Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings featured in “Outlaws and Armadillos” Exhibit in Nashville

Thursday, January 18th, 2018


www.TexasMonthly.com
by: Dan Solomon

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When Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson came to Texas in the 1970s, the move signaled their desires to escape the Nashville machine and make music in a freer, looser environment on their own terms. The community and free-spirited Austin atmosphere that waited for them, led by artists like Jerry Jeff Walker and Billy Joe Shaver, helped inspire the greatest musical achievements of a whole lot of talented folks, Jennings and Nelson included. (Read John Spong’s 2012 oral history of Austin music in the 1970s for the full story.)

The outlaws and rebels of the Armadillo World Headquarters played the game very differently than they did out in Nashville, and the two communities have always had a subtle rivalry. That’s exemplified, in part, by Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame, which focuses decidedly more on the culture of its city than on the work that redefined the genre in the 1970s—much of which happened in Texas.

Last week, the museum announced plans to rectify that with a major, three-year exhibit, titled “Outlaws and Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s,” opening on May 25. The museum promises to give the outlaws’ contributions their due, acknowledging in a release that “40 years ago they started a musical revolution by creating music and a culture that shook the status quo on Music Row and cemented their place in country music history and beyond.” The exhibition promises to “explore this era of cultural and artistic exchange between Nashville, Tenn., and Austin, Texas, revealing untold stories and never-seen artifacts” and “explore the complicated, surprising relationship between the cities.”

The exhibit chronicles a movement that has shaped the music of subsequent artists, including contemporary country stars like Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton, and Dierks Bentley. A quarter century after Jennings and Nelson made their way to Austin, it pays due homage by framing the era not as a quirk in country’s history, but as a whole separate wing in the annals of the genre.

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?

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

Thursday, January 11th, 2018


Goldmine Magazine
January 11, 2002

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

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

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

10 Questions for Willie Nelson
by Mark Wallgren

Goldmine:  Is there anything special about touring in Europe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM:  Based even on a sliver of truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

www.interviewmagazine.com
by: Woody Harrelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WILLIE NELSON: I’m in Biloxi, Mississippi.

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

NELSON: Around Easter. Will you be there?

HARRELSON: That depends. When is Easter?

NELSON: First week in April, I think.

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

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

HARRELSON: I got a lot to win back.

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

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

NELSON: Don’t tell them about that.

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

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Yeah, really.

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

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

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

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

HARRELSON: This was around the Depression?

NELSON: Yeah, I was born in 1933.

HARRELSON: Do you have any memories of the Depression?

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

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

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

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

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

HARRELSON: Was he a disciplinarian?

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Hustle! I had that hustle.

HARRELSON: When did you get your first guitar?

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

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

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

HARRELSON: I can’t imagine you taking orders.

NELSON: No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HARRELSON: You were just driving back and forth?

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

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

NELSON: Oh, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Lord willing! [both laugh]

HARRELSON: But officially, you have how many?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HARRELSON: That’s outrageous!

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

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

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

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

NELSON: More or less, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Well, she still does my hair.

HARRELSON: How’d you get into biodiesel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HARRELSON: But this is boring …

NELSON: Let’s talk about sex.

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

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

HARRELSON: That is honorable. And very funny.

NELSON: Do you want to hear a good joke?

HARRELSON: Yes, I do.

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

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

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

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

NELSON: You’re probably close.

HARRELSON: I’ve never seen you run out.

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

HARRELSON: Who’s influenced you the most?

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

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

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

HARRELSON: And that’s saying something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NELSON: Yeah, they can ski over or whatever.

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

NELSON: I’ll see you in Maui!

Vinyl Treasures – Willie Nelson “Somewhere over the Rainbow”

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

www.GuitarPlayer.com
December 2017
by:  Jim Camp

While watching a Willie Nelson documentary a few years back, I was bowled over when Willie said, “One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever heard in my life was when one of the Little Willies said that I sounded like Django Reinhardt if he had only one finger.”

Well, I was the one who said that, and I was happy Willie understood the compliment—which was based on my fandom for his record Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Released in 1981, Somewhere Over the Rainbow is a collection of standards with an incredible cast of musicians, such as Paul Buskirk, Johnny Gimble, Bob Moore, Freddie Powers, and Dean Reynolds. Some might prefer Red Headed Stranger as the quintessential Willie Nelson record, or the highly acclaimed Stardust that is also a collection of standards. But there is a timeless intimacy to the no-frills production of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Sounding as if Willie and company were recorded in a living room with two microphones, the album is a wonderful example of a live record wit soul and spontaneity. You can almost feel the camaraderie and artistry of the musicianship.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow helped me relate to standards as musical poems chronicling life experiences. Before absorbing this record, I mostly viewed standards as exercises in The Real Book with annoying chord substitutions that created hurdles and barriers. But Willie’s crew transformed tracks such as “Mona Lisa,” “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You),” and “It Wouldn’t Be the Same Without You” into absolute heartbreakers with perfect accompaniment—so perfect I spent years at the turntable figuring out the chords and licks. By doing so, I discovered that Willie and company kept the changes simple (say, C, A7, D7, G7) while the soloists implied the chord substitutions.

For example, the soloist might “think” Ab aug7#9—or simply Ab7—while playing over a dominant movement of G7. Now, I still thought about tritone substitutions and so on, but after hearing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I wasn’t shackled to them any more. And when I threw the jazz changes out the window, I found I could play music from the heart without too much “string theory.” It was a revelation that playing the melody with personal phrasing choices sounded like “jazz,” so I concluded that the melody notes are the “trees,” and surrounding notes are the “bushes.”

Somewhere Over the Rainbow is a great amalgamation of Django, Les Paul, and country swing played by master musicians—all playing timeless standards curated by the master songwriter, Willie Nelson.

Willie Nelson” Mellowest Man Alive (Rolling Stone, Dec. 25, 2008)

Monday, December 25th, 2017

www.rollingstone.com
by: Vanessa Grigoriadis
December 25, 2008

In the 100-degree heat of a Texas afternoon, hundreds of Willie Nelson fans make a pilgrimage to see their prophet, priest and king, in a particularly unassuming spot — Carl’s Corner, an interstate truck stop on a dusty plateau between Austin and Dallas. The stop, and the town to which it belongs (pop. 134), is presided over by Carl himself, a wheezy, unkempt Santa Claus with nine fingers — a rattlesnake has the 10th — and a knack for schemes to separate truckers from dollars. He tried a swimming pool, 24-hour restaurant, wedding chapel and strip club before turning to his good friend Willie Nelson, who had a notion that might work — and also help save the planet: a biodiesel station. Two years and several million dollars later, a large stainless-steel plant run by Pacif­ic Biodiesel rises mightily behind a new wood-paneled juke joint, to supply the 14 gleaming pumps in front with 8,000 gal­lons of biodiesel per day. The stop is now named Willie’s Place.

In the typical Willie way, the scene is chaotic at today’s 10 hours of concerts by Willie and friends — including Ray Price, Johnny Bush and David Allan Coe — with cowboys patting pockets for drink tickets and bum-rushing a bullet supper. Yel­low caution tape has been run around all the pumps, which, it turns out, aren’t yet hooked up to biodiesel. “Oh, they’ll get around to putting it in those pumps for folks eventually,” says Willie, grinning a bit. Though his face is deeply creased, his brown eyes a little cloudy and his beard and eyebrows completely white, the cos­mic cowboy-Buddhist is dressed today like a kid at play: black T-shirt with the sleeves cut oil, worn black slacks and gray New Balance sneakers. Age has made him even mellower than he used to be, say bandmates. He’s become almost pathologically attached to surrounding himself with pos­itive vibes, but there’s a hitch: Willie likes to stir up trouble. In fact, the more things that go wrong, the happier he is.

“A lot of Willie’s life operates on the chaos theory, which doesn’t often happen in entertainment — or happen artfully in entertainment,” says Joe Nick Patoski, au­thor of Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, a biog­raphy of Willie. “He’s a lot more complex a person than people give him credit for, and it’s a complex world around him. But he’s been very good about sailing above it all by sticking to what he does.”

What he does, first and foremost, is work. Willie, who has sold more than 50 million albums in his lifetime, has been busy with many projects this year: In ad­dition to lending his support to causes like Myanmar relief, he has kept up his long-term work with Farm Aid and equine-rescue outfit Habitat for Hors­es; a collaboration with Wynton Marsalis; a co-authored Western novel; as well as an appearance in the 2008 Toby Keith film Beer for My Horses, a cameo in Snoop Dogg’s song “My Medicine” and a new song for an upcoming film, Tennessee, with Mariah Carey. In February, he is releasing an album of Western swing songs with Asleep at the Wheel. In fact, he’d like to rerecord a lot of his own work. “There’s songs that I’ve had, good songs, that never got their due,” he says, nodding his head firmly. In March, Naked Willie, an album of Willie’s recordings on RCA from 1966 to 1970, without the strings and schmaltz, produced by his harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, will be released. “For the album cover,” says Raphael, “Willie took a picture of himself with his iPhone while he was in the bubble bath, and sent it to me.”

Yes, Willie has an iPhone.

The hardest work of all — or the most fun — is touring. At 75, Willie travels about 200 days a year with the “Family Band,” a group that includes his 77-year-old sis­ter, Bobbie, a pianist. Though he gets the occasional bout of heatstroke, he tries to stay in shape on the road: He bikes, prac­tices yoga and bowls on his Wii with his teenage sons, Lukas and Micah, a guitar­ist and a percussionist who tour with him in the summer.

“I’ve heard that lots of senior-citizens centers are getting Wiis, because it really does work,” Willie says, eyes glittering with excitement. He leans in. “You know, most 75-year-olds already decided to hang it up a long time ago. I would never be in that mind-set, because I enjoy what I’m doing. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll never leave the road — well, if people stopped showing up, that might be a reason to quit it. But I’m watching people like B.B. King, or Ernest Tubb, who toured until he died. I’m not ready to quit.” He juts his chin for­ward. “I’m not ready to die, either.”

We’re talking on Willie’s bus. Where else would we be? He rarely leaves it, unless he needs to go onstage: It’s his “submarine,” as he has called it, a darkly tinted bubble from which he watches the world drift by or invites it in. When he’s at home on his ranch in Austin and his wife, Annie, isn’t in town — she has made their other home, in Maui, Hawaii, her primary residence, an arrangement that suits both of them fine — he prefers to sleep on the bus, the rear end of which has a psychedelic portrait of his face morphing into an eagle. The bus is spick-and-span throughout, with black leather seats and mahogany built-ins, and a few personal touches: photos of his grandkids tacked on a corkboard, bum­per stickers like “Make Levees, Not War” on the fridge. His daughter Lana, 55, makes eggs for her father at midnight as they roll into a new town, and he takes naps a cou­ple of times a day back in his bunk.

Willie Nelson, who has sold more than 50 million albums in his lifetime, has been busy with many projects this year: In addition to lending his support to causes like Myanmar relief, he has kept up his long-term work with Farm Aid and equine-rescue outfit Habitat for Horses; a collaboration with Wynton Marsalis; a co-authored Western novel; as well as an appearance in the 2008 Toby Keith film Beer for My Horses, a cameo in Snoop Dogg’s song “My Medicine” and a new song for an upcoming film, Tennessee, with Mariah Carey. In February, he is releasing an album of Western swing songs with Asleep at the Wheel. In fact, he’d like to rerecord a lot of his own work.

“There’s songs that I’ve had, good songs, that never got their due,” he says, nodding his head firmly. In March, Naked Willie, an album of Willie’s recordings on RCA from 1966 to 1970, without the strings and schmaltz, produced by his harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, will be released. “For the album cover,” says Raphael, “Willie took a picture of himself with his iPhone while he was in the bubble bath, and sent it to me.”

“These days, I don’t have many dreams,” Willie says. “That’s a side effect of smoking pot — a bad one, or a good one, depending on what your dreams are.” Another side ef­fect: saying yes to almost everything. “He’s high, so everything sounds good to him,” says Raphael. If something sounds bad, he tries to forget that he heard it. “Willie never lies,” adds drummer Paul English, whose first job was playing with Willie in 1956 (he swears it will be his last one, too). “If I ask him something and he doesn’t answer, I never bring it up again. That’s his way of saying no.”

The kitchen nook is where Willie re­ceives friends, with XM classic country on the dial and his favorite things on the countertop. Not only does he have an iPhone, but he’s brought along two Mac PowerBooks, to check e-mail and surf the Net for left-leaning conspiracy theories (he is not sure that 9/11 wasn’t an inside job). Each of the computers has long, heavy scratch­es in the titanium, because fellow travelers have been known to throw them when ex­periencing technical difficulties. The real test of a star musician’s character is the cohesiveness of his band, and Willie has kept them close — he’s fired only two members in 30 years. He’s become more involved with his biological family as well, committed to maintaining a tight unit with his cur­rent wife and teenage sons. “Every morn­ing, Willie looks in the mirror and says, ‘Open your heart and give love a chance,’” says Turk Pipkin, an old friend and co­author of The Tao of Willie. “It’s nothing that he’s shy about, and it’s served him well.” In return, those around him give him fealty and protection on the road — they know the best medicine for his advancing age is music. “Willie has so much creativity, and it hurts to hold it in,” says Raphael.

This may be the case, but Willie can also be difficult. His Texan instinct to trust the most outlandish huckster in the room is problematic: The original biodiesel com­pany that Willie backed is flailing, its stock price trailing for less than a penny these days; at today’s concert, he’s promoting a Wataire machine, a kind of glorified de-humidifier that creates purified drinking water and has a price tag of $1,600. And he himself is covering up many scars — no-account parents who split quickly after his birth, leaving him to be raised by his grandparents in Depression-era Texas; the years he spent in Nashville as a strug­gling songwriter in the Sixties, until he fi­nally broke through in the mid-1970s; a debt of $16.7 million to the IRS in the early Nineties, which he paid off partially by auctioning his homes and possessions; three divorces, not always amicable; and the suicide of a son in 1991. “This is a guy who has really seen the dark side, and peo­ple don’t think that about Willie so much,” says Billy Bob Thornton, who is beginning work on a documentary about Willie, and whose band, the Boxmasters, toured with him this fall. “Willie doesn’t talk about the torture he’s been through. It only shows on his face.”

It’s a heady mix for guys looking for a fa­ther figure and hoping to hang with one of the world’s last pot-smoking icons. Woody Harrelson, Luke and Owen Wilson, and Johnny Knoxville have all become very close to Willie in recent years. When Knoxville appears at a concert the next day, he grabs crew members in big bear hugs. “I thought your granddaugh­ter was a beauty, and then I saw your daughter!” he tells the stage manager. Later, he be­comes choked up while talking about Willie. “I’m from Ten­nessee, and just to meet Wil­lie was an honor for me, but to call him my friend …” he says, then trails off. “It’s an under­statement to say it’s a special friendship for me.”

Harrelson has become a kind of Boswell for Willie’s funniest lines, which he types into his BlackBerry — “If you’re going to have sex with an animal, make sure it’s a horse, because then at least you’ll have a ride home,” for example — and is a regular at his poker games on Maui. “One time, my wife gave me some money to play poker,” says Har­relson. “I said to Willie, ‘Ah, she gave me this money, and I know I should triple it, but instead I’ll come home tonight smell­ing of whiskey, slobbering and broke.’ Willie said, ‘You have that right! As the breadwinner, it’s not only your right — it’s your responsibility! You have the responsibility to be irresponsi­ble!’ That was one of the most freeing things I ever heard in my life. I really needed to hear that.”

Today Willie takes the stage twice in the sweltering heat, sticking to his most popu­lar songs, like “Good Heart­ed Woman” and “Crazy,” rare­ly cracking a smile until the end, when he lifts his Stetson hat in farewell. As the chaos of mixed-up tickets, high school security guards and a mob of fans rages outside the bus, one of Willie’s roadies, Ben Dorcy, climbs on with Ray Price, who has come to sing a few tunes. Neither man is moving par­ticularly quickly: Price is 83, and Dorcy, a former valet for John Wayne who smokes Lon­don Fog in his pipe, is 81. Price gives a kiss to Willie’s wife, a curly-haired hippie chick who is about half as old as anyone in the room, then turns to “Sis­ter Bobbie,” who is drinking coffee out of a china teacup. “Every night, we get our energy from our audiences,” she says. “Maybe it’s what we put out, but they give it back, and that’s the fuel we need to get through the next day.”

Price and Willie sit down at the kitchen nook in front of a big glass ashtray filled with marijuana, for use in Wil­lie’s vaporizer, which was gift­ed to him by a dude Harrelson met on the beach in Maui. “I’ll smoke anything that comes around,” says Willie. “It doesn’t matter to me what type it is. People like to give me it. They feel that I shouldn’t be with­out it. The vaporizer makes it easier on my lungs, because I was coughing and wheezing a lot.” Is he worried about getting busted for possession again? “You think I won’t?” he says, grinning.

Willie tells Price a few jokes — “I’ve got a new song called ‘I Called Her a Bitch, She Called Me a Son of a Bitch, I Think We Might Make It Work This Time,’” he says, laughing — and starts talking politics. He’s excited about President-­elect Obama, who he thinks is a “good guy, with good ideas, and a good change,” he says. “I never did know if we’d be sharp enough to let the right guy in no matter what color he was,” he adds, then cocks his head. “I was talking to my friend Gatewood Gailbraith the other day, and I asked him what he felt about Obama. He goes, ‘It’s like a turtle on a post. You see it, and you think, How’d that get there?’”

Everyone dies laughing, and Price tells Dorcy to grab a bag of peaches that he bought at a nearby farm stand. Dorcy starts toward the door, inch by inch. “Hey, Ben-Ben,” Willie hol­lers. “If you can’t find those peaches, just bring us some doughnuts.”

Then he takes a puff on the vaporizer.

“I’m working on levitating,” he says, letting out a stream of smoke. “You’ll know when I pass by.”

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

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

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 inAn 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 and Miles Davis

Monday, December 11th, 2017

Miles and Willie
www.culturekiosque.com
by: by Mike Zwerin
28 May 1998

Miles Davis wrote and recorded a tune by the name of “Willie Nelson.” And the Country singer Willie had nothing but praise for Miles.

Before Miles died, they had been rumored to be planning some sort of project together. What did the “Prince of Silence” have in common with the hip white country singer?

They both liked to get stoned in their ways. But the ways were quite different so we’ll discount that.

They had the same manager, Mark Rothbaum, but that was only part of it. They had the same record company. Their albums – Miles’s “We Want Miles” and Willie’s “Always On My Mind” (both CBS) – revealed some deep common denominators: understatement, grainy texture, restrained tension, staying power.

Neither of them made disposable music, their records will be around for a while. And both had their own way of reinventing well-known melodies on their own terms. Nelson’s “Georgia” and Miles’s “If I Were A Bell,” for two examples.

Miles was not the first jazz musician to be influenced by country music. Charlie Parker was a Hank Williams fan. When a friend asked why, he said: “Listen to the stories, man. These cats really know how to tell a story.”

Both Miles and Willie were storytellers. Miles’s’ “Jean-Pierre” is a children’s story without words. And his version of George Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now” needs no lyrics to communicate departed love. Willie Nelson sings about the same subject: Once I had a love undyin’, Didn’t keep it up, wasn’t tryin’, Life for me was just one party And then another… And then one night she said, The party’s over…

Nelson’s “Always On My Mind” was on the best-seller list for 23 weeks, his “Greatest Hits” for 48. “In The Jailhouse Now,” with Webb Pierce, was also on the charts. Willie and Miles both recorded often; two or three albums a year. Too often: they tended to compete with their own records.

Each mixed standards with original material. Willie’s album “Always On My Mind” includes Procul Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” and Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Willie’s “Stardust” was not supposed to be a hit, Miles’s version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” either.

Both cultivated an outlaw image. They became superstars by following neither corporate nor aesthetic rules.

Nelson began singing in Texas honky-tonks in the 1950s. He moved to Nashville in the ’60s, but his songs were too hard-edged for the increasingly syrupy country music industry. He could not adapt to Nashville formulas.

Some cowboys thought he was too much of a city slicker with his ponytail and talking about Miles Davis and all. He moved to Austin, Texas, where he and his friend Waylon Jennings (who wrote “Ladies Love Outlaws”) developed a reputation for bringing country music back to its sources.
“Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys…”

Waylon Jennings said that his idea of heaven is that after you die you spend eternity in Willie Nelson’s house.

Kris Kristofferson joined the Austin “outlaws,” who wrote and sang about deeply felt subjects – survival, for example. This appealed to hillbillies and hipsters alike. The Outlaws caught on big in the ’70s.

Since he first played with Charlie Parker in 1947, Miles Davis had been changing; always moving into unexplored territory. He once said he was “cursed” by his need for change. The law stayed the same, he changed. He was an outlaw too.

About stage manners. Miles turned his back on the audience and would not play encores. Willie once cancelled a show in Virginia, returning his five-figure advance because the local sheriff threatened to have him arrested if he drank on stage.

During a concert for the inmates of the Missouri State Penitentiary, Nelson wore his trademark bandana even though a bandana is a symbol of non-conformity in prison. He also wore a “Nuke the Prisons” T-shirt. And of course he’s the guy who forgot the words to the “Star Spangled Banner” during the 1980 Democratic convention.

Listening to a Miles Davis album, Chet Baker said: “That sure is romantic music.” And it’s true – Miles had in fact never played bebop, cool, fusion or funk. He had always been a flat-out romantic.

Willie too. He finds his romance on the road, singing about it in what is probably his best known song: “On the Roadgain.” (“Goin’ places that I’ve never been/Seein’ things that I may never see again…Makin’ music with my friends…”)

Like true romantics, both of them loved to disappear – Willie on the road, Miles just disappearing. With Byronic waves of their capes, they kept fading into the mists in the middle of some secret, heroic caper. Always to reappear again with new stories to tell.

 

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

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Willie Nelson Interview (12/10/1982)

album4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson (Texas Monthly) (December 2012)

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

texas

Rolling Stone’s 40 best country albums of the year (Willie Nelson #8)

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

www.RollingStone.com

While a number of country veterans released their strongest albums in years – Willie Nelson’s God’s Problem Child and Brad Paisley’s Love and War, among them – 2017 belonged to new artists. Fresh faces like Carly Pearce, Luke Combs, Midland and RaeLynn delivered debut LPs that both looked forward and revived the tenets of the genre: personal stories, smart lyrics and sing-along hooks. After a few years of awkwardly wandering in the trend-chasing wilderness, Nashville is once again finding its footing, realizing that pop, rock and hip-hop influences can fully exist in country if they’re allowed to occur naturally. Elsewhere, the Americana world was also reliably on point, with LPs from David Rawlings, JD McPherson, Becca Mancari and Rhiannon Giddens illustrating the scope of modern roots music – there were records of introspective folk, twangy country, early rock and even Sixties protest songs. Herewith, our picks for the 40 best albums of the past year.

No. 8

It’s no small feat when a tried-and-true legend delivers some of his most masterful work in the latter years of his career. Released the day before his 84th birthday, Nelson uses humor, introspection, wistfulness and even a bit of optimism to address mortality (both the listener’s and his own) head on in nearly every one of the album’s 13 tracks.  Nelson’s  inimitable spirit and one-of-a-kind musicality shines as bright as ever on “Still Not Dead,” “Delete and Fast Forward,” “Little House on the Hill” and the Merle Haggard tribute “He Won’t Ever Be Gone.” However, it’s Nelson’s ever-present romantic side on tracks like “True Love,” “Your Memory Has a Mind of Its Own,” and “A Woman’s Love” that provide God’s Problem Child with some of its most distinct moments of heartfelt vitality. W. Hodge

See Rolling Stone’s Entire List of 40 albums here

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

texas

www.texasmonthly.com

Willie Nelson, on Guitar (Frets Magazine, Dec. 1984)

Monday, December 4th, 2017

Frets Magazine
December 1984
by Jim Halo

Willie Nelson is a man of surprises. “Improbable” is the mildest word that describes the course of his career from sideman to superstar, a career marked by so many odd twists, turns and bumps that the story would be hard to pass off a convincing fiction. It isn’t out of character, then, that as an instrumentalist he plays a type of guitar that country bandleaders aren’t supposed to play, uses a technique usually reserved for another type of guitar altogether, and first chose to do so for one of the least likely reasons.

In place of the obligatory pear-monogrammed steel-string, Shotgun Wilie packs a Martin short-scale N-20 classical guitar, one of perhaps only 277 ever built. In country circles, let alone the string music world at large, Martin classicals are about as common as Porsche limosines. And while manicured fingers are considered de rigeur for the playing of classical guitars, Willie uses a flatpick — which accounts for one of his intrument’s trademarks. In the soundboard, a ragged gash extends from near the lower quadrant of the soundhole rosette down almost to the treble end of the bridge saddle. Classical guitars traditionally do not have pickguards. Wille’s instrument, after 15 years of flatpicking, provides an object lesson in while steel-string guitars usually do.

Even if the famous auxiliary soundhole, surrounded by pick-abraded bare wood, with skeletal brace ends and edges peeking through, never had formed on Willie’s N-20, there would have been no question of the guitar’s identity. Besides its battle scars, the soundboard bears the autographs of such artists as Roger Miller and Johnny Bush, along with other graffiti left — at the owner’s invitation — during Willie’s days as a Nashville songwriter who couldn’t quite go over the top as a performer.

Why did Willie Nelson start using a classical guitar in the first place? Test your musical intuition by choosing one of the following: Willie switched to a classical guitar because he wanted to (a) favor a weak left hand by changing to the lower tension of nylon strings; (b) inject an element of mariachi music into his Texas-based country stylings; (c) get a guitar that was strikingly different from those of his performing peers; (d) sound like France’s Gypsy jazz guitar virtuoso, Django Reinhardt.

The correct answer is (d).

Any similarities between the style of Nelson and the style of Reinhardt are purely intentional. “I wanted to look for a guitar that I could use to find that tone that Django was getting,” Willie says, referring to the sound of Django’s unusual Selmer-Maccaferri steel-string acoustics. “The guitar that I am using now is the closest that I could find to that.”

Most guitarists would figure that Willie was drawn to a nylon-string instrument because of it’s comparatively easygoing action. But he says that in fact, the opposite is true.

“The action is really a lot slower than what you’d get on a regular Fender electric or something, which I used to play all the time,” he explains. “I played a lot of Fenders and a lot of Gibsons — all electrics. I really didn’t play the acoustic guitar on stage then, for the simple reason that the fingering was more difficult. But finally I sort of settled for the harder action to get the tone I wanted.”

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As a performer, Willie also settled for harder action to get the kind of results he wanted. For years he channelled royalties from a successful songwriting career into a money-losing band, so that he could play his music the way he wanted with his “family” of loyal sidemen. He went against the Nashville grain in the early ’70s, switching to a non-country label, recording in New York, and moving his base of operations to Texas. That earned him the label “outlaw,” but it helped launch a new wave in country music that eventually overflowed into the rock and pop markets and carried Willie Nelson to megastar status. At present, his roll call of recording credits includes no less eight gold albums, six platinum albums, one double platinum album, and one triple platinum album.

Ironically — or perhaps, characteristically — the triple platinum album isn’t country at all. It is Stardust, Willie’s 1978 tribute to the standards (like “Stardust,” “Blue Skies,” “September Song,” and “All of Me”) that he heard and loved as a boy in the 1940s.

Born in the teeth of the Depression in April 1933, Willie grew up in Abbott, Texas, south of Fort Worth. His mother left home when eh was six months old, and he was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather, a blacksmith, gave Willie his first guitar lesson at age six. Willie’s grandmother, who wrote gospel songs, also played guitar. “I started out with a thumbpick,” Willie recalls, “Because that was what my grandparents used, so I was taught that way. But later on I began to hear players like Eldon Shamblin [of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys], and they used a straight pick. So I changed because that music was more what I wanted to play. When I was a kid I used to play the mandolin — fool with it a lot, and the banjo, and everything that had strings o it. I usually could get some sort of sound out of them. But I never really tried to get good on anything other than a guitar.”

His older sister, Bobbie (now the pianist in Willie’s band), was taking piano lessons, so the sheet music she brought home supplemented the songs he heard on the radio — World War II pop hits like “Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer” and “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me).” Through radio he also drank in Grand Ole Opry country music, western swing, and jazz. As he grew bigger, Willie earned $3 a day picking cotton with black field hands. What made the work bearable for him was the blues and work songs they sang.

At age 10 Willie made his professional debut, playing in a Bohemian polka band for $8 a night. He began working in a small group with Bobbie on piano, their father on fiddle, Bobbie’s husband on bass, and the local football coach on trumpet. Gradually he evolved a guitar style influenced by such players as Johnny Smith, Hank Garland, George Barnes, Barney Kessel and Django Reinhardt. “I liked those rhythms that Django’s band laid down, too,” says Willie, “the stuff his brother Joseph played on rhythm guitar.” Perennially electric, he also was drown to the music of flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya. “The Spanish flavor was something I always enjoyed anyway,” he says, “So Montoya was one of my favorites from the beginning.”

After high school he served a short stint in the Air Force during the Korean War, then spent the ’50s working as a door-to-door salesman (variously selling vacuum cleaners, Bibles, and encyclopedias), a plumber’s helper, a used-car salesman, a janitor, a Sunday School teacher, and a disc jockey, all the while playing in bars and honky tonks. And writing music. One of his first successful songs was “Family Bible.” He sold the rights to it for $50, so he could buy groceries for his family. In 1959 he wrote his classic “Light Life,” which would eventually be recorded by more than 70 different artists and sell over 30 million copies. But two years later he sold the rights to it for $150, which he used to buy a second-hand Buick. He used the Buick to move to Nashville.

Willie’s work won quick recognition in Music City. Songwriter Hank Cochran heard Willie one night in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the bar that served as the unofficial artists’ club room for the neighboring Grand Ole Opry, and signed him to a publishing contract. Singer Ray Price, who with Cochran was a part-owner in the publishing company, also was impressed. He made “Night Life’ his theme song, and hired its author as a bass player.

Soon vocalist Patsy Cline had a huge hit with Nelson’s “Crazy,” and Faron Young had another with Willie’s “Hello Walls.” Liberty signed Willie to a recording contract, and he scored his first Top Ten country hit in 1962 with the single “Touch Me.” He became a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1964, and the following year he signed with RCA. But though he recorded more than a dozen albums for RCA between 1965 and 1971, Willie didn’t enjoy the kind of usccess that other artists were having with his material.

One reason was his phrasing. Intrigued by crooner Frank Sinatra’s knack for singing off, or against, the beat, Willie had adopted the technique in his own music. (That kind of phrasing often turns up in Willie’s guitar solos). But his producers saw Willie’s use of rhythmical license as a liability, not an asset — and often remixed his studio tapes to get his voice back on the beat.

The results weren’t impressive, commercially; and artistically they were frustrating for Willie. His substantial songwriting income allowed him to hold his road band together, however, and they kept the faith in live performances. “The music I played on a bandstand was better than the music I played in the studio,” he once told Al Reinert of New York Times Magazine. “For one thing, I’d be using my own band, and we’d have a better feel for it — be more relaxed. We’d have an audience to play for, and it was just a whole lot more fun.”

In 1969, in the middle of his second divorce, Willie’s Nashville house burned down. His guitar was one of the few things eh was able to save from the flames. While Willie’s home was being rebuilt, he moved back to Texas — and stayed. He made the relocation official in 1972. Meanwhile, Willie and his band began hitting the Southwest tour circuit again; and with the expiration of his RCA contract, he left the Nashville studios behind as well. In 1971 he signed with Atlantic, which was venturing into the country market. It was a good move for both parties.

Given a free hand, Wilie took his own band to New York to record Shotgun Willie. Finished in less than to days, the LP brought their “outlaw” sound out into the open. Within six months, sales of Shotgun Willie had surpassed the sales of all his Nashville albums combined.

From there, the successes began to snowball. Phases And Stages, completed in 1974 as Atlantic wound down its country operations, sold 400,000 copies. Meanwhile, the Nashville songwriting fraternity saluted his earlier contributions to country music by inducting him into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973.

Willie formed his own record company, signed a distribution agreement with Columbia, and in 1975 released Red-Headed Stranger. From that came the single, “Blue Eyes Cryin’ In the Rain,” which gave him his first Top Ten country hit in 13 years and won him his first Grammy Awared. (It also documented a rare reversion to fingerstyle playing on the guitar solo. “I didn’t use a pick on that one,” Willie says. “Sometimes I use my thumb by itself, to get a softer sound. On ‘Blues yese,’ that was strictly thumb and fingers.”)

Red-Headed Stranger was certified gold in March 1976, and before the month was otu Willie shared in the plaudits as RCA’s The Outlaws — a compilation featuring the music of Willie, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser — also earned gold record status. Honors and hit records came almost predictably thereafter. Among his laurels to date are eight Country Music Association awards, including Best Album (twice), Best Single (twice), Best Vocal Duo (with Waylon Jennings in 1976, with Merle Haggard in 1983, and with Julio Iglesias in 1984), and Entertainer of the Year — a title conferred on him in 1979 by both the CMA and the Academy of Country Music.

Willie no longer has to worry about breaking even outside the studio. This summer, Willie Nelson & Family was No. 14 in Billboard Magazine’s list of top-grossing concert appearances (a roster on which the much-hyped Victory Tour by the Jacksons sewed up 6 of the top 12 spots). Willie also is listed as one of the top ten money-earners on the Las Vegas shworoom circuit (along with his old diol, Frank Sinatra).

But despite all the justifiable to-do about his gilt-edged performing status, Willie still prefers to think of himself first and foremost as a picker.

“What I always liked to do was be the guitar player,” he says. “Somewhere along the say, I started being the singer. I’m not sure how that happened. I think one night the front man didn’t show up, and I wound up fronting the band and doing the singing. And I don’t know if that was really the best day of my life! I really do like to be just the guitar player, sometimes. It’s very enjoyable when the only responsibility you have is playing the guitar.

Fret Magazine. When you are playing lead, what’s gong on in your mind? Are you thinking of right chord changes or melodic patterns on the fretboard, or modes related to the key of the tune, or positions you like to work from?

Willie Nelson. Not consciously. I think probably if somebody put a computer on me, they’d find I use a lot of things the same way. But consciously — I just play off the top of my head. On the songs that I do a lot, I guess I’m subconsciously aware of the chord structures and I just play whatever notes I hear that fall within those. I really don’t think about all that. I guess I’m playing from somewhere else.

Fret: Do you work out solos ahead of time? Often, when you’re fronting your band, your solos will restate the melody. But in some situations — on the Angel Eyes album, for example — you’ll take what sounds like a more spontaneous lead break.

WN: It’s all how I feel at the moment. I really am not confined to playing anything the same way. I don’t have any arrangements that I try to follow, other than the basic things that are always there in a tune — the stuff that you can’t get around. Whenever anyone in the band takes choruses, they just play what they want to play.

Fret: Back on 1976, when you were interviewed by our sister magazine Guitar Player, you said that in doing solos you didn’t get into a lot of minor scales, because you felt you were major-chord oriented. How that youre’ playing things closer to mainstream jazz, is that still true?

WN: I think so. I love minor chords, and I have written some songs with minors in them. But basically, the songs that I listened to and learned in the beginning were major-chord songs.

Fret: Is that when you developed yoru feeling for standares like “Stardust”? Would it be fair to say that your growing up with that kind of material helped you learn how to put together well-crafted melodies?

WN: I think it very well could have. I was always exposed to those songs through the radio and through music that came into the house — sheet music, and so forth. I love good melodies, so I’m sure that had a lot of influence on me.

Fret. Through albums like Stardust and Angel Eyes, you’ve probably influenced a lot of younger musicians yourself, giving them their first exposure to standards and jazz. Do you have any other styles of music up your sleeve — material you might record in the future?

WN: There are some of the older styles I still ahven’t done, like Stephen Foster songs and old Songs of the Pioneers things — the real cowboy songs like “Leaning On The Old Top Rail” and “Empty Cot In The Bunkhouse Tonight.” All of those classics are still tehre to do.

Fret: Often you’re functioning as a rhythm player. In your opinion, what goes into really playing rhythm as well as it can be played?

WN: I think you ahve to know the chord forms. I think guys like Paul Buskirk and Homer Haynes are two of my favorites because of their styles. [Ed note: Mandolinist Paul Buskirk and guitarist Henry “Homer” Haynes (half of the team of Homer & Jethro) had strong elements of swing in their music.] It’s 4/4 rhythm and it’s done without drums. Or it can be done with drums; but I really liket he sound of the kind of rhythm section where you just hvae an upright bass and the rhythm guitar.

Fret: Does a rhythm guitarist need a special sensitivity to where the lead player is going?

WN: Yes, I think that’s an innate thing that most good rhythm guitarists know, becasue most rhythm guitar players are also leadguitar players, to a certain degree. So you just have t have a feel of when to play and when not to play, or hwo loud to play.

Fret: When you’re chording, do you ever use your thumb to fret notes?

WN: Yeah, a lot of times. I do that especially in open-chord rhythms. For instance, on a first position D chord I’ll use the thumb on the low E string to play an F#.

Fret: You generally use Fender medium flatpicks on your nylon-string guitar, instead of fingerpicking it. How often do you change picks? Some steel-string players have told us they go through a half-dozen a night, because the picks get worn and start sounding scratchy. But it would seem that nylon strings would be easier on a flatpick.

WN: I guess a normal person probably would be able to make them last longer, but there’s one tune we do each night — “Bloody Mary Morning” — where I’ll go through a pick every time I play it.

Fret: You can hear the difference? The pick starts to sound rough?

WN: No — I just break it.

Fret: Do you play with the point of the pick, or do you turn it and use the rounded corner for a mellower sound, as some players do?

WN: I try to keep it on the point, but in the course of “Bloody Mary Morning” I play every side of it. I think! I use up a couple of picks a night, because “Bloody Mary Morning” will take care of one, and “Whiskey River” will eat up another, so I’ll go through at least two picks, maybe three, every show.

Fret: You used to use ball-end La Bella nylon strings. Are you still staying that that brand?

WN: As far as I know, I am. The strings are automatically changed on my guitar every few days by a guy in our crew, and I’n not sure if he is still using La Bellas or not. I can’t tell any difference.

Fret: Are the strings changed on a regular schedule, or does the frequency just depend on how often you are performing?

WN: I think probably every three or four days he’ll change the strings. And we keep another guitar handy, with the strings on it already stretched, so that we kind of rotate them. When you put new nylon strings on a guitar, you’re always retuning them as they stretch out. That happened to me a lot of times on stage. Boy, it was hard, especially under those hot lights. Finally, we got real brilliant here and figured out that if you stretch them a few days before you put them on, you wouldn’t have to do that. I don’t know why we didn’t think of it years before, but better late than never!

Fret: Are there certain strings you’re more likely to break than others? Some players find that the G string is the first to go, for example.

WN: I very rarely break strings. In fact, I don’t remember the last string I broke. The picks go before the strings do, because the nylon strings are more flexible.

Fret: The nylon strings are one of the things that set your sound apart; but the way you amplify your guitar has a lot to do with that, too, doesn’t it?

WN: I think so. It’s a Baldwin amp with a Martin classical guitar — which is kind of a bastard situation. I’ve tried other combinations, and I don’t get the same sound that I do with this one, which was really accidental.

Fret: Didn’t the pickup itself come from a Baldwin guitar that got broken?

WN: Yeah, I had it taken out of the Baldwin and put in this one years ago, by Shot Jackson’s place in Nashville [Ed note: In the late ’60s, after Baldwin acquired Gretsch and began marketing a line of guitar amplifiers, the company briefly offered a classical guitar model with a ceramic piezo-electric pick up, and a companion amplifier designed for a “natural” tone response.] I’ve never changed it. I’ve tried to keep everything exactly the same, and the amplifier is still the same one. They don’t make Baldwins any more, you know. Each time I come across a used Baldwin amp, I try to buy it so I can use the parts for replacements on this one. I’ve got a couple of them.

Fret: Youv’e had a lot of work done on your guitar to keep it in service through all yoru years of touring. Who handles the repairs?

WN: A guy named Newman, in Austin [Newman Guitars, 200 Academy, Austin, Texas]. He has a guitar shop in the Opera House in Austin, and he’s been fixing my guitar for years.

Fret: Does your road crew take special precautions with the guitar and amp, since those are really one-of-a-kind items?

WN: They have nice sturdy cases for both. Steel cases. They take real good care of them.

Fret: Do you carry any other acoustic guitars on the road with you, or keep some at home that you just use for recording?

WN: I have a couple of guitars around the house, and sometimes I have one on the bus just to fool around with, but my stage guitar is my main guitar. The others are a variety of things — just whatever is available. It varies from one day to the next, really.

Fret: How many days a year are you on the road?

WN: I think probably somewhere between 200 and 250. That’s this year. It’s been like that practically every year, and each year I say, “Next year I’m going to slow down.’ But I still like doing it. I just enjoy playing music a lot.

The Landmark Career of the Red Headed Stranger (Billboard Oct. 11, 1986)

Monday, December 4th, 2017

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Willie Nelson in Texas Monthly (December 2005)

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Willie Nelson
The 72-year-old singer on growing up in Abbott, playing in public for the first time, what he listens to on the bus, and why he doesn’t hate the music business

by Evan Smith
Texas Monthly
December 2005

ES:  Could there have been a Willie Nelson without an Abbott?

WN:  I doubt it.  I’ve always felt like Abbott was a special place.  It was the perfect place for me to grow up because it was a small town and because everybody knew everybody.  Everybody there was friends or family or worked together or went to school together.  There was something real positive about that.

ES:  In a lot of small towns, everybody gossips about everybody else; there’s nothing positive about that.  But not inAbbott?

WN:  If it’s gossip that bothers you, you’re in trouble, because there’s gossip everywhere, in little towns and big towns.  I was a elephone operator in Abbott back when they had telephone exchange operators.  My sister was really the one who had the job.  Whenever the oerpators would take a vacation, they would hire her to run the board, and I would ocme in and help her.  All the time I was sitting there, I’d be listening in to the conversations going on all over Abbott.  I tapped every phone in town!  I knew everything about the whole county.

ES:  What’s your earliest memory of Abbott?

WN:  Playing in the mud and the creeks and the water and the cotton patches.

ES:  Did you have any sense back then that there was a while other world out there, and were you intersted in seeing it?

WN:  No, I didn’t think there was a lot out there for me.  I was surprised when I left Abbott that there was another world out there, because I thought we had it all right here.  In a way, Abbott was a littlebitty picture of the whole world.  You had nice people, you had assholes, and you learned to live with them and like them and work with them.  I thought it wa a good education growing up there.

ES:  tell me about the house your family lived in.

WN:  the first one was down at the edge of town.  We had a house with a well where we got our water.  We had a garden we grew vegetables in. We had a hog pen where we raised hogs and cattle.  We had a barn where we fattened up calves.  I was with the Future Farmers of America, so every year I had a project.  I loved being outside.

ES:  Big house or small house?

WN:  Very small house.  My parents were divored when I was six monts old, so it was my sister and my grandparents who raised me.  My grandfather was a blackmith. I hung out with him every day in his shop.  After he died, we mvoed to another house just a couple of blocks to the north, and my grandmoterh started teaching school and cooking in the school lunchroom.  The house wa a little bigger and a little nicer.  It was right next to the church tabernacle, so we got religous services through the summer.  We were pretty well soaked in religion.

ES:  Did it take?

WN:  Yeah.  I realized there’s a highter power.  There’s somebody smarter than I am out there, and I’m not picky about who it is.  It’s like Kinky [Friedman] says:  “May the God of your choice bless you.”  If you’ve got one, you’re all right.

ES:  You’ve been back to Abbott a bunch of times over the course of your life, right?

WN:  I still go back a lot.  I just bought another house there — the doctor who delivered me used to own it — and we fixed it up a little bit.  That’s where I spend some time every now and then.

ES:  Could there have been a Willie Nelson without a Texas?

WN:  I don’t think so.  Texas suits me so well.  I love the freedom, the wide-opened spaces.  Now, a lot of people out there might say, “That’s a load of horseshit, because I live in Oklahoma, and we’re just as crowded as you are.”  I’m sure that’s true.

ES:  Is Texas a good place to make country music, or do you have to go to Nashville?

WN:  I went to Nashville becasue that’s where I thought you went to sell your product.  Maybe it still is.  Maybe you take care of your business in Nashville becuase that’s where the store is — that’s where they pay you off, that’s where your publisher and your record company are.  In my day, Nashville was were you needed to go to get some recognition, so I did.  And then, when my house burned up there in Ridgetop, Tennessee, I thought it was a good time to go back home.

ES:  Did it every occur to you while you were in Nashville that Tennessee had become your home, or was it always just another stop along the way?

WN:  Well, I have a lot of friends in Nashville and all over Tennessee, so it really was my home for a while.  But I always thought I’d probably go back to Texas one day.  I didn’t realize it would be sooner rather than later.

ES:  Do you respect the popular strain of country music that comes out of Nashville now?

WN:  I respect songwriters and musicians probably more than anybody.  It’s difficult dealing with the record company.  You’re supposed to be commercial today and tomorrow.  That was always one word I couldn’t get along with, “commercial.”  I never could fall into any of the categories that they would say were commercial.

ES:  Was there ever a point in your career when you thought, “I need to get with the program and figure out a way to be more radio friendly or album friendly or I’ll never be successful?

WN:  Never.  I always thought that If was having fun doing what I was doing and making a living doing it, then I was already successful.  I didn’t have any idea I’d be this successful, but the first night that I made money making music, I knew that I had succeeded.

ES:  Do you remember when that first night was?

WN:  I played rhythm guitar in a bohemian polka band in West, Texas.  It was John Rejcek’s band.  There’s no way he could have heard anything I did, but I would just sit there and play, make my mistakes ad move on.  I made $8, so I’ll never forget that.

ES:  How did you get the gig?

WN: He was from around Abbott, and he was a blacksmith, like my granddaddy.  We had a lot in common, I guess, and I think he just liked me.  I grew up playing with his kids.  He had sixteen kids, and they were all musicians.  Every one of them could play horns or drums or something.

ES:  Could you ever imagine having sixteen kids in your life, Willie.

WN:  There probably would have been sixteen wives and one Willie.

ES:  Who taught you to play the guitar the first time?

WN:  My grandfather taught me some open chords and taught me to play a couple of songs.  After that, I picked it up from various people listening to the radio and hanging out with other guitar players who happened to come by.

ES:  Do you remember the first song you learned?

WN:  The first song I learned was “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”  You ever hear that song?  [singing] “Show me the way to go home/I’m tired and I want to go to bbed.”  You remember a song called “Polly Wolly Doodle”?  That was another one I learned.

ES:  How old were you?

WN:  I was six when I started playing guitar, but I started writing songs when I was about five.

ES:  And your grandfather gave you your first guitar?

WN:  Yeah.  It was a Stella guitar, from Sears,Roebuck.

ES:  When was the first time you played by yourself?

WN:  I started a band when I got to high school.  It was me and my sister — she was a junior then — and a guy named Bud Fletcher, who she eventually wound up marrying.  I had my football coach in it; he played trombone.  My dad played fiddle, and we had a guy named Whistle Watson, out of Hillsboro, to play drums.  We were probably pretty bad.

ES:  And the name of the band was?

WN:  Bud Flether and the Texans.

ES:  Why not Willie Nelson and the Texans?

WN:  I was the guitar player and the singer, but I wasn’t really old enough to go out oand book the jobs. We but Bud’s name on it because we was the front man.

ES:  Was there ever a time when you thought you would end up dong anything other than this to make a living?

WN:  I always thought I would figure out a way to do it with music.  I knew I might have to do other things along the way.  Of course, I have had to do other things.  I was disc jockey, a vacuum salesman.  I got a pretty good education in that respect.

ES:  At what point did you no longer have to do those odd jobs to make enough money to live on?

WN:  When I started playing in clubs all the time.  It was harder to do a day job as well as play six nights.  So it kind of eliminated itself. I drifted over into the nighttime and got away from the salesman stuff that you have to get up early in the morning to do.  I couldn’t do them both for very long, so I finally gave up the salesman part.

ES:  What do you like about what you do?

WN:  I love to play.  I love to play to an audience. I love having good musicians around me.  I love the fact that we travel from one place to another.  That keeps it new and fresh every day.

ES:  You’re on the road an extraordinary amount of time.

WN:  Almost all the time.

ES:  What sort of music do you listen to on the bus?

WN:  I listen to XM satellite radio a lot because I can pick it up all the way across the country.  When you travel as much as I do, satellite is the most dependable thing.  You hear a song and think, “Wow, that takes me back.”  That’s the joy in listening to traditional music.  It’s like Trisha Yearwood said in her song:  “The Song Remembers When.”

ES:  Since you mention traditional music, there ought to be a Willie Nelson channel on satellite radio, if there isn’t one already.

WN:  Well, I do a radio show on XM channel 171 every Wednesday.  They call it Willie Wednesday.  I’m on with Bill Mack, my old disc jockey buddy from years and years ago.  When he was in Fort Worth, he was the Midnight Cowboy, but now that he’s on XM, he’s the Satellite Cowboy.  A guy named Eddie Kilroy also has a show on channel 13. I listen to that a lot, because you can hear Lefty Frizzell and Bob Wills and all that good stuff 24/7.

ES:  What happened to that kind of music?  Why has it been forgotten by so many people?

WN:  The bottom line is whatever’s commercial today, whatever’s selling.  And, you know, Hank Williams is dead, and Bob Wills is dead, and they can’t make any money off of them.  They move on to somebody else.

ES:  Do you have the bad feeling about the music business that a lot of people have?

WN:  No.  You might think, “Whoever is running this record coming is going to run it into the ground and ruin music” or “Whoever’s doing all these radio stations, they’re going to ruin music,” but I don’t think so.  I don’t see it.  I know a lot of guys who are doing it a different way.  In Austin there’s Sam and Bob.  They have a radio show in the morning over there on KVET, and they play great music.  And they’re at a Clear Channel station.  It just depends on the personalities.  Some stations will play good music and some won’t.

ES:  How hard must it be to play good music?

WN:  There are a lot of politics going on with a lot of those records you hear played.  The word “payola” has been around since I can remember.  I don’t remember anybody giving me any say, and I don’t remember paying anybody any, but I knwo it happens. Payola ain’t dead. It ain’t even sick.

ES:  Does it make a difference, really, if Willie Nelson moves product anymore?  Don’t they just want to have you on their label? You must get an exemption.

WN:  I don’t think anyone has an exemption.  I think maybe there might have been a time, years ago, when they carried you for a while even if you weren’t selling, but I don’t think that’s true today.  Even with the great guys, at some point the record companies say, “That’s it for you.”  They’re pretty cold-blooded; they’ll drop you in a second.

ES:  I bet you’ve probably been dropped at least once in your life.

WN:  Oh, I’ve been dropped and drop-kicked.  but I don’t mind it.  I’m just looking for a good label. I’m just looking for a fan.  If I can find somebody in the executive branch who’s a fan, then I don’t really are what label it is. I can figure out a way to make it happen.

ES:  Am I remembering correctly that you’re about to be 73?

WN:  Born in ’33.

ES:  A lot of people much younger than you would have already said to themselves, “You know something?  I’ve had a god career, I want to sit in a lawn chair and drink a beer.”

WN:  Well, I don’t like lawn chairs, and I don’t drink beer.

ES:  So you’re not tired of this life of yours?

WN:  I’ve been home [outside of Austin] now for a few days, and I’ve had a lot of fun.  I played some golf and rode my horse, but now I’m ready to go back out and play, ‘Whiskey River.’

ES:  How’s your golf game?

WN:  I lie so much that I don’t really know.

ES:  Can you get out there and beat the average person?

WN:  I really don’t like to play people I can’t beat.

ES:  Probably the same with chess.

WN:  The same with chess and dominoes. I love to play all those games.  I’m not a horrible golfer, but you know, the really good golfers can have their way with me.

ES:  Speaking of golf, you’re about to play in a tournament to raise money for Kinky’s campaign for governor.  Are you totally on board with his running as an independent?

WN:  I like what he says about himself.  He says, “I might not be worth a dam, but I’m better than what you got.”  I’m a farmer and a rancher, and I want to see agriculture do well.  I haven’t seen any help from either Democrats or Republicans on that front.  There’s plenty of blame all over the place.

ES:  Kinky has made so many joke about what your job will be in a Friedman administration that I can’t keep track of them.

WN:  The last offer I had was to be head of the DEA or the Texas Rangers. I’m not sure.

ES:  this is not the first time you’ve been involved in politics.  You campaigned for Dennis Kucinich during the last presidential race.

WN:  Right, I did back him.  I didn’t have any idea if he could win, but we felt the same about the war and oil.  I had to go with the guy I believed in.

ES:  You don’t cut George Bush any slack because he’s from Texas.

WN:  Hell no.  Being from somewhere doesn’t give you any rights.  I don’t have anything at all against the president personally.  In fact, I understand he’s a pretty nice guy. He’s said a couple nice things about me.  I’ve got nothing derogatory to say about him, but I do think he’s getting a lot of real bad advice.  The people around him who whisper in his ear all the time?  They’re not his friends.

ES:  I’m imagining what a kid — say, six years old or a little bit older — must think walking down the street in Abbott, and here comes Willie Nelson riding his bike.  It must be a total shock.

WN:  It’s not exactly like I sneak into town.  The last time I was there, we had two buses parked in the driveway with the generators going.  I’m sure everyone knew I was home.