Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Willie Nelson in Texas Monthly (December 2005)

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

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.

Willie Nelson in Texas Monthly (December 2012)

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

texas

Grady Martin (January 17, 1929 – December 3, 2001

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

 

Session guitarist Grady Martin was born on January 17, 1929, was born in Chapel Hill, Tennessee. Before he joined Willie Nelson & Family, Grady had played with Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Elvis Presley and Ray Price. He also wrote the song sung by Ronnie Milsap, “Snap Your Fingers.”

grady2

*Article originally printed in the August, 1984 edition of Country Song Roundup magazine.

Young country fans know Grady Martin as the lead guitarist in Willie Nelson’s band, but he is much, much more. His contributions to the development of the Nashville Sound as a studio musician in the 1950’s and 1960’s have been incalculable.

Put bluntly, there would be no Nashville music industry as we know it, were it not for Grady Martin. Country entrepreneur Tillman Franks thinks Grady belongs in the Country Music Hall of Fame. “There are five great musical geniuses that made Nashville Music City U.S.A.,” he says. “They are: recording studio innovator Owen Bradley, music publisher Fred Rose, Grand Ole Opry superstar Roy Acuff, and musicians Chet Atkins and Grady Martin. Of these five, Grady MArtin is the only one not in the Country Music Hall of Fame. As a charter member of the Country Music Association, I hereby nominate Grady Martin for the Hall of Fame in 1984.”

Franks said that in December 1983, at a tribute dinner held in Martin’s honor by the Nashville Music Association On that occasion, Grady was lauded by his peers and given the first Master Tribute Award, designed to honor the unsung heroes of music: the backup instrumentalists. On hand were Brenda Lee, Floyd Cramer, Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, The Jordonaires, and a ballroom of other celebrities. Willie Nelson hosted the tribute to his friend and bandmember.

Studio musicians got their due at long last that night. Finally it was stated publicly that Grady Martin was the session leader for the hundreds of hit productions that put Nashville on the map. He was a chief architect in the building of Music City.

Grady Martin was born 55 years ago, Jan. 17, 1929, 50 miles south of Nashville on a farm between Lewisburg and Chapel Hill, Tennessee. He grew into a strapping six-footer, but he always preferred making music to doing his farm chores. “My dad played the jug,” he chuckles, remembering his musical youth. “And my mother played the piano. My brother had bought a guitar for eight dollars and he wouldn’t let me fool with it much. I had to slip away to get it.” Maybe that’s why he took up the fiddle at age 13. “There was an old fella down the road named John Davis who played his fiddle at night on his porch. He went down to all the local dances and played.”

He inspired Grady so much that the youngster was soon one of the most accomplished fiddlers in the area. When Nashville radio star Big Jeff Bess came south for a show, Martin was played for him backstage. Impressed, Bess offered the 15 year-old a job.

“We had an early-morning radio show, and just played schoolhouses and anywhere we could. Four or five dollars a night was a good night’s pay. This was during World War II.” Bess was the husband of the legendary Hattie Louise “Tootsie” Bess, later immortalized as the owner of Nashville’s Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge Bar, across the alley from the Ryman Auditorium downtown, mother church of the Grand Ole Opry.

“I went up to the Opry one Saturday night and met manager Jim Denny. I was just askin’ for a job with somebody on the show. And he turned me on to The Bailes Brothers. So I traveled and appeared with them for awhile.” At the time the group was riding the crest of a wave of hits that included Dust on the Bible, I Wanna Be Loved (But Only By You), and As Long As I Live.

Martin toured with such Opry headliners as Jamup & Honey and Uncle Dave Macon. When he began appearing with trick fiddler Curly Fox and “The Sophie Tucker of Cowgirl Singers,” Texas Ruby, he switched to guitar. Thus, on that instrument he made his recording debut when Fox took him into a studio in Chicago.

He joined the band of Red Foley then about to become the biggest star of his generation of country vocalists. [A] 1949 Nashville recording session produced Foley’s huge number-one hit Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy. It was the first of many million-sellers that were to feature Grady’s guitar. “We recorded that at the Old Castle Studio that was in the Tulane Hotel on Church Street in Nashville.”

Artists like Carl Smith, George Morgan, and Little Jimmy Dickens began using him on their sessions. Hall of Fame member credits Martin and guitarist Jabbo Arrington for developing his hit sounds= with their twin-guitar playing.

Martin even played (fiddle) on a Hank Williams session. He also accompanied Williams to “The Kate Smith Show” in New York in 1952, country music’s debut on prime-time, nationwide network TV.

As Red Foley’s airplane pilot and lead guitarist, Grady Martin accompanied Foley on his commutes to Springfield, Missouri. There he became the band leader on the Foley-hosted “Ozark Jubilee,” the first network TV country variety series.

He maintained his ties to the infant recording center in Nashville, however. Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce, and dozens of other Nashville pioneers featured him on their hit records.

“I guess the person I played the most hit licks for was Marty Robbins,” says Martin wistfully of his old friend. That’s Grady’s Spanish-style picking embellishing El Paso, and on Don’t Worry he developed the electric fuzz-tone sound that was to influence an entire generation of psychedelic electric-guitar stylists.

He played vibes on Floyd Cramer’s timeless Last Date. He played dobro/guitar on Wilma Burgess’ lovely Tear Time. He banged tambourine and played the banjo lick on Wings Of A Dove by Ferlin Husky.

“On sessions that produced, like Johnny Horton’s Battle of New Orleans or Jimmy Dean’s Big John, I just went ahead and started it up without the producer. He trusted me and I loved it. When he’d come in later, we’d have a hit arrangement worked out.”

Grady also arranged (and wrote) Joe Henderson’s Snap Your Fingers (1962), perhaps Nashville’s first black top pop hit. The following year, he arranged and published Our Winter Love, one of Music City’s biggest ever pop instrumentals.

He played on all the hits of Patsy Cline and on all the worldwide million-sellers of Brenda Lee. He’s on Elvis Presley’s movie soundtracks. He’s on Gone (Ferlin Husky), Saginaw Michigan (Lefty Frizzell), Waterloo (Stonewall Jackson), Uncle Pen (Porter Wagoner, Grady’s last major session as a fiddler), Devil in Disguise (Elvis), Oh Pretty Woman (Orbison), I’m Sorry (Brenda) and For the Good Times (Ray Price).

Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, Dottie West , Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Larry Gatlin, and Kris Kristofferson records all feature Grady Martin. In fact, it would be easier to name the Nashville stars that he has not accompanied in the studios than it would be to list all he has.

“We worked round-the-clock back then. It was like being in a submarine. You’d ‘submerge’ and stay ‘down’ for hours, all night long and sometimes the next day, too. If you got tired you curled up under a piano for awhile and got up and played some more.”

Surrounded by such “A-Team” pickers as Bb Moore, Buddy Harman, Ray Edenton, Harold Bradley, Hank Garland, Pig Robbins, Pete Drake, Floyd Cramer, Tommy Jackson, The Anita Kerr Singers, The Jordonaires, and a handful of others, Grady Martin forged a sound and style. Never before or since in the annals of popular music have so few been so responsible for so many hits.

It was hard work, but what Grady remembers most are the good times the pickers shared in the good old days of Nashville recording. Today, he says those historic sessions are “all a blur to me. You can ask me anything except about dates and song titles.”

At his peak, his reputation spread to pop musicians like Perry Como, Al Hirt, Theresa Brewer, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Henry Mancini, Tab Hunter and Burl Ives, all of whom used his talent on records, Martin’s own recording group, The Slewfoot Five, was a pop/jazz act.

As the 1970’s dawned , Grady MArtin returned to playing live on the road. He served a stint in Jerry Reed’s band before Reed made so many movie-making commitments. Requested by Willie Nelson to play on the soundtrack of the film Honeysuckle Rose in 1979, Martin wound up serving as the model for the Slim Pickens character in the movie. He has remained with Nelson in the 1980’s, both touring and recording with the superstar. Nelson remembers Grady from when he played on a then-green songwriter’s first album. Now Martin plays guitar on such huge Nelson hits as the Merle Haggard duet, Pancho & Lefty.

That the spotlight is finally falling on him after years in the darkness of recording studios won’t change good ole Grady a bit. He remains a Buddah-like, lovable, modest country character without a trace of pretense. “Chet’s a star. I’m not a star,” he says. “Makin’ a good record and havin’ it accepted, just bein’ part of havin’ a hit record, that’s what mattered to me.”

Martin’s modesty might be one reason he has received so little recognition before now. “I really don’t do interviews. I never saw why anybody would want to write anything about me. I’m just a factory worker in the studio.”

He’s wrong. He’s much more than a “factory worker.” He’s 0ne of the creative geniuses in the history of country music.

Willie Nelson, Vanity Fair (November 2003)

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

leibowitz

Willie Nelson, by Annie Leibovitz, on the cover of Vanity Fair

www.VanityFair.com

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

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

by Lisa Robinson .

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

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

The Coming of Redneck Hip (Texas Monthly, November 1973)

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

img778 by you.

Texas Monthly
November 1973
by Don Roth and Jan Reid

Austin’s number one, long-hair, honkey-tonk, Armadillo World Headquarters, always draws a crowd Saturday night.  The Armadillo, an abandoned armory adjacent to a skating rink, has already atttracted its share of myth, mystique, and tall tales.  Its concrete floors temper the urge to dance with the fear of shin splints, its walls bear some artwork of modest inspiration, and there is apparently no way to air condition the damn thing.  However, the Armadillo has a license to sell beer, some pretty fair food for sale, suprisingly good acoustics, and for the heat-exhausted, an outdoor beer garden. And most important to the faithful who part with their money one Saturday night after another, Armadillo offers some of the best live music in the country.

Getting things started the night of April 7 was Whistler, Austin’s first country-rock band, together again for the first time in nearly two years.  They got a nostalgic reception.  Then came Man Mountain and the Green Slime Boys, four converted San Antonio rock & rollers who offer originallyrics in the Nashville mode but can still bring the house down with a revival of the 1957 Cadillacs hit, “Speedo.”  The crowd got off to Man Mountain, bringing them back for an encore, a tribute which left the boys a little abashed, considering who was waiting in the wings.

Even before country music became fashionable, it was possible to appreciate the music of Willie Nelson:  His lyrics seemed to grasp the problems associated with coming of age in Texas, even as his voice rubbed them in.

Ten years ago Willie Nelson wore business suits for his national television appearances; for the Armadillo audience he was a little looser:  boots, beard, cowboy hat, and gold earring.  Nelson may look different, but except for the addition of some rock licks and lyrical references to Rita Coolidge’s cleavage,  his music hasn’t changed all that much.  His old songs — “Hello, Walls,” “The Party’s Over,” “Yesterday’s Wine” — still evoke memories of beery nights and jukeboxes, but they blend nicely with the newer, more upbeat numbers.  Onstage, Nelson accepts praise withan irresistible smile, yet never lets audience enthusiasm interfere with his standard act, a non-stop, carefully-rehearsed medley of his own tunes.

As remarkable as Nelson’s act that night, was his audience.  While freaks in gingham gowns and cowboy boots sashayed like they invented country music, remnants of Wille’s old audiences had themselves a time, too.  A prim little grandmother from Taylor sat at a table beaming with excitement.  “Oh lord, hon,” she said. “I got ever’ one of Wille’s records, but I never got to see him before.”  A booted, western dress beauty drove down from Waxahachie for the show, and she said, “I just love Willie Nelson and I’d drive anywhere to see him… but you know, he’s sure been doin’ some changin’ lately.”  She looked around.  “I have never seen so many hippies in all my life.”

The crowd kept pressing toward the stage, resulting in a bobbing, visually bizarre mix of beehive hairdos, naked midriffs and bare hippie feet.  An aging man in a sportcoat and turtleneck stubbed out his cigar and dragged his wife into the madness, where she received a jolt she probably did not deserve:  a marijuana cigarette passed in front of her face.  A young girl, noticing the woman’s discomfort, looked the woman in the eye and took another hit.

But Nelson’s music relieved any cultural strain that developed beneath him.  He played straight through for nearly two hours, singing all his recorded songs then starting over.   They handed him beer, threw bluebonnets onstage, yelled, “We love you, Willie!” — a sentiment he returned when he finally called it quits:  “I love you all.  Good night.”  A night that for many had been a sort of hillbilly heaven, though Tex Ritter would have undoubtedly taken issue with the form.

The April 7 Willie Nelson concert was not all that unusual.  Nelson is merely the most established of a gang of performers who have distilled a blend of music that reflects the background, outlook and needs of a unique Austin audience.  The audience is largely comprised of middle class youths who hail from Texas’ cities yet are rarely more than two or three genrations removed form them more rural times; they came to Austin becuase the feel of those rural  times still lingers there.  In a way, they are a new breed of conservative who despair over big-city hype and 20th century progress and romatanticizes “getting back to the land.”

However, they are inescapably children of the mid-20th century:  they grew up with their fingers on radio dials and headsets clapedover their ears.  Their need for music is insatiable.  Living in Texas they grew up with country and western, which in its whining way has stressed themes bewildered displacement for years.  The performers popular in Austin today also grew up with country music, and by sophisticating the lyrics and upbeating the tempo they have transformed country from a music of middle-class misery to one of down-home delight.

Austin musicians were nto the first to borrow form country music; indeeed, one of the Austin lyricists writes, “Them city-slicker pickers got a lot of slicker licks than you and me.”  But Los Angeles country rock is slick rather than soulful:  West Coast musicians are generally too citified to play country without a trace of put-down.  In Austin the roots are real.  the music rings tru and that ring could estabislh as Amera’s next curturla sub-capital

Austin’s easy-going mix of musical styles did not originate with Armadillo World Headquares, it dates back to 19933, when Kenneth Trheadgill purchased Travis County’s first beer license an turned a little filling station on North Lamar into a bar that reverberated one night a week with the liveliest music in Austin.  The house band was straight hillbilly.  Threadgill himself highlighted the jam sessions withhis Jimmie Rodgers yodeling, but he had an ear for almost any kind of music.  The mike was open to anybody with the nerve to stand up and sing.  Threadgill was also the first of Austin’s clubowners to realize there was gold in those university hills.  Anybody interested in a good time was welcome in his place.

Musically, the most exciting days at Threadgills were the early sixties, when the little bar became a haven for folk purists who were reaching deep into America’s music heritage of white country, black blues and backwoods ballads.  The most memorial of those performers was a young woman named Janis Joplin who wandered in one day carrying an autoharp.  Janis of course went on to a meteoric career, but she never forgot the cherubic old man in the gas station music hall.  Before she died she told a surfacing songwriter named Kris Kristofferson about her old patron.  In 1972 zealous fire marshals forced Threadgill to close his bar, but the same year Kristofferson looked him up at a party in Austin, listened to his music, and in three weeks had Threadgill in Nashville recording his first album. Thsu things have come full circle for Austin’s kindly 63-year-old patriarch.

At Threadgill’s one heard just about any kind of music that fingers could make, but the little bar couldn’t contain all the music alexcitement that seized the country during the sixties:  Rock ‘n Roll.  The bands that sprang up in Austin were hard up for somewhere to play until 1967 when a group of friends secured a location on south  Congress and built themselves a rock & roll joint, incurring the universal wrath of the Austin establishment.  the Vulcan Gas Company never had a beer license, which meant the only revenue came from the gate, but Lockett booked the best of Texas’ black blues singers, carefully spaced between Austin rock bands that kept the place jumpting.  Two of those house bands, Conqueroo and the Thirteenth Floor Elevator, attracted fanatical following who came out with ritualized regularity to watch their electric leaders perform.  The stoned crowds of teeny boppers, hippies an servicemen bore little resemblance to the beer-drinkers at Threadgills, but rock & roll had come to Austin.

Unfortunately, the Vulcan scene soured.  The club’s cult rockers quickly found the music business wasn’t all incense and acid:  The Elevator was the victim of an unfortunate recording contract, and the Conqueroo found that San Francisco’s rock gurus had no use for bands from Texas.  And at home, psychedelics had turned into speed and violence had spilled over into the Vulcan.  Tired of the hassle, Lockett looked for someone to tak over the Vulcan, but none of the new manager worked out, and the club died in 1970.

The Vulcan was ill-fated because it sought to import a California scene that was itself short-lived, but its owners had set a precedent that would make things much easier for future rock music entrepreneurs.  They had illustrated that a club could operate on a basis other than beer sales and broken down the Austin musician’s union opposition to freak pickers.  Additionally, they had provided a training ground for the manager, publicists, technicians and graphic artists who are as necessary to a music industry as the musicians themselves.

Eddie Wilson, who’s Armadillo World Headquarter rose from the ashes of the extinct Vulcan, got into the music business in a roundabout manner.  Wilson wound up at North Texas State in 1963, where he joined the campus folk music club.   After the Vulcan closed Wilson started looking for a suitable site for a new club, found the abandoned armory in southAustin, and with his friends, he turned the building into the “the archetype of the ugly, cold, uncomfortable rock and roll emporium.”

Armadillo opened in August 1970 to the anguish of establishment spokesmen who thought the flea-bitten menacehad died with the Vulcan.  Since then the Armadillo has grown, likes namesake, by rooting and foraging.  First came the beer license, then a new stage, tables an d chairs, heating, an improved sound system, and most recently, the beer garden that offers a measure of economic security.  But more important, word has spread among performser that Armadillo’s audiences are perhaps the most spontaneous and appreciative in the country.  The bellowing, stomping, cowboy-hatted mobs can scare a tough-assed lady like Bette Midler, but more often they win the affection of a John Prine, a Waylon Jennings, a Gram Parson.  As a result the national reputation makers have been very kind to Eddie Wilson and his Armadillo, and he is now booking acts that he once could barely afford to phone.

Willie Nelson: The Playboy Interview (November 2002)

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

The Playboy Interview:  Willie Nelson
November 2002
by David Sheff

Willie Nelson — looking exactly as we have come to expect him, with waist-long hair tied in braids, red bandanna,  jeans and sneakers — is in Honeysuckle Rose III, his tour bus, before a sold-out concert at Harrah’s Casino near Lake Tahoe, Nevada.  Nelson spends more time on the bus than he does at his 700-acre ranch near Austin, where he has a golf course and a recording studio.  He’s no homebody. After all, he’s the guy who wrote, ‘I just can’t wait to get on the road again.”

The bus, outfitted with satellite TV and DVD, a 30-speaker stereo and a satellite-modem computer, is parked in the shadow of Harrah’s.  It’s smokey inside, the result of a cigar-size joint smoldering in an ashtray, another expected feature of Nelson’s traveling living room.  (Nelson is a famous dope smoker and proponent of legalized marijuana, who even rolled a big joint on the White House roof when he was a guest of President Jimmy Carter.)As comedian Robin Williams cracked during his recent tour, “When he looks at Willie, even Buddah’s going, ‘That guy’s mellow.’”

Carter isn’t the only president to have hosted Nelson.  Though Willie proudly inhales, his fans include President Clinton and both George Bushes.  In fact, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like Nelson.  His enormously broad audience is visible when he leaves the bus to duck into a back entrance to Harrah’s.  When he walks onstage, there’s deafening boot stomping and hooting. Nelson’s music crosses most genres and has near mystical appeal to all sorts of people, typified by tonight’s crowd:  20-year-olds in ripped clothes with pierced body parts, boozed-up cowboys, white-haired retirees, aging hippies, wild-haired Hell’s Angels and buzz-cut-and-goateed entertainment executives up from Hollywood.  “Anyone who doesn’t like Willie Nelson is dead or may as well be,” according to Kris Kristofferson, a friend and frequent collaborator.

Born in 1933, Nelson grew up poor in Abbott, Texas, where he was raised in a family of musicians, including his grandparents and his piano-playing sister Bobbie (still a band member).  His window on the world was the crystal radio on which he first heard Jimmie Rodgers, Benny Goodman and gospel music.  “It was a hard life,” he says, “But we had music.”  After picking up the guitar at six, he accompanied Bobbie at church recitals and began writing poems and songs by the time he was seven years old.

As a teenager, he performed in Texas dancehalls and bars, covering songs by his heroes Hank Williams, ernest Tubb, Bob Wills and Lefty Frizell.  Before he recorded his own songs, he began selling his compositions — for $10.00 and $25.00 – to music publishers and musicians.  His first hit was Crazy, recorded by Patsy Cline.  Next came hit songs for Ray Price (Night Life) and Faron Young (Hello Walls).  Other singers had hits with his songs, including The Party’s Over, Funny How Time Slips Away, Good Hearted Woman and Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.

In the early Sixties, when he moved to Nashville, Nelson performed with such country stars as Mel Tillis and Roger Miller; and while playing bars and clubs most nights of the year, Nelson broke into the country top ten with Willingly and Touch Me.  In 1975 he released Red Headed Stranger, a masterful concept album that established him as a first-rate country artist.  The remainder of the century was Nelson’s with such hits as Georgia on My Mind, Whiskey River, Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow UP to Be Cowboys, I Gotta Get Drunk and, of course, On the Road Again.

In 1978, Nelson released a record with 10 of his favorite songs, standards line Moonlight in Vermont, Someone to Watch Over Me and On the Sunny Side of the Street.  The record, Stardust, remained on the album charts for more than a decade, Nelson had become a symbol of and hero to – as he proudly put it — “cowboys, lowlifes rednecks, hippies, bikers — hell, all sorts of misfits like me.”

Nelson’s life has been as bittersweet as a country song.  He has been married four times.  In 1990, the government sued him for tax evasion (the final bill:  $16.7 million).  Nelson blamed his tax woes on some bad investment advice, but the IRS seized much of his property and sold it.  To help pay the bill, Nelson released a mail-order album titled Who’ll Buy My Memories?:  the IRS Tapes.  He suffered personal tragedy in 1991, when one of his seven children, Billy committed suicide.  But Nelson’s family — blood and extended (including may of his band members) — remains close-knot.  Willie’s sister Bobbie plays in his band, and two of his daughters and a granddaughter run his website (www.willienelson.com), where his fans congregate and DCs and other merchandise are sold.  Nelson was once well known for his heavy drinking as well as his marijuana use.  “I’ve toned down,” he says, “but toning down ain’t the same thing as quitting.”  His friends say he is healthier than ever running, playing golf and practicing martial arts and yoga.

In addition to his music, Nelson has established himself as a champion for the family farmer with his annual Farm Aid concerts.  With his friends Neil Young and John Mellencamp and other performers, nelson has raised millions of dollars for the cause.  Meanwhile, nelson has also found time to write for and act in films, including The Electric Horseman (with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda), Songwriter (with Kris Kristofferson) and Wag the Dog (with Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman).  This year he turned author, too, releasing the Facts of Life and Other Dirty jokes, which became a best-seller.

When we decided to sit Nelson down for an interview, we sent contributing editor David Sheff, whos last interview in these pages was with billionaire Larry Ellison.  Here’s Sheff’s report:  “Nelson is unique in the canon of American celebrities because he has crossed so many boundaries.  When I said as much to him, he wrinkled up his I’ve-seen-it-all eyes and smiled, ‘I’ve fooled lots of folk, haven’t I?’  Then he let out a laugh — one of many that punctuated the interviews.

“Much of the interview was conducted on the Honeysuckle Rose at a small dining table set with a bottle of Old Whiskey River, a family-size box of Zig-zag rolling papers and filled ashtrays.  The mood was generally light, but at moments Nelson became thoughtful and somber.  They didn’t last long, however, with a twinkle in his eyes, there would follow some wisecrack and another fit of laughter.

“Indeed, when we first sat down for the interview, Nelson rubbed his hands together, ‘Most times I can’t tell interviewers the good jokes — only the G-rated ones,’ he told me.  He grinned, ‘But this is PLAYBOY.  It’s going to be fun.’  It was an opening if I ever heard one.

PLAYBOY:  Well?  Do you have a joke you would like to tell us?

NELSON:  OK.  A lady went to a drugstore and asked if they had Viagra.  The guy behind the counter, the pharmacist said, “Yeah,” and she asks, ‘Have you tried it?”  He said he had and so she asked, “Can you get it over the counter?”  He thought about it awhile and then said, “I think I could if I took two.”  [laughter]

NELSON:  There’s one more thing about Viagra.

PLAYBOY:  What’s that?

NELSON:  They say it can make a lawyer taller.  [laughter]

PLAYBOY:  Where does all this joking come from?

NELSON:  Jokes help pass the time on the road and they help get though life.  You’ve got to laugh.  I always loved a good joke.”

PLAYBOY:  If you’re always laughing and joking, why are so many of the songs you’ve written sad?

NELSON:  Those are the three-in-the morning songs.  That’s when you may feel so much like a joke.  Also, as a songwriter I’m challenged by sad songs.  They’re harder to write.

PLAYBOY:  What makes them harder?

NELSON:  I don’t know, but I can knock off a happy ditty pretty easily.  Something real — something meaningful and deeper — is harder.  You may not be feeling all that happy when a song comes in the middle of the night.  You may not be feeling so good because you had too much to drink or stayed out too late.  So the feeling might be there, but crafting it into a song is the challenger.

And, of course, sometimes you’re fooling around on the guitar and suddenly you just played a pierce of a new song and it wakes you up.  You think, What was that?  I just wrote a song. Of course, when you can’t remember it [laugh].  All those lost songs.  So the sad song may come from sad experiences, but not necessarily.  You draw on your past — the stories that you’ve heard, your friends’ lives.  If I write a song about breaking up with my girlfriend, it doesn’t mean I’m breaking up with my girlfriend.    It means I thought it would make a good song.

PLAYBOY:  But to write or sing the blues don’t you have to have lived them?

NELSON:  If they’re real, yeah.  But at the same time I wrote songs about love affairs when I was five and six years old and I hadn’t had any.  I just listened to other songs and realized I could write ones, too.  I had no idea what i was talking about even though I thought I did.  But the truth is that you couldn’t sing songs and make them believable if you hadn’t experienced the blues.  If they come across as real maybe it’s because they are real.  It doesn’t mean I’m depressed when I’m writing, though I have been there.  It’s not like I started writing songs as a way to express how sad I was.  I wrote poems before I could pay the guitar, and after I learned a few chords and put melodies to the poems.  I knew I could make a rhyme and write songs, so I never really made the decision to start doing it.  I just did it.  I thought everybody could do it.  I make records when I have enough songs to go into the studio.  then I go out and play — play the songs every night.

PLAYBOY:  You’re smoking a joint as we talk.  Do you believe pot is harmless?

NELSON:  Too much of anything is no good.  Too much alcohol, too much sugar.  I think pot is a lot less harmful than alcohol for most people.  What happens to people on pot?  They get mellow.  People who are drinking can get dangerous, but not people on pot.  People I know have quit every drug and even drinking, but they may still smoke a little pot to take the edge off.  That doesn’t bother me.  I don’t drink as much as I used to.  I dont’ get drunk anymore.  If you take a couple of sips, there aint’ nothing wrong with that.

PLAYBOY:  Does marijuana affect your memory?

NELSON:  What was the question?  [laughs]  I don’t know if it does.  I remember an awful lot about an awful long life, and I don’t know if I would want to remember any more.  [laughs]

PLAYBOY:  Do you think that there’s any chance the pot laws will be changed?

NELSON:  They may be, someday. There is some momentum at least in terms of medical marijuana.  I love that they don’t want people who are dying to smoke pot because — why?  It will kill them?  People smoke marijuana and their brains don’t fall out.  It’s not a big deal and most people know that.  I have cut down [He smokes and laughs.]  I am healthier now than I have ever been.  I run almost every day, and if the weather’s good, I play golf.

PLAYBOY:  Do you ever worry that you romanticize pot and drinking?

NELSON:  I hope I don’t.  There’s a whole thing about romanticizing the lifestyle and I agree that it can be dangerous.  Many of my heroes when I was a kid were alcoholics, which I think is a bad thing.  What are you learning?  Somewhere along the way you think if I’m going to be like Hank Williams I got to get drunk like Hank Williams.  I sure tried it and I’m glad I’m not doing it anymore.  George Jones drank.  Bob Wills.  A lot of them.  I’m not blaming Hand or anyone.  I would have drunk anyway.  Most young people do at some point.  But I admired the people who pulled themselves out.  They are the real heroes. I admire the ones who survived and got sober.  It ain’t romantic to be a drunk.  Which leads to a joke Roger Miller told me about the guy kicking tires at a used car lot. The salesman came up and asked, “You thinking about buying a car?”  The guy said, “No, I’m gonna buy a car.  I was thinking about pussy.”  That’s in my book.

PLAYBOY:  Why did you write the book?

NELSON:  Just something I always wanted to do and there was a lot of interest.  thought it would be the best to do like a daily diary or journal. Whenever I got up in the morning I tried to remember where I was or guess where i was last night and write about all that and throw in a  joke every now and then. Whatever I thought about at the moment.

PLAYBOY:  Do you keep journals?

NELSON:  Never keep them, but if I did that’s what they would sound like.

PLAYBOY:  Was it similar to writing songs?

NELSON:  Completely different, a lot easier.  Songs have to have a form to rhyme, to follow a theme, but when I write this other stuff I can go all different directions.  When you run out of something smart to say it’s nice to be able to tell a joke, which is why I told all these stupid jokes in the book.

PLAYBOY:  Is it a struggle each time you write a song?

NELSON:  It gets easier over time.  You get better at it like anything else.  You get pretty good at it and instinctively know what you have to do. One of the hardest things is keeping it within limits.  It can’t be 20 minutes long — has to be two or three minutes.  That’s the challenge.

PLAYBOY:  When you play your songs, do they bring you back to the time you wrote them?

NELSON:  Depends on whether I want to go there or not.  Sometimes it’s not that pleasant to make all those trips; sometimes you don’t want to feel it.  But sometimes you do — the songs take you there.

PLAYBOY:  Do you know how people will like any given song?  Can you predict which songs will become hits?  Do you have a sense if a song has the potential in become a classic — an On the Road Again or Crazy?

NELSON: I wish I did, but you never know.  A lot of the songs I have written –  99 percent or more — have never been heard by anyone.  I think they are good songs, as good as any.  I have written more than 1,000 songs, most of them never recorded.  The timing wasn’t right or whatever.  The songs that became the hits don’t tell the whole story.  Most songs disappear without a trace.  You never know how people will take to them, what will strike a chord.  If you did, you’d always do it.  You’d record only hits.  No one can do that.

PLAYBOY:  Do you like to listen to your voice?

NELSON:  Sometimes.  I hear me a lot, so I can get sick of it.  I listen in a different way than most folks probably do.  I am critical, listening for when I’m on key and in tune and when I’m sounding like a hyena or something.  Other than that, I just do it and don’t ask too many questions.  It works best that way.  I’m just glad people like it when they do.  I am blessed they do.  I don’t have an act.  I’m like this all the time.  I’m just me. I’m lucky if I can remember the words  If I can, that’s really all I have to do on any given day.

PLAYBOY:  In your book you recount the night when you forgot the words to Crazy.

NELSON:  [laughs]  Yeah, I did.  Never had before.  the audience always likes it when I mess up.  They think I was ripped.  I wasn’t.  Just forgot.

PLAYBOY:  Your biggest hit song was On the Road Again.  What inspired it?

NELSON:  I was asked to write a song for the movie Honeysuckle Rose by the producer, Sydney Pollock.  I asked, “What do you want the song to say?”  Sydney said, ‘Something about being on the road again.”  So I said, “How about this:  ‘On the road again, on the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again.  The life I love is making music with my friends and I can’t wait to be on the road again.’  How’s that?”  He said, “Something like that, sure.”  He wasn’t that impressed.

PLAYBOYHoneysuckle Rose was one of the few major movies you’ve done.  How have you chosen them?

NELSON:  You can trap me with a guitar or a horse.  Write a story about those and I’ll jump it.  I’m doubtful about anything else.  Wait.  I have a little joke.  Did you hear about the duck that went into the bar and said, “You got any grapes?”  And the bartender says, “No.”  So the duck leaves, and then comes back the next day and says, “You got any grapes?”  The bartender said, “No.”  So the duck left, then came back the next day and said, “You got any grapes?”  The bartender said, “No.  I don’t have any grapes.  I didn’t have any yesterday, and I didn’t have any the day before.  And I won’t have none tomorrow.  If you ask me again, I’m going to nail your feet to the bar.”  The duck comes back the next day, and says, “You got any nails?”  The bartender says, “No.”  And the duck says, “Well, you got any grapes?”

Sorry.  What did you want to know again?

PLAYBOY:  Some musicians complain that they’re pigeonholed in one musical genre.  You record and sing everything.  How have you gotten away with this?

NELSON:  Fooled an awful lot of people an awful lot of the time.  [laughs].  I’m lucky, I know it.  I just play music I like.  Many people can’t do that.  People are always worrying about if I am country, rock and roll, blues or whatever.  They don’t know where to put the new Willie Nelson CD in the record stores.  When I came out with Milk Cow Blues, working with people like B.B. King, Dr. John and Susan Tedeschi, they were worried that it shouldn’t go in the Willie Nelson bin in country music because it didn’t fit.  It was blues, but what about the rest of the Willie Nelson records?  Where do you put Stardust?  That ain’t country or blues.  Where the hell does my new record, The Great Divide, go?  It’s one of the reasons I like the Internet.  People can listen in and see what they think and are more likely to try new things.  A kid into rock and roll ain’t going to go hanging out in the country section of a record store, but maybe he would like a song filled away over there.  gospel, reggae, classical — whatever.  It’s why a collaborate with everyone from B.B. to Merle Haggard to Sheryl Crow.  On the new record, I’m doing songs by Bernie Taupin and Matt Serletic and Lee Ann Womack sings with me.  So do Bonnie Raitt, Brian McKnight, the Jordanaires and Kid Rock.  It’s a hell of a good time.  But it’ll drive you crazy if you want to classify it.

PLAYBOY:  After all your collaborations, is there anyone left you haven’t worked with that you would like to?

NELSON:  I would like to sing with Barbra Streisand and I haven’t done that.  Maybe if I say it enough times it will happen.

PLAYBOY:  What inspired the collaboration with Paul Simon?

NELSON:  I’d cut Graceland with Paul.  I love that song.  I know that some people think it’s strange when they hear me playing with something with Paul Simon, but I don’t make those distinctions. To me, we’re all musicians.  What’s the difference between a rock musician and a country musician?  I can relate to reggae musicians or classical musicians.  We’re all just playing music.  I’ve done it with just about everybody.  Bob Wills, Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Julio Iglesias.

PLAYBOY:  Including rapper Lil Black, who made a wild version of On the Road Again.

NELSON:  It just happened that we were all in the same place in Texas and they asked me to do a rap on On the Road Again with them.  It was fun.  I’m always interested in something new.

PLAYBOY:  Do you like rap?

NELSON:  I like some  of it, don’t like some.

PLAYBOY:  Some people criticize rap and hip-hop for violent and misogynistic lyrics.

NELSON:  I don’t like that shit and don’t necessarily want to encourage it.  But I understand it’s the way people are speaking.  Rather than worry about trying to put an end to Eminem or some other rapper, Lil Black or Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg, whatever or whoever, politicians should think about why they’re rapping.  If they are growing up in a violent ghetto, do people expect them to sing about flowers and — whatever the hell?  It’s a lot easier to try to censor some kid swearing about the poverty on the street in whatever it is than to sop the poverty on the street.  Solving problems in harder.

PLAYBOY:  Yet you try.  What brought you to the issue of the family farms and the founding of your charity, Farm Aid?

NELSON:  I started Farm Aid in 1985.  I worked on farms and ranches growing up, but I didn’t know there were any problems.  Neil Young and I were just talking.  After all those concerts, you’d think the farm situation might be better.

PLAYBOY:  It’s not?

NELSON:  It’s not.  It’s getting worse.  I always knew about farming — grew up on them.  Knew it was hard and knew that farmers didn’t always make ends meet.  Later I saw the Life Aid concert, Bob Geldof’ benefit held the same day in England and the U.S.  The money was for the famine in Ethiopia.  Everybody played — Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Madonna.  I was in a motel somewhere and was watching when Bob Dylan came out and played.  He said, “It would be nice if some of this money that’s going out all over the world could stay here at home.

Our family farmers are in trouble.”  I started checking around and learned more.  I discovered that it was a serious problem.  I was working in Springfield for the state fair and ran into the governor, who came by for a bowl of chili.  We were talking about the farm problems and he told me more.  We started talking about a concert.  The first Farm Aid show was in Champaign, Illinois.  I thought we’d do a show, raise some money and it would be solved.  I called up Neil Young and John Mellencamp and thought we would take care of the problem.  Unfortunately, things don’t work like that.  We once had 8 million family farm since the Fifties, and now we’re down to less than 2 million and we’re still losing them — losing 500 a week.

PLAYBOY:  Why are small farmers better?

NELSON:  The huge companies are destroying the environment.  We’ve seen what happens when you aren’t careful.  Look at the mad cow disease and hoof-and-mouth disease.  Small farmers have to take better care of their land, have fewer animals grazing.  We also need to stop producing genetically engineered food, another fiasco introduced by agri-business.  They only care about volume, not health, and never mind taste.  I want a tomato that tastes like a tomato, not one that tastes like a piece of — I don’t know — cardboard.

PLAYBOY:  How would you help the farmers?

NELSON:  Farmers should get fair prices.

PLAYBOY:  Does that mean subsidies?  Why should farmers be given special federal subsidies and special help from the likes of you?

NELSON:  They don’t really want subsidies.  They want enough money to make a living without subsidies.  They want enough money for their product and don’t want giveaways or welfare, but they can’t compete with the corporations subsidized by the government.  America was founded as a place for everyone, where everyone has an opportunity.  Do we want it to be a  place only fit for the rich?  I don’t.  It’s worth fighting for and that’s the American way, too. After September 11, everyone forgot what it is we’re trying to protect.  It’s understandable that we want to be safe, but let’s not lose the America we love. After the terrorist attack we’re not supposed to criticize America.  It’s viewed as unpatriotic.  But true patriotism is wanting America to be the best place it can be.

PLAYBOY:  How did September 11 change your life.

NELSON:  Like everyone.  I watched it an at first thought it was a movie they were promoting.  I hear that kids saw that over and over again and didn’t understand that it was a single attack — they thought that it kept happening every time they showed it on TV.  I didn’t like the way the news media exploited it.  No wonder we’re toughened to things like that.  We see it and don’t  know it’s real because we are bombarded with images.  Every time you see it, it starts looking more unreal.  How long are we going to exploit it?  When are we going to let it become what it was?  Are we going to learn lessons from it or keep making the same mistakes?

PLAYBOY:  What lessons?

NELSON:  Are we going to look at poverty, disproportionate wealth and the horrors in the world or ignore them?  The poorest places are the ones where terrorism breeds.  If someone wants to kill me bad enough to kill himself at the same time, there has to be a reason.  People jump all over you if you ask the question, but if someone in America murdered 10 people or 3000, the first thing we would ask is Why?

Nothing can justify the attack, but there might have been something we could do to prevent an attack in the future.  I’m not talking about giving in or negotiating with terrorists, I’m talking about looking at the complaints of people in the world who hate us.  Is it because our troops are over there?  Are we afraid to say that?  Anything else?  Our policies regarding Israel?  I’m not saying we should stop doing anything they don’t like just because  they don’t like it, but we should understand why and try to acknowledge that people in other parts of the world have rights, too. That they matter. What arrogance to say it doesn’t matter what they think.  It’s not un-American to ask these questions.  It’s un-American not to ask them.  America really stands for human rights and freedom.  Let’s apply it everywhere.

PLAYBOY:  What led to your  performance at the benefit for September 11 victims at which you sang America the Beautiful?

NELSON:  Just got a call and they asked.  Of course I would do it.  Everybody at the show felt helpless and wanted to do something.  We are still frustrated.  We may have gotten a whole lot of people, but not the ones who actually did it.  Where is Osama bin Laden?  How do you stop terrorism when your enemy is scattered in 80 countries?  At least they stopped pretending that we have won any wars.  For a while they were saying it:  We won the war, blew Afghanistan sky-high.  Big deal.  Blew up a lot of dirt. I can’t see that we have own any wars.  The information you get from the people in charge is frustrating; they lead you to believe that they don’t know any more than you know.  All the alerts — trying to scare the hell out of us — don’t seem much good.  I’m not sure what good there is to try to scare the death out of us — don’t seem much good.  I’m not sure what good there is to try to scare the death out of every man, woman and child in the country saying the bogeyman is coming.  If they know for sure, that’s one thing.  But the more times you hear them say, “Be alert,” the less alert you get.  You can only stay so alert.  When you say something and it doesn’t happen, you’ve lost the crowd.

PLAYBOY:  After the concert, some people were saying that the money wasn’t reaching the victims of the attacks.  What was your view?

NELSON:  I hope the people who deserved the money got it.  After Farm Aid, I know the types of problems you can have with a charity.  You get a lot of calls and letters asking for money.  Most are legitimate requests but some are not.  I’m sure with the millions we took in at all the shows, there were criminals trying to figure out how to get the money.  I can understand why you would want to take your time.  Maybe they took more time than anyone thought it should.

PLAYBOY:  In our interview with Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, he was particularly incensed about this issue.

NELSON:  Bill O’Reilly screams because it gets more people watching him.  I used to pull tricks like that when I was in radio.  I used to read letters from the one listener who was saying what a horrible disc jockey I was and how did I ever get into this business.  I’d get 20 more letters from listeners telling me how good I was.  I know what O’Reilly is up to.  He’s building his ratings.  He ain’t bullshitting anybody.  He would build ratings any way he could — by putting down whoever on the way.

PLAYBOY:  He maintained that celebrities who asked the public to give had a responsibility to make sure the money got to the intended recipients.

NELSON:  We did, and as far as I know it did.

PLAYBOY:  He also complained that celebrities wouldn’t discuss it on his show.

NELSON:  And help him with his ratings?  Why?  That’s one show I won’t be doing.

PLAYBOY:  Let’s talk some about your background.

NELSON:  I can’t remember.  You know, all that pot…. [laughing]

PLAYBOY:  What are you earliest memories of music?

NELSON:  I was raised in the cotton fields around Abbott, Texas.  There were African Americans and Mexican Americans and we listened to their music all the time.  I also heard gospel music, Hank Williams and whatever else was on the radio — country or jazz or blues.  There was music in my family, too, since my grandparents, who raised me, played.  They took music courses by mail.  My older sister Bobbie played piano and I got a guitar when I was little.  She played and I’d play along.  Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, When Johnny Comes Marching Home.  The first song I ever sang was Amazing Grace.  Since early childhood, we played together in church, sang in school and went around to talent contests.  Still playing together.

PLAYBOY:  After the concert, some people were saying that the money wasn’t reaching the victims of the attacks.  What was your view?

NELSON:  I hope the people who deserved the money got it.  After Farm Aid, I know the types of problems you can have with a charity.  You get a lot of calls and letters asking for money.  Most are legitimate requests but some are not.  I’m sure with the millions we took in at all the shows, there were criminals trying to figure out how to get the money.  I can understand why you would want to take your time.  Maybe they took more time than anyone thought it should.

PLAYBOY:  In our interview with Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, he was particularly incensed about this issue.

NELSON:  Bill O’Reilly screams because it gets more people watching him.  I used to pull tricks like that when I was in radio.  I used to read letters from the one listener who was saying what a horrible disc jockey I was and how did I ever get into this business.  I’d get 20 more letters from listeners telling me how good I was.  I know what O’Reilly is up to.  He’s building his ratings.  He ain’t bullshitting anybody.  He would build ratings any way he could — by putting down whoever on the way.

PLAYBOY:  He maintained that celebrities who asked the public to give had a responsibility to make sure the money got to the intended recipients.

NELSON:  We did, and as far as I know it did.

PLAYBOY:  He also complained that celebrities wouldn’t discuss it on hs show.

NELSON:  And help him with his ratings?  Why?  That’s one show I won’t be doing.

PLAYBOY:  Let’s talk some about your background.

NELSON:  I can’t remember.  You know, all that pot…. [laughing]

PLAYBOY:  What are you earliest memories of music?

NELSON:  I was raised in the cotton fields around Abbott, Texas.  There were African Americans and Mexican Americans and we listened to their music all the time.  I also heard gospel music, Hank Williams and whatever else was on the radio — country or jazz or blues.  There was music in my family, too, since my grandparents, who raised me, played.  They took music courses by mail.  My older sister Bobbie played piano and I got a guitar when I was little.  She played and I’d play along.  Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, When Johnny Comes Marching Home.  The first song I ever sang was Amazing Grace.  Since early childhood, we played together in church, sang in school and went around to talent contests.  Still playing together.

PLAYBOY:  When did you begin to write songs?

NELSON:  I wrote poems before I wrote songs and then I put them to music.  My first guitar had strings so far off the fretts that they made my fingers bleed, but I played all the time.

PLAYBOY:  When did you have your first professional gig?

NELSON:  I played around when I was pretty young, playing some of the roughest joints anywhere.  The best was the Bloody Bucket in West Texas when we carried pistols in our guitar cases.  I went from Texas to Tennessee, Nashville, to try to break into the business.  I was writing songs but it wasn’t until I went back to Texas that I found an audience for what I was doing.  Sold my first songs.  I got $50 for Family Bible and $100 for Night Life.  It was lie getting a million bucks.

PLAYBOY:  Who was coming to see your shows?

NELSON:  It changed over time.  The audience for country music was changing, expanding.  I had grown my hair and was playing just when the hippie redneck thing was a big deal in Texas.  The long-haired hippies over here liked country music by Hank Williams and Waylon and other people, and the old redneck cowboys liked the same thing.  I sort of put them together with Red Headed Stranger, which was the first big success I ever had.  Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain was a single that did well, too.  The look I had until then was me trying to look like I was supposed to look:  putting on a suit and tie and short hair.  There was a show business look and I tried to do it, but I never felt comfortable.  It took a while for me to figure out exactly who I was.

PLAYBOY:  What inspired Stardust?

NELSON:  There were more pop songs being brought into country music and more strings and more arrangements.  It was just an idea.  I wanted to bring back Stardust, All of Me and those songs.  I played them in clubs and people liked them.  It didn’t matter that they weren’t so-called country music.  It’s just music and those are beautiful songs.

PLAYBOY:  Were you surprised by the success?

NELSON:  Of course.  All I ever wanted was to make a living playing music.  I did that pretty young.  I wanted to be like Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams, my heroes.  The rest is gravy.  Good gravy, I admit.

PLAYBOY:  Where did you meet Waylon Jennings?

NELSON:  In Phoenix one night in a club.  He was at an all-night cafe.  He’d been playing over in another club, and we started talking and found out that we were both from Texas.  We became good friends. I miss him, but he’ll aways be around.  we wrote Good Hearted Woman together.  What a great man, a good friend.

PLAYBOY:  When you play his songs do you miss him?

NELSON:  Sure.  It takes some time when your friend dies.  You want to hear a joke?

PLAYBOY:  Are jokes your way of dealing with emotion?

NELSON:  Maybe.  Hell, I deal with them.  I been dealing with them all my life.  Do you want to hear a joke, or not?

PLAYBOY:  Why not.

NELSON:  A man and a woman who had been married forever were having breakfast and the wife said, “Honey, do you remember our wedding night when we were sitting here 50 years ago?  Afterward, we were sitting at this same breakfast table without any clothes on.”  He said, “Yeah,” and she said, “Do you think we could do that again?  Sit here without clothes on?  “I guess so,” he said.  So they took off their clothes and she said, “Honey, my nipples are just as hot for you today as they were 50 years agao,” and he said, “I don’t doubt it, since one’s hanging in the oatmeal and the other’s in the coffee.”

PLAYBOY:  Is it tough to be reaching an age when you’re friends pass away?

NELSON:  You got another choice?  Sign me up.  You just keep breathing and that is all you can do.  And there’s a lot to be grateful for and a lot to be excited about.  I mean to see the changes in the world — not only the bad ones, but also the good ones.  Look at the Internet.  Now we’re communicating with people around the world without having to go through a record company or publicity machine.  We’re sending songs out in digital form.  Amazing sit.

PLAYBOY:  Part of sending songs out on the Net has raised controversy about copyrights.  Are you concerned?

NELSON:  I think it’s all good.  I’m for the people and this is giving them a new way to listen to music.  It’s good for artists, too, especially artists just breaking out because it’s a way to get heard even if they haven’t been signed by a big label.  This doesn’t mean I don’t want to get paid for my work, but I do all right.  Things are shaking out and the internet may work like the radio or something so artists get their royalties.  I’m not worried.  I put samples of songs on the web all the time.  You ain’t gonna hear this stuff on the radio.  They’ll sort it all out — royalties, whether you’re gonna have to pay takes on the Internet, or not.

PLAYBOY:  Taxes must be a sore subject for you after your widely publicized IRS audit.

NELSON:  The Internal Revenue Service.

PLAYBOY:  Which in 1990 presented you with a bill for tens of million of dollars.

NELSON:  An impressive sum.  I got an official letter.  I owe what?  We knew it was coming, actually.  It was happening to other people who invested in the same things I invested in — these shelters we were sold on — and we were told to expect it.  They seized everything I had.  I was angry, of course.  Especially angry at the people who advised me and got me into the mess.

PLAYBOY:  Were you thumbing your note at the IRS by releasing The IRS Tapes?

NELSON:  I was just trying to test their sense o f humor.  I suppose I actually heard that they thought it was pretty funny.  The funniest part was that it was the best promotion of an album I ever had.  People heard about it every where.  The more people heard about my troubles, the more they came out to help.  I got phone calls and letters from people wanting to do everything you can think of.  At shows, people would try to give me money.  Friends bought my stuff so I could buy it back form them.

PLAYBOY:  What lessons did you learn from your IRS debacle?

NELSON:  A couple of things.  First, not to trust other people with things that are your responsibility.  I just didn’t want to know and I let people make decisions and nodded, thinking, I’m just playing music.  “You deal with this other shit.”  That was a mistake and I want to know what people are doing in my name and with my money or anything else.  Second, it made me think clearer about what I really want in my life, what I need.  You can caught up thinking you need a lot more than you do. Then it can be like a weight on you, keeping you down.  The IRS didn’t mean to do me a favor, but in a  way they did.  They helped me clean house.  I didn’t need all that stuff anyway.

PLAYBOY:  Stuff like?

NELSON:  Stuff like a jet.  That’s what can happen and then you have all this shit and think, Now I have to pay the bills.  I prefer the bus anyway.  Everybody thinks it was this hell in my life, but it wasn’t.  It was just something I had to get through.  There has been worse.

PLAYBOY:  Presumably the worst was when your son Billy passed away.

NELSON:  That was the worst.  Everything is insignificant when you have to face something like that.  Billy’s with us though.  That’s the way I feel about it.

PLAYBOY:  After four marriages, have you given any thought to a fifth?

NELSON:  My lifestyle isn’t conducive to marriage  It took four times because I guess I’m a slow learner.  Maybe they don’t like my sense of humor.  Still, every one I was married to was a wonderful woman.  My lifestyle’s a little hard.  I’m on the road so much.

PLAYBOY:  Did you miss anything because of all the miles you’ve logged?

NELSON:  Did I miss anything?  I’m sure I did.  But if I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d do it exactly the same.  Wrong or right, it’s my life.  Sounds like a song, doesn’t it?

PLAYBOY:  When did you begin to write songs?

NELSON:  I wrote poems before I wrote songs and then I put them to music.  My first guitar had strings so far off the fretts that they made my fingers bleed, but I played all the time.

PLAYBOY:  When did you have your first professional gig?

NELSON:  I played around when I was pretty young, playing some of the roughest joints anywhere.  The best was the Bloody Bucket in West Texas when we carried pistols in our guitar cases.  I went from Texas to Tennessee, Nashville, to try to break into the business.  I was writing songs but it wasn’t until I went back to Texas that I found an audience for what I was doing.  Sold my first songs.  I got $50 for Family Bible and $100 for Night Life.  It was lie getting a million bucks.

PLAYBOY:  Who was coming to see your shows?

NELSON:  It changed over time.  The audience for country music was changing, expanding.  I had grown my hair and was playing just when the hippie redneck thing was a big deal in Texas.  The long-haired hippies over here liked country music by Hank Williams and Waylon and other people, and the old redneck cowboys liked the same thing.  I sort of put them together with Red Headed Stranger, which was the first big success I ever had.  Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain was a single that did well, too.  The look I had until then was me trying to look like I was supposed to look:  putting on a suit and tie and short hair.  There was a show business look and I tried to do it, but I never felt comfortable.  It took a while for me to figure out exactly who I was.

PLAYBOY:  What inspired Stardust?

NELSON:  There were more pop songs being brought into country music and more strings and more arrangements.  It was just an idea.  I wanted to bring back Stardust, All of Me and those songs.  I played them in clubs and people liked them.  It didn’t matter that they weren’t so-called country music.  It’s just music and those are beautiful songs.

PLAYBOY:  Were you surprised by the success?

NESLON:  Of course.  All I ever wanted was to make a living playing music.  I did that pretty young.  I wanted to be like Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams, my heroes.  The rest is gravy.  Good gravy, I admit.

PLAYBOY:  Where did you meet Waylon Jennings?

NELSON:  In Phoenix one night in a club.  He was at an all-night cafe.  He’d been playing over in another club, and we started talking and found out that we were both from Texas.  We became good friends. I miss him, but he’ll always be around.  we wrote Good Hearted Woman together.  What a great man, a good friend.

PLAYBOY:  When you play his songs do you miss him?

NELSON:  Sure.  It takes some time when your friend dies.  You want to hear a joke?

PLAYBOY:  Are jokes your way of dealing with emotion?

NELSON:  Maybe.  Hell, I deal with them.  I been dealing with them all my life.  Do you want to hear a joke, or not?

PLAYBOY:  Why not?

NELSON:  A man and a woman who had been married forever were having breakfast and the wife said, “Honey, do you remember our wedding night when we were sitting here 50 years ago?  Afterward, we were sitting at this same breakfast table without any clothes on.”  He said, “Yeah,” and she said, “Do you think we could do that again?  Sit here without clothes on?  “I guess so,” he said.  So they took off their clothes and she said, “Honey, my nipples are just as hot for you today as they were 50 years ago,” and he said, “I don’t doubt it, since one’s hanging in the oatmeal and the other’s in the coffee.”

PLAYBOY:  Is it tough to be reaching an age when you’re friends pass away?

NELSON:  You got another choice?  Sign me up.  You just keep breathing and that is all you can do.  And there’s a lot to be grateful for and a lot to be excited about.  I mean to see the changes in the world — not only the bad ones, but also the good ones.  Look at the Internet.  Now we’re communicating with people around the world without having to go through a record company or publicity machine.  We’re sending songs out in digital form.  Amazing shit.

PLAYBOY:  Part of sending songs out on the Net has raised controversy about copyrights.  Are you concerned?

NELSON:  I think it’s all good.  I’m for the people and this is giving them a new way to listen to music.  It’s good for artists, too, especially artists just breaking out because it’s a way to get heard even if they haven’t been signed by a big label.  This doesn’t mean I don’t want to get paid for my work, but I do all right.  Things are shaking out and the internet may work like the radio or something so artists get their royalties.  I’m not worried.  I put samples of songs on the web all the time.  You ain’t gonna hear this stuff on the radio.  They’ll sort it all out — royalties, whether you’re gonna have to pay takes on the Internet, or not.

PLAYBOY:  Taxes must be a sore subject for you after your widely publicized IRS audit.

NELSON:  The Internal Revenue Service.

PLAYBOY:  Which in 1990 presented you with a bill for tens of million of dollars.

NELSON:  An impressive sum.  I got an official letter.  I owe what?  We knew it was coming, actually.  It was happening to other people who invested in the same things I invested in — these shelters we were sold on — and we were told to expect it.  They seized everything I had.  I was angry, of course.  Especially angry at the people who advised me and got me into the mess.

PLAYBOY:  Were you thumbing your nose at the IRS by releasing The IRS Tapes?

NELSON:  I was just trying to test their sense of humor.  I suppose I actually heard that they thought it was pretty funny.  The funniest part was that it was the best promotion of an album I ever had.  People heard about it everywhere.  The more people heard about my troubles, the more they came out to help.  I got phone calls and letters from people wanting to do everything you can think of.  At shows, people would try to give me money.  Friends bought my stuff so I could buy it back from them.

PLAYBOY:  What lessons did you learn from your IRS debacle?

NELSON:  A couple of things.  First, not to trust other people with things that are your responsibility.   I just didn’t want to know and I let people make decisions and nodded, thinking, I’m just playing music.  “You deal with this other shit.”  That was a mistake and I want to know what people are doing in my name and with my money or anything else.  Second, it made me think clearer about what I really want in my life, what I need.  You can caught up thinking you need a lot more than you do. Then it can be like a weight on you, keeping you down.  The IRS didn’t mean to do me a favor, but in a  way they did.  They helped me clean house.  I didn’t need all that stuff anyway.

PLAYBOY:  Stuff like?

NELSON:  Stuff like a jet.  That’s what can happen and then you have all this shit and think, Now I have to pay the bills.  I prefer the bus anyway.  Everybody thinks it was this hell in my life, but it wasn’t.  It was just something I had to get through.  There has been worse.

PLAYBOY:  Presumably the worst was when your son Billy passed away.

NELSON:  That was the worst.  Everything is insignificant when you have to face something like that.  Billy’s with us though.  That’s the way I feel about it.

PLAYBOY:  After four marriages, have you given any thought to a fifth?

NELSON:  My lifestyle isn’t conducive to marriage.  It took four times because I guess I’m a slow learner.  Maybe they don’t like my sense of humor.  Still, every one I was married to was a wonderful woman.  My lifestyle’s a little hard.  I’m on the road so much.

PLAYBOY:  Did you miss anything because of all the miles you’ve logged?

NELSON:  Did I miss anything?  I’m sure I did.  But if I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d do it exactly the same.  Wrong or right, it’s my life.  Sounds like a song, doesn’t it?

Willie Nelson, making the most of it (Paste Magazine Nov. 2018)

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

photo:  Rick Diamond

www.pastemagazine.com
by:  Eric Danton

Willie Nelson  is old enough now that many of his friends are gone, which has given him something to consider. “I don’t want to be the last man standing,” Nelson, 85, sings on the title track to Last Man Standing, one of two albums he has released this year. After a beat, he finishes the thought: “Wait a minute, maybe I do.”

If he is the last man standing, he’s making the most of it. Most musicians have long since slowed down by the time they reach Nelson’s age—if they get that far. Nelson, by contrast, has released 13 solo studio albums since 2008, plus a bunch of compilations, collaborations and live releases. They include tribute projects, new recordings of old classics and a collection of duets: pretty standard stuff for an artist of his vintage. Yet Nelson’s late-career output also features three albums of original material, much of which he wrote himself after a decade of working primarily as an interpreter.

Calling it a resurgence isn’t quite right, given the amount of music Nelson has made over the years. He’s been around long enough that Patsy Cline had a hit with his song “Crazy” in 1962. Nelson released his debut LP the same year, the first of 68 solo studio albums so far, including Last Man Standing in April and his most recent, the Frank Sinatra tribute My Way, in September. Still, his latter-day pace more closely resembles a garage-rocker who can’t sit still than an octogenarian with absolutely nothing to prove.

Nelson has for decades been among the most iconic voices in music. After making a name for himself as a songwriter in the early ’60s with tunes including “Crazy,” “Night Life” and “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Nelson spent most of the decade bouncing among Nashville record labels as a performer and chipping away at the charts with middling success. By the early ’70s, following a brief, disillusioned retirement from music, Nelson moved to Austin and helped shape the outlaw country movement on a string of albums that ignored the slick, overly produced Nashville sound then dominating the genre. Shotgun Willie in 1973 owed at least as much to the Band as to Bob Wills, while Nelson’s minimalist 1975 concept album Red Headed Stranger was his first to hit No. 1—but not the last. He’s released nine solo chart-toppers since then. Later came album-length collaborations with Merle Haggard (two No. 1 albums), Waylon Jennings (1978’s Waylon and Willie made it to No. 1) and, in the Highwaymen, Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson (whose first album album also reached No. 1). It’s been a long time now since Nelson was an outlaw, but he still

does what he wants without regard for expectations.

That accounts for My Way and at least a few more of Nelson’s recent albums, including the collection of standards American Classic in 2009, and Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin in 2013. Recording an album of tunes made famous by Sinatra, mining the American songbook and paying tribute to George Gershwin, a songwriter and composer who helped usher in the Jazz Age, might seem incongruous coming from Nelson, but don’t be fooled: a jazz musician’s heart beats within his hippie-cowboy exterior. It’s long been evident in his guitar playing, and you can hear it in his behind-the-beat vocal phrasing on “Fly Me to the Moon” from My Way, “Somebody Loves Me” from the Gershwin album, or “South of the Border,” from yet another album of standards, 2013’s Let’s Face the Music and Dance. For that matter, Nelson was covering Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington and, yes, Gershwin all the way back in 1978 on Stardust—his most commercially successful album, with sales of more than 5 million in the U.S.

None of them are groundbreaking in the way that, say, Red Headed Stranger was. Yet Nelson demonstrates throughout that he’s still a sharp songwriter with a gift for melody, a way with words and a dry sense of humor that has become a little more pronounced than it used to be. And apart from having lost a bit off the top end of his unmistakable voice, Nelson’s warm, nasal tenor has scarcely changed over the past 45 years—an amazing feat of durability, given the way singers’ voices tend to thicken with age, and how much time he spends surrounded by smoke. Nelson’s contemporary George Jones, for example, barely had any voice left on a concert tour the year before he died, at 81, and even the mighty Johnny Cash was reduced to a haunting croak on American IV: The Man Comes Around, the last album he released before his death in 2003.

As you might expect, Nelson’s recent material includes plenty of meditations on growing older, on songs like “Last Man Standing,” “Heaven Is Closed,” the aching “Old Timer” and, most directly, “Still Not Dead.” “I run up and down the road making music as I go/ They say my pace would kill a normal man,” he sings on the chorus of that one. “But I’ve never been accused of being normal anyway/ And I woke up still not dead again today.” Talk about self-awareness.

There’s probably a stale joke to be made about how Nelson has to keep working to pay his taxes (Nelson settled his debts with the IRS in 1993), but the truth is surely simpler: There’s still a lot of music he wants to make, in a finite amount of time. Even in the last few weeks he’s remained busy: He played at a rally for Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Texas, and released the new song “Vote ’Em Out.”

At the risk of burying Nelson before he’s gone, he really is the last of a breed. He’s a songwriter’s songwriter, the performer who united the hippies and the rednecks and the duet partner who has never sounded like anyone but himself, whether he was singing with Waylon Jennings, Norah Jones, Snoop Dogg or Julio Iglesias. Nelson’s voice is in many ways synonymous with country music, or at least a certain kind of country music. It’s hard to imagine that an artist just starting out could have the longevity, to say nothing of the success, that Nelson has—40 million records sold, a dozen Grammys and the love and respect of his peers—while doing things his own way. In other words, keep those albums coming, Willie.

Willie Nelson, Fit Magazine (November 2012)

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

Austinfit

http://austin.culturemap.com

The songs of John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Willie Nelson and Neil Young have made their way from A-tracks to CD players to today’s iPhone. Most would be surprised to know that those same names that appear on your shuffle playlist appear on the list of names of board members for an organization that is fighting for the family farmer in America. The four renowned recording artists are leaders for Farm Aid, whose slogan reads “Keep America Growing!”

Farm Aid’s mission is simple: keep family farmers on their land. This nonprofit organization assists farmers struggling economically by connecting them to local and regional markets to get family food into the grocery stores and families’ cabinets in urban neighborhoods. Along with this focus on family farming is the Good Food Movement, which promotes the use of “direct sales” through farmers’ markets, community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) and farm stands. Through it all is the common thread of making good choices — for farms, in our food and the country’s agriculture policies — that build a better, healthier future.

27 years ago, in 1985, Nelson, Mellencamp and Young organized the first Farm Aid concert to raise awareness about the danger family farms were facing at the hands of factory farms. Today, local farmers are feeling the danger even more, with upwards of 80 percent of farms in certain agricultural markets owned by private companies. “We all see what’s happening with agriculture, what’s happening to our small towns,” John Mellencamp stated for the organization. “They are going out of business, and that’s a direct result of the farm problem.”

According to the group’s website, the movement has gone so far as to provide workers from the organization to participate in protests outside of factory farms. In addition, the group provides a hotline for support services for farm families in times of crisis. More recently, the Farmer Resource Network has been developed for families in difficult financial situations across the country. Another stride taken towards factory farms and the privatization of the market is education in the area of hormones and genetically modified food more widely produced by the corporate sector of farming.

“If we lose the family farm, we lose the caretakers of our land,” Dave Matthews told his audience in a short clip about the company’s mission. “It’s something worth fighting for because I think we’ll lose a lot more than the family farmer if we lose the family farmer.”

Every year, thousands of farmers are pushed off their land by the growing economic pressures of an industry that has created too much competition for a family farmer to survive without help. Through market strengthening, education and personal assistance to thousands of Americans, Farm Aid is working alongside the good food movement to get high quality produce straight from local farmers to schools, local stores and into the pantries of a wider market.

“It’s not about how big the food is, or how shiny it is,” Neil Young said in a video made for the Farm Aid website. “It’s about where it came from, and how it was grown.”

Last year’s concert featured a variety of high caliber bands, such as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Jamey Johnson, Kenny Chesney and Jack Johnson, alongside the veteran fundraisers and founding members. Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews also graced the stage for Farm Aid’s Benefit Concert.

The appearance of such widely recognized performers speaks to the growing respect Farm Aid is gaining nationwide. Nelson, who has been a part of the company since its beginnings, describes his involvement simply: “There’s a new food movement sweeping across the country and Farm Aid is doing all we can to promote that movement.”

Read more about Willie Nelson’s views on fitness, food and fuel (among other topics), in Austin Fit Magazine’s November cover story, Willie Nelson Talks Food, Fuel, and, yes, Hemp by Melanie P. Moore, at www.austinfitmagazine.com.

Willie on Weed (High Times, October 2005)

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

Willie on Weed
High Times Magazine
October 2005
by Richard Cusick

When it comes to grass, Willie’s fans divide into three distinct camps: stoners like myself who view Willie Nelson as a sterling example of humanity; politically conservative country folks who dislike the pot thing but cry in their beers whenever he sings “Crazy”; and finally, fans who don’t smoke and don’t care, but remain mildly amused by Shotgun Willie’s outlaw ways. So, unlike most marijuana activists, Nelson doesn’t preach merely to the converted. Arguably, on the strength of his art and his living example, he’s helped change more minds about marijuana than any other American.

“They’re watching me,” Nelson acknowledges. “I’m like the canary in the coal mine. As long as I can remember the words to my songs and do a good show, they say: “Well, it may not be affecting them so much.”

And so, despite incessant interview request, HIGH TIMES has always been treated like a red-headed stranger by the managers, press agents, record companies, road managers and assorted family members who get paid to look out for Willie Nelson’s best interests. Frankly, I don’t think the man himself gave a shit one way or the other. We were all waiting for the right moment to make it happen. The release of Willie’s long-delayed reggae CD, Countryman, turned out to be the right moment. One look at the cover art proved that. There are actually two covers: “One for Wal-Mart,” Willie noted, and one for every fan of the singer’s favorite plant — with a big pot leaf commanding the center.

It’s the hottest day of the year. The temperature on the field of Prince Geroge’s Stadium in Bowie, MD, reaches triple digits, but the Bob Dylan – Willie Nelson show has attracted a particular rugged type of music fan willing to roast for hours in the sun to secure a good seat on the general admission lawn. I’m scheduled to meet with the American music legend for an hour and a half, but a family member’s illness delays Willie by nearly an hour. How to stuff 30 years worth of interview into 30 minutes? My strategy involves breaking the ice by bringing the musician’s old friend Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Allen St. Pierre, NORML’s executive director, along for the ride. Willie has been a member of NORML’s advisory board for 22 years, and so I assumed their reputations would precede me…

The familiar sound of his guitar floats softly from a state-of-the-art sound system shelved above our heads on board one of the world’s most widely travelled and legendary tour buses. A copy of Bob Dylan’s autobiography sits on the soft brown-leather couch in the front, while Willie holds court from a corner booth. We will talk for the next 40 minutes without interruption — save for one very unusualy exception.

HT: You’ve done reggae songs before, but Countryman is your first full-blown reggae album. How did that happen?

WN: Ten years ago, I went to see Chris Blackwell when he was the head of Island Records in Jamaica, and we talked about putting out a reggae album, Chris loved the idea, but I also played him a CD I produced called Spirit, and he said, “I love Spirit. Let’s put that out now and y’all go finish the reggae and then we’ll put it out.”

But they had a shakeup, and he left the label. So for 10 years it kinda laid there, until the good folks after at Lost Highway picked it up and ran with it.

Keith Stroup: Does the title Countryman refer to the ganja growers up in the mountians?

WN: Yeah. That’s right.

HT: I’ve always thought reggae and country gospel are very similar, not in sound so much as in spirit.

WN: The way the musicians tell me, reggae took off – Peter Tosh, Toots and those guys — was that reggae came basically from country music, from listening to the radio in the United States and hearing WSM play ’em some Grand Old Opry. When they told me that, I started thinking about how country songs just naturally lend themselves to a reggae rhythm.

HT: Does marijuana help your songwriting?

WN: I wrote most of my good songs before I ever heard of marijuana or used it, and I’m not sure that it doesn’t slow down your writing.

HT: Really?

WN: Well, if you’re hungry or on edge and you’re writing, you could always just sit down and smoke a little joint and not worry about it. But some things you need to worry about.

HT: So taking that edge off sometimes isn’t a good thing.

WN: Yeah. You need that age.

(Bob Dylan quielty enters the front of the bus — Yes, really.)

WN: Hey! Bob! (rising from booth) C’mere. (A brief hug and Willie returns to the corner booth.)Â

Bob Dylan: They gotcha trapped.

HT: We got him now.

BD: I’ll come back.

WN: All right.

(exit Bob Dylan)

HT: You know, I named my daughter after than man!

WN: You did?

HT: We figured the name works for either a boy or a girl.

WN: Yeah, that’s true. Well, he’s a good guy. Believe it or not, that’s the first time I’ve seen him this tour. We’ve been out two weeks. He was gonna play some chess. He asked me if I want to play some chess, so we can do it tomorrow or the next day.

HT: I believe we were talking about songwriting.

WN: I started writing songs a long time before I started smoking. Well, I started smoking cigarettes when I was 4. I started smoking something when I was 4. Cedar bark, Grapevines, Cotton leaves, Coffee leaves. I even tried Black Drop one time.

HT: Black Drop?

WN: It was an old laxative in powder form. Cedar bark, I smoked that. And then I used to raise hens, so I would trade a dozen eggs for a pack of cigarettes back in those days. About 18 cents, I think. About 18 or 20 cents for a pack of cigarettes. Lucky Strikes. Camels.

HT: In your autobiography, you said that marijuana got you off cigarettes and drinking.

WN: Yeah. I knew I was killing myself with cigarettes, and I knew I was really putting myself in danger with drinking so much, so somewhere along the way I decided. “Wait a minute! You know, do what you can do.” In the early years, I drank all the time. Mainly before pot. Up until then, I was into whiskey and uppers. You know, that’s the deal. Truck drivers had the bennies when they made those LA turnaounds, and all that stuff was going around. All the guitar players had it.

HT: Fred Lockwood. He was the first guy to ever turn you on to pot?

WN: Yeah. A Fort Worth musician. That’s right.

HT: Fred Lockwood was not only the first person to give you a joint, as I understand it, he’s always the guy who gave you the line. “I Gotta Get Drunk and I Sure do Regret It.”

WN: There was two. There was Fred Lockwood and there was Ace Lockwood. They were brothers. Fred was the one who gave me the line, “I Gotta Get Drunk and I sure Do Regret It” and his brother Ace went and gave me a itty bitty little snuff can full of pot one time.

HT: So that was your first ime around the block?

WN: I played a club there, and we played together. These guys were musicians, so we went over to their house, and Fred and I were playing dominoes. That was the first time I ever smoked it. I think I smoked it about six months before I ever got high. And then, all of a sudden: “Oh yeah –that’s what that is.”

HT: Willie, you’re a musician known for making political stands. Not every musician does that.

WN: I’ve let my beliefs be known and they turned out to be political. I didn’t start out taking any political stands — just taking stands.

HT: You just think a certain way and…

KS…groups like NORML start using you politically.

HT: You’ve also been out front about your use of cannabis for a long time. Have you taken a lot of flak for it over your career.

WN: Zero that I know of.

HT: It’s amazing how you get buy.

WN: Well, I got busted.

HT: 750,000 people got busted for marijuana last year.

KS: Yeah, but none of them got busted because they slept on the side of the highway and then raised the “hand-rolled cigarette defense.” Which I don’t believe has worked for anybody else — wasn’t that it?

WN: You can’t assume that a rolled-up cigarette in an ashtray, looking through the window, is a marijuana cigarette.

KS: In Texas, in particular! I think of that as the Willie Nelson Defense.

WN: I thought it was brilliant.

KS: I did, too.

HT: I hope you don’t mind my blazing, but I’m about to see Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan play.

WN: You’ve gotta get there.

HT: Well, I know you recommend moderation.

WN: Moderation is always the key, even for pot. You can over-do pot. And it’s not for the kids… After they get 18, 21 years old, they’re going to try whatever they’re gonna try…

HT: What’s the difference smoking pot 50 years ago and now?

WN: It costs more money.

HT: People say it’s better now, but I don’t remember not getting high 25 years ago.

WN: No, I don’t either. You know, it’s kind of like sex — there’s none bad, but there’s just some that’s better. I think our tolerance is pretty good, too.

HT: I ususlaly stop for a month every year or so.

KS: I usualy stop for a few days every now and then — because I run out.

WN: I intentionally let myself run out every now and then.

KS: A couple of days into that, I usually say, “Let me rethink that decision.”

WN: Either that or one of the guys’ll bring me one and say, “Here, don’t you think it’s time?

Country Music: Willie Nelson (October 1980)

Monday, October 1st, 2018


Country Music: Willie Nelson (October 1980)

by Bob Allen

After national exposure in a film with Robert Redford, and more recently, in a starring role of his own in Honeysuckle Rose, the quiet days are gone forever for the Red Headed Stranger… but who’s complaining?

Several months from now after the picture of Willie Nelson sitting on a wooden fence in front of a pastoral Texas outdoor scene has appeared as part of the promotional campaign for his recently released feature film, Honeysuckle Rose, only a few people will know where it was really taken: in the parking lot of a non-descript beachfront motel in the suburban outskirts of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

But that is the reason why Willie is perched on a small “portable” Hollywood facsimile of a wooden fence on a patch of grass next to a busy dual-lane thoroughfare, in front of a Best Western Motel in this rather early, but very hot Sunday morning in Southern Florida.

The theory is that Willie Nelson doesn’t have time right now, in the middle of a tour, to come to Hollywood for this photo, so instead, Hollywood has come to him: A contingent of photographers and executives have flown in the night before and brought with them the pieces of the ready-to-assemble fence on which Willie is sitting. Later, back on the West Coast, through the wonders of modern photography, the photo of Willie will be touched up slightly; a bucolic scene of hay bales, moo-cows, horses and cowboys and cowgirls will be superimposed over what is now mere asphalt and parked cars. More fence will be stripped in, until it looks like that one little section on which he’s sitting stretches all the way to the Texarkana border.

Even though it’s only about 10:00 a.m., a small crowd quickly gathers. Cars that pass on the busy street honk their horns and the drivers lean precariously out with huge smiles on their faces, giving ol’ Willie the universal power sign of the raised fist.

“Hhhheeeeyyyy Willieeee!!!!!”

Willie smiles quietly at them and returns their acknowledgements with his own clenched and raised fist. It’s obvious he doesn’t mind being recognized like this. In fact, he seems to rather enjoy it.

But still, there’s something slightly incongruous about it all:Â dear old Willie, his slender, well-carried frame perched with a Best Western Motel behind him, cars whizzing by in front of him, and the hot Florida sun beating down causing beads of sweat to form on his brow, and under his freshly pressed cowboy shirt he’s wearing, while his air-conditioned tour bus sits idling a few yards away, ready to whisk him off to his next show, clean across the state in St. Petersburg on the Gulf Coast.

Perspiration is also forming in the brows of the two young photographers. One of them appears to b uneasy about something. His camera stops clicking. He looks up at the sun, then looks at the ground and then looks at Willie. He is not happy with Willie’s tennis shoes.

“I think you should have boots on,” he decides after a long pregnant pause.

Willie, whose movements are slow and deliberate anyhow, looks down from his perch at the ground, then looks up at the sun. His eyes narrow into slits and he locks the photographer in a scowl that would send Charles Bronson running for cover.

“What makes ya think that?” he asks ever so softly.

The photographer backs off, throws up his hands in a conciliatory jester, “Well, it’s uh… it’s fine with me… It’s great…. if you’re comfortable with the image.”

“I am.”

Far from ever being replaced by cowboy boots, Willie Nelson’s blue sneakers will probably some day be set in bronze. Because here lately, travelling the road with him, one gets the distinct impression that the whole world is now waiting to embrace him just the way he is — blue jogging shoes and all. To steal an applicable phrase from the late John F. Kennedy, the quiet days are gone forever. When Willie’s on the road anymore, it’s nothing like the tours of earlier years when he could check into a hotel under his own name, and walk around outside the club before the show to kill time. Nowadays, as soon as he signs him name to a room service tab, it’s all over. Word spreads through the hotel that he’s cloistered away on the grounds and a quiet, hushed excitement spreads through the lobby.

And funny things happen. Like the time on an earlier date of this particular swing through the Southeast when Willie happened to check into the same motel where two busloads of kids from a high school marching band were staying. the students and their instructors got word from the hotel management that Willie was on the premises, and then proceeded to roll out their instruments on the front lawn and play a command performance just for him. Willie was so amused and delighted by it all that he returned the favor by sticking around to pose for snapshots and sign autographs.

Things like that just seem to happen to Willie everywhere he goes these days: give him the key to his city. (He was recently presented the key to one good-sized Southern metropolis by the mayor, only to later pass it on — with equal formality — to the nine-year-old sister of one of his soundmen who had come to see his show.) People line up to get their photos snapped with him and offer him the use of their houses for the weekend. During his stay at the beachside motel in Fort Lauderdale, a large speedboat called the “Hot Lick” was quitely placed at the disposal of Willie and his travelling Family. Several times when he set off to take his daily run down the beach, he was waylaid by well intentioned fans bearing joints and cold cans of beer.

Except for some weird scenes in the parking lot — where crowds inevitably gather around the four tour buses that haul Willie’s Family around the country as soon as they pull in — and backstage, where the “lunatic fringe” sometimes congregate. Much of the adulation for Nelson still remains more of a reasonably calm veneration than a dangerously heated frenzy.

Nelson’s own appraisal of his new role as a latter-day cultural hero is amazingly realistic — almost self-effacing. “It’s a big responsibility to know that maybe just one person might be influenced just a little bit by what I do,” he told me in his usual soft speaking voice one afternoon sitting in his tour bus as it carried him and his band through the suburbs of Fort Lauderdale on the way to a one-nighter at an auditorium in a town somewhere out near the Florida Everglades. “But to think there might be thousands is a little bit scary… especially when I don’t consider myself as that much of someone to pattern their lives after… But,” he adds. “I feel like I’ve made all the mistakes and I hope I’ve learned from them.”

An objective look at the present state of Willie Nelson’s nearly three-decade-long musical career indicates that he’s not only learned from the errors of his ways, but he’s in fact, gone a step further and turned them all into triumphs. For at least the last three years some journalists have been sublety predicting that his career was bound to peak any second now, and that it would be all downhill form there. But, the fact is, it just seems to be gaining more and more momentum — almost by the day.

In fact, throughout Willie’s entire organization, there is a strange new feeling during this late Spring tour. It is a feeling that things had reached a new level that everyone involved is just learning how to deal with. Security is tighter and the whereabouts of Willie at any given time is a well-kept secret. (Some members of his crew even wear t-shirts insisting, “I DON’T KNOW WHERE WILLIE IS!”)

Calculated strategies now have to be developed to get Willie swiftly through the choking backstage crowds and into his bus after the show. there seems to be shades of Elvis Presley everywhere, there are now hulking security men who keep watch over him from the shadows in back of the stage, all through his performances.

The point is, things have changed. Members of the band now find themselves being chased through hotel lobbies by teenage girls, and inside the auditoriums during the shows, there is a tense, restless electricity that just wasn’t there a couple of years ago.

“Goin’ out and openin’ for Willie on a show sure ain’t the easiest thing in the world,” singer/songwriter/comedian Don Bowman, a long-time Willie Nelson sidekick signs as he sits in the air-conditioned comfort of his hotel suite complete with a picture window over-looking the ocean, the morning after one such concert in West Palm Beach. “This tour’s been the wildest of all. It’s like…the crowds… Well, you saw ’em last night, up standin’ on the chairs before he even hit the stage.. The only thing there is to compare it to is Elvis.”

The electricity of his live shows, though, is merely the more obvious evidence of the fact that Willie Willie Nelson is in high gear, and clearly on his way to becoming a household word. He’s walked away with both the Country Music Association’s and the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year awards in recent months, and he’s selling more records than ever before. All of his recent albums, including Willie and Family Life, Willie Nelson Sings Kristofferson and One For the Road (with Leon Russell) have reached either gold or platinum (million sales) status. His two most recent, San Antonio Rose (with Ray Price) and the soundtrack from Honeysuckle Rose, both headed right for the top of the country charts. During the mid-summer of this year, he had six different albums simultaneously in the charts.

Willie Nelson, “Vote ’em out”

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

photo:  Taylor Hill

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Thom Duffy

“We want to try to help farmers if we can,” says Nelson. “And 33 years later, we’re still trying to help.”

Willie Nelson is pissed off.

For more than three decades, Nelson has fought for the survival of America’s family farmers, staging the first Farm Aid benefit concert in 1985 with John Mellencamp and Neil Young, and later welcoming Dave Matthews to the cause.

Backstage at the 33rd annual Farm Aid benefit concert at the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford Saturday (Sept 22), aboard his tour bus, Nelson held a coffee mug and evenly described his anger with the economic and political reasons why the plight of family farmers is “just as bad today as it was 33 years ago — if not worse.”

Farm Aid’s four headliners were joined Saturday by one of the most impressive lineups to play the benefit in years: Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Kacey Musgraves, Margo Price, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Jamey Johnson, Ian Mellencamp and Particle Kid — a bill that led this year’s event to sell out in four hours when the show was announced in June.

The Hartford show took place 33 years to the day that the first Farm Aid was staged in Champaign, Ill., on Sept. 22, 1985.

“You would think, after that many years, something would be done and their problems would be solved or at least an attempt [made] to solve them,” Nelson says, “and I haven’t seen anything to suggest that. Because there are a lot of people who don’t care, you know?  A lot of people are making a lot of money and big corporations could care less about the small family farmer. In fact, the sooner they get rid of them happier they’ll be.”

Farmers this year are taking the brunt of multiple policies of the Trump administration. A trade war with China has prompted that nation to announce a retaliatory 25 percent tariff on U.S. exports, including soy, corn, wheat, cotton, beef, pork and more. New immigration policies threaten the ability of farmers to find workers to harvest their crops. And federal inaction on climate change comes in the face of increasingly frequent, intense storms and hurricanes.

Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid Stages Its Most Crucial Benefit Concert in a Generation

For family farmers, the current presidency has “been rather disastrous,” says Nelson.

“Washington is not doing one damn thing to help the small family farmer. In fact, they’re doing everything they can to put him out of business; that’s their objective. And so we have a fight on our hands,” says the singer, adding a characteristically zen-like coda to his comments: “And that’s cool.”

Nelson’s commitment to Farm Aid is hands-on. The organization reported that calls came in to its crisis hotline in recent days from dairy farmers in crisis in three different states. For emergency grants, delivered via allied organizations, Nelson signs the checks. “Every one,” he says.  As artists prepared to perform in Hartford, three checks went out with Connecticut postmarks.

Nelson, of course, also continues a thriving recording and touring career. Many of the artists on the Farm Aid bill have been part of Nelson’s summer Outlaw Music Festival Tour.  And on Sept. 7, just five months after Nelson’s previous album Last Man Standing, he released My Way, interpreting the songs first recorded by his friend Frank Sinatra.

Many artists embrace a cause, stage a benefit — then move on.

“I guess it would be easier, you know,” says Nelson. “But that’s not what we want to do. That’s not what we’re about. We want to try to help if we can. And 33 years later, we’re still trying to help. We’re trying to convince everybody that it’s important that they shop farm-to-market, that they help their local farmers and and people are getting more and more educated in that respect.”

At a press conference that preceded the day’s performances, Farm Aid organizers introduced Connecticut farmers who described their hardships. But they also presented the stories of young activists who share Farm Aid’s goal of creating a sustainable food system.

At the press conference, Mellencamp angrily denounced the influence of large corporations on how America’s food is grown and called for a political response. “We’ve got to get the right people representing us and have your voices heard, not corporate America’s voices heard,” he said. “You’ve got to get out and vote.”

Nelson agrees. “Yeah, you’ve got to vote,” he says. “If you care, you’ve got to vote.”

“In fact,” Nelson says, describing a recent recording session with sons Lukas and Micah, “I’ve got a new song me and the boys [will] put out, called `Vote `Em Out.’”

“If you don’t like who’s in there, vote `em out
That’s what election day is all about
And the biggest gun we’ve got is called the ballot box
So if you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out.”

“I’m finishing it up in a couple of days,” says Nelson. “So it’ll be out pretty quick.”

Willie Nelson Interview: Country Music Magazine (March 1992)

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

img804

Country Music
March/April 1992
by Michael Bane

“And now, ladies and gentlemen,” the unseen Nashville Network announcer says in his perfectly modulated radio voice, “America’s favorite outlaw… Willie Nelson!”

And Willie Nelson strides to center stage, as he has a million times before — and as he probably will a million times more — oblivious to the incongruity of the words “favorite” and “outlaw” being strung together in his introduction; oblivious o the cameras and lights and dancers and producers and directors and general mayhem that accompanies any television production; oblivious as always to the storm o f controversy that has once again descended on his long-haired head.

Craggy and timeworn, he is as he has always been — unlikely golfer, long distance runner, famous songwriter, semi-fugitive from justice and, of course, the Lord High Zen Master of the Road.

“Howdy, folks,” he says in his perfect Willie Nelson voice.  Next he will say, “Good to see you,” and damned if he doesn’t mean it.

You’ve probably been reading a lot of news about Willie recently, and none of it has been good news.  Depending on which tabloid you happen to be reading at the time, Willie Nelson is broke, destitute, desperate and probably living in some cardboard box under an Intestate overpass.  He does, in truth, owe the internal Revenue Service around, o, say $16.7 million.  (“Say it real quick,” Willie confides, “and it don’t sound so bad.”)  The federales auctioned off his property to pay the debt, although, other than a few souvenir-hunters, there weren’t a lot of takers.  It just wouldn’t you know, be right, somehow, profiting from Willie’s Nelson’s distress.

 

I have caught up with Willie Nelson, whom I have known for the better part of two decades, to ask him two simple qustions I already know the answer to.  Both are pretty obvious.  The last time Willie and I talked, it was in a ritzy club in New York City.  Willie and Burt Reynolds, actresses Carol Lynley and Candice Bergen and me.  It’s sure as heck, I say, not the bad old days.

“No,” Willie laughs, “thank God, it’s not.”

Question One, then, is how did the bad old days come back with such a vengeance?

Question Two dates back to the first time we met, not surprisingly in another older and substantially more decrepit tour bus parked outside a gig in Charlotte, North Carolina, and where a younger Willie Nelson told a much younger me, win or lose, that this — the bus, the road, the gig — was his life, and he never wanted it to change.

Question Two, then is has it change?

Let’s let Willie answer in hs own words.

To Question One:

“Ah, Michael,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.  “You know how it is.”

And to Question Two:
“Look around you, Michasel,” he says, his arms encompassing the Honeysuckle Rose II tour bus, his manager Mark Rothbaum doing business in the back, Kris Kristofferson exchanging “remember when” stories with assorted Family members, all the flotsam and jetsam of a life of the road.  “Do you see anything different?”

That’s a fair question, but it’s not what you can see that gets you.  What happened to Willie Nelson was, as Robert Draper in his exhaustively chronicled financial story in Texas Month, said, not “a story of greed that backfired. It’s instead a story of generosity to a major fault.”

In a story that’s suitable for the lyrics of a country song, the single most successful act in the history of country music made it all, than gave it all way — unfortunately, before he had paid any of the taxes due.  In the scrambling to salvage his life and lifestyle, Willie Nelson has been forced to make decisions that make the bad old days look like a church picnic.  So far, he hasn’t had to race back into another burning house to rescue his legendary guitar, but it’s been close.

Might as well blame it on the road.

Here’s one of my favorite images of Willie on the road.  We’re out somewhere, Louisiana, I think, ten years or so ago.  Outlaw music is riding high, but Willie hasn’t yet reached the stature of saint –at least, not nationally.

The show’s been over for a while, and the road manager comes onto the bus.

“Well,” he says, “guess it’s time to get the money.”

Everybody laughs, and the road manager goes over to his briefcase, hauls out a battered Colt 45 automatic and racks a round into the chamber, clicking the safety on.  this is, for most of the history of country music, business as usual.  Pick up the gate money from the show promoter or the club owner, stuff the cash in a briefcase and walk it back to the bus, or whichever beat-up car or truck was carrying the freight.  The hardware, of course, was for that long, dark walk back to the bus, but it didn’t hurt for your average sleazypromoter to understand that this was serious business.

Other money came from song royalties and record company advances — no one ever expected the record company to sell enough records to pay off the advance — but it seemed like magic money, to be spent just about as quickly as a person could.   For people like Willie Nelson, the money got bigger.  Unimaginably bigger.  Once the Outlaw Train began rolling, around 1976, there was no stopping it.

Everybody, though, did start casting around for a conductor.

For Willie and Waylon Jennings, the conducter came in the form of a hot-shot New York music business wiz named Neil Reshen, who signed on as manager to both Willie and Waylon.  Reshen brought a shock of negotiating to small town Nashville.

“Why are they afraid of him?” Waylon told me when I was working on the Outlaws book back in the 1970’s.  “Cause he knows where all the bodies are buried, man!  I tell him, ‘You’re my old mean, dog.  I got you on a chain over there, and every once in a while I’m gonna pull it and you just bite.”

Unfortunately, the chain proved to be a speck too long, allowing the “ole mean dog” to bite the hand that held it.

“I can’t be sure the taxes are paid and records kept and also write songs and play music,” Willie says. “At some point you have to trust somebody.  And that’s always dangerous.”

Wilie broke with Reshen in 1978 and sued him two years later.  Onc particularly bitter point of contention being that, according to Willie, one of his manager’s prime dutie was filing Willie’s retruns and taking care of the taxes, something Reshen disputes.

Even more controversy swirled around the famous Fourth of July Picnics.  Willie has been concerned with Reshen’s handling of the events, and there were serious questions of where the money went.  Willie claimed that was something he’d like to know.  So did the IRS.

Willie’s troubles continued to escalate.  All his financial records for the 1975 through 1978 — the Outlaw Years — had been destroyed, and the IRS is aking $2 million for those years, according to Draper.  Willie and new manager Mark Rothbam went to one of the top accounting firms in the world, Price-Waterhouse, for financial hlep and advice.

What followed there, as evidenced bya 1990 lawsuit by Willie against Price Waterhouse, was nothing short of falling out of the frying pan and into the fire.  A serious of disastrous tax-deferred investments left Willie in worse tax shape than ever.  In 1984, the IRS began getting serious, demanding taxes due from the mid-1970’s, and tax notices began snow-balling.

And now we’re in Nashville where “America’s favorite outlaw” and Kris Kristofferson, in jeans and ragged T-shirts, are on the set of a television show performing to the vast chasm of the Operyhouse.

“They wanted us to wear tuxedos,” Kristofferson says later.  “Ha ha.”  Somethings, I suppose, never change.

Willie sings his barroom anthem, “Whiskey River,” and Kristofferson sings, “Me and Bobby McGee.”  Also, when he gets to the refrain of “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” he pauses.  “Just ask Willie,” he adds.  The crowd gives an appreciative laugh.

We are on the bus later, and we are laughing.  Kristofferson is telling Kris stories, Rothbaum is doing business and the whole bus has the atmosphere of an old club.  Earlier, I’d grabbed Rothbaum and asked how things were really going.

“Willie’s Willie,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

I grab Willie and tow him to the back of the bus.  We sit on the edge of the bed.  Willie with his hands clasped and his uncanny ability to tune out the entire rest of the world.

“How do you survive in all this crap?” I ask.

“I maybe even thrive in all this crap,” he says.

“Has it been pretty hard on you?”

“Not on me, Michael.  A lot of people worry about me, and it’s been hard on them.  I haven’t noticed any major changes in my life… You know, the road is really the only safe haven.  Once I get stopped in one place too long, I get in all kinds of trouble.”

“You told me once that it was hard to write when things were going too good…”

“Well, that’s true…” [laughter]

“Where are you living, anyway?”

“Well, I’ve still got a house in Austin and a house in Abbott, my home town.  I move around a bunch on my days off.  ‘Course, there’s not many of those this year.”

We talk about running, about doing Farm Aid in Russia, about Who’ll Buy My Memories:  The IRS Tapes.

“Somebody asked my bass player, Bee Spears, if I was in trouble.  Bee says, “Well, if he owed them $1 million, he’d be in trouble.  but he owes them $17 million, so they’re in trouble!”

“You still give away everything you get?”

“I try to.  It’s hard to carry all that shit.”

In the front of the bus, Kristofferson has everybody on the floor laughing, and, pretty soon, we join them.  Stories are the currency of the road, maybe what we’ve bought and paid for.  I can’t help thinking of another Kristofferson song, one I’d heard when I was just starting out on the road.  ‘Once he had a future full of money, love and dreams, which the spent like they were going out of style..”  I thought “The Pilgrim” was the most romantic song I’d ever heard.  Having it, losing it, still knowing that, “The going up was worth the coming down…”

Hell, maybe it still is the most romantic song I’ve ever heard.

— Michael Bane
Country Music (March/April 1992)

People Magazine (September 1, 1980)

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

 

magazine1

People Magazine
September 1, 1980
by Cheryl McCall

Before he ever imagined the high life, the whiskey nights and the Bloody Mary mornings to follow, Willie Nelson yearned for the road and its promise of freedom.  As a Texas school boy, chopping cotton for $1.5o a day, he listened to the gospel songs of the field hands and daydreamed about moving on.  “I didn’t like picking cotton one bit,” he recalls.  “I used to stand in the fields and watch the cars go by and think, ‘I want to go with them.’”

Today, nearly four decades and a million miles later, Willie, 47, continues to heed the call of the highway.  Overtaken by success a mere five years ago with the release of his album Red Headed Stranger, he simply picked up the tempo and put his foot to the floor.  Once branded an outlaw by Nashville’s rhinestone-encrusted music establishment, Nelson has lately become an inadvertent and unassailable national monument.  No one really objected when Willie dropped a lyric from The Star-Spangled Banner at the recent Democratic National Conveniton.

Since Stranger went platinum in 1976, Nelson has added two more platinums, two double platinums, four golds and a whole atticfull of Grammys and Country Music Association awards.  Currently, with seven LPs on the charts plus his new double LP Honeysuckle Rose, Willie has taken his guitar and his low-key persona and is trying his hand at being a movie star.

As he tells it, his starring role as Buck Bonham in Honeysuckle Rose is one he could play almost from memory.  “I never did know you had to the trained to have your picture made,” drawls Willie.  “Maybe that’s the whole point — not knowing anything is maybe better than just knowing a little.  Besides, I can sympathize with Buck,” he adds. “He’s a married guy who succumbs to temptation on a potholed highway.  I’ve been that route myself.”

It shows.  On-screen, Willie projects the same earthy sex appeal and relaxed masculinity that give his life performances tension.  His face is as brown and creased as a walnut, the reddish hair and beard dusted with gray.  But the camera dimisses the etchings of age and lingers instead on the soulful brown eyes and the effortless smile.  When Nelson is teamed with Dyan Cannon, who plays his lusty wife, Viv, in Honeysucke Rose, the movie crackles with high voltage.  “Willie does it like a real person, which is what an actor is supposed to do,” says the film’s director, Jerry Schatzberg.  “He’s very natural in the love scenes because he’s had a lot of experience there.  The man’s been married three times and he knows what he’s doing.”

While Honeysuckle Rose borrows freely from the singer’s nomadic, loosely plotted existence, the unabridged script of Willie’s life story is part Grapes of Wrath, part contrified Battle of the Sexes.  Children of the Depression, Willie and his older sister, Bobbie, were raised by their paternal grandparents in dusty little Abbott, Texas after Ira and Myrle Nelson divorced.  While Bobbie learned piano from her grandmoteher, Willie was given his first guitar at 7 by his grandfather, a blacksmith who took mail-order music lessons.  When the old man died the following year, Willie kept his ear to the family’s wooden Philco radio, learning as many Grand Ole Opry songs as he could.  “He’d pick up things just like that,” says Bobbie.  “His ear is so fantastic, he doesn’t even know how good he is.”

Graduating from high school at 16, Willie left the cotton fields for a job as a disc jockey.  “When I found myself singing over the radio, I didn’t think life got much better than that,” he recalls.  For a while it didn’t.  He joined the Air Force in 1950, but was discharged with a back injury.  Afterward he enrolled at Baylor University, but spent most of his single semester there playing dominos.  Dropping out, he was earning as little as 50 cents a night with a local band when he met and married Martha Matthews, a 16-year-old Waco carhop, in 1952.  “She was a full-blooded Cherokee.”  Willie recalls, “and every night with us was like Custer’s last stand.  We’d live in one place a month then pack up and move when the rent would come due.”  By 1958 Willie had three children to support.  He made ends meet, after his fashion, as a plumber’s helper and a door-to-door salesman, while working nights playing his songs in the honky-tonks.

The Nelsons drifted to Nashville in 1960, about the time their stormy marriage was nearing its end.  Martha resorted to bartending, while Willie hawked his satchel of songs on Music Row and drank up the profits at Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge.  In what turned out to be her final gesture of compassion, Martha had to rescue Willie from a drunken suicide attempt when he sprawled in the street outside Tootsie’s and waited for a car to run him over.  The last night of their marriage was even more garish.  “I came home drunk,” Willie remembers, “and while I was passed out, she sewed me up in a sheet.  Must’ve taken her two hours.  Then she got a broomstick and started beating the hell out of me.  I woke up in this strait jacket, getting pounded like a short-order steak,” he continues.  “By the time I got loose, she’d lit out in the car with the kids, her clothes and my clothes.  There was no way I could follow her naked, and that was kind of the end of it.”

That was about the time his intensely personal, offbeat laments began turning into hits for better-known singers.  Night Life (which Willie had sold for $150), Crazy, Hello Walls and Funny How Time Slips Away all cracked the country Top 20 by 1963, and soon he was earning $600 a week in composer royalties.  (His own renditions weren’t selling then, because producers kept smothering his reedy baritone in syrupy strings.)  Over the years Nelson has composed more than 1,000 songs, while successfully avoiding the old Nashville formulas.  “I’d say that 99 percent of what I write has come from my own experience,” he says.  “A person could probably start from my first song and go all the way to my last and — if he knew what to look for — write my autobiography.”

Several painful chapters were inspired by his second marriage, to country singer Shirley Collie.  Husband and wife sang, recorded and traveled together until settling down on 200 acres near Nashville in 1964.  There Willie blew a small fortune fattening hogs (“I bought them for 25 cents a pound and ended up selling for 17”) while performing at the Grand Ole Opry.  When Willie hit the road again to recoup his losses, he left Shirley at home to take care of his kids.  Both drifted into smashing up cars, drinking, drugs and infidelity until the marriage simply died of neglect.

Still, Willie wasn’t destined for bachelorhood.  Even before the divorce from Shirley was final, he had gone ahead and married his present wife, Connie Koepke Nelson, 36, a factory worker whom he’d spotted during a club date in Cut and Shoot, Texas.  “When Willie came out to sing,” she remembers, “he looked down and smiled.  It wasn’t a flirty look, just a warm, neat feeling.  Before the night was over he asked for my phone number, and the next time he came through Houston he called.  I went to the show and that was it.”

By 1970 Shirley had moved out and Connie had moved in, but Willie’s career was going nowhere in Nashville.  Then his house caught fire.  “By the time I got there, it was burning real good,” Willie remembers, “but I had this pound of Colombian grass inside.  I wasn’t being brave running in there to get my dope — I was trying to keep the fireman from finding it and turning me over to the police.”  Willie saved the grass, but lost more than 100 tapes of songs he hadn’t yet recorded.  Still, out of the ashes came a sense of relief and a determination to abandon Nashville for Texas.  Installing his family in Austin, Willie bought a used Greyhound bus and began touring the county fairs, dance halls and violence-prone bars where he was known and loved.

Just as Merle Haggard was topping the charts with his hippie-baiting Okie from Muscogee, Willie — never a slave to fashion — began sporting long hair, a beard and and earring.  With fellow outlaws like Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Jerry Jeff Walker, he began forging the gritty Austin sound that finally brought him success as a singer.  Within six months of its release in 1973, the LP Shotgun Willie outsold all his previous albums combined; he was inducted int Nashville’s Songwriters’ Hall of Fame; and his first Fourth of July picnic draws 50,000 rockers and rednecks to the little hamlet of Dripping Springs, Texas.  Creative control over his recordings brought Willie a string of hit LPs that hasn’t been broken, and later led to his first movie role — as Robert Redford’s manager in The Electric Horseman.  Five more film commitments await, at a reported $1 million per roll, but Willie insists he’s not going Hollywood.  “I like making movies,” he said, “But it’s confining, and I don’t like to go too long without playing concerts.”

Willie and his extended family of 25 musicians and roadies average 250 days a year on tour, traveling in a convoy of three customized buses and two semis of sound gear.  Though he could comfortably afford to fly to his concerts, the bus is a kind of spiritual haven.  “I rest better because there’s no phone,” he explains, “and traveling is a big part of my life.  I haven’t seen much of the country, but I’ve been all over it a thousand times, just laying in the back with the blinds drawn.  I guess it’s the perpetual motion I like.”

Backed by what may be the highest paid band in country music (members earn $750 a night — $1,000 for cutting an album), Willie’s roistering performances always start on time and usually run through 54 songs.  Then he shrugs off his battered Martin guitar to sign autographs for perhaps another two hours.  Whether he’s playing Caesars Palace (where he’s paid $1.5 million a year) or a little Bible Belt fair, Willie’s accessibility is his immutable trademark.  “He just can’t say no to anybody,”  Connie says.  “I’ve seen Will so tired he can’t go any further.  Then someone will ask one more thing from him and he’ll do it.  He doesn’t ever want anybody to think that success has changed him.”

In some ways, of course, Willie has changed.  Though he and his sidemen continue to graze on $3, 500-a-pound Arkansas grass (“Most people smoke to get high,” says a friend.  “Willie smokes to get normal”), he has sworn off pills and cut back on his whiskey.  He offers no apologies for the marijuana (“I think most sensible human beings know it’s not something you send people to the penitentiary for”) but forbids the use of any other drugs — especially cocaine — by his band.  “If you’re wired,” he says simply, “you’re fired.”

Despite his new found willingness to set commonsense limits, Willie’s most powerful addiction is to life on the road.  “It’s been a strain on Willie and me to an extent, but we’ve never had trouble between us, ever,” reports Connie.  “I don’t worry about the women.  I trust Willie completely.  But sometimes I feel that he doesn’t need me.  He’s got the road and he’s got his life.  It’s real easy to feel pushed aside.”  This summer Connie and the kids have been touring with Willie — a visible rebuttal to stories linking Willie with actress Amy Irving, his adulterous interest in Honeysuckle Rose.  “Amy and I were friends during the movie and I hope we’re still friends.” says Willie.  “Anything more is only what people wanted to write about.”

There was a time when Willie’s definition of a successful performer was “anyone who got to play music and eat.”  Today he says, “I have all the material things I need and a couple I don’t.”  When their life in Austin became oppressively public, he, Connie and their two children moved to Colorado in 1977.  There Willie can hang his hat in a three-story chalet on 60 acres near Denver or at the family’s 64-acre Pedernales Country Club outside Austin, an 80-unit apartment complex, the 1,700-seat Austin Opry House and the previous Nelson residence — a 44-acre spread with $750,000 limestone ranch house hidden behind a wall topped with electrified barbed wire.  Around Nashville, his holdings include a music publishing company and 200 acres outside town.

Inevitably, becoming a man of property, as well as the father of five, grandfather of six and paterfamilias to a musical entourage, has given Willie a sense of responsibility that is occasionally burdensome.  “I’m not worried about the next car payment,” he says, “But I am worried about income taxes.  A lot of families (including numerous ex-in-laws) depend on me, and it’s a lot of pressure in some ways.  But we’re making more now than we ever did, so at least if I decide to hang it up for a couple of months, nobody’s going to starve to death.”  Shouldn’t his success entitle him to be a little more sanguine?  “Maybe,” he says.  “But I still get knocked off my feet like anybody else. I’ve had so many ups and down in the last 30 years that I’ve learned to live with both.  The successes are great, but they’re not going to last forever.  And I’ve come back from a lot of failures.”

paulafamily

Country Rhythms (September 1981) (UK)

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

[Thanks so much to Phil Weisman for gifting me this great magazine from the UK. The country music magazines always have the best photos.]

Country Rhythms
September 1981

It takes three buses and two trucks to move Willie Nelson and his band and crew around the country for the over 250 performances that Willie gives each year. But for all it grueling aspects, life on the road never loses that sense of freedom and adventure so important to country musicians like Willie Nelson, who spent much of their early lives yearning to escape from backgrounds of poverty and rural isolation.

These photographs by Michael Abramson, courtesy of Columbia Records, tell the story of Willie’s magic caravan better than worlds could ever do.

rhythm2_0001
Willie Nelson, Connie Nelson and daughters Amy and Paula

rhythm6

rhythm3

As unspoiled by his fantastic success as any one could possibly be, Willie Nelson is always available t his fans after a show. Although he values his privacy, Willie knows how important it is to maintain personal contact with the people to whom he means so much.

scan_0070

rhythm2_0002 rhythm7

Willie and Frank

Monday, August 27th, 2018

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Patrick Doyle

On September 14th, Willie Nelson will release My Way, an album-length tribute to Frank Sinatra. While the concept of a Sinatra tribute LP isn’t new, Nelson’s approach is: He finds new, inventive ways to phrase songs like “Summer Wind” and “My Way,” both in his vocal melodies and with his famous gut-stringed acoustic, Trigger. “I learned a lot about phrasing listening to Frank,” Willie said recently. “He didn’t worry about behind the beat or in front of the beat, or whatever – he could sing it either way, and that’s the feel you have to have.”

The love between Nelson and Sinatra was mutual. Sinatra reportedly called Nelson his favorite singer after hearing Nelson’s 1978 album Stardust, where he sang classics from the American songbook. Though a career risk at the time, the album went quadruple platinum and set off a standards-LP trend that artists still try to emulate to this day.

Nelson was so big in the early Eighties, in part because of Stardust, that Sinatra even opened for him at Las Vegas’ Golden Nugget in 1984. “I don’t say that to brag,” Nelson wrote in It’s a Long Story: My Life. “Wasn’t my idea. It was [casino owner Steve Wynn’s]. He felt that since I was selling more records than Sinatra, I’d be a bigger draw and was entitled to top billing. I would have been happy with second billing … Sinatra’s my favorite singer.” The run didn’t last long: Sinatra canceled his appearances after the first night due to throat problems, although it became a music legend that Sinatra just didn’t like being an opening act. “That’s bullshit,” Nelson said. “Like me, Frank wasn’t hung up on being the headliner. He was the consummate pro.”

(Nelson’s former road manager Poodie Locke had another story from that time, which he shared in Joe Nick Patoski’s Willie Nelson: An Epic Life: “Frank loved Willie’s music,” Locke said. “But he couldn’t handle us [the crew]. We’re wearing Wranglers and we’ve got titty dancers backstage. It wasn’t his version of classy.”)

The same year as their Vegas gig, Nelson and Sinatra teamed up for another, more unexpected collaboration: to spread the word about the benefits of space travel. The Space Foundation recorded several of these PSAs in the early 1980s to spread the word about the “tangible benefits” of the space program, including digital imaging, which greatly benefited hospital treatment.

Sinatra and Nelson recorded at least two of these commercials, and Sinatra clearly gets a kick out of Nelson’s casual cool, beginning by pointing to his headband. “What do you call that, Willie?” Sinatra says.

“I call it ‘My Way,’ Francis.”

“Touché,” says Sinatra.

In another video, they detail a “medical system” that can be implanted, releasing medication automatically. “And I believe it’ll be the way to treat diabetes in the years ahead,” says Nelson. If you’re in the mood for a bizarre science lesson from two popular music giants, today’s your lucky day.

My Way is Nelson’s second release of the year, after the excellent Last Man Standing. He’s gearing up for a series of East Coast shows in early September, including a co-headlining show with Van Morrison at New York’s Forest Hills Stadium on September 12th and Farm Aid on September 22nd. We visited Nelson in his Texas studio around his 85th birthday earlier this year to find out what keeps him going. “I just enjoy playing,” he explained, “whether it’s on the stage, here in the studio, or wherever.”