Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Willie Nelson Interview (Spinner, January 2008)

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

Willie Nelson is 74 years old and has absolutely no plans of slowing down. Lucky for us.‘Moment of Forever, ‘ a collection of songs that mirror his life: There’s a little bit of humor, a lot of love and a sound that stands the test of time.

I hear you’re talking to us in between golf games right now. What’s your handicap?

My driver and my putter! [laughs]

The music icon and all-around national treasure somehow found time between touring, his philanthropic endeavors and his golf game to record

Spinner caught up with the Redheaded Stranger to talk about his new project and his surprisingly simple explanation for his prevalence in modern music. And, of course, we couldn’t help but let the conversation drift back to his notoriously wilder days.

And you actually bought a golf course!

I’m across the street from it right now. It’s a little nine-hole golf course called Pedernales Country Club. We have a lot of fun over there.

So you’re a golf course owner, singer, songwriter, actor, philanthropist and father of ten. Is there anything you’ve yet to accomplish that’s on your to-do list?

I don’t like to think too far ahead. I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot done and have a lot of success. I don’t want to be greedy. And when I’m happiest is when I’m out here playing music and staying out of trouble! [laughs] In the early days, we’d be out on the road and go out and play our concert, and then go back to the hotel and party till daylight. And then when it came time to leave, you couldn’t find anybody! [laughs] So I decided somewhere along the way that it’s better to leave town right after the show. And since we’ve started doing that, I’ve noticed that the marriages are actually staying together. [laughs]

You have certainly changed your ways; people may not realize that you’re actually somewhat of a health nut these days.

Well, I have started running. What I was trying to do was do at least as much good in the daytime as I was destroying in the nighttime. [laughs] But it got to the point where I was losing ground. I had to start trying to stay alive or I was going to die. So I’ve had to give up the smoking and drinking. And when I quit that and started running, I got a lot healthier.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about you?

There probably aren’t any. [laughs] But if you think of all the people who don’t like me, just think of all the millions who’ve never heard of me!

I can’t imagine there are “millions” who haven’t heard of you. You’re Willie Nelson! You probably get recognized several times a day. Does your fame ever overwhelm you?

Honestly, no. I love it. I thrive on it. I enjoy people. And when I first started out watching Gene Autry and Roy Rogers on the movie screen every Saturday, I wanted to be like them. I wanted to ride my horse, shoot my gun, sing my songs and be like Gene and Roy. And that’s what I’m doing, and I couldn’t be happier. And I’m making enough money to pay the bills and support my family, so I have no complaints.

Speaking of your family, your youngest sons Micah and Lukas are featured on your new album in the opening track, ‘Over You Again.’ And they’re actually musicians themselves, right?

They have a band called 40 Points and have toured with me over the last couple of years, but they’re back in school now. They’re just two really talented kids. I’m proud of them.

You also worked with Kenny Chesney on this CD. He acts as both duet partner on ‘Worry B Gone’ and as co-producer of the album. What did he bring to the table that was different from your past producers?

First of all, he’s a good musician and has a good ear in the studio. And his name certainly didn’t hurt at all, either! [laughs] He’s a big star, and after hanging out with him for a while you can see why. He’s got a lot of talent.

In addition to Chesney, are there any other artists these days who you think have a real shot at longevity?

There are a lot of guys who seem to have staying power … Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Travis Tritt. Those guys are going to be out there working for a long time. They’ve got talent.

As someone who’s certainly achieved it, what do you think is the secret to longtime success in the music industry?

I think you’ve just gotta keep living! Just look at Johnny Cash or Waylon [Jennings]. They kept going until they died. Ray Price is still doing great, and he’s 82 years old. We just celebrated his birthday over in Tyler, Texas. He and I and Merle [Haggard] are all touring again this year. So I think staying busy is important.

You’ve collaborated with so many different artists, from Waylon and Merle to Julio Iglesias to Dave Matthews. Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet but would like to?

Can you sing? [laughs]

You don’t want to hear me sing, at least not sober.

[laughs] Darn, then I’ll have to find somebody else.

How about all the different artists who’ve covered your songs. Is there one that stands out to you?

You’ve got to go back to ‘Crazy,’ Patsy Cline. How could you top that one? Also, Ray Price with ‘Night Life,’ Roy Orbison, ‘Pretty Paper’; Billy Walker, ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’; Faron Young, ‘Hello Walls.’ Those performances … there’s just no way to beat ’em.I just heard a Hank Williams classic, ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’ That’s a piece of literature. I don’t wish I’d written it, but I am glad somebody did!

If you could change anything about the country music business, what would you change?

I would like to see more airplay for all artists, no matter what age. I think there’s a lot of money being spent toward the young guys, but a lot of the older guys are the ones who blazed the trail for those young guys. Plus, the old guys have kept those record companies in business for all these years. So I think there’s a certain amount of respect due. I’m not complaining … we’ve made some good records and have sold a lot. I’m talking mainly for the other artists coming along. They’ll have a better chance if they stay traditional and don’t try to get too far out one way or another. Like Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Ray Price … they’ve stayed traditional, and they’re gonna be around for forever.

You tend to be pretty vocal about your political beliefs. So, what do you think is the most important issue in the ’08 presidential election?

Stop the war. Stop the bleeding. That’s the first thing. Then the economy — we have all kind of problems, but the number-one priority is to stop this war. Once that happens, all the trillions of dollars that we’re spending over there can be spent here on our people, our poor people, for health insurance and all the things that evidently we don’t have the money to work with because it’s all over there fighting wars. And if it’s not that war, it’s another war. It’s just this series of one war after another.

Are you supporting any particular candidate?

I liked Dennis Kucinich, but he dropped out. I like Obama and Hillary, so I’ll wait to see which one of those folks come out on top. But they’ve both changed their positions on the war, I think, in the last several months. Dennis never did have to change his position, because he was always against it. But as for who I’ll support, I don’t really know yet.

Was it your stance on the war that drove you to start the Willie Nelson Peace Research Institute?

I wanted to connect all people who are thinking about peace on Earth. When I was growing up, that was the theme that every Sunday morning, they yelled at us. [laughs] “Peace on Earth!” And then it looks like that somewhere along the way, people forgot that message. Now it’s war on Earth. So I want to connect all the people who think like I do, that there should be and hopefully will be peace on Earth.

If we were to ask you to write Willie’s Theme, a rule you live your daily life by, what would it say?

A couple of funny ones come to mind. My ex-wife Martha used to say, “Don’t worry about a thing, because there ain’t nothin’ that’s gonna be all right.” [laughs] And my father-in-law when I was married to Connie used to say, “Take my advice and do what you want to.” I thought that was funny.

I think the lyrics to your new song ‘Always Now’ are a good rule to live by.

I think you’re right. That’s an absolute truth.

Willie Nelson Interview with Nick Forester, of eTown Radio in Boulder

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

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Willie Nelson & Family performed at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheaer in Denver on July 26th, and before the interview met with Nick Forester, from Boulder’s e-town national radio show.

Follow this link to listen to interview.

eTown hits the road to Denver’s Fiddlers Green Amphitheater this week to welcome back legendary outlaw country artist Willie Nelson to eTown’s airwaves. We’ll hear lots of great music from Willie, plus a candid conversation with eTown host Nick Forster direct from Willie’s tour bus. Also with us is up-and-coming country artist and eTown newcomer Kacey Musgraves, who became a household name after landing a slot as a competitor of the hit TV program Nashville Star early on in her career. It’s a one-of-a-kind hour of great music and conversation this week. Be sure to tune in!

Listen to Willie Nelson’s 1996 visit to eTown:

Willie Nelson x Angélique Kidjo on eTown (8.23.1996)

 

Willie Nelson and Cannabis

Friday, October 28th, 2016

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Willie Nelson plays his guitar at Humphreys by the Bay in San Diego, California on October 19,2016. The country music legend discussed his history with marijuana, the time he stole and tried to smoke hemp and his new cannabis line, Willie’s Reserve which is for sale in Colorado with Cannabist editor-in-chief Ricardo Baca on his bus before the show.

SAN DIEGO — Willie Nelson’s relationship with cannabis is the stuff of legend.

Nelson is a legalization activist, a social warrior and now a ganjapreneur via his own Willie’s Reserve pot brand, and he still gets high regularly at age 83. But he’s also not the most discerning of cannabis consumers. Does Nelson prefer energetic sativa marijuana strains to the more calming indicas? “They’re both good,” he tells me. Does he prefer smoking weed to vaporizing cannabis oil? “I enjoy smoking both ways,” he says with an affable smile.

Nelson becomes more passionate when addressing how this plant is often grown, especially in unregulated environments: “I don’t like it when they put chemicals and pesticides in it; That makes it not much better than a regular old cigarette.”

Sitting across the table from an eagle-eyed Nelson in his tour bus, I ask the country music legend if he considers himself to be a connoisseur of cannabis.

“I guess if anybody is, I would be,” he says, letting out a grizzled laugh that virtually self-italicizes the last part of the sentence.

It’s mid-October T-shirt weather here in southern California as a capacity crowd of 1,400 fans assembles inside the seaside Humphreys Concerts by the Bay venue — and also as more than 71 million viewers tune in to the third and final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Right as the San Diego venue’s doors open and as the candidates begin their sparring match more than 300 miles away in Las Vegas, my producer and I are ushered into Nelson’s tour bus — the fifth to roam roads under the Honeysuckle Rose banner, Nelson’s wife Annie kindly tells us. A few minutes later I’m sitting across a crowded table from the man, the myth, the legendary stoner.

When I mention that evening’s debate and the unprecedentedly bizarre presidential campaign leading up to it, Nelson grins.

“I just wrote a song called ‘Delete and Fast-Forward.’ I’m in the process of writing it. It’s, ‘Delete and fast-forward, my son. The wars are all over, and nobody won. But don’t worry too much about it. You’ll just go crazy again. So just delete and fast-forward, my friend.’ ”

I ask him if he’s applying his metaphor real-time, given that he’s talking to a journalist instead of watching the debate before his concert. He looks around his silent second home and laughs.

“Notice we’re not watching (the debate),” he says. “That’s a good sign. Delete and fast-forward — we’re moving on.”

It’s not every day you get to chat up an original Outlaw. As an ex-music critic of a dozen-plus years, I have so many songwriting questions for Nelson — some of which had been contributed by readers and friends on social media earlier that day. But as a cannabis journalist, I’m now more interested in understanding Nelson’s longstanding, complex relationship with pot, especially given his unofficial role as Weed Ambassador to the World.

Still, I can’t help but start with the music. Do any of the songs he plays still make him misty-eyed?

“I could name a hundred. ‘Today I Started Loving You Again’ is a great song,” Nelson says of the oft-covered Merle Haggard tune. ” ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,’ Hank Williams. A fantastic song. I still love hearing those songs, and I still get emotional for some of those songs.”

Was he speaking literally when he wrote the hit “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”?

“Literally,” Nelson says, pausing for effect, “I don’t give a damn. It was just a funny thing to say.”

Does weed help with his creative process?

“It has a lot to do with calming the nerves,” he says, “which makes the creative juices flow a little easier.”

Eventually I give in to my impulses and ask Nelson about his personal cannabis history, including his first time smoking marijuana.

“I think I was probably 19 or 20 years old playing in bars in Fort Worth, and I ran into a guy who smoked pot and I’d never smoked it before,” he says. “I smoked (weed) for a long time without getting high — for months I would smoke and smoke and I wasn’t getting high, and I couldn’t figure out why. And then one day I did and I said, ‘Oh OK, that’s what it’s all about.’ But I guess I’d smoked so much other stuff, cigarettes and things, that my lungs weren’t in great shape.”

When Nelson gets stoned, it’s not recreational use, he says: “It’s medicine, and it’s already been proven to be medicine. End of story.” Cannabis cures what ails him, Nelson tells me, and it also keeps him from getting into the trouble he used to get into with beer and whiskey and cigarettes.

“I had emphysema, had all kinds of different health problems caused by drinking and smoking,” he says. “So I decided I wasn’t getting high from smoking cigarettes, and I had a pack of Chesterfields, so I took them all out, threw them away, rolled up 20 big, fat numbers, stuck them into the Chesterfield pack and I haven’t smoked a cigarette since. And that’s been 30, 40 years ago.”

While Nelson will occasionally have a sip of wine, he’s mostly given up drinking: “I’m not afraid to take a drink of anything, but I just don’t get a thrill from it. I don’t need it.” And even though he still enjoys the act of combustion, putting fire to flower, he also considers himself “my own voice doctor” and says vaporizing is healthier than smoking.

“I’m sure lighting up a joint is not that easy on your lungs,” Nelson says. “A singer has to think about stuff like that. Smoking a joint in paper is not as good for your lungs as it is doing it in a vaporizer. It’s a no-brainer, really.”

Nelson calls cannabis-infused edibles “different — it’s more of a body stone, I guess. It took me a little while to acclimate to it. I wasn’t sure of it to begin with, but now it depends on what you want to do. If you wanna go to sleep, eat a piece of candy and you’ll doze off.”

An anachronistic view of cannabis

As you’d imagine, the singer-songwriter seems to have an endless supply of compelling stories that revolve around this still-controversial plant. The only time he’s grown pot from seed to harvest was decades ago when he lived in Nashville writing songs between tours. He smiles when he talks about cutting “It’s All Going to Pot” with his pal Haggard. And on one of his many early-career tours he recalls being broke down on the side of a road in Kansas and coming across a towering patch of what he thought was cannabis growing down by the railroad tracks.

“We cut down a tree of it and put it in the back, and we thought we were really gonna have some fun,” Nelson says. “But we got back to the hotel and cut it up and started smoking that damn stuff, and there wasn’t nothin’ to it. It was nothing but hemp, which is a different deal there. You don’t get high smoking hemp, you just get sore lungs. So we had a big laugh on ourselves.”

Nelson, who lives in 420-unfriendly Texas, doesn’t remember the first time he was arrested on weed-related charges: “I’ve been pulled over many times and busted many times, but I don’t really remember the first one, it was so long ago.”

He does remember being lied to about marijuana, a substance that is ays. “I think we knew more than what most people gave us credit for knowing. We knew were supposed to be bad people because we smoked marijuana, but we knew we weren’t bad people. So we knew somewhere in there was a discrepancy that people had to realize that, ‘Wait a minute: It don’t make him a bad guy just ’cause he smokes weed.’ ”

But what surprises him the most about the world’s recent shift toward decriminalization and legalization?

“I’m still surprised it took this long for educated people to get a little sense,” Nelson says. “We’ve had so many negative things thrown at us about what it does to you and the bad things that marijuana can do to you. And ‘Reefer Madness,’ I don’t know if you remember that movie or not, but it was horrible and it made people really scared. And fear is a hard thing to overcome, so all that had to be overcome. Now when people smoke or eat a piece of candy they realize that, ‘Wait a minute. What’s the big deal?’ ”

When talking more about the War on Drugs’ negative consequences, Nelson unknowingly echoes the data in a Gallup poll released earlier that day showing that 60 percent of Americans want cannabis to be legal — an all-time high in nearly 50 years of polling on the question.

“Most of us have (overcome the fear),” he says. “Not everybody. I don’t think we ever will be 100 percent for it. We’re not really 100 percent for anything. There are always a few stragglers over there who can’t really understand it.”

The conversation steers toward the presence of dry counties in the American South that still disallow alcohol sales, and I take the opportunity to get Nelson’s take on the legalization movement in Arkansas, where the Bible Belt state will vote on two potentially historic medical marijuana initiatives on Election Day (although one of the measures was disqualified in a court ruling Oct. 27).

“Well, it’s in the Bible,” Nelson says flatly. “Ezekiel 34:29, where Jesus is talking about seeds and he said, ‘I bring you a seed of renown for the miseries of humanity.’ ”

My time with Nelson is almost up. We’ve covered a lot of ground, and the election talk leads again to national politics when he offers up an anecdote that perfectly encapsulates Nelson’s open-armed philosophy to weed, to music, to life.

“Somebody asked me the other day if I’d smoke a joint with Donald Trump,” Nelson said, almost as if he was setting up a punchline — only he wasn’t. “I said, ‘I’ll smoke a joint with anybody.’

“I would. I don’t care.

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Willie Nelson with Ralph Emery on RFD-TV

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

www.news-leader.com

Relaxing in his tour bus before Wednesday’s concert, Willie Nelson said he was happy to be back in Branson.”The people here were very nice and they liked our show,” said Nelson, who performed during the 1992 season. “Branson has changed a little bit since then. They used to have only five or six roads back then, and it was kind of hard to get around.”

Nelson gave an afternoon audience a special treat when he sat on the front of the stage with country music deejay Ralph Emery. The interview was the first of a new weekly series RFD-TV will air on Mondays.

Nelson, with his trademark braids hanging to his waist, talked about his Farm Aid benefits.

“Call your representatives and say we need a good farm bill,” he said. “We need to grow alternative fuels to keep us from having to go around the world looking for oil.”

About 2,000 people in the theater erupted into applause. Nelson also thanked the men and women serving in the Middle East. “They have really been put in a hard spot over there, and the quicker we bring them back, the better,” he said.

Also in the audience were several dozen members of the FFA, who had been invited to the concert.

Katie Fisher of Strafford said she appreciated Nelson’s efforts to help farmers.

“Without agriculture, we wouldn’t have anything at all,” she said.

RFD-TV The Theatre is on the west end of the strip in what was formerly the Ray Stevens Theatre. RFD-TV is a television network dedicated to rural America and agriculture. RFD-TV founder and president Patrick Gottsch purchased the 2,000-seat theater last summer.

The network was launched from its headquarters in Omaha, Neb., in December 2000. Gottsch is a former farmer who wanted to provide coverage that was missing for rural residents, he said. The initials stand for Rural Free Delivery, an old name for mail delivery in farming areas.

The theater will produce concerts with well-known talent including Loretta Lynn and Lorrie Morgan in April. They also offer a twice-daily variety show and will operate from March through December, Gottsch said.

Willie Nelson on current events, with Andy Langer

Thursday, October 13th, 2016
www.twcnews.com

By Andy Langer & Andy Brooksbank

Outlaw musician Willie Nelson performed at Wednesday’s Austin City Limits Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Celebration. The Central Texas icon was there to celebrate with B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Kris Kristofferson. But, he found some time to talk current events with our Andy Langer.


Catch Part Two of the Interview During Backstage Pass on Friday.

Willie Nelson — a Real Man and his Music (Scene Magazine) (August 10, 1975)

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

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Willie Nelson — A Real Man and His Music
Dallas Morning News
Scene Magazine
August 10, 1975
by Bob St. John

“I live one day at a time.
I dream one dream at a time.
Yesterday’s gone; and tomorrow is blind
And I live one day at at time” — Willie Nelson

You could call it a crowd or an audience.  No matter, really, because the man and his fans are not bound by tags and labels and names that categorize them.  The drifters are there, the denim crowd (real and dyed), the dreamers, the rednecks, the intellectuals who do not have stiff rods for backbones, and the suburbanites who have escaped the backyard tempo of flip-top beers and philosophical martinis.

“Willie!” somebody says, and everybody is picking it up. “Hello, Willie!” And the man, Willie Nelson, smiles and shakes hands which reach for him, and chats briefly as he moves across the floor, between tables.  You see, Willie Nelson is touchable and touches.  He is real.  He has run the gauntlet of life’s deepest emotions and survived.  And his fans, in him, have survived.

Now he is on the stage, talking to members of his group, his band.  Blue lights, piercing, find him through the smoke-covered room with its beer smells, perfume — expensive and cheap.  Now he has his guitar, worn like it’s owner, and the people begin shouting, stomping and cheering.

And he begins.  “Well, it’s a Bloody Mary morning, baby left me without warning, sometime in the night.  So I’m flying down to Houston, with forgetting her the nature of my flight.   As we taxi towards the runway, with the smog and haze reminding me of how I feel.   Just a country boy who’s learning that the pitfalls of the city are extremely real.”

A man in jeans, a cowboy hat, gets up and walks toward the stage and Willie leans down and shakes hands.   A young girl runs up and Willie takes her hand, leans over and she kisses him on the cheek.   “All the night life and the parties, temptations decide the order of the day.  Well, it’s a Bloody Mary morning and I’m leaving baby somewhere in L.A…”

It is a loud, fast, foot-stomping song.  But soon he will do something slower, sad, ballad-like.  He will do them all.  This is the Willie Nelson experience.  On this night he went on at 10 and though the show is supposed to last a couple of hours, he sings and picks until almost 2 a.m.  Willie is like that.  He’s the only entertainer I’ve ever met who has been known to wear out audiences.

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The people love it.  So does Willie.  Willie Nelson is not like so many top performers who give the impression they’re doing what they do as a favor to you, after you pay your money.   Many seem to be looking for the quickest, most painless exit from the stage as they look blankly at the same faces in another town, another place.  Willie Nelson enjoys himself.

Willie sings in a strong, clear baritone which can become very mellow and, at times, subtle.  He has a person-to-person style, and his voice strikes chords in you if you have been lonely, happy, deserted, sad or under the compulsion of wanderlust.  Some of his songs are fun, happy, some sad and haunting.  Often when I listen to his lyrics and music I find in them a correlation to a truly good novel.  You can read his song for a good story but, looking deeper, you find something more profound, allegorical.  In one recent album, “Phases and Stages,” he takes a poignant look at the breakup of a marriage, one side of the album being form the woman’s viewpoint and the other from the man’s.  Each is his own way goes through the stages of feeling hopeless and depressed, then becomes philosophical and, finally, rebounds.  There are many different type songs, different eats, in the album, but together they paint a complete picture.

For years Willie was a word-of-mouth legend.  Now, more than anybody, he is the catalyst of the current movement in music, a blending fo pop, country, rock, even some blues.  It has been called “progressive country,” though Willie doesn’t care for that particular designation.

“I hate music labels,” willie was saying as we sat on the sofa of his office in the Willie Nelson Music Co. in Austin.  “A label is just one man’s opinion and that doesn’t make it right.  That’s this…this is that  (he laughs).  Labels put a bind on something, corner it and keep it from branching out.”

Willie was dressed as he often is, wearing a T-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes with no socks.  His hair, shoulder length, was bothering him so he pulled off a piece of recording tape and tied it around his head, Indian style.  Everybody is completely loose in the Willie Nelson Music Co., which publishes some of his music, and there seems to be a great deal of confusion, though it all produces success.  I had the impression you might open a filing cabinet and find a potential hit song scribbled on a piece of paper, or maybe you’d find a piece of pizza.  The office and the people who work for and with Willie reflect him.

One of Willie’s daughters, Lana, works in his office.  When we walked in she jumped up and hugged his neck.   Paul English, behind a desk in another room, is Willie’s drummer and longtime friend.  After they greeted each other warmly, Paul began explaining a life insurance policy to Willie, who was putting on a tape of his new album, “The Red Headed Stranger.”  Between phones ringing, conversations going on from all directions, I caught parts of the album.  I heard enough of it to know he was doing something a little different.

University of Texas athletic director-coach Darrell Royal knows more about country-and-western music than anybody I know.  Friends in the field say he’s a self-made expert.  “Willie stays ahead,” says Royal, a close friend of Willie.  “In recent years people are getting into what they’re calling progressive country.  Willie was doing that 10 years ago.  By the time people get into what he’s doing, he’s already gone on to something else.  Willie stays a few years ahead of everybody.”

An extremely tall blond young lady with sharp features, a long, somewhat bent nose, was sitting in a corner of Willie’s office, which I learned is also an undesignated lounge area.  She was staring at the wall.  Near her a short, portly man was staring at the floor.  While Willie talked over the telephone to his lawyer in new York I went toward them, looked at the woman, who was pretty but deadpan, and said, “Hello, how are you?”  She looked right thorough me, then stared at the wall again.

When Willie got off the phone, the man got up and started telling Willie his problems, about his ex-wife and children.  Willie listened sympathetically.  I went into another room and Gene McCoslin, who used to manage KNOK radio station in Dallas and now works for Willie, told me the pair were entertainers.  Willie had brought them from Las Vegas and put them on stage in Houston, using his band behind them.  They had flopped and indicated to the band they felt the crowd might not like them.  “Hell,” said English later, “I wasn’t worried about whether they liked them or not.  I was worried about getting killed by irate fans.”

“I still think they are good,” said Willie.  “The timing just wasn’t right.”  Jody Payne, his guitarist, came in and greeted Willie like a long, lost friend.  Later Willie was talking about his group — English, Payne, bass player Bea Spears, Mickey Raphael on the harmonica and Willie’s sister, Bobbie Nelson, on the piano.  “The thing we have going for us is that we like each other,” said Willie.  “We sincerely like each other.”

Word was out.  Willie was in town, at his office.  The place became Austin terminal.  Willie left the door open.

I watched him.  His face is worn, somewhat craggy and surrounded by brownish-red hair and a beard, salted with white.  Lines around his brown eyes show that he has both cried and laughed a lot.  If possible, his face seems both younger and older than his 42 years.

“I really do believe you have to suffer and feel things deeply to write about them,” he was saying.  “I’ve got a lot to write about because, well, a lot has happened to me.  Some of the best stuff I’ve written came easiest.  Usually, the harder I work on something the less I’m pleased.  There are no really new ideas.  Anything original is something you do different, maybe saying the same thing in a different way.”

Short years ago Willie Nelson wasn’t as big an entertainer and didn’t seem to get much credit as a writer.  Continually, I find people surprised to learn that Willie wrote this or that old standby.  His song “Funny How Time Slips Away” was recorded by 80 artists, including Bing Crosby.  He has written other classics in the industry such as “Hello Walls,” “Crazy,” “One Day at a Time,” “Night Life,” “The Party’s Over,” “My Own Peculiar way” and “I’ll Walk Alone.”  “Bloody Mary Morning” is one of his recent songs which seems most likely to become a standard.

His songs have been recorded by the likes of Joan Baez, Frank Sinatra, perry Como, Aretha Franklin, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Lawrence Welk, Stevie Wonder, Ray Price, Harry James, Patsy Cline, Al Green and Eydie Gorme.  The music is adaptable to many styles, many versions, but the definitive recordings of Willie’s song are done by Willie, who understands them best.

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“I like all kinds of people, all kinds of crowds,” he continued when I go thim away from all the people.  “I like to see them all laid back and listening to our music.  I do try to be touchable.  A lot of guys hire bodyguards.  This was especially true during the era of the big stars.  But it’s bull.  Nobody needs them. People who come to see and hear you aren’t going to hurt you.  They’re your friends.”

“You know, I don’t think there’s much difference in people.  They’re the same, though maybe in different wrappings.”

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I told him something he already knew, that his cult, his followers, come from all groups.  “I think some of the young people listen and enjoy our kind of music and so do dads and mammas,” he added.  “I hope maybe we can help them find out their parents aren’t so bad and help the parents find out all the kids aren’t Charels Mansons.  (He paused, looked out the back door of his office, which was open.)  Kids are a heckuva lot smarter than we were.  I think they were just born with more sense.”

His wife, Connie, phoned and he talked softly to her.  Willie has three kids — Lana, Billy and Susie — by a previous marriage.  He and Connie, a pretty blond, have been marrried for some five years and have two small children,  Paula and Amy.  “One time we were playing at a place called Cut and Shoot, Texas,” said Willie.  “Connie was a fan.  She and a girl friend came to see us play.  She sat at the band table and I saw her and said, ‘I want her.’  One of the guys went over and got her.  She’s a beautiful woman.”

“Willie and Connie had just gotten back from Hawaii.  “We were just sitting around the house,” explained Willie, “and she asked when we might go to Hawaii.  I said, ‘How about tomorrow?’  We went for a week to get into the sun.  We got burned the first day and it rained the next four.  Rain didn’t matter.  We were too sunburned to get out anyway.  No, I don’t like to plan things.  Most plans don’t work out.  I just like to get up and do things.”

The Nelsons did live on a 44-acre ranch outside Austin.  But, even for Willie, the curious got to be too much.  When they found out where he lived they continually came out — friends, strangers, everybody.  “Some,” he said, “would come by and stay for two days.  So we made another snap decision, to sell the house and move into the city.”

We drove to his new house, on a quiet, residential street lined with trees.  Odd, I though, how you can live in the country and be surrounded and yet find more privacy in the city, crowded with people.  I told him it was a nice house.  “I think I might just stay a couple of days,” I added, and he laughed.

It goes against his grain for Willie to be the superstar that he is becoming.  He had tremendous reviews after playing at the Trouboudour in Los Angeles.  On learning Willie was in town, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney attended his performance there.  After hearing Willie in New York, critic Loraine Alterman wrote in the New York Times he did “country music that can move even those of us who think we despise it.”

“I don’t want to be a superstar because I don’t like the way they have to live,” said Willie.  “I wouldn’t want to be like, say, an Elvis Presley.  Besides, I’m basically lazy.  I just need enough money to get by, to exist.  I don’t like tours.  You have to be gone too long.  Now we have it down to where we work five, six days a month.  And we like it around here — Austin, Dallas, Houston, places close.  No, I don’t worry about exposure.  Hell, I’m overexposed now.

“People who work all the time, they get to where you dread the next day coming, dread being there.  When I entertain I enjoy it.  I enjoy people and don’t want to work so much that I get caught up in it and forget that.  I also want to live a life, be myself, not somebody else.  I like freedom.”

Once Willie was playing in this place and a big fight started.  People and chairs were crashing everywhere but Willie just kept on playing.  Willie’s cool.  “I tell you how cool he is,” said English.  “We used to travel around in this old bus.  One day we were moving on down this freeway and Willie and some of the guys were playing card in the back.  Suddenly, the universal joint fell out and cut the brake lining.  The driver yelled back he couldn’t stop the bus.  Everybody was in apanic.   ‘What we going to do, Willie’ somebody asked.  Willie never looked up.  ‘Deal,’ he said.”

At Willie’s office that day, a number of things were going on at once, but the big plans were for his annual Fourth of July picnic.  This generally referred to as the “Woodstock” of country music.   It’s an all-day singing and picking session in which some of the top names in the industry visit their friend Willie Nelson.  Two years ago in Dripping Springs they stopped counting the people at 50,000.  Last year in College Station it drew near 100,000, and this year estimates of the number who attended ran as high as 95,000.

For his latest picnic Willie had rented a 500-acre site 30 miles northwest of Austin near the hamlet of Liberty Hill.  He hopes to keep the picnic there.   It ahs plenty of parking room, trees for shade and it’s bisected by the San Gabriel River.  Willie drove a group of us out to the site and, as we were heading toward the soft, rollling hills, Willie was saiyng, “I like all kinds of music.  Just all kinds.  I also play a little golf, and I guess my other pastime is thinking.  I think a lot.”

I remembered a story Royal told about once when they were playing golf in Brownville.  Willie was in the trees and couldn’t get a cart near where his ball had stopped.  He yelled at Royal, on the fairway, to toss him a two-iron.  Royal slung the club.  Willie lost sight of it as it came down through the trees.  It hit him right on the head.  “Willie, you okay”? yelled Royal.  Willie’s voice came out from the trees.  “I don’t know yet.  I might be dead.”

Our drive through the countryside was pleasant.  Bluebonnets carpeted both sides of the raod and we passed through a small town which seemed, as do many small towns in texas, to have stopped in a time long passed.  Willie was raised in such a town, Abbott, which is just off Interstate 35 some 30 miles north of Waco.  I had visited there earlier.

Farm road 1242 cuts under the main highway and runs through what is downtown Abbott, a small, bunched group of buildings, many boarded up and closed.  Chruches seem to be on every corner.  They are far from boarded up.  “See that spot over there,” said Jimmy Bruce, a parttime clerk in the post office.  “Willie used to live in a hosue right over there.  I was a neighbor.  Yeah, he was a pretty good kid.  He comes back here sometimes and plays benefits.

“When he was here the Hill County sheriff came out and gave them a little trouble.  They were afraid he might attract the wrong kind of crowd.  Some folks around here talk about Willie, but I liked him.  Yes sir, I did.”

Willie was raised by his grandparents after his parents divorced.  The old folks were very religious, the firs and brimstone kind.  His grandfatehr, a blacksmith, died when Willie was six, leavin ghim in the care of his grandmoter, a music teacher.  “Times were hard during the Depression, but we grew our own food and had a cow for milk,” Willie once told me.

Back then, summer nights were still, lazy, with outdoor smells and sounds of crickets and sometimes frogs.  Willie would rest on his bed near a window and listen to revivals and church services at the tabernacle nearby.  “I also did a lot of listening on the radio,” he said.  “I’d catch the Grand Ol’ Opry and the rhythm and blues program from New Orleans.  My granddad had taught me a few chords on the guitar before he died.  So I bought me a $6 guitar and a chord book.  I taught myself to play by putting my fingers on those black dots in the book.  My sister Bobbie was the real musician.  My grandmother gave her piano lessons and I can remember them practicing beside a kerosene lamp.

“The first time I performed in public I was about five.  My grandmother dressed me up in a sailor suit and took me to one of those all-day picnics.  You know, singing and eating and praying, and praying some more.  So I got up to recite this poem.  My nose started bleeding.  There I was reading the poem and holding one side of my nose with my hand.  I think everyone was glad when I sat down.  I know I was.”

Willie and Bobbie would entertain at school.  When he was 12 he joined his first band, a Bohemian polkia band, which was formed by his brother-in-law, Bud Fletcher.  Willie played the guitar and sange, Bobbie was on the piano, the high school football coach played the trombone and Willie’s father, a musician who’d come back into town during is travels, the fiddle.  “Bobbie was the only one who was any good,” said Willie.  “We never played the same place twice.  We usually played on a percentage and I remember one night we cleared 81 cents each.”

But Willie had begun to jog down lyrics on scraps of paper, and he also was entertaining at a nearby beer drinking establishment, the Night Owl, managed by a big, robust woman named Margie Lundy.  The original Night Owl burned a few years ago.  The new place, on the same site, is smaller.  Margie has been handling it all ehrself, since her husband died a few years ago.  “Yessiree, I kept it going, though it’s not easy,” she was saying.

Traffic in the Willie Nelson Music Co. was winding down.  The blonde entertainer was gone.  As I left I kept thinking:  Willie is there, among people, touchable.  He is somebody, yet has control because inside he is not trying to play a part, to be anybody but himself.  He is one of us.  And Willie is… well, Willie is Willie.

Micah Nelson Interview

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

interviewmicah

http://coachellavalleyweekly.com
by: Lisa Morgan

The first time I saw Micah Nelson (son of legend, Willie Nelson) was at the Troubadour when big brother Lukas Nelson’s band, Promise of the Real, sold out and wowed the place. Micah was on stage painting as the band played. It was all pretty awe inspiring. A few years later, at Pappy and Harriet’s, I saw him open for Lukas with his own band, Insects vs Robots, and was endearingly smacked in the face with a kaleidoscope of sound and dimension played by a group of guys who were simply pouring out a love offering. Between the two brothers’ band’s performances, the soul candy, originality and authenticity were edible, and all present consumed it gratefully. Meeting Micah in person however, who was chatting it up under the stars with all the locals, sealed the deal for me; his gracious demeanor, genuine hug and deep yet easy going, insightful conversation made me a fan not only of the music, but of the being who bled it. It is a beautiful thing when the depth and quality of the person mirrors the music, and it is rarer than you might want to think.

micahtelluridde

The newest album, TheyllKillYaa, is set to release October 11th, and after giving it a listen (actually several), I should warn you; this album has the capacity to symphonically deliver the truth to your soul and open your perspective, if you allow it. Don’t worry, they make it extremely enjoyable. In a world of corporate, homogenized, capital driven music, the music of Insects vs Robots has the potential of removing the veil from our eyes and the crust from our heart, and help us see things as if the lights in the building just got turned up by some hidden dimmer switch. Songs like the title track, “They’ll Kill Ya!,” “Fukushima,” and “Time Grows Thin,” are significantly powerful – simultaneously painful and healing. This new generation of eclectic troubadours is a beacon of hope for those longing to digest music that is relevant, real and fearless, and like their forefathers, has the capacity to influence the world for the better.

This weekend and next, Micah Nelson will again be performing with Lukas Nelson as Promise of the Real backing up Neil Young at the history making Desert Tip Music Festival. I had the good fortune to chat with him about the upcoming gig, his band and their new album, and how he found his own strikingly eclectic musical path among some of the world’s most influential musicians.

CVW: “Of all your musically gifted siblings, you seem to be the most eclectic. What was your path to the music you’re making now with Insect vs Robots?”

Nelson: “I spent years growing up on the bus that I’m on right now, talking to you. I started out playing in my dad’s band since I was three years old. I played harmonica on stage with Raphael, his harmonica player. That’s where I started to develop a sense of rhythm and harmony. Later, when I was 8 or 9, my brother picked up the guitar, so I picked up the drums. I learned from Tato (Melgar), my brother’s percussionist in Promise of the Real. Tato has been a big brother for almost 20 years now. He taught me African root rhythms which really expanded my pallet musically and rhythmically. For a long time, my brother and I were way into classic rock, psychedelic rock, and folk rock from the 60s and 70s. Later I discovered funk music, and contemporary music that wasn’t on the radio. We just weren’t interested in what was mainstream when we were growing up. Independent music started popping up all over the internet, and I got excited about new music and rediscovering my own generation. I started writing my own songs and branching out on different instruments and teaching myself as much as I could, learning from the masses of brilliant talented people that I’ve been lucky enough to have been surrounded by. I absorbed as much as I could, playing in different bands and jamming with as many people as I possible.”

“When I moved to LA, I felt pretty alienated, and didn’t really like it that much until I met my friends in Insects vs Robots. The rest is history. I feel like I’ve dreamed so many things that have come to pass. It just makes me feel like telling everyone, if you feel a big magnet from the future pulling at your solar plexus toward something, follow it! Be patient and work hard – you might end up in a surprisingly and sometimes shockingly familiar place; like realizing something that has always been in your deep subconscious and now it’s here in tangible reality. It’s quite a trip.”

CVW: “How did this new album come about?”

Nelson: “We made a serious effort to capture the energy of our live show in the studio because we realize that’s where we shine. The whole record is pretty much recorded live, at Hen House Studios in Venice, CA. Harlan mixed it so beautifully. It all happened so organically. We met Harlan through a mutual friend. He liked our band and invited us over to record a few songs – to just hang and see what happened. That afternoon turned into several, and we got this great record out of it. We’re excited to share it. We’ve been sitting on it for a while because I’ve been touring with Neil so much that we haven’t had time to sit down and figure out how we were going to release it.”

“Our band is an organic reaction to this apocalypse era we’ve grown up in, this age of chaos, where the world is always ending.”

CVW : “Rolling Stone Magazine and LA Weekly have come up with some pretty creative hyphenates for your music. What do YOU call your music?”

Nelson: “I prefer other people’s wild descriptions and adjectives; I just call it ‘Insects vs Robots music.’ We’re not trying to tap into a theme or invent a genre, we’re just doing our thing. One time we called it Gnome Thrash but as we’ve evolved the music has moved out of that box. Sometimes it’s very psychedelic and classic, sometimes it’s very other-worldly, Spanish, Flamenco-esque, sometimes we have some swampy New Orleans funk, or even some jungle funk…I don’t know…I feel all those things apply. It’s fun to just make up words. When people ask, I usually stare blankly, ask them a different question that’s equally impossible to answer like, you know… ‘Which one of your children do you love the most.’ I don’t know how to answer that question. I just say, ‘Here, listen!’”

CVW: “You’ve been touring with “Uncle Neil” a lot over the past year. Does the Desert Trip Festival feel bigger than normal? Is it a trippy thing for you?”

Nelson: “Playing with Neil alone is a trippy thing, and a special thing. But we’re just making our noise, and we play what we play. We try not to think about it really. You don’t want to think about it too much or you’re fucked. We’re just treating it like any other show except the stage is like 500 times bigger and there’s this massive screen… we don’t want to think about it. Our show is never the same show anyway. We never know what is going to happen.”

CVW: “Is there a set list?”

Nelson: “There’s a list! But it’s a list of 100 something songs, and he’ll just pick something and we’ll just go. We go with whatever Neil is feeling or whatever is floating in the air. Sometimes he’ll just look over to me or Luke and ask, ‘Are ya hearing anything? What song’s floating around?’ Or he’ll say, ‘Wait, I know,’ and we’ll do that. There’s not a whole lot to mentally prepare for more so than any other show. Every show with Neil, you have to be so in the moment. Every show with him is a unique experience. I think it’ll be great. It will be really cool to see Bob and the Stones and Roger Waters, The Who and Sir Paul.”

CVW: “Have you played or met the stars of Desert Trip before?”

Nelson: “I’ve met a few of these people. We (my dad and his band) did a couple of Triple A Ball Park tours with Dylan in 2005. Some nights, Dylan would have us come up and do ‘I Shall Be Released,’ or ‘Highway 61.’ That was a trip. One night, I realized half way through ‘I Shall Be Released’ that I was the tambourine man, and I started laughing so hard I almost lost the rhythm. I had to try really hard to keep it together… it was pretty funny. I saw Paul play at the Hollywood Bowl once and got to meet him. He was very, very nice. I was playing in a band at the time called the Reflecticals, and we had these paper glasses that we’d throw out into the audience. When you put them on, they would refract the light into rainbows. Paul put them on and said, ‘Whoa, these are giving me flashbacks!’ There’s a great picture of my dad, Paul and me wearing those ‘reflecticals’. I saw Roger Waters at Coachella, but haven’t seen The Who yet.”

CVW: “How do you feel about music then and now?”

Nelson: “We live in a time where everything that Rock and Roll was up against back then, is an even bigger beast now. It’s 50 times more gnarly and terrifying, greedy and sociopathic. If that rock and roll spirit of rebelliousness is reduced to a marketing product, a target ad or fuckin’ deodorant jingle and becomes just background noise, then what do we have?”

“The best way to honor these legendary artists is to keep their spirit alive and have no fear… zero fear! We must radically subtract the amount of fucks we give about the things that don’t matter, like social status, whether we look like a plastic mannequin or a photo-shopped magazine cover, or what the other guys at work will say, whether you like this band or that band, what’s going to happen after you die, and anything that takes us out of enjoying each moment to its fullest. Life is too short not to be happy and express ourselves fully, regardless of whether some stuck up asshole says that we are heathens according to their own mental enslavement. Pity them. It’s not our problem what someone else’s ideology says about us. All that matters is NOT being an asshole. Bring no harm. Keep your dogma to yourself.”

“On the other hand, I say give a million fucks about the things that DO matter…like the fate of our species for instance; Care about the fact that if we don’t radically alter our current paradigm of rampant morally bankrupt capitalism, it is going to cost us all way more than ‘the economy.’ The economy is completely fucking irrelevant when there’s no clean water, air or soil. Somewhere along the line, giant corporations decided that they are somehow above the ecosystem and our one and only planet Earth is a giant disposable diaper. Well it’s not. It’s a living organism that we have exploited for too long. We are beyond the tipping point. If we don’t start giving way more fucks about the planet we live on and investing in what’s tangible and real, it is not just speculation that we will annihilate ourselves. This is it. What’s more valuable; a dollar bill or a breath of fresh oxygen?”

Follow Insects vs Robots at insectsvsrobots.com

Look for their album, TheyllKillYaa October 11th. CDs will be available at shows Micah will be performing at with Neil Young in between Desert Trip Weekends. www.neilyoung.com

Album Credits: Micah Nelson (charango, guitar, vocals, percussion, piano, drums), Jeff “FEJ” Smith (bass, grooves), Tony “Grandma” Peluso (drums, percussion, synths), Milo Gonzalez (electric and acoustic guitars, vocals) and Nikita Sorokin (violin, guitar, banjo, vocals)

Also check out previously released albums: Geryl and the Great Homunculous (2009), Tales from the Blue House (2011) and Insects vs Robots (2014), each an inspiration to free thinkers and listeners.

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Willie Nelson and Shakey Graves, for Irish Music Series

Friday, October 7th, 2016
Austin, TX - Willie Nelson tapes a piece with Shakey Graves in the Pedernales Recording Studio for the US premiere of the Irish music series Other Voices on October 3, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Austin, TX – Willie Nelson tapes a piece with Shakey Graves in the Pedernales Recording Studio for the US premiere of the Irish music series Other Voices on October 3, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

http://music.blog.austin360.com
by:  Peter Blackstock

“OK, now whaddaya wanna do?”

Willie Nelson was sitting in a chair in the corner of his Pedernales Recording Studio, rolling off the likes of “On the Road Again,” “Bloody Mary Morning” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” like they were leaves falling from the trees. Gathered around him was a small crew from the Irish television show “Other Voices,” in town for a rare excursion outside their home country to capture a broad range of musical performances for an upcoming season.

Presently, he starts into “Always On My Mind,” then pauses. “Would you get me the words out here? Just so I don’t screw ’em up,” he says. Discussion in the control room turns toward getting a lyric sheet ready, but Willie decides to just give it a shot anyway, and he lays another ace on the table.

Scattered amid several isolation booths a few yards away are his sister Bobbie Nelson on piano, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Kevin Smith on bass and Mike Meadows on drums. When they finish the song, Austin native Shakey Graves suddenly appears, a rising star whose task for the afternoon is to interview Willie on camera.

SEE MORE PHOTOS: Willie Nelson “Other Voices” session at Pedernales Recording Studio

“I’ve never interviewed anybody before,” Graves admits sheepishly, but Willie immediately puts him at ease: “Let me interview you!” Willie asks if Shakey’s ever been to Ireland, and Graves recalls visiting the town where the “Other Voices” program is based.

“It’s called Dingle, like the berry,” Graves says, to giggles all around, before marveling about how beautiful the countryside was. Willie concurs: “You can’t even imagine how green it is until you get there.”

Austin, TX - Willie Nelson tapes a piece in the Pedernales Recording Studio for the US premiere of the Irish music series Other Voices on October 3, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Austin, TX – Willie Nelson tapes a piece in the Pedernales Recording Studio for the US premiere of the Irish music series Other Voices on October 3, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

The taping with Nelson was a last-minute add to the itinerary for “Other Voices,” which is sort of an Irish parallel to our own “Austin City Limits.” Begun in 2003, the show has a different vibe than ACL, generally capturing bands in very intimate locations such as recording spaces, nightclubs, pubs and churches. Among those who have done the show are Austin’s Patty Griffin.

They’ll set up shop this weekend at Austin’s renowned Arlyn Studios, operated by a crew including Nelson’s nephew, Freddy Fletcher. The overlap with the Austin City Limits Music Festival’s second weekend was by design: “Other Voices” is bringing more than a half-dozen fest acts over to Arlyn from Friday to Sunday, including a couple that also taped “Austin City Limits” while they were here.

The schedule includes a mix of national and Austin acts, as well as a few performers who aren’t part of the ACL Fest lineup. The events aren’t open to the public, but tickets to some of the tapings are being given away on the Other Voices Facebook page as well as the Arlyn Studios Facebook page.

The conduit bringing “Other Voices” and Arlyn together is Graham Brown, an Irishman who moved to Austin a few years ago. Although the show currently does not air here, a representative for the program said that “the ‘Other Voices’ Austin team will be shopping the U.S. series installment to U.S. broadcast partners following these initial tapings.”

That should please Willie, who observed on Monday how the whole world is closely connected, as he sees it. “People are people everywhere, whether it’s Waco or London,” he said, a perspective underscored by the colorful “Alice in Hulaland” T-shirt he was wearing from a funky clothing shop in Maui, Hawaii.

As Willie and Shakey concluded their interview, Graves came up with a good question: “What’s the greatest gift you’ve ever given, and received?”

“Music,” Willie replied, not hesitating for a second. “To me, music is the common denominator.”

Austin, TX - Willie Nelson tapes a piece in the Pedernales Recording Studio for the US premiere of the Irish music series Other Voices on October 3, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Austin, TX – Willie Nelson tapes a piece in the Pedernales Recording Studio for the US premiere of the Irish music series Other Voices on October 3, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman


Camera crew from Irish TV show “Other Voices” capture Willie Nelson performing at Pedernales Recording Studio on Monday, Oct. 3, 2016. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

 

 

Randy Ryan, Farmer Veteran Coalition #FarmAid2016

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

[Thanks so much to Pat Wiley Keeney, from Texas, for her report about the Farmer Veteran Coalition.  Pat is one of my friends, and Farm Aid supporters, who, year after year, help me tell the story of what happens at Farm Aid.  She interviewed Randy Ryan, of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, at FarmAid in Bristow, Virginia, last month.]

by:  Pat Wiley Keeney.

While at Farm Aid I had the privilege of talking with Randy Ryan of the FARMER VETERAN COALITION. I was interested in knowing what led Randy to get into farming & how the military might have prepared him for a life as a farmer. I apologize for the sound quality of the video. It was very loud with a lot people in the Homegrown Village and that was a good thing.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition works with veterans in the food and farming community in all 50 states and U. S. Territories, to provide farming education, and veteran assistance to those in need.  The Farmer Veterans produce a wide range of food and fiber products, all of which are an integral part of America’s food system.

For more information on the work of the coalition visit www.farmvetco.org.

Mickey Raphael Interview (Texas Music Office)

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

Mickey Raphael photo by Frank Stewart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://content.govdelivery.com
by: Frank Stewart

INTERVIEW: Willie Nelson Family Band Harmonica Player, Mickey Raphael

Just a few weeks ago, the TMO caught up with Texan harmonica player, Mickey Raphael via phone from Raphael’s current home in Nashville. Although Raphael is well known for being a 40-plus year member of Willie Nelson’s Family band, his virtuoso harp playing can also be heard on projects as disparate as recordings from Chris Stapleton, Elton John, U2, and Motley Crew. Please enjoy part 1 of an enlightening conversation where Raphael recalls his early inspirations, Coach Darrell Royal’s introduction to Willie, and how he came so very close to being the Rolling Stones’ opening act in 1973.

TMO: Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Last month, we kicked off the newsletter with an interview with audio engineering legend Rupert Neve, right before his 80th birthday.

Raphael: “Yeah I read that. That was pretty cool. I even use one of his pieces of gear that I take (on the road) with me…I’ve got one of his mic pre’s (pre-amps) that I use.”

TMO: I coincidentally saw one of those online yesterday, and immediately wanted to get one. 

Raphael: “Are you a musician?”

TMO: I play bass…and a little drums. 

Raphael: “I don’t know how you’d use a pre on bass, but it’s a half-rack space, about 2 inches high, and it’s got 1 channel out, with an A and a B side. So you can mix the 2 signals.

“I use a really nice ribbon mic that I play directly into the PA. I’ll go into the pre, so I have a little more control of the gain, and we just take a direct out of it, and we can actually go out of the pre into an amp, that I may or may not mic on stage. It works well for me. I do a lot of one-offs…like my recent one-offs with Chris Stapleton. So I’ll just fly to the gig with harmonicas and a mic, and a pre, and they just punch me into the PA, and we’re done.”

TMO: That’s nice. That’s convenient. All of Neve’s stuff sounds amazing too.

Raphael: “Yeah…I think so.” (Then jokingly) “Oh…I thought it was me who sounded amazing. OK.”

TMO: (laughs) Well, you know…it’s likely the combination.

Let’s start off by going backwards. I tried to do some research, and saw that you came up in the Dallas area. And I thought it was fascinating that in your bio, you mention that one of your initial inspirations was harmonica player Don Brooks. And so we were just curious how you met him? And was harmonica your first instrument?

Raphael: “As a teenager, I loved music, and I wanted to play guitar, but I wasn’t any good. And I would go to this little folk club called the Rybaiyat on the weekends when I was barely old enough to drive.

“So about that time when I was old enough to drive, I’d go to the Rubaiyat on the weekends and hear people like Michael Murphy, Allen Damron was there, Ray Wylie Hubbard – who had a group called Three Faces West, and John Vandevere was another flat-picker folk singer. And with John was another harmonica player, Donny Brooks, who played. And the first time I heard him play, it just knocked me out. I was just so taken by him. And I had had a harmonica that a friend of my dad’s had given me as a kid. And I just kinda doodled around on it and stuff. But, it wasn’t until I saw Donny that I thought, ‘Ok. The harmonica’s where I wanna go.’

“And hanging out there on weekends, and going to see the different players there, I was going there as much as I could. I met Donny. And he kinda sat down with me. He was the first real harmonica player I’d ever met. And he showed me how to play a diatonic scale, just the pattern that denotes the fifth…and how to work my way around the harmonica to makes some sense out of the thing.

“And then I would just play by myself all the time. But he was the first guy that sat me down and showed me the little combinations. You know, it’s like playing a lick. If you had this lick, and you could play it in every key just by sliding up the neck. The lick is the same in the key of C or the key of G…you just switch harps…”

TMO: Kinda like an open tuning, playing with a slide.

Raphael: “Mm-hmm…”

TMO: Was the Rubyiat in Dallas proper?

Raphael: “Yes. It was in Dallas. The first (location) was on McKinney. It was just a tiny little club. It has a little stage, and about 2 rows of chairs. And I don’t know how many people it sat. That’s where I met Guy Clark. I was probably 19.”

TMO: Wow. That’s crazy. It sounds like it wasn’t long after that you met Willie Nelson, introduced by University of Texas at Austin football coach Darrell Royal. And you do talk a little bit about it in your website’s bio, and I’m sure you’ve talked about it in previous interviews, but for our audience, could you talk about this almost mythic story of how you met Willie? And how you were introduced by Coach Royal at a party?

Raphael: “At that time, I don’t think I was 21 yet, but I was playing withBW Stephenson, who was from Dallas. So that was my gig. He had a record deal on RCA, we were traveling, going down and playing the folk music clubs in Austin: Soap Creek. Saxon Pub. We had a presence in Austin, even though we traveled all over the country. So we played in Austin and the Coach was such a fan of music and a patron of the arts, I imagine that’s where he (first) heard me play.

“So I get a call. I was trying to think of this yesterday. I don’t remember if it was from Darrell or Edith Royal. Or Merlin Littlefield, who was a friend of theirs who worked at RCA at the time. And they said, ‘Coach Royal is in town for a ball game. And he’s having a pickin’ party after the game. He’d like for you to come over. Bring some harmonicas; he’d like to meet you…you know, hang out, and just jam with his friends.’

“And so I said, ‘Cool.’ I wasn’t a big football fan. Being a musician, I was a terrible athlete. Of course I knew who he was, but I wasn’t such a big football fan. I wasn’t planning on going to the game, in other words. But I had the utmost respect for him.

“So I went over there (to the Royal’s party). Willie was there. I knew very little about country music. I did actually have one Willie record, because we were on RCA, with BW. And I’d gone through their vault, with all their records, and I found this album of Willie’s called ‘Willie and Family.’ And the cover was just so unique that I thought, ‘I gotta take this,’ and find out who this guy was. It was just Willie and the band, and all their families, standing around a bonfire at Willie’s farm in Ridgetop. And it was just such a weird album cover. So I kinda knew a little bit who he was.”

Willie Nelson & Family album cover

TMO: By the way, TMO Director Brendon Anthony just pulled up the album cover and it’s almost mystical looking. I can see how that piqued your interest.

Raphael: “Yeah, you can even see Bee Spears, our bass player. And if you look at the guy, he’s wearing black socks and what looks like a fuzzy jockstrap. I mean, I don’t know what it is. It’s a collar wrapped around him and he’s not wearing any pants. And then there’s one guy that just walked in out of the woods! They didn’t even know who he was! Just probably showed up there. Really go through that album cover and look at it. It’s like, ‘who are all these people? We never could figure out who this one guy was.’ It’s like, ‘What the Hell?’

Read More

 
Please check next month’s October 2016 TMO Newsletter for Part 2 of this exclusive interview. Photo of Mickey Raphael by Frank Stewart.


TEXAS MUSI

Willie Nelson Live at Sea-Saint Studio (1999)

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016
routesradio
www.AmericanRounteswwno.org

by:  Nina Feldman

This Labor Day Weekend, American Routes brings you the best of American Routes Live and in the studio. Each week, Shortcuts offers a sneak peak into the week’s upcoming episode. This week, we go back to this visit from Willie Nelson, when he dropped into the studio with his family band back in 1999.

Willie Nelson Interview (by Malcolm Jones)

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

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www.thedailybeast.com
by:  Malcolm Jones

Everyone knows Willie Nelson. I know this because the other day I saw a billboard advertisement that featured Nelson modeling an upscale line of menswear. Here’s the thing: the only type on the ad was the name of the clothing company. Obviously the advertisers assumed that you’d recognize Willie without any help from them. And why shouldn’t they?

In his 80 years on this planet, Nelson has written something like 1,000 songs, recorded more than 100 albums, and won 10 Grammys. “Crazy” was rated the No. 1 jukebox song of all time, according to NPR. Performing professionally since he was a teenager growing up in little Abbott, Texas, he has, he estimates, spent at least half of every year since then either recording or touring, playing nightclubs, honky-tonks, outdoor arenas, concert halls, and every other venue imaginable. Somewhere in there he found the time to appear in more than 20 movies and a handful of television shows. He co-founded Farm Aid, which has raised $43 million to help America’s small farmers hang on to their land, and he sits on the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). He has also written seven books, including an autobiography and a novel, played at the White House, and sung at the wedding of Bill and Melinda Gates (his fee: $1 million). Last year the city of Austin erected a statue in his honor—larger than life, naturally.

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photo: Anna Webber

Somewhere along the line, he ceased being famous as a singer or a songwriter or an activist and simply became famous. You may not care for his songs. You may not give a damn about farmers or marijuana. But the chances that you live in this country and don’t know Willie Nelson are somewhere between slim and none. Like Louis Armstrong—and almost no one else, really—he is a musician whose appeal transcends genre, race, age, or fashion, a stranger to no one, and if you had to put a face on American music, that face would be Willie Nelson’s.

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Read the entire article, see more photos at the Daily Beast. 

At this point it gets a little trickier. Which Willie Nelson do you know? Is it Willie, the “good timing man” who has graced thousands of stages? The “outlaw” who along with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings taught Nashville how to reach a new generation of young listeners more comfortable with long hair and jeans than Nudie suits and beehive hairdos? Or is it the avuncular apostle of pot? The farmers’ friend or the proponent of biodiesel fuel? Animal-rights and LGBT advocate? Or the man so honorable that rather than declare bankruptcy he worked to pay off the $16.7 million he owed the IRS in back taxes? Or is it Willie Nelson, the exquisite vocal stylist who can navigate from honky-tonk weepers to the intricate verbal acrobatics of a Rodgers and Hart ballad without missing a beat (he may toy with the beat, sing behind it, ahead of it, or take it halfway to Mars, but he never misses). Or is it Willie Nelson, the peerless songwriter who once wrote “Crazy,” “Night Life,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” all in one road trip from Texas to Tennessee? Like Walt Whitman, Willie Nelson contains multitudes.

All those questions flooded my mind on a recent autumn evening as I was ushered onto Nelson’s tour bus outside the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, where Nelson and the Family, his band, were set to play later that night. I’ve listened to him since a friend played me a record called Red Headed Strangerin 1975. I know probably an album’s worth of his songs by heart, and I’ve had his voice inside my head for so long that it has become an old friend. Despite all that, I realized while waiting for that bus door to wheeze open that I really had no idea who I was about to meet. I didn’t even know what to call him. “Mr. Nelson” seemed too formal somehow, and just “Willie” too presumptuous. In the end I went with “Willie” on the shaky grounds that even one-sided friendships have their prerogatives.

THE STOCKY man who stands to greet me in the bus’s kitchen certainly looks familiar: black jeans, T-shirt, and sneakers, and the once-red hair now gone to silver but still long enough to make two chest-length braids. And there is no mistaking that piercing pair of dark brown eyes that know more than they will ever tell, or the still-boyish drawl that has purred out of countless jukeboxes, record players, car radios, and concert halls and is now asking if I want some coffee.

We sit facing each other in a small but comfortable booth. A laptop lies on the table between us, and behind his head is a bulletin board covered in photographs of children and grandchildren. Up close, the famous face looks like a well-creased map of rough country, and the unwavering gaze appears less intimidating and maybe even secretly amused, as though to say, there’s nothing you can ask me that I haven’t been asked a dozen times or more, but let’s do this anyway.

I begin by asking if music was an inevitable path for him. “I think so,” he says after a moment of silence. “My parents, grandparents were all musicians. I think there’s something in the DNA.” His parents split up when he was a small boy, and Willie and his sister, Bobbie, who plays piano in his band, were raised by their grandparents, who both taught music and ran the choir at the Methodist church (among other jobs—Willie’s grandfather was also the town’s blacksmith, and Willie grew up picking cotton to help the family out). The Nelsons were poor, but music mattered to them, even in the depths of the Depression: there was a piano in the house for Bobbie, and Willie got a Stella guitar when he was 6 years old.

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David Gahr/GettyNelson in the recording studio with his sister, Bobbie, who plays piano in his band, and drummer Paul English.

The family didn’t have a record player, but they did have a Philco radio. “I grew up listening to all kinds of music,” he says. “I’d hear blues, I’d hear country, I’d hear Western swing, and I could see how it all fit together.” Before he got the guitar, Willie wrote poems, but as soon as he learned to form a few chords, he started writing his own songs. His early influences included Floyd Tillman, Leon Payne, and Ted Daffan. “They’re some great songwriters.” But the king of them all, for Willie and most every other music lover in the American Southwest, was Bob Wills, the fiddle-playing bandleader whose Texas Playboys set the standard for big-band excellence for most of three decades.

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“A lot of the Bob Wills stuff was for the Texas dance halls, the California dance halls, the Oklahoma dance halls, and it was very popular dance music,” says Willie, who got a chance to study his idol up close when he, just 16, helped his brother-in-law book Wills for a local dance (his career as a booking agent ended almost as soon as it began when someone ran off with the money from the ticket sales). Willie still remembers how tightly Wills kept things moving from one song to the next so people never had a chance to leave the dance floor, and how he would simply point to a musician when he wanted a solo. Two hours later, watching Willie run his own show inside the Capitol Theater, I thought back to what he had said about Wills, and I was struck by how much of it plainly stuck with him. You don’t think of the scruffy man who practically invented outlaw country as a disciplinarian, but no one puts on a tighter show.

When I suggested that these days people seem to have forsaken dancing for just sitting and listening to concerts, Willie shakes his head. “They still dance a helluva lot in Texas!” he says with a laugh. “They haven’t quit down there. They didn’t get the word.” But is there a difference playing for people who are dancing? “Yeah, you feel close to the crowd. They feel part of you. There’s something about working a beer joint that brings you right to the people. I love it and always have.”

What’s the weirdest place you have ever played, I asked him.  “I don’t know,” he says, looking genuinely puzzled. “I don’t know what weird is.”

WHEN WILLIE was a teenager, there wasn’t much difference between the people in the audience and the musicians on the bandstand, many of whom had taken to music as the fastest way out of the cotton patch. “And you were probably going with a waitress in the beer joint,” he chuckles. The thing is, you could hear that shared experience in the songs and the voices that sang them. It’s a sound, Willie agreed, that’s been mostly scrubbed out of modern country.

With the instincts of a true gentleman, he politely declined all invitations to criticize what passes for country on most radio stations these days (“I don’t get a chance to listen to local radio a lot, so I don’t know what they’re playing”). But now that SiriusXM radio has given him his own channel, Willie’s Roadhouse, we have a very good idea of what he thinks a country music station should sound like, which turns out to be more Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell but not too many of the modern “hat acts.” Even contemporary artists sound traditional on the Roadhouse. “I like to think that on our channel we play all kinds of music, and one way or another we pull it together,” he says. “We play a little Vern Gosdin, a little Dolly, then we’ll do some Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, some Merle Haggard, Texas swing. We pretty well cover it. It may not be for every ear, but nothing is.”

Nor would he be inveigled into carping about the Nashville establishment. Later, on stage, he’d sing “Me & Paul,” his autobiographical song about road life with his longtime drummer Paul English that hilariously and somewhat bitterly encapsulates his odd-man-out status with the country establishment back in the ’60s (“Nashville was the roughest”). But in the privacy of his bus, he is downright diplomatic when the subject comes up. “Nashville was a different town back then,” he says. “It’s changed a lot now. A lot of people are thinking more progressive now. It’s all coming together, so it’s all good.”

WILLIE NEVER made it in Nashville as a singer. But as a songwriter he became a superstar. He had spent the ’50s bumming around, playing Texas honky-tonks and taking the occasional deejay job (and selling encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners door-to-door). But ever since he cobbled together his first book of songs at age 12 (with a hand-drawn cover adorned in cursive script resembling a cowboy’s lariat), he has been dead serious about songwriting. He had his first big success in 1960 when Claude Gray had a hit with “Family Bible,” a good but rather pious song by Willie standards that gave no hint of the complex, open-a-vein material that soon followed and made him one of Nashville’s go-to songwriters.

Ask him today to name his favorites in his own catalog, and he’ll deflect, as though he doesn’t want to be rude, even to a song: “It’s kinda like kids,” he says. “You can’t hardly separate one from the other. If you took the time to write it, put a melody to it, sing it, record it, whatever, then it’s important.” But when he does relent and starts listing favorites (“Crazy,” “Hello Walls,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Night Life,” “Pretty Paper,” “On the Road Again”), they’re almost all songs made famous by other singers and the songs that cemented his reputation as one of the best writers ever to cross the Nashville city limits.

Willie stuck it out in Nashville for most of the ’60s, but the industry never figured out how to sell this man with the dark songs, a reedy tenor, and a jazzman’s sense of phrasing. Yet whenever he became frustrated with his lack of recording success, he would retreat to writing, the one thing that always earned him respect—and generous paychecks. “I felt like Nashville was good to me” as a songwriter, he says. “And for a time I lived up there on my farm at Ridgetop and raised horses and cattle and hogs, just kinda retired for a while and just wrote songs. I enjoyed living in Tennessee. Great place.” The farm gave him perspective, reminding him that there was more to the world than being a star. “I had a guy work for me there, Mr. Hughes. Lived there all his life, there in Goodlettsville, and he had never seen the Grand Ole Opry. He was about 70 years old then, and had never been. He didn’t want to go. So that was a big thing to a lot of people, but to a lot of people there it wasn’t that big a deal.”

No one alive knows more about songwriting than Willie Nelson, but he would be the first to tell you that he can’t explain it. “It’s just a thought process where you hear a good line and you think, well, maybe I’ll take that line and try to write a song. Or it could be a melody that you look for a line to put to it. Works both ways for me.” But either way, it’s a mystery: “You wonder where it comes from.” As for trying to teach someone how to write a song, “I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

The distinctive thing about his songs is their deceptively easygoing ability to balance the specific and universal. “Sad Songs and Waltzes” is written from the point of view of a songwriter (“I’m writing a song all about you/a true song as real as my tears/But you’ve no need to fear it/’cause no one will hear it/’cause sad songs and waltzes/aren’t selling this year”). But it doesn’t matter that most of us who hear that tune aren’t songwriters; the sadness at the core of that lyric could pierce the heart of anyone done wrong by love. Sometimes the transaction is more personal. In “It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way,” a frustrated father calls out to a teenager slipping past the bonds of parental control. I first heard the song when my kids were just becoming teens, and what I loved about the lyrics was that no lessons were imparted, just the vivid ache of helplessness that any parent feels at the loss of childhood. The best of Willie’s songs, certainly the ballads, work similar magic, articulating emotions we’ve all felt but couldn’t find the words for.

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Rob Verhorst/GettyNelson played with country heavyweights Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson as part of the Highwaymen from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s.

AFTER HIS Ridgetop farmhouse burned down two days before Christmas in 1970, Willie moved back to Texas. “When I went to Nashville, things were already starting to click in Texas. I was drawing crowds there. And then when I got to Nashville, I kind of got stymied, because I was trying to play for the whole world. So I thought, I’ll just go on back to Texas and play there a while. And it was a good decision.” There would be one more move to Nashville, but by the early ’70s, Willie was ensconced in the Lone Star State, where he encountered an entirely new audience: young longhairs bred on rock and roll and the blues were turning up at his shows, and when Willie helped host the first annual Dripping Springs Reunion music festival in 1972, a precursor of his famous Fourth of July picnic concerts, the audience was equal parts Texas country folks and Woodstock nation, and nobody got beat up.

In 1975 he recorded Red Headed Stranger, a concept album conceived and largely written on a road trip from Colorado to Texas (Willie, typically modest, sees nothing in that feat to boast about: “It’s not that unusual, really, because when you start writing, you think of one and then think of another. I wrote a couple of concept albums that way. One song led to another”). The antithesis of the string-drenched countrypolitan sounds emanating from Nashville, the album was so raw, so sparely produced (studio costs: $4,000) that Columbia Records thought he was handing them a demo. But they came around in a hurry when “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was released as a single and gave the singer his first No. 1 hit on the country charts. The album went on to sell more than 2 million copies. When he wanted to release Stardust, a collection of some of his favorite standards, the record company wasn’t sure about that one either, until it shot to No. 1. It lingered on the charts for more than 10 years. By 2002 it had sold more than 5 million copies.

It certainly didn’t happen overnight, but when success finally found Nelson, it stuck. His 1982 album, Always on My Mind, was the No. 1 country album of the year and remained on the charts for almost five years. Willie took up acting and had starring roles in The Electric Horseman and Honeysuckle Rose (for which he wrote “On the Road Again”). And where he had once played concert halls and clubs small enough to make steady eye contact with his audience, suddenly he was playing arenas, a new and not entirely comfortable experience. As he writes in Willie, his 1988 autobiography, “I do a number of big concerts at night in arenas or at outdoor picnics—by big I mean crowds of 100,000—and I have to work those shows by feel. I can see nothing but a wide deep-purple canyon blinking with the fire of thousands of cigarettes.”

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Charles Rex Arbogast/APNelson sings with Sheryl Crow in his upcoming album, “To All the Girls …,” a compliation of duets with female artists.

THAT WAS 25 years ago, and he’s been a constant on everybody’s radar ever since. Thinking again of that clothing ad that for its effect depends on you knowing who Willie Nelson is without being told, I ask him if he ever wished for anonymity, if fame ever got in his way.

“Well,” he says slowly, smiling as he fingers one of his braids, “I dress kinda funny for anonymity. But, no, I don’t mind.”

So fame is not as corrosive as they say?

“I don’t think so,” he says. “I thought that was what we all looked for growing up. Some people when they get it say they don’t want it, but I still like it.

“It’s nice to know people are going to come and hear you sing and hear you play. That’s sort of the mystique of the whole thing. People work all day, and then they get in their car and they drive somewhere to go hear somebody sing, and applaud and sing along with ’em. And there’s a therapy there, an exchange, an energy exchange that takes place between the audience and the performer, and it’s pretty magical really, to both the audience and the entertainer.

“There was this guy I read about in India who woke up every morning, and he’d run out on the streets and start clapping his hands and running down the street, and everybody’d jump out and join him, and the next thing you know, there’d be hundreds of people running down the road. So they’re putting on their own little concert every morning.” The braided pied piper clearly relates.

Repeatedly, when he talks about performing, the concept of serving comes up. “It’s not about me,” he insists. Consequently, he’s careful about espousing causes on stage: “I can promote Farm Aid OK, because I believe in the cause, so it’s not a big stretch for me to do that. But there are probably several things that I wouldn’t want to talk about. And people come for the music. If they want preaching, they’ll go to church.” Maybe so, though many in his audiences would doubtless happily worship at the First Church of Willie: the crowd in Port Chester was nearly all white, but other than that the only common denominator was a fierce addiction among young and old to the music of Willie Nelson—these veterans knew the words to nearly every song.

Since the ’70s, Willie has opened nearly every set with his pal Johnny Bush’s classic, “Whiskey River.” “After that, who knows,” he says. There is no set list, but every show features a generous helping of his hits (“I know what they come to hear, and if we know what they like, it’d be kinda dumb not to play it”). But he always tosses in a few country classics like “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time,” a couple or three Hank Williams tunes, some gospel, maybe even some gypsy swing. This is big-tent music, a stylistic amalgam that’s purely Willie but also a pretty good short course in American music. The show is also a chance for Willie to do what he has been doing since he was a kid: sell songs. “We have some new songs out that we’ll plug in here and there,” he says. “Then there’s this duet album [with 18 female vocalists] coming out next month, To All the Girls … We started doing a couple of those.”

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Listening to Willie work his way through familiar material like “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and “Good Hearted Woman” in Port Chester, I was struck by the fact that while he must have played and sung these songs thousands of times, he somehow still finds a way to invest them with a freshness and emotional depth that makes you believe that he is playing them for the first time. It’s as if he’s saying, you may have heard this one before, but you haven’t heard it this way yet. And you haven’t.

There’s no loafing on a Willie Nelson stage. The Family band that backs him up includes blood kin (sister Bobbie has lately been joined by various Nelson sons and daughters) and performers like English, who has been in the band so long that he might as well be family. But don’t equate family with amateurism. “First of all, they gotta be good musicians,” Nelson says. And to play with Willie, they’d better be. Given his eccentric way with a vocal or guitar solo, anyone who’s not a crack musician would be well and truly lost after half a dozen bars of any song.

Over the years, Willie has lost some of the edge on his voice, a diminishment you hardly notice thanks to his impeccable phrasing. But time has only burnished his guitar playing. In the set I heard, he performed a slashing but dexterously lyrical version of the Django Reinhardt instrumental “Nuages.” The gypsy guitar genius has long been an idol for Willie, and if Willie isn’t quite as good as Reinhardt (who is?), you’d like to think that Reinhardt would nonetheless be touched by the love that came soaring through that song the other night.

Willie has been a Reinhardt addict for so long, he can’t remember quite when it started. The peerless Texas fiddler Johnny Gimble “gave me an old Django tape a long time ago. I listened to it, and I realized that this was the music I’d been listening to by other people. My dad played that kind of rhythm guitar, and someone else played that kind of fiddle. And then Bob Wills and all those guys took what Django did and enlarged on it. I had a lot of friends back there who loved Django music, so I got a chance to play it.” Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Reinhardt’s virtuosity was that he managed with only two working fingers on his fretting hand (he lost the use of the other fingers when he was badly burned in a fire). So when someone in the Little Willies, Norah Jones’s country band, called Willie “Django with one finger,” Willie was over the moon. “That was the best compliment I ever had,” he says with a huge grin.

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Ebet Roberts/Redferns/GettyThe Family band sometimes includes Nelson’s sons and daughters. Here, he plays with son Lukas at a Farm Aid concert.

Even Trigger, Willie’s battered but beloved guitar, has a Reinhardt connection. In the ’60s, “I was trying to get the Django sound, and [Nashville instrument builder and repairer] Shot Jackson told me about this Martin guitar that he had at his shop. I bought it, $750, sight unseen. And I still got it.” Or what’s left of it. Willie has played Trigger so long and so hard that he’s worn another hole in the top below the sound hole. “It’s supposed to be played with your fingers and not a pick, and that’s why the hole is in there, ’cause a lot of the guitars that need a pick will have a pick guard on them. This one didn’t have a pick guard, so that’s why the hole is in there.” And to anyone who wonders why a man who could afford any guitar in the world chooses to stick with an instrument that looks like a yard-sale reject, Willie says, “If they can look at it and listen to it and still not get it, I’m afraid I can’t help ’em. Sure, I can play any guitar. If it’s got six strings on it, I can play it. But which one do I really love to play? It’s Trigger. I love the sound that it gets.” As integral to Willie’s sound as his indelible voice, Trigger is, like the man who plays it, inimitable.

A better word for Willie would be indefatigable. When he’s not playing music, he’s playing chess, checkers, dominoes, or poker, or running, riding his bike, or playing golf (the only time he gets a little coy is when I ask for his handicap: “My driver and my putter and maybe my sand wedge,” he deadpans). So he would not agree with Mark Twain that golf is “a good walk spoiled”? “Some days it is,” he admits. “But then you hit one good one, make one good long putt, and it’s a nice day.”

Watch him work a stage for close to two hours—which he finishes at the lip of the stage, shaking every hand he can reach and signing anything anyone puts in his hand—and you understand that his claims of exercising every day are the simple truth. Men half his age would have trouble keeping up. And along with the running and biking and golfing, “I’m a second-degree black-belt tae kwon do,” he says with some pride. “I can practice all my forms right here on the bus going 80 miles an hour down the highway.”

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Chad Batka/CorbisNelson has played his guitar Trigger so long and so hard that he’s worn another hole in the top below the sound hole.

The most important words in that last sentence are “down the highway.” How apt that Huckleberry Finn is Willie’s favorite novel, for like Twain’s hero, he can never shake the urge to “light out for the territory,” in Willie’s case, just about every day. “You know that commercial that’s out right now that says a body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest? That’s very true. Very true.” Bearing in mind that Huck is a fictional character and Willie is flesh and blood, is it too much to suggest that both embody what we want in our heroes—the uniquely American home brew of guts, youthful spirit, wiliness, honesty, freewheeling humor, and no taste at all for cant or hypocrisy?

What keeps Willie more earthbound—but makes him, if anything, more admirable—is the unpoetic fact that he’s responsible for the 40-some people on his payroll, including a road crew of 22. If he doesn’t work, they don’t get paid. “I think about that,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons I’m probably still here. And that’s good. I need another reason.” Leave it to Willie to fashion a blessing out of obligation.

Throughout the interview, he rarely breaks eye contact, never loses focus, dodges no questions, no matter how impertinent, and never fidgets, aside from a little restless-leg syndrome that shakes the table now and then. To call him calm would be an understatement. And yet I know that he has not had an easy life, that he has been through four marriages, lost his grandfather when he was 6 and a son to suicide, and more recently endured the deaths of two bandmates with whom he’d been playing for more than half his life. Then there are those songs, some of them joyful but just as many that took the full measure of human sadness and heartache. How exactly, I wondered, did all that square with the almost surreally unflappable man sitting across the table from me?

Finally, I just say outright, “You seem pretty serene, based on my 40 minutes in here. Were you always that way?” That makes him laugh. “No. I used to drink a lot. Had a hot temper. Red hair and part Indian and all that horseshit. I used every excuse I had to get into trouble. Once I quit drinking, I managed to stay out of fights pretty good.”

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photo: Leonard Freed
MagnumWhen asked for his golf handicap, Nelson lists “my driver and my putter and maybe my sand wedge.”

Willie says he quit drinking and smoking sometime between age 30 and 35. “I had a pack of Chesterfields, and I was smoking pot and cigarettes, and my lungs were killing me, and I said, well, I ain’t getting high on these goddam cigarettes. So I took the cigarettes and threw ’em away and rolled about 20 fat joints and stuck ’em in the pack. When I wanted a cigarette, I lit a joint. And I haven’t smoked since. Very good way to quit. Cigarettes and alcohol killed a whole bunch of friends of mine.”

Pressing my luck, and hoping he won’t think that I’ve come just to write his obituary, I ask if there was ever a point at which he confronted his own mortality and pondered what he had left to do.

He pauses before answering that one. “I don’t know that there’s ever one moment or one second when I did that,” he says. “Or maybe there’s not a second when I’m not thinking about it. I’m always thinking about the next record or show, but mainly for my own entertainment. But, yeah, there are things I haven’t done. I’m really looking forward to this duet album coming out. After that I’ll figure out what the next one will be. Might be an album of new songs that I’ve written. I’ve got a few stacked up over there. And I’ll be going to Nashville in a couple of weeks to do some more recording, and when I get enough done of my own original stuff, I might put it out.

“I don’t really think about … I know some day I’ll move on. Everybody does. But I don’t worry about it. I like where I am now. Everything’s fine. And there’s nothing I can do about anything that’s happened. The only thing I have any control over is what’s happening right now. So I don’t worry about a while ago or after a while.”

Night has fallen while we’ve been talking. Now it’s time for him to go to work.

(more…)

The Amazing David Amram

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

amramamram

www.bmi.com
by Steve Chagollan

The Extraordinary Career of David Amram

“I was brought up on both the treasures of great European master composers and the genius of the jazz innovators.”

David Amram might be the most accomplished composer of our times with the least amount of recognition. This is a man who has worked with so many 20th century icons that first names aren’t necessary: Bernstein, Copland, Monk, Gillespie, Mingus, Kerouac, Dylan and Seeger, just to name a few. His roster of collaborators suggests a highly eclectic approach to the arts, with an emphasis on melding the spontaneity of jazz and the lyricism of folk with the structure and tradition of classical music.

During his long and storied career, Amram has witnessed, and taken part in, several tectonic changes in music and culture: the rise and fall of the Beat Generation, the ascendance of jazz as a countercultural art form before rock ’n’ roll superseded it, and collaborations with directors like John Frankenheimer and Elia Kazan when Hollywood was moving towards a new form of personal expression. All the while his prolific work for the concert hall was never limited by popular trends.

“I’ve been very lucky,” Amram says about his longevity. “And also, struggling to survive and do what we love to do — that sense of challenge — is so absorbing that you don’t have a chance to age properly; you don’t have that luxury in your schedule. Self-pity, despair, narcissism and careerism are not only disgusting for other people to be around, but I think they’re bad for your health. Also, I have great kids and a good little grandson. That makes you realize you’re part of the whole picture of life, and that life goes on with or without you.”

Amram, who has written more than 100 orchestral and chamber works and continues to be busy as a musician and lecturer, is celebrating the 50th anniversary as the first-ever Composer in Residence for the New York Philharmonic. It was a year-long post he accepted in 1966 when Leonard Bernstein, already a living legend at the time, was the music director and principle conductor for the orchestra. Bernstein also hand-picked Amram for the inaugural position after being considered among 100 candidates by the orchestra’s foundation. Unbeknownst to Amram, who thought he had a snowball’s chance in hell of being chosen due to his unorthodox educational background, Bernstein had become quite familiar with his work, including the scores for Splendor in the Grass (1960) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962), his original music for Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park and an opera that was televised on ABC in 1965, The Final Ingredient, An Opera for the Holocaust.

“I never really received a grant because I never did the things that you were supposed to do to be a classical composer in this country,” recalls Amram, who nevertheless spent time studying at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. “I knew that to become a composer you had to go to one school or another school that the New York Times’ arts section deemed as fashionable. The manager of the Philharmonic pointed out to me that in my interview I not only mentioned Bach and Beethoven but also Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, King Oliver and John Coltrane. He said, ‘You equate barroom entertainers with the treasures of European culture.’ And I said I was brought up on both — the treasures of those great European master composers and the genius of the jazz innovators.”

Bernstein, however, heard something in Amram’s work that spoke to him, including the jazz and Latin elements in his movie scores that reflected Bernstein’s own sensibilities in such works as West Side Story as well as the conductor/composer’s sole suite of music written specifically for the big screen, On the Waterfront. Amram adds that Bernstein taught him he was part of a continuum. “He said, ‘Your job as a composer is not just to please yourself, you are supposed to add something to the repertoire.’ He also said, ‘You have to be an ambassador for music and to bring that to young people.’ He didn’t say, ‘You have to sell that to young people or make it relevant to young people by adding synthesizers or setting guitars on fire.’ He wasn’t into being a fashionista or being trendy. He was interested in quality.”

As a player, Amram is best known for mastering the French horn, which he studied with the late Gunther Schuller — who, like Amram, straddled both the classical and jazz worlds. He was also one of the first serious musicians to incorporate literature into their performances. He was instrumental in creating the first-ever Jazz/Poetry readings in New York with Jack Kerouac, with whom he collaborated for more than 12 years, including writing the music for Kerouac’s experimental short Pull My Daisy(1959). And in 1965, he wrote the music for the cantata, Let Us Remember, by the Harlem poet Langston Hughes. He has also incorporated Native American idioms in his music, as well as other indigenous folk traditions.

In fact, there are few disciplines in the arts that Amram has not been exposed to first hand. Beyond his operatic, symphonic and chamber works, he has written three memoirs: Nine Lives of a Musical Cat (2009), Collaborating with Kerouac (2005) andVibrations (2001), about which the Boston Globe called him “the Renaissance man of American music.”

Although Amram has been a veritable chameleon as an artist, some things have remained constant during the course of his career. He says he’s been with the same publisher for 53 years, and has been a BMI member dating back to the ’50s. He cites Oliver Daniel, who was in charge of BMI’s classical music department at the time, as an inspiration and a source of encouragement. “BMI was a godsend in my life,” he says. “So many of the people with BMI — the songwriters, the jazz players, the classical composers — were actually able to get an advance when they were barely squeaking by just by signing. At the time that was a huge thing. And they have stood by me all the years I’ve been doing this. They also give young classical composers some hope that they can exist on the face of the earth.”

In the meantime, Amram’s schedule continues to be crammed with activity. He was in Texas performing and also conducting an orchestra at the Kerrville Festival of the Arts over Memorial Day weekend, and recently addressed 1,000 French horn players at an international symposium in Ithaca, NY, before honoring his old friend Pete Seeger at the Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, NY. He’s also working on two other music commissions, as well as a fourth memoir with the working title, The Next 80 Years.

All the while, his mission statement has always remained the same. “The organic, defining principle of creating something of lasting value and re-nourishing the soil from whence the fruits of your labor come is the way I’ve tried to live my life,” he says. “As Dizzy Gillespie told me, ‘Time to put something back into the pot.’”

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David Amram regular guest on Willie Nelson’s stage at Farm Aid Concerts, like this in 2014:

Willie Nelson performs “Milk Cow Blues” originally by Sleepy John Estes during the finale of the Farm Aid concert in Raleigh, NC on September 13, 2014. Also appearing are Gary Clark Jr., Lukas Nelson, Micah Nelson, Amy Nelson, Raelyn Nelson, David Amram, and more.

Willie Nelson Guitar Center Interview (2006)

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Willie Nelson stands in the pouring rain to meet and greet hundreds of fans that have just watched him perform the 2-hour plus set he plays almost every night somewhere in the world. Trigger, his 1969 Martin classical, and Snub-nose, his custom semi-hollow electric, have delivered for Willie another stellar show, and accompanied his 67 year-old voice through one classic song after another. Finally, some two hours after the show has ended, after Willie has obliged the last request from a fan, he sits down for an interview with Guitar Center.

GC: Congratulations on your Grammy nomination and your induction into the Songwriting Hall of Fame.

Willie Nelson: Thank you.

GC: I’ve often heard you refer to yourself as a guitar player, rather than a songwriter. Why is that?

Willie Nelson: That’s really the way I made my living when I was coming along, when I was a young musician, by playing guitar. I could sing a little bit and as the years went by I would sing a little more. But, I really started out playing guitar in my band and other bands.

GC: Have you come to terms with the fact that a lot people also think of you as a great singer/songwriter?

Willie Nelson: Actually, I think of myself more now as a songwriter than I do a guitar player because of guys like Jackie King (a current member of Willie’s band) and Django Reinhardt and all the great guitar players. It’s humbling to be in the presence of that kind of talent.

GC: How big was Django’s influence on your playing?

Willie Nelson: Very. A great deal more than I really thought. A lot of the stuff I was playing earlier, I found out later had come from some Django stuff, his rhythms.

GC: A sense of place permeates your music. I hear a lot more Texas than Nashville.

Willie Nelson: Since I come from Texas, there’s a lot of Texas in me. Just because I cross a state line, I can’t get it all out.

GC: Let’s talk about recording. When you record, what kinds of mic’ing and room choices do you make?

Willie Nelson: If I’m producing the album myself, either one of those things can happen. The last time I recorded was around Christmas time. I did two albums. One was an acoustic album called Rainbow Connection in my studio in Luck, Texas. Then, I went to Los Angeles for a big session for another album called The Great Divide. So I’ve done both extremes. Honestly, I’d just as soon have one mic with the guitar, play acoustic, and let the guitar run through the vocal mic. It runs engineers crazy when you want to do that. (laughs)

GC: I think you’ve earned it.

What are your thoughts on digital recording versus analog recording?

Willie Nelson: Used to be, I wasn’t sure. I have two studios, now. I have a big studio in Austin where I have a whole lot of equipment, both digital and analog. I have another little studio across the street (from where I live), where I just did Rainbow Connection, and it’s all digital. It’s hard for me to tell the difference in the sound.

GC: So you’re happy with it?

Willie Nelson: Yeah. We’re happy with it.

GC: Neil Young is one guy I can think of who seems to be on the analog side of the fence.

Willie Nelson: Maybe so. Of course, it’s everyone’s personal opinion, however they like to hear themselves. I think it has a lot to do with the building you’re in. The studio we’re in is all very old wood, so it’s like recording inside a big speaker. It really sounds good.

GC: With regard to your songwriting process, how do you introduce new songs to the band?

Willie Nelson: We have soundchecks every day. Whatever we’re working on at the moment, we’ll go over those songs at soundcheck. Hopefully, by the time we get to the studio, we’ve already worked them up. It will just be a matter of going in and putting them down.

GC: So everything’s worked out live?

Willie Nelson: We work it out live on the stage. We did one of them tonight, “The Great Divide.” That’s one from the new album that’s coming out that we’re doing on the stage. The other album, Rainbow Connection, I haven’t started doing that yet, but I will.

GC: How does Martin feel about you using one of their guitars (Trigger) for over 30 years?

Willie Nelson: I’m sure they like that. They’ve made a bunch of Trigger look-alikes and they’re great guitars.

GC: Have you ever had the desire to play another acoustic guitar?

Willie Nelson: I’ve never found anything as good to me, for what I was trying to get, as Trigger. I could play it acoustically. I can run it through an amp. It still gets a great sound.

GC: What strings are on Trigger?

Willie Nelson: There’s a guy named Tunin’ Tom that takes care of my guitar. He has a lot of different strings that he uses. I think he has one particular brand that he tries to find, but I’m not sure what they are.

GC: You also played an electric tonight.

Willie Nelson: I have an electric there, on-stage, the little Snub-nose I call it. I play the blues stuff with that. I play it more during a longer show, but mostly I stay with the acoustic.

GC: Finally, is there a point or year in your career you look on with more fondness?

Willie Nelson: This is better than anything. It has been very good for a long time. For a long time before that, it was fine. It wasn’t great. I was doing well and traveling around. But, then things starting clicking pretty much back when the Red-Headed Stranger album came out. Since then, it has been easier. Recently, the last couple of years, it seems like we’ve gotten hotter than ever.

GC: Thank you very much for sitting down with me at the end of a long night.

Willie Nelson: Thank you for waiting.

(Sorry, I don’t know who the interviewer is.)

Willie Nelson with Ralph Emory

Thursday, July 21st, 2016