Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Willie Nelson: The man who beat the system (Country Music) (Feb 1976)

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

Country Music Magazine
February 1976
by Patrick Carr

We begin with an ending of sorts.  We are in Nashville on a drizzly night, packed into the Municipal Auditorium like so many high-rent sardines approaching the strung-out finale of the Disk Jockey Convention 1975.  Taken together tonight, we are perhaps the most professional audience any of these Columbia/Epic acts are likely to play for at least another year:  all of us are Somebodies in the country music business, and we’are all hip to the score.  The Columbia/Epic acts bounce on stage and do whatever thing they do, three numbers each, one after the other.  Tammy Wynette, Mac Davis, Barbara Fairchild, David Houston… it’s very democratic but pretty soon it becomes obvious which artists are getting corporate nod right now because all you really have to do is watch the company personnel pay or not pay attention.  Nevertheless, it’s a subtle affair.

But when Willie Nelson and his band of gypsies make their entrance backstage, looking for all the world like some flying wedge of curiously benign Hells Angels, subtlety goes by the board and it’s plain that this year’s Most Likely To Succeed slot has just been taken with a vengeance:  a great shaking of hands begins.  The impression is confirmed when Willie proceeds to get up onstage with his full band (all the other acts were backed by the Columbia band) and play a 40-minute set that, except for a quite seemly absence of illegal drugs and teenage nudity among the audience, might just have well be happening in Texas on the 4th of July.  This is the ending of sorts, and what it means is that after telling the Nashville powers-that-be to get lost and leaving town just three short years ago, Willie Nelson has become the country music wave of the future and is now accepting Nashville’s praise and promotional efforts on his own terms.

There is a postscript, though.  Three or four hours later — after another couple of hundred handshakes, after attending a very high-rent Columbia party to which his band was not invited, and after behaving like a perfect gentleman through it all — Willie gets himself down to Ernest Tubb’s Record Store and plays for two hours while most every other star in town is out at Opryland all gussied up to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry amid great pomp and ceremony of the By Invitation Only Kind.  It isn’t that Willie couldn’t have shown up at the Opry — with his current Columbia-backed status, that’s a silly notion — and it isn’t that he’s trying a reverse-chic move like one of Nashville’s several dozen I’m-so-hip-isn’t-this-earthy types might attempts.  It’s just that his old friend and musical hero Ernest was gracious enough to invite him, and that Ernest Tubb’s Record Store is still the best place in town to get down and play straight honky tonk music for the friends and neighbors.


Apart from being a rebel against Nashville’s creative restrictions, a culture hero, a real sweetheart, a person blessed with a highly sophisticated sense of humor, and the man who first made it possible for hippies and rednecks to co-exist under the protection of his music — all of which he is — Willie Nelson has always been one other thing.  He has always been a writer and singer of the classic country honky tonk song, which is to say that he has always had a very precise, lonely, realistic understanding of the hard ways of this vale of tears in which we all live and suffer form time to time.  This is the juke box Willie.  Historically, this music came out of more or less, his whol career up to today (which seems somewhat more optimistic when you consider the conclusions of the Red Headed Stranger album).  It’s the kind of stuff — like “Hello Walls,” “Ain’t It Funny (How Time Slips Away),” “Pretty Paper,” “Touch Me” and all those other perfectly songs — that really say it to you when you’re down and getting kicked.  Willie wrote most of it in Nashville when he was a highly-reputed songwriter trying to be a singing star, simultaneously going through the usual business of divorce, marriage, divorce, marriage and consequent craziness (or is that vice versa?) and running with the likes of Faron Young, Roger Miller, Mel Tillis and other distinguished crazy people.

A segment of my Willie Nelson interview:

Willie(laughing):  “I think a lot of people got to thinking that everybody had to do the same thing Hank Williams did, even die that way if necessary.  And that got out of hand.  I always used to think George Jones got drunk because Hank Williams did, like he really thought that was what he was supposed to do.”

Me:  “You ever do that?”

Willie:  “‘Course I did.  That’s the reason I know it’s done.”

Me:  “You still do it?”

Willie:  “I still get drunk,  but I’m not really mimicking anybody now.  I have my own drunken style.”

These days, see, Willie won’t talk about the personal agonies of those Nashville years without humor, but it’s all there in the songs which made him one of Nashville’s most sought-after songwriters, and it came to a head during the years — his last year in Nashville — that gave rise to his Phases and Stages album.  That year was a turning point, and it is chronicled in Phases and Stages.  The album is an excruciatingly universal account of the way one man and one woman deal with their divorce (“That was the year I had four or five cars totalled out and the house burned down,” says Willie), but it ends with a very significant song called “Pick Up the Tempo.”  It goes like so:

People are sayin’ that time will take
care of people like me
And that I’m livin’ too fast, and
they say I can’t last for much longer
But little they see that their
thoughts of me is my savior
And little they know that the beat
ought to go just a little faster,
So pick up the tempo just a little,
and take it on home….

For a man hitting the crucial age of forty, those are important lines.  They speak of an affirmation of life and a determination to triumph over its emotional problems, and they represent Willie’s decision to leave Nashville, move back home to Texas, and finally realize his potential  which is, in fact, exactly what he did.  “I knew I only had a few years left to do what I was gong to do, and I had to make a move,” says Willie.  “I wasn’t going down there to quit.  I was going down there with a purpose.”  the purpose, quite simply, was first to make himself a national recording star, and then to use that power base to make damn sure that people like him could be free to make their own music their own way without having to starve in the process.

Remember, Willie has a history in this department.  It was he who first chaperoned Charley Pride into the country music concept scene, bringing him on stage in Louisiana — actually kissing him right there in the spotlights – and risking God only knows what kind of backlash in the process.  The risk, once taken, paid off:  Charley was accepted because Willie was behind him.  Similarly, Willie, used  his high prestige and general likeability in country music artist circles to ease Leon Russell into the Nashville scene by surrounding him with Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, Jeanne Pruett and a whole galaxy of main-line performers when he was cutting the sequel to his “Hank Wilson” album. Willie can get away with heresy because more than any other artist occupying the often-queasy ground between because more than any other artist occupying the often queasy ground between country and something else, his country credentials are in order — more to the point — he has never betrayed his roots.

So Willie arrived in Austin (where he was already a star), formed his present band around himself and his old compadre drummer Paul English (of “Me and Paul” fame), began booking his own dates and managing himself, set up that first media-shocking Picnic at Dripping Springs, connected with the local power elite in the person of Darrell Royal (coach of the University of Texas football team and a very influential citizen), and quickly assumed the role of main Godfather in the Austin scheme of things.  That, incidentally, is some gig:  you don’t know what a loyal crowd is until you’ve been to Austin and watched a whole clubfull of liberated young things worship the ground good ol’ Willie walks on to quite embarrassing excess.

Along the way — just before that first Picnic, in fact — Ritchie Albright of the Waylors suggested that he get in touch with Neil Reshen, a New york manager and fixit person who at the time was looking to consolidate his country music holdings.  Reshin already had Waylon as a client, and Willie followed suit.  This action signified the arrive with the neccessary teeth for the coutlaw allliance Willie had been pondering for years, and it became a classic Beauty and the Beast operation that continues to this day.

An example of the dynamics of that Beauty and the Beast relationship:

Willie on Neil Reshen:  “He’s probably the most hated and the most effective manager that I know of.  He enjoys going up to those big corporations and going over their figures.  He’s so sadistic, he loves to do it.”

And once again, Willie:  “At least you know where you’re at with Neil.  Nowhere.”

And again:  “Anyone who can learn to like Neil can like anyone.  It’s a challenge to like Neil.”

“Willie, how are you doing on that?”

“I’m coming along, I’m coming alone.  I can stay around him a little while now.”

Although the mere mention of Neil Reshen’s name has been known to send secretaries to the bathroom and turn grown executives into violent monsters (“He’s another of those guys I don’t understand how he lived so long with somebody really hurting him,” says Willie),  you have to admit that while Willie and Waylon (“It’s like having a maddog on a leash,” says Waylon) may have been able to get out of Nashville’s grasp without him.  It’s only through this man’s unspeakably vicious yet effective manner of dong business, that the outlaw bid for independent power on country music has avoided bankruptcy and actually shown a profit.

So, with the active assistance of New York Neil, Willie has established the power base he was after.  It is now possible for Willie to record with Waylon or Kris or Leon (he’s planning a whole Willie/Waylon joint album), and what’s more, with the formation of Lone Star Records, he can get people like Jimmy Day, Johnny Darrell, Floyd Tillman, Billy C., Bucky Meadows, his sister Bobbie and other Texas worthies into the recording studio and, since Columbia Records pays for promotion and distribution under a joint Columbia/Lone Star deal, actually get the finished product before the public.  Like Willie says, “We’re all together, and we have the same idea about what we want to do, which is to do our thing our own way. I’m trying to get these guys to do for themselves what they’ve been bitching about people not doing for them.”

Willie’s long affair with the business of honky tonk music represents one considerable side of his character which may be traceable to the fact that he and his sister Bobbi (“it’s always been me and her”) were raised without parents.  Mr. and Mrs. Nelson divorced when Willie was a baby and Bobbi was there, and so for the first six years of his life Willie was with his grandparents.  For the next tne year, he was raised by his grandmother alone, grandfather having passed away.  That of course is a vast oversimplification, but the roots of his two divorces and highly creative loneliness must lie buried somewhere in there, just as the roots of his present, almost uncanny serenity must be located in the emotional steps he took to overcome his personal problems.  Whatever, it is an absolute fact that the presnet-day Willie Nelson is most definitely not an individual still in conflict with himself.

In a sense, Willie Nelson now is in some sort of still-perceptive, still creative cruise-gear, moving through a world of incredibly high pressure with almost perfect equilibrium. You can hear this feeling on the Red Headed Stranger album (a concept suggested and assisted by his wife Connie, with whom he does in fact seem quite happy) and you can see it when, dead center in the eye of one of this nation’s strangest cultural hurricanes, he drifts through the absolute mayhem of his Picnic and somehow manages to be a rock-like source of calm and competence for (literally) thousands of the most outrageously  uncalm, incompetent hustlers, freaks and assorted weirdos ever assembled under one patch of Texas sky.  It also shows when, in the middle of yet another night of pushing his ragged band through a set of half-tragic, half-boogie music and watching with a smile as his audience stumbles and whoops its way towards unconsciousness, it comes down to just him and his Spanish-style, gut-string amplified Martin, and for a while the most carefully emotional, beautifully balanced little collection of mood notes in the world go soaring through the rancid air.  This is the musical legacy of Django Reinhardt, Grady Martin and the other psychological gypsy guitar pickers from whom Willie developed his style; it is also the mark of a man who has really seen it all and can still look it straight in the eye.

Atlanta, Georgia:  Willie is on a First Class trip.  Laid out in the back of the limousine behind his big spade shades, he is relaxing into the ways of being a star with records on the charts.  There’ll be no more no-money dives to play, and for a while there won’t even be any songwriting unless the fancy takes him.  Willie explains that he’s not one of those poeple who get headaches when they’re not writing, and since his next two albums — a Gospel album and an album of Lefty Frizzel songs — are already in the can, all he really has to do is keep on showing up for Willie Nelson concerts.

There are also some interesting projects in the wind, and they might even get done.  there’s the issue of a Red Headed Stranger movie, for instance (“If I had the money and any idea about how to do it, I’d be somewhere doin’ it right now”,) and the almost equally interesting notion of Willie, Ray Price, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Johnny Bush getting together to do a couple of original Cherokee Cowboy dates.

Tonight Willie’s nose will be back on the grindstone as once again he takes the stage with his gypsies and plays for the sticky young drunks and dopers of Atlanta.  Tonight, once again, he’ll be up there doing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” and “Eileen Goodnight” with whoever wants to join in (this time it’s Tracy Nelson and Linda Ronstadt and Mylon LeFevre), and tonight there’ll be another endless hillbilly amnesia session up in the hotel room.  Tomorrow there’ll be another bloody mary morning when Paul, bless him, has paid the bills and checked us all out and onto the road again.  But now, just for a while, Willie is thinking about his Gospel album and remembering that he was asked to quit teaching in Sunday School when they found out that Little Willie played the local Texas beer joints at night.

“Were you a good preacher, Willie?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says.  “I really was.”

“Are you a religious man?”

“Yes,” he says, “Probably more than I ever was.  Y’know?”

Somehow, when you really get serious about Willie Nelson, the answer is not at all surprising.

Willie Nelson: His own story in his own words (Country Song Roundup) (February 1979)

Thursday, February 1st, 2018


Country Song Roundup
America’s #1 Country Music Magazine
February 1969

The Willie Nelson Story
by Judy Myers

When I was given the assignment to do a story on Willie Nelson, I couldn’t have been more pleased.  You see, I’m a big Willie Nelson fan!  Not only do I appreciate his song writing, but he’s one of the best song writers ever.  Proof can be found in the listening to such songs as “It Should Be Easier Now” (one of my favorites), “Night Life”, “Crazy”, “Funny How TIme Slips Away”, “Hello Walls”, and I could go on and on… I really “dig” Willie’s singing.  I’d just about rather hear Willie sing than anyone I can think of.

The day finally arrived and I met Willie at his office for the interview.  His manner was charming and relaxed.

“Where do I start?” Willie asked.

“Why not start at the beginning”, I said.

“In the beginning I created”… he began laughing.  Then he got serious and there followed a series of reminiscence that had me sitting on the edge of my chair, listening to Willie, who has a mind that works like a human tape recorder.  He had almost total recall of everything.  It was one of the most enchanting hours I’ve ever spent.  Now, I want to share it with you…

“I was born in Abbott, Texas, on April 30, 1933.  That’s in West Texas.  My grandparents raised us, and my daddy (Ira) was a blacksmith.  My grandparents taught music that they had learned by studying a correspondence course.  My father got me a guitar when I was about four or five years old, and I learned to play.  I guess I started writing songs when I was about eight or a little younger.  My first song was pretty bad!  My mother still has it, along with a lot of others in a scrapbook, and she says one day she’s going to publish it.  I’d sure like to have that book, but she won’t give it up.”

“When I was thirteen, I started playing clubs with my sister, Bobbie.  She played the piano, my brother-in-law was our manager and he played a broomstick.  You  know, a broomstick with a piece of shingle attached that he could beat back and forth to create a little rhythm.  He later took up playing the bass, but mostly he just hit it and swung it around.  My father played a little fiddle and rhythm guitar and I played lead guitar.  We were called “Bud Fletcher and His Texans.”  Bud is my brother-in-law.

We had a sign-on show on KHBR Radio in Hillsboro, Texas, every Sunday morning.  We’d come dragging in after playing and driving all night, making us late most of the time.  We were followed by preachers, and most of the time they directed their preaching right at us.  You know, they thought we were wicked hillbillys.

“I was a relief telephone operator there in Abbott.   We had a central switchboard and the woman who ran it liked to go out on Saturday nights so my sister or I would take over for her.  My voice was changing then and I guess they thought I was a girl.  They didn’t know I was a boy, but I sure knew everything that was going on in the county.

“My first real job was that of a tree trimmer.  We went around cutting branches away from the high tension wires.  Once my buddy was about forty feet up and needed a rope, so I took it up the tree.  Then, rather than climb down, I decided to go down the rope.  I got about four feet down and got my finger hung up.  I couldn’t go up or down, and I was too far from my friend for him to help, so the only choice I had was to have him cut the rope.  I fell down through those high tension wires and branches and I was able to get up and walk away, but I never went back to that job.

“Then I worked in a pawn shop, went into the Air Force, got out, worked as a bouncer in one of the roughest joints in Texas, (that didn’t last long, there was a fight every night, and I don’t like fights).  I got married, worked as a parts man in an auto house, trimmed trees again, formed a band and started pickin’ again, made saddles, worked in the oil fields in Texas, got married for the second time, and worked for a short time at a radio station in San Antonio.

“I went to work for Johnny Bush.  He had a band and I played lead guitar.  I asked him if I could sing, so he did let me sing some, but then he asked me to just play guitar,  I don’t think he liked my singing.  I managed him for awhile.

“We moved to Pleasanton, Texas, where I saw an ad for a D.J. job on KBOP Radio.  I had two kids by then, Lana and Susie.  I’d never worked as a D.J., but I wanted that job.  I went to see Dr. Ben Parker, who incidentally did more to help me than almost anyone.  He asked me if I had any experience and I told him that I had.  He then asked me if I was familiar with the board there.  I said, “That’s a Gates board isn’t it?  Anybody could see it was a Gates board, it was written right across it.  I told him I didn’t know that board as I’d worked on an RCA Victor Board.  I remember that’s what they had at the other station.  He’d have to show me how to use that one because they looked different.

“My test was to do fifteen minutes of news…live…the first time I’d ever been on the air as an announcer.  Then he gave me a commerical to do.  It was for the Pleasanton Pharmacy.  It went like this…’The Pleasanton Pharmacy Pharmaceutical department accurately and preciseley fills your doctor’s perscription,’ and after I got through with that, he knew I’d never done radio work.  It was the hardest commercial I’ve ever done.  He gave me the job anyway.  Then he worked with me to show me all arbout radio work.

“Dr. Ben Parker really helped me a lot.

“I worked at KBOP for awhile, and then got itchy feet.  I went to Denton, Texas where I got a job as salesman for KDNT radio.  I wasn’t on the air so I didn’t like that much.  I went on to Ft. Worth, where I worked with Uncle Hank Cragg on station KCUL.  I learned some more about radio work from him.  From there I went to KCNC and Western Express.  I was still working nights pickin’.

“Well, I got itchy feet again.  I decided we should go to San Diego.  The only catch was, we didn’t have any money, and no car.  I saw an ad in the paper where you could drive cars to different places.  I went to see them and asked about taking a car to San Diego. They said that they had a car to go that way, and they would pay for the oil… but they had to know that I could get the car there.  They said they would have to see at least $50.00.  Well, I was down to my last $25.00, and that was that.  However, i told them I’d go get the money as I didn’t have it on me.  I went out and found a friend and asked him to let me have $50.00.  I didn’t want to borrow it, I explained about the car.  I just wanted to show it.  He let me have the money and I took it to show, and they let me have the car.  I gave the money back to my friend, but we still had to get to San Diego, buy gas and food, and only had $25.00 to do it on.  Well, we made it, but I won’t go into details about how it was done.”  He gave a sort of half chuckle.

“Well, when we got to San Diego, I couldn’t find any work.  My wife got a job, and I didn’t like that much, her working and me not working.  So I decided to go to my mother’s in Portland, Oregon and see what I could get there.  I planned to get something going and then send for my family.  So I started hitchhiking with $10.00 and a suitcase.  That was some trip.  We could get a whole story just out of the details of that trip alone.  I’ll just tell one thing that happened along the way.  I got to Orange, California.  It was night time and I was tired and broke, and awfully tired of carrying that ole’ suitcase.  I found a country music nightclub, went in, and found I had just enough money for one beer.  By buying that beer and making it last all night, I was able to stay there without getting thrown out.  When the band was packing up, I asked if they knew of anybody who might give me a job, but they didn’t.  One old boy told me to stick around for a few mintues and he would make some phone calls for me and maybe find something.  I waited and he did make the calls, but with no luck.  Then, I had an idea.  This old suitcase was getting heaver every mile, and I thought I could trust him, so I gave him my mother’s address in Portland, and asked him if he would send the suitcase to me there.  Well, I never did see that suitcase again!

“I made Portland eventually.  I got a job with KVAN in Vancouver, Washington, just across the river.  I also had my own weekly t.v. show.

” I sent for my family to join me, and things were going pretty well in Portland but…..I got restless.

“On the move again, we headed for Springfield, Mo.  On the way, we went through Denver, Colorado, and I got a job pickin’ there, at a place called “Heart’s Corner.”  The guy that ran the place rented a guitar for me, and I guess I stayed there about six weeks.  Then we were on the move again.  When we got to Springfield, I ran into Billy Walker. He was working the Ozark Jubilee at the time.  His wife and my wife had been friends in Texas, so they invited us to stay with them for a few days.  Billy even set up an interview for me with Si SImon, who was running the Jubilee.  Si didn’t seem to think I was too good, so I took the only job I could find, dishwashing.

I wasn’t too happy as a dishwasher, so I took my family and headed south to Waco, Texas.  Right after that, we moved to Ft. Worth and I quit the music business for a year.  During that time, I sold just about everything, door to door.  They even made me manager for Ameriana Encyclopedia.

“But I wanted to pick.  I went back to Waco, then to Houston.  I had, in the meantime, written “Family Bible” for Frankie Miller, who was recording on Starday, but Don Pierce wouldn’t let him record it.  When in Houston, I ran into a guy I’d known before, Paul Buskirk. I was pretty broke so I decided to sell the song, “Family Bible”  Paul, Walt Breelin and Claude Grey split it three ways and gave me $25.00 for it.

“Looking for work, I went to the Esquire Club where Larry Butler was the head of the band.  I asked him for a job, but he said that he didn’t need anyone at that time.  I aksed him if he would buy some of my songs then, for $10.00 each.  I sang him about ten or twelve of my best ones, including “Mr. Record Man”, “Crazy”, “Nightlife” and “What a Way to Live.”  He wouldn’t buy my songs, not because they weren’t good he said, but because they were too good, and if I needed money that bad, he would loan me some, and he did.  That kept me from being compeltely broke.

“Paul Buskirk had a recording studio and he offered me a job teaching guitar.  Well, I didn’t know how to read music, but he said that was okay, he’d teach me.  I got my first lesson on Wednesday, and gave my first lesson on Monday.  I always managed to stay one lesson ahead of the students.  They didn’t know any better, since I did know how to play, I didn’t know how to read music, that’s all, but I learned that.

“I finally went to work for Larry Butler pickin’ in the evenings, adn I worked the Sunday morning sign-on DJ show at KRCT radio, which now has the call letters, KIKK.  Leroy Gloger was the manager there, and he fired me.  That hurt my ego, and I left town.

“I took my family to Waco, and I headed for Nashville, and the first person I ran into there was my old buddy, Billy Walker.  I sent for my family, and brought them to Nashville.  Billy took me to Starday records and introduced me to Tommy Hill.  I sang some of my songs for him, and he told me that he’d set up a recording and writer’s contract for me, but Don Pierce turned us both down.

“One night when a bunch of us were jammin’ in Tootsie’s, Hank Cochran heard me and took me to Pamper music, where I signed an exclusive writer’s contract.  Faron young had heard me sing “Hello Walls” at Tootsie’s and told me that he wanted to record it.  I was working on the road with Bobby Sykes, playing lead guitar and Faron, who was on the show that night, asked me to sing the song again so that he could learn it.  I also sang “Coungratulations” that same night, and the next week, he recorded both of them, back to back.

“I moved my family into a trailer house, and I had three kids by then.  I found out later that it was the very same trailer Hank Cochran and his wife and three children lived in when they first came to Nashville.  It was green and ugly and the rent was $25.00 a week, and it was worth about $3.00, but they were always there to collect the rent eery rent day.

“I heard that Ray Price needed a man to play bass and front his band.  I didn’t know how to play bass, but I told Ray I did, got the job, then went out and got a bass and learned real quick. If he ever knew I didn’t know how to play, he was kind enough not to mention it.  I worked for Ray for a year.

“Crazy” was doing real good then, and Billy had recorded “Funny How Time Slips Away”, I wrote it for him, to follow “Thank You For Calling”.  Joe Allison signed me to Liberty Records, and produced an album and single for me.  The album was “And Then I Wrote” and the single was “Mr. Record Man.”  I did two albums on Liberty.

“My marriage broke up about that time and I moved to Texas.  I met and married my present wife, Shirley there.  Incidentally, she was a regular on the Ozark Jubilee the time I went through Springfield, but we didn’t know each other then.

“I stayed in Ft. Worth until 1963.  After that I went to California to run the office for Pamper Music.  I didn’t like that because I wasn’t pickin’, just running the office.  So we came back to Tennessee, and bought a farm at Ridgetop, just out of Nashville.

“I had been on Monument Records in the meantime, and had a record with them, but in 1964 I signed with RCA Victor.  My first release for them was “Pretty Paper.”  I’ve had six albums on Victor, and my latest single is, “Johnny One time”, written by Dallas Frasier.  I am really sold on the song, and I think we’ve got the most commercial sound on it of any of my other records.  Were hoping that this one will make it, but if it doesn’t, well, maybe next time.

“That’s it, up to now.  I remember some things I left out, but let’s save them for next time.”

That’s Wille’s story, and the hour I spent getting it was one of the most interesting I’ve had in a long time.  there’s nothing left for me to add, it’s all been said.

Author Judy Redditt read this post and kindly responded with her own stories.

  1. Judy Redditt says:

    This takes me back. Willie was a good friend. I really enjoyed sitting down with Willie from time to time and just talking. I wrote several articles with him, but it was the stories that weren’t published that I loved the most. The ” road stories” that had me rolling on the floor, the stories behind the songs, and the family stories.

    Jeannie Seely was my roommate for several years, and the only reason we stopped being roommates was that she left to marry Hank Cochran. Hank was at our apartment much of the time and he would often bring his buddies with him. I was always delighted when he brought Willie. They would sing and often bring out their latest new song they had written. I was privileged to hear so many of the classics in their infancy or shortly after they were finished.

    I loved the songs that both Hank and Willie wrote and bugged Ray Price to record them, since Ray was my favorite singer of all time. Nobody had better control of their voice or could put more feeling into a song, or sang more beautifully than Ray. It got to the point that when he came into town to record, he would call me to ” find me the songs for this album, and have them by tomorrow.” All I generally had to do was look at Hank and Willie’s catalogs. I picked a lot of songs for Ray, and one of them, NOT written by Hank or Willie, turned out to be the biggest of his career.


    Bonnie Guitar had been in town, and we were hanging out together. She was getting ready to record and was looking for songs. One night, we were in her hotel room and Kris Kristopherson and Mickey Newberry came to sing her some of their songs. Kris sang a song that night that I heard Ray singing in my mind. Ray had called me a few days before and told me to be on the look out for some songs for him, he would be in the next week to record. I asked Kris for a copy of the song, and of course, he wanted to know who I was taking it to. I told him just to get it for me and I would tell him who it was for later. The next day, Kris gave me a demo of the song and when Ray got to Nashville the following week, I gave him the demo of “For The Good Times”. The rest is music history.

    I went to work for Pamper Music as P.R Directer and the company was owned By Willie and Ray Price at the time, so for the time I worked there, I had my two favorite singers of all time as my boss’. Talk about the ideal job! It afforded me the opportunity to hear Willie’s stories, and Ray’s recordings, often and usually first hand. Stories from Willie like the one about the time he came home drunk, and passed out, only to wake up to find Shirley had sown him up in the bed sheet and was beating him up with the broom stick.

    It was while I was working there that Willie’s house burned down and being frustrated that no one in Nashville would let him make music his way, Willie decided to pull up stakes and return to Texas, and to do music ” his way.” Once again, music history was made. I could go on telling stories of those days, but I think I will save them for the book I plan to write.

    But I will say this, I am proud and happy to have formed a lasting friendship with one of the all time musical genius’, the awesome and amazing, Willie Nelson!


Willie Nelson interview in Entertainment Weekly, (September 18, 1998)

Monday, January 15th, 2018

photo:  Laura Farr
by:  Jeff Gordinier

Willie Nelson reaches across the table and whispers four soft words: “It’s good for you.” His brown eyes are shining like sunlight on the Rio Grande. His voice is rustling like wind through a wheat field. And between those burlap knuckles of his, well, he’s got a joint as fat as a rope.

It all feels like Luke Skywalker taking the lightsaber from Obi-Wan Kenobi. You can’t say no.

So I don’t. I inhale. Deeply. Which probably isn’t the smartest journalistic strategy in the world, considering that my life’s experience with ganja consists primarily of a couple of pathetic coughing fits in college. The thing is, there’s something so gentle about Willie Nelson, so utterly blissful and reassuring, that climbing into his tour bus feels like stepping into the lost ashram of a Himalayan mystic. Just the sound of his laugh can lower your heart rate. Besides, it’s late in the afternoon, and Willie’s tiny office on the bus, the Honeysuckle Rose II, is already so banked with sweet herbal fog that a plane wouldn’t be cleared for landing. A puff or two won’t make any difference, right?

It’s a busy day, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Willie’s supposed to ride the highway up to Boulder, Colo., to play songs from his haunting new album, Teatro, for radio station KBCO and a packed house at the Fox Theatre. Plus, he’s just been named a Kennedy Center honoree, alongside entertainers like Bill Cosby and Shirley Temple Black, so people keep calling the bus to congratulate him.

If anyone deserves an official blessing from the United States government, why not Willie Nelson? He wrote national anthems like “Crazy” and “Night Life” and “On the Road Again.” He’s saved Nashville from its cheesiest impulses with albums like Red Headed Stranger and Spirit and Stardust. His voice is seared on the American landscape as indelibly as the voices of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra. Besides, he’s done a guest spot on King of the Hill. “For me, Willie is what you’d imagine an elder would be like in native mythology,” says Daniel Lanois, Teatro’s producer. “Without saying too much, he projects an aura that just makes you feel good to be around.”

But there’s a fantastic irony here, too, when you think about a bunch of Beltway Babbitts squeezing into their tuxes and clinking their champagne flutes to the original Nashville outlaw, a man who’s wrangled with drug laws and the Internal Revenue Service, who’s crisscrossed miles of conservative highway with his beard and ponytails and beatific smile intact, who’s spent a large portion of his 65 years whispering four soft, subversive words to the stress-battered American people: It’s good for you.

“I was doomed to go to hell by the time I was 7,” Willie is saying, “because I had been told that if you smoke cigarettes and drink beer you’re going to hell. And by 7, I was gone.” Thus resigned to eternal damnation, Willie came up with the only spiritual approach that made sense: There’s nothing to hide, and nothing to get too upset about. “If you get up thinkin’ everything’s gonna be wonderful, you’re gonna find out somethin’ happened that wasn’t that wonderful,” he says. “And if you think everything’s gonna be terrible, then you’re gonna miss what was good. So there is a little bit of Zen in there: You shouldn’t be too elated at the good things, and you shouldn’t be too depressed at the bad things.” Not since Butch Cassidy has somebody so defiant been so laid-back about it.

You can ask Willie anything, good or bad, and he’ll respond with that sagebrush laugh and a flash of those muddy-river eyes. The night in 1970 when he dashed into the flaming eaves of a burning house to rescue a pile of pot? “A guitar and the pot,” he gently corrects me. The night when he walked out of a Nashville bar and stretched his bones in the middle of a busy road? “I was pretty drunk, but I do remember it,” he says. “It was one of those Russian roulette things, you know? You really didn’t give a damn, and yet you did. Just before the truck woulda hit me, I’d have said, ‘Why did I do that?’”

I ask whether it’s true that the first of Willie’s four wives tied him up and beat him purple as punishment for a drunken binge. Willie not only verifies the story, he muses over the method of bondage. “I think there were sheets stitched together, and then jump ropes to secure them,” he says. “Then she packed all of my clothes and left. So when I finally got out of the sheet, all my clothes were gone.”

The father of seven (and grandfather of seven more) waves toward a beautiful woman sitting toward the back of the bus. “This is Lana, my daughter,” he says. “Her mother was the one in that story you asked about.”

“I might’ve been 4 or 5,” says Lana, now 44. “She left us in the car waiting while she hit him with the broom. And she came runnin’ out and threw the broom on the porch and jumped in the car.”

And…how did you feel?

“Well, I hated to see Daddy get beat up with a broom!” she laughs whimsically. “But if my husband came home drunk, I might do the same thing.” “And,” Pop chimes in, “if he’d done it on more than one occasion.”

Willie gave up booze years ago—”To me, alcohol is not positive,” he says–but he’s been smoking weed since 1953, when a fiddle player in Fort Worth first passed him a joint. “It wasn’t a big deal back in the early days in Fort Worth,” Willie insists. “Most of the law enforcement agents were smokin’ pot. They’d bust other people, get the pot, and we’d sit around and smoke it. They realized it was a bad law, but they were makin’ the best of it.”

Texas troopers may be a bit more zealous these days, but whenever there’s a head-on collision between Willie and various statutes and ordinances, it seems like Willie’s the one who comes out unscathed. Four years ago he was arrested when police found him and a joint cuddling in the backseat of a Mercedes; pretty soon the charges were dropped. “There was no cause to give me any problems there that night, because I wasn’t botherin’ nobody,” Willie explains. “When it’s foggy and you’re tired, you pull over and go to sleep. You shouldn’t be harassed by the police department.” Eight years ago the IRS saddled him with a massive burden of back taxes—$32 million—but Willie struck a deal with the feds to whittle down the debt, paid off the rest, and moved on.

It’s been that way since Abbott, the lean Texas town where he baled hay and picked cotton as a kid. “We had no law in Abbott. There was nothing illegal,” he recalls as the Honeysuckle Rose II rolls through the strip malls and cheeseburger troughs of the New West. “I’ve kind of brought Abbott with me.”

In the front of the bus is a TV. CNN is blasting the news that Bill Clinton has bombed outposts in Sudan and Afghanistan—an event of weird significance for one of the stars of Wag the Dog. Willie asks if I want to watch a video. I suggest he might prefer to catch up with the military showdown instead. “The war’s about over, probably,” he laughs. “We’re gonna miss the whole f—in’ war, just goin’ to Boulder.”

Willie may come across as the un-Clinton—he’s inhaled, he’s fooled around, he doesn’t lie about it—but he’s actually quick to forgive Slick Willie his amorous misadventures. “I think any male on the planet will have sympathies for where he’s at,” he says. “Most of us can withstand everything but temptation. And a guy who’s bombarded as much as he is, as president? Most presidents are too old to worry about s— like that!” As for his own battles with temptation on the road, Willie and his crew long ago came up with an official policy: “We leave town early.”

Keeping on the move has always been a Willie trademark. Daniel Lanois is such a sonic perfectionist that it often takes him months to cut an album, but when the Grammy-winning producer of Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind and Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball hunkered down in an old California movie theater to record Teatro, it took…four days. Which is not to say it feels tossed off: A spooky flamenco hayride of a record, Teatro proves that after 213 albums over the course of four decades, Willie Nelson is hitting another moment of creative fervor. “I’m so used to making records where one has to labor, it sort of caught me by surprise,” Lanois marvels. “Willie really trusts first takes.”

Eventually Willie and I do watch a movie, an upcoming made-for-CBS Western called Outlaw Justice. My critical faculties are fairly warped at this point, but I think Willie and Kris Kristofferson play old gunslingers who team up to avenge the death of a fellow desperado, played by Waylon Jennings.

After a few minutes Willie picks up the phone. “Hey, Waylon,” he says. “I just watched you die again in that movie.”

Maybe it’s the thin Colorado air, but by now the phrase mile-high has taken on a new meaning. Suddenly I have come to believe that Willie Nelson is a great American sage, that sculptors should carve his saintly visage into Mount Rushmore, that Outlaw Justice is a cinematic masterpiece, that…er…uh, dude, could you pass the potato chips?

Willie Nelson Interview: Goldmine (1/11/02)

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Goldmine Magazine
January 11, 2002

When it comes to American music legends, the name Willie Nelson elicits incredible warmth and respect for one of the most talented and accomplished singer/songwriters of our itme.  Although he has spent his 40-year career as a country musician.  Nelson’s music transcends all genres.  The now-familier term “crossover artist” was no doubt invented for Nelson.

It’s late summer and the singer is winding up his most recent U.S. tour.  Preparing for the evening’s concert in Tacoma, Washington.  Nelson has just returned from the local driving range, ever trying to improve his golf game, although he readily admitted, “I should be a lot better than I am.”  Asked about his handicap, he wrly replied, “It’s my putter and my driver!”

Beyong Golf, Nelson has kindly agreed to talk to Goldmine about his newest DVD release, Willie Nelson:  Live in Amsterdam.  (Image Enterainment) and a few other topics, including his most recent album, Rainbow connection (Island Records) and his forthcoming relase, The Great Divide.

10 Questions for Willie Nelson
by Mark Wallgren

Goldmine:  Is there anything special about touring in Europe?

Willie Nelson:  We don’t get over there as much, so when I play in Europe they’re really glad to see you.  And there’s a certain exuberance over there you know.  For 40 years now they’ve been really good country music fans for me.

GM:  One doesn’t envision Europeans wearing cowboy hats and boots, but your audience certainly does.

WN:  Yeah, it’s hard to tell whether your in Amsterdam or Austin.

GM:  In watching this video, you guitar work is woven into the tapestry of your songs.  Do you enjoy playing as much as it seems?

WN:  I’ve been playing guitar since I was six years old.  The guitar is my friend, you know.  I guess it’s my first wife.  [laughs]  I try to build the whole show around me and the guitar, and everyone else plays behind and complements what I’m trying ot do — fills in places and does their thring — they go into it that way, and then  you get a pretty good ready-mixed show.

GM:  There’s a really funny moment in this new DVD, at the end of the regular set, when you ask the audience to pretend you’d left the stage and that you’ve now returned for the encore.

WN:  [laugs]  Sometimes I tell them that story, you know, “This is the place where we normally go off and come back, and if its all right with everybody, we’re just gonna stay here, because one night we went off and came back and everybody was gone!”  A version of that every now and then.

GM:  Based even on a sliver of truth?

WN:  A sliver, yes.  You’ve got to be careful.  [laughs]

GM:  Amy, your daughter, first suggested an album such as rainbow Connection some 20 years ago, and yet you didn’t begin recording it until just last Christmas.

WN:  The reason being that I work on the road a lot and so recording a children’s album was kind of down the list of what I needed to do, you know. This last Christmas I got a couple months off, so I told her to come on now and we’d do Rainbow Connection; and some more songs.  But then I started learning Rainbow Connection; and I realized there’s a little gem here.  I mean, there’s a lot more here, I thought, than a frog singing.

GM:  “Wouldn’t have it any other way,” the one new original composition, sounds like a song you might have written for Johnny Cash.

WN:  It’s one of the last songs that I’ve written. The other being  ‘The Great Divide”  There’s something about that song that I enjoy, and I really got a kick out of playing it and doing it.  I don’t really know where it came from, but maybe it is a Johnny Cash song.  I’ll have to try to get it to him.  I appreciate yoru saying something about that song because I haven’t started doing it on the show at all because I wanted to kind of get some feedback from the people who listen to the album.

GM:  Your next album, The Great Divide, is produced by Matt Serletic who producd that superb Santana album Supernatural a couple of years ago.

WN:  It’ll be released in January, and it was an important one to make because I got to sing with a  whole lot of great musicians and writers and singer, so its one of those once-in-a-lifetime deals, and to work with Matt Serletic, he’s one of the better producers.  We’ve got a good lineup.  Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Kid Rock, Rob Thomas, Allison Krauss, and we’ve got the Jordainaires.  They’re backing me on “Mendocino County Line”; that we did with Lee Anne Womack in Nashville.  Also a guy named Brian McKnight.  He’s a young guy form the West Coast.  I think he’s really a good singer.

GM:  You’ve raised more than $16 million since you staged the first Farm Aid benefit back in 1985.  Did you ever envision that Farm Aid might still be necessary in the new millennium?

WN:  No, I really didn’t.  I thought we’d just have to do one, honestly.  I thought once everyone was aware of the situation that something would be done immediately and it would be like, fixed overnight.  It takes a long time to get a new farm bill through, one that the farmers are for, but big business, corporations, and unfortunately most of the politicians in Washington are against.  But we’re gonna stay with it and nobody’s going anywhere, and there’s a good chance that we might be able to get a little bit more done in Washington now that there’s sort of a shift in powers up there where it looks like people who are concerned with the small businessman may be in more of a position to do something for the farmer.

GM:  Final Question:  Has the Nelson household received its tax rebate check yet?

WN:  [laughs]  I’ve already spent my $600!

Willie Nelson in Interview Magazine, by Woody Harrelson (May 2015)

Sunday, January 7th, 2018
by: Woody Harrelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILLIE NELSON: I’m in Biloxi, Mississippi.

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

NELSON: Around Easter. Will you be there?

HARRELSON: That depends. When is Easter?

NELSON: First week in April, I think.

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

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

HARRELSON: I got a lot to win back.

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

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

NELSON: Don’t tell them about that.

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

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Yeah, really.

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

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

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

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

HARRELSON: This was around the Depression?

NELSON: Yeah, I was born in 1933.

HARRELSON: Do you have any memories of the Depression?

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

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

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

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

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

HARRELSON: Was he a disciplinarian?

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Hustle! I had that hustle.

HARRELSON: When did you get your first guitar?

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

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

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

HARRELSON: I can’t imagine you taking orders.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HARRELSON: You were just driving back and forth?

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

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

NELSON: Oh, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Lord willing! [both laugh]

HARRELSON: But officially, you have how many?

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Hank Cochran was a songwriter in Nashville, and he wrote for Pamper Music. Hank got me a job there at Pamper Music writing songs [in the early 1960s], with a $50 a week salary. So that set me up in Nashville. And then Ray Price, who owned Pamper Music, heard that I was a musician. And he called and asked me if I could play bass. His bass player, Donny Young, had quit on him, I think out in Nebraska somewhere. I said, “Sure, can’t everybody?” But I had never played bass a day in my life. So on my way to the first gig, Jimmy Day taught me how to play bass. Several years later I asked Ray if he knew I couldn’t play bass, and he said, “Yeah.” [both laugh] I didn’t fool him.

HARRELSON: At this time, you wrote a hell of a lot of amazing songs: “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy,” “Hello Walls,” “Wake Me When It’s Over.” Great songs that other people were performing, like Roy Orbison with “Pretty Paper.” I know you had to be glad to get a paycheck and have other people singing your songs, but were you frustrated at the same time?

NELSON: Not in the least. I knew what I could do, and I was getting my songs recorded. I was making money. I had no reason to complain about anything. I was touring with Ray Price, and whenever we would get home, we’d go into the studio and put down all these songs that me and Hank had written. The publishing company would give us three hours, and we’d see how many songs we could put down—we’d put down 20 or 30 songs in three hours.

HARRELSON: That’s outrageous!

NELSON: But I was performing. I was working Texas a lot, playing all of the beer joints down there, making a pretty good living. And, in fact, when I left Nashville, I went back to Texas and said, “Hey, I can make a living in Texas working the Broken Spoke and different places like that.”

HARRELSON: So that was all initiated when your house burned down in 1970? Was that kind of a blessing in disguise?

NELSON: Yeah, it really was. We were all living up there in Ridgetop, Tennessee, and writing songs and raising hogs. [both laugh] I decided I wanted to be a hog farmer, and I bought 17 weaner pigs. I think I paid 27 cents a pound for ’em. Brought ’em home and fed ’em for five months, sold ’em for 17 cents a pound. I lost a small fortune raising fuckin’ hogs. But I learned a lot. I learned I’d much rather be in Texas playing the beer joints. [both laugh]

HARRELSON: So when you got to Texas, you were already a known entity?

NELSON: More or less, yeah.

HARRELSON: So then everything started to really shift for you. You made Shotgun Willie [1973]. You made, like, three albums in succession.

NELSON: Red Headed Stranger [1975]—that was one of the first ones that started doing well. It had “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” My plan was to have the album come out the same time I had the movie come out. But you know how that goes—it took a decade before [the movie Red Headed Stranger] got made.

HARRELSON: Now, hold it. Was Red Headed Stranger the album that you just heard running through your head when you were driving through the night?

NELSON: Yeah. I was coming back through Denver, driving to Austin. The lights were really bright, so, you know, “The bright lights of Denver / Were shining like diamonds / Like 10,000 stars in the sky.” And, “Nobody cared who you were or where you come from / You were judged by the look in your eye.” So I kind of set the theme for the Red Headed Stranger. I had it pretty much written by the time we got home. It didn’t take that long. But then “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was already written. Some of those songs had been hits in the past, and I placed them in there because they fit the story.

HARRELSON: So by the time that album came out, your star had really ascended?

NELSON: Yeah, pretty good. And I got lucky.

HARRELSON: You still tour over 100 days a year, I think. Were you on that kind of pace already?

NELSON: Yeah. I’m trying to cut back. We’re playing a little less than we have been. I think we’ll all be able to stay out here longer if we do it that way.

HARRELSON: And it’s helping all your friends out, too, because then we get to hang with you more. And how could you possibly make more out on the road than you do right at home? [both laugh] So tell me how you met Annie, your wife.

NELSON: I was doing a movie, Stagecoach [1986], a remake of the old John Wayne classic. We were in Tucson, and Annie was doing the makeup on the movie. We were there together for several weeks.

HARRELSON: And how did it go from makeup artist to … home stylist? [both laugh]

NELSON: Well, she still does my hair.

HARRELSON: How’d you get into biodiesel?

NELSON: Well, just as an alternative to using a lot of oil. A lot of the truckers use it. We use it on our buses. I noticed the price of oil has come down a lot, so that makes it more competitive. You know, if a guy can fill up with regular gas rather than pay a little bit more for some biofuels, he might do that. We got a factory there in Hillsboro, where we go around picking up all the vegetable oil from the restaurants and turning it into biofuel. My old buddy Bob King in Maui, at Pacific Biodiesel, he kind of helped start the whole idea. He’s doing fine. You remember him, don’t you?

HARRELSON: Oh, yeah. I go there and fill up every time I need to fuel. The UN calls 2015 the International Year of Soils, and I know you’re really involved in helping farmers. How’s that going?

NELSON: From what I hear, the ones who have gone into organic farming are doing very well. A lot of people are realizing that it’s better for them to buy from a local farmer. Instead of having their breakfast come from 1,500 miles away, they can get the same bacon and eggs from the farmer a mile out in the country. So I see some progress. We’re doing another Farm Aid this year, on September 19. I think this makes almost 30 of them.

HARRELSON: Wow. I didn’t realize it was that many. That is a cool thing and a great event, but I’m sure you look forward to the day when you don’t have to do it.

NELSON: You would think that our real intelligent people there in Washington would see the problem and fix it immediately, but unfortunately, the big corporations have pretty much told them what to do. And big corporations like it the way it is, all the pesticides and chemicals that they put on the land. It doesn’t change, and I think you have to expect that from people. You have to judge other people against yourself. They say you’re not supposed to do that, but that’s the only way I can judge other people. I kind of compare them to myself. And I know there’s a lot of hustlers out there, in every walk of life. Whether they’re preachers or insurance salesmen, it’s about the same thing.

HARRELSON: I’ve stopped hoping for much from the politicians.

NELSON: Yeah, they’re all bought and paid for.

HARRELSON: But this is boring …

NELSON: Let’s talk about sex.

HARRELSON: Yeah. How old were you when you first started masturbating?

NELSON: Um, let me see. [both laugh] I remember the first time I had sex. I’ll never forget what she said. “Moooooo!”

HARRELSON: That is honorable. And very funny.

NELSON: Do you want to hear a good joke?


NELSON: These people were in a courtroom, and they were accusing this guy of having sex with an animal. And so this lady said, “I only know what I saw. I was driving down the road, and I saw this guy out there with this sheep, and they were making love. And you’re not going to believe this, your Honor, but when they got through, the little sheep laid its head over on the guy’s shoulder and went to sleep.” And one of the guys on the jury punched another one in his elbow and said, “Yeah, it’ll do that.” [both laugh]

HARRELSON: I tell your jokes all the time—but when it gets met with a weird response, I always give you credit—the one about two nuns riding their bikes around the Vatican?

NELSON: And one says to the other, “I’ve never come this way before.” And the other one says, “Me neither, must be the cobblestones.” [both laugh]

HARRELSON: You probably have 52,000 jokes in your memory bank.

NELSON: You’re probably close.

HARRELSON: I’ve never seen you run out.

NELSON: I must enjoy telling them. I know I enjoy hearing ’em. And whenever I hear a good one, I kind of try to hang on to it and spread it around.

HARRELSON: Who’s influenced you the most?

NELSON: Well, we have to go all the way back to guys like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Floyd Tillman, Leon Payne, Ted Daffan, Spade Cooley, Hank Williams, Django Reinhardt. Me and Merle [Haggard] have a new album coming out called Django and Jimmie, about Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers. There’s a song that says, “There might not have been a Merle or a Willie without a Django and Jimmie.”

HARRELSON: Ah! And did y’all write together?

NELSON: Merle wrote a few in there. Merle wrote one about Johnny Cash, and he wrote one about us called “The Only One Wilder Than Me.” [both laugh]

HARRELSON: And that’s saying something.

NELSON: And we did a song on there, coming out 4/20, called “It’s All Going to Pot.” “Whether we like it or not / As far as I can tell, the world’s gone to hell / And we’re sure gonna miss it a lot / And all of the whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee, just couldn’t hit the spot / So here’s a $100 bill, you can keep your pills, friend / It’s all going to pot.” [both laugh]

HARRELSON: That is great, man! Willie, I got to say, it really blows my mind how you tour over 100 days a year, you come up with at least one or two albums a year, and then you’re also writing books—you have a book coming out, right?

NELSON: Right. It’s called It’s a Long Story. [Harrelson laughs] I reviewed my own book, and I cut a song called “It’s a Long Story” [sings] “It’s a long story, you’ll probably never make it to the end / There’s way too many words, way too many pages / Too much time to stop and start again / But if you love a good mystery, you’ll never find a better one, my friend / It’s a real whodunit, who lost it, and who won it / And who’s still around to lose it all again.”

HARRELSON: Nice, man! You know, I never told you what a big influence you’ve been on my life. I was living in Costa Rica with Laura, and our daughters, Deni and Zoe, and I came back to L.A., and my buddy Jim Brooks asked me if I wanted to go to a concert you were doing. I went, it was a great show, and afterwards, this beautiful woman, Annie, comes up and says, “Hey, I’m Willie’s wife. Why don’t you come back and hang on the bus?” I’m like, “Whoa, sure.” So we go back there, the bus doors open, all the smoke billows out like, you know, Cheech and Chong, and I look through the fog, and I see you in there, with a big old fatty, like, “Come on in. Let’s burn one!” [Nelson laughs] The first of, like, 97,000 joints we would smoke together. And we had the most amazing conversation. I really felt like I met a real soul mate—someone I would always know. Of course, that proved to be true, but one of the great things that happened on that occasion, when we first met, which is an example of your generosity, was you said to me, “I live in Maui. If you ever want to come over there and stay—even if I’m not there—you can do that.” So, of course, we took you up on it, and ended up in Maui. And now, almost 20 years later, I’ve been living in Maui, and it’s thanks to you. So thanks for being such a good influence on my life, bro.

NELSON: Well, you’re sure welcome. I was lucky. I got booked over there, and once I got there, I realized, “Hey, this would be a good place to stay.”

HARRELSON: Yeah, you got a great spot there on the water.

NELSON: One thing I want to run by you, you know our spot over there on the ocean, what do you think about us putting in a little floatin’ gambling casino out there, maybe a little houseboat, you know, and calling it Woody and Willie’s?

HARRELSON: I love that idea. Bring ’em up in a boat, get a little gambling done, and send ’em back home.

NELSON: Yeah, they can ski over or whatever.

HARRELSON: You’ll have Owen there every night, trying to win back what he lost the previous night. I love that idea. I’m in.

NELSON: I’ll see you in Maui!

Willie Nelson, the Colombia Record interview (12/10/1982)

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Willie Nelson Interview (12/10/1982)


The Columbia Record
Columbia, SC
December 10, 1982
by Tom Connelly

Willie Nelson repeatedly waved aside my apologies.  “Don’t go.  We have plenty of itme.  I am not giving any other interviews.”

Interviews with Willie Nelson are hard to obtain, because of his obvious shyness, the pressing schedule and other matters. Bob Horning of Carolina Coliseum had intervened with bearded, burly Alex Cooley, promoter of the concert.  Nelson was told the facts — I was researching a book on the Southern mind and wanted his ideas.

He agreed even though the timing seemed very tight.  A limo brought him to the Coliseum only 40 minutes before is appearance efore a 12,000 plus sell-out crowd.

The automobile had scarcely halted before big Alex Cooley escorted me to a bus.  “He is waiting or you inside,” he said.  It is one thing to talk with a Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette or even an old waylon. Willie Nelson was something else entirely.

Willie Nelson sat quietly at the front of the bus, talking with some friends.  A pair of steely eyes searched me out as he rose, shook hands and suggested we move to the back of the bus.

The back of the bus was something like a railroad observation car where padded sofas surrounded a glass-topped coffee table.

“You go on in 30 minutes,” I said.  “I only want to take up a little time.”

“I have nothing else to do,” he said.  “So we have a half-hour.”

So we talked for almost a half-hour and ended scarcely 5 minutes before he went onstage.  In the process I learned more about Willie Nelson than I had intended.  First, it was obvious that Nelson himself did not understand why he had become such a superstar.  here was a guy who arrived in Nashville over 20 years ago, scrounged while living in Dunn’s Trailer Park on Gallatin Road, ate at Linebaugh’s Cafe, peddled his songs and now is a national idol.  Later, when he came onstage and broke into “Whiskey River,” the audience stood and screamed.

Arrogance can accompany great success but arrogant Willie Nelson is not.  He is far more humble, relaxed and direct than many other lesser artists I have interviewed.  Nelson obviously does not grasp why a Columbia audience turns out in sell-out fashion for a guy with a bandanna, trousers and jogging shoes.

Or maybe he does know.  Ninety percent of our conversation was about Southern religion, one of Willie Nelson’s favorite subjects.  “Don’t leave,” he said.  “I don’t get many chances to talk about this.”  We found some common friends like songwriter Bob McDill and Singer Tom T. Hall.  “I’d sure like for all of us to sit up some night and talk about religion,” Nelson mused.

“Back in the ’50’s, when I was playing some clubs in Fort Worth, I was teaching Sunday school and playing clubs at night.  The church leaders told me I could not do both.  So I quit Sunday School.”

Obviously he never really left.  No Southern boy ever does.  On the surface he has moved far from the wooden church upbringing in a dusty Texashamlet.  Now he is a firm believer in reincarnation and claims membership in a faith which ascribes to this.

“So what is the South to you, in one sentence,” I asked.

Nelson looked off in the distance for a moment.  “It is the music and the religion of course.  And it is also the land.  The land in Texas where I grew up had such scarcity and vastness .  It taught me not to be afraid, to know you can do anything you want to do.”

Not to be afraid to do anything you want to do.  Not even to be afraid to be a superstar after yars of hard times.  He walked onstage amid the vast roar…

Willie Nelson, “The music still matters most”

Monday, November 27th, 2017
by:  T. Patterson

Willie Nelson likely celebrated Thanksgiving Day with family and friends, along with tasty goodies and some great tunes. The difference for 84-year-old, Willie Nelson, is that all the best of his family festivities take place on his tour bus, Honeysuckle Rose.  Music has always been a family affair for the Nelson clan, for blood relations and those bonded by history. Most of his band members have been onstage with Nelson for 40+ years, and older sister, Bobbie still plays piano with the band. Music has truly always been “in the blood” for Willie Nelson, sons, Lukas and Micah, and daughters, Paula and Amy.

Al Roker climbed aboard the bus for a visit with Willie Nelson as a Thanksgiving treat, and there are many musical dishes cranking in the works for all the Nelson clan.

New albums are out from Lukas and Micah, each inspired by his own muse and direction. A Frank Sinatra homage is in progress, and no one plans on parking the bus anytime soon

The music still matters most

Willie Nelson was being interviewed as part of the “Living Legends” series, and while the artist humbly accepts his honors, across several genres of music, for his lifetime of contribution to that art, he approaches music with the same freshness of his boyhood. He recalls writing songs “since I could string two words together,” and the joy of creating songs that join people together with a memorable refrain that “hits in the soul,” still produces the same euphoria as it did when Willie’s braids had darker red hues.

The weather broadcaster so famous for detailing climate “in your neck of the woods” stepped out from a smoke-filled tour bus in braids to join Matt Lauer as Dolly Parton, and other “country greats” portrayed by the morning show team. Let’s just say that while Al deserves an “A” for effort, he doesn’t wear the braids nearly as stylishly as the “Red Headed Stranger.” Even twining hair is part of the tradition that the songwriter grew up with as a child, braiding his grandmother’s hair with his sister. No wonder Roker is “jealous” of the long locks.

Last month, Willie Nelson and his sons released “#Willie Nelson and the Boys: Willie’s Stash.” The kindred collaboration features songs that the groundbreaking dad played for his sons growing up. Songs by Hank Cochran, Hank Snow, Hank Williams, and Hank Locklin all take their place, along with standards Willie has covered before, like “Stardust.” Willie insists that “they get a kick out of it,” when describing his sons’ response to playing the old songs.

The legacy also gives both talented artists a sonic foundation from which to build.

Old songs and new fans

Willie Nelson declares that every time he and his sons play an older, respected song, a new fan is won over to great music. Playing classics doesn’t stop either son from forging his own path ahead. Micah Nelson pursues psychedelic folk with Insects vs. Robots and Particle Kid, and he just released a new album. Lukas Nelson and “Promise of the Real” just released their first album on Fantasy Records and have an upcoming showcase on CBS.

Micah emblemized his dad’s “Red Headed Stranger” as an ultimate “punk record,” because it broke all the boundaries of country music which, at the time, was filled with sparkling rhinestone costumes and blatant overproduction. He tells us that his father was “fearlessly doing his own thing,” against the grain in every sense, and he sees fearlessly following his own artistic path as the best way to honor “my dad’s legacy.” Willie Nelson has another legacy project of his own to his favorite singer, Frank Sinatra, fully underway.

Lukas Nelson said he never imagined anything but music as his life path, calling his father a constant “inspiration.” The progeny always assumed, “if my dad can do it, I can do it. It’s in my blood.” That family heritage is only part of the creative energy that has cultivated a loyal following for Lukas and his band. His passion and talents in writing and performing are palpable from any stage, his own or with the clan.

Willie owns up to not being there for much of his children’s childhood, because being in the business of country music, and being on the road, always called. No one in the family is wasting time on regrets since there’s so much good lasting music, and loving memories to be made now. “I’ve made a thousand mistakes,” the artist admits, but he is not sure he would change one. Every step and misstep of life is part of coming to the present.

The past and the present merge to a future for Willie Nelson and his next generation. He playfully jokes “He wouldn’t listen,” to whatever advice the elder Nelson could give to the one at 24. He and the boys only know that they have another show booked down the road.

The Life and Music of Willie Nelson (On Point interview with Tom Ashbrook) (11/19/12)

Sunday, November 19th, 2017
by Tom Ashbrook

This is a rebroadcast which originally aired on November 19, 2012.

We sit down with the one and only Willie Nelson for some Willie Nelson tales and some Willie Nelson music.

Willie Nelson picked cotton as a boy and sold encyclopedias as a young man.  Wrote hits in Nashville before most Americans were born.  Hit the road as the pig-tailed, Red Headed Stranger in middle age, and just kept rolling.  With his own sound, his own way.

Now he’s thinking big.  The great beyond and what remains.  His latest is “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die.”

This hour, On Point: Willie Nelson.

– Tom Ashbrook


Willie Nelson, country music singer-songwriter. His new book is “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From The Road.” His most recent album is “Heroes.”

Sample of Nelson’s Songs

Nelson covered Coldplay’s “The Scientist” for the short, animated film “Back To The Start,” which Chipotle commissioned to illustrate the importance of a sustainable food system. During our conversation with him, Nelson said he loved the song and the video and that it offered a great lesson to everyone:

From Tom’s Reading List

American Songwriter: Book Review: Willie Nelson, ‘Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From The Road’ – “With a twinkle in his eyes, a laugh in his belly, a sagacious nod, and a deep love for life, Nelson takes us for a rollicking ride along the highways and byways of his long life and career in this rambunctious, hilarious, reflective, and loving memoir. With his rapscallion smile, Nelson regales us with tales of life on the road, his life in Maui, his early years in Texas — he was smoking and drinking by the time he was six — his love of dominoes — he plays with Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson in Maui — and golf, his deep and abiding love for his family, and his deep respect and enduring admiration for the songwriters and musicians with whom he has performed and who have influenced him, from Ray Price and Leon Russell to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.”

The Raelynn Nelson Band

Friday, November 10th, 2017
by:  Steve Wildsmith

When Raelyn Nelson makes the claim that she’s the “black sheep” of her family, it raises some eyebrows.

After all, this is the granddaughter of country icon Willie Nelson, one of the original outlaws of country music. What kind of wild woman might she be, one wonders?

As it turns out, she told The Daily Times recently, “black sheep” is a relative term.

“I think, in a way, we all kind of feel like we’re the black sheep of our family, but I do feel that way,” said Nelson, who brings her band to The Shed Smokehouse and Juke Joint in Maryville on Friday. “My mom’s side is extremely conservative, my dad’s side is extremely liberal, and I’m kind of in the middle, where I’m not extreme either way. I’ve fought that battle my whole life.”

It’s one of many battles she’s had to fight — after all, with the Nelson surname and a legacy of making music casting large shadows, she’s had to scrap and claw to stake out a claim as her own woman. Not that her famous grandfather has put any expectations on her, she said; if anything, he’s been a kind and gentle guiding force as far back as she can remember.

“My earliest musical memories? My dad (Willie Hugh Nelson Jr., who died in 1991) and my grandpa singing ‘Jingle Bells’ to me,” she said. “I remember them singing to me, and my dad playing guitar to me. I remember going to Papa Willie’s shows and them being crazy, just tons of people there and it taking a long time to get to him.”

Her parents separated when she was 3; her mother kept her a safe distance from the wild ways of the Nelson clan, but the sounds of her grandfather and his peers had a way of sneaking around the barriers her mother erected. She cut her teeth on artists like Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline and Amy Grant; as a teenager, she discovered pop, R&B and rock, and when she met Jonathan “J.B.” Bright — the musical backbone of the Raelyn Nelson Band and her partner in music — her world got a whole lot bigger, she said.

“He opened me up to the world of The Clash and the Ramones, and he was playing in a band called Defense Wins Championships at the time, which was real hard, loud rock music,” she said. “When I told him I was looking for a place to record

my own music, he told me to come over and record at his place. When I got over there, he asked if I wanted to write songs and put together a combo, and I said yes immediately. All of our music is a hybrid of my country and him adding his rock influence into it. We do everything together — videos, songwriting, websites, social media. He’s a true part of the Raelyn Nelson Band.”

She had come into her own several years earlier; discovering Shania Twain lit a fire in her, she said, and when she reached out to her grandfather at 14, asking if she could have one of his old guitars, he sent her a Martin. She started writing songs on it (and still owns it today), but while working with Bright, she found a ukulele that he had used to make an album of Replacements covers. While Bright was in the engineer’s chair, she started playing it; Bright taught her chords, and she decided to play ukulele instead.

“It’s a lot of fun to play, and it’s easy to swing around and perform on stage with it,” she said.

In 2014, the Raelyn Nelson Band released a debut EP; it’s a rough-around-the-edges record, and rightly so, she pointed out; she and the boys were still figuring out their sound. But the potential for what the group would become is there, in Nelson’s vocals, which burn hot as a Texas wildfire, and Bright’s deft rock ‘n’ roll licks. They’ve released a number of singles over the past couple of years and hope to eventually put out a new EP, she said.

“With the new stuff, I think we kind of honed in on the sound, because it has that cowpunk feel to it” she said.

“I like happy, fun songs; I’m not a big fan of songs that make people sad,” she said. “When we do ‘Daddy’s Grave’ live, it brings everyone down — it brings me down! — and I can see it. I decided I didn’t want to bring people down in that environment. ‘Daddy’s Grave’ is great for listening at home or in the car, but I don’t want to leave people with that taste. I want them to have fun and hang out with us. That song was kind of therapy; I was able to get it out, and it needed to be said, and it’s really touched a lot of people.”

And it proves that while she’s established herself as an artist in her own right, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And she doesn’t mind a bit, she said.

“I’m very proud of my grandpa; I always have been, because he inspires me every day,” she said. “He inspired me to write songs, to play music, to live an unconventional lifestyle, and that it’s OK to do so. He has this aura about him that’s different than anybody in the world, and I think he really is more like Jesus than a lot of people, because he’s just so kind. It’s amazing how people from both sides just love him, and he can relate to anyone.

“I want to be just like him; however my music is not. I’m not as good of a guitar player, so you won’t get the same music, but hopefully you get the same kind of feeling you get when you see him play, because it’s coming from the same spot. I strive to have the same heart as he does.”

Q & A with Lukas Nelson

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Photo by Myriam Santos

Willie Nelson’s oldest son Lukas talks about making his own music prior to performing in Milwaukee this Saturday.

Throughout his long and decorated career, country music legend Willie Nelson developed a liking to routing his tours through Milwaukee. In recent years, his older son Lukas has followed in his dad’s footsteps with several appearances of his own, including this past summer as part of the traveling Outlaw Music Festival, which stopped at the 50th edition of Summerfest.

Nelson will be back in town Saturday, Nov. 4 at The Rave with his band The Promise of the Real. The band is riding the success of their new album Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, which came out in August.

Drawing from a decade of performing, the album showcases Nelson’s tenacity and honesty as a songwriter and the band’s ability to jump effortlessly between soul, blues, country and rock and roll.

Prior to the show, we talked to Nelson about getting to play the Brew City again.

How was your experience playing Summerfest during the Outlaw tour?

Summerfest was great. I had a lot of fun. Of course, there’s so many great acts. It was cool seeing Bob [Dylan]. Jason Isbell, I’m a big fan of his. That whole tour was great. But I remember Milwaukee being great. I actually met a good friend of mine there. Afterwards everyone cleared out and me and my friend walked around near the water. It was a really nice evening.

Besides playing Summerfest, do you have any other special Milwaukee memories?

We had Farm Aid in 2010 and it was where Neil Young first saw us play. That was one of the first times he sat on the side of the stage and watched the band play. That was cool.

When I interviewed your brother Micah this summer, he said there wasn’t any pressure growing up to become a musician. What got you interested in making your own music?

It’s a passion. I fell in love with it. From a young age I started writing songs. And then I couldn’t stop. I’m addicted.

What’s the best piece of advice your dad gave you about being a musician?

Just to not give up. Persistence. Keep breathing and keep writing and work hard. All those good things a good dad would tell you.

Promise of the Real was Neil Young’s backing band a couple tours back. What was the best advice he gave you?

Neil’s given us a lot of great advice. Just to keep focused and not bow down to trends and play the music that you play. That’s what being real is all about, and that’s where the band name came from.

I imagine he’s a great example of how to be a good front man.

Yeah. He is, and my dad is. Tom Petty is a huge influence. One of the greatest front men ever. Springsteen, and the list goes on.

The band’s been playing for nearly a decade. You certainly have some good examples of longevity with your family, but what does it mean to realize that in your own music?

I plan on staying around a long time and playing music until I’m old, just like my dad. I know that I have a great band and I’ve got a great live show and good songs. I think as long as I’m healthy and I take care of myself, then there’s no reason I shouldn’t be doing it for the next 50 years or so.

I really enjoyed how at the show you explained the story behind “Forget About Georgia” about your ex-girlfriend and referencing your dad’s song “Georgia On My Mind.” Did that one come easier than others since it came from a personal place?

The thing is they all come from a personal place. I rarely write songs that I can’t relate to in any way. That one came pretty easy. “Find Yourself,” same thing. It came really easy because I really felt it.

Did it give your dad a chuckle when you heard your song?

Yeah. In fact, he’s been dedicating “Georgia On My Mind” to me. I’ll be playing up there and he’ll go “This one is for you Lukas.” And he’ll go into “Georgia.” It’s funny.

Lady Gaga sings on a couple of songs on the album. What did you like most about working with her?

She’s so sweet and real and humble. And a really amazing musician. I was just grateful to work with her. She’s a good friend and it just made me really happy that she liked my music enough to sing on it.

With the Outlaw Music Festival, I imagine it was a thrill to get to play with your dad and brother.  

Yeah. My brother has an incredible band called Particle Kid. He’s got a great sound himself. He and I just released a record with dad called “Willie [Nelson] and the Boys.” That came out well and that’s out right now.

What was your favorite moment from those sessions?

Just anytime you get to spend with your family and do what you love to do, it’s a really special thing. Every moment is truly special when it comes to that.

What was the toughest song on your album to write?

Well, see, if I song is hard for me to write I’ll stop writing. Usually a good song comes pretty freely and quickly, and I have this sort of energy and inspiration where it really doesn’t take very long to write it. If I’m starting to think too much about it or if I’m getting frustrated in any way, I’ll quit. I won’t go on with a song like that. Really none of those songs took very long or were tough at all.

What should people expect to see at the Milwaukee show?

I know that Nikki Lane and I plan on singing together a couple times. She’s a great musician. It’s going to be special for sure.

9 questions for Willie Nelson

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

From his days as a Bible salesman to his favorite Southern food to the story behind his iconic braids, Willie Nelson gave us little peeks inside his lifetime of experience (that’s chock-full of some crazy stuff, we’re sure!).

Willie Nelson in Parade Magazine (6/27/10)

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

Parade Magazine
Sunday, June 27, 2010
By Dotson Rader

‘Since I was a kid, music was what I wanted to do,” Willie Nelson says. “I thought I could make it by my own talents. That’s what I wanted to prove.”
It is a hot, sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, and Willie sits at a table in his tour bus, the Honey-suckle Rose IV. Fitted out like a two-bedroom yacht on wheels, the vehicle is powered by biodiesel from his own alternative-fuel company, Biowillie.

“When I was about 12,” he says, “I had my first paying gig—$8 to play rhythm guitar in a polka band. Pretty soon, I ended up playing in all the bars within driving distance of Abbott, Tex.”

Abbott is the rural town in east–central Texas where Willie grew up dirt-poor during the Depression. By 6, he was writing songs and playing the guitar. Now 77, he’s still at it, touring on his fancy bus 200 days a year, playing to sold-out clubs and stadiums. This month, he and wife Annie, 50, will travel to Austin, Tex., for the annual Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic. The picnic is his Woodstock, with a hillbilly twang.

“I started it in 1973 to bring together different kinds of people, and that’s still what we do,” Willie says. It’s gotten bigger over the years, attracting rock bands, folk singers, rappers, and country stars who perform before as many as 20,000 music lovers of all ages, beliefs, and races. The event, just like the man himself, is a uniquely, magnificently American phenomenon. “It’s people drinking beer, smoking pot, and finding out that they have things in common and don’t really hate each other,” Willie says. “Music gives people a chance to enjoy something together.”
He sits with his elbows on the table, mellow and relaxed. He smiles a lot, and his deeply lined face is dominated by serene brown eyes. “A lot of country music is sad,” he notes softly. “I think most art comes out of poverty and hard times. It applies to music. Three chords and the truth—that’s what a country song is. There is a lot of heartache in the world.”

Willie has known his share of it. Three failed marriages, a son who committed suicide, troubles with the IRS, drug busts. “Anybody can be unhappy,” he says. “We can all be hurt. You don’t have to be poor to need something or somebody. Rednecks, hippies, misfits—we’re all the same. Gay or straight? So what? It doesn’t matter to me. We have to be concerned about other people, regardless.”
He is famously dedicated to helping others, giving away his own time and money, raising millions of dollars for small farmers and victims of natural disasters, war, and AIDS. Among his efforts are Farm Aid and the Willie Nelson Peace Research Institute. He is known as a soft touch. “I don’t like seeing anybody treated unfairly,” he says. “It sticks in my craw. I hold on to the values from my childhood.”
His was a tough and unpromising childhood. “I was 6 months old and my sister Bobbie was 3 years old when my parents divorced and gave us to my grandparents,” he recalls. (Bobbie, 79, his only sibling, plays piano in his band.) “I have no anger about my parents. They did us a favor. My grandparents were very reliable Christian people who gave us a good raising.”

At 2, Willie began going into the hot, unforgiving cotton fields with his grandmother. “I was too young to pick, so I’d ride on her sack,” he says. “She’d pull me on it, picking cotton, filling it up, making me a soft bed to ride on. The sack would start out empty, and before the morning was out, there would be 60, 70 pounds of cotton in it. Then, still just a little bitty kid, I got old enough to pull my own sack. As I got older, the sacks got bigger.”
When he was 6, his granddad died, and the family’s financial situation worsened. His grandmother took a job for $18 a week as a cook at the school cafeteria. “I worked there, too, carrying out the garbage to pay for me and Bobbie’s lunches.” Still, he recalls, “It wasn’t humiliating. Nobody else had anything to speak of in Abbott. I don’t remember ever going hungry.”

Willie was a good student and athlete, a popular kid, but he felt the pull of music and the tug of faraway places. “I saw Gene Autry and Roy Rogers movies every weekend,” he says. “They were my heroes. Riding my horse, shooting my gun, singing my songs, playing my guitar—that’s what I wanted to do.”

Following high school graduation, Willie joined the Air Force. The Korean War was on, and he was broke. “I joined because I knew that for four years, I wouldn’t starve to death,” he explains. “A lot of people joined up for that reason. I don’t think things have changed much in the world since.”
Willie served nine months before receiving a medical discharge due to back injuries. At 19, he married Martha Matthews, a beautiful 16-year-old. “I was always a sucker for long-black-haired women,” he admits. They quarreled, brawled, drank heavily, and had two daughters, Lana and Susie, and a son, Billy. Willie tried college but left after a year. He kept writing songs and playing music and also worked as a radio DJ, a door-to-door salesman, and a plumber. After 10 contentious years, his marriage collapsed.

In 1960, Willie went to Nashville and experienced his first big success—as a songwriter. He wrote “Crazy,” “Pretty Paper,” “Hello Walls,” and hundreds more, becoming one of America’s best composers of popular song. Overall, he has recorded over 300 albums that have sold more than 50 million copies and performed with the full range of the nation’s musical talent, from Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles, and Merle Haggard to Frank Sinatra, Bob Dyla-n, Dolly Parton, Norah Jones, and Snoop Dogg. His newest CD, Country Music, is hauntingly beautiful.
Willie married singer Shirley Collie in 1963, but the next year he began an affair with Connie Koepke, who was just two years out of high school. He and Collie divorced, and he wed Koepke in 1971. Their 16-year marriage produced daughters Amy and Paula and brought him and his family back to his home state. “I really felt like I needed to be in Texas,” he says, “playing to the people that were and still are my base.”
His fourth wife, Annie D’Angelo, entered his life as the make-up artist on the set of the 1986 film Stagecoach, co-starring Johnny Cash. (Willie has made 31 movies, few of them memorable.) He and Annie wed in 1991. Their marriage works, because, “well, I now understand a lot more than I did,” Willie says. “I’m not easy to live with. I’m pretty temperamental, you know. I’ve been used to doing things my own way for so long that I’m not interested in any suggestions. There was friction with my other wives. But it seems like Annie and I did okay with each other. It takes a special person to live with me.

“I’ve got great wives, great kids, great grandkids,” he boasts. “Both my sons, Micah and Lukas, are doing well.” (Jacob Micah, 20, and Lukas Autry, 21, are his children with Annie.) “Micah’s at college and has a band, The Reflectables. Lukas has a band, too, The Promise of Real.” Willie chuckles at those names. “Lukas has opened for Bob Dylan and B.B. King, so he’s doing really well.  He’s also opened for me a few times, and he will again.”
Beyond aging, the reason Willie offers for his being easier to live with is his cutting down on liquor while increasing his intake of cannabis. He is an outspoken proponent of marijuana and strongly opposes hard drugs like meth and cocaine.
“Legalize weed,” he declares. “It’s 50% of what’s causing the problems along the border with the drug cartels. A lot of people who sell it want to keep it illegal because that’s where the money is. The cartels are now in hundreds of our cities, growing and selling weed. Legalize it, and it would stop all that immediately.

“There are many bands that are not here anymore because of the drugs and alcohol,” he adds. “I know a lot of singers who have ruined their careers drinking and drugging.”

Willie and his family have also suffered through the devastating consequences of drug addiction. His son Billy hanged himself on Christmas Day, 1991, at 33. He had been in and out of rehab for substance abuse, and his death was the worst event of Willie’s life. I ask about Billy.
“Death is not the ending of anything,” Willie says quietly. “I believe all of us are only energy that becomes matter. When the matter goes away, the energy still exists. You can’t destroy it.It never dies. It manifests itself somewhere else.” He pauses. “We are never alone. Even by ourselves, we are not alone. Death is just a door opening to somewhere else. Someday we’ll know what that door opens to.”

Willie smiles at me, looking impossibly tranquil, even beatific. “I believe that,” he affirms. “I really do.”

Willie Nelson going strong (Interview, Esquire Magazine)

Saturday, October 21st, 2017

photo:  David McClister
by:  Jeff Slate

Willie Nelson may be 84, but he’s still going strong. He’s released a clutch of excellent albums this decade, including Heroes, which featured a superb version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” a fantastic tribute to his friend Ray Price, God’s Problem Child, from earlier this year, and his latest, Willie and the Boys: Willie’s Stash, Vol. 2, which teams him up again with family, this time his sons Lukas and Micah—and he keeps up a relentless touring schedule that would make any artist half his age blush.

 But with all the accomplishments in his long and storied career, at the moment Nelson seems most proud of Willie’s Reserve, his own line of legal cannabis products.

“It’s time has come,” he tells me, with great joy in his voice.

Long a proponent of marijuana use, Nelson is also blunt about why you should consider his brand over the competition. “I know what I’m talking about,” he says, with a chuckle. “Why wouldn’t you trust me that I know what’s good stuff? They say my stash is legendary for a reason.”

The country legend talked to about what keeps him active, how the music industry has changed (and how it hasn’t), and, of course, the stash he’s very proud of.

Willie and his sons tackle some classic country on the new album—including several tunes by Hank Williams—because he wants you to love those songs as much as he does.

I sort of compare this album to the old Stardust album that I did many years ago, where I did a lot of the old pop standards on there that people of your age, including the country audience, had never heard before. I enjoy the old standards, whether it’s Hank Williams or Hoagie Carmichael. I never get tired of those lyrics and the melodies. So I felt once people had heard the songs on Stardust they’d like them, and I kind of felt the same way about this album.

Like his days with the supergroup The Highwaymen, Willie says it’s the camaraderie and quality that keeps him going.

It’s amazing to have my kids on the stage with me. The fact that they are good, that helps a lot, too. [Laughs] But if I wasn’t good they’d kick me off! Though there might be a little fight! [Laughs] But me and the boys are very close now. We play golf together, we play music together, chess, we vacation together. We have a place over in Maui that we like to go and hang out at. We’re just a pretty close family. The fact that we play music together, it’s just double the pleasure.

A good song is a good song, even if it’s by Coldplay.

That is a good song. I thought it was funny that anybody thought that I could do a song called “The Scientist” to begin with! [Laughs] I felt like that was a stretch of somebody’s imagination. But when I heard the song I realized, “Hey, this is a good song.”

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Willie’s secret sauce? A great producer. Plus more than a dash of Willie Nelson.

It has a lot to do with the producer, the sound you get. Danny Lanois is great, and now I work with Buddy Cannon. They all bring something very different to the project. But ultimately it sounds like me, or I hope it does. But I do like to challenge myself, and I’m lucky to work with these guys. In fact, I’m getting ready to do a Sinatra tribute album with Buddy, and I also I want to do an album with Jerry Lee Lewis. So I’m looking forward to that. Jerry Lee? Yeah, he’s out there. Actually, I haven’t talked to him about doing the record yet—he hasn’t said yes or no—so we will have to wait and see. [Laughs]

Like his friend Bob Dylan, he’s planning an album of Frank Sinatra covers.

Frank Sinatra is my favorite singer, and always has been. For overall great singing, ain’t nobody can beat him. I read somewhere that I was his favorite singer, and we did a few shows together, and some commercials together, so he and I got to be good friends, but his singing always amazed me. So this is my way of honoring him and I’m looking forward to singing all the songs I heard him sing over the years. The song that epitomizes Frank to me that I’m planning to tackle? “My Way.” But Frank really owns that song, you know, so I’ll just sing it three times, and if it ain’t there, fuck it. I’ll move on. [Laughs]

Willie’s Reserve

The recent project he’s most proud of is Willie’s Reserve, from his legendary cannabis stash.

I have a lot of friends in Colorado, and my wife Annie had the recipe for the candy. There’s also some really talented and gals in California that I refer to as “The High Women” who are doing a great job doing everything that needs to be done to promote Willie’s Reserve. They know who to call to get the job done. But, yeah, a lot of people thought it was a good idea, so I just kind of sat back and burned one down and thought about what it could be.

Willie, not surprisingly, thinks the movement for legalization and the normalization of the use of marijuana in the general culture is a long time coming.

I think there are a lot of really right-wing old, white people out there who don’t really know what’s going on still. But once the kids grow up and get a chance to get into the voting booth, I think we’ll see a change like we have in the few states that have legalized it. That could be a long way off, but in the meantime I don’t think anybody’s ever had any problems buying weed if they wanted it—whether it was legal or not—so it’s a problem that one day may be solved, but right now it’s not solved at all. Actually, a lot of people throw it on stage, so it’s not that hard for me to get. [Laughs]

“A lot of people throw [marijuana] on stage, so it’s not that hard for me to get.”

As laid back as he is, the current state of politics concerns Willie Nelson as much as it does everyone else.

I think there’s a lot of things out there to be concerned about. So yeah, I’m concerned about it. And I’m hoping that more and more Americans will get concerned about it, because anytime you get even the hint that some foreign country might have anything to do with controlling our elections, well, that’s very disturbing to me, and I think it should be to every American out there. But when I get out on the stage I don’t bring in the politics. I don’t care if you’re a Baptist, a Methodist, a Muslim, or what the hell you are, as long as you like our music and you come to hear us, you won’t hear me say anything bad about anybody. But if you ask me my personal opinion, well, I’ll tell you what I think.

He also thinks Trump is over his head. And knows it.

I think he walked into a job that he had no idea of what he was getting himself into. I think about now he’s probably ready to back away and go home and forget it. I don’t know if he can do that or not now, but I have a feeling he’s beginning to realize that this is not the piece of cake he thought it was going to be.

Nelson and his sons, Micah and Lukas
Janis Tillerson

He’s as busy at 84 as he’s ever been—with a new album, a tour with his sons, a Sinatra covers album on the way and, of course, Willie’s Reserve—but Willie Nelson isn’t sweating what’s next. But he isn’t planning to retire, either.

I let other people worry about that stuff. If they come out with the T-shirt I like, I wear it. But other than that I don’t worry about the business all that much. There’s a lot of people out there that do think about those things, and that’s their job, and the way I see it I’ve got to let them do their job. But I do have to keep myself interested. That’s the big problem, because I have a tendency to roll over and go to sleep and forget about everything if given the choice. So I have to keep punching myself and making myself get up and go and book the tour and do the records, because I think that’s what keeps me going. I think as long as I can play I should play. I don’t think that I could just one day say, “This is it. I cannot play anymore.” I think if I did that I might as well lay down and die.

So one day maybe his sons will have to drag him off.

That’s possible! [Laughs]

Read article, see more photos here.   

Buddy Cannon interview on the Paul Leslie Hour

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017


Buddy Cannon is a large part of the equation when it comes to the success of several iconic country music recording artists.  He is the longtime producer for the bulk of Kenny Chesney’s discography and for the last 5 years he has been the producer of choice for country music legend Willie Nelson.  Other artists he has produced include George Jones, Chely Wright, Reba McEntire, and Merle Haggard.

Buddy Cannon has also been very successful as a songwriter.  With country artists Bill Anderson and Jamey Johnson, Buddy Cannon wrote the hit song “Give It Away.”  He’s written and co-written songs for artists as diverse as Vern Gosdin and Willie Nelson.

Although this interview covers many topics, it takes a close look at the acclaimed Willie Nelson album “Heroes,” which featured guest appearances by Merle Haggard, Lukas Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, Billy Joe Shaver, Sheryl Crow and Snoop Dogg.

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Willie Nelson Interview in Vanity Fair (August 20, 2009)

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

by:  Eric Spitznagel

Willie Nelson is one of those rare American icons that you’re just not allowed to dislike. He doesn’t have to be your favorite artist. You don’t even need to be able to name any of his songs—he’s got well over 2,000 of them, and off the top of my head I can only recall “On the Road Again”. But saying you don’t care for Willie Nelson is like saying that Elvis Presley was overrated, or that Abraham Lincoln gets too much press, or shrugging off the Bill of Rights as overrated claptrap. No, sorry, that’s just not okay. Loving Willie Nelson, like paying taxes and pretending to have an opinion about politics, is just part of being a citizen of the United States. Nobody’s asking you to memorize the lyrics to “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” or “Good Hearted Woman”, but if you happen to hear one of those songs on the radio and it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you’ve shamed yourself and your country. Why not just spit on the flag while you’re at all, ya fucking commie?

I called Willie Nelson to talk about his latest album, American Classic, a collection of standards (his third since 1978’s megahit Stardust) that comes out next Tuesday, August 25th. It took me almost a month to track down the 76-year-old singer—actually, if you include my entire history of trying and failing to interview Nelson, it’s been at least two years. “We just can’t find him,” his PR rep has repeatedly told me. Given Willie’s age and propensity for smoking immense amounts of cannabis, that’s actually pretty remarkable. One doesn’t usually encounter senior citizens who are quite so wily and elusive. But that’s why Willie Nelson is a legend.

Eric Spitznagel: During your almost 50-year career, you’ve dabbled in a diverse array of musical styles. You’ve done country, pop, gospel, rock, jazz, and even reggae. Is there a genre that you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole? Can we expect a Willie hip-hop record any time soon?

Willie Nelson: (Laughs.) Well, you know, I try to do what I think I can do. I’m not sure that doing a rap record would be the best idea I ever had. I like to stick with music I know I can play. I love classical, but I don’t think I could ever play it. I’m just not qualified.

You’ve never been tempted to pick up a French horn?

Oh, I’ve thought about it. But it never ends well. The only time I ever picked up a horn, nothing came out the other end. I was disappointed at the time, because I kinda thought I could play anything. But I guess that isn’t true.

You re-recorded “Always On My Mind” for American Classic, which was originally a huge hit for you in 1982. Is that what happens when you’ve been in the business this long? “Aw crap, I did that one in the 80s? Why didn’t anybody fucking tell me?!”

(Laughs.) That’s possible. In fact, I suggested to my producer that maybe I’d done that song enough. But Barbra Streisand had talked about maybe wanting to do “Always On My Mind” with me for the album, so that’s the reason we recorded it, just on the outside chance she’d do it. But then she wasn’t available, and we just had the version I did by myself. I honestly would’ve left it off the album, because I thought I already did a pretty good take on that twenty-seven years ago.

You also recorded “Baby it’s Cold Outside” with Norah Jones. I’m not sure how closely you’ve listened to the lyrics, but I’m pretty sure that song is about date rape.

Yeah. That’s what I liked about it. (Laughs.) It’s about this guy who’s finally found what he needs from this gal and he’s just going for it.

You’re kidding, right?

Oh, I don’t know. You think it’s about rape? I’ve been listening to that song for a long time and I never picked up on that. The song’s older than you and me put together, probably.

Those lyrics are kinda difficult to interpret any other way. When a song begins with a woman pleading “the answer is no” while trying to get out of a dude’s apartment, it seems pretty inevitable that their date ends with a police report.

(Laughs.) A lot depends on how you sing it. You could make any song sound creepy if you wanted. It’s all about the inflection. At least the lyrics aren’t too obvious.

I guess that’s true. It could be so much worse. (Sings.) “You’re hurting my arm/ Baby’s it’s cold outside.”

Yeah, yeah. That’s when you know something is really wrong. (sings.) “My leg’s turning blue/ Baby’s it cold outside.”

You’ve been touring with Bob Dylan this summer. What’s it like backstage? Is it all giggles and pillow fights?

Honestly, no, it’s not that exciting. I open the show, so I usually get to the stadium first. I go on at 6:10, play for about hour and then get out of the way so that John Mellencamp can come on. Then Bob Dylan finishes it up. By the time Bob goes onstage, I’m a couple hundred miles down the road.

So the two of you haven’t had a chance yet to sit down with a one-hitter and share war stories?

Nope, not yet. There’ll hopefully be time for that later. And I think it’ll take more than a one-hitter. (Laughs.)

How have you resisted walking over to Bob and ripping that god-awful mustache off his face?

Bob has a mustache? I didn’t notice.

It’s just horrible. It’s like a cross between Vincent Price and a 14-year-old boy trying to grow facial hair. I love the man’s music, but somebody has to shave that thing.

Well, I’ve never been one to carry around a razor. (Laughs.) So I think he’s safe with me.

You sold the rights to “Family Bible,” one of your first songs, for just $50 and it went on to become a gospel classic. In hindsight, do you feel cheated?

No, no, not at all. I needed the $50 real bad. If the same thing happened today and I needed $50, I’d sell another one.

Do you have any songs lying around that you’d be willing to sell to us for $50?

I’d have to see the money first.

You’re shockingly prolific. It seems like you’re releasing a new record every few months. In the time it’s taken to do this interview, have you composed another album worth of songs in your head?

(Laughs.) Yeah, I sure have. And I’ve already sent it to you. Check your email. I sent you mp3s of some rough cuts.

Wow. Thank you, Willie. And you’re not even going to charge us for this one?

Naw, that one’s for free. It’s not really my best work.

As a country music legend, can you do something to stop the mullet?

(Laughs.) I can try if you want, if you think it’s worthwhile. I’ll try to write a song that’ll make it happen.

Would you? Just rewrite “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” but make it about mullets.

(Laughs.) So it’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Grow Mullets?”

Hey, you’re the artist. I’m just trying to push you in the right direction.

I’ll see what I can do.

You did a song in 2006 called “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other,” in which you claimed that “Inside every cowboy there’s a lady who’d love to slip out.” Is your inner lady a redhead too?

Um. (Long pause.) I’m not sure I know exactly what you’re talking about.

I don’t think I could be any clearer. Does the female Willie Nelson have a fire crotch? Does the red-headed stranger have a red snatch patch?

Well c’mon, I gotta have some secrets. (Laughs.) I’ll tell ya, though, I don’t cross-dress a lot. And my voice is kinda lower than most, so I don’t think I could get away with that. I don’t have anything against anybody. I’m not prejudiced in any way that I can think of. That’s just not the guy I am.

You once claimed that marijuana is better than sex. You’ve either been having terrible sex or smoking some really, really, really incredible weed. Which is it?

I don’t think I ever said that marijuana is better than sex. If I did, I must’ve been really fucked up. But no, I don’t think I ever said that. Marijuana is a nice high, but that’s about all you can say about it.

You got stoned on the roof of the White House in 1978. Not that we’d ever try it, but if we happen to be in the White House and we happen to have a fat Austin torpedo on us, how do we get up to the roof?

(Laughs.) Oh god, it’s been too many years. It’s kinda hard to tell you on the phone. I’ll send you a map.

How’d you even find your way up there the first time? Did you just make a lucky guess?

The fella that I was with knew his way around, so I didn’t ask any questions. I just followed him.

Now that there’s a Democrat back in the White House, it’s probably safe to light up again. Have you gotten the call from Obama yet?

Not yet, but I’m expecting it any day. (Laughs.) Next time I see him, I’m gonna ask if there’s a new way up to the roof that I should know about.

You’ve got your very own flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. What’s the THC content on that?

It’s high. I’ll just say that. It’s very, very high. It’s the equivalent of eight pounds of Oaxacan.

Holy Christ.

Yeah, you need to be careful with this stuff. It’s a lot. One bowl at a time.

Bruce Robison wrote a song called “What Would Willie Do?” Given your history, don’t you think it’d make more sense to ask, “What Would Willie Not Do?”

I think so, yeah. (Laughs.)

Not everybody’s liver is as durable as yours.

It’s funny you said that. There was a guy who worked for me named Poodie Locke. He was my road manager for 35 years, and he died just a few weeks ago. I hated to lose him. There’s a picture on my ice box of Poodie I’m looking at it right now, and it says “What Would Poodie Do?” I crossed off “What Would” and wrote in “What Didn’t“. (Laughs.) But I guess that applies for me too, doesn’t it?

That’s an excellent question. What haven’t you done yet? Hand-gliding? Gator rasslin’? Hunting men for sport?

Well I don’t know. I’ve tried to do as much as I can, but every day has something new. That’s how I like it. I’m always surprised to find out that there’s still so much left to do. I may have to wait till tomorrow to see what it is, but I know there’s some things out there I haven’t done.

So you’re telling us you haven’t tasted the sweet nectar of human flesh?

(Laughs.) Can’t say that I have.

Despite your hard-living, you seem as healthy as ever. What’s your secret?

Well, here’s the thing. For a long, long time, I had to spend my days trying to recuperate and recover from all the bad stuff I did at night. I’d wake up in the morning and think, “Well, how much fun did I have last night?” Because I had to spend the entire day trying to make up for it. After awhile, I just got tired of it, and I just quit abusing myself so much at night. It made my days easier.

I’ve heard that you enjoy jogging. How did you discover that? And were you being chased at the time?

(Laughs.) You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But no, I’ve always been a big jogger. I like to run and ride my bike and swim. I’m also into martial arts. I’ve always been an athlete, ever since I was a boy. So it’s not unusual that I’m still doing it. Despite my reputation, I really do enjoy things that are good for me.

You recently earned a black belt in Taekwondo. Under what circumstance would Willie Nelson kick somebody’s ass?

Probably under no circumstances. A guy who really knows martial arts doesn’t have to kick anybody’s ass. He knows when to just get out of the way.

You have a reputation for carrying guns in public. Are you packing right now?

No, no, I don’t carry guns anymore. It’s not necessary. I don’t know if anybody else in my group does. There might be one or two guys, like some of the security guys, but I don’t know. I never really ask. But not me, I have no use for a gun anymore.

I find that vaguely depressing. The guy with the nickname “Shotgun Willie” doesn’t have an arsenal of firearms strapped to his hip? What about your guitar? Isn’t it named Trigger?

Well yeah, but Trigger was a horse. Trigger was Roy Rogers’s horse.

So your guitar can’t also be used as a weapon? I was hoping it was a James Bond kinda thing. If the audience starts getting mouthy, you could just mow ’em down.

(Laughs.) No, I’m afraid not. Trigger is just my horse. It’s not a weapon at all.

In the mid-60s, you briefly gave up music for pig farming. Do you still keep a few pigs around the house for inspiration?

Oh yes. You know there’s nothing prettier than a pig. Have you ever seen an ugly pig?

I can’t say that I have.

I guarantee you’ve never seen an ugly pig or an ugly bulldog. There’s just something about them that just turns me on. (Laughs.) I’ve got pigs all over the house.

Do you take your pigs on tour with you?

Absolutely. I’m always on tour, so I never get rid of them. I just keep pigs in the back of the tour bus. Have you ever heard of pigs in a blanket? Well, you ain’t ever seen nothing like these pigs. (Laughs.)

You wrote a book called The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes. What’s the dirtiest joke you’ve ever heard?

Hmm. (Long pause.) See, my idea of a really great dirty joke isn’t something you can share with everybody. You gotta watch yourself.

Come on, you can tell us. We won’t judge you.

Well, one of my favorites goes something like this…. A kid asks his mama, “How come you’re white and I’m black?” And she says, “Honey, from what I can remember of the party, you’re lucky you don’t bark.”

(Laughs.) Wow. That is good. But you’re right, probably not for everybody.

You gotta be careful. Not everybody can appreciate a funny goddamn joke.

In the 1979 comedy Electric Horseman, you said, “I’m gonna get myself a bottle of tequila and one of those Keno girls who can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch.” Thirty years later, are those still words to live by?

(Laughs.) Well, there are a few things these days that I don’t crave as much anymore. I can get along without Tequila. And it’s hard to find chrome trailer hitches these days.

(Long pause. We both burst into laughter.)

I think I hear what you’re saying. If given the chance, you wouldn’t turn down some private time with a Keno girl?

(Laughs.) Ooooh the Keno girls, I do love ’em. I’ll sing ’em a song