Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Willie Nelson to Jeff Sessions, “Try some pot”

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

We sat down with Willie Nelson to talk about his new album, ‘God’s Problem Child.’ He also shared his thoughts on politics, his favorite curse word and why he thinks Jeff Sessions should smoke some pot.
by:  Patrick Doyle

It’s the day before Willie Nelson’s 84th birthday, but he’s keeping his plans modest. “I’m just going to try and be here,” he says with a laugh from his tour bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, currently parked in Laughlin, Nevada, another stop on Nelson’s furious two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off touring schedule. “I’m still enjoying it,” he says. “It’s the two weeks off that gets kind of long.” This summer, Nelson will tour with the Outlaw Music Festival, which includes dates with Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell and Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. Nelson is looking forward to breaking out songs from his excellent new album, God’s Problem Child. “It’ll be a great chance to run into a lot of old friends,” says Nelson, who, after thousands of gigs, has his own ways of keeping the show interesting: “I won’t intentionally try to throw the band off, but I do things that they don’t know. And sometimes, there’s a magic that happens.”

Your new single “Still Not Dead” is hilarious. What was the inspiration?
Well, many years ago, when I wrote “On the Road Again,” that’s the first time I heard that I was dead. Somebody said, “Willie was singing ‘On the Road Again,’ and a bus hit him.” That was funny for a few years. Then I heard these, what do you call them, “alternative facts”: I got up two or three times in the past couple of years and read I’d passed away. I just wanted to let ’em know that’s a lot of horseshit.

This summer you’ll reunite with Dylan. What’s it like when you two hang out?
I don’t think that’s ever happened much. We play music together more than we talk, and that’s probably good. [In 2004] my son Lukas and Dylan hit it off really good; he’d sit in with him and play guitar, and they jammed a lot on those tours. That was fun.

Who’s your favorite live act?
Leon Russell was one of the greatest entertainers out there. First time I saw him, he was playing for about 40,000 people in New Mexico. It’s the first time I saw anybody throw their hat into the audience. That’s where I stole that idea.

Jeff Sessions recently said that pot is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.
I wonder if he’s tried both of them. I don’t think you can really make a statement like that unless you tried it all. So I’d like to suggest to Jeff to try it and then let me know later if he thinks he’s still telling the truth!

What do you make of the Trump presidency so far?
Well, I knew him back when he owned some casinos, and I worked for him. He always paid me. I had no problems at all. I think he’s stepped into a different world. Like he said this morning, “I had no idea this job was going to be this hard.” It’s easy when you can just go bankrupt anytime you want to and say, “I’ll check you later.” But that’s hard to do when you’re president of the United States.

You sell “Willie Nelson for President” bumper stickers. Do a lot of people tell you to run for office?
Oh, yeah, which makes me even more glad that I didn’t. I came close a couple times. And then I sobered up.

So Trump hasn’t made you want to step in.
I think you can do more with music than you can with arguments and politics. I think a song will reach more people than any other thing. There’s a reason that it’s called “harmony”: When you play a show, there’s an energy exchange with the people that is unimaginable. It’s the reason I go out there. I get something out of it too.

What rules did you impose on your kids growing up?
My wife has one, and it’s three rules: “Don’t be an asshole, don’t be an asshole, and don’t be a goddamn asshole.” Mine has always been, “Don’t start no shit and there won’t be no shit.”

You’ve been married to your wife, Annie, for 25 years. What have you learned about marriage?
Well, it’s kind of like Donald was saying about being president: There’s nothing easy about it. Every day is hard work. It ain’t for everybody. I’ve been married a few times.

What has golf taught you about life?
Not a damn thing. Somebody said you’re ruining a nice walk, golfing. But I love to play. I went out and played the other day with my sons. I had an eagle on a par-four hole, so I was happy.

Are you still exercising every day?
Yeah, I’ll ride a horse, swim or run. Cussin’ is good exercise – I do that too.

What’s your favorite curse word?
I tell everybody when I get to be president, “fuck it” is going to be one word.

You’ve launched your own marijuana company, Willie’s Reserve. How’s that going?
Going good. I have other people kind of doing it for me. Annie is on the edible side, and she’s a great chef, and she’s been working in Colorado and all those places where it’s legal.

Is there any downside to smoking pot every day?
I haven’t run into any yet. I guess if you go somewhere where it’s illegal, that’s a pretty good downside.

Willie Nelson on CMT Hot 20 Countdown (May 13, 14)

Friday, May 12th, 2017

Willie Nelson is always good for a joke. He loves them, and before he and Katie Cook wrapped their CMT Hot 20 Countdown interview on his bus in San Diego, they exchanged a few clean ones.

“I went on this blind date and I told the guy I’d meet him in the bar,” Cook said. “I sat exactly where I would be, he comes walking over and he was like, ‘Are you Katie?’ I’m like, ‘Are you John?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘I’m not Katie.’”

“That’s good,” Nelson said. “I’ve got a drop joke that you might like: A guy was on the second floor of this hotel, too close to the window and he fell out on the ground. Someone walks up to him and says, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘I don’t know I just got here.’”

Humor is at the heart of how Nelson looks at life — and death. Rumors and hoaxes about the music icon’s untimely end have followed the singer since his 1980 No. 1 “On the Road Again” and he takes them all in stride.

“There have been rumors out there,” he said, “‘One day, Willie was out on the road singing ‘On the Road Again’ and a truck hit him.’ … Ever since then I’ve been hearing those stories. I thought it was really funny.”

At 84, Nelson shows no signs of stopping. In the last 60 years, he’s recorded more than 110 albums (not counting his live sets and greatest hits compilations), and he continues to tour all year long.

His latest collection, God’s Problem Child, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s country albums chart. The lineup for his six-city Outlaw Music Festival tour starting July 1 in New Orleans includes Bob Dylan and His Band, the Avett Brothers, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, My Morning Jacket, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Margo Price, Hayes Carll and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real.

When Cook asked Nelson if he saw age as just another number, he agreed.

“People do get old, that’s the way life is, and fortunately we’ve gotten this old. And hopefully we can get older.

“One of those heavy-thinkers, Seneca, said that you should look upon death and comedy with the same countenance. I thought that’s pretty interesting.

“You know we’re all gonna die one day,” he added, “It’s not not going to happen. So you have to have some kind of attitude about it, and I guess comedy is as good as any.”

The second part of of Cook’s interview with Nelson will air on an all-new CMT Hot 20 Countdown on Saturday and Sunday (May 13-14) at 9 a.m. ET/PT.

Willie Nelson interview with Charley Rose (1999)

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Willie Nelson’s new album, “God’s Problem Child” out next week (April 28th)

Monday, April 17th, 2017

Willie Nelson’s new album out next week!  If you can’t wait for the album to be available in your local independent record store, you can choose your music service and pre-order your copy:






Willie Nelson Interview (April 2008)

Sunday, April 9th, 2017
by:  Steve Russell

What one thing should every man know about women?

Well, Ray Price told me that the only thing he’d learned about women is that money makes them horny. I couldn’t argue with that.

What’s the worst physical pain you’ve ever experienced?

I was touring in Hawaii about 20 years ago, and I just got to running — first time in I don’t know how long. Then I hit the water and swam. My left lung completely collapsed. I instinctively knew what had happened and was far enough offshore to get a little concerned. But the real pain was in the hospital. They stick something through your back to pump the lung up, and whatever decibel your scream is, that’s how they know they’ve penetrated the lung. I peaked that sucker.

No, not really. I had a dream one night — the funniest dream I ever had. This guy said, “I want to talk to Tex Cobb.” I had been hanging out with Tex, so I guess that’s why he said it. I said, “He’s not here.” And the guy said, “Well, where is he?” And I said, “I don’t know.” And the guy just out of the clear blue said, “You’re about 90 percent smart-ass, ain’t you?” And I heard myself in my sleep say, “Well, you son of a bitch, you come over here. I’ll hit you in the goddamn nose.” And then he said, “Make that 100 percent.” I woke myself up laughing.

What’s the best cure for a hangover?

I don’t think there is any good thing for a hangover except suffering a little bit.

What’s the best cure for a heartbreak?

More hangovers.

Which commandment do you break most often?

Well, I try to keep “Thou shalt not kill.” The rest of them I’m kind of shaky on.

What would you do with a time machine?

I’d go back to the horse-and-buggy days, get me a good horse and a saddle and a guitar, and take off and ride about five miles a day. I’d build a fire and play or write a song. Then I’d get up and ride five more miles.

Where’s the strangest place you ever woke up?

I’d been drinking in a place called the Night Owl, in West, Texas, and then caught a ride up to Hillsboro to a restaurant where a lot of trucks stopped. Well, I lay down in the back of one of those trucks and woke up the next morning as the driver was pulling into the stockyards in Fort Worth. I’m just glad I didn’t crawl in with a bunch of longhorns.

What song do you have to hear once a week?

“Chiseled in Stone,” by Vern Gosdin, from the ’80s. If you don’t know it, it’s not anything I could tell you. When you hear it you’ll say, “Okay, now I know what Willie’s talking about.”

What was your first car?

An old ’36 Ford wagon me and my friend Zeke bought from my brother-in-law for $195. One time I’d gone inside to see a girl and Zeke stayed out in the car. Some kid saw gas leaking from the tank — he might’ve had a beer or two, I don’t know — but he said, “What would happen if I put a match to this gas tank?” and Zeke said, “Well, you crazy son of a bitch, it’d catch on fire.” So the kid struck a match and Zeke came running to tell me the car was burning up. That was the end of that ’36 Ford.

What’s the biggest bet you ever made?

Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson and I gamble all the time, on dominoes and chess and poker. It doesn’t really matter how much, because we wind up, even before the night’s over, trading hundred-dollar bills. Those are some real fun guys to hang out with.

What’s the most cherished possession you ever lost?

My son. I ain’t never lost nothing else that wasn’t replaceable.

What one experience do you want to have before you die?

I would be real greedy to ask for anything else. I’ve played music and sung with just about everybody I wanted to. Except for Barbra Strei­sand. It’s not too late for that.

The songs keep coming for Willie Nelson

Monday, April 3rd, 2017
Willie Nelson still has a story to continue in song, and no plans to leave the stage. ... -
by:  Tresa Patterson

The songs keep coming and the stage still calls the music legend in his older years

#Willie Nelson is too contented with life to spend much time looking at his calendar. The founder of the “outlaw country” music movement is still moving down the road just before his 84th birthday later this month. The singer-songwriter has penned a catalog of songs reads like a chronicle of 70 years of hits through heartache and hope, and the story continues. Willie has a new album, “God’s Problem Child,” ready for release on the day before that big birthday later this month, and reflects on how his younger years were much darker than these days. The music always drives the man from Abbott, TX to brighter horizons and his next gig to play.

Too much life, laughter, and music to come

“I’ve been killed several times throughout the years,” Willie jokes with Bob Schieffer on “CBS Sunday Morning,” adding “so I just thought I’d write something about it.” It’s fitting that the two contemporaries are discussing “Still Not Dead,” a song featured on the new album to which both can relate with humor.

No one is counting numbers or erroneous press reports of Willie Nelson’s passing, but the latest collection makes the 110th album for Nelson, not counting varied collections. The artist recalls the early struggles of his career in Nashville, when his songs like “Crazy,” “Hello Walls,” and countless more were snagged for other artists, while their composer’s vocals were deemed not suitable for recording. At one particularly low point, the artist plopped himself in the middle of a Nashville street, hoping to be hit by a car. “I was going from one relationship to the other, marriage and divorce,” describes Nelson, noting that songwriters get the best material “from headaches and heartache.” Fortunately, traffic was light that night, and a bright horizon was waiting for Willie in Texas.

Giving up on “establishment” Nashville, Willie returned to Texas, took on his authentic persona, and teamed up with friends like Waylon Jennings, and nothing has been the same for him or country music since. He still plays “on the road again” with about 100 dates per year, but Willie Nelson can also draw a crowd in his own backyard.

The Mayor of Luck

Some years back, Willie Nelson fulfilled a dream to have his own Western town created near his property outside of Austin, and he named the municipality “Luck.” Hosting annual music events at the Luck Reunion is more than a good time for fans. It has become a movement for fostering new artists in music and art, and even chefs who create under their own calling. The mission is to “cultivate the new while showing honor to influence” per the website. Last year, Valerie June and Margo Price were among the esteemed headliners.

The family is one of the sweetest joys now for Willie Nelson, as moments of embraces and laughter with sons, Lukas and Micah, provide interludes to the music. His great-niece coordinates the event. Sister, Bobbie plays piano every night, and praises “he’s really a poet” of her little brother, who still writes songs simply from the heart. Fourth wife, Annie, has been with Willie for over 30 years, 23 years his junior, and she remains sure that “his goal is to wear me out so that we’re both the same age.”

Willie Nelson seems as ageless as his music. “The truth matters,” the songwriter says, paraphrasing Harlan Howard, noting that using more than three chords is permissible. The music has always spoken a real man’s story in truth, and right now, he agrees, “I haven’t really got anything to bitch about,” and all music lovers can wish for is a few more years.

Willie Nelson interview on “Sunday Morning”, CBS, with Bob Schieffer

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

See Willie Nelson tomorrow on‘Sunday Morning’ this weekend (April 2, 2017)

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

Willie Nelson will be featured in an interview segment of the CBS show “Sunday Morning” April 2, airing locally from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on KEYE-TV.
by:  Peter Blackstock

Willie Nelson will be featured in an interview segment of the CBS show “Sunday Morning” April 2, airing locally from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on KEYE-TV.

A brief video and text preview excerpt on the show’s website hints at some of the content, including former CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer’s questions about Nelson’s much-anticipated new album “God’s Problem Child” — due out April 28, the day before Nelson’s 84th birthday.

“There’s a theme here: This is about the autumn of your life,” Schieffer observes. “Is that hard for you to think about?”

“No,” Nelson answers. “You remember one of those deep thinkers, a guy named Seneca? He said you should look at death and comedy with the same countenance. And I believe that.”

Willie Nelson and Bob Schieffer visit at Nelson’s property near Austin during an interview for the CBS show “Sunday Morning” set to air on April 2, 2017. Contributed/CBS News

See Willie Nelson with Bob Schieffer this week on Sunday Morning (April 2nd)

Thursday, March 30th, 2017


Singer-songwriter Willie Nelson, with Bob Schieffer.

Bob Schieffer, of CBS, visited Luck Texas during SXSW, and interviewed Willie Nelson. He went to the concert, and walked around and talked with fans during the day.   The show airs on Sunday Morning, April 2nd.

FOR THE RECORD: Willie Nelson

Closing in on his 84th birthday, country singer-songwriter Willie Nelson is on the road again — performing, writing music, and releasing a new album. “God’s Problem Child” is his 110th, give or take, with songs like “Still Not Dead.”

“There’s a theme here,” said Bob Schieffer. “This is about the autumn of your life. Is that hard for you to think about?”

“No,” Nelson replied. “You remember one of those deep thinkers, a guy named Seneca? He said you should look at death and comedy with the same countenance. And I believe that.”

To hear Willie Nelson perform “Old Timer” from “God’s Problem Child,” click on the video player below:

Willie Nelson – Old Timer by WillieNelsonVEVO on YouTube

For more info:

Mickey Raphael: Willie Nelson’s #1 Harmonica Player, for 40 years

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

Willie Nelson Q & A: Willie the Hero

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

This interview ran in the Houston Chronicle on March 21, 1993
by:  Rick Mitchell

In western movies, there’s often a scene where the hero wakes up from a daze after being pistol-whipped or hit over the back of the head with a bottle. He shakes the cobwebs from his brain, checks to make sure his body parts still work and reaches for a hit of something stiff to kill the lingering pain.

Then he reloads, mounts up and rides off to finish the job he started, more resolute than ever.

If ever a hero had a right to feel dazed, it’s Willie Nelson.

Two and a half years ago, the Internal Revenue Service seized all of Nelson’s property and announced plans to auction it off to satisfy Nelson’s $16.7 million tax debt – most of it accrued in penalties and interest from a failed tax shelter in the early ’80s.

Nelson quickly worked out a deal with the IRS to release the album “Who’ll Buy My Memories: The IRS Tapes,” with proceeds going to his tax debt. The album received rave reviews, but the Austin telemarketing company handling mail-order sales went out of business a few months later, and fans were unable to find the album in stores.

“It was like Murphy’s Law, ” Nelson said.

On Christmas Day 1991 Nelson suffered a far crueler blow. His son, Billy, committed suicide at age 33. While Nelson managed to maintain his serenity in the face of his financial woes, the loss of his son brought him to his knees. He still can’t discuss the subject.

Nelson spent much of last year playing at a theater in Branson, Mo., where by most accounts he was miserable. It was beginning to look as if the old outlaw might live out his last days on an allowance from Uncle Sam, performing for busloads of retirees in Branson and dreaming restlessly of the good times gone by.

As his 60th birthday looms April 30, Shotgun Willie is back in the saddle and on the road again. After reviewing the financial figures, the IRS has agreed to a massive reduction of his debt.

Nelson still owes $5.4 million, to be paid off over the next few years.

On Tuesday, Columbia Records will release Nelson’s new album, “Across the Borderline.” Produced by Don Was and featuring guest appearances by Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Sinead O’Connor and others, the album is being hailed as his best work since “Stardust,” some 15 years ago.

CBS is planning a special on Nelson’s life, to be filmed in Austin and aired shortly after his birthday. Nelson also is involved in planning Farm Aid VI, to be held in Ames, Iowa, on April 24.

But even with everything else going on, Nelson has not forgotten where he came from.

On March 28, he will return to his old haunts of Hillsboro to perform a benefit concert for the restoration of the historic Hill County Courthouse, which was devastated by fire Jan. 1.

The concert is called “Blaze to Glory With Willie” and will be held on the town square in front of the burned building. The statewide advisory committee for the event includes such notable Hill County natives as Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and Houstonian Dr. Red Duke.

“There’s more people than I ever dreamed of that have connections to that courthouse,” Nelson said in an interview at his Pedernales Studio and Country Club in Spicewood. He’s in the process of re-acquiring the Spicewood property, which a friend bought at the IRS auction and held for him.

“A courthouse has a different meaning than other buildings, ” Nelson said. “It’s where all the family records are kept. It’s like a church, or a temple.”

Nelson was born and reared in Abbott, about 10 miles south of Hillsboro. Some of his earliest musical memories are of accompanying his grandparents to the Wednesday night gospel meetings at the Hill County Courthouse.

“My grandparents were gospel singers,” he said. “They would meet there with other gospel singers in the area. They had all their gospel hymn books. That’s where I really got turned on to that type of music. Country music I heard on the radio, along with all other types of music.”

While country music became his great love, his experience singing gospel left a lasting impression. He has never lost the ability to impart a spiritual dimension to secular lyrics, from “The Healing Hands of Time” to “Always on My Mind.”

When he grew a little older, Nelson would ride the Waco-Dallas trolley from Abbott up to Hillsboro every Saturday.

“Child’s fare was 20 cents round trip,” he recalled. “I’d take nine cents to get in the movie and another nickel for popcorn, and I had the weekend made. Ten-cent hamburgers, too.”

Most Saturday afternoons also included a visit to the courthouse. “That’s where the public restrooms were, ” he explained.

Nelson’s nonchalance about material possessions has been compared to that of a Zen monk. Even in the darkest times of the last two years, he never lost his sense of humor.

As his fellow songwriter and compadre Kris Kristofferson once put it, “He wears the world like a loose garment.”

But Nelson says his hang-loose attitude is more Texan than Buddhist.

“It comes from running into situations where you either had to laugh or cry,” he said. “I was raised around a lot of people who had a great sense of humor. Those people in Hill County, they didn’t worry about a lot of things. So I sort of grew up with that attitude. Money wasn’t a big deal because nobody had any, so what difference did it make?”

Nelson moved away from Hill County after graduating from high school, but he’s maintained close friendships there. He offered to do the courthouse benefit concert while visiting Zeke Varner, an old friend from Hillsboro, a few days after the fire.

“I knew that they were going to need some help, ” Nelson said. “I told Zeke that the best way to do it would be to close off downtown to do a concert right on the courthouse square. He said, “I doubt they’ll let us do that.’

“Sure enough, they felt it was a great idea.”


“Don’t Give Up’

Although he seems to have reached a peaceful accommodation with life’s travails, that “loose garment” hasn’t always fit Nelson so well. In his younger years, he did a lot of moving around Texas, living in Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio.

During the ’60s, he spent a frustrating decade in Nashville, Tenn. He gained respect as a songwriter for hits such as Ray Price’s “Night Life” and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” But the Nashville establishment never took him seriously as a singer because of his unique voice and idiosyncratic phrasing.

At one point, Nelson gave up on the music business. He bought a little spread outside Nashville and decided to try his hand at pig farming. When the farm burned down, Nelson came home to Texas.

It wasn’t long afterward, in 1975, that he had his career breakthrough with the album “Red Headed Stranger.”

“I did a lot of negative thinking in my earlier years, ”

Nelson said. “Like they say, ‘A hard head makes a sore ass.’

“Somewhere along the way, I turned the negative around to start thinking positive. But I drank a lot, too. That had a lot to do with my negative approach.”

Nelson agrees that “Across the Borderline” is among the best albums of his career – possibly his best. But he defends much of his work of the ’80s as critically and commercially overlooked.

“Honestly, I felt I reached a point where I was producing too much, ” he said. “I was recording more albums than the company could sell. I did duet albums with Faron Young, Ray Price, Webb Pierce, Hank Snow – all my heroes. It’s something I wanted to do, and the fact that I had a studio here made it easy to invite the guys down.”

Nelson said the rapid recording pace and constant touring took a toll on his songwriting.

“At some point, I saw a lot of good material going by the wayside, ” he said. “I saw a lot of albums that I was putting out that weren’t selling as much as I thought they should, and I was going through a lot of good material. That’s why this new album is as good as it is, because we did take a long time looking for new material.”

Nelson said producer Was was responsible for introducing him to many of the songs on “Across the Borderline” and encouraging him to stretch his artistic range. The hardest songs for him were Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” (done as a duet with O’Connor) and Simon’s “American Tune.”

“That’s a very classic melody there, ” he said of the latter. “It’s difficult for a hillbilly singer to sing.”

On the other hand, songs like Lyle Lovett’s “Farther Down the Line” and Willie Dixon’s “I Love the Life I Live” sound as though they might have been written by Nelson himself. He’s already introduced the Lovett tune into his regular concert repertoire.

“I love that song, ” he said. “I like to sing it every night.”

Of the three songs on the album that Nelson wrote, “She’s Not for You” is the only one that had previously been recorded (for a long-out-of-print RCA album in the ’60s).

“Valentine” was written for Nelson’s 2-year-old son, Luke, his seventh child, one of two by his fourth wife, the former Annie D’Angelo. “Still Is Still Moving to Me,” the album’s closer, is Nelson’s declaration of renewed purpose. He’s on his feet again and ready to ride.

There has been a nearly complete turnover on the country chart since Nelson’s last huge hit, “Always on My Mind,” 10 years ago. A new generation of country stars has emerged, making it difficult for old-timers such as Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Waylon Jennings to crack radio playlists.

But Nelson isn’t worried about conforming to commercial trends. His greatest work – from “Phases and Stages” and “Red Headed Stranger” to “Stardust” and “Across the Borderline” – has transcended marketing categories.

“There has to be an audience for something good,” he said simply. “There’s ‘supposed’ to be. I think this album is so good – it incorporates so much talent and so many good songs – everything points to a hit. I just think this album is a home run.”

If life imitates the movies one more time, it will be.

Jenna Bush and Willie Nelson in San Antonio

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017
by:  Jenna Bush Hagar

Dearest Willie,

Do you know how much we love you? Let me count the ways.

You were a vital part of the soundtrack to our childhood. Your deep, soulful sound still reminds me of road trips to the lake, and evenings spent dancing at our ranch.

It seemed almost destined that we would meet in San Antonio–Texas a place we both adore–on Valentine’s week.

Thanks for hosting me in Honeysuckle Rose (your bus!). Talking with you about your childhood in Abbot, Texas; the music you have written, friends you lost this year (Merle Haggard and Leon Russel). It was everything I had hoped it would be.

And your show! Your music, your voice still as good as when I saw you 15-years-ago. You made one homesick Texan, very. Very. Happy



Souther Living
Spring Style
March 2013

“Jenna, the younger sister — by a minute — is an editor-at-large of the magazine, as well as a “Today” correspondent.

On Friday’s show, she shared her own praise for her big sister.

“They (wrote) ‘She greets everyone with her warm smile and those bright blue eyes.’ And I said, ‘Anyone who meets Barbara adores her,’” she said.

The NBC correspondent also dished that despite her city living, she is raising her children with strong Southern values.

“I want my kids to be kind. I want them to put others before themselves,” she said.

Hager has two daughters, Margaret and Poppy.

“I also want them to know about Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers and Johnny Cash – of course Aunt Dolly. We always dance around the house to Dolly Parton,”


Interviewing Willie Nelson

Saturday, February 11th, 2017
by:  Chuck Yarborough

CLEVELAND, Ohio – In 1980, when I was a grizzled two-year veteran of the newspaper business, I was on the politics beat and ended up interviewing Teddy Kennedy, John Connally, John Anderson, Ross Perot, George Bush (the dad), Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

Nerves? What nerves? I was 23, writing for The Baytown (Texas) Sun and more intimidated by the national press than the candidates. I wasn’t just confident – I was COCKY.

In the 37 years since then, I’ve interviewed hundreds – maybe thousands – of other big names, in politics, in war zones, on playing fields. And in all that time, I’ve been nervous exactly once.

Talking to Willie Nelson scared the crap out of me. It’s not often you talk to God, which is how country fans in general and Texans in particular view Nelson, and he talks back like you’re both sitting on the banks of the stock pond cane-poling for catfish. That microcassette recording of the interview may be one of my proudest possessions.

And now, Willie’s scaring the crap out of me again, only for a different reason. This week, he canceled two shows “due to illness.” It’s not the first time one of the two surviving members of the legendary Highwaymen – the other is 80-year-old Kris Kristofferson — has had to do that, and really, since he turns 84 in April, it’s not all that surprising.

In 2004, he had to take time off for carpal tunnel surgery; the cumulative effects of creating musical poetry on his beloved Martin guitar, Trigger, forced that. But somehow, we all sort of knew he’d bounce back.

Now, though, I’m more than a little worried. Actually, I’m terrified all over again. I’m just hoping that he can do what he did in that interview 15 years ago.

We were supposed to talk for about 10 minutes, which is about average for an artist phone interview. We ended up spending an hour chit-chatting like long-lost friends, some about music and Trigger, and a LOT about being a dirt-poor kid in rural Texas.

Willie grew up in Abbott, a little town just north of Waco and about 200 miles from my dad’s birth “city,” Hamlin, in West Texas. One of Willie’s earliest memories, he said, was picking cotton with his grandmother, who raised him and sister Bobbie.

That was the opening. My father also grew up picking cotton, a backbreaking job that kids of the era were well-suited to do because they didn’t have to bend over as far to pluck the cotton bolls off the plants.

He talked of being dragged on the bag before he could walk, then tagging along once he got big enough to haul his own bag. It was never very full, at least not at first, but that didn’t matter.

He and Bobbie, who is two years older and plays piano in his band, learned music from his grandmother and grandfather. I think I recall him saying he called his grandmother Memaw, which is what I called my maternal grandmother, too, and that’s why it stuck. His grandfather, a blacksmith, died when he was 6, so there weren’t that many memories of him.

None of that made it into the story I wrote at the time. We did talk about Trigger, that oft-repaired Martin which now boasts more than 100 signatures of other artists (the first was Oklahoma native and pal Leon Russell) and just why he hasn’t been able to find a replacement that has the same sonorous tones.

We didn’t talk about one of my favorite stories, when Willie – a known fan of wacky-tobacky, as it were – played the famous Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and the drug dogs alerted on his bus, the Yellow Rose. Problem was, when they searched it, the dogs couldn’t narrow it down to a single spot – the cannabis scent had pervaded the entire thing – so the cops couldn’t do anything.

We did talk about his friends, Toby Keith, Billy Joe Shaver, Porter Wagoner, Roy Acuff and even Kid Rock and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas, and some of his iconic songs, like “Crazy,” made famous by Patsy Cline, “Whiskey River” and of course, “On the Road Again.” Standard fare for an interview. Nervous as I was, I did my job.

Willie’s publicist, Elaine Schock, whom I’ve known for decades now, reassured me when I reached out to ask about his health.

“Don’t worry. Willie will be in fine form next week for his show in San Antonio,” she wrote in an email.

I’ve taken more solace than I probably should have from that brief note, given Willie’s age and the life he’s led. But I believe it because I want to believe it. I need to believe.

God can’t die.

Willie Nelson on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Willie Nelson: The Barbara Walters Interview (1982)

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017


People Magazine
June 21, 1982
by Cheryl McCall
photos:  Evelyn Floret

It is high noon in Austin, and the atmosphere is sultry in the $257 -a-night LBJ Suite of the Driskill Hotel, where Barbara Walters has turned off the air conditioning.  She has come to Texas to interview Willie Nelson for the 20th ABC special bearing her name, and is savoring a moment of decadent leisure.  Denuded of makeup, padding around in her bare feet and a shapeless cotton caftan, Walters bears little resemblance to the empress of televised conversation.   She looks softer, almost homey, as though she just might mosey into the kitchen and whip up a batch of brownies.  The effect is casually, but not entirely unstudied.

Like no other correspondent, perhaps, Walters is both of the press and apart from it.  As anxious about her image as any politician or movie queen, she has been stung by criticism of herself as a creature of outsize go and privilege.  “The biggest misconception about me is that I’m cold and controlled, that I have this great prima donna life where I’m followed around by limousines, hairdressers and press agents,” she says.  “It’s just not true.”

It is possible, of course, that even Mrs. Onassis thinks of herself as Just Plain Jackie.  Moments later Walters is frantically pulling clothes off hangers and issuing a volley of commands to her secretary:  have her clothes pressed, call room service, summon the hairdresser.  With a taping scheduled for 5:30 p.m., a three-hour transformation begins as the Walters hair is cut and styled (“Don’t make me look like Shirley Temple,” she warns), and emmy-winning makeup artist Tommy Cole applies a poreless mask of cosmetics to the famous face.  “I have not had a face lift,” says Barbara, fifty.  “When I’m doing a special, I am beautifully lit and I look terrific.”

Producer JoAnn goldberg and director Don Mischer arrive to go over plans for the taping and to approve a selection of newly ironed dresses.  (“All form my own closet,” Walters points out.)  In preparation for her summit meeting with Nelson, Barbara’s staff has compiled a voluminous binder of research and drawn up some of the 150 questions she might ask on-camera.  Advance people have scouted out the locations, arranged flights for the staff, booked hotel rooms, rental cars and limousines, hired local camera crews and arranged catering services for the two days of taping in Austin.  Routinely, when the time comes to take the show on the road, Walters boards her plane to the interview, pres over the research once more in flight, and reviews the questions she will use.  Her secretary, Monica Caulfield, guides Barbara to airlines, limos and out-of-town destinations.

For this special, which will also include segments on Clint Eastwood and Carol Burnett, Barbara has postponed 20/20 interviews with Alexander Haig and Yoko Ono to focus her attention on Nelson.  Relentless in pursuing the subjects she wants, Walters writes letters, sends flowers or telegrams, and even pleads with celebs on the telephone.  Leonid Brezhnev, the Pope and Greta Garbo have spurned her requests, but few others have shown such powers of resistance.  Willie Nelson had twice turned her down until she cornered him at a Friars roast for Burt Reynolds last year.  Now, with his hot crossover album of the year, Always on My Mind, topping both pop and country charts, Nelson has become the key to an audience share that Walters would not automatically attract.

Barbara readily admits that his celebrity interrogations are “gentler” than her usual interviews.  “These are people, like Nelson, who are doing me a favor,” she explains.  “They’re superstars who don’t need this publicity.  Nobody comes out of these interviews angry or hurt.  If I’m asked not to discuss something that’s very painful, I won’t, because I’m creative enough to discuss a lot of other things.”  Nelson has declared nothing off limits, yet Barbara is expecting some problems.  “Willie’s a tough one, he’s not a talker,” she frets.  “But I’ve got 90 questions, and if I can get eight minutes out of him, I’m okay.”

After spending five hours taking scene-setters at a local restaurant, on Willie’s private golf course and in his recording studio, Walters seems perplexed by her ultra-casual subject.  Willie has turned up for the taping in running shorts, bandanna and T-shirt.  Off-camera, Barbara broaches the subject of Willie’s legendary fondness for marijuana.  He admits he has smoked “enough to fill a silo,” but says he stopped after his lung collapsed last August.  “If you ever want to try it, I’ll smoke a joint with you,” Barbara reports Willie told her.  Nelson remembers the exchange a bit differently.  “Barbara told me she’s never tried grass,” he says, “but she said she would with me.”

The next morning, after six hours’ sleep and a two-hour makeover, Walters arrives at Willie’s range by 10, primed for interviews with the singer and his wife, Connie.  She hopes to open a few gaps in Nelson’s legendary easygoing facade.  “I care less about his music than the man who writes about love that’s invaded or lost,” she says.  “I want to know if he’s really that controlled. What makes him tick? what makes him laugh?  What makes him throw up?”

To find out, Barbara spends 45 minutes with Connie, probing for chinks in the Nelsons’ domestic armor (“Do you ever get jealous?”) and unexpected insights into what makes Willie run.  A poised, soft-spoken woman, Connie fields even improbable queries (“Why does Willie need you?”) until Walters is satisfied she has enough for the minute of air time she is planning to use.

After Barbara changes into a Laura Ashley print, sparingly buttoned to expose ample cleavage, she turns her attention to Willie.  As the taping beings, the 28-member cw falls silent an Walters leans forward with solicitous, breathy intensity like someone consoling the dying.  Willie is mystified, then amused.  “Do you like yourself?” Barbara asks.  Wilie does. “Are you serene?” she wants to know. Willie thinks so.  “The crowds, the adulation the women reaching up to you.  What’s it like?”  Willie says it’s not bad at at all.



During a break in the taping, there is a lapse in the pose of intimacy between interviewer and subject.  As Willie sits by, Barbara tensely confers with producer Goldberg.  “What about question 74?  Should I ask that?  Is there anything you thought I missed?  What about 54?”  When the tape rolls again, Walters weighs in with a few formula questions.  (“If you had three wishes what would you do with them?”), then thanks Willie for being her guest.

Decompression at last.  “Okay, Barbara,” teases Willie, “now let’s burn one down.”  Later, the hypothetical joint gone unsmoked, Nelson seems pleased.  “She wasn’t tough at all,” he marvels.  “I was a little concerned about what she might ask about smoking dope and being afraid of getting arrested, but she was a doll.”

The following afternoon, in Los Angeles to edit the tapes, Goldberg and Walters repair to Barbara’s suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel to trim the written transcript of the interview to a size they can work with.   The next morning another limo ferries Walters to the home of tape editor Jim McElroy, where she and Goldberg whittle their 27-minute version almost in half.  Watching the rough cut, Walters slashes away at the script and orders changes in what appears on the screen.  “I like it beter like this… Go to my face when he says, “I’m not complaining’… The Nashville think I liked.  When he went there and he cleaned himself up.  Now our audience is looking at him and thinking, “Why is he so dirty with that bandanna and all that hair?’… Pick up my question on the next page.  Now this is important, JoAnn.  This is one of the few guys who openly smoked pot and always talked about it and always got away with it.”

Finally Walters asks to see herself on the tape.  The imge appears; Barbara is satisfied.  “I look terrific,” she says lightly, “Pretty and bosomy and everything.”  And her subject?  “Will Nelson looks like the oldest 49 I ‘ve ever seen.  No wonder he believes in reincarnation.”  Goldberg agrees.  “There’s an ancient feeling about Willie Nelson,” JoAnn says.  “He’s an old soul.”  But not otherworldly that Barbara simply couldn’t make a contact.  “Whe had the luxury of two days in Austin instead of the normal two hours,” says JoAnn, the organizationl wizzard who is involved in every aspect of the specials except actually asking the questions.  “I felt Barbara needed that to get the feeling of Willie and his life.  We’are careful about who w put her with.  People like Mick Jagger or Bruce Springsteen she might not get.  But she always surprises me.  If you give her enough time, she’llf igure them out.”