Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

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

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

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www.nytimes.com

by Alex Witchel
February 23, 1995

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was Syracuse? “It was cold.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like what?

“Like you name it,” he shoots back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be nice,” Mr. Nelson calls out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson Interview: New York Magazine (2010)

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

by Kevin O’Donnell
www.nymag.com

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a studio in your home?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your current weed-smoking habit like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mickey Raphael Interview, by Joe Nick Patoski

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Coach Don Nelson talks about Willie Nelson, Hawaii and marijuana

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

www.nytimes.com
by:  Alex Williams

Read entire article here.

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty good chess player, though.                               

Oh, very good. Play you fast or slow.

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

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

Have you been into cannabis for long?

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

He would do it.

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

How do you like cannabis compared to alcohol?

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

On your farm, do you grow cannabis for dispensaries?

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

How is the quality?

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

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

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

countrymusic

www.cmt.com

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

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

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

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

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

What was the criteria for this album?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything new to report about your constant touring?

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

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

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

Willie Nelson with John Fugelsang today

Friday, April 20th, 2018

“Trippy Troubadour” — micah nelson

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

photo:  Janis Tillerson

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Andy Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson interview

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

“Always Look for Hope” — Willie Nelson

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Willie Nelson

www.telegraph.co.uk
by: Martin Chilton

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson Credit: Rex Features 

Willie Nelson’s 20 best songs

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

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

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

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

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

w.”

 

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

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

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

Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson Credit: Rex Features

 

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

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

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

 

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

Friday, March 2nd, 2018


Mickey Raphael. Photo by Jack Spencer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Willie Nelson interview with Paul Leslie

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Willie Nelson New York Times interview (Feb. 23, 1995)

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

Image result for new york times willie nelson

www.nytimes.com

by Alex Witchel
February 23, 1995

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

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

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

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

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

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

How was Syracuse? “It was cold.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like what?

“Like you name it,” he shoots back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be nice,” Mr. Nelson calls out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson: 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

roundup

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!

(more…)

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

Monday, January 15th, 2018

photo:  Laura Farr

www.ew.com
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?