, too, because when you’re a song writer and you’re hanging out with your friends that are song writers, somehow there’s always a song started before the visit is over with but I usually write with JB for our RNB project.  We do a lot of it over voice memo. I voice memo it and send it to him, and he will voice memo something and send it back.  Looking back to when we first met and started writing, I see how JB taught me how to pull pieces together to create something more.  He’s taught me a lot and I am learning so much from playing with these guys.


LL:  Do you ever call your grandpa for advice?

RL:   Yeah, I call him if I get to a place where I am stuck, or have a question or need to talk to him.  I was on his bus with him in New Orleans when our EP came out, and got to talk to him about it.  He told me not to worry about trying to get a label right now, just continue to record on my own.  He encouraged me to put out music the way I liked and to use social media to get the word out to friends and fans.

I remember, the first time I performed  by myself, I wasn’t in a band, and I messed up.  I texted Papa Willie afterwards because I was so bummed and told him I messed up the song, I stopped in the middle and said, ‘Shit’ to everyone over the mic.   And I had to start over.  Papa Willie made me feel better immediately; he texted back, “That’s what I do, I just start the song over.  Just pick it up and start all over.’  And then he told me to continue writing and to keep getting back up there and so I do.


LL:  What’s it like being onstage with your family at the end of a Willie Nelson concert?  The finale is always a highlight for us fans, but what’s it like for you?

RN:  It is always a surreal moment.   It’s not even a physical thing, it’s a spiritual thing.   You look around and you are surrounded by your family, singing.  And you think, ‘This is what we are supposed to be doing on this earth right now, this is what we were all born to do.

I get the same experience every time I listen to the “Moon Song”, the song with Papa Willie.  When I hear his guitar, I think, ‘This is right where I am supposed to be in the entire universe.”   I love my family.  They are really good people.   They are genuinely good and positive.  Like my Papa Willie, I don’t know how any one person can be on everyone’s side.  How can he be for every single person, and people know that and feel it.  I am so grateful for my family.

LL:  What’s it like living in Nashville?  Is everyone in the music business, or are there doctors and lawyers and such?

RN:  [Laughs], yeah, there are a lot of other industries.  Nashville is a medical city, too, there are several great hospitals here.  But everywhere you turn you meet someone who is in the music business or who used to be in the business or they write music.  There are so many amazing musicians here.  And even if someone does work as a doctor or lawyer, they also play music or they’re married to someone who is.  Nashville is just that way.

LL:  How is your mother?  Is she still in Nashville?

RN:  Yes, my mother is still in Nashville.  She is well.  She helps me out a lot with the kids.  She keeps them for me when I have to go to the studio or if I have a show.  She is heavily involved in her ministry and her church.  I’m very proud of all of the good work she puts into each individual who comes into her ministry. The time she spends praying for each person is admirable. She’s an inspiration, a role model, and a teacher to me and I’m so grateful to have her as my mama.

I was born in Nashville.  My mom and dad met here.  Dad was traveling through town with Papa Willie and they stopped by the radio station where my mom worked as a promotion girl.  They fell in love and got married.  Papa Willie had a cabin in Ridgetop that we all stayed in when I was a baby;   I don’t live too far from there now.

LL:  Did you play a musical instrument in school?

RN:  Yes, I was in the HLHS String Band. I went to Hunters Lane High School and took the music career courses.  I joined the String Band playing rhythm guitar and I remember my song to sing was, ‘Rocky Top’ at our gigs.  I took voice lessons from several vocal coaches and guitar lessons from one of my best friend’s dad, and I was in the HLHS show choir.

But I don’t feel I got good at playing the guitar and ukulele until just the past few years.   My mom says I came into the world singing but I was always shy about performing in front of people.  I’ve gotten more comfortable, but as far as singing my own songs, that’s only been the past few years.  For me, it took getting up there and doing it over and over and I am now addicted to the feeling of being on stage and entertaining.

And having my youngins inspired me to sing and perform.  It wasn’t until after I had them that I got inspired with all these songs and started writing them down. When I look back at my adult life, I think, ‘If I didn’t have the kids, I could just go off and tour whenever I want.”  But I know, if I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t be doing this at all.  They inspired me so much at that time of my life. And now, they get to come along for the ride!

LL:  What do you do for fun?

RN:  My youngins and making music are my fun.  My whole life is home schooling them and my music life.  When they’re with their dad, I schedule time to write or spend time in the studio.  A friend of mine teaches yoga, and I try to take one of her classes each week.  Then my kids and I do yoga together every day, its music and yoga before bedtime every night. On free nights, I go catch shows in town. There’s always a show going on and sometimes I know the people playing which is always a party. I like to watch other shows and get inspired. Hanging with family, making music, and watching Nashville’s finest musicians do their thing is my fun!!!!!


LL:  You and your Aunt Amy are frequently in the news, speaking out against abusive treatment to animals.  Is that a cause that’s always concerned you?

RN:  Auntie really opened my eyes to the abuse going on against animals.  I was completely ignorant until she started telling me things.  I was 18 when Amy moved to Tennessee, and we were the Nelson family in Tennessee at the time.  We would hang out a lot and she educated me.  Then, one day she said, “Do you want to go to DC with me?”  And I said, ‘Yes!’  I want to represent our family in such a positive way.  I still can’t believe animals are treated the way they are, and people should know about it. Raising awareness is the most important job of the Animal Activist and it’s the easiest part. Auntie and I started a non-profit called Willie’s Kids with the idea to incorporate humane education into school curriculum. If we teach humane practices to the children while they’re in school, the next generations will be more compassionate and humane in their decisions. I predict a more compassionate America in generations to come.  I predominately follow a vegetarian diet for humane considerations.

LL:  I love the ‘Pun with Raelyn’ videos.  Any chance for more installments?

RN:  Yes, we are going to bring Puns back.  It’s one of the things we just can’t get back to, because we are so busy working on other projects — songs we want to done…and videos.  I think I just need to say to JB, “”Hey, let’s do a Pun this week.”   We have a few ideas that we want to do that are going to be so good.

LL:  What was first concert you ever bought a ticket for?

RL:  Well, my first concert ever was Papa Willie concerts….I can’t even remember the first one, I just remember going to them. Paid my own way?  It would have been a Christian group.  My mom kept me pretty close to Christian music and old country.  Then, when I was a teenager, I rebelled a little and started listening to top 40 pop and hip hop was big at the time.  I remember going to an ‘NSync concert when I was 14…..the boy band era. I wore baby blue so Justin Timberlake would notice me in the sea of baby blue at the Bridgestone Arena (which was Gaylord Entertainment Center at the time)…needless to say, he did not.


You can get your shirt at the band’s store:

The tee shirts are so cool, too.  Who did the artwork?

My son Aiden drew the design on dry erase marker board we have.  He drew the whole group of us.  Then I took a picture of it, and JB said, ‘That’s an album cover or something!  Keep it!’.  Then I had Brody go write ‘Raelyn Nelson Band’ on top of it.  That was a couple of years ago.

LL:  Oh – I hear kids in the background!  They need mom.  Thanks so much for your time.  See you on the 4th of July!

RL:  Thank you.  See you in Texas!!!! You rock, Linda Banks.

Follow the band on Facebook here.


Teatro on Vinyl! And Liner Notes! — A Conversation with Willie Nelson and Daniel Lanois

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Willie_VinylWillie Nelson’s Teatro

Happy Record Store today!  I stood in line today at Bart’s Records in Boulder, and got lucky — I scored a copy of Willie Nelson’s Teatro album released on vinyl for Record Store Day 2015.   This is my favorite Willie Nelson album, even though you know I like them all.  Teatro  was originally released on cd-only in 1998 by Island Records, and that’s why it’s such a big deal that it is being made available on vinyl, gold vinyl!  I hope everyone gets to listen to this album.  Or buy it on cd.

 Here’s a track from the album:



On February 6, 2014, we were lucky enough to share a few minutes with Willie Nelson and Daniel Lanois, reminiscing about the good ol’ days of Teatro. Below is what unfolded. A big thank you to both Willie and Daniel, along with Seth Loeser, Meredith Louie, Henry Owings, Mark Rothbaum and Elaine Schock for making this possible.

— Matt Sullivan and Patrick McCarthy

WILLIE: Hey, Daniel. How you ‘doin?

DANIEL: Oh, Willie, I’m good. Nice to hear your voice. Are you on the road?

W: Yeah, we’re uh… somewhere out here. I think we’re in Oklahoma.

D: Right, right, right. Well, that’s good. Looks like we’re gonna put a little bit of life back into Teatro. That’s great, isn’t it?

W: Well, yeah. Heck yeah.

LIGHT IN THE ATTIC: To start, how’d the record come about?

W: Daniel, what do you remember about how it came about?

D: I’m sure Mr. Rothbaum was at the helm, but all business aside, when we decided to make the record, I wanted to make sure that Willie felt comfortable in the studio and that it did not feel like a usual recording session. I met Willie in Las Vegas, and we rode on his bus to California, where at the time I had the Teatro Recording Studios, an old cinema in Oxnard. We rode from Vegas, and Emmylou Harris joined us on the bus, and we went over some of the material on the bus.

I kept in touch with my crew back in California to make sure that the studio had a nice dance hall feeling because I talked with Willie on the bus, I said, “What was it like when you were getting started man?” He said, “Well, we were kind of a dance band, and people just were providing music for people on the weekends to dance to and have a nice time.”

And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to provide this tone for Willie? Have a kind of dance hall feeling in the place. So I set up three little stages — one for WIllie, one for Emmy, one for me. And then two drummers. It was a very beautiful, almost like a Cuban nightclub setting. And I think that really helped to set the tone of this album. Whatya think, Willie?

W: Yeah, that’s exactly it. And of course Emmylou was fantastic. We did a video, too. What song was the video, do you remember?

D: Well, we filmed the whole things with Wim Wenders.

W: Yeah, that’s right. Wenders.

D: It’s a beautiful film that goes with the whole thing. It never got aired a lot, but maybe we should try and knock on somebody’s door and say this is a good time to play the film. [laughs].

W:  You’re absolutely right.  Yeah, I think it deserves to have a chance out there.

D:  Yeah.  It was really a lovely, harmonious process.  I was happy to be on Willie’s bus.  We were just chillin’ and workin’ out the songs.  When I got to the destination, I made a decision to ask Willie to… the theatre had a nice parking lot, so there was plenty of room outside.  We sorta camped out outside, and Willie had his trailer there.  I just wanted to make sure that we didn’t burn out Willie, so I said to him, “Don’t even be in in the studio.  You stay out on the truck, and I’ll come out and get you, so that when you come in everything’s gonna be fresh.”  So I was rehearsing the band on the inside, and when I felt like the moment would strike, I’d go out and get Willie, and we’d get it in one or two takes.  [laughs]  We did that whole record in four days!

W:  Well, you know, when you’re having fun it don’t take long.

LITA:  Well said!  Willie, what are some of your memories of the album and the recording session?

W:  Well, I remember that we had some great rhythms there — I think two drummers and maybe a couple of bass players.  I’m not sure.  Who all played bass?  Did we have two or just one?

D:  No, no, no, Willie.  I played the bass.  I overdubbed the bass after!  So we had the two drummers, and then we had two keyboard players.  We had Aaron Embry, and then from Toronto a guy named Brian Griffiths on the guitar, the great slide player.  I think bass players must make too many mistakes, so I knew the arrangements, so I overdubbed the bass myself.

W:  Well, it turned out great.  I liked it.  I think it should have had a bigger run back there.  It was kinda quick — it came and went pretty quick, but maybe it’ll get another shot.

D:  Yeah, maybe it’ll get another shot.  And Willie, you’re absolutely right.  There was a very rhythmic foundation that we laid out which was petty sweet.  Those two great drummers, Victor Indrizzo and Tony Mangurian.  There was some kind of genius in inviting these two guys because one is a left-handed drummer and the other ne is a right-handed drummer, so they could sit at one big drum kit together and not get in anybody’s way!

[both laugh]

The one guy’s high hat is on the left, the other guy’s on the right.  it was pretty fucking funny.  But because they were literally sitting together, their rhythms were locked, so we had some very nice grooves going.  It’s hard to describe the full sensation of it.

W:  The theatre where we shot it, too, was perfect.  There was a great feel.  It was like a big nightclub or dance hall.

D:   Exactly.

LITA:  One of our favorite songs on the record is one that you wrote, Danel — the song, “The Maker.”  It’s a song that really captures the cinematic expansiveness of the album.

W:  I love, “The Maker.”

LITA:  It’s so cinematic and big.

D:  The good thing about “The Maker” is… I thought it was a good song for Willie because it gave him an opportunity to play with the phrasing.  The lyric lines are quite brief:  [sings] “Oh, deep water, black and cold like the night,” so it’s not a soaring melody.  It’s more of a standing melody, and I think that really suits Willie’s way of looking at vocal phrasing.  Willie, thanks for doing the song, man.

W:  Well, it was a lot of fun to sing.

LITA:  It’s been sixteen years now — what do you guys think of the record?  Do you feel it stands up?

W:  Definitely.  I’m just glad to see some folks payin’ attention to it again and thinkin’ about puttin’ it out there again.  It certainly deserves another shot.

D:  Is it sixteen years already?

LITA:  Yeah, 1998!

D:  Oh boy.  Well listen man, we have no shortage of passion and power and devotion to the music, s if an opportunity comes upt for us to go another rund sometime, Willie can count on me, how ’bout that?

W:  Well, you can count on me, too.  I’d love to do it.  Sounds like a good plan.

LITA:  That was our next question, so thank you!

D:  Well, we’re very driven by quality and magic.  I mean, we hope t get it… It helps when people are talented  [laughs], so we had a little bit f an advantage.  I think we had Mr. Nelsn in there on the vocals, so we had a pretty good chance.

LITA:  Any thoughts, Willie, on maybe performing the album live one of these days?

W:  Oh, that would be great.  I would be glad to do that sometime.  When it comes out, if we can promote it someway and showcase it, I think that would be a good idea.

LITA:  Maybe back at the theatre!  I think it’s for rent again. I eventually moved outta there.  It’s been a church since we had it, Willie, but I saw a “For Rent” sign on it, so…

LITA:  Well, the sound you guys got there was just magical.  We’re so thankful for your time and for your music.  You’ve brought a lot of happiness to us over the years, so thank you.

W:  Thank you very much.  It was good to hear from you, my friend.

D:  Willie, nice to hear your voice, and I’m looking forward to putting a little bit of juice back into Teatro, so if you get any additional ideas, gimme a call, ok?

W:  All right, same to you.

LITA:  Thanks so much.

D:  Thank you so much for your time, guys.


“In 1985 Willie Nelson insisted on making the farm crisis a national conversation.”

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

art by Amelia Bates

How do you prep for an interview with Willie Nelson?You read autobiography after autobiography and find yourself watching Grand Ole Opry when you should be reading one more autobiography.  You hold a meeting on whether it would be unprofessional to say “yes” to an offered joint or rude to say “no.” (You settle on “no” in order to avoid an interview full of questions like “Aren’t trees weird, Willie?”) You watch old interviews like a football coach reviewing rival teams’ tapes. You haggle with publicists and have a car packed and ready to meet his bus at their go-ahead. You review scribbled notes and polished questions.It’s hard to think of many celebrities as well-loved as Willie. “In a time when America is more divided than ever, Nelson could be the one thing that everybody agrees on,” wrote Patrick Doyle in a 2014 Rolling Stone profile.  When I told my rancher dad about my plans for an interview, he told me to ask Willie to play at his funeral. When I pointed out that dad will likely outlive ol’ Willie, he was silent for a while and then muttered, “Might have to work on that.”If you haven’t already guessed, this isn’t a story where I track down an American icon and squeeze life’s secrets, folksy wisdom, and a ditty or two from him. I did, however, get my interview. After months of buildup, I got Willie on the other end of the phone line for 20 minutes.

It was difficult to connect the wary, but kind, voice on the phone to the Willie Nelson of my youth. In my small Montana town, Willie was a living Western movie. We’d beg our parents for quarters in dusty bars to play songs like “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboyw.”  It was just a little funny and a little sad when some of us babies went off to become doctors and lawyers and such.

Similar to the love and mysticism we heap on Willie, we romanticize the hell out of agriculture, too. This isn’t to say they each haven’t earned their mythical reputations: Willie smoked pot on the roof of the White House and created an incredible body of music. Meanwhile, farmers are connected to nature and life and death in ways most of us can barely fathom from inside a cubicle.

But that romanticism only scratches at the surface of U.S. agriculture. In this series, I want to open a dialogue with the mid-size farmers who have largely been left out of the food conversation. If we continue to ignore them, our polarized ag economy will eventually force them to scale up — or off the land entirely.

I was knee-high when I went to a wheat farm auction in Eastern Montana with my farmer grandparents; I remember thinking it was going to be fun and feeling confused by the heavy mood brought on by neighbors buying up their old neighbors’ machinery.

No American farmer over the age of 40 will forget the low prices, high debt, and droughts that shook rural America in the ’80s. “In the 1930s, everyone in America suffered — urban people, the rich banker, the poor farmer. Everybody lost massively. Everybody was living close to survival. And it meant for kind of a national unity,”former Iowa Rep. Jim Leach (R) told PBS.  “With the farm crisis in the ’80s, basically it was only the farmer. And this meant the farmer was alone in an island of difficulty. And that is really something that eats at the soul sometimes deeper than being part of a more general phenomenon.”

But Willie insisted on making the farm crisis a national conversation. In 1985, Nelson recognized the dire state of American agriculture, and launched Farm Aid.  What was supposed to be a one-off event turned into an annual concert and a nonprofit that’s pumped millions into farm disaster relief, grants for local food groups, ag policy lobbying, factory farm resistance, and more.

To many of us in the middle of the country, Willie wasn’t just the soundtrack to farm auctions — he was out there trying to make the rest of America care.

I asked Willie how a nation bounces back from something like the sorrow of the 1980s. “That’s a tough question,” he replied. A lot of farmers didn’t want to go back after the ugliness of the ‘80s, Willie said. But “the folks who stayed in there and toughed it out, even though they may have lost their farm, they still kept their character and their good name. They had to overcome it. A lot of them have gone back into the farming business.”

Willie, similarly, has seen his share of rough times, and survived with his name intact. The red-headed stranger landed in the mud not long after his farming friends. In the early ’90s, Willie was hit with a multimillion dollar tax debt. He had mistakenly relied on a manager to pay the bills, and he followed that debt up with some bad business decisions. Then, as his estates were being auctioned off, Willie lost his oldest son.

Every cowboy knows that if a horse bucks you off, you’d better get back on. For all of the media accounts that said Willie was disgraced and done, he kept on singing, churning out albums, and releasing autobiographies. Willie dusted off his jeans and stuck a boot in the stirrup. And the fans filled the stadiums to see him.

But meanwhile, the U.S. continued to lose farms. And while the food movement has had real success with galvanizing eaters and reconnecting Americans to what’s on the local, free-range, organic plate, it remains to be seen whether we can truly care about and understand the people and places behind the food.

When I asked Willie who his favorite food writers are, he responded, “I was raised up with farmers and I have a lot of friends who were and are farmers. I think that’s where you go to get advice about what’s going on out there: You go ask a farmer.”

After three decades of farm advocacy work, how do things look to Willie? “There is a lot of organic farming going on these days and it’s helped out the small family farmer. The farm-to-table markets are doing well,” he said. “People have learned to buy locally and sustainably, and it’s turning into a better situation than it was, but it’s not perfect. There are still a lot of farmers out there in trouble.”

Willie has seen some successes in his other passion: legalizing marijuana. “They’ve already found out that it don’t kill you and it don’t make you go crazy and berserk, running around biting yourself,” he said. And now that the business types have seen the money in it, according to Willie, it’s only going to spread.

I asked Willie if he thinks U.S. agriculture as a whole could have a Willie-like rebound and he laughed at the comparison. “Well, that would be wonderful if they did,” he said. “It’d be another miracle.”

This fall, Farm Aid will celebrate its 30th anniversary. “Helping put out the word is about all we can do,” Willie said, adding that the musicians are just “trying to bring people’s attention to an old problem.”

But Willie has always managed to do more than just bring our attention to the problem of vanishing farms. He has also kept that image, however romantic and outdated, of the cowboy on America’s mind.

Willie and his preferred genre are the distillation of old longing we attach to red dirt roads. “Country music is born when the country becomes a nostalgic ideal,” music anthropoligist Aaron Fox explained in a Radiolab segment. The crying steel guitars and vocalizations,  Fox said, conjure up memories of migration and feelings of regret.

I listened to a lot of Willie’s music while writing this piece. When his recording of the old classic Red-Headed Stranger came on, my boyfriend turned to me and asked, “Where is Blue Rock, Montana?”

It’s not a real place, I told him, “but it sure sounds nice, doesn’t it?”

So, how do you end an interview with Willie Nelson? I didn’t ask him if he would play at my father’s funeral (glad you’re still kicking, dad!). Instead, I told him a joke. “What’s the difference between beer nuts and deer nuts?” I asked. “Beer nuts are $1.49 and deer nuts are always under a buck.”

Willie gave a good, long, raspy laugh and whatever hurried tension was there dissolved. Who can blame him? It is a pretty good joke, and he’s only human, after all.

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Micah Nelson Grateful Dead Dave’s Pick 2015 Artist-in-Residence

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015


photo:  Theo Jemison

Dave’s Picks 2015 Artist-in-Residence Micah Nelson gives us a little insight into his unconventional upbring (yes, the one and only Willie is his dad) and into how he juggles his time between painting, animating, and playing in not one, not two, but three bands(!) in this edition of All In The Family. Find out what the multi-talented and very busy artist is up to here.

A multi-hyphenate and a member of the well-respected Nelson tribe, give us a little background on your upbringing and your earliest exposure to art/music/creativity…

I’ve been doing creative things for as long as I can remember. I never stopped creating stuff and eventually my creations were paying my rent. It’s great! I hope to continue this lifestyle as long as possible. It’s amazing that you can actually be rewarded for doing what you love. I don’t take it for granted for a second.

In terms of the visual world, you are an illustrator, a painter — a live painter – and an animator. You’re also a part of 3 bands – the psych-punk-orchestra Insects vs. Robots, neo-psych-folk-rock band Pårticle Kid, and POTR, a collaborative project with your brother Lukas Nelson. How do you find the time?

I was very scattered around for a while, experimenting, playing in a million bands, saying yes to everything. Eventually I began to feel thin, like butter scraped over too much bread. The only choice was to focus on the things that really mattered to me and not take on more projects than I could count on one hand. That step was life-changing in a great way, but even now I pretty frequently am up all night working on various things, sleeping at odd hours. That’s ok. Life is really all one long day depending on where you are in the multiverse right..?..your birthday!

If you had to pick just one…

Probably The Empire Strikes Back… yeah, definitely. No question.

How do each of these art forms appeal to you? Do you find they work hand-in-hand?

They are very symbiotic. I rarely have an idea for a song without seeing a video or album concept or animation behind it. If I am painting something I usually hear music in my head to accompany it or vice versa. The aural and visual inform each other. I seem to understand music the most in visual, or even tactile terms. It’s what makes the most sense to me. I’d love to learn to read and write music better though. I suspect I have a mild case of synesthesia, I’m not sure… maybe not so mild. I am grateful for the life-saving ability to make tangible sense of it all through my art and music. I remember getting very frustrated as a kid when I couldn’t express what was in my head, when it wouldn’t come out on the page the way I saw it in my mind. I think this whole sanity thing is just an endurance test. If you keep trying it eventually gets easier, or you at least get better at making it seem easier.


Any formal training in music or art?

Up until I went to art college for a few years, I mostly just either figured things out trial and error style or learned from elder artists or musicians I was lucky to be surrounded with growing up. Nothing really formal. I’m very grateful to have had some fine art education later on though; I gained a lot from the experience. I am a firm believer in knowing the rules well before effectively breaking them. I think it’s important to be open to learning new things constantly. I could never learn it all. The more I learn, the more humbled I am by my lack of knowledge. I know nothing.

Is it more challenging to create commissioned works? What makes it interesting?

I guess it really depends on the piece and the work involved. Sometimes having a specific request for something can be easier than pulling something out of the air, y’know, making something from nothing… but really it’s all very interesting and inspiring. Depends on how you choose to look at it. I’m so fortunate to even have problems like these. Once, a few years ago, I was asked to carve a liking of a grieving woman’s son into a marble headstone… on paper that might sound like a bit of a morbid gig, but it was a profoundly humbling experience and it taught me so much. I had never carved anything into marble before, let alone something as important as the portrait of someone’s deceased son, so I knew I had to focus. There’s no undo button with marble. I could not fuck this up. I put everything into it and am actually very, very proud of the piece… It has become a shrine for the mother and she still writes to me all the time that seeing it brings her inner peace every day. Thank you for that experience, Mary!

I am a super grateful person to make art and music for a living! That’s all I can say at the end of the day.

Let’s get into your connection with the Grateful Dead…

When I was 13, I roadied for my uncle Dahr’s band ‘Titty Bingo’ at my father’s 4th of July picnic which was in Austin that year. Both Neil Young and Crazy Horse and the Dead headlined that year. I was right there on side stage breathing it all in the whole time. There was no filter, no screen to look through except my own mind. I can still smell the rain approaching. The Dead jammed for what seemed like hours. Mickey had his massive wall of drums. I remember distinctly Phil’s warm smile when he shook my hand. All the Heads and hippies and rednecks dancing in the mud. An epic musical journey unfolded that seemed to be laughing at time itself, or maybe laughing with it. The overall vibe somehow felt so familiar, almost nostalgic. Everyone was there, riding it. It definitely influenced me.

How does their iconic imagery appeal to you?

I’ve always felt that we are just passing through, that we don’t own this place or this skin, or anything really. You never see a hearse with a luggage rack, someone once said. I appreciate how the imagery of the Dead often presents a profound reverence and respect for death while simultaneously celebrating life. A light-hearted lesson in the temporality of everything. I dig that.

Given that the Dead do have a very specific aesthetic, what were some of the challenges (and rewards!) of creating the artwork for the 2015 Dave’s Picks series?

I love the cultural mythology of the Dead. My artwork tends to be very layered and multidimensional, and often pretty obscure so I appreciate the symbology of the whole Dead legacy. The history is epic and vast, like Lord of the Rings or something. I also like to use muted Earth tones in my work a lot, sometimes coffee or tea stains, etc, but this project demanded bright bold colors, which is something I’m not quite used to. Still, I’m loving the challenge. I like for my comfort zones to be tested and stretched. It keeps it real and fresh.

What else is on your agenda for 2015?

I am currently making a record with Neil Young and will be collaborating with my friend, the great Gary Burden, on the album art as well! What an honor to call these folks my good friends and be a part of their life stories. We have been having a super great time hanging out and working with Neil – what an inspiring force to be around. I have nothing but respect for Neil. He also happens to be one of the funniest people alive and has basically adopted me and my brother and POTR as his band. What a trip! I’ve also been writing a new album with Insects vs Robots. We plan to record sometime this spring as well as well as play some shows at SXSW in Austin and possibly some shows opening for the band Tinariwen sometime this summer.If we get time, it would be great to make a music video too – we’ve got a million ideas and talented superfriends, but haven’t quite found the time to make it happen yet. I also plan to tour a bit with my father more this year playing in the family band. We did get to do one show with him a couple weeks ago while he was in town, which was wicked fun. I have been working on several a/v projects with my friend David Wexler aka ‘Strangeloop’ (Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu) and the whole Teaching Machine crew which I look forward to sharing with everyone. I’d like to find some time to make another Particle Kid record this year too, hopefully finish a record I started last year with Christy Smith and also finish the Lily Meola record that I’m producing. And then take a power nap.

Check out more of Micah’s work at
Check out his band Insects VS Robots here.
Check out Particle Kid here.
See more of Micah’s art here.

Willie Nelson, on Guitar (Frets Magazine, Dec. 1984)

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Frets Magazine
December 1984
by Jim Halo

Willie Nelson is a man of surprises. “Improbable” is the mildest word that describes the course of his career from sideman to superstar, a career marked by so many odd twists, turns and bumps that the story would be hard to pass off a convincing fiction. It isn’t out of character, then, that as an instrumentalist he plays a type of guitar that country bandleaders aren’t supposed to play, uses a technique usually reserved for another type of guitar altogether, and first chose to do so for one of the least likely reasons.

In place of the obligatory pear-monogrammed steel-string, Shotgun Wilie packs a Martin short-scale N-20 classical guitar, one of perhaps only 277 ever built. In country circles, let alone the string music world at large, Martin classicals are about as common as Porsche limosines. And while manicured fingers are considered de rigeur for the playing of classical guitars, Willie uses a flatpick — which accounts for one of his intrument’s trademarks. In the soundboard, a ragged gash extends from near the lower quadrant of the soundhole rosette down almost to the treble end of the bridge saddle. Classical guitars traditionally do not have pickguards. Wille’s instrument, after 15 years of flatpicking, provides an object lesson in while steel-string guitars usually do.

Even if the famous auxiliary soundhole, surrounded by pick-abraded bare wood, with skeletal brace ends and edges peeking through, never had formed on Willie’s N-20, there would have been no question of the guitar’s identity. Besides its battle scars, the soundboard bears the autographs of such artists as Roger Miller and Johnny Bush, along with other graffiti left — at the owner’s invitation — during Willie’s days as a Nashville songwriter who couldn’t quite go over the top as a performer.

Why did Willie Nelson start using a classical guitar in the first place? Test your musical intuition by choosing one of the following: Willie switched to a classical guitar because he wanted to (a) favor a weak left hand by changing to the lower tension of nylon strings; (b) inject an element of mariachi music into his Texas-based country stylings; (c) get a guitar that was strikingly different from those of his performing peers; (d) sound like France’s Gypsy jazz guitar virtuoso, Django Reinhardt.

The correct answer is (d).

Any similarities between the style of Nelson and the style of Reinhardt are purely intentional. “I wanted to look for a guitar that I could use to find that tone that Django was getting,” Willie says, referring to the sound of Django’s unusual Selmer-Maccaferri steel-string acoustics. “The guitar that I am using now is the closest that I could find to that.”

Most guitarists would figure that Willie was drawn to a nylon-string instrument because of it’s comparatively easygoing action. But he says that in fact, the opposite is true.

“The action is really a lot slower than what you’d get on a regular Fender electric or something, which I used to play all the time,” he explains. “I played a lot of Fenders and a lot of Gibsons — all electrics. I really didn’t play the acoustic guitar on stage then, for the simple reason that the fingering was more difficult. But finally I sort of settled for the harder action to get the tone I wanted.”


As a performer, Willie also settled for harder action to get the kind of results he wanted. For years he channelled royalties from a successful songwriting career into a money-losing band, so that he could play his music the way he wanted with his “family” of loyal sidemen. He went against the Nashville grain in the early ’70s, switching to a non-country label, recording in New York, and moving his base of operations to Texas. That earned him the label “outlaw,” but it helped launch a new wave in country music that eventually overflowed into the rock and pop markets and carried Willie Nelson to megastar status. At present, his roll call of recording credits includes no less eight gold albums, six platinum albums, one double platinum album, and one triple platinum album.

Ironically — or perhaps, characteristically — the triple platinum album isn’t country at all. It is Stardust, Willie’s 1978 tribute to the standards (like “Stardust,” “Blue Skies,” “September Song,” and “All of Me”) that he heard and loved as a boy in the 1940s.

Born in the teeth of the Depression in April 1933, Willie grew up in Abbott, Texas, south of Fort Worth. His mother left home when eh was six months old, and he was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather, a blacksmith, gave Willie his first guitar lesson at age six. Willie’s grandmother, who wrote gospel songs, also played guitar. “I started out with a thumbpick,” Willie recalls, “Because that was what my grandparents used, so I was taught that way. But later on I began to hear players like Eldon Shamblin [of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys], and they used a straight pick. So I changed because that music was more what I wanted to play. When I was a kid I used to play the mandolin — fool with it a lot, and the banjo, and everything that had strings o it. I usually could get some sort of sound out of them. But I never really tried to get good on anything other than a guitar.”

His older sister, Bobbie (now the pianist in Willie’s band), was taking piano lessons, so the sheet music she brought home supplemented the songs he heard on the radio — World War II pop hits like “Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer” and “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me).” Through radio he also drank in Grand Ole Opry country music, western swing, and jazz. As he grew bigger, Willie earned $3 a day picking cotton with black field hands. What made the work bearable for him was the blues and work songs they sang.

At age 10 Willie made his professional debut, playing in a Bohemian polka band for $8 a night. He began working in a small group with Bobbie on piano, their father on fiddle, Bobbie’s husband on bass, and the local football coach on trumpet. Gradually he evolved a guitar style influenced by such players as Johnny Smith, Hank Garland, George Barnes, Barney Kessel and Django Reinhardt. “I liked those rhythms that Django’s band laid down, too,” says Willie, “the stuff his brother Joseph played on rhythm guitar.” Perennially electric, he also was drown to the music of flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya. “The Spanish flavor was something I always enjoyed anyway,” he says, “So Montoya was one of my favorites from the beginning.”

After high school he served a short stint in the Air Force during the Korean War, then spent the ’50s working as a door-to-door salesman (variously selling vacuum cleaners, Bibles, and encyclopedias), a plumber’s helper, a used-car salesman, a janitor, a Sunday School teacher, and a disc jockey, all the while playing in bars and honky tonks. And writing music. One of his first successful songs was “Family Bible.” He sold the rights to it for $50, so he could buy groceries for his family. In 1959 he wrote his classic “Light Life,” which would eventually be recorded by more than 70 different artists and sell over 30 million copies. But two years later he sold the rights to it for $150, which he used to buy a second-hand Buick. He used the Buick to move to Nashville.

Willie’s work won quick recognition in Music City. Songwriter Hank Cochran heard Willie one night in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the bar that served as the unofficial artists’ club room for the neighboring Grand Ole Opry, and signed him to a publishing contract. Singer Ray Price, who with Cochran was a part-owner in the publishing company, also was impressed. He made “Night Life’ his theme song, and hired its author as a bass player.

Soon vocalist Patsy Cline had a huge hit with Nelson’s “Crazy,” and Faron Young had another with Willie’s “Hello Walls.” Liberty signed Willie to a recording contract, and he scored his first Top Ten country hit in 1962 with the single “Touch Me.” He became a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1964, and the following year he signed with RCA. But though he recorded more than a dozen albums for RCA between 1965 and 1971, Willie didn’t enjoy the kind of usccess that other artists were having with his material.

One reason was his phrasing. Intrigued by crooner Frank Sinatra’s knack for singing off, or against, the beat, Willie had adopted the technique in his own music. (That kind of phrasing often turns up in Willie’s guitar solos). But his producers saw Willie’s use of rhythmical license as a liability, not an asset — and often remixed his studio tapes to get his voice back on the beat.

The results weren’t impressive, commercially; and artistically they were frustrating for Willie. His substantial songwriting income allowed him to hold his road band together, however, and they kept the faith in live performances. “The music I played on a bandstand was better than the music I played in the studio,” he once told Al Reinert of New York Times Magazine. “For one thing, I’d be using my own band, and we’d have a better feel for it — be more relaxed. We’d have an audience to play for, and it was just a whole lot more fun.”

In 1969, in the middle of his second divorce, Willie’s Nashville house burned down. His guitar was one of the few things eh was able to save from the flames. While Willie’s home was being rebuilt, he moved back to Texas — and stayed. He made the relocation official in 1972. Meanwhile, Willie and his band began hitting the Southwest tour circuit again; and with the expiration of his RCA contract, he left the Nashville studios behind as well. In 1971 he signed with Atlantic, which was venturing into the country market. It was a good move for both parties.

Given a free hand, Wilie took his own band to New York to record Shotgun Willie. Finished in less than to days, the LP brought their “outlaw” sound out into the open. Within six months, sales of Shotgun Willie had surpassed the sales of all his Nashville albums combined.

From there, the successes began to snowball. Phases And Stages, completed in 1974 as Atlantic wound down its country operations, sold 400,000 copies. Meanwhile, the Nashville songwriting fraternity saluted his earlier contributions to country music by inducting him into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973.

Willie formed his own record company, signed a distribution agreement with Columbia, and in 1975 released Red-Headed Stranger. From that came the single, “Blue Eyes Cryin’ In the Rain,” which gave him his first Top Ten country hit in 13 years and won him his first Grammy Awared. (It also documented a rare reversion to fingerstyle playing on the guitar solo. “I didn’t use a pick on that one,” Willie says. “Sometimes I use my thumb by itself, to get a softer sound. On ‘Blues yese,’ that was strictly thumb and fingers.”)

Red-Headed Stranger was certified gold in March 1976, and before the month was otu Willie shared in the plaudits as RCA’s The Outlaws — a compilation featuring the music of Willie, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser — also earned gold record status. Honors and hit records came almost predictably thereafter. Among his laurels to date are eight Country Music Association awards, including Best Album (twice), Best Single (twice), Best Vocal Duo (with Waylon Jennings in 1976, with Merle Haggard in 1983, and with Julio Iglesias in 1984), and Entertainer of the Year — a title conferred on him in 1979 by both the CMA and the Academy of Country Music.

Willie no longer has to worry about breaking even outside the studio. This summer, Willie Nelson & Family was No. 14 in Billboard Magazine’s list of top-grossing concert appearances (a roster on which the much-hyped Victory Tour by the Jacksons sewed up 6 of the top 12 spots). Willie also is listed as one of the top ten money-earners on the Las Vegas shworoom circuit (along with his old diol, Frank Sinatra).

But despite all the justifiable to-do about his gilt-edged performing status, Willie still prefers to think of himself first and foremost as a picker.

“What I always liked to do was be the guitar player,” he says. “Somewhere along the say, I started being the singer. I’m not sure how that happened. I think one night the front man didn’t show up, and I wound up fronting the band and doing the singing. And I don’t know if that was really the best day of my life! I really do like to be just the guitar player, sometimes. It’s very enjoyable when the only responsibility you have is playing the guitar.

Fret Magazine. When you are playing lead, what’s gong on in your mind? Are you thinking of right chord changes or melodic patterns on the fretboard, or modes related to the key of the tune, or positions you like to work from?

Willie Nelson. Not consciously. I think probably if somebody put a computer on me, they’d find I use a lot of things the same way. But consciously — I just play off the top of my head. On the songs that I do a lot, I guess I’m subconsciously aware of the chord structures and I just play whatever notes I hear that fall within those. I really don’t think about all that. I guess I’m playing from somewhere else.

Fret: Do you work out solos ahead of time? Often, when you’re fronting your band, your solos will restate the melody. But in some situations — on the Angel Eyes album, for example — you’ll take what sounds like a more spontaneous lead break.

WN: It’s all how I feel at the moment. I really am not confined to playing anything the same way. I don’t have any arrangements that I try to follow, other than the basic things that are always there in a tune — the stuff that you can’t get around. Whenever anyone in the band takes choruses, they just play what they want to play.

Fret: Back on 1976, when you were interviewed by our sister magazine Guitar Player, you said that in doing solos you didn’t get into a lot of minor scales, because you felt you were major-chord oriented. How that youre’ playing things closer to mainstream jazz, is that still true?

WN: I think so. I love minor chords, and I have written some songs with minors in them. But basically, the songs that I listened to and learned in the beginning were major-chord songs.

Fret: Is that when you developed yoru feeling for standares like “Stardust”? Would it be fair to say that your growing up with that kind of material helped you learn how to put together well-crafted melodies?

WN: I think it very well could have. I was always exposed to those songs through the radio and through music that came into the house — sheet music, and so forth. I love good melodies, so I’m sure that had a lot of influence on me.

Fret. Through albums like Stardust and Angel Eyes, you’ve probably influenced a lot of younger musicians yourself, giving them their first exposure to standards and jazz. Do you have any other styles of music up your sleeve — material you might record in the future?

WN: There are some of the older styles I still ahven’t done, like Stephen Foster songs and old Songs of the Pioneers things — the real cowboy songs like “Leaning On The Old Top Rail” and “Empty Cot In The Bunkhouse Tonight.” All of those classics are still tehre to do.

Fret: Often you’re functioning as a rhythm player. In your opinion, what goes into really playing rhythm as well as it can be played?

WN: I think you ahve to know the chord forms. I think guys like Paul Buskirk and Homer Haynes are two of my favorites because of their styles. [Ed note: Mandolinist Paul Buskirk and guitarist Henry “Homer” Haynes (half of the team of Homer & Jethro) had strong elements of swing in their music.] It’s 4/4 rhythm and it’s done without drums. Or it can be done with drums; but I really liket he sound of the kind of rhythm section where you just hvae an upright bass and the rhythm guitar.

Fret: Does a rhythm guitarist need a special sensitivity to where the lead player is going?

WN: Yes, I think that’s an innate thing that most good rhythm guitarists know, becasue most rhythm guitar players are also leadguitar players, to a certain degree. So you just have t have a feel of when to play and when not to play, or hwo loud to play.

Fret: When you’re chording, do you ever use your thumb to fret notes?

WN: Yeah, a lot of times. I do that especially in open-chord rhythms. For instance, on a first position D chord I’ll use the thumb on the low E string to play an F#.

Fret: You generally use Fender medium flatpicks on your nylon-string guitar, instead of fingerpicking it. How often do you change picks? Some steel-string players have told us they go through a half-dozen a night, because the picks get worn and start sounding scratchy. But it would seem that nylon strings would be easier on a flatpick.

WN: I guess a normal person probably would be able to make them last longer, but there’s one tune we do each night — “Bloody Mary Morning” — where I’ll go through a pick every time I play it.

Fret: You can hear the difference? The pick starts to sound rough?

WN: No — I just break it.

Fret: Do you play with the point of the pick, or do you turn it and use the rounded corner for a mellower sound, as some players do?

WN: I try to keep it on the point, but in the course of “Bloody Mary Morning” I play every side of it. I think! I use up a couple of picks a night, because “Bloody Mary Morning” will take care of one, and “Whiskey River” will eat up another, so I’ll go through at least two picks, maybe three, every show.

Fret: You used to use ball-end La Bella nylon strings. Are you still staying that that brand?

WN: As far as I know, I am. The strings are automatically changed on my guitar every few days by a guy in our crew, and I’n not sure if he is still using La Bellas or not. I can’t tell any difference.

Fret: Are the strings changed on a regular schedule, or does the frequency just depend on how often you are performing?

WN: I think probably every three or four days he’ll change the strings. And we keep another guitar handy, with the strings on it already stretched, so that we kind of rotate them. When you put new nylon strings on a guitar, you’re always retuning them as they stretch out. That happened to me a lot of times on stage. Boy, it was hard, especially under those hot lights. Finally, we got real brilliant here and figured out that if you stretch them a few days before you put them on, you wouldn’t have to do that. I don’t know why we didn’t think of it years before, but better late than never!

Fret: Are there certain strings you’re more likely to break than others? Some players find that the G string is the first to go, for example.

WN: I very rarely break strings. In fact, I don’t remember the last string I broke. The picks go before the strings do, because the nylon strings are more flexible.

Fret: The nylon strings are one of the things that set your sound apart; but the way you amplify your guitar has a lot to do with that, too, doesn’t it?

WN: I think so. It’s a Baldwin amp with a Martin classical guitar — which is kind of a bastard situation. I’ve tried other combinations, and I don’t get the same sound that I do with this one, which was really accidental.

Fret: Didn’t the pickup itself come from a Baldwin guitar that got broken?

WN: Yeah, I had it taken out of the Baldwin and put in this one years ago, by Shot Jackson’s place in Nashville [Ed note: In the late ’60s, after Baldwin acquired Gretsch and began marketing a line of guitar amplifiers, the company briefly offered a classical guitar model with a ceramic piezo-electric pick up, and a companion amplifier designed for a “natural” tone response.] I’ve never changed it. I’ve tried to keep everything exactly the same, and the amplifier is still the same one. They don’t make Baldwins any more, you know. Each time I come across a used Baldwin amp, I try to buy it so I can use the parts for replacements on this one. I’ve got a couple of them.

Fret: Youv’e had a lot of work done on your guitar to keep it in service through all yoru years of touring. Who handles the repairs?

WN: A guy named Newman, in Austin [Newman Guitars, 200 Academy, Austin, Texas]. He has a guitar shop in the Opera House in Austin, and he’s been fixing my guitar for years.

Fret: Does your road crew take special precautions with the guitar and amp, since those are really one-of-a-kind items?

WN: They have nice sturdy cases for both. Steel cases. They take real good care of them.

Fret: Do you carry any other acoustic guitars on the road with you, or keep some at home that you just use for recording?

WN: I have a couple of guitars around the house, and sometimes I have one on the bus just to fool around with, but my stage guitar is my main guitar. The others are a variety of things — just whatever is available. It varies from one day to the next, really.

Fret: How many days a year are you on the road?

WN: I think probably somewhere between 200 and 250. That’s this year. It’s been like that practically every year, and each year I say, “Next year I’m going to slow down.’ But I still like doing it. I just enjoy playing music a lot.

Washington Post Podcast with Willie Nelson

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Welcome to our second Washington Post Pop-Up Pop Podcast in which we discuss the great Willie Nelson and his legacy as a songwriter, a spiritual leader and a very funny dude.

The discussion centers around an interview with Nelson that took place aboard his tour bus in Las Vegas earlier this month. You can read the profile that came from that interview right here and you can listen to our podcast below.