Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Willie Nelson and the Austin Music Scene

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Texas Monthly
November 1973
by Don Roth and Jan Reid

[This is the second part of this article.  I typed the first part and you can read it at part one ]

Several bigger, more financially secure performers stand on the periphery of the Austin music.  Doug Sahm, the bluesey voice of old Sir Douglas Quintet who resurfaced recently with country trappings and the aid of some superstar sidemen on a critically-praised album, drifts in and out of Austin, as does Kinky Friedman, a good country rocker with an unfortunate knack of offending people. Marc Benno of Leon Russell’s Asylum Hoir fame has also moved in, and rumors float by, a dime a dozen, about more big-name immigrants.  However, none of the big names has had much influence on Austin music as yet, with the exception of one.

A 37-year-old small-town Texan, Willie Nelson has a smile that would make Buddah nervous.  It spreads across a face that bear  lines of age and experience but still contains the warmth that makes Nelson so impressive onstage.  For a couple of decades the Nashville music business kept Nelson writing when he wasn’t on the road pursuing an on-again, off-again career as a singing star, but in 1971 he decided his career could weather a move to Austin.   He still plays the country bars and hangs out with Darrell Royal. But suddenly there’s a new, infrequently barbered Willie Nelson with a seasonal beard, drinking beer in the Armadillo beer garden and performing at McGovern rallies.

At a time when city-slickers envy country roots, this metamorphosis boosted Nelson’s career rather than hurt it.  Atlantic signed Nelson earlier this year, promoting his Shotgun Willie album with a double-barrelled photo of the man in his most hirsute hippie splendor.  They’ve switched his arrangements from Ray Price to Ray Charles — the result:  a revitalized music.  He’s the same ole Willie, but veteran producer Jerry Wexler finally captured on wax the energy Nelson projects in person.  Nelson plays Max’s Kansas City while in New York, and aVillage Voice critic calls him the “best country artist in the land.”  Willie Nelson is Austin’s first nationally-certified, Billboard-proclaimed superstar.  this time, it seems, the prodigal son brought the fatted calf home with him.

If anyone is qualified to serve as high priest of Austin’s movement toward the big time, it’s the grinning, gentle rebel who made the music industry come to him on his own terms yet somehow remained the almost universally admired nice guy and artist.  Willie Nelson has thus become a symbolic figure, the one man whose approach to life and music makes sense of Austin’s curious mix of freaks and rednecks, trepidation and ambition, naivete and striving professionalism.  And where symbolic heroes move, cults often follow.

But in the music business reputations are gauged in dollars and cents.  In March 1972, with their eyes on Nashville, several Texans staged a country music festival on a ranch west of Austin. Poor promotion made that event a financial disaster, but the few who attended enjoyed themselves immensely. A year later, the site near Dripping Springs was still available, and Nelson and a group of his more business-oriented friends decided to try it again on a manageable, one-day basis, running it professionally, charging reasonable prices, lining up the best of the new country breed — Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, John Prine — along with good local performers,  Just to keep things symbolic, Willie’s drummer Paul would get married onstage as the sun sank into the blue Texas hills.  Business and pleasure combined.

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Nelson hired Eddie Wilson’s Armadillos to promote the event.  Wilson had his doubts, predicting “either a big success or a big mess,” but as this festival neared it became apparent Nelson had guessed right:  Texas were primed for the honky tonk of their lives.  Word got around that Bob Dylan and Leon Russell were on their way.  Some attribute the rumor to Doug Sahm, who did not show.  Bob Dylan did not show.  Leon Russell did show, after a fashion:  he spent the day sampling various labels of beer, grinning a lot, emceeing a little, and warding off starstruck grupies and journalists.

 

img780 by you.

A beautiful Fourth of July dawn found Nelson onstage along with a blinking, grey bearded drummer named Leon.  But by noon the Texas sun turned into a persistent bitch, torturing 30,000 incoming automobile travellers logjammed on two converted cow paths.  Braver souls started hitching, walking, and cursing in hopes of hurrying things along.  Hikers and drivers arrived anywhere from one to three hours after hitting the traffic jam –and all arrived thickly coated with white caliche dust from the un-oiled roads.

The crowd sprawled out of the natural canyon which faced the bandstand onto barely more shaded hillsides.  They stood in long lines before moveable privies, waited for ice that never arrived.  The organizers neglected health provisions too, and Austin Free Clinic personnel coped unthanked with everything from wine prostration to heat exhaustion.

Meanwhile, everybody backstage had a pretty good time for a while.  The best picking of the day reportedly went on inside the air-conditioned mobile homes of the privileged.  But minute by minute, the backstage compound got uglier.  A shouting, shoving brawl erupted between the music industry’s two most obnoxious elements:  the flunkies and the hangers-on.

The long-haired security guards, lacking a foreman, were soon power-ripping, casually shoving females into the dirt.  And both in the compound and onstage, hangers on resisted pleas to vacate by the sheer force of their numbers.

Security hands finally cleared most of the stage during Charlie Rich’s set, and with the sun getting lower and the day cooling off, things began to look better.  And at last, as Kristofferson prepared to play, the sun went down.

Showco Productions of Dallas had contracted to provide the lighting, but it was a bad day for everyone.  When a UPI cameraman protested that the stages lights were insufficient for filming, a Showco employee yelled, "In one minute I’m going to knock your eyes out with two super troopers."  In one minute the lighting imporived all right, but when a Kristofferosn protege fed two strong bas notes through the amplifiers, every transformer in that part of Hays County blew, and Willie’s Picnic plunged into total darkness.

hangers-on began to lurk like hyenas back onstage.  WHen somebody finally produced a gasoline generator, an emcee pleaded for patience and a drunk deputy sheriff suggested that everybody get naked.  As a large portion of hte audience groped toward the parking lot somebody thought of plugginginto a Winnebag, and the show, not so loud and much dimmer, got underway again.  Tom T. Hall broke a guitar string, and folloiwng th elead of his WOodstock predeccors, threw his $300 instrument to the crowd.  A fistfight ensued.  One artist or another played until 2:30 in the morning, and dwan found a panorama of garbage that would have filled Armadillo World Headquarters wall to wall, floor to ceiling.  Nobody had thought to retain a refuse collector either.  The adolescent Austin music industry had reached for maturity and fallen flat on its face.

Adolescent debacles are rarely fatal and usually instructional.  The day after the Dripping Springs show Eddie WIlson slammed his fist against a wall in anguish and humiliation, but he was already formulating thoughts on how to do it next time.  He is no stranger to learnnin f rom experience.  Skeptical observers pointed otu that music industry professionals from New York, Nashville, and L.A. could have run the picnic more efficiently, but Wilson doesn’t want the pros around.  He knows that with them will come the industry’smajor pppllutant:  carpetbaggers. Already he has seen all kinds of hustlers floathing through, looking for a  shuck and a jive.

Wilson and his music business colleagues stress that any Austin music boom must remain localised.  The creation of a music center in Austin woudl bring millions of dollars into the local economy, millions that would wind up in the pockets of Austin musicians, technicians, artists and publicists strugging to get by now.  Even the environment would benefit.  According to Wilson the music industry, unlike others that a growing Austin might attract,  doesn’t pollute and it doesn’t get in the way visually; about 50 million dollars could be put into the Austin music business and remain invisible.  The stage has been set very nicely, so why not continue?  thus the music businessmen proceed, caution thrown to the winds.

Within a week after Dripping Springs, Eddie Wilson returned to the Armadillo’s stage to emcee Texas’ first locallly conceived, locally produced rock simulcast, speaking emotionally  about the unique character and sparkling future of of Austin’s music scene.  As Wilson said, longhairs and goa ropers can co-exist at the Armadillo; but they also shot each other the finger at Dripping Springs.  As Wilson said, Nashville is watching what’s happening in Austin; but the music business wears chameleon colors, and the country-rock; boom may soon go the way of sitars and moogs.  Hope springs eternal, but Billboard rules the air waves.

The rock & roll musician has replaced the cinematic actor as America’s number-one star.  He is at the mercy of a mass-marketed culture which forces him to think like a businessman and throws him into the clutches of a possessive but fickle audience.  The performers who forced Austin music to relax came to the hill country to save themselves and thier art form such a culture.  If Austin becomes the sort of music scene America has known previously, then will haae to compromises some of their integrity or pull up the stakes  again.

In late June, Mike Mrupheytook his shirt off and entertained another of those fine Armadillo crowds. At night’s end Murphey was beaming at the frantic crowd milling beneath him, and he left with the words, “I don’t knowhow long this can last, but I’m with you as long as it does.”   We don’t know either.  We hope Austin’s laid-bac pickers can hold their unique fort, but that may be like wishing the boys of the Alamo luck against Santa Anna’s dusty legions.

Willie, Waylon, Merle: Country Outlaws (Country Weekly) (4/21/14)

Friday, April 11th, 2014

countryoutlaw
www.countryweekly.com

he original “Outlaws” of country music, including Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, are still wielding a powerful influence on today’s music.

This special cover section looks back at the Outlaw movement of the 1970s and the current acts who are boldly carrying on the tradition.

Artists profiled include Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves and Gary Allan.

Also in this issue:

  • George Strait: his final Nashville show
  • Jason Aldean, Keith Urban and others highlight Houston Rodeo
  • The Grand Ole Opry House celebrates a birthday
  • NASH Magazine 16-page bonus insert!
  • Plus more!

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

texmo

And then there was Willie Nelson

Monday, April 7th, 2014

esquire

Willie Nelson, for John Varvatos, in Esquire Magazine

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Willie Nelson @SXSW

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

jayblakesberg
photo:  Jay Blakesberg
www.countryweekly.com
by: Joseph Hudak

Seeing Willie Nelson perform in Texas is like a country music fan’s pilgrimage to Mecca. But seeing the Red Headed Stranger perform on his own property in Texas is even more of a religious experience.

Last night, as part of the South by Southwest Music Festival, Willie wowed an invitation-only crowd with a special “surprise” performance at his Luck, Texas, Ranch, about 40 minutes outside of Austin. Billed as the Heartbreaker Banquet, the event featured a diverse roster of music acts during the afternoon, including foot-stomping folkies the Felice Brothers, Americana darlings Shovels & Rope, Nashville chanteuse Nikki Lane and Country Weekly On the Edge act Hurray for the Riff Raff.

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photo:  Jay Blakesberg

Willie’s sons Lukas Nelson and Micah Nelson also performed with their bands, the Promise of the Real and Insects vs. Robots, respectively.

All of the artists were exceptional and drew cheers from the dusty crowd, but the true “chills moment” came when Willie took the stage at 10 p.m. Bundled against the clear Texas sky cold in a hooded jacket and baseball hat, Willie and his Family Band opened with requisite “Whiskey River,” drawing whoops with its familiar opening chords.

 

Willie’s underrated anthem “Still Is Still Moving to Me” followed, along with tributes to Waylon Jennings in “Good Hearted Woman” and Hank Williams with “Hey Good Lookin’.” The emotional highlight, however, came during an interpretation of the bluesy “Texas Flood,” with Lukas Nelson singing and playing lead and Micah Nelson on a simple snare drum, both of them trading looks and smiles with their legendary father.

With the moon high in the sky, Willie wrapped up the set with “I’ll Fly Away” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” drawing other artists—including fellow Texas outlaw Billy Joe Shaver—onto the stage for one last singalong.

Willie is set to perform again Saturday night with Keith Urban during the iTunes Festival at SXSW. Most amazingly? He turns 81 next month.

Look for more on Willie, Keith and other artists at SXSW in an upcoming issue of Country Weekly.

Jayblakesberg2

Willie Nelson is the performer’s performer

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Willie Nelson is the performer’s performer.  He is the type of talent who turns out hit after hit with plenty to go around — for instance — Faron Young’s “Hello Walls”.

And then the young tunesmith can build a barrage of block-busters for himself – like “Half a Man” and “Touch Me”.  And it may not be five mintues before he comes up with more like these.

Willie is a personable young fellow, somewhat on the shy side for the success he has attained.  He lives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.  He is a frequent guest on Dallas’ Big D Jamboree.

Everything he does is considered as big news music wise, such being the credit accorded his tune talent.  He’s a fine looking male and certainly poses as one of the biggest talents in the western music industry.

[This is from the program for the Grand Ole Opry Show, Dallas, Texas, 8/31/63]

At 66, Willie Nelson Still on the Road (Stomp and Stammer) (April 1999)

Monday, February 24th, 2014

At 66, Willie Nelson is Still on the Road, and Headed for Another Joint

by Bob Townsend
April 1999

After the Yesterday’s Wine album came out a friend of mine got a call from a hippie fan in San Francisco who said, “I’m worried about Willie. He thinks he’s Jesus.”

I got a kick out of that. Just last year, one of those supermarket newspapers had a full page story about the face of Jesus suddenly appearing on the outside wall of a grocery store in South America after a dramatic rainstorm. Hundreds of people came to pray to the image of Jesus, and some of the sick went away cured. A few days later, following another thunderstorm, a new figure appeared on the wall beside Jesus. It was Julio Iglesias.

What happened, the rain had washed off the coat of whitewash that had covered a poster for “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

The supermarket headline said: THAT’S NOT JESUS – IT’S JUST OLD WILLIE

– Willie Nelson
An Autobiography

It’s hard to say much about Willie Nelson without reverting to hyperbole, let alone spiritual metaphor. But the man is a cultural icon like few others — fiercely capable of maintaining his artistic integrity while somehow being all things to all people.

An idol beloved by bikers and hemp smokers, old ladies and babies and almost everyone in between, Willie has done time in Nashville and Hollywood, recorded over 200 albums and, in a career that has spanned nearly 40 years, appeared in the guise of country-politan songsmith, redneck outlaw, rural folk hero, canny interpreter of sappy standards, savior of the family farmer, and David fighting the IRS Goliath.

An ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic wrote in the liner notes to the recent weirdo tribute Twisted Willie, he is the rare figure who ‘transcends genre and generation.” But unlike many big stars, his larger-than-life persona exudse a mellow, comforting quality. Willie is the wide-eyed, pothead rascal in red pigtails, T-shirt and running shoes, who seems to hold some cabalistic clue to the meaning of the universe.

“He has this presence that radiates out of him – an aura.” Emmylou Harris has said, “You can feel it even when he’s not in the room. If you want to understand what I’m taliking aobut, go to one of his concerts. People act like they’re in church, as if he fills a spirtual void for them.”

That commingling of the everyday and the ethereal even translates over the telephone wire. Calling from a stop in Albuquerque one afternoon, Nelson’s sonorous baritone fills the receiver like a familiar refrain. “This is Willie,” he says. And so it is.

Nelson is on the road again. But isn’t he always on the road, if only in his mind? Through he turns 66 this month – an age when most of his associates have retired, or set up shop in Branson — Willie is touring behind one of the most adventurous recordings of his career.

Teatro harks back to the turbulent early ’60?s, when Nelson sojourned in the wilderness of Nashville as a short-haired Music Row songwriter. That’s when he penned such jazz-bent masterpieces as “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Hello Walls” and “Crazy” — songs that forever changed the sound of country music, and gained Nelson his first measure of success. But it was also a period when his personal life was disintegrating along with his first marriage.

With the help of producers Daniel Lanois and fellow traveler Emmylou Harrris, Nelson recalled those days in radical fashion on Teatro.Recording in a converted Mexican movie theater, Lanois delivered the kind of cinematic energy he made famous in his work with U2, the Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan and lately, Harris herself. But Nelson didn’t allow Lanois to go too far over the top, as he turned in one of his most battered and beautiful performances since the early ’70s, when he made Phases and Stages in Miracle Shoals with Jerry Wexler.

Nelson, who entrusted Lanois with nearly complete control of theTeatro sessions, is magnamimous in his praise for the shifting sonic textrues he conjured on the disc. “I felt like I was lucky to get him” he says. “I left it up to him, more or less, because his idea was to take the song, and the voice and the guitar and then build around it and enhance it. I was interested to see what he would do, so I let him have a free hand.”

Interestingly, Nelson says he even allowed Lanois to pick the songs for the album. “We started out with 100 songs, picked 20 of those, and then ten of those to record . I turned in new songs and old songs together. And I felt like maybe all the new songs would get reocrded, but I was going to let Daniel choose the ones he liked. He listened to the old ones and the new ones not knowing which was which, and he picked the songs that are on the album/ I left it enterely up to him.”

But there was one tune Nelson thought twice about: “The one where I choke the girl.” He says he thought the jealous murder ballad, “I Just Can’t Let You Say Good-Bye” was a tad too dark — even for an album that features, “I Never cared for you,” “I Just Destroyed the World” and “Darkness On the Face of the Earth,” in its exhibition of lovesick devastation. “I probably wouldn’t have put it in. But he liked it so well. I even argued with him. I said, ‘No. You don’t want to put that goddammed song in there.”

Of course, listeners who’ve only heard Willie crooning with Julio or pickin’ with Waylon may be surprised by how much he risks onTeatro. But longtime fans have seen Nelson through all manner of changes. And as his continuing spate of concept albums (he recorded his first, Yesterday’s Wine, in 1971), duet projects and musical tributes prove, he clearly likes shaking things up from time to time. “Maybe that’s what I do best,” he allows.

Nelson laughs easily when reminded of the grocery store Jesus story. “Pretty weird,” he says. But when it comes to accounting for all the fame, fortune and awards — such as being named a Kennedy Center honoree, and squeezing into a tux to stand alongside the likes of Bill Cosby and Shirley Temple Black — Willie cops the perfect Zen bastard blend of antic, irony and wistful awe.

“I guess I think, “Fooled ‘em again,’” he says. “Dazzled ‘em with fancy footwork.’ But I do, I wonder about it occasionally — how it all happened, and how it all got to where it is — until I just give up wondering about it.”

When he was born in 1933, in the town of Abbott, in the midst of the Great Depression, it would have been pretty hard to predict that Willie Hugh Nelson would amount to anything. It would have been nigh on impossible to foresee Red Headed Stranger, let alone The Electric Horseman, or Wag the Dog.

“I was doomed to go to hell by the time I was 7,” Willie recently told an Entertainment Weekly writer. “Because I had been told that if you smoke cigarettes and drink beer your’re going to hell. And by 7, I was gone.”

Willie found salvation in poetry and music: “I started writing poems when I was about 5. And when I learned to play guitar I was about 6, so I started putting melodies to the poems.” And he began embracing the whole wide world of sounds that emanated from the fields and churches of Abbott, and the air waves beyond.

“I listened to the radio a lot when I was growing up. I listened to all the stations, from jazz, to blues, to boogie woogie, to country to WSLM in Nashville — and we listened to WLS in Chicago, and we’d catch a station out of New Orleans — so I just listened to everything.”

As to his distinction Django Reinhardt meets Bob Wills style of guitar playing, Wilie has a rather surprising explanation: “I’ve always felt that I was about half Mexican. And I may be, because I really love the Spanish flavors, and Mexican mariachi, and gypsy type music. I was just born and raised around that kind of music and I love it. So I guess that’s why you hear a lot of that in my music, because that’s part of me.”

One thing that hasn’t changed much over the years is the way he goes about writing a song, “I guess it’s always been the same,” he ways. “I get an idea and I write it. But I have to have an idea to start with. The melodies aren’t that hard, once you get the lyrics.”

Nelson says his early years as a songwriter, which Teatro reveals in stark relief, were a kind of excruciating conundrum. “Nashvile was easy, really, because everything was formula. If you wanted to write commercial stuff and you were a professional writer, it wouldn’t be a problem to do it. I just wanted to write what I felt like saying. And then, if at the same time I could imagine someone singing that song, then I would write it with a melody, or a rhythm that I felt like that one perosn might be comfortable with.”

“For instance I wanted to hear Billy Walker do “Funny How Time Slips Away’ and I wanted to hear Faron young do “Hellow Walls’ and wanted to hear Ray Price do ‘Night Life’ – so I just had these little ideas of what I wanted to hear, and I would try to work in that direction.”

Confronted with the standard show biz query as to if there’s anyone he hasn’t worked with that he’d like to, Nelson pauses to think about it for a moment. “I would be sort of greedy and selfish if I said, “Oh I’d like to do this, and this, and this and this,” he says. “Because I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of things with a lot of great people. I’ve sung with B.B. King and Hank Williams and Ray Price and Faron Young and Lefty Frizell and Julio. What else could I want?  I jokingly said the other day that I think Barbra Streisand and I ought to do something together. But after I think about it awhile, maybe we could.  Like ‘A Star is Buried.’”

The Family, Willie’s legendary road band, is another thing that has remained fairly constant over time. His sister, Bobbie Nelson, can still be found on keyboards, offering an emotional and musical continuity that goes back to Abbott, where she and Willie learned to play through mail order courses taught to them by their grandparents. And then there’s long time sidekicks, harmonica player Mickey Raphael and drummer Paul English.

“We’re more acoustic than we used to be,” Nelson offers. “The instrumentation is a little different. The bass player now is playing acoustic bass. Paul is playing just the snare. So we’ve reduced the loudness of the rhythms – it’s a little more subtle.  And I like that because it makes everything stand out a little better.”

Willie says the current show runs the gamut from old favorites such as “Whiskey River” to several songs form Teatro and even a set from the jazz flavored instrumental album Night and Day that’s due out in July.

Asked if the new acoustic bent to his live performances is a sing he’s finally slowing down, Nelson says simply, “Mother Nature has a way of doing that to you. But, he quickly adds, life’s too good, and he’s having way too much fun to ever consider retirement.

“I guess the best part of it is that I’m still here. Still out here having a good time playing music and hanging out with my friends and family and fans — hey, let me put a melody to that and I’ll call you back. But, seriously, that’s it. I just enjoy what I do. I don’t know why I’m still here. A lot of my friends are gone. And a lot of the guys that are my age decided long ago that they didn’t want no more of this stuff. But I’m lucky. I’m healthy and I enjoy what I’m doing. People ask, ‘Why are you still doing this? And I say, ‘All I do is play golf and music.’ And don’t wanna quit either one of them. I don’t really wanna quit nothin’”

“Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?”, by Willie Nelson

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

I was at a concert this weekend in California to raise money for the National Veterans Foundation. I’m an Air Force veteran, and I have great respect for the military. I like to support the soldiers whenever I can. But I don’t support this war in Iraq.

I was against the war before it started. I always thought it was a terrible decision, badly thought out, badly planned, and then horribly executed.

I want to see our troops come home right away, and so do most Americans. Unfortunately, too many politicians in both parties refuse to listen.

So when will the troops come home? When we won’t put up with it anymore–when we change our government. And how will we do that? By voting the bastards out! On November 7th, you should vote for anyone who’s against the war and vote against anyone who’s for the war. It’s that simple.

When I wrote the song “Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth” (LYRICS) at Christmastime in 2003, a lot of people were for the war, a lot of people didn’t know the facts or the truth. But people are waking up now. They’re learning that they were lied to about the war. They’re feeling lied to about this Mark Foley scandal in terms of who knew what and when. They’re questioning the leadership in this country.

And that gives us new possibilities for November 7th. If we all go out and vote for peace candidates and get our friends to vote, and if our votes are really counted, it’s no contest. There’ll be a change in the Congress, and then we’ll just have to keep building so we can get a president who won’t send our soldiers to fight a war based on lies.

We should have thrown the bastards out years ago. Let’s do it now! Give Peace A VOTE!

Willie Nelson

x

Congressman Dennis Kucinich with Willie Nelson. Come and visit www.kucinich.us Video done by Chad Ely.    Willie sang this song at a fundraiser for Dennis Kucinich in Austin, Texas, in January 2004.

Willie wrote this song on Christmas, 2003, and performed it for the first time at the Kucinich for President fundraising concert in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 3, 2004.

There’s so many things going on in the world
Babies dying
Mothers crying
How much oil is one human life worth
And what ever happened to peace on earth
We believe everything that they tell us
They’re gonna’ kill us
So we gotta’ kill them first
But I remember a commandment
Thou shall not kill
How much is that soldier’s life worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth
(Bridge)
And the bewildered herd is still believing
Everything we’ve been told from our birth
Hell they won’t lie to me
Not on my own damn TV
But how much is a liar’s word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

So I guess it’s just
Do unto others before they do it to you
Let’s just kill em’ all and let God sort em’ out
Is this what God wants us to do

(Repeat Bridge)
And the bewildered herd is still believing
Everything we’ve been told from our birth
Hell they won’t lie to me
Not on my own damn TV
But how much is a liar’s word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

Now you probably won’t hear this on your radio
Probably not on your local TV
But if there’s a time, and if you’re ever so inclined
You can always hear it from me
How much is one picker’s word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

But don’t confuse caring for weakness
You can’t put that label on me
The truth is my weapon of mass protection
And I believe truth sets you free

(Bridge)
And the bewildered herd is still believing
Everything we’ve been told from our birth
Hell they won’t lie to me
Not on my own damn TV
But how much is a liar’s word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

Willie Nelson: Mr. Record Man (Houston Press) (4/24/13)

Friday, February 21st, 2014

houston

William Michael Smith won awards for “Best Print Article 2013) for his article.
One of Our Own Wins VMG Music Writing Award

Mr. Record Man
The Houston Press
by: William Michael Smith
April 24, 2013

WILLIE NELSON was dead broke.

The American music icon, who turns 80 years old on April 30, was once just another starving musician looking for his next gig. In early 1959, he was 26 years old and waiting for Larry Butler, who’d had some records do well on Houston radio and was an established name in Gulf Coast music circles, to finish an afternoon band rehearsal at the popular Esquire Ballroom on Hempstead Highway.

According to Joe Nick Patoski’s exhaustive 2008 biography Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, Nelson was freshly arrived in Houston, then known as the murder capital of the entire nation, and had decided the bustling port city was the right one to further advance his own career. He had recently left the hard-knuckle honky-tonks of Fort Worth and had already networked enough to catch the attention of D Records, the most important country-music label in Houston, if not the entire region.

Nelson had signed a fresh contract with Houston music mogul George “Pappy” Daily ­before leaving Fort Worth that identified him as a D Records recording artist and a Glad Music songwriter. Daily had orchestrated East Texas hillbilly George Jones’s rocket ride to country-music stardom in 1957 with the release of “Why Baby Why” and, like others, Nelson figured Daily could do the same for him. This was an iffy deal at best, but it was as close to a solid future in the music business as Nelson had ever come.

Nelson’s goal from the beginning had been to become a songwriter and performing star, but back at the Esquire Ballroom, he was thirsty. Butler asked him if he wanted anything, and ­Nelson asked for a Coke and a pack of cigarettes. Butler had the waitress put them on his tab.

Johnny Bush, the author of “Whiskey River,” the song Nelson has used to open every show for four decades now, recalls driving from San Antonio to see Nelson at a gig in Waco.

“He told me he was moving to Houston,” Bush chuckles. “I was born in Houston and I know Houston. I’d just moved back to San Antonio, and I told Willie there was nothing happening down there. But he went anyway.”

Right there on the spot, Nelson set up a small reel-to-reel tape machine and played Butler a few demos, a term for usually rough, raw recordings of songs generally not meant for public consumption. The songs were “Family Bible,” “Mr. Record Man,” “Crazy” and “Night Life,” and Nelson’s asking price was $10 per song.

“I told him I wasn’t going to buy them; they were too good to just give away like that,” says Butler today from his home in Conroe, where he and wife Pat settled after leaving Houston. “And Willie, always the smooth-talking salesman, just smiled and said, ‘Well, I need the money right now and I can always write more songs’.”

Willie Nelson wasn’t always the Red Headed Stranger, king of outlaw country or a multi­platinum-selling national treasure. But his short-lived tenure in Houston in 1959 and into 1960, which lasted maybe 18 months, was one of the most important developmental milestones in what would become an enormous career.

Born near Waco in 1933, Nelson bounced around his early career like a pinball, working gigs as a sideman, radio personality, gas-station attendant, even Bible salesman. Whatever he did, he was always a dollar short, bill collectors on his trail. Not only did the future biodiesel advocate and marijuana-reform icon try Waco (1952), San Antonio and Pleasanton (1954), and Fort Worth (1955; again in 1958) for steady work, he even forayed as far north as Portland, Oregon  (1956), and Vancouver, Washington (1957), where he had a DJ gig as “Wee Willie Nelson.”

But when Nelson got to Houston, Butler says, he instantly recognized the slightly younger man was a gifted songwriter. Of the songs Nelson offered him at the Esquire Ballroom, he says, “I didn’t have any reason to take advantage of him just because he was having a tough time.”

These weren’t just any old run-of-the-mill two-steppers Butler was letting slip by, either. “Crazy” would go on to be the top-selling jukebox song of all time, and “Night Life” would be recorded by countless artists in several genres, particularly blues. “Family Bible” and “Mr. Record Man” would also figure large in Nelson’s catalog as time progressed.

So instead of grabbing his songs for a pittance, Butler loaned Nelson $50 and gave him a job in his band, marking the beginning of a lifelong friendship. When club owner Raymond Proske balked at paying another musician — union scale in those days was $15 a night for band members, $25 for the leader — Butler offered to split his pay with Nelson, who started that very night.

Shortly after joining Butler’s Sunset Playboys, in which the charismatic young hustler was given the chance to perform a few of his own songs in the set and close the show with “The Party’s Over,” Nelson also landed a radio gig at Pasadena country station KRCT (650 AM). The pay was terrible, but he could use the air time to promote shows for Butler and other friends. With his radio job in hand, relates Patoski, popular local acts like Smilin’ Jerry Jericho would use Nelson as lead guitarist and pay him $25 per night in exchange for some radio push. Before long, he was on his feet enough to bring wife Martha and three children down from Waco to a tiny apartment in Pasadena.

Sleepy LaBeef, another musical transplant who was part of Pappy Daily’s talent roster and would eventually be inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, once lived in the same Pasadena neighborhood as Nelson, just blocks from the intersection of Southmore and Richey Road. He recalls falling in with Nelson and cutting several demos of Nelson’s compositions at his home.

“Willie’d come over with that little recorder of his — he took that thing everywhere — and we’d get set up in my living room,” LaBeef recalls from his home in Springdale, Arkansas. “I’d play upright bass and Willie would play acoustic guitar. I’ve got an old tape he left here somewhere of four brand-new tunes we laid down one night, and none of them have ever been recorded as far as I know.”

Frequently asked why he hasn’t cut one of the songs, the 77-year old LaBeef explains, “Willie was a good friend and I don’t want to be one of those people trying to make money off his back. If I ever locate those tapes again, I think I’ll just give ‘em to Willie.”

Working on the west side and living on the east side, Nelson spent a lot of time in his car. The long drives across Houston allowed him time "to turn private thoughts into poetry." Here are 11 significant points on the map of his Houston history. (Click to enlarge)

Working on the west side and living on the east side, Nelson spent a lot of time in his car. The long drives across Houston allowed him time “to turn private thoughts into poetry.” Here are 11 significant points on the map of his Houston history.
“The one I really liked that’s stuck with me all these years was called ‘The Eleven-Oh-Three,’ he continues. “It went, ‘I’m catching the train at 11:03, that’s the last you’ll ever see of me.’ I always wondered why Willie never recorded it.

“Heck, I still might,” adds LaBeef. “But I’d call Willie first and make sure it’s okay with him.”

Nelson and virtuoso instrumentalist Paul Buskirk had become close friends when both lived in Fort Worth. A lightning-fast picker, Buskirk had spent time on the Grand Ole Opry and earned his bones playing with outfits like the Louvin Brothers. Prior to Nelson’s arrival, Buskirk had established himself in Houston; once Nelson got settled here, Buskirk hired his friend as an instructor at Buskirk Music Studios in ­Pasadena.

There are two versions of the Willie-as-­guitar-instructor story. Patoski’s book says Buskirk told Nelson to buy the Mel Bay book for guitar beginners and just teach that. Another version floating around the Internet says Buskirk would teach Nelson a lesson one day and Nelson would then teach the same lesson to his students the next day. Either way, the lessons were another small Band-Aid on his unstoppable financial hemorrhaging.

Whichever it was, everyone noted that Nelson’s guitar playing, which was already good enough to get him lead-guitar gigs in solid bands like Jericho’s, here took a quantum leap forward. Certainly part of that can be attributed to the training and discipline that went with teaching. But a larger impetus probably came from Buskirk’s working with Nelson on his technique, as well as introducing him to the music of European jazz master Django Reinhardt, who remains one of Nelson’s favorite guitarists to this day. In her book They Came to Nashville, songwriter and performer Marshall Chapman observes that Nelson and sister Bobbie make a habit of playing Reinhardt’s classic “Nuages” as a pastime on the tour bus. (“Nuages” also appears on Nelson’s brand-new album, Let’s Face the Music and Dance.)

LaBeef, singer Claude Gray and Butler all tend to tell one part of the Willie story a little differently from Patoski’s biography. Seconding Rich Kienzle, who wrote the extensive liner notes for the meticulous box sets of Nelson’s earliest works on the Bear Family label, Patoski speculates that the long drives across town from Nelson’s nightclub gig in far west Houston to his home and day jobs in the metro area’s easternmost reaches left Nelson time to “turn private thoughts into poetry.”

Patoski also writes that “Houston was an inspirational setting for some of his best songs,” and surmises that both Nelson’s personal-life turmoil as well as the chaotic Houston beer joint/dance hall scene became fuel for some of his finest lyrics. But there seems to be a slight contradiction between Nelson’s attempting to sell “Family Bible, “Night Life,” “Crazy” and “Mr. Record Man” to Butler when he first arrived in town and Patoski’s observation that during Nelson’s time in Houston, “songs flowed like never before,” among them “Night Life,” “Crazy,” “Mr. Record Man” and “I Gotta Get Drunk.”

“I’m pretty certain Willie came to town with all those except ‘I Gotta Get Drunk,’” asserts LaBeef. “And of course Willie was very musical, so he could have been tinkering with those songs, changing the way he played them or sang them. But he came to town with some good ‘uns.”

“As far as Houston having a big effect on Willie’s writing, I don’t think there’s any doubt,” LaBeef reasons. “I can’t recall what other songs he wrote there, but Willie just wrote all the time back then. He had so many ideas. And he didn’t just suddenly get talented because he moved to Nashville. He went there with a lot of skill and experience, most of it earned the hard way.”

Patoski makes a rational explanation of the seeming contradictions.

“Willie had been writing prolifically in Fort Worth, Vancouver, Portland, even in San Antonio,” the biographer says. “But none of the songs that mattered had come together in the form of a recording until Willie arrived in Houston. Really, that’s where all these disparate pieces came together.”

Pappy Daily may have been a music-­industry genius, but he committed a monumental blunder when it came to Willie Nelson. In fact, in the treacherous, fluid, highly competitive music business, this one is positively historic.

To help Nelson out of one of his continual financial binds, his buddy and mentor Buskirk bought “Night Life” for $100 and “Family Bible” for another $50. At the same time, honky-tonk singer Claude Gray, a native of Henderson, Texas, was working in Houston, selling cars at Perkins Auto by day and singing some gigs at night. Gray finally gave up on Houston and took a disc-jockey job in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1959.

But in mid-December of that same year, Gray swung back into town to do a D Records session for Daily at Gold Star Studios, today known as SugarHill. Buskirk put the session band together and convinced Gray to cut four of Nelson’s tunes: “The Party’s Over,” “Family Bible,” “Night Life” and “Leave Alone.”

...And Then I Wrote  Willie Nelson's first album, recorded in Nashville less than two years after he left Houston, contained "Crazy," "Hello Walls" and another handful of his tunes that were monster hits for other artists like Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price.

…And Then I Wrote  Willie Nelson’s first album, recorded in Nashville less than two years after he left Houston, contained “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and another handful of his tunes that were monster hits for other artists like Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price.
He was a long way from the "Wee Willie Nelson" persona he assumed when he was a disc jockey and bandleader in Vancouver, Washington, in 1957.

He was a long way from the “Wee Willie Nelson” persona he assumed when he was a disc jockey and bandleader in Vancouver, Washington, in 1957.

As part of swinging the deal for Gray to cut the songs, the enterprising Buskirk sold Gray a share of “Family Bible” for $100, and for another $100 hired the session musicians and the studio. “I also had a contract with Paul, if you can call us signing a napkin a contract, to buy a piece of ‘Night Life,’” says Gray, who eventually had enough chart and touring success to relocate to Nashville. “The catch was that I only got to keep my rights if the song was actually released.”

But Daily didn’t care for Gray’s version of “Night Life.” Instead, he released D Records singles for “My Party’s Over” (a slight alteration of Nelson’s original title) and, subsequently, “Family Bible.” “My Party’s Over” didn’t do much, but “Family Bible” caught on and eventually climbed all the way to No. 7 on the country charts. Poor Willie didn’t realize a penny from the success of “Family Bible,” and it had to have hurt his self-esteem to have a national hit but be left out of the financial windfall.

Still, the song’s success was the first positive proof that he could write a hit. It certainly raised his profile, and would later serve as a good calling card and icebreaker when he moved to Nashville to try to sell songs in the big time.

Like Gray, Nelson also had a recording contract with D Records, and he cut his first single for the label, “A Man with the Blues” backed by “The Storm Has Just Begun,” during a 1959 session in Fort Worth. The single was released on both D and Daily’s sister label, Betty Records, but went nowhere.

Buskirk then arranged two sessions at Gold Star for Nelson in the spring of 1960. The superior quality of these recordings compared to that of the first tracks cut in Fort Worth is immediately obvious, but these sessions yielded only another mediocre single, “Misery Mansion” backed with “What a Way to Live.”

But even before that single had been issued, Buskirk and Nelson returned to Gold Star with a different set of musicians. There Nelson showed off his rapidly developing guitar chops on “Rainy Day Blues,” but the recording of “Night Life” makes this one of the most significant sessions in his career — and in Houston music history.

“Something had happened between the two sessions,” Patoski writes in An Epic Life. “‘Night Life’ was from another realm. Mature, deep and thoughtful, the slow, yearning blues had been put together in his head during long drives across Houston. At Gold Star, he was surrounded by musicians who could articulate his musical thoughts. He sang the words with confident phrasing that had never been heard on any previous recording he’d done.”

But Daily absolutely hated the track. He went so far as to tell Nelson that if he wanted to write blues, he should go work for Don Robey of Duke-Peacock Records, who had built the Fifth Ward-based company into the most important black record label in the South. Daily refused to release Nelson’s version of “Night Life,” just as he had Claude Gray’s.

Once again, opinions differ about what happened. Daily had made his bones in the murky jukebox business before adding recording, publishing and artist management to the enterprise, and had made George Jones a national smash with tunes recorded at Gold Star. He thought he had the best handle on what people wanted to hear, and was certain a jazzy song like “Night Life” would go nowhere with jukebox users or radio. Also, given the era’s racial prejudices, Daily in no way wished to be identified with so-called race records or their audience. His clientele was working-class crackers, plain and simple, and he felt “Night Life” was too fancy for them.

Bob Wills veteran and Western swing pioneer Herb Remington, the steel guitarist on this storied session, recalls Daily as a “smart guy, a good but cautious businessman.” Remington, who turns 87 in June, says he has “nothing but respect for Daily.”

“Paul Buskirk and I came up with the arrangement on the fly the day we cut the song,” recalls Remington. “Obviously it was a sophisticated lyric and meter, and we wanted the arrangement to really fit the subtlety of the song. We didn’t realize until much later how almost revolutionary the sound on that cut was. I guess it’s no surprise that away from our regular gigs, most of us on that session were into a lot of jazz and other types of music.”

As for how such an astute song-picker as Daily could miss so badly on “Night Life” and Willie Nelson, the guitarist laughs.

“Pappy had a good ear but he just wanted hits, and to him most hits sounded pretty much the same,” he says. “He hated ‘Night Life’ partly because he despised what he called ‘musician’s music.’ Nothing drove Pappy crazier than a bunch of us jamming. He didn’t like it or get it. And he sure didn’t want to pay for it.”

“I also think Pappy just didn’t get Willie’s singing,” he adds. “The way he phrases wasn’t like most other singers who were popular at that time. Willie heard a whole lot of people tell him he couldn’t sing.”

…And Then I Wrote  Willie Nelson’s first album, recorded in Nashville less than two years after he left Houston, contained “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and another handful of his tunes that were monster hits for other artists like Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price.

Whatever the reason, between selling away a hit song for peanuts while he was desperately broke and relinquishing most of his rights for the soon-to-be classic “Night Life” and Daily’s flat-out rejection of “Night Life” — which Nelson felt was his best musical accomplishment yet — Nelson soured on Houston. He made plans to head east.

Could Willie Nelson have also picked up his well-known taste for marijuana in Houston? Since achieving worldwide fame and recognition, he has become one of the sweet leaf’s highest-­profile advocates. Nelson has supposedly smoked a joint on the White House roof, filmed a smoke-out video with Snoop Dogg in Amsterdam and been arrested several times for possession, most recently at a West Texas U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in 2010.

He once admitted to former CNN talk-show maven Larry King on national television that he smoked just before he came on King’s show. With 110,000 Facebook followers on his Tea Pot Party page, Nelson has thrown considerable weight behind the nationwide movement to legalize pot.

According to Patoski, Chapman and others who have traveled on Nelson’s bus, he’s a quiet guy who likes scrambled eggs after a gig, a glass or two of white wine, a lungful of killer reefer and picking some Django Reinhardt with sister Bobbie. This is the Zen Willie of today, the one who wrote the koans collected in his 2012 book Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.

But back in his Houston days, Nelson was a hard-partying little dude. Larry Butler recalls many nights when Nelson was too drunk to drive home, “so he’d just spend the night with us.”

“Willie loved a good party, and he’d drink right along with everybody else,” adds Butler. “Of course, that wasn’t helping his marriage any, but Willie’s always been Willie.”

The various biographies of Nelson have been quite frank about his hard drinking back in the day, and there are casual mentions of pills, which have always been around wherever musicians are working late hours. Butler was probably around Nelson more than anyone else, even Buskirk, during the Houston phase. Confronted with the question of whether Nelson was already smoking pot when he lived in Houston, Butler just giggles.

“Listen, fella, I think Willie was born with one of those things in his hand.”

Houston wasn’t all that kind to Willie Nelson. According to Pasadena Police Department records, he was arrested for speeding and driving without a license — going 85 miles an hour in a 40-mph zone at 3:52 a.m. — on Red Bluff Road in July 1960. Bond was set at $80, and his wife at the time, Martha, appears to have co-signed the property receipt for $9 in cash and a set of car keys.

By all accounts, at this time Nelson was accumulating debts much faster than he could pay them, and Patoski notes that when Nelson left town hoping to land a radio job in Mississippi at the same station where Claude Gray was working, he was four payments behind on his “ugly green ’46 Buick.”

Once again, Nelson had to park his family with Martha’s parents in Waco while he went off to chase the next rainbow. That turned out to be Nashville, after six seeks of hanging around Meridian didn’t turn up a radio job or anything else that would pay a decent wage.

Nelson certainly left Houston with more songs in his notebook, some decent demo tapes of his songs and considerably improved skills as a guitarist. He got his feet wet in the studio and, although it was shunned and overlooked at the time, he recorded one of the true classics of country music.

He also released two singles on D Records and Betty Records, and had a hit song he’d written that would open some industry doors. He gained even more experience in the rough-and-tumble honky-tonk world, and Houston’s joints had a reputation as being some of the toughest in the nation.

He even kept a few copies of his amazing take on “Night Life.” Following Daily’s rejection, he and Buskirk surreptitiously paid to have the song mastered, pressed and released as “Nite Life” on tiny Rx Records under the moniker “Paul Buskirk and His Little Men featuring Hugh Nelson.” While it managed to get some airplay by Uncle Hank Craig on across-the-border superstation XEG, other interest in the recording was sparse.

That was perhaps the final nail in the coffin of Nelson’s Houston stay. He began to feel that the situation here was both spiraling out of control and becoming increasingly untenable.

“I was into a lot of negative thinking back then,” Nelson tells Patoski in An Epic Life. “I did a lot of bad things, got into fights with people. My head was just pointed in the wrong way.”

It was time to go. Herb Remington, who composed the famous Bob Wills instrumental “Remington’s Ride,” recalls meeting up with a handful of other local players to wish Nelson well the night before he left town.

“Hank Thompson was playing Cook’s Hoedown, and a bunch of us went down to see Willie off,” says Remington. “Everybody liked him and we really did hate to see him go. My main memory is that Willie was dressed real nice and we had a fine send-off.”

Most likely with a strong sense of failure, Willie Nelson kissed Houston goodbye the next day.

 

Willie Nelson: One of “100 Cool Americans”

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

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Willie made the list of ’100 Cool Americans’.

Read the full list here http://bit.ly/1l6FmrH

The 100 Coolest Americans (yeah, Willie Nelson is one of them)

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

cool

Photographic exhibition of the 100 most cool Americans includes film star   James Dean, writer Ernest Hemingway and singer Madonna

http://www.telegraph.co.uk
By Martin Chilton

You know the 100 coolest Americans must be a pretty hip bunch if Janis Joplin,   Chet Baker, Dean Martin and George Clooney fail to make the cut.

Elvis Presley, James Dean, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna do make the choice of   a hundred actors, actresses, artists, musicians and writers in the United   States whose creativity and style have shaped the concept of cool. There is   even a welcome place for country singer Willie  Nelson in the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in   Washington.

The exhibition, which took five years to bring to fruition, has been put   together by Joel Dinerstein, professor of American Civilisation at Tulane   University in New Orleans, and Frank Goodyear III, co-director of Bowdoin   College Museum of Art.

To make their selection, the two curators came up with four defining factors   of cool, of which people chosen had to fit at least three categories:

originality of artistic vision and especially of a signature   style

cultural rebellion, or transgression in a given historical   moment

iconicity, or a certain level of high-profile recognition

recognised cultural legacy (lasting more than a decade)

Another deciding factor was that there had to be a good picture of the person   and among the photographers featured in the show are Diane Arbus, Annie   Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, Edward Steichen and Herman Leonard.

Dinerstein, who is also an advisor on the HBO show Boardwalk Empire, is a jazz   expert, and musicians are well represented in the list, starting from Bix   Beiderbecke and Bessie Smith in ‘The Roots of Cool’ section to legends such   as Miles Davis. Dinerstein said: “It was in the Forties and Fifties   that cool was truly born, with jazz legends like Miles Davis, Duke   Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker   and Lester Young coming to the fore.” Dinerstein credits jazz   saxophonist Young with coining the use of the term ‘cool’.

Picture   special: Willie Nelson’s 20 best songs 

“Cool is America’s greatest cultural export,” said Australian Kim   Sajet, who took over last year as director of the National Portrait Gallery,   which is part of the Smithsonian network of museums.

The list opens with 19th-century poet Walt Whitman, author of Leaves of Grass,   who is described as “the guiding light of American bohemia” and includes   modern culture figures such as Jay-Z and Quentin Tarantino. Dinerstein said: “There   are people on this list who I wish were not, but our culture has elevated   them to cool. My example is Quentin Tarantino. I don’t like his films and I   don’t like him. But there’s no question of his national and global influence   both on art and film and everyone under 40.”

Just under a quarter of the 100 are women – including Madonna, Mae West and   Bonnie Raitt – and includes, bizarrely, some non-Americans (such as   Canadian-born Neil Young and Belgian-born Audrey Hepburn).

People will obviously disagree with the choices – Sidney Poitier, Slim   Gaillard, Louis Armstrong, Groucho Marx could all have been in the 100 – and   the curators have tried to mollify critics by doing an ‘Alt 100′ list of   also-rans that includes, for example, Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin and Stan Getz.

American Cool is accompanied by a fully illustrated 192-page catalogue of the   same title, published by Delmonico Books.

THE AMERICAN COOL 100 LIST:  see the list –>

(more…)

Willie Nelson (by Annie Leibovitz)

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

philweisman37
Willie Nelson,photograph by Annie Leibovitz,

www.VanityFair.com

Willie Nelson lives on the road.   So it made perfect sense for him to just park the tour bus on the street outside Annie Leibowitz ‘s studio sometime in the middle of the night before the shoot.  (We  got the permit.)  By his own account, the 70-year-old  Country Music Hall of Famer is tough and stuborn and knows what he wants.  When asked if he would like to put on one of the many cowboy hats that had been collected for him, he said, “You mean as opposed to the one I’m wearing?”  leaving little room for discussion.

He’s also a charmer, an elequent poet, a songwriter, actor, Farm Aid Co-Founder, and golfer who, in his 40-year career has made records and performed in concerts with practically everyone — including Frank Sinatra, Keith Richards, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow and Julio Iglesias.  One of his favorite duet partners is Norah Jones, and at our shoot these two very private stars were clearly pleased to have some time to sit next to each other and catch up.  Later, posing duties over, Willie got back on his bus to go to New Jersey for a show on the never ending tour that is his life.

by Lisa Robinson .

Annie Leibovitz:   American Jewish Photographer, born October 2nd, 1949 in Westbury, Connecticut,  She is the third of six children, her great grandparents were Russian Jews and her father’s parents emigrated from Romania. Her mother was a modern dance instructor and her father was a lieutenant colonel for the U.S. Air Force. They moved a lot because of her father’s work and took her first photographs in the Philippines during the Vietnam War. When she was in high school she became very artistic and interested in music and writing. She attended the San Francisco Art institute where she studied painting. Later. she kept developing her photography skills and soon learned to adapt Jewish concepts to her photographs in certain jobs.

When the Rolling Stone magazine was just launched in the 1970s, Leibovitz started her career as a staff photographer for them. In 1973, she was titled chief photographer for the Rolling Stone which she would continue on for 10 years. Most of her intimate photographs of celebrities is what helped define the Rolling Stone look; Photographers such as Robert  One of Her first assignment was to shoot John Lennon.

 

Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

People Magazine Feb. 13, 1984 by Chet Flippo

Is it true that when cowboys die, they go to Texas? Tonight is cowboy heaven for sure — as two forever young good ole boys named Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson smile and press the flesh and inch their way through phalanxes of ecstatic fans on their way to the bandstand. Out front, a couple thousand of the faithful are whooping it up and pouring down the Lone Star beer at Austin’s Opry House, a true shrine of C&W. It was here that Willie put modern Country on the map in the early ’70s when he gave up on Nashville’s establishment and drifted on down to Austin to forge an alliance between hippies and rednecks.

Hordes of both — now almost indistinguishable, what with their pierced ears and long hair and pounds of silver and gold jewelry and flowered shirts and skintight jeans (and that’s only the men) — are starting their “Willie” chant. Even though the concert footage has already been shot at the Opry House for Songwriter, the movie that Willie and Kris are filming here, Willie got cabin fever after awhile and decided he just had to do a show. Since he now owns the Opry House, along with a lot of other prime Austin real estate, it wasn’t too hard to set up. Austin can never get enough of Willie, especially since he now spends most of his time in Colorado or on the road.  He is still a holy man in Texas.

Backstage, Willie, still in his “Doc Jenkins” black garb from the day’s shooting, smiles his guru smile and shakes the hands of preppies in blazers and bikers in leather and grandmothers in shawls and little children and clean-cut jocks and guys who look suspiciously like dope dealers and businessmen wearing suits and left-over ’60?s hippies and farmers and former University of Texas coach Darrell Royal. They are smiling at each other so much that, if you didn’t know better, you might think this is a mob of some kind of babbling religious freaks. But no, they’re just Willie fanatics.

Willie embraces Kristofferson, who is still wearing the black outfit of the “Blackie Buck” character in the movie. Kris and Willie are the old pros of progressive C&W and their lined faces and salt-and-pepper bears show a lot of years of being rode hard and put up wet. But, as a bystander points out, they fearlessly — and recklessly — went up against heavy odds in fighing Nashville’s establishment.

“And, bah Gahd, we won, didn’t we, Willie?” rasps Kris in his window-rattling rumble of a voice, hugging Willie amid the chaos. “Yeah, Kris, I guess we did,” Willie says quietly. Then he and his band hit the stage to plead: “Whiskey river, take my mind.”

The crowd erupts and doesn’t stop.  It’s an old-fashioned hoedown with dancers and drinkers twirling and swirling thorugh hours of Willie and Kris, and Kris and Willie stripping down to black T-shirts and dripping with sweat by the time they turn Amazing Grace into a Country Mass — hundreds of europhoric worshipers jumping to their feet and pointing their fingers heavenward and singing along witha Texas sermon from Matthew, Mark, Kris and Willie. And not one fight. Remarkable for a honky-tonk.

“God, Willie’s great,” Kris says a few minutes after the show, back in his modest suite at the Ramada Inn, as he picks his way through stacks of toys for his children and calls room service to order himself some rabbit food and volcano water.

Ten years ago, when they were really living the lives of Doc and Blackie, Kris and Willie existed on shots of tequila and more shots of tequila, with the occasional night out on shots of Jack Daniel’s. They were living right out there “on the border,” as Kris sings in this movie. And they were slogging through the drugs-and-alcohol diet thought essential to capture the exquisite pain of country music.

No longer.  Kris pulls off his T-shirt to reveal that he’s healthy now, rippling muscles and all that. Coherent. Sane. Everything that he is not in Songwriter. Doesn’t drink or drug anymore. Runs 10 miles a day. Plays golf with Willie. Eats right. Is writing songs again after a long drought.

“Yeah, things are going real good,” he says with a satisfied sigh from his easy chair, boots up on the table. “I got married. Wasn’t no big thing, but yeah, we got a little boy now. My wife’s named Lisa. She’s a lawyer. She was in law school at Pepperdine when I met her. We had a little boy on the seventh of October — Jesse Turner Kristofferson. ‘Jesse’ for an old football coach I had and ‘Turner’ for [band member] Turner Stephen Bruton.

“Wille’s got a great philosphy — about running, about golf, about everything. Kick it back to where you can enjoy it, you know? I’t like, if youre’ running too hard and you’re miserable, then ease off a little bit. He runs for pleasure, not to drive himself. I swear to God” — he laughts at the notion — “being around Willie is like being around Buddah.  He gives off these positive attitudes.  Next thing you know, you’re acting like him.”

He laughs again, shaking his head in wonderment as he pushes his room service tray aside.  He turns and trains the full force of his intense, sky-blue deep-set eyes on his visitor and says seriously, “I’ll never be like him.  I’ll never be able to walk directly from the golf cart to the stage.  But I’ll never again put myself through the angst I used to.  This film as changed my life as much as A Star is Born did.  That was a real turning point because I saw that I had potential as an actor.  It was enough to clean me up, to quit drinking, you know.  And this move has justified my getting cleaned up.  You always hope that working with friends will work, but working with Willie is a real bonus because the chemistry on the screen is so good.  This has turned out to be the best experience of my life.”

This day in Willie Nelson history: “We Are the World” Recorded (1/28/1985)

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

On January 28, 1985, Willie Nelson joined 43 other artists to record “We Are The World” under the name U.S.A. For Africa.

world1

People Magazine
February 25, 1985

A sign outside Studio A bore a single admonition: “Please check your egos at the door.” Bold instructions, perhaps, since polished limousines were already nosing down La Brea Avenue toward these L.A. recording studios bearing 45 of the most luminous stars—and well-developed egos—in rock, pop and country music. Some, like Cyndi Lauper and Lionel Richie, were coming straight from the American Music Awards, an annual TV confection designed to pass out trophies and pull in Nielsens. Here at A & M’s studios, however, something far more substantial was about to take place. Before this glorious hard day’s night would end, the ego check-in counter would be the busiest spot in town.

Singers whose life-styles sometimes seem to celebrate excess were coming here to alleviate want. Their project: recording a song that could be used to raise funds for African famine relief. Their work would put a Yankee twist to a similar Band Aid project by British rockers that has raised nearly $9 million since December. But it would also make for one of the most moving nights in music history.

The progenitor of the project was singer Harry Belafonte who, impressed by the British famine effort and stunned by news accounts of the Ethiopian tragedy, had first conceived the American initiative last December.

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Several days before Christmas, Belafonte called pal Ken Kragen, a high-octane manager, with fund-raising ideas. “He figured, after all, the national song charts are dominated by black artists,” says Kragen. “If Jews were starving in Israel, American Jews would have raised millions.” Belafonte initially suggested staging a megastar-studded concert. Too difficult to pull off, said Kragen, recalling the money woes of the 1971 performance for Bangladesh (see page 33). “Why not a record?” asked Kragen, whose interest in world hunger had first been aroused by the late Harry Chapin, an earlier singer client. “After all, the Band Aid people didn’t copyright the idea.” Kragen then contacted Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie, both of whom he also manages. Having taken over Chapin’s antihunger crusade in 1981 when the latter died, Rogers readily agreed to participate. So did Richie, who had spent the past several days talking about just such a project with his wife, Brenda.

Kragen next tried to phone Stevie Wonder, but without success. Then, shortly before Christmas, Brenda Richie was shopping in Beverly Hills when Wonder walked into the store to buy some jewelry. She helped him select several items and asked him to return the favor by telephoning her husband about a special project. He did—and was quickly enlisted.

Lionel, meanwhile, was busy contacting Michael Jackson, whom he had been seeing socially for several weeks. Michael, too, agreed to join—provided he could help write the song that would be recorded. No problem, said Lionel happily. Needing a producer for the record, Kragen rang up Quincy Jones, who dropped his work on a new album to donate his services to the project.

At the Jackson home in Encino, Michael and Lionel set to work writing the anthemlike song We Are the World. Progress came in bits and pieces. “I’d go into the room while they were writing,” remembers Michael’s sister, LaToya, “and it would be very quiet, which is odd, since Michael’s usually cheery when he works. It was very emotional for them. Some nights they’d just talk until 2 in the morning.”

In the days between Christmas and New Year’s, Kragen expanded his search for stars. “Basically, I started at the top of the record charts and began making phone calls,” he says. Steve Perry, lead singer and creative heart of Journey, came home to a message on his telephone answering machine. Sign me up, he said. Then Bruce Springsteen, on tour, was called. “Do they really want me?” asked the Boss modestly. Assured that he was indeed wanted, Springsteen also came aboard. “That was something of a turning point,” concedes Kragen. “It gave the project a great deal more stature in the eyes of others.”

Kragen’s final lineup—all of whom performed for free—reads like a Who’s Who of gold record collectors. Among them: Tina Turner, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel, Huey Lewis and Waylon Jennings. Jeffrey Osborne was approached by Richie just hours before the taping, while both were rehearsing for the American Music Awards. “Keep it silent,” cautioned Lionel. Kragen, who had first envisioned only 10 or 15 performers, eventually had trouble stopping the project’s momentum. “In the last week we went from 28 to more than 40 artists,” he says. “I had to turn down something like 50 or 60 performers who wanted to participate.”

Many of those who came did so with difficulty. Springsteen, because of his notoriously long concerts, never travels and seldom arises before 5 p.m. the day after a show. Yet the next afternoon, after finishing his American tour in Syracuse, N.Y., he boarded a plane and flew to L.A. Daryl Hall and John Oates were also in the East rehearsing for a tour that would start a week and a half after the taping. Stevie Wonder managed to get out of Philadelphia despite terrible weather. James Ingram flew in from London, and Paul Simon showed up despite having spent the entire previous night at work in a recording studio.

On the last Monday in January, as the American Music Awards were ending at the Shrine Auditorium across town, all was in readiness at A&M. Studio C had been set aside as a makeup room, Studio B stocked with fruit, cheese and juices for incoming singers. The building’s large Charlie Chaplin soundstage creaked under a $15,000 spread of roast beef, tortellini, imported cheese and other goodies for the performers’ guests—all provided gratis by Someone’s In The Kitchen catering. The onlookers and guests (each performer was allowed five) included Ali MacGraw, Jane Fonda, Dick Clark and many family members, and all watched the night’s proceedings through TV monitors and the lenses of five video cameras.

At 9 p.m. people began arriving in streams. “During the first hour it was impossible to get anything done,” says Osborne. “Everyone was congratulating each other, meeting people they hadn’t met before.” “Saying ‘hi;’ exchanging lies,” echoes Ray Charles. “It was just like Thanksgiving, all of us together.” Ruth Pointer of the Pointer Sisters came with a camera and quickly shot some snaps of Michael Jackson (“I have two kids, and they would’ve killed me if I hadn’t”). Then sister June Pointer entered the studio with Bruce Springsteen, and the pair plopped down together on the only chair then available.

Bob Dylan showed typical reserve at first, sitting off by himself. But even the legendary loner couldn’t withstand the warmth. Hours later he could be found in a corner, rehearsing his solo lines as Stevie Wonder accompanied him on the piano, singing in Dylan’s own nasal style. Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham found himself chatting with Harry Belafonte. When Buckingham mentioned how much he loved Belafonte’s Calypso classic, The Banana Boat Song, everyone nearby suddenly broke into a spontaneous chorus of day-o’s. Ray Charles asked for a drink of water, and another singer volunteered to lead him to the fountain. Stevie Wonder. And so it went. “For me, the first couple hours were highly charged,” says Kenny Loggins. “I’ve never before felt that strong a sense of community.”

Around 10 p.m. the sheet music was passed out, and several people stepped forth to address the group. Kragen talked of plans for the funds they hoped to raise. Mindful of the decade-long “Bangladesh situation, I assured the artists that if it came down to seeing that the money got to the right places, I would go over with the supplies personally.” Then Bob Geldof, leader of the Boomtown Rats and organizer of the British Band Aid singalong, offered a moving speech about his own travels in Ethiopia, telling of a “good day” in one village he had visited when only five people had died. “Geldof’s opening speech was pretty intense,” noted Loggins later. “You could hear the truth in his voice.”

After Michael Jackson shyly described the piece he and Richie had written—”a love song to inspire concern about a faraway place close to home”—the taping began. Quincy Jones sat on a stool directing his multi-million dollar chorus, Richie on a chair next to him, Michael with the others but off to one side. At one point during the long hours that followed, emotions swept up the 400 guests, who joined the singing from their soundproof stage. During a break, Brenda Richie took orders for Fat Burgers (from Springsteen, Dionne Warwick and others) and sent a chauffeur off to a nearby hamburger stand.

By 3 a.m. the choral section of the song was recorded, and only the solo sections remained. “Everybody was drained, but also hanging on to the thread of magic in the night,” says Ingram. “You could see the fatigue on people’s faces,” remembers Osborne. The group took another break and, prompted by Diana Ross, began autographing each other’s sheet music. Suddenly Wonder came into the room with two African women, representatives of the very people the performers were trying to help. The women, nervous and exhausted, spoke through trembling lips in their native Swahili, thanking the group for all they were doing. Says Ingram, “Everybody was humbled.”

Then Jones positioned the 21 soloists in a semicircle around him. Starting with Ritchie, they all sang their parts, and the singing moved round and round the semicircle until it was completed. Loggins was stationed between Springsteen and Steve Perry during the solos; Springsteen sang his part in a huge, booming voice. “I wanted to do my very best,” Loggins says, “and with Springsteen belting his line like a loud Joe Cocker, I wondered how I should do mine.” Just be yourself, Perry advised. “I think that pretty much sums up how everybody was acting,” says Loggins.

By dawn most of the performers had finished. Dylan and Springsteen, obviously drained by the marathon, remained until around 7:30. His own solo work long since completed, Perry also stuck around to witness the ending. Osborne, after trading a few ad lib vocal licks with Wonder, Richie and others, finally walked out the studio door with Michael Jackson sometime before 8. Off to one side an exhausted Diana Ross sat on the floor, tears filling her eyes. “I just don’t want this to end,” she said.

But end it did, for the moment. Kragen, predicting profits of $150 million from the undertaking, quickly went to work pulling together the fund-raising album that would follow and arranging the single’s release in mid-March. Linda Ronstadt, who had missed the taping because of flu, agreed early on to supply one of the LP’s solo tracks. Prince, recipient of three of the American Music Awards earlier in the night, had passed up the group sing and instead went to a West Hollywood nightspot; later that night his bodyguards were involved in a scuffle with photographers and were arrested by police. Finally, at 6 a.m., the diminutive rocker phoned Jones, offering to lay down a guitar track for the group’s single. Jones declined that contribution but agreed to accept a solo cut for the LP instead. Another track would be taped two weeks later in Toronto, where a group of Canadian artists—including Bryan Adams, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young—gathered to create their own Band Aid-style recording for famine relief.

For the Americans who did take part in the all-night recording session, the rewards were greater than any royalties they might have sacrificed. They had come hoping to help a cause, and in the process discovered their own community. Afterward, most of the musicians quickly resumed the projects they had so suddenly interrupted. Tina Turner flew to New York the next day to start rehearsing for her Saturday Night Live performance later that week. Hall and Oates returned East to prepare for their own four-month road trip and Dionne Warwick jetted to Las Vegas where she performed that night at the Golden Nugget. For some, the sense of purpose felt at the all-night session wouldn’t fade with the dawn. Harry Belafonte, self-effacing initiator of the project, boarded a plane the following day for Washington, D.C. There, one day later, he was arrested while picketing outside the South African embassy.

  • Contributors: Jonathan Cooper, Lisa Russell, Mary Shaughnessy.