Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

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.”

Willie Nelson interview with Robert Scheer (Part 2)

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Willie Nelson, Robert Scheer, Micah Nelson
by:  Alexander Reed Kelly

In the second portion of a two-part conversation, the American musician Willie Nelson told Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer why, in spite of prevailing political conditions, he is optimistic about the future of the United States. Nelson also discussed his start in the music industry as a DJ and promoter and his love of Texas and Texans, and explained why he’s not afraid of getting older.

Why do Texans keep voting for “assholes,” Scheer asks Nelson. “Because assholes keep running,” Nelson replies.

When Scheer points out that many liberals do not understand why millions of their fellow citizens voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, Nelson says: “I recorded a song called ‘Living in the Promiseland.’ … It’s about welcoming everyone: ‘Living in the promiseland, our dreams are made of steel. The prayer of every man is to know how freedom feels. Bring us your foreign songs, we will sing along. …’ Come on. Come on, America. We love you. We’ll help you. We’ll find a spot for you.”

Scheer asks, “So you’re still optimistic?” Nelson replies: “I’m still optimistic that all the people are coming in and it will be as great tomorrow as it is today.”

“So you’re not for building walls?” Scheer asks. “Fuck no,” says Nelson.

Listen to the first part of the conversation here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly


Part One

Willie Nelson Interview (Sheer Intelligence) (part 1)

Friday, January 20th, 2017

    Willie Nelson and his son Micah, with Truthdig Editor in Chief Bob Scheer, center, at Nelson’s home in Hawaii. (Annie Nelson)

In part one of a two-part conversation at his home in Hawaii, broadcast on KCRW’s “Scheer Intelligence,” American musician Willie Nelson tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer that his upbringing during the Depression was an ideal childhood.

Nelson recently released his autobiography, “It’s a Long Story”, about his “bare bones” childhood with his grandparents in Abbott, Texas, his trouble with the law and his bumpy path to success as an artist. Speaking with Scheer, he describes the influence of the church on his music and experience, a run-in with the IRS in the early 1990s that he considers positive, and his well-known appreciation for marijuana.

— by Alexander Reed Kelly


Willie Nelson talks about new album, “God’s Problem Child”

Saturday, January 14th, 2017
by: Kory Grow

“You can’t watch TV without seeing something about the inauguration,” Willie Nelsonsays with a laugh. Throughout the election cycle, the country singer had voiced support for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Now that the election is over, he has revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone that he has written a song titled “Delete and Fast-Forward” for his upcoming album.

When asked about the tune, he speaks some of its lyrics: “Delete and fast-forward, my friend/ The elections are over and nobody wins/ But don’t worry too much, you’ll go crazy again/ Delete and fast forward, my friend.” When Rolling Stone suggests that it may be fast-forwarding only four years, he simply says, “Yeah.”

Much like the song’s lyrics, Nelson is unconcerned about the Trump administration possibly tightening the regulation of marijuana; Nelson owns Willie’s Reserve, a company that legally sells marijuana in Colorado. “Who cares?” he says gruffly about possible changes to the law. “I didn’t have any problem finding [marijuana] when it was illegal, and now that it’s legal, it’s still no problem. Making it illegal again won’t stop people from smoking. They should have learned that back in prohibition days.” (Nelson chuckles when asked about the weed-themed Christmas sweater Snoop Dogg sent him over the holidays. “It’s great; it’s a funny sweater,” he says.)

Nelson’s new LP, God’s Problem Child, will come out in April and will feature many new songs that he wrote with producer Buddy Cannon, who has worked on several Nelson records in recent years. “We have a system that works,” Nelson says of working with Cannon. “I write a verse and he’ll write a verse and next thing you know, we’ve got a song completed. Then we’ll get a melody, and he’ll go in the studio with a band to record it and put his vocal on there. Then when I get a chance, I go in the studio and I’ll record my vocal. Over the years, we put out four or five albums. It’s been really easy to do it that way.”

One of Nelson’s new originals is “Still Not Dead,” which Nelson says he wrote “’cause I’m still not dead.” “I got up two or three times in the last couple of years and read the paper where I’d passed away,” he says. “So I just wanted to let ’em know that’s a lot of horseshit.”

One of Nelson’s new originals is “Still Not Dead,” which Nelson says he wrote “’cause I’m still not dead.”

Nelson doesn’t stress out too much about songwriting, which he’s been doing more of in recent years. Whenever he gets an idea, he writes it down. “It could be anytime, day or night,” he says. And he’s not losing sleep over what he writes and whether or not he’s challenging himself. “I’m just conceited enough to think I can do anything,” he says. “Sometimes I can’t but I thought I could.” But that doesn’t mean he’s not open to other writers’ ideas.

The title track, which Nelson calls “a great song,” was written by Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White. White and Nelson’s old buddy, Leon Russell, who died last year, make appearances on the song. “I guess that’s the last song he recorded,” he says of Russell. “I wasn’t in the studio when he did his part. I was gone. Last time I saw Leon was right after the [4th of July] Pi

“He was a great musician, a great singer and songwriter and a good friend,” he continues. “We liked hanging out together.” Russell, after all, was the first person to sign Nelson’s famous guitar, “Trigger.” “He wanted me to sign his guitar, and then he signed mine,” Nelson says.

Another song on the album, whose title Nelson declined to reveal, was written by Cannon’s mother. “His mom is 85 years old and plays the harmonica and she’s writing songs,” Nelson says. “She sang it and he sang it to me. I didn’t get a chance to meet her yet, but she wrote a great country song talking about the old house on the hill. Like Harlan Howard says, ‘A good country song is three chords and the truth.'”

Nelson will continue to spread those truths this year with several tour dates booked around the U.S. He’s also keeping busy with a movie he’s been writing and prepping for an appearance in Woody Harrelson’s upcoming “live movie” Lost in London, which is about a bad night Harrelson had in 2002 when he got arrested for breaking a taxi ashtray. The movie, which is a comedy, will be broadcast around the world in a single take on Thursday. “Woody asked me if I’d do it, and I said yeah,” Nelson says of the latter film. “In the film, he’s going through some problems and I’ll be giving him a little moral support.”

So is Nelson, who’s keeping such a busy schedule and recently wrote “Still Not Dead,” ready for retirement? “After every tour, I think about it, and after a while of not working, I’m ready to play,” he says. “I think I enjoy playing music more than I enjoy not playing music.”

Willie Nelson talks about life with Southern Living

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Southern music legend Willie Nelson has been around through decades of music, yet he’s still selling out shows all around the world to all ages. There’s a reason that he’s transcended generations of music fans. Other than his distinctive and classic “outlaw country” sound, 83-year-old Willie has an incredibly hopeful attitude towards life that sets him apart. He’s a very positive, eclectic soul with an affinity for martial arts and a love of breakfast foods. We sat down with the Texas-born icon on his tour bus in Mississippi to talk about living without worry, the rules he lives by, and why he loves music so passionately. There’s a lot more to this Highwayman than meets the eye.

Mickey Raphael Podcast (Chris Shiflett “Walking the Floor”)

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

photo:  Ebet Roberts
by:  Robert Crawford

A member of Willie Nelson’s band since 1973, Mickey Raphael has become one of the most celebrated harmonica players in country music, bending notes for everyone from Chris Stapleton to Jason Isbell along the way. Talking with podcast host Chris Shiflett during this week’s episode of Walking the Floor, he shares highlights from more than four decades of countrified close encounters, from the Texas picking party where he first met Shotgun Willie to the California tour stop that found him sitting in the backseat of Neil Young’s Cadillac, chauffeured around San Jose by the Crazy Horse front man himself.

Theatre, hours before a Willie Nelson performance this past October. Stream the entire conversation below. We’ve also rounded up several highlights, from the name of Willie Nelson’s next record – an album that has yet to be officially announced – to unknown guests on the country legend’s tour bus.

Mickey Raphael was introduced to Willie Nelson not by a fellow musician, but by Coach Darrell Royal, who led the Texas Longhorns to nearly a dozen Southwest conference titles between 1957 and 1976.

The year was 1972. At the time, Raphael was gigging with B.W. Stevenson, whose “My Maria” would eventually become a Grammy-winning hit for Brooks & Dunn. Stevenson’s tour schedule often took the band through Austin, where Coach Royal – a genuine music fan, apparently – caught wind of Raphael’s talent. One day, the coach reached out, inviting Raphael to a picking party that he was throwing in his hotel room after a weekend game.

“I was 20 years old,” remembers Raphael, who brought along his harmonicas. When he arrived, Nelson was already at the party. The two played several songs together that afternoon, with Raphael earning a crucial invitation – “Willie said, ‘Hey, if you ever hear we’re playing somewhere, come sit in,'” he remembers – before the picking party was over.

Nelson never officially hired Raphael to play in his band. He just never asked him to stop showing up.

As early as 1973, Raphael was traveling in his own car to Nelson’s gigs, sitting in with the band whenever he could. He was just a guest at first, although he quickly became an indispensable part of the band’s sound. Even so, the harmonica wiz never received any sort of grand introduction into the inner circle of Nelson’s touring lineup.

“One day,” he remembers, “Willie says to Paul [English, the singer’s longtime drummer], ‘What are we paying Mickey?’ And Paul goes, ‘Nothing. He’s just coming to sit in.’ And Willie goes, ‘Double his salary.’ I tell people I wasn’t officially hired; I was just never asked to leave.”

Raphael first joined Nelson in the studio for 1975’s Red Headed Stranger, an album that was so sparse, the executive at Columbia Records thought it was a demo.

“[Nelson] basically had these songs written on a napkin,” says Raphael, who took the band to the same Dallas studio where he’d been doing regular work as a session musician, “and we just set up in a circle in the studio, and he’d be playing them, and that record is so sparse because we’re really just hearing them for the first time. There’s barely anything. . . The label said it was a good demo, and they wanted to put strings on it, and Willie said, ‘No, this is the record.'”

Producer Dave Cobb deserves credit for first introducing Raphael to Chris Stapleton, whose live shows often feature the harmonica wiz.

Raphael had already played harmonica on several of Cobb’s projects when the producer asked him to join a relatively unknown songwriter named Chris Stapleton in the studio. Those sessions spawned Traveller, Stapleton’s blockbuster solo debut. They also landed Raphael one of his most high-profile touring gigs. Now, whenever holes arise in Willie Nelson’s touring schedule, Raphael generally hits the road with Stapleton, although he readily admits the band sounds just fine without him.

That said, don’t expect Willie Nelson’s touring schedule to slow down anytime soon.

“He loves it,” says Raphael, who still plays more than 100 shows a year with Nelson. “He likes the connection with the audience. Somebody asked him one time, ‘When are you gonna retire?’ And he said, ‘All I do is play golf and play music. Which one am I supposed to quit?’

Nelson continues releasing new albums at a rapid rate, too, with a new record – the unannounced, unconfirmed God’s Problem Child – apparently in the can. That said, with all the commotion generated by a consistent touring schedule and, presumably, a healthy cannabis intake, there’s still plenty of room for the unexpected.

“There was a guy that rode our bus years ago that nobody even knew,” Raphael remembers with a laugh. “It was like, ‘I thought he was with you.’ ‘No, I thought he was your friend!'”


Willie Nelson on The Big Interview (AXS)

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

Willie Nelson Interview

Friday, December 9th, 2016
by:  Kevin O’Hare

At the age of 77, Willie Nelson is still riding high and riding strong, touring steadily as always and celebrating the release of his exceptional new album “Country Music.” It’s the latest in a rather astounding catalog of more than 200 albums, some dating back to his earliest days as a songwriter in the early 1960s, when he attracted the interest of stars like Patsy Cline, who famously recorded Nelson’s “Crazy,” and Ray Price, who had a major hit with Nelson’s “Night Life.”

Eventually Nelson shifted from Nashville to Austin where he became a key player in the “country outlaw’ movement that tossed aside every known stereotype about traditional country music of the era. Nelson’s hair got longer, he became well known for smoking marijuana and he turned into a superstar in 1978 with his distinct reworking of pop standards titled “Stardust.”

He began recording at a frenzied pace around this period, making sure to release albums of duets with old friends like Price, Merle Haggard, Leon Russell and many others. Whether he over-saturated the market at the time is still worthy of debate but his concert sales remain strong and steady to this day.

He recently spoke from his home in Texas about his amazing career, famous friends like the late great Cline, his reputation for smoking lots of weed, his new album and his thoughts for the future:

You’ve released more than 200 albums. How in the world can you try and deliver something fresh on the new album “Country Music?”

Well it depends a lot on the songs, the producers and the musicians. With this particular album “Country Music” it was a no brainer. T Bone Burnett knows this music as well as anyone. I’m sure it was easy for him to come up with great musicians and come up with some great songs. “Dark as a Dungeon,” “Oceans of Diamonds” and all those great songs that we’ve all heard and sung for many years but they’ve been sort of lost in the shuffle along the way and he was sharp enough to put them all together and say “Hey let’s do these again.”

What was it like working with T Bone Burnett and how did you guys get to first know each other?

Well, we’re old Texas buddies, he’s from Ft. Worth and I’m from somewhere around there. I’ve known about him for years and years. His wife and my wife were buddies. We played golf together not too long ago and talked about doing something. He’d just had the “Crazy Heart” movie and I felt maybe it’d be a good time for us to do a CD together and I just turned it over to him really.

There’s a great song on the album called “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down.” Do you see Satan in the world around us? If so, where?

Well of course. We all see things that are the opposite of peace and love so we put a name on it and it’s Satan. No matter what your thoughts and beliefs are, God is good, Satan is hate. And that’s just the way it is. We who sing gospel songs talk about God and Satan as mortal enemies. In this particular song, it’s an old traditional, it’s a wonderful song.

“I’ve been promising myself to take it easy on myself and not work so hard so we’ll see how it goes.”

– Willie Nelson

“Pistol Packin’ Mama.” Tell me a little about the song.

That song has been in my repertoire for a long, long time. Al Dexter, who originally recorded it, was a friend of mine, we knew each other back in the old days back in Ft. Worth. I’ve sung the song a lot. When T Bone brought it to the session I said “Hey where’s that song been?”

Speaking of “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” who’s the craziest woman you ever had a relationship with?

(extended laughter) How much time you got?

I got the time, if you’ve got the money.

I probably shouldn’t put names on them but there are a few (laughs).

When you had the huge breakthrough in the 1970s with “Red Headed Stranger” and then “Stardust” you started recording albums at an amazing pace. Did you ever worry that you might be over-saturating the market?

Well I was sort of warned that I could, but there really wasn’t a lot that I wanted to do about it because this was my shot and I had a chance to get stuff, record it and get it out there. I felt I could do it, I wasn’t overloading myself. I might have been overloading the record companies and their ability to market all that stuff. I could see where they were coming from.

There was some talk years ago that you might do an album of duets with Bob Dylan. Whatever happened to that?

It was an idea that is still a good idea that may or may not happen. As close as we came, we did write one song together, we were gonna write a whole album and then record it but we ended up doing one song together. He hummed a melody and cut a track and it went like (Nelson sings melody). What it wound up being was (“Heartland”) “There’s a home place under fire tonight in the heartland … My American dream fell apart at the seams.” He wrote it a little bit, I wrote it a little bit, we went into the studio and cut it.

On April 30 you turned 77. You’re still playing about 200 dates every year. How can you keep that up?

I don’t know, it’s crazy and I’ll probably slack off a little bit. I’ve been promising myself to take it easy on myself and not work so hard so we’ll see how it goes.

I interviewed B.B. King a few years ago and he said the same thing but I don’t think he’s slowed down too much either.

No but it’s in the back of our minds. We know that we’re down here rounding third so it’s really whether we want to slide into home or just kind of trot across (laughs).

You take a lot of kidding for your rather legendary marijuana smoking. Larry King seemed startled that you had smoked up before appearing on his show recently. When did you start and do you ever see a day when you’ll stop?

Oh, I have stopped before and gone days and days and days. It’s not as though if I don’t get marijuana I get headaches. There have been cases where if I smoked too much my lungs get congested and I lay off awhile. Things are getting so simple now. In California and about 12, 15 different states you can buy edibles and you can get high eating candy. It’s not necessary to destroy your lungs anymore smoking if you just want to get high.

Is your bus as bad as Toby Keith says?

Toby can’t handle it (laughs) He’s a little wimpy in that department. He’s the first to admit it. God love him.

A few years ago you took up running. Are you still doing that?

I went out for a little run today. I don’t run as far or as fast as I used to but I still try and get in a few steps a day.

You’re still golfing?

I’ve had to stop golfing for awhile because I hurt my arm … golfing naturally. So I’ve not been golfing for about three months now.

That must be killing you.

Well, it’s good enough for me I guess, if I had a better swing I wouldn’t have done it.

Hopefully you’ll be back on the course soon.

One of these days, but I had a ruptured bicep from overdoing something and then I tore the rotator in my left arm. My left side is a little bit out but it will get better.

Can you tell me a little bit about Patsy Cline?

Well, she was the greatest female vocalist maybe all around ever, but for sure, for country, that I ever heard. There’s this joke. After Patsy Cline did “Crazy” and everyone else has tried it, and this joke is really not meant to hurt anybody else’s feelings but when they say “How many girl singers does it take to sing “Crazy” and they answered “All of them.” But as Patsy Cline nailed it, who else since then, it’s like Ray Charles singing “Georgia.” I had enough nerve to cover him but I never thought I did as good a job on it as he did.

Were you and Patsy close?

Yeah, we toured together and … I first met her one night back there in Tootsies Bar, drinking a little beer and her husband Charlie Dick was there and we were talking, listening to some songs that I’d just brought up from Texas. I had Tootsie put a couple of 45s on her jukebox. One of them had “Crazy” and “Night Life.” And Charlie Dick just really loved “Crazy” and wanted to play it for Patsy. We went over to his house and he wanted me to go in and meet Patsy and I wouldn’t do it. I said “No it’s late and we’re drinking, I don’t want to wake her up. He said “Aw she’ll be fine.” I didn’t go in. He went in and then she came out and got me and made me go in. She was a wonderful person, fixed us coffee, was just a great gal. I got to know her real well, we toured some together and she was just great.

\You were in the Highwaymen. What are your favorite memories of playing and touring with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and you all in one band?

Well every night was a great show for me ‘cause I was way over on the right and I got to see three of my heroes perform all night long all over the world. It doesn’t get any better than that.

What was it like after the shows?

Well we had all our families with us. Most of our wild days were behind us by the time we got together in the Highwaymen. Actually the last two or three times we went on tour, we had all our kids and families and went to Singapore and Australia and different places. We had 278 pieces of luggage.

Who had the idea of the four of you working together?

We had gone to Switzerland to do a Christmas show with Johnny Cash and June Carter. They invited me and Waylon and Kris to play on their Christmas show. We were having a photo session one day and the photographer said “What are you all going to Switzerland for?” And we said. “That’s where Jesus was born.” And the photographer said “Oh, ok.” We laughed about that awhile. We did that and decided it was a lot of fun and thought maybe we should do some records together. Someone, I forget who it was, had the song “The Highwayman,” the Jimmy Webb song. We played it and liked it and thought this might be something we want to do.

How long did it take you to record the new album “Country Music?”

A couple of minute s (laughs) It was really quick. Everyone knew the songs. Most of the things we did in one or two takes, it doesn’t take long to record when you do it that way.

You’re not a seven, or eight or nine take guy anyway are you?

No, three’s my limit. Usually I get it in one ‘cause usually we do not press the record button until we know just what we’re doing. Then once that happens I like to do two more just for insurance in case I’m not hearing something. But a lot of times I take the first take.

Of the movies you have made, which one is your favorite and why?

I liked “Barbarosa” and “Red Headed Stranger.” Hell, I enjoyed doing “The Songwriter” and “A Pair of Aces” with Kris. With “The Songwriter,” Kris and I always had a lot of fun. As far as “Red Headed Stranger” and “Barbarosa,” I like horses a lot and I got along with them ok so that was always fun where I could ride a horse or play my guitar.

Speaking of your guitar, your Martin guitar has a huge hole in it. That hole was there back in the 1970s. Has it gotten bigger and how long can you keep playing it?

It’ll last longer than I do probably. It still plays fine. I have to take it in every few years and have them do a reinforcement in the inside to make sure it hasn’t collapsed anymore in there. But right now it’s in fine shape, it’ll last longer that I will.

You have a lot of signatures on there right?

Well the first person I heard of anybody signing their guitar was Leon Russell and he asked me to sign his. I said “Sure” and I started to sign it with a marker and he said “No scratch it in there with a knife.” He had a knife there so I scratched my name with a knife. Then I said “Now that I’ve done yours why don’t’ you do mine?” So I had him scratch his name on Trigger (the name of Nelson’s guitar), he was the first one I had on there.

How is Leon Russell doing, I’d heard he’s been sick.

I think he’s doing fine. I think he and Elton John are doing an album together and he’s supposed to play my 4th of July picnic down in Austin so I think he’s doing better.

You two made a great album, “One For the Road”

We have another one that’s in the can that we’re waiting to put out.

When did you record it?

Last year sometime.

What songs did you do?

We did some country things that I like, some Vern Gosdin things. We did “My Cricket and Me, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash, “Chiseled in Stone,” a lot of different songs that we like.

What do you still want to achieve and what are you working on next?

Honestly, I want to achieve this tour (laughs). It’s been a long one. Then I can figure out what I want to do next. Once it’s over with, I want to rest a while and then I can figure out what I want to do next. So far we’ve had a good year, the album’s doing good, I really don’t have a lot to worry about anything right now.”

Willie Nelson & Dwight Yoakam announce Florida shows in March 2017

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

img850 by you.

Willie Nelson has announced several Florida concerts next March, including three shows with special guest Dwight Yoakam.

March 4
Pompano Beach, FL

March 7
St. Augustine, Florida

March 8
Tallahassee, Florida

Image result for Willie Nelson Dwight yoakam

Musician Magazine
May 1998
by Mark Rowland
Photograph by Jay Blakesberg

Not far from the Santa Monica Pier one sunny afternoon, Dwight Yoakam and Willie Nelson were hanging out on Willie’s tour bus, listening to Nelson play … reggae. More precisely, they were listening to a tape of a record he’d just completed with producer Don Was, featuring reggaefied versions of great Willie Nelson songs like, “Three Days,” and “One in a Row,” along with a few classics of the genre like “The Harder They Come”

“Don Was could hear me singing reggae,” Nelson explained. “Cause I wasn’t too familiar with it. I just didn’t know it. But he could hear me doing my songs to a reggae rhythm.”

“That’s ironic,” Yoakum said, “’cause I’m doing a covers album, and I was gonna cover a Peter Tosh song. And listening to his stuff, there was a real emotional affinity to what they were doing in reggae, some of the early stuff, and what country was doing then.” There’s a certain melancholy essence with what you write and with some of those melodies. I think Don must have picked up on that.”

“Well,” Nelson replied, “you can take a really sad lyric and you put this rhythm behind it and it sort of leavens it a little bit, so the lyric doesn’t knock you down so much — you don’t want to get drunk and slash your wrists, you want to dance.” “You want to hear another one?”

Five minutes into their first joint interview ever, and Willie Nelson and Dwight Yoakam have staked out common ground in the Southern Caribbean. Somehow that shouldn’t surprise. After all, both musicians widened the frame of country music’s possibilities by combining a deep reverence for that music’s past with an idiosyncratic vision of its future.

Both made their mark despite initial indifference if not hostility from the Nashville establishment, fomenting their insurrections on the dance floors of Austin and Southern California, respectively, and putting the “W” back into C&W in the process. Within that milieu, it can easily be argued, both became the most influential singer/songwriters of their generations.

Yoakam, who grew up in the era of the ’60s rock concept album, spends years meticulously putting together records with his producer Pete Anderson. His effort shows; on each he’s found ways to expand his musical vocabulary, culminating with his latest effort, Gone, an album at once wildly inventive and polished to a blinding sheen.

Nelson, by contrast, grew up in the old school of Texas troubadours — write songs, make records when you can, hit the road. Since he cut his first sides nearly forty years ago he’s carved out a career of mythic proportion, and he’s never really showed down. ” I think that’ s just my personality and my character,” he says. “I’m not supposed to be sitting around much. I get bored real quick when I’m not doing something.”

Not to worry — along with the reggae record, Willie’s completed a trio album of original songs with sister Bobbie Nelson on piano and Johnny Gimble on fiddle, also scheduled for release later this year. He’d just returned from a tour of Australia with the Highwaymen before this interview, and as soon as it ended he cruised down the coast to begin a serious of duet shows with Leon Russell. He’s started work on a blues record, too.

“You know, if you listen to the people in each country you go into, it all sounds very much the same,” he was saying. “African country, Jamaincan country, the Swiss — have you been to Switzerland yet?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Yoakam.

“There’s some great country cowboys up there. Jamaicans go more with the heartbeat, their rhythms do. These guys were telling me that reggae came into existence by way of our country radio. That they were picking up the radio stations years ago, but they wouldn’t hear the bottom — so they put their own rhythms over what they heard. Now the biggest music in Jamaica is country and one of the biggest guys is Jim Reeves.”

Yoakam laughed. “Hey man, get a big sailboat and get ready to tour. You could be king there!”

Nelson nodded, “Well,” he said evenly, “it’s worth a shot.