Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Rodney Crowell talks about Willie Nelson (Texas Monthly One by Willie)

Thursday, April 15th, 2021
by: John Spong

Rodney Crowell is one of the rare singer-songwriters to have kept one foot in the coffeehouses while placing the other squarely at the top of the charts as an artist. He’s a Houston-born troubadour who had a literal seat at the table when Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt revolutionized country songwriting in the early seventies (see James Szalapski’s landmark music documentary, Heartworn Highways). But he also happens to have been the first act ever to earn five number-one country singles off of one album, 1988’s Diamonds & Dirt.

On this week’s One by Willie, Crowell dissects Willie’s rip-roaring meditation on self-medication, “Bloody Mary Morning.” It’s a song that barely dented the country top twenty when it was released as a single in 1974, but as the lead track on side two of that year’s Phases and Stages—the album many Willie fans argue is his best—it went on to become a showstopper in his live sets and an all-time country classic. And it prompts thoughts from Crowell on nasty hangovers, going to Willie shows as a high-school kid in the mid-sixties, and that time in the late seventies when he showed up for his first recording session with Willie in Bogalusa, Louisiana . . . only to discover a red Camaro doing doughnuts in a field next to the studio. And you will not guess who was driving.

Read article here.

Outlaw Country: the Birth of the Music That Changed Texas Forever, Texas Monthly (April 2012)

Monday, April 12th, 2021

Forty years ago, Willie, Waylon, Jerry Jeff and a whole host of Texas misfits grew their hair long, snubbed Nashville, and brought the hippies and rednecks together.  Country Music has never been the same.

by John Spong
Texas Monthly
April 2012

What it was, was a generational shift, and not one that Music Row wanted. In the late sixties, Nashville country music was defined by the string-swelling, countrypolitan gloss of Tammy Wynette and Glen Campbell. RCA executive Chet Atkins was a chief architect of the Nashville sound, and when people asked him to define it, he liked to jingle the change in his pockets and say, “It’s the sound of money.” No tweaks to the formula were tolerated. Even Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, two Texas boys with ideas of their own, were forced to fit the mold. They recorded for RCA, and their records sounded exactly the way Atkins wanted.


Willie Nelson in Life Magazine (April 2013)

Saturday, April 3rd, 2021

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

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

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

by Bob Townsend
April 1999

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

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

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

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

– Willie Nelson
An Autobiography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson at 85: A Visit With the King of Night Life (April 2018)

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

Photo: Gary Miller
by: Patrick Doyle
April 2018

“What else we got?” Willie Nelson asks. He’s sitting with his famous battered guitar Trigger at his recording studio, located on the Cut ‘N Putt golf course he owns in Spicewood, Texas. He’s deep into a session of Frank Sinatra covers for a future tribute album. Nelson’s producer Buddy Cannon has given him plenty of chances to call it a day (especially because the singer was up until 4 a.m. playing poker), but Nelson keeps asking the control room to cue up more tracks. At one point, last night’s poker guests – Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey – pop in, but even they can’t distract Nelson. “We’ll let you focus, Willie,” Harrelson says with a smile, leaving the room. 

Nelson remains focused as he reaches his 85th birthday, which he celebrates on April 29th. He’s still sharp: “Sometimes I forget lyrics to new songs or whatever, but normally I can remember them pretty good,” he says. During a break from recording, he says the Sinatra release is actually a ways off; before that, he will release an album of new songs, Last Man Standing, his 19th new album of the last decade, and the continuation of his most prolific writing kick since the Seventies. After Last Man Standing, he will reissue his 1973 gospel album The Troublemaker, with songs, like “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” which still close his live show.

I want to re-release that one before the Sinatra album, to give me a chance to finish it,” he says. Nelson also still maintains a touring schedule that puts younger acts to shame, playing about 100 dates a year, two weeks on, two weeks off. The reason for the workload is simple. “I just enjoy playing,” he explains, “whether it’s on the stage, here in the studio, or wherever.”

The new song “Last Man Standing” is a tongue-in-cheek rocker about Nelson’s conflicted feelings about his status as country’s elder statesman: “I don’t want to be the last man standing / On second thought, maybe I do / If you don’t mind I’ll start a new line and decide after thinking it through.” “I was thinking about Merle, Leon Russell, Ray Price, Johnny Cash – all those guys gone on,” he explains. “You kind of wonder [about death]. I’ve been around a long time.”

Nelson’s pace is only surprising because just a few months ago he was questioning whether he would play in public again at all. In January, he walked offstage in California and canceled two months of dates, retreating to his place in Maui. Fans feared the worst. “I had the flu for, like, three weeks,” he says. “And that wasn’t no fun. I was a little uncertain about coming back and whether I could still do a show – it had been so long.”

The first show back was in St. Augustine, Florida on February 27th. The band didn’t know what to expect. “Willie came out of the gate just smoking,” says his harmonica player, Mickey Raphael. “We were all a bit nervous coming back out after so much time off, but the first night felt like we had never stopped playing. I couldn’t have been happier. I’m thinking to myself, ‘Ye of little faith.’ He blew us all away and all we had to do was hold on.” Asked what was going through his mind, Nelson is less sentimental: “I was just trying to remember ‘Whiskey River,’” he says with a smile. “We did it then; we did three or four more good shows shows in a row, so I got my confidence back.”

The tour wrapped at the Luck Reunion, a mini-festival at Nelson’s home, a mock old-West town he had built for the 1986 movie the Red Headed Stranger. After a day that included Kurt Vile and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Nelson’s ’94 pickup could be seen snaking down his long dirt driveway, past fields of horses, pulling up next to the stage. Nelson strapped on Trigger and led an audience through singalongs like “Crazy,” “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “On the Road Again.” (I wondered if Nelson had any reservations about opening his home to 3,000 fans, and he laughed. “Nah, that’s cool,” he says. “It’s a good place to play because it’s close to the house.”) Nelson noted that a lot of young faces had probably never seen him play before. He also had fun because he was joined by his kids, Lukas and Micah. “There’s no better feeling,” he says, “than having kids working with you and doing a good job.”

Nelson’s sons have had to reckon what it means to follow in the footsteps of a country legend. Lukas makes what he calls “cowboy hippie surf rock,” full of twang and occasionally even a Willie cover. Micah strays into stranger territory, making albums ranging lo-fi freak-folk to prog-metal with his various projects. I once saw him stun a New Jersey crowd while he was opening for his father with insane volumes and a guitarist who did contortions between arpeggios. Micah says it all makes sense if you listen to his dad: “He was doing things that really weren’t considered mainstream. Like to me, Red Headed Stranger [from 1975] is a punk record. In the context of what country music was supposed to be back then: very overproduced and shiny and rhinestones and strings. And he came out with Red Headed Stranger, the label thought it was a demo. He was just breaking down those barriers and fearlessly doing his thing. For me I realized at a certain point, I’m not gonna try to conform to what people might expect me to be doing because of my lineage. That would be dishonoring it. For me to fearlessly do my thing and just be myself – I can’t think of any other way to respect and honor his legacy. Because that’s what he did.”

By his own quick math, Mickey Raphael has played more than 5,400 shows with Nelson since he joined 45 years ago. The harmonica player is essentially the bandleader, and the biggest piece of advice he gives to musicians sitting is, “You have to watch him.” Nelson does not technically have a set list – though he always starts with “Whiskey River” and ends with a gospel medley – and he will routinely cut songs short, extend solos, or even repeat songs if he feels like it. “Every night is a gamble, like walking a high wire without a net,” Nelson says. Adds Raphael, ”If you’re reading a chart or singing or playing it by rote – you’re screwed.”

Kevin Smith, the band’s newest member, learned this lesson when he joined mid-tour, after the death of longtime bassist Bee Spears in 2011. A seasoned Austin bass player, Smith was “just jobbing around town” when Raphael called him at 8 a.m. one day, asking him to play the gig that night. “They weren’t terribly kind to me – they just did their regular thing,” Smith says. “And it went well and Willie walked past me and slapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Way to go.’ And that was pretty great.”

Smith spent the days on the road furiously learning songs only to have his lessons upended. “Willie would bust something out just to throw me sometimes, I think,” he says. “Sometimes I think he may be testing me. There are times when we’re playing and he’ll throw a curveball.” Smith struggled with one intro in particular, with Nelson and his sister Bobbie on piano soloing simultaniously. For Smith, it was hard to find the tempo. So he boarded Nelson’s bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, and asked him for advice. “I said, ‘Where do you want me to come in – should I listen to the piano, or listen to you?’ Smith says. “He just looked up for a second and said, ‘Just come in when you feel comfortable.’ And that’s the most advice or input I’ve ever gotten in my time with the band.”

Smith laughs. “I was talking to Willie one day about planning ahead when you’re playing And he said, ‘I know I’m doing good if I can’t remember what I’m doing.’ I think that’s a big part of his shows and who he is. When he gets out there, he really lets go of everything. I think he really goes into that other space that is fed by the music and fed by the energy and the people in the crowd, That’s where the really beautiful crazy accidents and lift offs and crashes come from.”

Other variables can affect Nelson’s performances too. He recently started his own cannabis company, Willie’s Reserve. Since he considers himself the “CTO” (Chief Tasting Officer), Nelson was trying out several strains before a show. This may be why, Raphael says, Nelson unknowingly re-started his set toward the end of a show. “We were three quarters into the show and he does ‘Stay all Night,’ which might have been the second song,” says Raphael. “He just lost his place. Then he does that by rote, so he did, like, the first 15 minutes of the show again. I didn’t tell him till he asked me. He said, ‘Have we done, ‘Good Hearted Woman?’ ‘Yeah.’ I don’t say anything unless he asks me.”

Read entire article here.

The Highwaymen (Country Weekly, March 2015)

Friday, March 19th, 2021

Thirty years ago, four musical giants–Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson–came together to form country’s first supergroup, The Highwaymen. In this special cover story, we take a look back at the group’s legacy and ongoing influence.

Texas Monthly rates Willie Nelson’s 144 albums

Monday, March 15th, 2021
by: By David Courtney, Michael Hall, Rich Kienzle, Max Marshall, Joe Nick Patoski, John Spong, Christian Wallace

Willie Nelson may be the most important figure in country music history; if he’s not, only Hank Williams matters more. Willie’s also one of the most important musical artists in American history, a first-name-only giant like Elvis and Ella. The contours of the career that brought him to those heights are familiar. There was the huge, early-sixties success writing songs like “Crazy” and “Hello Walls” for big country stars, then the failed attempt to become one himself over the rest of the decade, his talents an ill fit for a stiff Nashville mold. There was his earthy rebirth in Austin in the seventies, when he started playing by his own rules and helped invent the outlaw subgenre that made country cool for a younger, rock-bred audience.

He grew that appeal worldwide with the pop mega-stardom that came in the eighties, and then, in the three decades that have followed—right up to today—he’s done pretty much whatever he’s wanted, as often as he’s wanted, which has been extremely often. He’s recorded hard-core country, western swing, gospel, flamenco, full-on orchestra, small-combo jazz, and solo acoustic music. He’s collaborated with everyone from Waylon Jennings to Bob Dylan to Carlos Santana to Mavis Staples to Steven Tyler to Snoop, which is a laughably small sampling of his many duet partners. And through it all, he has made his way by staying true to himself.

Read article here.

Willie Nelson, The Red Headed Stranger

Monday, February 15th, 2021
by: Thomas Kintner

Read article here; see more photos, videos.

Musical revolutions typically are not long on subtlety. New directions are heralded by impactful moments, colorful gear shifts that reshape expectations with grandeur. Landmarks in every genre—rock to hip-hop to classical, Memphis to Liverpool to the Bronx to Vienna—reset standards with boldness and drama. True as that may be, every so often that pattern is upended by the rare sensation that demonstrates it is possible to be revolutionary by doing less, not least among them.

When the 1970s dawned, Nelson was a mid-tier country music performer who had transitioned to recording artist from Houston DJ with an all-world side hustle as a songwriter that yielded such standards as “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” His dissatisfaction with his recording path led him in 1972 to announce his retirement from making music, but it wouldn’t last—he soon negotiated an exit from his RCA deal to sign as the first country artist at Atlantic, which offered him the freedom to use his own band in recording rather than the session musicians RCA had mandated. He soon delivered 1973’s Shotgun Willie and the following year’s concept album Phases and Stages, each of which found Nelson stretching the boundaries of traditional country music with tastes of folk, jazz and blues. Sales were soft, but the records connected with younger listeners, and there clearly was something to what Nelson and like-minded artists, including Waylon Jennings, were doing.

Nelson hopped labels again, to Columbia, which offered even greater latitude, guaranteeing Nelson full control over his album content. Emboldened by the opportunity, Nelson took advantage with a record that immediately put his new label’s commitment to the test: 1975’s Red Headed Stranger.

Music history is rife with success stories that begin with labels not knowing what to make of a visionary project, but in the case of Red Headed Stranger, Columbia executives were not so much puzzled as unimpressed. To their ears, it sounded like Nelson had turned in little more than a demo, a minimalistic cowboy concept record for which there was little market. They resisted when Nelson stood firm, and only after some cajoling on the part of Jennings did the label relent and agree to release it, which they did in May 1975.

There is always fun to be had in mocking hapless executives who couldn’t recognize greatness, but the fact is Columbia was right to wonder who was going to buy the record they received, for which there was no obvious audience. As it would turn out, Red Headed Stranger created its own market on its way to becoming a classic and helping fuel a wave of what would come to be termed outlaw country.

Red Headed Stranger ties together Nelson compositions with material from diverse sources to develop an overarching narrative; it is a concept album, but also a story cycle. The title character believes his woman to be unfaithful, tracks and then shoots her and the man she’s with, then moves on with his wife’s horse in tow, later shooting another woman who touches it—and that’s just on side one.

Shepherded by Nelson’s gentle quaver, the album’s stories are spun with a directness that evokes simplicity, yet sport an undeniable sophistication in their design. Album opener “Time of the Preacher” starts as a slow-walking cowboy tune but soon evolves, setting the stage when Nelson’s sister Bobbie floats lightly decorative piano alongside his acoustic playing, with dollops of Mickey Raphael’s soft harmonica checking in to evoke the sound of a panther in the night. Soon after his accompanists are established, Nelson heads off in a different direction with understated jazz inflections, subtly adding cool shading to its deliberate gait.

The set’s overarching thematic aims are bolstered by tracks called back along the way. “Time of the Preacher” shows up twice more, first as a minute-long contemplation and later in a 30-second interlude that by then is akin to a high-concept grace note as side one nears its conclusion. It’s similar to the way the title track rolls out, first entwined with the darkness and sorrow of “Blue Rock Montana,” and two tracks later in a fuller presentation of the song at which Nelson had previously hinted, a stout cowboy jazz. “Red Headed Stranger” is a killing song told in a cool tonal flow with thoughtful embellishments, ala Bobbie Nelson’s late-arriving piano trickle that subtly enlivens its gait before evaporating just as quickly for the final verse and chorus.

Willie in 1976

Nelson’s even-keeled delivery is the constant to combine material that doesn’t necessarily belong anywhere near together otherwise, forging common ground in the easygoing bounce of “I Couldn’t Believe It Was True” and a silky rendition of Fred Rose’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” The latter is a mesmerizing reverie arranged with a remarkably light touch, including a jazz-flecked guitar interlude that softly ornaments its middle portions, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss it snippet of choral backup on exactly one line—“We’ll stroll hand in hand again”—that quietly highlights how effectively sparse is the rest of the song’s vocal. It would become a hit that helped drive the record’s commercial success, topping the Billboard country singles chart and reaching as high as #21 on the all-comers Hot 100 in 1975.

An album long on subtleties is inevitably altered by modern playback. In its original conception, the 19th-century hymn “Just As I Am” finishes side one, an elegant, accordion-trimmed waltz to drop the curtain on the first act. On a continuous playlist, it serves as one of two instrumentals (the other being harmonica-and piano-dolloped Mexican classic “O’er the Waves”) between which the story vignette “Denver” is sandwiched. Beyond erasing the obvious breather that comes from having to physically flip vinyl, putting everything in sequence blurs the border to what is a very different second side.

Side two is less obviously of a piece than its obverse—Nelson’s mastery of understated emphasis intertwines everything, but gone are the repeating motifs and callbacks from the early going. It’s a distinction without a difference in terms of quality, as there is plentiful allure in the old-timey spring of “Down Yonder,” with Bobbie Nelson’s piano adding insistence to an airy concoction while Raphael’s harmonica buzzes around its edges.

Sparse, smartly targeted production enlivens a version of Hank Cochran’s “Can I Sleep in Your Arms,” which opens with a slender Bee Spears bass line behind Nelson’s wistful vocal before adding flowing acoustic guitar and piano a minute later. A chorus employed economically emphasizes rich individual moments rather than ongoing depth, part of a gentle journey that gives way to another breezy harmonica float to the finish. Similarly restrained is the design of “Hands on the Wheel,” where adornments serve as accents to a delicate alloy of Nelson and his jazz guitar that quietly lends the material power and poise.

Hardly overdone but certainly more full-bodied than most of the record is “Remember Me (When the Candle Lights are Gleaming),” a toe-tapper that swings atop Paul English’s drum rattle. Nelson’s vocal is nearly playful alongside its supple, piano-prodded bounce, tied to but never carried away by its energy. It was an obvious choice as a single, and proved to be a good one, reaching #2 on the country chart in 1976 and climbing as high as #67 on the Hot 100.

The record closes in self-assured refinement with “Bandera,” a lovely coalescing of keening harmonica, a deliberate bass underbelly and Nelson’s comfortable acoustic jazz alongside sister Bobbie’s decorative piano, helping the record’s cowboy story ride off into the sunset in a mellow finale. It’s a cap to a remarkable journey, one that listeners proved avidly interested in taking despite the label’s initial reservations.

Red Headed Stranger was an enormous success and a lasting one, topping Billboard’s country album chart and climbing as high as #28 on the all-genres chart, and proving an evergreen success that would achieve sales of more than two million by 1986. It also helped define Nelson as an iconoclast comfortable on his own path, which he would follow in singular fashion for decades to come.

Watch Willie and Shania Twain duet on “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”

[Nelson turns 88 on April 29, 2021. His next studio albumThat’s Life, pays homage to Frank Sinatra.]

Willie Nelson’s ‘Red Headed Stranger’ & the Unlikely Birth of Outlaw Country | Best Classic Bands

Texas Monthly: One By Willie (Season Two)

Friday, February 5th, 2021
by: John Spong

We’re pleased to announce that One by Willie will return for a second season on Tuesday, February 16. The first episode features Steve Earle, a founding father of Americana music and one of the greatest singer-songwriters Texas has ever produced. Steve will examine “Local Memory,” a song he first heard as a seventeen-year-old San Antonio kid captivated by the album that effectively launched the outlaw country movement, Willie’s 1973 masterpiece Shotgun Willie. Steve says Shotgun Willie’s impact on him was equally profound, and that “Local Memory” was his favorite track on the record then and still is now.

Read article here.

Willie Nelson interview “Country Music” (February 1976)

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021

Country Music Magazine
February 1976
by Patrick Carr

We begin with an ending of sorts. We are in Nashville on a drizzly night, packed into the Municipal Auditorium like so many high-rent sardines approaching the strung-out finale of the Disk Jockey Convenion 1975.

Taken together tonight, we are perhaps the most professional audience any of these Columbia/Epic acts are likely to play for at least another year: all of us are Somebodies in the country music business, and we’are all hip to the score. The Columbia/Epic actes bounce on stage and do whatever thing they do, three numbers each, one after the other. Tammy Wynette, Mac Davis, Barbara Fairchild, David Houston… it’s very democratic but pretty soon it becomes obvious which artists are getting corporate nod right now because all you really have to do is watch the company personnel pay or not pay attention. Nevertheless, it’s a subtle affair.

But when Willie Nelson and his band of gypsies make their entrance backstage, looking for all the world like some flying wedge of curiously benign Hells Angels, subtlety goes by the board and it’s plain that this year’s Most Likely To Succeed slot has just been taken with a vengeanance: a great shaking of hands begins.

The impression is confirmed when Willie proceeds to get up onstage with his full band (all the other acts were backed by the Columbia band) and play a 40-minute set that, except for a qute seemly absence of illegal drugs and teenage nudity among the audience, might just have well be happening in Texas on the 4th of July. This is the ending of sorts, and what it means is that after telling the Nashville powers-that-be to get lost and leaving town just three short years ago, Willie Nelson has become the country music wave of the future and is now accepting Nashville’s praise and promotional efforts on his own terms.

There is a postscript, though. Three or four hours later — after another couple of hundred handshakes, after attending a very high-rent Columbia party to which his band was not invited, and after behaving like a perfect gentleman through it all — Willie gets himself down to Ernest Tubb’s Record Store and plays for two hours while most every other star in town is out at Opryland all gussied up to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry amid great pomp and ceremony of the By Invitation Only Kind.

It isn’t that Willie couldn’t have shown up at the Opry — with his current Columbia-backed status, that’s a silly notion — and it isn’t that he’s trying a reverse-chic move like one of Nashville’s several dozen I’m-so-hip-isn’t-this-earthy tipes might attemps. It’s just that his old friend and musical hero Ernest was gracious enough to invite him, and that Ernest Tubb’s Record Store is still the best place in town to get down and play straight honky tonk music for the friends and neighbors.

Apart from being a rebel against Nashville’s creative restrictions, a culture hero, a real sweetheart, a person blessed with a highly sophisticated sense of humor, and the man who first made it possible for hippies and rednecks to co-exist under the protection of his music — all of which he is — Willie Nelson has always been one other thing. He has always been a wrtier and singer of the classic country honky tonk song, which is to say that he has always had a very precise, lonely, realistic understanding of the hard ways of this vale of tears in which we all live and suffer form time to time. This is the juke box Willie.

Historicallly, this music came out of more or less, his whol career up to today (which seems somewhat more optimistic when you consider the conclusions of the Red Headed Stranger album). It’s the kind of stuff — like “Hello Walls,” “Ain’t It Funny (How Time Slips Away),” “Pretty Paper,” “Touch Me” and all those other perfectly songs — that really say it to you when you’re down and getting kicked. Willie wrote most of it in Nashville when he was a highly-reputed songwriter trying to be a singing star, simultaneously going through the usual business of divorce, marriage, divorce, marriage and consequent craziness (or is that vice versa?) and running with the likes of Faron Young, Roger Miller, Mel Tillis and other distinguished crazy people.

A segment of my Willie Nelson interview:

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

Me: “You ever do that?”

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

Me: “You still do it?”

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

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

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

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

Remember, Willie has a history in this department. It was he who first chaperoned Charley Pride into the country music concept scene, bringing him on stage in Louisiana — actually kissing him right there in the spotlights – and risking God only knows what kind of backlash in the process. The risk, once taken, paid off: Charley was accepted because Willie was behind him. Similarly, Willie, used his high prestige and general likeability in country music artist circles to ease Leon Russell into the Nashville scene by surrounding him with Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, Jeanne Pruett and a whole galaxy of main-line performers when he was cutting the sequel to his “Hank Wilson” album.

Willie can get away with heresy because more than any other artist occupying the often-queasy ground between because more than any other artist occupying the often queasy ground between country and something else, his country credentials are in order — more to the point — he has never betrayed his roots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Willie, how are you doing on that?”

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

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

So, with the active assistance of New York Neil, Willie has established the power base he was after. It is now possible for Willie to record with Waylon or Kris or Leon (he’s planning a whole Willie/Waylon joint album), and what’s more, with the formation of Lone Star Records, he can get people like Jimmy Day, Johnny Darrell, Floyd Tillman, Billy C., Bucky Meadows, his sister Bobbie and other Texas worthies into the recording studio and, since Columbia Records pays for promotion and distribution under a joint Columbia/Lone Star deal, actually get the finished product before the public. Like Willie says, “We’re all togethe

hr, and we have the same idea about what we wnat to do, which is to do our thing our own way. I’m trying to get these guys to do for themselves what they’ve been bitching about people not doing for them.”

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

In a sense, Willie Nelson now is in some sort of still-perceptive, still creative cruise-gear, moving through a world of incredibly high pressure with almost perfect equilibrium. You can hear this feeling on the Red Headed Stranger album (a concept suggested and assisted by his wife Connie, with whom he does in fact seem quite happy) and you can see it when, dead center in the eye of one of this nation’s strangest cultural hurricanes, he drifts through the absolute mayhem of his Picnic and somehow manages to be a rock-like source of calm and competence for (literally) thousands of the most outrageously uncalm, incompetent hustlers, freaks and assorted weirdos ever assembled under one patch of Texas sky.

It also shows when, in the middle of yet another night of pushing his ragged band through a set of half-tragic, half-boogie music and watching with a smile as his audience stumbles and whoops its way towards unconsciousness, it comes down to just him and his Spanish-style, gut-string amplified Martin, and for a while the most carefully emotional, beautifully balanced little collection of mood notes in the world go soaring through the rancid air.

This is the musical legacy of Django Reinhardt, Grady Martin and the other psychological gypsy guitar pickers from whom Willie developed his style; it is also the mark of a man who has really seen it all and can still look it straight in the eye.

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

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

Tonight Willie’s nose will be back on the grindstone as once again he takes the stage with his gypsies and plays for the sticky young drunks and dopers of Atlanta. Tonight, once again, he’ll be up there doing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” and “Eileen Goodnight” with whoever wants to join in (this time it’s Tracy Nelson and Linda Ronstadt and Mylon LeFevre), and tonight there’ll be another endless hillbilly amnesia session up in the hotel room.

Tomorrow there’ll be another bloody mary morning when Paul, bless him, has paid the bills and checked us all out and onto the road again. But now, just for a while, Willie is thinking about his Gospel album and remembering that he was asked to quit teaching in Sunday School when they found out that Little Willie played the local Texas beer joints at night.

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

“Yes,” he says. “I really was.”

“Are you a religious man?”

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

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

Willie Nelson, “That’s Life”

Saturday, January 23rd, 2021
by: Patrick Doyle

Willie Nelson was a young country music and western-swing fan when he heard Frank Sinatra on the radio for the first time. “Though he was a million miles from western swing, he had a sweet swing of his own,” Nelson wrote in his book It’s a Long Story: My Life. “There was a tenderness to his voice, a purity and ease of phrasing. When he sang the popular songs of the day, I marveled at the natural way he told the story.”

Sinatra helped Nelson find his own indelible style, and the two even went on to play shows together. In 2018, Nelson released My Way, which managed to make Sinatra’s best-known songs sound new again.

On February 26th, Nelson will release That’s Life, another set of Sinatra classics. That’s Life goes a little deeper than his previous Sinatra covers albumin addition to hits like the title track and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” he includes lesser-known songs like “Just in Time” and “The Lonesome Road” from 1959. The album, produced by Buddy Cannon and Matt Rollings, was largely recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood, where Sinatra recorded a string of classics from 1956 to 1961.

Nelson has released a highly entertaining lyric video for the title track. The video incorporates footage of the artist Paul Mann, known for his legendary movie posters, painting an image of Nelson under a streetlamp.

Written by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon, “That’s Life” was first recorded in 1963 by Marion Montgomery. Mikal Gilmore, who has written Rolling Stone stories about Bob Dylanthe Clash and more, has authored a deep essay about Nelson and his connection to Sinatra, available to read here. “What Nelson does here on That’s Life — as he did on My Way — is find common ground with Sinatra,” Gilmore writes. “As a result, what binds these singers is an understanding that, regardless of genre, the art of both men is one and the same: giving voice to songs of experience.”

“I’m just glad to be able to do another tribute to him,” Nelson recently said. “I’m anxious to get it out there”

It’s a busy week for Nelson. He also just received his Covid-19 vaccine shot. 

Willie Nelson Interview (Spinner, January 2008)

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Willie Nelson is 74 years old and has absolutely no plans of slowing down. Lucky for us.‘Moment of Forever, ‘ a collection of songs that mirror his life: There’s a little bit of humor, a lot of love and a sound that stands the test of time.

I hear you’re talking to us in between golf games right now. What’s your handicap?

My driver and my putter! [laughs]

The music icon and all-around national treasure somehow found time between touring, his philanthropic endeavors and his golf game to record

Spinner caught up with the Redheaded Stranger to talk about his new project and his surprisingly simple explanation for his prevalence in modern music. And, of course, we couldn’t help but let the conversation drift back to his notoriously wilder days.

And you actually bought a golf course!

I’m across the street from it right now. It’s a little nine-hole golf course called Pedernales Country Club. We have a lot of fun over there.

So you’re a golf course owner, singer, songwriter, actor, philanthropist and father of ten. Is there anything you’ve yet to accomplish that’s on your to-do list?

I don’t like to think too far ahead. I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot done and have a lot of success. I don’t want to be greedy. And when I’m happiest is when I’m out here playing music and staying out of trouble! [laughs] In the early days, we’d be out on the road and go out and play our concert, and then go back to the hotel and party till daylight. And then when it came time to leave, you couldn’t find anybody! [laughs] So I decided somewhere along the way that it’s better to leave town right after the show. And since we’ve started doing that, I’ve noticed that the marriages are actually staying together. [laughs]

You have certainly changed your ways; people may not realize that you’re actually somewhat of a health nut these days.

Well, I have started running. What I was trying to do was do at least as much good in the daytime as I was destroying in the nighttime. [laughs] But it got to the point where I was losing ground. I had to start trying to stay alive or I was going to die. So I’ve had to give up the smoking and drinking. And when I quit that and started running, I got a lot healthier.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about you?

There probably aren’t any. [laughs] But if you think of all the people who don’t like me, just think of all the millions who’ve never heard of me!

I can’t imagine there are “millions” who haven’t heard of you. You’re Willie Nelson! You probably get recognized several times a day. Does your fame ever overwhelm you?

Honestly, no. I love it. I thrive on it. I enjoy people. And when I first started out watching Gene Autry and Roy Rogers on the movie screen every Saturday, I wanted to be like them. I wanted to ride my horse, shoot my gun, sing my songs and be like Gene and Roy. And that’s what I’m doing, and I couldn’t be happier. And I’m making enough money to pay the bills and support my family, so I have no complaints.

Speaking of your family, your youngest sons Micah and Lukas are featured on your new album in the opening track, ‘Over You Again.’ And they’re actually musicians themselves, right?

They have a band called 40 Points and have toured with me over the last couple of years, but they’re back in school now. They’re just two really talented kids. I’m proud of them.

You also worked with Kenny Chesney on this CD. He acts as both duet partner on ‘Worry B Gone’ and as co-producer of the album. What did he bring to the table that was different from your past producers?

First of all, he’s a good musician and has a good ear in the studio. And his name certainly didn’t hurt at all, either! [laughs] He’s a big star, and after hanging out with him for a while you can see why. He’s got a lot of talent.

In addition to Chesney, are there any other artists these days who you think have a real shot at longevity?

There are a lot of guys who seem to have staying power … Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Travis Tritt. Those guys are going to be out there working for a long time. They’ve got talent.

As someone who’s certainly achieved it, what do you think is the secret to longtime success in the music industry?

I think you’ve just gotta keep living! Just look at Johnny Cash or Waylon [Jennings]. They kept going until they died. Ray Price is still doing great, and he’s 82 years old. We just celebrated his birthday over in Tyler, Texas. He and I and Merle [Haggard] are all touring again this year. So I think staying busy is important.

You’ve collaborated with so many different artists, from Waylon and Merle to Julio Iglesias to Dave Matthews. Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet but would like to?

Can you sing? [laughs]

You don’t want to hear me sing, at least not sober.

[laughs] Darn, then I’ll have to find somebody else.

How about all the different artists who’ve covered your songs. Is there one that stands out to you?

You’ve got to go back to ‘Crazy,’ Patsy Cline. How could you top that one? Also, Ray Price with ‘Night Life,’ Roy Orbison, ‘Pretty Paper’; Billy Walker, ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’; Faron Young, ‘Hello Walls.’ Those performances … there’s just no way to beat ’em.I just heard a Hank Williams classic, ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’ That’s a piece of literature. I don’t wish I’d written it, but I am glad somebody did!

If you could change anything about the country music business, what would you change?

I would like to see more airplay for all artists, no matter what age. I think there’s a lot of money being spent toward the young guys, but a lot of the older guys are the ones who blazed the trail for those young guys. Plus, the old guys have kept those record companies in business for all these years. So I think there’s a certain amount of respect due. I’m not complaining … we’ve made some good records and have sold a lot. I’m talking mainly for the other artists coming along. They’ll have a better chance if they stay traditional and don’t try to get too far out one way or another. Like Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Ray Price … they’ve stayed traditional, and they’re gonna be around for forever.

You tend to be pretty vocal about your political beliefs. So, what do you think is the most important issue in the ’08 presidential election?

Stop the war. Stop the bleeding. That’s the first thing. Then the economy — we have all kind of problems, but the number-one priority is to stop this war. Once that happens, all the trillions of dollars that we’re spending over there can be spent here on our people, our poor people, for health insurance and all the things that evidently we don’t have the money to work with because it’s all over there fighting wars. And if it’s not that war, it’s another war. It’s just this series of one war after another.

Are you supporting any particular candidate?

I liked Dennis Kucinich, but he dropped out. I like Obama and Hillary, so I’ll wait to see which one of those folks come out on top. But they’ve both changed their positions on the war, I think, in the last several months. Dennis never did have to change his position, because he was always against it. But as for who I’ll support, I don’t really know yet.

Was it your stance on the war that drove you to start the Willie Nelson Peace Research Institute?

I wanted to connect all people who are thinking about peace on Earth. When I was growing up, that was the theme that every Sunday morning, they yelled at us. [laughs] “Peace on Earth!” And then it looks like that somewhere along the way, people forgot that message. Now it’s war on Earth. So I want to connect all the people who think like I do, that there should be and hopefully will be peace on Earth.

If we were to ask you to write Willie’s Theme, a rule you live your daily life by, what would it say?

A couple of funny ones come to mind. My ex-wife Martha used to say, “Don’t worry about a thing, because there ain’t nothin’ that’s gonna be all right.” [laughs] And my father-in-law when I was married to Connie used to say, “Take my advice and do what you want to.” I thought that was funny.

I think the lyrics to your new song ‘Always Now’ are a good rule to live by.

I think you’re right. That’s an absolute truth.

Why Willie Nelson’s Still Cool, by Joe Nick Patoski (Texas Monthly, April 2003)

Tuesday, December 29th, 2020

Why Willie’s Still Cool
by Joe Nick Patoski
A Texas Monthly Magazine Tribute to Willie!
April 2003

Ever since I was a kid, when his grinning visage first flickered at me over the black-and-white on Channel 11 live from Panther Hall, in Fort Worth, Willie Nelson has been a fixture in my life. I swear I heard him introducing 45’s when he was a disc jockey on KCNC-AM, my first exposure to country and western music. Like him, I saw the neon Stars and Stripes that once flew over the Tarrant County courthouse at night. Like him, I was moved by the blind couple who sold pencils in front of Leonards Department Store downtown (Willie paid tribute to them by writing “Pretty Paper,” the best Texas Christmas song ever).

Growing up in Texas back then, you couldn’t help but hear Faron Young’s recording of “Hello Walls” and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” jukebox staples that never went away; Willie wrote the lyrics of both songs. When I finally met him fact to face in the offices of KOKE-FM, in Austin, the station that revolutionized radio by playing a brand new mix of music called progressive country. I remember thinking that he was unlike any musician — any person, for that matter — I’d ever seen or heard.

Who’d have guessed that after all these records, picnics, scandals, and road miles later, he’d still be so much in his prime? At a time when his peers have either hightailed it to Branson or are being wheeled out onstage to show they’re still alive, Willie’s till Willie — on the road again, on the bus again, worthy of tribute songs and accolades and whatever else you can throw at him.

Which raises the question: What keeps him going? What makes Willie Willie, who turns seventy on April 30, more of an icon that ever? Everyone has his opinion. Willie surely has his own. Here’s mine.

He’s a family man. Four marriages and what can be charitably described as an unconventional lifestyle explain why a lot of people thing Willie and family values don’t go together.  They’re wrong. He’s the epitome of family. It’s not just that he’s a father, a grandfather, and a great-grandfather or that his sister plays piano in his band or that his eldest daughter goes out on the road with him and writes the band’s official Web site diary (

 Not for nothing is his band called Willie Nelson and Family; they’ve stayed together longer than most blood relations. His steadfast followers are likewise called family. To them, he’s more than a star; he’s a combination of daddy, patron, sage, boss man, fearless leaders, beloved outlaw, and benevolent shepherd tending his flock.

He’s a uniter, not a divider. The original cosmic cowboy came to Austin and brought rednecks and freaks together, mainly because he’s a little of both (he was the first hippie I ever saw wearing a diamond pinkie ring). His audience today is the face of America, bringing together folks who’d never darken the same door — from baby boomers to yahoos, academics to convicts — and making them want to stay all night and a little longer.

He’s the Teflon Troubadour. From unpaid bar tabs and pistol down payments to high-dollar lawsuits and high-profile tax hassles, he has nimbly stepped around buckets of excrement without getting any on him in a manner unrivaled this side of Ronald Reagan. Think about it: In just ten years he seamlessly segued from IRS target to A-plus patriot, leading the likes of Tome Cruise and Julia Roberts in a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful” on the nationally televised post-9/11 telethon.

He’s loyal. It works in the White House. It works in the Mafia. And it works in Willie’s world, where the operating rule of thumb is Darrell Royal’s “Dance with the one who brung ya.” Following the first Willie Nelson Picnic, in Dripping Springs, he severed ties with the hippie crew from the Armadillo World Headquarters who’d helped put on the show after hearing one of them complain about his pal’s toting firearms backstage. “If my friends aren’t good enough for you,” Willie told them, “then I’m not good enough for you either.”

He’s an activist without being overly political. He championed small, independent farmers by starting Farm Aid, a no-brainer fit of inspired populism that pays back the culture he was part of growing up in Abbott. On almost the opposite end of the spectrum, he has had a thirty-year relationship with NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), making a public service announcement here and there. And he’s even raised money to rebuild the fire-damaged Hill County courthouse in Hillsboro. yes, he lends his name to causes, bu the causes don’t define him: his Williness transcends all controversy.

He’s a jack-of-all-trades. No one slides in and out of so many musical skins. He’s country as all-get-out, but he’s also a folkie for the ages, a great gospel artist (look no further than Family bible and Healing Hands of Time), a connoisseur of pop standards (Stardust is one of the best-selling albums of all time), and an organic-rocker who can take a jam on on a trip farther out than even . The Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead may have preceded him in their two-drummer setup, but only Willie Nelson’s band has sported two bass players as well. Reggae?  Been there (though the album has yet to be released). Sentimental schmultz? Done that (“On teh Sunny Side of the Street?) Dance times? Yes, thsoe were disco whistles you heard on a recent single, “Maria (Shut Up and Kiss Me).” He has sung credible duets with Julio Iglesias, Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Little Joe, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt; B. B. King, Kid Rock, and Nora Jones.  Now that’s versatility.

He’s an extraordinary talent. He can jump from genre to genre so effortlessly because he’s so gifted musically — the greatest all-around Texas player born in the twentieth century. He writes songs that have   As a singer, he’s surpassed only by Sinatra.  He’s an American original, right up there with Hank, Miles, and Elvis.

He’s a crossover dream. unlike Mariah Carey and Madonna, he has managed to transition form music to movies (Honeysuckle Rose, Wag the Dog) and television (the edgy detective series Monk) without being ridiculed — mainly because he’s smart enough to play a version of himself, if not the real thing, and act naturally. What you see is what you get.

He’s Ours. Willie is Texas and Texas is Willie, pure and simple, no one represents the brand like he does. The spiritual descendant of Bob Willis, who blazed trails by welding together seemingly incompatible styles to invent western swing. Willie is responsible for birthing this think called Texas Music and taking Texas to the world. Bonus points for making red-bandanna headbands, braids and running shoe symbols of Texas culture.

He’s cool. He has lived a thousand lives and died a thousand deaths, having been wrongly written off more times than any other cat in showbiz. While he could be resting on laurels that include a discography ofmore than two hundred albums, he’s plahying 145 nights ayear, cranking out sets in excess of two hours, while on the side pitching booze (Old Whiskey River Kentucky Straight Bourbon), financial services (Frost Bank), and blue jeans (the Gap) in television commercials and on a billboard overlooking Broadway.

Wilie and blue jeans? Could there be a more perect match? It isn’t so much that the was made for them as they were made for him. And you can’t get any cooler than that.

[Joe Nick Patoski is author “Willie Nelson: An Epic Life,” among many other great documentaries on Texas music and history.  His latest is The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America”.]

Willie Nelson in Acoustic Guitar (December 2013)

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020
acoustic guitar

photo: Jay Blakesberg Photography

Willie Nelson, Texas Monthly (December 2012)

Sunday, December 20th, 2020