Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Willie Nelson interview, with Chet Filippo (Rolling Stone July 13, 1978)

Friday, July 13th, 2018

www.RollingStone.com
by: Chet Filippo
July 13, 1978

The saga of the king of Texas, from the night life to the good life

The desk man at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Holiday Inn shook his head when I asked for Willie Nelson. “Got no Willie Nelsons today.” He turned away officiously and resumed cleaning his fingernails with a Holiday Inn matchbook.

He was about as encouraging as my cab driver had been: “You goin’ to see Willie Nelson? Man, he was a no-show last week. They had to haul that Wet Willie in; he play instead. You see Willie Nelson, you tell him for me, ‘Man, you die fast in this town.’

I went back to the Holiday Inn desk man: “See here, I was really looking for the party of Fast Eddie and the Electric Japs.”

“Well, goddamnit, why dincha say so.” He started thumbing through registration forms: “Lemme see, Mr. Eddie ain’t here yet, but Mr. Snake is, Mr. Poodie is, Mr. Beast is . . . ”

“Okay, gimme Snake’s room number.”

Poodie, who is Willie’s road manager, and Beast, his cook and caterer, would, I knew, be over at the coliseum setting up for the night’s concert. But Snake would be here, taking care of business. I would be hard pressed to say what Snake’s duties are exactly. He’s a lean, rangy ex-paratrooper who, if you ask him point-blank what he does, will reply with a slight smile: “What do you want done?” He is one of about twenty persons whom Willie Nelson has handpicked over the years to help him in his calling. The Electric Japs, a.k.a. Willie Nelson’s Family, a.k.a. the Rolling Smoke Revue, are a devoted crew, all loyal to the point of being ready to jump forward and take the bullet – if, that is, Fast Eddie weren’t so proficient with kung fu that he himself would have already wiped out the gunman. If, that is, there were a gunman. Because everybody, it seems, loves Willie Nelson these days.

It wasn’t always thus, I reflected as I went off in search of Snake. Ten years ago, Fast Eddie couldn’t even get himself arrested in Nashville, despite the fact that he was the best songwriter to hit Music Row since Hank Williams, the king of them all. Everybody else was having hits with Willie’s songs – Rusty Draper with “Night Life,” Jimmy Elledge and Johnny Tillotson with “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Patsy Cline with “Crazy,” Faron Young with “Hello Walls,” Andy Williams with “Wake Me When It’s Over” and Roy Orbison with “Pretty Paper,” to name a few – but Willie’s own records went nowhere. Good writer, no singer, said Nashville’s establishment.

Now he rules country music. Oddly, the album that brought him the wide audience he now enjoys was not composed entirely by him. He wrote only five of the fifteen cuts on Red Headed Stranger, the brilliant allegorical album that forever changed Nashville’s idea of what is and is not country music. He wrote none of the songs on his current album, Stardust, a collection of “my favorite ten songs.” His record company, CBS, was not real hot about either album. Willie was supposed to be a country singer, so what the hell, they wondered, was he doing with these off-the-wall albums? But then, I remembered as I knocked on Snake’s door, Fast Eddie got his nickname by doing the unpredictable. Rules don’t mean a lot to him.

Snake opened his door: “Damn, I didn’t know you were coming. I guess it’s okay if you didn’t bring too many women. C’mon, Eddie’s just down the hall.”

Fast Eddie Nelson was in room 326, sitting barefoot, in jeans and a blue T-shirt, reading the trade magazines. “Shit, Eddie,” said Snake. “Stardust is seventy-six on the pop charts. We’re gonna sell 24 million.” Willie laughed softly, as he always does.

I told him about the cabdriver: “And not only do you die fast, the driver said: ‘Shoot, I ain’t gonna pay no $8.95 for Stardust. Those old songs, I heard them before.’” Willie fell over laughing. “Why, hell yes,” he finally said. “Why buy old songs?”

“What happened to your beard, Willie?” I asked. He fingered his chin gingerly. “Aw, I shaved it for the summer. Gets too hot. How you doin’? Ready to go ride the bus with me, son?”

With the beard, Willie had always reminded me of a benign patriarch. Without it, the forty-five-year-old singer resembles a proud Indian chief: stark, chiseled profile, flowing red hair, deeply lined face and piercing brown eyes.

Eyes that don’t miss much. He is not the most talkative person around – lending credence to the theory that the best writers are watchers, not doers. Willie Hugh Nelson, a.k.a. Fast Eddie, is an intense watcher. I always get the feeling around him that he’s sizing me up: am I a potential song or just another disciple? He gets plenty of both.

Disciples are many and fanatical now that he positively exudes spirituality. I have heard first-person tales of marriages saved, of nervous breakdowns averted, of illnesses healed by the power of Willie’s music.

He was a Sunday school teacher in a Baptist church in Fort Worth when he had to decide about his career. Fort Worth in the 1950s was a shining jewel on the Bible belt, and some of the Baptists there felt that Willie’s singing in honky-tonks on Saturday night and then teaching God’s word on Sunday morning were incompatible callings. The Baptists suggested that he make a choice. He chose music. “I had considered preaching,” he now laughed, “but preachers don’t make a lot and they have to work hard.”

Still, he didn’t protest strongly when I suggested that he is pop music’s only preacher. “I have met people,” I said, “who have driven hundreds of miles just to touch the hem of your garment. Literally.”

He looked a little uncomfortable at the thought. “Maybe you’re exaggerating. I am religious, even though I don’t go to church. I believe in reincarnation. We’re taught to believe that all men are created equal and yet we know that one guy is born without eyes and one guy is born with eyes. So that’s not equal. They had to be born together in the beginning. At one time, we were all born at the same time. God imagines everyone, so we’re all images of him – in the beginning. He made us all in the beginning and since then we’ve been coming back and forth. First time we came in we knew a lot and we’ve lost it along the way. Being down here is kinda like goin’ through the university: you go through one grade at a time and if you fail, you gotta go back and take those tests again.”

He laughed at the analogy and fell silent for a moment. “But I know what you mean about fans,” he continued. “And I know what they’re doing. In their minds, they’re relating the music to something else, and I appreciate that. There are answers in music. Poems and music about our problems and situations are good for us to hear – how other people react to the same problems and live through them and survive. This is all put in songs; I guess the history of the whole world is in songs and poems.”

Willie has compressed a fair amount of history in what I think is his best work – his three “concept” or storytelling albums. The first, the early – Seventies Yesterday’s Wine, is an obscure masterpiece. Wine was so far beyond anything out of Nashville that RCA was befuddled by it. At the time, Willie’s house in Nashville had burned – there’s an oft-quoted story that he rushed back into the flames to save his guitar case, which contained an impressive quantity of marijuana – and he moved to Bandera, Texas. RCA called him on a Friday and said his contract called for him to be in Nashville on Monday to cut a new album. He had no new songs whatsoever, but flew into town, took an upper and stayed up writing songs nonstop. The result was a moving collection of songs that Willie describes as “before life and after life.”

Phases and Stages, released by Altantic in 1974, was a compassionate account of a failing marriage, told from both the man’s and woman’s points of view. Atlantic was phasing out its country line at the time and didn’t promote the album. Exit Phases and Stages.

Willie moved on to CBS and hit gold with Red Headed Stranger, a deeply moving, very moral tale of sin and redemption. Columbia Records President Bruce Lundvall, along with other CBS executives, thought it underproduced and weird, but it, and the single off the album, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” broke the C&W crossover market wide open. (It also recently brought Willie a movie deal with Universal for a filmed version of Stranger and a movie based on Willie’s life.)

After the success of Stranger, RCA brought out The Outlaws, a compendium of material by Willie and Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser. It sold a million copies right out of the chute, and Nashville, which was accustomed to patting itself on the back for selling 200,000 copies of a C&W album, found its system obsolete. Willie and Waylon, after being outcasts for years, were suddenly Nashville royalty. And Willie started telling CBS what he wanted done, rather than vice versa, which had been the Nashville way of doing business.

But Willie’s success really goes back further, back to a dusty pasture in central Texas in the summer of ’72.

When I met Willie Nelson then, backstage at the Dripping Springs Picnic on July 4th, 1972, I didn’t even know it was him. That picnic was a real oddity: a bunch of Dallas promoters booking Nashville singers into a cow pasture in Dripping Springs under an unmerciful Texas sun. The crowd was a hostile mix of young longhairs looking for their own Woodstock and traditional country fans who just wanted to get drunk. The truce was an uneasy one, broken by beatings of the longhairs by both the drunks and the security goons. I was standing backstage, talking about all this to a shorthaired guy who was wearing a golf cap and oversized shades. I didn’t know who he was until Tex Ritter walked over and introduced him to me as Willie Nelson. I was properly embarrassed, but Willie just laughed about it. We retired to the shelter of an air-conditioned Winnebago to have a beer and to talk. He said he was tired of Nashville and had moved back to Texas for a while. He told me his history: born in Abbott, a wide spot in the road south of Dallas, April 30th, 1933; parents separated; raised by his grandparents. As a boy, he worked in the cotton fields for three dollars a day. At age ten, he started playing guitar with polka bands in the Bohemian towns of central Texas, where German and Czech immigrants had settled. He tried for a baseball scholarship at Weatherford Junior College, failed. Did a stint in the air force. Tried being a business major at Baylor University, but preferred playing dominoes and music. Dropped out. Sold Bibles door-to-door. Sold encyclopedias door-to-door. Became a disc jockey, kept playing music on the side. Taught Sunday school till that became a conflict with playing honky-tonks. Disc jockeyed all around the country. Played every beer joint there was. Taught guitar lessons. Finally sold a song in Houston for fifty dollars – Family Bible” – and decided to take the money and head for Nashville, “the big time.” Traveled there in a ’51 Buick that sank to the ground and died once he got there. Hung out drinking in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge behind the Grand Ole Opry, where he met songwriter Hank Cochran, who liked his stuff and got him a publishing contract. Other people had hits with his songs but his own recording career languished. “I’m not worried, though,” he laughed as we emerged from the Winnebago just before his set. “I’ll do all right.”

Indeed he did. That picnic was pretty much a disaster, but Willie was carefully watching everything that was going on. Half a year later, he had long hair and an earring and was a cult figure in Austin rock clubs.

The next July 4th, we were all back at Dripping Springs for “Willie Nelson’s First Annual Fourth of July Picnic,” with performers like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm. This time, the longhairs weren’t beat up. It was the watershed in the progressive country movement. Prominent state politicians mingled with longhaired kids. University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal had his arm around Leon Russell. Peaceful coexistence had come to Texas, thanks to Willie’s pontifical presence. Two years later, for his 1975 picnic, the Texas Senate declared July 4th “Willie Nelson Day.”

From that first 1973 picnic, he had to take out a bank loan to cover his losses – too many gate-crashers – but he was established. Texas was his.

That picnic was also the first time that I had witnessed the uncanny ability of Fast Eddie to appear – or disappear – at exactly the right time. When the picnic ended at about four in the morning and the 50,000 or so people there were jamming the two-lane highway that led back to Austin, I decided to find a back way out. I took off driving across flat ranchland and, finally, miles away, found an alternate highway. But between me and that highway was a locked cattle gate. I was just revving up my Chevy to ram the gate when, from out of the ghostly blackness, a Mercedes came roaring up beside me. Willie got out, nodded hello and held up a key. He unlocked the gate, smiled goodbye and drove off.

I still don’t know how the hell he pulled that one off, but timing has been the key to his career. Right place at the right time. Seemingly, everything he has done has been wrong. His vocal phrasing is off the beat, the songs he writes are unconventional, his albums are unpredictable, his guitar playing is a startling mixture of Charlie Christian and Mexican blues picking (“Maybe I am half-Mexican,” he says, half-jokingly), he does not hang out with the right people, and he has never compromised himself, so far as I can tell, in his entire life. “I don’t think he ever has a bad thought,” his harp player, Mickey Raphael, told me.

Such people aren’t supposed to be successes in the opportunistic world of popular music. But, though it took years, Willie Nelson managed to do it.

Viewed in retrospect, his body of songs is remarkable, a unified world of transgression and redemption, human suffering and compassion and joy, all told by an anonymous Everyman. “Willie understands,” is the most-heard quote from his fans.

There is really no one to compare him to, for his songs and his style are bafflingly unique. Take a fairly obscure one: “I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye,” written in 1965, is the only song I know about strangling one’s lover. No wonder Nashville didn’t know what to do with him. Some of the lyrics:

The flesh around your throat is pale
Indented by my fingernails
Please don’t scream, please don’t cry
I just can’t let you say goodbye.

Willie’s explanations of his songs sound almost too simple: “I’d been to bed and I got up about three or four o’clock in the morning and started readin’ the paper. There was a story where some guy killed his old lady and I thought, well, that would be a far-out thing to do.” He laughed. “To write this song where you’re killin’ this chick, so I started there. ‘I had not planned on seeing you’ was the start, and I brought it up to where she was really pissin’ him off, she was sayin’ bad things to him and so he was tryin’ to shut her up and started chokin’ her.” All very matter-of-fact. Did he consider alternate forms of murder? “Ah, well, chokin’ seemed to be the way to do it at the time.”

Much of his earlier work is equally bleak: “Opportunity to Cry” is about suicide, “Darkness on the Face of the Earth” is a stark and frightening song about absolute loneliness, “I’ve Got a Wonderful Future behind Me” means just what it says. Some of Willie’s best misery songs, written during his drinking days of the Fifties and Sixties, were inspired by his past marriages. “What Can You Do to Me Now?” and “Half a Man” resulted from incidents like the time Willie, the story goes, came home drunk and was sewed up in bed sheets and whipped by his wife. Most Nashville songwriters were content with simple crying-in-my-beer songs, while Nelson was crafting his two-and-a-half-minute psychological dramas. His characters were buffeted by forces beyond their control, but they accepted their fates with stolid resignation, as in “One Day at a Time”:

I live one day at a time
I dream one dream at a time
Yesterday’s dead and tomorrow is blind
And I live one day at a time.

“I don’t know whether I’ve ever written any just hopeless songs,” he said. “Maybe I have, maybe I’m not thinking back far enough. I’m sure I have. Songs I’m writing now are less hopeless. I started thinking positive somewhere along the way. Started writing songs that, whether it sounded like it or not, had a happy ending. You might have to look for it. Even though the story I’m trying to tell in a song might not necessarily be a happy story to some people. Like ‘Walking’: ‘After carefully considering the whole situation, here I stand with my back to the wall/I found that walking is better than running away and crawling ain’t no good at all/If guilt is the question then truth is the answer/And I’ve been lying to thee all along/There ain’t nothing worth saving except one another/Before you wake up I’ll be gone’ – to me that’s a happy song. This person has resolved himself to the fact that this is the way things are and this is what ought to be done about it. Rather than sitting somewhere in a beer joint listening to the jukebox and crying. I used to do that too.”

Is writing his form of therapy?

“Yeah, it’s like taking a shit.” He laughed his soft laugh. “I guess a lotta people who can’t write songs, instead of writing songs they’ll get drunk and kick out a window. What I was doing was kinda recording what was happening to me at the time. I was going through a rough period when I wrote a lot of those songs, some traumatic experiences. I was going through a divorce, split-up, kids involved and everything. Fortunately now I don’t have those problems. But I went through thirty negative years. Wallowing in all kind of misery and pain and self-pity and guilt and all of that shit. But out of it came some good songs. And out of it came the knowledge that everybody wallows in that same old shit – guilt and self-pity – and I just happened to write about it. There’d be no way to write a sad song unless you had really been sad.”

Fast Eddie got up from his Holiday Inn bed and put on his blue Nike jogging shoes. “Gonna go out and run three miles,” he said. “Wanta come along?”

“I can’t do 300 yards,” I replied. He laughed.

Three miles later, Willie and entourage boarded his Silver Eagle bus for the drive to the coliseum. Willie, reading The Voice of the Master by Gibran, assumed his usual seat, beneath the bus’ only poster, an illustration of Frank Fools Crow, the chief and medicine man of the Lakota Indian Nation. Underneath Crow is the Four Winds Prayer, which Crow once recited onstage at a Willie concert. The prayer, which is addressed to grandfather God, asks for mercy and help from the outsiders encroaching on his people’s land. Without even asking Willie, I know why that poster is there. He and Chief Fools Crow are both throwbacks, remnants of the American West, honest men who try to tell the truth and who believe in justice.

I thought of a Willie Nelson song, “Slow Movin’ Outlaw,” that talked about that:

The land where I traveled once fashioned with beauty,
Now stands with scars on her face;
And the wide open spaces are closing in quickly,
From the weight of the whole human race;
And it’s not that I blame them for claiming her beauty,
I just wish they’d taken it slow;
‘Cause where has a slow-movin’, once quick-draw outlaw got to go?

Symbolism with Willie is too tempting, I reminded myself, as the Silver Eagle threaded its way through Greensboro’s evening traffic. Still, I couldn’t avoid thinking of another song as we arrived at the coliseum and Willie plunged into a backstage crowd that was one – third Hell’s Angels, one-third young people and one-third middle-aged folks in leisure suits. All of them said the same thing: “Wil-lie! Wil-lie!” Some wanted autographs, some wanted to touch him, some just wanted to bask in his presence.

The song I was thinking of was “The Troublemaker:”

I could tell the moment that I saw him
He was nothing but the troublemaking kind
His hair was much too long
And his motley group of friends
Had nothing but rebellion on their minds
He’s rejected the establishment completely
And I know for sure he’s never held a job
He just goes from town to town
Stirring up the young ones
Till they’re nothing but a disrespectful mob.2

The song’s about Jesus, in case you didn’t guess.

The Hell’s Angels, working as volunteer security, parted a way for Willie and his band to pass through: Bobbie, his sister, who plays piano; guitarist Jody Payne, another ex-paratrooper; Chris Ethridge, who played bass with the Flying Burrito Brothers; harmonica player Mickey Raphael; and drummer Paul English, who’s been with Willie since 1954. English was once what used to be called “a police character” in Texas, and not too long ago the FBI is said to have tailed Willie Nelson and band for a year because they were after a notorious police character that English once knew and they thought he might show up on the tour. Leon Russell once wrote a song about English, called “You Look like the Devil.” He does, too, and he’s still the only country drummer to appear onstage all in black with a flowing black-and-red cape, goat’s-head rings and a five-inch-wide black leather belt embedded with silver dollars. Used to really freak out the country fans, but he’s as kind a man as you could hope to meet. He could be Keith Richard’s father.

Although the 17,000-seat coliseum was not full, it was a splendid evening of music: Billy Joe Shaver opened, followed by Emmylou Harris and then Willie. The bulk of his set was material from Red Headed Stranger, and when he started “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” in his powerful baritone, I heard actual gasps of awe from the front rows. Been a long time since I heard that.

When Emmylou came out to join him for the encores, it turned into a gospel-camp meeting with their voices soaring in “Amazing Grace” and Willie pointing his right hand heavenward.

One of Willie’s friends, for a joke, once showed up at a concert in a wheelchair in the front row. During “Amazing Grace” he began shouting, “I’m healed. I’m healed.” He dragged himself up out of the wheelchair and tottered a dozen steps before collapsing. There were “amens” from the folks around him.

Another of Willie’s friends, a famous Houston attorney, once introduced one of Willie’s songs as evidence in a trial. He was representing a construction worker who had been maimed in an accident on the job. The lawyer recited Willie’s “Half a Man” and soon had the jury weeping: “If I only had one arm to hold you . . . ”

Over the years I have known him, Willie Nelson has not been known as an extremely talkative interviewee. I am not the most garrulous person in the world, either, so a lot of our taped conversations amount to lengthy, very profound silences, punctuated by the wheeze of long tokes.

One such exchange that seemed to take an hour:

1. Willie sang “Whiskey River.”
2. We both nodded affirmatively. No words needed. A toke.
3. Willie: “Went over to Peckinpah’s house.”
4. Me: “You talk to Dylan?”
5. Willie: “No. Dylan don’t talk a lot.”
6. Me: “I know.”
7. Willie: “He introduced himself to me and talked just a little bit. I saw him again the next night at a party over at Peckinpah’s house. He was a little shy, scared to death. They had him jumpin’ and runnin’on them horses down there and he ain’t no cowboy.”
8. Willie sang “Shotgun Willie.”
9. Me: “You write that?”
10. Willie: “Yeah.”
11. Me: “Good.”
12. Silence.
13. His daughter Paula Carlene came in.
14. Willie: “Go away. I’m busy.”
15. Paula: “Why can’t I stay?”
16. Willie: ‘Cause you’re a little ole girl.”
17. Paula: “Help me carry something.”
18. Willie: “I can’t. My legs are broke.”
19. A toke.
20. Silence.

He does talk, of course, if you ask the right questions. After Greensboro, when we landed in Roanoke, Virginia, Willie sat down before his evening jog to talk a bit.

“Wasn’t Stardust a real gamble for you, a big risk?” I asked.

Willie settled himself in his Holiday Inn armchair. “Yeah, it was,” he said. “It’s too early to tell how it’ll do, but so far it’s outlived a few expectations. But it was a big gamble. I felt it’d either do real good or real bad. I had had the idea for some time but until I met Booker [T. Jones, who produced Stardust], I wasn’t really sure in my mind how well I could do these songs because of my limited musical ability, as far as writing down songs of this caliber. These are complicated songs; they have a lot of chords in them. I needed someone like Booker to write and arrange. Once I got with him it was easy to do the album.”

After so many years of trying, has success changed Willie Nelson? Are you still writing songs?

“Well, a lot of people think my writing career is over, that I’ll never write another song. But I do have one or two left in me.” He chuckled. “I do have some new ones, ‘She’s Gone,’ ‘Is the Better Part Over,’ ‘Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.’ I don’t think success has hurt or helped me. I still write when I get a good idea. I don’t write as much depressive music now because I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Do you feel any vindication now that you’ve succeeded when the Nashville establishment said for so long that you couldn’t be a singer?

“I feel a lot of self-satisfaction. I don’t know if vindication is the right word. Just knowing that I had been on the right track.”

During all those years of trying, did you ever have self-doubts, think of quitting, think you were wrong?

“Not really. I never had any doubts about what I was trying to do, my songs or my music. I just felt it was good. I had some discouraging moments as far as record labels were concerned, and I thought about droppin’ out and quittin’ and never doin’ it again. In fact, I did quit several times. But it wasn’t because I didn’t think the music wasn’t good. I just thought it was the wrong time for me.”

When you first got to Nashville, was there any kind of group of young songwriters?

“Yeah, there was a bunch of us. Roger Miller, Mel Tillis, Hank Cochran, Harlan Howard, myself. We were pretty close all the time. Stayed at each other’s houses and partied a lot. This was before Kris came to town. By then I had already left Nashville, really. I had gone to the country and vowed not to return. Everything was goin’ wrong, and I just said fuck it all, I’ll never write again, never sing again, don’t wanta see nobody again, don’t call me. I stayed out in the country a year and didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t work any dates. I let my beard grow. Raised some hogs. I lost more money in hogs than anybody. I had some fat hogs, too. I fed ’em that high-priced feed. All they could eat of it. Feed prices kept goin’ up and hog prices kept goin’ down. I lost about $5000 in three months there. On one load of hogs.”

Do you think what happened is that the public finally caught up to what you were doing?

“Yeah, I do. I’ve been told that my songs and me were ahead of my time for so many years, but if the times are catchin’ up to me – and it seems like they are – and if I don’t progress, they could very well pass me too.

“But I wasn’t considered commercial in Nashville because my songs had too many chords in ’em to be country. And they said my ideas, the songs were too deep. I don’t know what they meant by that. You have to listen to the lyric, I think, to appreciate the song. If you can hear one line of a song and have captured the whole of it and you can hum along for the rest of it, then those are more commercial. But mine usually tell a story. And in order to get the whole thought, you have to listen to the whole song. And that requires listening, which people didn’t do till recently. I really believe that the young people, that rock & roll music, all of it has been good because if nothing else it cleaned out the cobwebs in people’s ears to where you would listen to lyrics. The day of the writer and of the poet came. The Kristoffersons finally had a chance.”

But, I pointed out, you paved the way for Kristofferson.

“Well, Kris has agreed with that. He’d been listenin’ to me before he came to Nashville. Just as I’d listened to Floyd Tillman before I went to Nashville.”

I’ll bet, I said, that you had thought for years about doing an album like Stardust. Didn’t you listen to Sinatra and Crosby?

“Sure I did. Radio was the only thing I had growin’ up. We didn’t have TV. So I stayed with a radio in my ear all the time I was home. I turned the dial constantly, so I’d hear pop, country, jazz, blues, so I was accustomed to all types of music. My sister read music and took piano lessons and bought sheet music so I could learn the songs that way.”

Was growing up in Texas a big influence on your music?

“I think there’s a big freedom in Texas that gives a person a right to move around and think and do what he wants to do. And I was taught this way: anybody from Texas could do whatever they fucking wanted to do. And that confidence, shit, if you got that going for you, you can do almost anything. I believe that has a lot to do with it.”

Besides Texas, what were your biggest influences? I know you heard Ernest Tubb and Floyd Tillman and you liked them. But what else?

“Well, I used to work in the fields a lot, pick cotton alongside of niggers, and there would be a whole field full of niggers singing the blues. And I’d pick along and listen to that all day long. I loved to hear them sing.”

(Author’s Note: If you find that offensive, you should be advised that Willie Nelson personally risked his career and reputation by starting the career of Charlie Pride, the only prominent black country singer, at a time when C&W fans were not favorably disposed toward black singers. Nelson personally escorted him through the South and occasionally kissed him on the cheek onstage. Doing that in Southern honky-tonks was a brave, brave move.)

There is still argument in Nashville, I told Willie, over whether he beat the system or whether he made it work for him. What does he think?

He answered seriously. “I think I made it work for me. There’s no secrets about it. I think I kinda let it work for me. I waited till the time was right. Fortunately, all those years of waiting, I had some songs that I’d written that I could live off of and that let me keep my band together and keep my show on the road. Or else I’da had to have folded long ago. Gone back to selling encyclopedias door-to-door.”

He got up and we started walking down the corridor to the bus: time for another one-nighter. “Willie,” I asked, “do you think that what you have done has permanently altered the Nashville system?”

He thought about that one for a long time: “The big change – now that we proved that country albums can sell a million units, naturally they’re gonna try to figure out how that’s done. No one had any idea there was that kind of market out there. Now they know that, and they’re firing at that market. Those guys just didn’t know that audience was there. That’s what happens when you sit behind a desk a lot. You don’t get out there and see what people are paying money to go see. I been playin’ beer joints all my life; I know what those people like to hear.”

Two days later, I got a chance to see exactly what he was talking about. We arrived at Columbia’s Studio A in Nashville to find producer Billy Sherrill (one of the CBS executives who reportedly didn’t particularly like Stranger) sitting behind the board. He and George Jones had been waiting for two hours for Willie. George Jones used to be the undisputed king of country, the staunch defender of the traditional country sound. Now, he’s decided to cut an album of duets with such people as Willie, Waylon, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. He and Sherrill finally saw the writing on the wall. Jones and Nelson, those two giants of country, greeted each other warmly.

After one run-through of “I Gotta Get Drunk,” it was obvious who was king now. Jones was nervous and holding back on his vocals. Willie tried to put him at ease: “You know something George? I wrote that song for you back in the Fifties but I didn’t have the nerve to pitch it to you.”

“Hell, Willie,” said Jones, “I tried to find you once because I wanted to cut ‘Crazy’ but I couldn’t find you.”

Even after a couple more run-throughs, Jones was still having trouble harmonizing with Willie, and Sherrill called from the control room: “Okay, Willie’s stuff is good and we can overdub George later.”

They moved on to “Half a Man,” and Jones was still having trouble. “How the hell does Waylon sing with you,” he asked. “I’m used to singin’ right on the note. I could do two lines during one of your pauses.” Willie laughed.

Jones left for home, Sherrill left for his houseboat and Willie drove over to Municipal Auditorium and walked onstage to thunderous applause: his triumphant conquest of a city that had long spurned him.

At 85, Willie Nelson Knows the Secret to a Life Well Lived (AARP, June 2018)

Friday, June 29th, 2018

For 60 years, country music outlaw has set the bar for being true to yourself

Willie Nelson turned 85 in April, and though he still tours, drinks, vapes, writes and golfs, he’s smart enough to know where he is — on the flip side, the back nine. It gives him freedom; he’s down to essential things now, with time for only what he truly loves. Like his wife and children. Like his famous guitar, Trigger, the one with the hole worn through the top from strumming. Like Frank Sinatra and country music.

Willie’s taught us so much — how to be an honest outlaw, how to properly wear a bandanna, how to listen and how to be cool. Now just one lesson remains: how to remain yourself while getting old. “I don’t think that my attitude has changed,” he told me. “I’m still doing what I want to do, and I suggest everybody do the same thing.”

I could try to sell you on the importance of Willie Nelson, but why? He notched his first hit as a songwriter in 1960 with a tune called “Family Bible.” In the decades that have followed, he’s performed on 24 platinum or gold albums and composed dozens of pop and country hits, including iconic, timeless numbers such as “On the Road Again,” “Always on My Mind” and “Me and Paul,” about wild times on tour with his drummer, Paul English. He’s appeared in more than 40 movies and headlined thousands of sold-out concerts. He smoked a joint on the White House roof during the Carter administration in 1977; organized Farm Aid, the annual benefit for American family farmers, in 1985; and made more than a few men reconsider the practicability of braids. He has his own satellite radio station, Willie’s Roadhouse, which is partly programmed by his daughter Paula. He has his own brand of weed, Willie’s Reserve, a bespoke variety that’s been well funded by venture capitalists. Some of the labels in that line carry Willie’s sleepy-eyed countenance, making him a kind of Captain Morgan for the bloodshot set. He was at the center of a group of run-around country music pals — with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson — who played together as the Highwaymen. As one of two survivors of that crew, Willie stands as a last living link between Hank Williams, the Babe Ruth of honky-tonk, and Blake Shelton, a country star of the moment.

Of course, there have been hard times, for this is country music: drug busts and failed marriages. The first marriage, which lasted 10 years, gave Willie a lot of the heartbreak material that still turns up in his sad songs. And in 1990, after Willie followed some disastrous financial advice, the IRS seized about everything he had — saying he owed $32 million in back taxes — with the exception of his guitar and his voice, which he used to climb back out of the hole.

photo:  David McClister

These days, he seems more joyful than ever, as satisfied as any country singer who’s lived past 30. His album count is well over 100, and his latest, Last Man Standing, features all new, original songs. He’s at work on a collection of Sinatra tunes, including “My Way.” But Willie does not like to talk about his achievements or place in history or how it will all be tallied when he’s gone. Sing about it, write about it, sure — his current live show includes “Still Not Dead” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” — but discussing his legacy with a reporter is the worst kind of bad luck. He wants to talk about his life instead. He grew up in Abbott, Texas, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot 70 miles outside Dallas. “They say the population never changes,” he told me. “Every time a baby’s born, a man leaves town.” His parents divorced when he was an infant, leaving Willie and his older sister, Bobbie, who gives his band its piano distinction — her instrument sounds as rickety as a piano in a saloon in Deadwood, S.D., circa 1885 — to be raised by their devoted grandparents. Comfort came via radio, old-time music wending through a Texas night. It suggested another kind of existence.

At some point, Willie picked up a guitar. “I started when I was 5 or 6,” he told me. “I had one of those old Sears & Roebuck guitars with the strings high off the neck — your fingers literally would bleed. When they healed up, though, they were pretty tough.” He was soon singing and playing at churches and in town halls, his sister hammering away at his side. Other things happened: He joined the Air Force, worked as a door-to-door vacuum and encyclopedia salesman, and as a disc jockey. And wrote. Those first songs came under the influence of country legends. “Bob Wills era,” he said. “Spade Cooley. Tex Williams. All those great Western swing bands.”

Flat broke, Willie headed to Nashville, Tenn., the mecca of country music. That was 1960. He worked his way into the late-night lineup at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, which was across the alley from the Grand Ole Opry. Singers and songwriters partied at Tootsie’s from can till can’t. It’s where Willie debuted the songs — many now considered classics — that would become career-defining hits for other artists: “Hello Walls,” “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away.” One night he played a demo for Charlie Dick, a manager who happened to be married to Patsy Cline. Dick took Willie home, woke Cline and made Willie play her the demo tape. It was called “Crazy,” and it went Top 10 for Cline in 1961. Released before she died, it’s forever associated with the sadly beautiful mood of that short life.

Willie had a record contract of his own, but his voice was different from what you usually heard on the country charts. It had that old Western thing, the twang, but it was sophisticated, too, all about emphasizing certain words and drawing out certain syllables. It was only when he moved back to Texas that he found his audience and became not just a star, but the biggest star in country music. The rest followed as in a dream — surprising yet inevitable. Records and movies, sold-out stadiums, tours. He let his hair grow, braids thrown back, took up marijuana as a way to settle his mood. Before dope, he’s said, he was angry a lot of the time. His face became famous in the way of a few other faces: John Wayne, Dolly Parton, Louis Armstrong. It represented not just a catalog of songs but a way of being in the world.

By the mid-1970s, he’d become that rarest of stars — an icon admired by even bigger icons. Bob Dylan recalls meeting Willie and his sidekick, English, at film director Sam Peckinpah’s house in Mexico in 1972. Willie and English “had driven down there in an old blue Mercedes 300 from Texas,” Dylan said. “We were sitting around in the living room, and Willie played some of his songs: ‘Night Life,’ ‘Hello Walls,’ ‘Crazy’ — all the great ones. I thought these were the most perfect songs that ever had a right to be written. I thought he was a genius then, and I think the same thing now.”


photo:  Janis Tillerson

I’ve listened to Willie Nelson all my life but fell in love with him in 1992. It happened in a bar in New York City called the Lion’s Head. One night, I happened to play his version of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” on the jukebox. It’s a Fred Rose song, unspeakably sad, the story of a man mourning his wife and looking forward to meeting her in the next world. It carries echoes of the oldest American music. It’s an intimate hillbilly whine. Willie recorded it in 1975 for Red Headed Stranger, one of his first million-selling albums. It was among the breakthrough songs that took Willie from Nashville 1960 into the 1970s and beyond. He found his mature style on that song, realized that he could sing anything and make it new. I’d get drunk on the sort of drinks I figured Willie would order — tequila, beer — line up my quarters and play the song till the men at the rail begged me to stop. When you are 22 and lonely and far from home, you feel sorry for yourself in a way that is the essence of country music. His voice was humorous and sad and full of wisdom; I knew he’d understand everything. If I ever did get to meet Willie Nelson, I promised myself I’d ask him the secret of life.

I caught up with Willie on his tour bus 26 years later; it was in March, just before he went onstage at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C. He was sitting at a small table in back. Looking over his shoulder was Annie, his fourth wife. A makeup artist who met her husband in 1986 on the set of his made-for-TV movie Stagecoach, Ann Marie D’Angelo has been by Willie’s side through his health scares, pot busts, tax problems — “through thick and thin,” he’s said. “You can’t ask for anything more than that!” She travels with him and looks after his health — got him into bicycling, organic foods and living as if he intends to last. “Annie and I have been married since 1991 and found a way to make it work,” Willie has said. They have two adult children, Lukas and Micah, good musicians who often perform with Willie and their Aunt Bobbie. Willie was married three times before and had five other kids. In 1991, his oldest son, Billy, died at age 33. It’s something Willie never talks about, but it can be heard between every note of his most wrenching songs.

When we met, Willie was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans. He’s always looked like Willie — it’s one of those rare things you can count on — but looks the most like Willie now, in the middle of his ninth decade. His eyes are mischievous. One braid hangs down his chest; the other, down his back. His smile is wry, amused. When he laughs, he tilts back his head and stares at the ceiling. In short, Willie Nelson looks exactly like you want Willie Nelson to look.

I’d heard he does not like to talk, that he lets silence fill the gap between him and his interrogator, but I did not find that. Then again, I didn’t ask him dicey questions about politics or marriages. Instead, we talked about what he has loved: Hank Williams and Django Reinhardt, the highway when you are sober and the highway when you are drunk, the last bit of beer in the bottle, the last hour of night in the day.

Like Elvis, for example: “Did you know him?”

“Yeah, I met him a couple of times,” Willie said. “He did ‘Always on My Mind’ and ‘Night Life.’ ”

“Why did he have such a hard time?” I asked, meaning the isolation and the jumpsuits, the Memphis Mafia, pill addiction and early death.

“Well, it ain’t easy,” Willie said. “Once you think it’s easy, you’re in trouble.” To achieve fame, he added, “you’ve got to want it. And then, when you get it, you’ve got to still want it. A lot of people, when they get it, say: ‘Wait a minute, this is too much.’ ”

Willie once said that singing the same sad songs night after night had, in the past, driven him to the bottle. Why, though? I’ve always found that listening to sad music made me feel better.

“Whenever me or George Jones or whoever is singing those sad songs, there’s people out there that can relate to it, and that’s good,” he told me. “The problem can be that getting in that emotional state to sing that sad song to make all those people happy, you’re really putting yourself in a negative situation where you want to drink more.”

Whenever I asked about influences, the conversation turned to Hank Williams. Willie looked over my head when talking about Hank, as if he could see him out there, in his sequined Nudie (Cohn) suit. “He was an incredible writer, sang with so much feeling,” Willie said. “He was a sick man from the time he was born till he died, a sick man. He had a bad back and was always on some kind of pain medications or alcohol or whatever it took to get him up to the show. And he had a hard life. Died at 29. But nobody wrote better songs than Hank. It was the simplicity, melody and a line anybody could understand.”

photo:  LeAnn Muller

This led to talk of the old days, when the highway turned to dirt as soon as you left town.

“What was Nashville like in the ’60s?” I asked.

“Nashville’s always Nashville,” he said. “It’s where you take your goods to sell, and if you’ve got anything good, cool. If you don’t, they’ll let you know pretty quick. One thing about having a country hit is you can live on it forever. There are people who always like Hank Snow’s ‘I’m Moving On,’ and every time he toured, they’d want to hear that.”

In the ’80s, Frank Sinatra once opened for Willie at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, and they appeared together in a TV spot for NASA. Willie considered Sinatra a close friend. These two icons could not seem more different, and yet both were utterly unique vocalists who reinvented their genres.

“Do you feel like you learned anything from Sinatra?”

“I learned a lot about phrasing listening to Frank,” Willie said. “He didn’t worry about behind the beat or in front of the beat, or whatever — he could sing it either way, and that’s the feel you have to have.”

I asked about Frank’s work in the ’70s, when he turned out all those weak pop songs. I wondered if, after you get to the top, it’s easy to lose your way.

“You’ve got these guys over here saying you ought to do this and those guys over there saying you ought to do that,” Willie responded. “Next thing, you don’t know what to do.”

Willie was almost out of time. In a few minutes he’d have to head out onstage, where he’d summon all the ghosts, play all the hits. The audience would be older than it had been once, but you could tell the fans did not feel that age when Willie ran through “Whiskey River” and “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time.” It’s the sort of music that makes you wish you were back at the beginning, when the road seemed like it would go on forever.

I stood and he stood, and we shook hands. I felt warmth pass from him to me. I told him what “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” had meant to me when I was 22. He nodded like he already knew. Then, before he could slip away, I asked him the secret of life.

“It’s simple,” Willie said. Do what you want to do. “If I don’t want to do it, forget it. But if I do want to do it, get out of my goddamn way.”

Rich Cohen is the author of 13 books, the most recent of which is The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse.

 

Willie Nelson on World Cafe today

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

radio.krcb.org
by:  Mark Prell

World Café makes a pilgrimage to Willie Nelson’s tour bus! Willie released an album called Last Man Standing just days before his 85th birthday. Willie talks about how the deaths of dear friends like Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings influenced the title track, the prank he pulled when he was in the hospital recovering from a collapsed lung and shares insights about his favorite form of relaxation. Giggles ensue.

Tune in to World Café, with host Talia Schlanger, every weekday at 2:00 pm on KRCB-FM Radio 91 / streaming @ radio.krcb.org / Comcast Cable channel 961 all over the Bay Area / the FREE KRCB App @ iTunes & Google Play!

Listen to it here:

https://player.fm/series/world-cafe-words-and-music-from-wxpn/willie-nelson

Willie Nelson Interview, Billboard Country Music Summit, Nashville (June 5, 2012)

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

billboardinterview

photo: Michael Seto

www.CMT.com
by Edward Morris

Willie Nelson arrived 37 minutes late for his scheduled question-and-answer session Tuesday (June 5) at the Billboard Country Music Summit in Nashville. But the crowd was patient and gave him a standing ovation when he finally walked onstage.

Nelson was in town to perform later that evening with the Nashville Symphony and Wednesday on the CMT Music Awards airing at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CMT and CMT.com.
Wearing a black T-shirt and jeans and with his hair pulled back into a ponytail, Nelson looked and sounded considerably younger than the 79 years the calendar has imposed upon him.

He sat in a chair opposite Billboard‘s Ray Waddell, who primed him with questions about his long and laurelled career as a singer, songwriter and political activist.
On the matter of performing with the Nashville Symphony, Nelson was modest.

“They’re really good,” he said of the orchestra members, “and I’m kind of faking it now and then.”

Nelson’s sons, Lukas and Micah, appear on his new album, Heroes, and sometimes perform during his concerts.

“Working with your kids — there’s nothing better than that,” he said. “All the kids really make you proud when you’re out there.”

Asked if he encouraged his children to get into music, Nelson responded, “I left a lot of instruments lying around and kind of waited to see what they would pick up. For a long time, they didn’t pick up anything. Then, after a while, I saw Luke pick up a guitar, and Micah jumped on some drums, and it kind of caught on from there.”
Waddell pointed out that Nelson has recorded songs from virtually every musical genre and asked what made him choose one song over another.

“It’s one of those instant things,” Nelson replied. “When you hear a song or a melody or something, it hits you. It’s really not anything you have control over. You hear a good song and you wonder where it’s been all these years.”

So what led him to cover Coldplay’s “The Scientist” on Heroes, Waddell wondered.

“Lukas brought that to the studio, and Micah brought ‘Come On Up to the House,’ the Tom Waits song [also on the album]. So the kids have kind of been supporting me.”

Flashing back to when he first knew he wanted to play music, Nelson said the first guitar he picked up was an old Stella with its strings sitting high off the neck.

“My fingers were almost bleeding, but I didn’t care. I knew that was what I wanted to do,” he recalled. “I was about 6 years old.”

Waddell asked if it had been difficult for him to leave his native Texas to try his hand at music in Nashville all those many years ago.

“I had been told all my life that this was the place to go,” he said. “This is where the music folks are, and if you had something to sell, the folks here might buy it. It sounds commercial, but that’s the way it was to me back in those days because I needed some help. I was doing pretty good in Texas, but I needed to branch out a little bit.”

It was in Nashville, Nelson acknowledged, that he established himself as a songwriter. Reciting his successes, he said, “Faron Young did ‘Hello Walls.’ Billy Walker did ‘Funny How Time Slips Away.’ Patsy Cline did ‘Crazy.’ Roy Orbison did ‘Pretty Paper.’ Ray Price did ‘Night Life.’”

While Nelson customarily wrote songs by himself, he said he did occasionally write with others.

Hank Cochran and I used to write some together,” he said. “I remember one night in particular we were writing at my house out in Ridgetop [a community located north of Nashville], and we wrote seven songs that night. The last song that we wrote was ‘What Can You Do to Me Now,’ and the next day my house burned.”

In those early days, Nelson continued, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Nashville’s Lower Broadway was a songwriters’ haven, located as it was directly behind Ryman Auditorium, then the home of the Grand Ole Opry.

“I met Charlie Dick there, who was Patsy Cline’s husband. I brought ‘Crazy’ with me on a 45 [rpm record]. I had it on Tootsie’s’ jukebox. He listened and said, ‘I bet Patsy would like that.’ It was about 12 at night, and we’d had a couple of beers. He said, ‘Let’s go play this for Patsy.’ I said, ‘No, let’s don’t. Let’s wait until tomorrow.’ But he said, ‘No. Come on.’  “So I wouldn’t get out of the car. He went in and told Patsy that he had a song for her. She came out and made me come into the house. I sang the song for her. She loved it and recorded it the next week.”

Nelson next reminisced about his stint as a bass player in Ray Price’s band.

“First of all, Donny Young — or Johnny Paycheck [as he’d later call himself] — was playing bass for Ray, and he left the band. I was writing songs for Pamper Music, Ray’s publishing company.

“Ray called me and asked me if I could play bass, and I said, ‘Well, can’t everybody?’ So on my way up there on the bus [to meet Price], [steel guitarist] Jimmy Day taught me a few things on the bass. I played guitar and knew the top four strings were very similar.   “So I had something to go on, and he knew the Ray Price show. By the time I got there, I thought I knew it. Of course, I didn’t. I asked Ray years later if he knew I couldn’t play bass, and he said, ‘Uh huh.’”

Waddell next wanted to know what caused Nelson to leave Nashville after he had become a recording artist and return to Texas.

“My demo sessions were better than my records,” he said, “because I had the greatest musicians in the world [playing on the demos]. So I really loved my demos, but a lot of the time when [the labels] got through adding everything to it, I felt like it kind of watered it down a little bit. That was one of the problems I had with that kind of recording.”

Also, he noted, he had a big fan base in Texas and played there a lot. Often, it made it difficult for him to get back to Nashville in time to play on the Grand Ole Opry, where he performed regularly.

In Texas, he noticed the audiences looked a little different from those in Tennessee.

“I played a lot of places where there were longhaired cowboys and shorthaired cowboys, and the air was kind of smelling different,” he said. “And I noticed a lot of the people were getting along pretty good out there. So I said we might ought to try something different.
“This was just after Woodstock. So I thought we might try something in Austin or Dripping Springs. So me and Leon Russell and a few more of us gathered up and had a little show down there [in 1973]. . . . We had about 50,000 people.” Thus was born the first of a series of annual Willie Nelson Picnics.

On the recording side, Nelson had turned to making concept albums — including Shotgun Willie, Phases & Stages, Yesterday’s Wine and Red Headed Stranger — instead of the usual collections of unrelated songs.

“I don’t really know what made me think it would work,” Nelson reflected. But obviously it did.
Asked about the “outlaw” tag tacked to him after the release of Wanted! The Outlaws, the 1976 package of songs that also featured Waylon Jennings and Tompall Glaser, Nelson said, “I loved it. I thought that was the best sales idea we came up with. . . . I thought it was ingenious.”

He noted that the term “outlaws” was coined by Hazel Smith, who now writes CMT.com’s Hot Dish column.
Nelson also spoke fondly of touring with Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson as the Highwaymen.

“Every night I got to hear my heroes sing,” he said. He added that there were 278 pieces of luggage they had to lug around on the Highwaymen tour.
Nelson said he didn’t realize in 1985, when he helped launch the first Farm Aid to call attention to America’s embattled family farmers, that it would develop into an annual event.

“I really thought that if we did one Farm Aid and all the smart guys in Washington saw what was going on, they would do something about it. But then I found out that they were part of the problem — that the big corporations had taken over the farms, and they were trying to squeeze out the family farmers. And they’re doing a damn good job of it.

“What’s really going to have to happen is we’re going to have to get our farmers back growing food and fuel and keep us from going around the world and starting wars over oil when we can have our own resources right here.”

This remark drew cheers from the crowd.

“One of our biggest problems,” he continued, “is that guns and drugs are going back and forth across our southern border. . . . It would save a lot of money and a lot of lives by decriminalizing some of the less harmful drugs.”

He later referred to marijuana, the drug with which he’s become associated and celebrated, as “the best stress medicine there is.”
Waddell asked Nelson why he is so open to meeting with and helping younger artists. That question took Nelson back to the days when he was a fan looking toward his own idols.

“I remember meeting [Western movies actor] Johnny Mack Brown when he came to Hillsboro [Texas]. I shook his hand and got an autograph. I realize how happy that made me. So if I can make somebody else that happy, that would be a good deal.”

Returning to his new record, Heroes, Nelson had nothing but praise for Snoop Dogg, who sings with him on the raucous “Roll Me Up (And Smoke Me When I Die).”

“He didn’t rap it. He really crooned it,” Nelson marveled.

He confirmed the rumor that in the hard times of his early career, he sold the rights to several songs that are now priceless, among them “Family Bible” (which went for $100) and “Night Life.” He said at the time it made sense and helped him pay his bills.

“I really don’t feel horrible about it, but I wish I hadn’t.”

Summarizing the way he looks at life now, Nelson concluded, “I’m just glad for the moment. That’s about all I can think about right now.”

Meet Lukas Nelson

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018
www.Surfline.com
by: Dashel Pierson

Lukas Nelson is no stranger to life on the road. He just returned from Australia, before that Europe, and next all across America for a slog of performances with his band Promise of the Real, some gigs playing with Neil Young, and “a few shows with dad here and there,” too.
“Dad” is, after all, the guy who wrote the seminal nomad anthem, “On the Road Again” – so, yeah, he’s well-accustomed to tour buses and long stretches of sleeping in strange hotels.

“I really feel at home on the road,” Nelson told Surfline during a lull from his time on tour. “I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It gives me a sense of meaning and accomplishment and, yeah, I feel lucky to do it.”

Nelson, 29, was born in Austin, Texas. He’s one of seven children from legendary folk hero, Willie Nelson. But before he followed in his father’s footsteps, he and his mother moved to Maui, where Lukas spent his childhood surfing, skateboarding, and noodling around on guitar.

“They’re a lot different [Hawaii and Texas], but there’s a lot of similar mentalities,” Nelson said, reflecting on his childhood. “The people are good to one another, they’re kind, they’re conscientious and aware. Both were great places to grow up.”

And if being Willie Nelson’s son wasn’t enough when it came time to choose a career path, then growing up between these two distinctly different locations gave him that extra little push. As Nelson explained:

“Austin is a special place in terms of music, so that had a major influence on me. But Maui is too. I got lost in music on Maui, just jamming, and being introduced into reggae out there. I had a reggae band out there for a bit. It’s just different flavors of the same kind of spirit, so to speak.”

Also on Maui, Nelson became close with the Meola family and, specifically, the elder son, Matt. The two became inseparable, from going to the same school, to surfing with one another daily. They’d surf Ho’okipa, Honomanu Bay, Honolua Bay, and sometimes they’d traverse the island to Lahaina.

As for Jaws, Nelson never caught the bug – unlike his Maui cohorts like Matt Meola, Albee Layer, or Kai Lenny – although he’s not opposed to paddling out in the future, if the opportunity arose. “I’d be into [surfing Jaws] if I had the time to train beforehand, but right now, I don’t think I have that time,” he said. “Wiping out at Jaws is no joke. I’d need to make sure I’d be prepared for that. Maybe there’ll be a time in my life when I can get really into the training. I have a lot of respect for the ocean and I’m not going to try and do something that I’m not comfortable with.”

But whereas Matt and the other Maui boys took the path of professional surfing, becoming some of the most innovative aerialists and big wave specialists in the game, Lukas decided to focus on music.

“At a certain point, I knew that I had a talent for music and I just put 100% into it,” said Nelson. “Just like Matt put 100% into surfing, and he’s one of the best. It’s just a matter of choosing your passion and going for it.”

Soon, Nelson was playing gigs and forming his band, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. But before the band became the touring outfit for Neil Young – playing onstage with the fabled musician during bigtime sets, like the classic rock enthusiast’s answer to Coachella, Desert Trip – Nelson’s own band began as an homage to Young, and one song in particular.

“Neil’s song ‘Walk On’ – that’s the reason for the band’s name,” Nelson explained. “We were in love with that song, and especially the line that goes: ‘some get stoned, some get strange, sooner or later it all gets real.’ That rang true with us, and resonated with me.”

Not just the lyrics, but the message behind them rang true with Nelson. Through his upbringing, traveling to tour stops with “dad” during school vacations, he had a firsthand glimpse into the manipulative, occasionally toxic entertainment industry in which he planned to enter. And he decided to make a promise to himself, a promise to remain real.

Willie Nelson New York Times Interview (February 23, 1995)

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

Image result for new york times willie nelson

www.nytimes.com

by Alex Witchel
February 23, 1995

Most men will tell you Willie Nelson is a hero. With a copy of his 1982 hit “Always on My Mind” and the phone number of a good florist, they can get away with murder. “Girl, I’m sorry I was blind,” indeed.

They learn from a master. Mr. Nelson, who is married to wife No. 4, may be most recognizable for his Pocahontas braids, but it’s those eyes that start the trouble. Even now, at 62, they are perfectly almond shaped, deep brown and, well, just deep. Look into them for too long and you may regret it.

Mr. Nelson’s misfortune in love may be the reason he can wail his songs about heartbreak so well. Not to mention write them. When he went home drunk and passed out cold for the thousandth time, his first wife sewed him into the bedsheets “buck naked,” as he likes to say, and piled his clothes and the kids into the car and left. It makes you wonder whom he really wrote “Crazy” about.

These days, though, Mr. Nelson insists, he’s a cheating heart no more. His newest album, “Healing Hands of Time” (EMI Liberty), is filled with classic love songs, his and other people’s, accompanied by a 63-piece orchestra. But life can be funny for a crooning cowboy. A new album means going on the road to sell it, so he has to sing his love songs to everyone but his wife, Anne Marie, back in Spicewood, Tex., for whom they are meant.

And being on the road again means living on his bus, Honeysuckle Rose II. The previous night, he played Syracuse; this night, in early February, the United States Military Academy.

At 5 P.M. it’s not quite dark outside, but it certainly is dark in the bus. Up front, there are built-in couches along the sides, and thanks to a satellite dish, CNN is on TV. At the back is the door to Mr. Nelson’s bedroom. In the middle is a small kitchen area with a cut watermelon in the sink. Mr. Nelson sits at the table wearing a sweatshirt, sweatpants and thick white socks. Behind him is what he calls the art museum, snapshots of his two youngest sons, Lucas, 6, and Micah, 5, and a drawing with the message “Hi, Dad From Lucas” surrounded by hearts. His hair, reddish-brown and finely sifted with gray, hangs loose down his back. And his face! It is marked with so many creases, hollows and furrows it looks almost geological. He sits quietly, watching, like a cornered animal that can’t decide if he should pounce, flee or purr.

How was Syracuse? “It was cold.”

What did he do today? “Slept till noon.”

Why did he make this new album? “It seemed like the thing to do.”

How’s his back? (He fractured it baling hay as a teen-ager.) “Let me tell you a strange story,” he says, suddenly animated, as if a quarter dropped into his slot. And with the passion of pain he starts his tale of woe and redemption, which culminates in Rolfing.

“My wife recommended it highly,” he says. “I heard it was painful, but I didn’t care. The first of 10 sessions fixed it.” He rests his thick hands on the table. His wedding band looks loose on his finger. That seems right.

It’s hot in here. Navy velvet curtains hang over the windows, and the dark brown paneling and dark carpet seem to soak up light. “It’s kind of like living in a submarine,” Mr. Nelson acknowledges, showing a small smile. “But I’m happy on the bus. Home is where you’re happy. It can be anywhere, out there playing music, wherever I’m at. I refuse to stay where I’m not happy, and if I can’t change it, because of bad vibes or whatever, there’s no reason to stay.”

“A lot of people get tired of the road,” he continues. “But as much as I enjoy being at home with the toys I have there, I still need to leave that and go play music. I have the best of two worlds, though it’s hard to balance them. They’re both fragile. There’s the desire to be where you are plus the desire to go back where you were.”

The phone rings. It’s his eldest daughter, Lana, 41.

“Hey, nothing. What do you know?” Mr. Nelson asks affectionately. “Oh, we’re traveling to the gig. West Point. Yes, the West Point. As opposed to the east point. I don’t know what we’re doing. We’re playing for the folks.”

He speaks so quietly, barely above a whisper, that it’s hard to conjure visions of his legendary temper. Does he still have one? “If I said I didn’t I’d be lying,” he says. “I don’t show it every time. At least I hope I don’t. People say about me, ‘He’s a tough old bird.’ I must be or I wouldn’t be here.”

He says he doesn’t know exactly how many albums he’s made. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 to 100 legitimate albums, but there’s also bootleg.” From which he doesn’t make money, of course.

Money has been a loaded issue for Mr. Nelson since 1990, when the Internal Revenue Service seized his house and all his assets for nonpayment of $16.7 million in taxes. What happened, he says, was that he owed $2 million in taxes, and on advice of his accountants, Price Waterhouse, was told to borrow $12 million to invest in tax shelters so he wouldn’t have to pay the $2 million. The only problem, he says, was that, after the fact, the shelters were disallowed.

But the story has ended happily. He settled out of court with Price Waterhouse and paid back the Government. When his house was auctioned, a group of farmers bought it for him, grateful for the singer’s Farm Aid concerts, which have raised $12 million, so now he has it back. “There’s a lot of good people out there,” Mr. Nelson says simply.

So, why bother touring, especially if his debts are paid? “Well, I don’t know,” he says. “I seem to be happier when I’m working. I tend to get into trouble with too much time on my hands.”

Like what?

“Like you name it,” he shoots back.

He started working by the age of 5, picking cotton in Abbott, Tex. (When he was a toddler, his mother, a dancer, and his father, a musician, left him and his older sister, Bobbie, who plays keyboards in his band, to be raised by their grandparents.) He played his first professional date at 8, and as an adult sold vacuum cleaners door to door. After working as a disk jockey, he moved in the early 1960’s to Nashville, where he sold his songs and despaired of becoming a singer. The fact that he didn’t sound like anyone else was not an advantage at the time. Now, of course, his idiosyncratic phrasing and nasal twang could be copyrighted.

“I never pretended to have a great voice,” he says. “It works and I can carry a tune. If you have a good song, that’s about all that’s required.”

The new album has lots of good songs. “EMI Liberty, my new record label, said I should do an album of standards. Like ‘Crazy.’ ” He smiles. “I hadn’t been looking at those as standards.”

As a writer, Mr. Nelson has slowed down in recent years, though it’s hard to blame him. He says that between the mid-1950’s and mid-1970’s, he wrote about 2,000 songs.

“I went into the studio last week with my original band and a new songbook of mine,” he says. “We started on the first page, and in two days we did 11 segments. I want to do that with all my songs, the way I hear them and feel them now. People wouldn’t know but one or two of ’em.”

In this, his 54th year of performing, does he worry about the show-biz adage “No one is on top forever”? “That’s not my plan,” he says. “There’s a saying I could never decide was mine or Roger Miller’s. I decided I’d take credit for it: ‘I didn’t come here and I’m not leaving.’ ”

Very wise. Does that wisdom extend to fatherhood? He has had seven children in all, yet he has traveled his entire life, leaving home for vast stretches of time. His eldest son, Billy, who had been treated for alcohol abuse, committed suicide three Christmases ago. Should he have done anything differently?

“Well, you have all those guilts and regrets, but you can run yourself crazy,” he says quietly. “You’re not the same person now you were then, so why take responsibility for something you didn’t do?” When he lifts his eyes, the anguish in his face belies the slickness of the words.

The bus has parked, and he goes inside the Eisenhower Hall Theater for a rehearsal. He starts to sing, and his familiar voice lifts, the cry of an old soul who’s seen more than he’s wanted to. He is completely fallible, which is his charm. A frog prince who’d rather stay a frog.

A few cadets peer at him from the wings, while Larry Gorham, a former Hell’s Angel who is Mr. Nelson’s bodyguard, glares. “Be all that you can be,” he grumbles not-so-under his breath.

“Be nice,” Mr. Nelson calls out.

It’s only 7 P.M. Rehearsal is over, and the show’s not until 8. Mr. Nelson heads toward the bus. What’s he going to do now? He smiles.

“I’m gonna roll me up a big joint and smoke it.” Then he eats a plate of vegetables and settles back with some of the band to watch videos of himself, including one from Howard Stern’s cable-television show, in which he handily wins a joint-rolling contest. Everyone laughs. The feeling is easy, relaxed. You would never know that, a few yards away, 4,400 people are growing restless.

Toward the end of the tape, he goes into his bedroom and comes out with his hair braided (he does it himself). At 8:10 P.M. he walks backstage and picks up his guitar with no noticeable increase in energy. He keeps his world small, parking his living room just outside and walking in here now to play. He could be anywhere. On the other side of the curtain are howls and whoops as the lights go down. One member of the band asks, “Should we open with ‘Anchors Aweigh’?”

When the curtain rises and the flag of Texas unfurls behind them, though, they launch into “Whisky River,” their customary opening number. They’re all so used to each other, they’re like fingers on a hand. They just stand and play, with no videos or special effects.

But when Mr. Nelson launches into “Always on My Mind” the yelling accelerates. “My favorite song!” a man screams from the balcony. As Mr. Nelson sings, his energy is intense. He invests the words with all kinds of feeling, every bit he can muster. When he sings “Give me one more chance to keep you satisfied,”the meaning seems to switch and he’s no longer pleading with a woman but with the audience. He’s not young, he’s not pretty, he doesn’t have a fancy headset or smoke machines. He holds Trigger, his old, beaten guitar with a hole in it, and sings his heart. And it goes, the sound, the feeling, the plea, and hits the cadets and the rest full force, and they scream and holler and clap.

And then he asks, “Everybody doing all right out there?” And they roar, “Yeah,” back at him, and someone tosses a cadet’s hat onto the stage, which he puts on — a real sight with those braids.

And when he says, “Good night, everybody,” and the roar intensifies, they somehow find their way backstage, and they’re lining up outside near the bus, and everywhere he goes there are arms and hands and people shouting, “Willie!”

And he talks to each of them, one at a time, in no particular rush now to climb back on the bus and drive into the night. He’d like to stay awhile.

Willie Nelson Interview: New York Magazine (2010)

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

by Kevin O’Donnell
www.nymag.com

Willie Nelson may be one of the most prolific artists in pop music. Since the sixties, the Red Headed Stranger has released an average of one record per year and he estimates that he’s sitting on a wealth of unreleased material: “I’ve written thousands of songs and recorded thousands,” he says. Last week, Nelson, who just turned 77, released his latest album, Country Music, a mellow collection of country and folk standards he recorded with roots producer (and Oscar winner for Crazy Heart) T-Bone Burnett. Vulture caught up with Nelson on his birthday to talk about the record, his current weed-smoking habit, and his famously dinged-up guitar, Trigger.

First of all, happy birthday. What are you doing to celebrate?

Well, I’m playing a gig tonight in West Virginia. It’s business as usual. No party. Just another day.

Since the early sixties, you’ve released roughly one album a year. What’s your secret to being so prolific?

I would’ve thought I had put out one record a year. I just love to play music and I love to record. Usually the problem is with the record companies. It’s difficult for them to keep up with marketing because I come up with so much product. When I feel like recording, I do it.

Do you have a studio in your home?

My studio is outside of Austin, and it’s built on a golf course. We call it the Cut and Putt. You can go record, then play some golf, then go record again.

On your new album, Country Music, you collaborated with iconic roots producer T-Bone Burnett for the first time in your career. It’s surprising you guys have never worked together before.

Yeah, it is. He had asked me to come to L.A. and go to the Crazy Heart premiere. We’d played together and talked about doing a record. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I trust him as a producer. He brought all the songs to the sessions and picked the musicians and the studio. Everything that happened, he called the shots. To me, with a good producer, you can say, “Okay, you’re the producer. You get the music and musicians and I’ll play.”

Country Music features mostly covers of standard folk and country tunes — “Man With the Blues” is the only original on the album.

That song is over 60 years old. I wrote that one back in my early years as a writer. I first recorded it in a basement at my friend’s house in Vancouver, Washington. I wasn’t much of an artist back then at all, but I always thought it was a pretty good song.

You released the album on 4/20, the international holiday for pot smokers. Was that intentional?

I hope so. When I saw that it was coming out on 4/20, I thought, Well, someone was thinking.

What’s your current weed-smoking habit like?

I still smoke, but I’ve changed my habits a little bit. I smoke with a vaporizer; it’s easier on my lungs. I have several of them.

On your upcoming tour, you’ll be playing gigs at a few casinos. Are you much of a gambler?

No, but I like to get together with the guys and play poker. We don’t go gambling. We have our own private games. I have no idea if I’m good or not. Sometimes I win; sometimes I don’t.

Your guitar, Trigger, has been through quite a lot and has a giant hole in the body. How do you keep it from totally falling apart.

I’ve had to have it reinforced on the inside a couple of times, and I have to watch it in places. It does get a little fragile. But I keep it in a hard-shell case.

Trigger is famously scratched with signatures of various celebrities. Who was the first to sign it?

Leon Russell. I asked him to sign my guitar because he asked me to sign his. I started to sign it with a magic marker, and he told me to use a ballpoint pen and scratch it in there. I’ve had hundreds of signatures since then.

Mickey Raphael Interview, by Joe Nick Patoski

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Coach Don Nelson talks about Willie Nelson, Hawaii and marijuana

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

www.nytimes.com
by:  Alex Williams

Read entire article here.

MAUI, Hawaii — Regrets, he’s had a few. But say this about Don Nelson, the retired basketball coach: He definitely did it his way. 

On the way to 1,335 regular-season victories (a record), basketball’s mad scientist rocked pink fish ties on the sideline, quaffed Bud Lites at news conferences and helped change the way the game is played with “Nellie Ball,” a guerrilla-warfare strategy built around speedy, undersize lineups.

With the N.B.A. playoffs underway, we caught up with Mr. Nelson in his cavernous poker room, a Hall of Fame-caliber man cave where he hosts the island’s most exclusive poker game with Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson. Inside the paint, outside the box — there is only one Nellie.

So this is where those big games go down with Willie, Woody and Owen. How big are the pots? 

They can get up to $2,000 to $3,000, especially when Willie is in. He never saw a card he didn’t like. He raises every time, no matter what. Every time it goes by him, it’s $50, $50, $50. I’m conservative. But Willie, man, he’s wild. Woody is wild. Owen’s pretty good. Woody’s a terrible card player.

Pretty good chess player, though.                               

Oh, very good. Play you fast or slow.

That’s a serious shuffleboard table you have here. Do you guys play for money?

Yeah, I’d say so. I’ve paid for that shuffleboard table at least 10 times over. 

Have you been into cannabis for long?

No, I didn’t smoke until maybe three or four years ago. I never smoked when I was coaching. I just started. Willie got me smoking.

He would do it.

He would do it. I didn’t think I’d ever be a pot smoker, but hanging out with Willie and Woody and guys like that, you know, everybody smokes in those games. It just became kind of natural. Usually you’re smoking with your friends, sitting around, telling stories, you smoke a bowl. It’s not that I smoke all the time. I usually just smoke at night during poker games. Like Willie told me, it’s hard to be depressed when you’re smoking pot.

How do you like cannabis compared to alcohol?

I don’t drink anymore, because I like pot better. It’s about the same as alcohol, except you don’t have the aftereffect. There’s no hangover. I mean, I don’t drink to excess, anyway. But you know, even if you have a couple of drinks, you’re liable to have a headache in the morning.

On your farm, do you grow cannabis for dispensaries?

No, I just grow for myself. You’re allowed to grow up to 10 plants, so you have plenty to smoke. I’ve never sold. I would never do that.

How is the quality?

Oh, it’s great. Great stuff.  It’s called Nellie Kush. It’s O.G. and Hindu Kush. Hindu Kush is really good. It comes from India and the guy that brought it over mixed the two of them, so we’ve got Nellie Kush now.

Willie Nelson CMT Insider Interview (4/23/2010)

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

countrymusic

www.cmt.com

Even when his albums centered around pop standards, blues, jazz and reggae, Willie Nelson has always put his unique country spin on the music. With his new album, Country Music, he chose to delve deep into the kind of music he grew up hearing and playing.

Produced by T Bone Burnett, Country Music was recorded in Nashville with a band of local musicians that included Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller and Ronnie McCoury. The song selection includes new arrangements of traditional material and covers of songs popularized by Porter Wagoner (“Satisfied Mind”), Hank Williams (“House of Gold”), Ernest Tubb (“Seaman’s Blues”), Merle Travis (“I Am a Pilgrim”) and Al Dexter (“Pistol Packin’ Mama”).

During a recent interview, CMT Insider talked to the Country Music Hall of Fame member about the album and if there was a reason it had a specific release date of April 20 — also referred to by some as 4/20 or “Pot Day.”

Where did the idea for this album country music come from?

Nelson: My idea of country music is basically what this album has on it. It’s fiddles, steels, mandolins, and it just seems like a natural title. And underneath Country Music, I was tempted to say, “Lest we forget this is country music.”

What was the criteria for this album?

Well, T Bone Burnett produced it, and if you’ve got a good producer like that, you kind of just let him have the ball and run with it. And that’s what I did. He brought all the songs to the session except for “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” and all the musicians, he called them all together. He’s really the best at doing things like that.

I’ve read that you said three takes are enough if you’ve got the right people in the studio. Did you feel like you had that there?

Oh, yeah. And a lot of times, the first take is the best, so the second and third are just insurance.

A lot of people are saying Country Music is similar to yourStardust album because these songs are standards. Do you agree with that?

I do. It’s a Stardust in its own right. All of these songs are the same type of standard songs in the country music as theStardust album were in pop. So, yeah, there is definitely a connection.

Is there a song on this album that means the most to you personally?

They’re all really good songs that I grew up singing — “Satisfied Mind,” “Dark as a Dungeon.” You know, these days the mining songs are very special to me because of all the tragedies with all these mines. But all of these songs are very good songs.

The traditional song, “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” was one you hadn’t even heard before.

No, I hadn’t heard that. T Bone brought some good things to the session, but I had never heard that one. He brought a Bob Willssong I had never heard. I thought I’d heard all the Bob Wills songs, but “Gotta Walk Alone” is an obscure Bob Wills song that I had never heard.

You included Hank Williams’ “House of Gold” on the album and have said it helped get you through some hard times. What is it about his songs that have the power to heal?

Well, songs like “House of Gold” … it’s just pure Hank Williams. No one sings those like Hank did, but I sure love to try.

Is there a type of music that you wouldn’t touch these days?

Oh, I don’t know. There are probably lots of different things. … I’m just now aware yet.

You had carpal tunnel surgery a few years back. How is your hand doing?

The hand’s doing better. I’ve got a rotator cuff that’s torn, and it’s cutting down on my golf but … .

There was a lot of speculation about your reasons for releasing the album on 4/20. Is this a coincidence?

Well, you know, I wasn’t even aware of a 4/20 kind of the release date. I never put anything together — because I’m usually kind of slow on things like that — but I think it’s funny.

A district attorney in North Carolina is planning to prosecute some of your band members for possession of moonshine and marijuana. That’s kind of got to be disappointing.

Well, yeah it’s very disappointing. … To have a little moonshine, in North Carolina, I thought they put that in baby bottles. I didn’t know that was a problem.

We’ve been hearing rumors that you’re going to do a movie with Johnny Knoxville. Is that happening?

We’re certainly talking about one together. And that’d be great. I love Johnny. We’d have a lot of fun.

Anything new to report about your constant touring?

Not really. I’m having fun playing. We played … in Vegas for all the broadcast people, and we had the band from Nashville there. That’s happening a few more times. I think we’re doing it in L.A. and New York. I’m looking forward to it because these guys are very good.

And T Bone will be doing some performances with you, right?

He’s great musician, and any time he’s around, you feel a little better because you feel like he’s got your back. I’m glad to know he’s in the studio or on the stage or anything.

Willie Nelson with John Fugelsang today

Friday, April 20th, 2018

“Trippy Troubadour” — micah nelson

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

photo:  Janis Tillerson

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Andy Greene

Playing music with Neil Young has been like “getting a masters degree in Jedi training,” the musician says.

A little more than a dozen years ago, Willie Nelson stumbled out of the poker room at his house in Maui in a haze of marijuana smoke to find his then-14-year-old son Micah playing Mario Kart on a Nintendo 64. Micah had just returned from a school trip, and his father greeted him with a elcome home, Particle Kid!” Willie said.

“I thought it was the funniest thing, so I never forgot it,” Micah says. “Years later I asked him about it and he said, ‘I was trying to say “Welcome home, Prodigal Son,” but I was so stoned it came out as ‘Particle Kid.'”

By that point, the teenaged Micah had already started recording his own low-fi, dreamscape music – a slow tumble of guitars, far-off vocals, and washes of rhythm and noise – and when he decided to release it, he used the nom de smoke-plume that Willie had given him. The first Particle Kid collections were limited to 200 cassette tapes on the indie label Dome of Doom, and there was no sign they came from the son of Willie Nelson. “Instead of taking advantage of that I always felt that I had to work twice as hard as everyone else and live up the name, really earn it,” Micah says.

Earn it he has, though he may be working more than twice as hard as everyone else. A musical polymath who, according to Willie, “plays everything,” Micah combines an indie DIY aesthetic with a questing hippie spirit and a relentless work ethic. Over the last few months, the 27-year-old has done everything from open shows for Margo Price – one of Nashville’s sharpest and hardest rocking songwriters – to backing up Neil Young in his older brother Lukas’ band, Promise of the Real. Songs like “Gunshow Loophole Blues” from Particle Kid’s latest, Everything Is Bullshit, were inspired by the madness of Trump’s America. There’s also his adventurous rock quintet Insects vs. Robots, a series of animated short films he’s been working on, the Space Gnome deck of cards he’s designed to benefit the Bridge School (a cause Young has long supported), and an interactive album inspired by the patterns of hotel carpets he’s photographed that. “Whether I’m gardening or working on my car of making music or painting, it’s all part the same entity,” he says. “I’ve always felt like an artist who is using music as a medium.”

His role as integral member of Neil Young’s band began with an impromptu rendition of “Rockin’ in the Free World” at Farm Aid in 2014, which quickly lead to Promise of the Real backing Young on two studio albums and a series tours. Despite the nearly half-century age gap between Young and the band, they’ve become a very tight unit, and Micah and Lukas have coaxed Young to bust out rarities he hasn’t played since the 1970s, like “Alabama” and “Vampire Blues” and “L.A.”

2015heartbreakerjanis16

Micah says playing music with Young has been like “getting a masters degree in Jedi training.” Young has schooled the Nelson brothers with precepts like, “The perfect is highly overrated.” “The main thing he’s taught me about music is, ‘If you think, you’re fucked.’ You have to accept your flaws and embrace them.”

Young cast Micah, Lukas and the rest of Promise of the Real in his trippy western Paradox, directed by Young’s girlfriend Daryl Hannah and shot in the Rockies during a four day tour break, using vintage Super 8 film and Hannah’s phone. “We’re all miners in the future, mining for ancient technology like computers and phones,” says Micah. “It’s a strange, beautiful art film.” He say that Young and Hannah call Paradox “a very loud poem” — perhaps the only such poem streaming on Netflix.

Touring with Young means some nights Micah’s playing for 100,000 fans on a bill with Paul McCartney at Desert Trip, and then just a few weeks later he’s out on his own, singing to a handful of people at a dusty club. It’s a balance that Micah has learned to embrace, though in the future he hopes to gain just a little more traction with his own career. “I wish I had a roadie to help me carry shit around,” he says, then laughs. “I’d like to be able to employ a reliable sound guy and incorporate some of animation into the show. But I feel like I’ve come a long way in the past couple of years and I want to keep the momentum going. Hopefully I’ll hit a nerve with more people without sacrificing or compromising on anything.”

Willie Nelson interview

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

“Always Look for Hope” — Willie Nelson

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Willie Nelson

www.telegraph.co.uk
by: Martin Chilton

Willie Nelson, who was born on April 30, 1933, in Abbott, Texas, is one of the finest country music singers and songwriters of modern times. Nelson has won 11 Grammys and acted in more than 30 films. He has also campaigned for the legalisation of marijuana. This interview with Martin Chilton was originally published in December 2012.

If there’s one soothing voice you want talking to you about the end of the world, then I guess country singer will do just fine. But it’s just one of the odd subjects of an enjoyably eccentric conversation with one of America’s finest musicians in the lead-up to when the Mayans predicted it would all be over.

Nelson is still touring with a prodigious schedule, and has just published a memoir with the witty title Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die. The book went straight into the New York Times bestsellers list. The Texan, who was born on April 30, 1933, seems to be in remarkably good shape. Nelson says: “I have always been interested in keeping fit and doing boxing and wrestling. As a youngster, I loved Charles Atlas, Bruce Lee and Kung Fu. But when I lived in Nashville I switched to doing Taekwondo.

“Last year, at the age of 78, I got my second degree black belt [he went on to get a higher degree black belt]. And singing is the best exercise – two hours a day will keep you in pretty good shape. I think it’s very important to learn from your own body. It doesn’t lie to you. If it feels good, do it. If it don’t feel good, don’t do it.”

Nelson is asked ad nauseum about drugs, because he is co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and is in favour of marijuana legalisation. I’m more intrigued by the fact that he now supposedly uses a vapouriser for his recreational inhaling. “Yes,” he cackles, “I now have what they call a vapouriser apparatus. It means there is no heat and no smoke, which is better for the throat of an old singer. But every so often someone will pass me a joint, and it would be impolite to refuse.”
His brilliance as a singer and songwriter has been widely recognised. This is the man who wrote Crazy (such a massive hit for Patsy Cline) more than 50 years ago, and who has won 37 major music awards, including 11 Grammy trophies. Yet he still talks modestly and enthusiastically about other musicians. Of jazz maestro Django Reinhardt, he says: “There is no doubt that he is the best guitar player ever. I never saw him live but I have watched him on video and have hundreds of his songs. I play Nuages most every concert, and I especially love Vous & Moi.”

Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson Credit: Rex Features 

Willie Nelson’s 20 best songs

British music never made much of an impression on the man who was born in Abbott, Texas. He explains: “I didn’t hear a lot of UK music, although I did record a version of the Beatles song Yesterday. I was more interested in the European jazz players. I loved Americans such as Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck, who just died, of course. I would loved to have recorded with Brubeck. Good musicians can play and record jazz and country. I grew up with country music and can adapt to jazz but sometimes jazz musicians have more trouble the other way because country is just not something they have grown up with.

Ray Charles could do both but then he could do anything. I still do everything off the top of my head, and if I make a mistake then it’s like the old joke . . . make one mistake people notice, make three and it becomes a hot lick.”

Songwriting is a craft he has always admired. He talks admiringly of somewhat neglected lyricists such as Lefty Frizzell. “I love him still,” says Nelson, “but I guess it’s only really people my age who know his work well. But the younger generation should know his music, and I always sing If You’ve Got The Money.”

Before Nelson made it as a singer, he paid his way writing songs for established artists. Once he’d made the breakthrough, he was free to write hit compositions for himself. Is it true he scribbled down On The Road Again on an airline sick bag? “It was pretty much like that,” he laughs. “I was travelling on an aeroplane with Sydney Pollack and Jerry Schatzberg and they said they needed a song for the film Honeysuckle Rose. So I just started singing, “I’m on the road again,” and I told them not to worry, the melody would come later. That was an easy song. My hardest song, I haven’t written it yet. I write less now than I ever did. I did a lot of writing when I was younger. I still write but don’t try to force a good idea. Once it starts coming you can’t put it off, anyway. It’s like labour pains.”

Love of music is in his bones. He spent a year teaching guitar in Houston and, like BB King, liked working as a radio disc jockey. Nelson says: “I enjoyed that and it was also a way to stay in music when I wasn’t playing regularly in clubs. I loved the fact that you could just go in an play a bunch of records that you liked. In those days, the DJ could just make his own show and play what he wanted, like Eddie Arnold, Django and Hank Williams. People used to love my programmes but in the end, and this is common now, programme directors always thought they knew best and there would be a falling out over what records should be played. I still do a bit for my XM Radio.”

w.”

 

There really is no stopping him. Already set in motion for 2013, when he turns 80, are two new albums. Nelson says: “I have one coming out called Face The Music And Dance, with my band. I’ve always loved that Irving Berlin song. Then I have an album of duets with girls called To All The Girls. I sing with Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash and Barbra Streisand – that’s something I have long wanted to do. There will be 12 collaborations in all, with songs old and new. One song, brought by the producer Buddy Cannon, is a unknown song written by Waylon Jennings, one of the last he wrote, called She Was No Good To Me. And I get the chance to sing with Dolly Parton again, on a beautiful song she has written called From There To The Moon And Back.”

For good measure, he’s also just done a Christmas film called When Angels Sing with Lyle Lovett and Kris Kristofferson, and Nelson is talking about a couple of western movies in 2013, too. Does he call on his close pal (an incongruous duo they must make) Woody Harrelson for advice? “Oh, Woody’s great fun. He stays all the time. We hang out and play dominoes, poker and chess. He usually beats me at chess and I win at dominoes.”

He says it was fun writing his new book (his favourite novel is Huckleberry Finn) which ranges across music, anecdotes and politics. He talks about the struggles of ordinary American and farmers, environmental problems and about President Barack Obama. Nelson says: “He has been good for America and I knew him from when he was a young politician in Chicago. But when you get elected President I think the first thing they do is take you in a room and say you know you’re not gonna do sh-t. Your hands are tied and Congress have the whole thing locked down and we all get screwed. But Obama will do better this time. There are so many things going on in the world that he will be kept real busy with some major decisions.”

Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson Credit: Rex Features

 

The book has downbeat moments (“the world is a sinking ship,” he writes) but in conversation he seems an optimistic man. Is that right? Nelson says: “Well, I really do believe that you can’t worry about yesterday or dwell on mistakes. There is a lot to worry about if you choose to. The doom-and-gloom people are out there. Only this week I was reading about how many people believe the world’s coming to an end this December 21st. But I see reasons for optimism. It’s like my song, It’s Always Now. Look for the hope.”

It’s always now,
And nothing ever
Goes away.
Everything
Is here to stay.
And it’s always now.

Who’d have thought it? Hope in a country music song. That’s Willie Nelson for you.

 

Mickey Raphael talks Willie Nelson, his career, and set lists

Friday, March 2nd, 2018


Mickey Raphael. Photo by Jack Spencer

Mickey Raphael has played harmonica for just about everyone in the business over his 45-year career, from Snoop Dogg to Blue Oyster Cult to Wynton Marsalis to Neil Young. In fact, last year, he toured with red-hot country singer Chris Stapleton. At least he did until his friend, mentor, and longtime boss, Willie Nelson, said it was time to come back to the Family. Raphael left Stapleton and joined up with Nelson to go on the road again, if you will.

Raphael has been playing with Nelson since 1973, and he’ll be onstage with Nelson when the Red-Headed Stranger takes the Peace Center stage on Monday, digging into classic hits like “If You’ve Got the Money Honey,” “Whiskey River,” and “Shotgun Willie,” alongside newer songs like Nelson’s wry commentary on the constant death-rumors surrounding him, “Still Not Dead.”

We spoke with Raphael recently about Nelson’s health (he recently canceled a string of shows due to illness), his career, and the band’s opinion of set lists.

First of all, how is Willie feeling?
I think he’s doing good, because we start up in about 10 days. He had a bad cold, and with all of this flu going around, he did the right thing by just laying low.

You’ve built up quite a list of sessions and gigs beyond just Willie’s band. What keeps you with him after all these years?
Loyalty, for one thing. Both his loyalty to me and my loyalty to him. I started out with Willie when I was 20. I grew up under his tutelage. Because of him I’ve been able to make all these other musical connections and had the opportunity to play with a lot of other people on their records, and so my loyalty is really to him.

The band is called Willie and Family, and that’s what it is because we’ve been together for so long. I owe him for the opportunity to be able to work with all of these other artists.

Willie is famous for changing the way he sings and plays his songs; what do you like about that approach?
It’s all improv. We don’t ever rehearse. We know who starts the songs and how they end. Everything else is up for grabs. That means I can experiment with new stuff. In the studio, once you play it, it’s in stone. Onstage, I can change it every night. I can try something new, and if it doesn’t work I know it immediately and I don’t do it again. We have a lot of freedom to experiment; that’s how you grow and get better.

So you probably don’t use set lists much these days.
We’ve never had a set list at all. 

Never? In 45 years?
Nope. He starts the song, and once we hear the intro, we come right in and we know what’s going on. The set follows a certain template; he starts off with “Whiskey River,” and … I can’t remember what happens after that, but his intro is the only cue.

So how many songs does the band have ready to go?
I have no idea. With him, all you need is him and the guitar, so if we don’t know it, we lay out. We’re good musicians, so we can just kind of follow him. The song doesn’t have to be rehearsed for us to play it. In fact, that’s the way it is in the studio, too. I’m hearing the song for the first time and playing what I feel. We’re in the studio so much now I can’t remember what’s come out and what hasn’t. We’re actually working on an album of [Frank] Sinatra songs right now.

We know he’s a great songwriter, but what do you think makes Willie such a great interpreter?

I think he just loves the music and he’s a great musician. And he’s a unique singer. His phrasing is very unique. A lot of them are songs he grew up with. They’re part of his life, and he really enjoys doing it.


Willie Nelson & Family
When: Monday, March 5
Where: Peace Center, 300 S. Main St.
Tickets: SOLD OUT
Info: 864-467-3000, https://www.peacecenter.org/