Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

This day in Willie Nelson history: “We are the World” recorded

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

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


People Magazine
February 25, 1985

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson featured in 2015 Wittliff Collection exhibits

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015


Thank you, Jerry Retzloff for sharing this flyer about upcoming Wittliff Collection Exhibits. Some of Jerry’s collections are on display at the Armadillo Rising: Austin’s Music Scene in the 1970s.

by: John Spong

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.

The rest of the nation had less success maintaining the old order. In cities like San Francisco, the counterculture was popular culture. Hair was long, love was free, and dope smoking was considered tame. The music ranged from the psychedelic extremes of Jefferson Airplane to the rootsier jangle of Creedence Clearwater Revival, with acts like Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead straddling the two. Nashville, with its pompadours, whiskey, and quiet reliance on truck-driver amphetamines, had no use for any of it. When Los Angeles bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers started playing country rock, winking at Nashville in Nudie suits festooned with rhinestone pot leaves, Music Row responded with disgust.

Halfway between the coasts sat Texas, where hundreds of honky-tonks functioned as Nashville’s farm system. But that music belonged to the old guard. Texas kids were more interested in the state’s thriving folkie circuit. The hub was a Dallas listening room called the Rubaiyat, from which young singer-songwriters like Steve Fromholz and B.?W. Stevenson sallied forth to coffeehouses around the state. The music they played was distinct from the protest songs of Greenwich Village. Texas folk was rooted in cowboy, Tejano, and Cajun songs, in Czech dance halls and East Texas blues joints. It was dance music. And when the Texas folkies started gigging with their rock-minded peers, they found a truer sound than the L.A. country rockers. There was nothing ironic about the fiddle on Fromholz’s epic “Texas Trilogy.”

It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact moment when that sound and scene coalesced into something cohesive enough to merit a name, but then again none of the labels people came up with—cosmic cowboy, progressive country, redneck rock, and, ultimately, outlaw country—made everyone happy. Still, the pivotal year was 1972, and the place was Austin. Liquor by the drink had finally become legal in Texas, which prompted the folkies to migrate from coffeehouses to bars, turning their music into something you drank to. Songwriters moved to town, like Michael Murphey, a good-looking Dallas kid who’d written for performers such as the Monkees and Kenny Rogers in L.A. He was soon joined by Jerry Jeff Walker, a folkie from New York who’d had a radio hit when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band covered his song “Mr. Bojangles.” In March, Willie played a three-day country festival outside town, the Dripping Springs Reunion, that would grow into his Fourth of July Picnics. Then he too moved to Austin and started building an audience that didn’t look like or care about any Nashville ideal. By the time the scene started to wind down, in 1976, Willie and Austin were known worldwide.

Read the entire article:

Willie Nelson: Vagabond and Icon (by Michael Corcoran

Monday, January 26th, 2015

by Michael Corcoran

Willie understood. When Frank Sinatra kept touring well into his 70s, reading the words of his classic songs off giant TelePrompTers, critics and fans wondered why he didn’t retire. How much money did he need? But Willie Nelson knew that concert receipts had nothing to do with his friend and idol’s busy schedule. “When you sing for people and they throw back all that love and energy,” he says, “it’s just the best medicine in the world.”

With Nelson’s 70th birthday coming Wednesday, the eternal red-headed rascal has been inundated with tributes, including a celebrity-heavy affair in New York earlier this month that will be shown on the USA Network on May 26, Memorial Day.

The phases and stages of Willie’s career have found him evolving from the honkytonk sideman to the hit Nashville songwriter, from progressive country pioneer to crooner of standards. And now the iconoclast has become the icon, with Willie achieving American folk hero status.

This pot-smoking Zen redneck in pigtails, who sings Gershwin through his nose and plays a guitar that looks like he picked it up at a garage sale, transcends music and has come to personify the individual, the rectangular peg to the round hole of corporatization.

Willie’s the one producers called to sing “America the Beautiful” at the moving finale of the televised “A Tribute To Heroes” show after the Sept. 11 attacks. He’s played for worldwide audiences at former President Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. And he can have his bacon and eggs at any greasy spoon in the country and feel right at home.

Meanwhile, the journalists keep leading with the same questions about what keeps him going at the pace of a much younger man. Willie and the band he calls the Family are scheduled to play almost 180 dates this year, and the shows are two-and-a-half-hour affairs.

“I’ve been trying to take it easy for years, but this is what I love to do,” he says. “When I go home to rest, I get a little stir-crazy after a few days.”

Here’s a man whose office in Luck, the Western town he built near his “Willie World” complex of golf courses, condos and recording studios on Lake Travis, carries a plaque that reads, “He who lives by the song, dies by the road.” True to that motto, one of Roger Miller’s favorite sayings, Willie’s been home in the Hill Country a total of only two weeks this year.

It’s no wonder that “On the Road Again” is the easiest song Willie’s ever written. The producers of the 1980 film “Honeysuckle Rose” were looking for a theme song about vagabond musicians, and their star wrote the first words that popped into his mind: “The life I love is making music with my friends/ I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

It’s a simple existence made all the more comfortable because Willie is surrounded by people who’ve been with him for decades. Bassist Bee Spears has lived 35 of his 53 years in Willie’s band, which also features the barrelhouse piano of Willie’s 72-year-old sister, Bobbie, and Willie’s legendary running buddy, 71-year-old Paul English, on drums. Percussionist Billy English, Paul’s brother, is the new guy, having joined just 19 years ago. Harmonica player Mickey Raphael and guitarist Jody Payne are also relative newcomers, both joining the ragtag caravan 30 years ago.

“You can’t get out of this band even if you die,” Willie says with a laugh. “I’ve told the guys that we’ll just have ‘em stuffed and put back up on that stage.”

Willie’s circle of fiercely loyal lifers include roadies (78-year-old Ben Dorcy has been with Willie since the early ’60s), sound engineers and managers. Meanwhile, his oldest daughter, Lana, travels with Willie and keeps up the Web site.

“We all act like we can’t wait to get off the road and catch a break from each other,” says stage manager Randall “Poodie” Locke, who joined up in 1975. “But after three or four days, we’re looking for excuses to call each other. Everybody’s wives or girlfriends are going, ‘Uh, Honey, don’t you got any gigs comin’ up?’ ”

Where’s Willie?

On the road again, they just couldn’t wait to get on the road that takes them to the Lone Star Park horse racing track near Dallas on a crisp recent evening. Some of the fans come early, looking for Willie’s bus, the one that has “Honeysuckle Rose” and an American Indian figure painted on the side.

A group of giddy grandmas stand outside the band’s business bus before the one with the “Ladies Love Outlaws” T-shirt gets up the courage to knock on the door. “Where’s Willie?” she asks the driver, who answers that he won’t arrive until showtime. When the women leave, Poodie says, “Willie makes every fan feel like they’re his friend. Because they are.”

With piercing brown eyes that seem to have the ability to make eye contact with thousands simultaneously and a world class smile that’s both frisky and comforting, Nelson turns concerts into lovefests and makes fans feel like they grew up next door to him.

To gaze at the social makeup of the line waiting outside the horse race track is to marvel at the range of Nelson’s appeal. There are older couples dressed in tight, rounded jeans and multicolored western shirts, who look like they used to see a pre-bearded Willie at the old Big G’s dance hall in Round Rock or the Broken Spoke. There are tons of college kids in ballcaps and straw Resistol hats, plus truck-driver types, budding socialites, bikers and hipsters with their neck tattoos.

But there are also many who just came to play the ponies and don’t even know Willie’s booked to sing after the night’s final race. When a young man with gold front teeth and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers hat worn sideways approaches the turnstile, the ticket taker jokes, “Are you here to see Willie Nelson?” A few Willie fans giggle as the man shakes his head and says, nah, he’s here to bet on horses. Then, as he passes, he leans back and says, “But I do like Willie Nelson.”

As long as he’s healthy and the people keep coming out. That’s how long Willie says he’ll keep this carnival, which commands upwards of $50,000 per show (and $100,000 for private parties), out on the road. Meanwhile, the 70th birthday peg has led to renewed interest in Nelson’s recorded legacy, with Sony reissuing an “Essential Willie Nelson” double disc and the Sugar Hill label getting critical raves for the recently unearthed “Crazy: the Demo Sessions” from the early ’60s. A recently remastered version of the 6 million-selling “Stardust,” Willie’s best-selling album, is turning a whole new audience onto the songs of Hoagie Carmichael and Irving Berlin, just as it did in 1978.

Although last year’s “The Great Divide,” an attempt to duplicate the “Supernatural” success of Carlos Santana by dueting with such hitmakers as Sheryl Crow and Rob Thomas, sold a relatively disappointing 361,000 copies, Willie and the Family are playing to some of their biggest crowds since the mid-’70s glory days of “Good Hearted Woman” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”

Now that Waylon, the Butch Cassidy to Willie’s Sundance Kid, has passed away, it’s up to Nelson to keep the outlaw country bus a-churnin’ down the highway. And with his role as the vortex of Texas singer-songwriting assured, Willie has picked up the younger high school and college crowd that goes batty for the likes of Pat Green and Robert Earl Keen.

Informed that a band member said, “It’s like 1975 all over again,” Willie lets out a laugh. “If he can remember 1975, he wasn’t in my band. But it does seem that the girls are getting younger and prettier. And they know all the words! I hear a thousands kids singing along to ‘Bloody Mary Morning’ and I think, ‘Y’all weren’t even born when that one was written.’ It just makes me feel great to know that these old songs are clicking with a whole new crowd.”

As with the Grateful Dead, Nelson’s spike in popularity so late in his career comes partly because he and the band promote a free-spirited lifestyle. But where the Dead (whose surviving members will join Willie at this year’s Fourth of July Picnic at the new Two River Canyon venue, just down the highway from Willie World) became synonymous with extended jams and mind-expanding drugs, the Willie way is built around short songs and long drives, a cowboy/ Indian fashion mix and tear-in-your-beer roadhouses. Above all, the band’s escapist bent is intensified with instinctive musicianship, a play-it-as-we-feel-it attitude that extends beyond the stage.

“Playing with Willie is tricky business,” bassist Spears says of the frontman who never met a beat he couldn’t tease. “If you try to follow him too close, he’ll lead you down to the river and drown you. You have to keep one eye on him and one eye on your part. Just play your part and trust that he’s going to come back and meet you at some point.”

Willie says the musical kinship between him and sister Bobbie, who ride the bus together, is almost telepathic. “Sometimes, she seems to know what I’m going to play before I do. I’ve played music with my sister almost every night of my life. There’s just this intense connection that really gets the whole ball rolling.”

Raphael says that if someone should die, the members of the Family have decided to carry on in missing man formation, as fighter pilots do after a comrade crashes. “But if anything happens to Trigger,” he says of the acoustic guitar that Willie’s picked a hole through, “that could be the show.”

The Martin classical guitar, which he bought sight-unseen for $750 in 1969, is Nelson’s most precious possession. That he lets friends, about 40 so far, carve their names into the guitar says as much about Willie Nelson, the unmaterialistic scamp, as the way he plays it with gypsy fingers and a jazzman’s curiosity.

At home in the crowd

“God bless ‘em,” singer Marty Robbins once said of country music fans. “They’ll do anything for you but leave you alone.”

But no country star has ever handled the demand from fans to touch, to talk to, to have a picture made better than Willie. He spent the first part of his career trying to become successful and the rest proving that success hasn’t changed him a whit.

He’s got a bunch of burly guys, including a former Hell’s Angel named L.G., working for him, but Willie doesn’t allow them to lead him through crowds, even when about 3,000 people stand between him and the stage, as they did at the Lone Star Park show.

When the crowd lets out a roar because they’ve seen Willie in their midst, Mickey Raphael walks up to the window of the band bus, peers out at his boss signing autographs in the sea of hats and says, “Looks like we’ve got about 45 minutes,” then goes back to telling a reporter how he came to run away with this circus.

“My first exposure to the group was the cover of that (1971) ‘Willie Nelson and Family’ record. They were the freakiest looking country band I’d ever seen. Paul looked like the devil and was wearing a cape; Bee had on some furry diapers. I said, ‘Now, what do these guys sound like?’ ” After sitting in with Willie and the Family at a firefighter’s benefit in Waxahachie, Raphael starting playing at all the band’s dates in the Dallas area.

“Willie asked me one night, ‘Hey, Paul, what are we paying that kid?’ ” says English, the infamous raconteur immortalized in Willie’s song “Me and Paul.” The pistol-toting English has handled band biz on the road since 1966, when Willie enticed him to leave his business supplying call girls to Houston businessmen. “I said we weren’t paying Mickey anything, and Willie said, ‘Then double his salary.’ ”

Bee Spears, who joined the Family in 1968 when original bassist David Zettner was drafted into the Army, talks about his first Christmas out on the road with Willie: “We tried to make a snowman out of shaving cream, and we drew pictures of the presents we would give each other when we made it big. Willie had us believing that it wouldn’t be ‘if’ we made it, but ‘when.’ He knew that eventually someone was going to figure him out.”

Austin understood. It was here in the early ’70s that Willie Nelson found a kindred musical attitude. Even though he spends more of his time off the road these days in Maui, where his fourth and current wife, Annie, and their boys Luke, 14, and Micah, 13, live, he remains Austin’s spiritual adviser and greatest musical ambassador.

“Willie loves it in Maui, but he considers Austin his home,” says Lisa Fletcher, who’s married to Bobbie’s son Freddy Fletcher. “He’s got six children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and they almost all live around Austin, so he gets down here every chance he can.”

Austin and Willie go together in the minds of the masses, like Elvis in Memphis, but where Presley lived a fortressed life, Willie doesn’t think anything about jamming for hours at Poodie’s Hilltop Grill near his Lake Travis compound or popping in at Momo’s on Sixth Street to see his favorite local band, Los Lonely Boys. “The town’s grown so much,” Nelson says, “but I still like the vibe there. It’s still a music town.”

Watch the movies he made here in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and you’ll see that so many old landmarks are gone, including the Armadillo World Headquarters, where Willie mapped out the common ground between hippies and the rednecks. Also torn down was the Villa Capri motel, the scene for so many guitar-picking parties hosted by Willie’s buddy Texas Coach Darrell Royal. But Willie’s still Willie, and his set starts out the same way it has since 1971.

There’s the four or five guitar strums and Mickey’s snaky harp lines and then the unmistabkable nasal twang: “Whiskey river, take my mind/ Don’t let her memory torture me.” It’s a holistic hoedown as “Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)” follows, and then come patchwork versions of the early ’60s hits “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and “Night Life.”

Ain’t it funny how much time hasn’t seemed to slip away?

There’s a scene in “Honeysuckle Rose” when Amy Irving asks Willie if he ever gets tired of being everybody’s hero. His silence makes the question rhetorical, but after watching Willie hold court on his bus a few months ago outside Gruene Hall, with person after person telling him how much his music has meant to them and their recently deceased mother, it’s a question worth re-asking. Does Willie ever get tired of being everybody’s hero?

“I think when that line came up in the movie, the reason I didn’t say anything was because I was probably thinking, ‘That’s about the dumbest question I’ve ever been asked,’ ” he says with a huge Willie laugh.

What a stupid question. Who wouldn’t want to be loved by millions simply by being themselves? Who wouldn’t want to be paid handsomely to do the thing they’d do for free? He’s on the road again and again, playing, in the words of Mickey Raphael, “Carnegie Hall one night and some dump in Odessa the next.”

And so when Willie hits the big 7-0, it won’t be a star-studded affair at a huge Texas amphitheater, complete with fireworks. That would make too much sense. Instead, his bus, his home, is rolling towards Wednesday’s gig at the Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, La.

That’s so Willie.

On the road, he’s Willie Nelson, an American treasure and hero of the common folk. Now, who wouldn’t want to be that as often as possible?

Willie Nelson in Texas Music Magazine: The Anniversary Issue (15 years)

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015


The new issue of Texas Music magazine (Winter ’15) is available now. This special 15th Anniversary issue includes: a look back at our first 15 years, a preview of Big Nac Music Festival in Nacogdoches.

Pick up a copy of the new magazine on newsstands or order a copy at If you order a copy at our website, we’ll include an 18-song compilation CD inside the magazine! — with Jack Ingram, Kelly Clarkson,Ray Wylie Hubbard, Pat Green, Willie Nelson, Dale Watson, Joe Ely, Lee Ann Womack, Casey Donahew Band and Hayes Carll.




Willie Nelson: one hell of a bad ass

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015


Willie Nelson is in many ways a microcosm of the American experience. He grew up during The Depression, had a rough and tumble youth, battled through familial and financial problems for years, struck it rich, and reformed himself from his violent past to become one of the world’s most well-known and greatest pacifists and advocates for the poor and social justice. Lots of wisdom can be gleaned about life from simply studying the life of Willie Nelson . And ultimately, he is undoubtedly one hell of a badass.

1. Surviving a Plane Crash

As told by Willie Nelson’s friend, professional golfer Larry Trader:

“Willie was flying in to the landing strip near Happy Shahan’s Western town that they used for the Alamo movie set. Happy is watching the plane coming in, knowing Willie is on it. The plane hits a big chughole in the strip and flips over on its side and crashes. Happy likes news and publicity, you know, so first thing he does is pick up the phone and call the radio stations, the TV, the newspapers. Happy says, ‘Willie Nelson’s plane just crashed. Y’all better hurry.’

“He jumped in a Jeep and drove out to the crash to pick up the remains. And here comes Willie and his pilot, limping up the road. The media people were arriving by then. They started firing questions at Willie. How did he survive? Was he dying? Was he even hurt? Willie smiles and says, ‘Why, this was a perfect landing. I walked away from it, didn’t I?’”

2. Recording Red Headed Stranger for $4,000

willie-nelson-red-headed-strangerThat’s right. Arguably the greatest, most influential album in the history of country music was recorded on a shoestring budget at the renegade and recently-opened Autumn Sound Studios in the Dallas suburb of Garland in January 1975. Autumn Sound engineer Phil York was trying to promote the new studio, knew Willie through harmonica player Mickey Raphael, and offered Willie a free day of recording. With complete creative control over the album as part of his new contract with Columbia Records, Willie set out to record a stripped-down conceptualized record that was like nothing the overproducing bean counters on Music Row had ever heard. Willie’s version of “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” became Willie’s first #1, and the album remains many critic’s pick for the best country record ever. Eat that Music Row.

3. Gun Battle at the Birmingham Coliseum

After playing a concert in Birmingham, Alabama in the late 70?s, Willie and the band found themselves in the middle of a gun battle in a six-story parking garage as they were unloading gear from the stage. Though the story involves Willie getting involved in the fracas with his own weaponry, it also illustrates Willie’s unique disposition as a peacemaker.

Willie Nelson & Poodie Locke

Willie Nelson & Poodie Locke

“All of a sudden we hear ‘Kaboom! Kaboom!’” Willie’s long-time stage manager “Poodie” Locke recalls. “It’s the sound of a .357 magnum going off in the parking garage. The echoes sound like howitzer shells exploding. It’s kind of semi-dark, and this guy comes blowing through this parking deck…now here comes this bitch with a fucking pistol. ‘Kaboom!’ She’s chasing this motherfucker. It sounds like a fucking war.”

At the time, Willie Nelson and most of his band and road crew carried pistols as a matter of habit. The scene became chaotic as the shooting happened right as the crowd from the show was filing out into the parking garage.

“People are piling out of the show and they start scattering,” Poodie continues. “Here come the cops from every direction. They’re flying out of their cars, hitting the parking deck, spread-eagling the whole crowd–’On the deck, motherfuckers!’–because the cops don’t know who is shooting at who…All these cops are squatting down in the doorjambs, turning people over, frisking them, aiming guns at everybody, just waiting for the next shot to be fired.”

“And here comes Willie. He walks off the bus wearing cutoffs and tennis shoes, and he’s got two huge Colt .45 revolvers stuck in his waist. The barrels are so long they stick out the bottom of his cutoffs. Two shining motherfucking  pistols in plain sight of a bunch of cops nervous as shit. Willie just walks over and says, ‘What’s the trouble?’ Well he’s got some kind of aura to him that just cools everything out. The cops put up their guns, the people climb off the concrete, and pretty soon Willie is signing autographs.”

farmaid4. Founding Farm Aid

Along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson founded the annual benefit concert in 1985 to help raise money for struggling farmers that has since become an American institution. Before a crowd of 80,000, 52 performers at the original Farm Aid raised $9 million for American farmers. Then Willie went to Capitol Hill with a group of struggling farmers to petition the government for aid. The end result was the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 that helped many American farmers avoid foreclosure.

5. Bailing Dennis Hopper Out Of Jail in Taos, NM

Dennis was a part-time resident of the small northern New Mexico town of Taos. Back in the mid 70?s it was a hangout for country music types and Hollywood misfits like Hopper. It was also the scene of one of the most crazy country music stories involving Willie, Hopper, and of all people, golf pro Larry Trader.

dennis-hopper-taos-mug-shot“I hadn’t got a clue how Willie knew I was in jail in Taos. At the time I couldn’t imagine how Willie Nelson even knew who I was.

“In Taos I had gotten real drunk and proceeded to win a lot of acid in a poker game, so I swallowed the acid and saw weird dangerous shit going on, and I pulled my pistol out of my boot and shot up the plaza. I was ranting and raving in the jail, people were out to get me, man, and here came the sheriff saying Willie Nelson had come and paid my bill and was waiting outside. I was free to go with him.

“I freaked fucking out. Willie Nelson? Come on, man, who do you think you’re kidding? You’re gonna lure me out and yell jailbreak and blow my ass away! But I thought, hey, be cool, you are after all hallucinating all this. So I walked out of jail and got into Willie’s Mercedes with him and his wife Connie and his golf pro Larry Trader. We drove across the desert towards Las Vegas. Willie and Trader and I nearly drove Connie crazy with our laughing and shouting.”

6. Taking the Rap for Pot Bust in Texas

When Willie Nelson’s Honeysuckle Rose III was searched at the border patrol checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, Texas in November of 2010 and agents found 6 ounces of marijuana, anyone could have copped to the stash, or Willie could have pulled a “Do you know who I am ?!?”moment. But instead he offered his wrists to authorities, knowing that his arrest would prove the futility of the criminalization of marijuana that he’d been advocating against for many years.

Willie was booked into custody, a mug shot was taken, and he was later released on $2,500 bond. Eventually a plea deal was reached with prosecutors, and Willie paid a fine and spent 30 days on probation.

7. Dripping Springs Reunion and the 4th of July Picnics

Even though the events have many times been an annual financial bloodbath, Willie’s commitment to them has been steadfast, and they have become a Texas and American institution. It started with the Dripping Springs reunion in 1973, with the idea of putting on a “hillbilly Woodstock.” The Dripping Springs reunion featured Bill Monroe, Buck Owens, Charlie Rich, Dottie West, Roger Miller, Loretta Lynn, right beside Willie, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. Over the years the picnics have gone on to feature artists forgotten by Nashville and up-and-comers right beside big name talent. And because more times than not they have been losing propositions financially, it’s been Willie’s commitment that has kept them going.

8. Getting Lost in Baton Rouge

As told by Willie’s manager Mark Rothbaum

“Willie and I were at a hotel in Baton Rouge on the evening of a concert. We were on the twenty-third floor, and we could see the coliseum in a straight line from our windows. Looked like it was just right over there. So we decided we would run to the concert. Willie and I took off running through Baton Rouge after dark. We ran and kept on running through the neighborhoods, and we still weren’t arriving at the concert. After we had run ten miles, we decided we were totally lost. The gig was starting, and we had no idea where we were.

“Willie said, ‘I’ll just go up to that house and knock on the door and ask for help.’ I said, ‘You can’t knock on some stranger’s door.’

“He said, ‘I ain’t a stranger. I’m Willie Nelson.’”

9. “Shotgun Willie” & The Great Ridgetop Shootout

It was in the aftermath of an incident that would later be remembered as the “Great Ridgetop Shootout” that Willie Nelson got the nickname “Shotgun Willie.” Ridgetop was the house Willie lived in just outside of Nashville in the late 60?s. When it burned down in 1970, it stimulated Willie’s move back to Texas. In 1969, Willie and his first wife Martha separated, and his second wife Shirley moved into Ridgetop. Willie and Martha had three children, and right before Christmas in 1969, Willie’s youngest daughter Susie told Willie that his oldest daughter Lana was being physically assaulted by her husband Steve Warren.

shotgun-willie-shirt“I ran for my truck and drove to the place where Steve and Lana lived and slapped Steve around,”Willie recalls. “He really pissed me off. I told him if he ever laid a hand on Lana again, I would come back and drown his ass. No sooner did I get back to Ridgetop than here came Steve in his car, shooting at the house with a .22 rifle. I was standing in the door of the barn and a bullet tore up the wood two feet from my head. I grabbed an M-1 rifle and shot at Steve’s car. Steve made one pass and took off.”

But this wasn’t where the incident ended. Willie drove back to Steve and Lana’s to confront Steve again, but he was gone and had kidnapped their young son Nelson Ray. Lana also told Willie that Steve was looking to “get rid of him (Willie) as his top priority.” So what did Willie do? He drove back to Ridgetop and waited for him.

“Thinking Steve would come to Ridgetop to pick me off about dusk, I hid in the truck so he couldn’t tell if I was home. We laid a trap for him. I had my M-1 and a shotgun. He drove by the house, and I ran out the garage door. Steve saw me and took off. That’s when I shot his car and shot out his tire. Steve called the cops on me. Instead of explaining the whole damn mess, the beatings and the semi-kidnapping and shooting and all, I told the officers he must have run over the bullet. The police didn’t want to get involved in hillbilly family fights. They wrote down what I told them on their report and took off.”

10. Building His Own Town

luck-tx-willie-nelsonThat’s right. Willie Nelson has his own town. Well, sort of.

It’s called Luck, TX, and it was originally constructed as part of the set of the movie The Red Headed Stranger released in 1986 as a companion to Willie’s album of the same name. The town was originally called Willieville, and was constructed to be a replica of Driscoll, Montana. It sits across the street from Willie’s golf course about 30 miles outside of Austin. The remarkable thing about Luck is it’s not just a Hollywood facade, but a collection of real buildings that despite their purposefully rustic condition, are generally solid structures that could constitute a real old-time town, with a church, opera house, and various other buildings. And the town is still used upon occasion for movies, video shoots, and special events including an annual music showcase around South by Southwest.

And then of course, there was that time he smoked pot on top of The White House…but that’s another story.

Quotes taken from the autobiography Willie, by Willie Nelson with Bud Shrake.

The Coming of Redneck Hip (November 1973)

Monday, January 12th, 2015

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.

[Just read the rest of the article, and there is more about Willie, the Dripping Springs show.  I’ll put it up later.]

Neil Young tells Rolling Stone he’s recording album with Lukas and Micah Nelson

Thursday, January 8th, 2015
by: Andy Greene

Neil Young sat down with Rolling Stone Executive Editor Nathan Brackett at the International Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday to discuss the long-awaited rollout of his Pono music player, but he also shared details of his next LP. “I’m working on another album now that I’m going to do be doing with Willie Nelson’s sons,” he said, jokingly suggesting he would title it The Monsanto Years after the agriculture company he’s been railing against for years. “It’s an upbeat review of the situation.”

Young was less sure about his other future plans. “I don’t know much about the future,” he said. “I want to [focus on Pono] and I want to continue playing music. Those two things should keep me pretty busy. I have some film editing and things to do on the side. I’ll probably be writing some more books. I want to keep doing what I do. I’d like to continue doing it for a long time.”

Young has no tour dates on the books right now other than an appearance at the pre-Grammy MusiCares tribute to Bob Dylan on February 6th in Los Angeles. “I did a tour last year called Honor the Treaties that went across Canada to try and help the aboriginal first nations tribes enforce their treaty rights in the constitution of Canada,” he said. “If I do anything this year, I might do that again in a bigger way. At first it succeeded, but it succeeded more than the artists I was trying to get thought it would. If I do that again maybe it’ll get more artists. At this point, it’s interesting to try and do something meaningful and try and make some sort of a difference because I’ve attained a certain level that I feel a responsibility to use for positive things rather than just getting my name in People magazine or something.”

The majority of the interview was devoted to Pono. The website launched this week and the player began selling for $300. “This is all about making music sound as good as it can,” he said. “Music is about having a good time feeling in your soul, whether it makes you laugh or it makes you cry. The mission of Pono is to make you feel as much as you can. We’re sharing all of our technology with anyone that wants to make anything. Any manufacturer that wants to make this kind of quality, we’ll show you how to do it.”

Despite his busy schedule, Young found time to release two albums last year, tour Europe with Crazy Horse and play a series of solo acoustic dates across America. He also played with Lukas and Micah Nelson, two highly accomplished guitarists, at Farm Aid, the Harvest the Hope benefit and the Bridge School Benefit, but hadn’t previous that indicated he had any intention of cutting new material with the duo.

Watch the rest of the new interview right here to hear Young talk in tremendous depth about Pono.

Read more:

Thursday, January 8th, 2015



Thanks, Phil, for finding this magazine

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014


And then there was Willie

Sunday, December 21st, 2014


Willie Nelson: man, myth, music legend

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

by: Greg Archer

Man, myth, country music legend Willie Nelson descends upon Santa Cruz. The story you’ve been waiting for.

Willie Nelson is a bona fide music legend, yes. And that’s a very good thing. Willie Nelson also happens to be coming to Santa Cruz, which is, perhaps, even a better thing. Let’s face it: if there’s anybody Cruzans love to embrace with arms wide open, it’s a creative beast with liberal leanings who advocates the legalization of marijuana. The last time Nelson performed here, back in 2012, he attracted a huge crowd.

As most people already know, the pop country patriarch has led a colorful existence. Nelson’s six-decade career and collection of more than 200 albums to his credit are but two of the things that make the Texas singer-songwriter iconic. He also happens to be a resilient performer—that voice, those hands on the guitar. Few showmen have managed to capture the heart and spirit of a tale as effectively as Nelson has over the years.

But after the publication of his latest bestselling memoir, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road,” last year, as well as the studio release of Let’s Face The Music and Dance in April of this year, Nelson seems to be on a new roll. The album has been well received and his multi-city concert tour continues to pack in throngs of devotees. There’s also buzz over the September release of yet another album,


which comprises newly recorded duets between Nelson and a dream list of


cover poster

contemporary pop-county female crooners. It’s dubbed To All The Girls and it was mostly recorded in Nashville. A quick glimpse of the talent he’s working with on it makes one’s eyes widen in anticipation: Dolly Parton, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Wynonna Judd, Loretta Lynn and—what’s this?—Mavis Staples. It’s the artist’s third full-length album of new music to be released in just 16 months and it celebrates a milestone year for Nelson—he turned 80 in April—and the work is loaded with classic songs from the American country, pop and gospel canons.

Truth is, Nelson doesn’t really need to do anything to keep his celebrity or his integrity in high orbit. The 10-time Grammy-winner has been inducted in into several music halls of fame and also garnered a Kennedy Center honoree in 1998. In 2000, he earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and every step along the way, his musings about life, love, survival, turning points, dreams, wishes, and all the highs and lows in between, have left an indelible imprint on the hearts and minds of the souls who’ve gravitated toward his words, his music, his work.

All of this comes to mind when Nelson’s upcoming appearance at the Santa Cruz Civic on Aug. 20 became more than a blip on my radar. Why not interview the man, I thought.

Good idea.

Nothing really came of my efforts. Well, I did give it my all, but Nelson rarely grants interviews, so it was a long shot anyway. Still, now the man was on my brain—he of Texan roots, political fervor and “outlaw country” fame; he of deep thought, Farm Aid, and costarring gigs inElectric Horseman and Honeysuckle Rose; he of “Crazy,” of “On The Road Again,” of the mega hit duet “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

He of animal activism, of guitar strumming and pot possession.

My growing intrigue surprised even me. Hey—I’m blond, I’m Polish, I dig disco. Why ponder Willie?

Actually, why not?

If it’s true, and everything happens for a reason, then perhaps there was a very good reason why Willie Nelson kept popping up in my mental inbox. Perhaps there was something to learn from the man. Did I need to talk to him to do that? No, not necessarily. (Yes … it would have been nice—and hey, I’m still available for a drink after the show, by the way.) I’m creative. I’m enterprising. I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy. If I can survive childhood, puberty and the cancellation of ABC’s Happy Endings, surely I could discover another way to absorb the full Willie.

But how?

Through his music? His words?

Perhaps. But first, it only seems appropriate to do one thing first: Smoke something good. (For the art of it all; for journalistic integrity, for Mr. Nelson.)

So now, I ask that you, dear reader … yes, you, passionate person who has already exhibited such bravura by reading more than three paragraphs in a day and age when modern media is forcing you not to do so … bear with me as I kindly take flame to—(do I have to spell it out for you here?)—and light up.

On A Roll

Something haunts me about Willie Nelson’s memoir, which was released last year. It’s the title: “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road.” Actually, the title doesn’t bother me. It’s the concept—having your remains rolled up into a joint and smoked by your pals.

Imagine that. No, really, I mean it: Imagine it.

Now, imagine having had that very same idea, oh, like a decade ago. Yes, that’s right; yours truly boasted a secret craving to be cremated and have a few of his remains sprinkled into a joint. Originally, I thought it would be a nice idea to have one’s friends absorb a little bit of one’s spirit and essence. After all, wouldn’t I be all the wiser if I could inhale some of the good juju from my comrades? But then my mood swing era began—circa 2001—and the idea of having my dearest pals inhale my lingering threads seemed a bit abusive … for how would I ever know if they’d be absorbing the best parts of me—and not the more “questionable” aspects?

Back to Nelson’s book—he’s the author of more than a dozen, by the way, having spawned the bestsellers: “The Facts of Life and other Dirty Jokes” and “The Tao of Willie,” among others.  “Roll Me Up …” is a bountiful read filled with tales and anecdotes about Nelson’s grandest endeavors, greatest influences and all of the things that matter to him most. It also celebrates Nelson’s friends, family and colleagues from whom he’s either drawn love or inspiration. In fact, the book’s soul is anchored around Nelson’s family and community and the entire gang has something to share here.

Fitting? Yes. Nelson keeps his peeps close by—on concert tours and beyond. His band, after all, is called Willie Nelson and Family. Sister Bobbie in on piano; daughter Amy on back-up vocals; and longtime cohorts Mickey Raphael (on harmonica; see sidebar), Paul English (on drums) and Billy English (percussion).

The book is insightful, too. Sure enough, Nelson …

(Oh dear, I fear I’m being entirely too formal here.)

Sure enough Willie doesn’t avoid controversial subjects either. He freely shares his thoughts on the government and corporations, and in between boldly suggests that it’s more than good to explore where our attitudes and apathy actually take us.

So, with Willie’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” playing on Pandora, I turn to the page 114 in the book, which features a note and the song after which the book is named.

    He writes:

THE NEXT SONG IS ON MY NEW RECORD. I PLUG MY MUSIC ANY TIME I can. I know it’s commercialism at its lowest forum … Bite me, again. It’s beginning to feel good.

…Well take me out and build a roaring fire
And roll me in the flames for ’bout an hour
And then pull me out and twist me up
And point me towards the sky
And roll me up and smoke me when I die.

Inhale Nation

It’s hard to prove, but I suspect you can count on one hand the number of people who don’t know anything about Nelson’s stance on marijuana. He is a co-chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and has often claimed that pot is not a drug, but rather an herb infused with natural properties and he has been a strong advocate for legalizing marijuana. Although he’s been arrested several times for pot possession, it hasn’t deterred Nelson. It wasn’t that long ago that he launched Willie Nelson’s Teapot Party. Its motto is “we lean a little to the left;” and of marijuana, Nelson is quoted online as saying, “Tax it, regulate it and legalize it.” The group’s Facebook page now boasts more than 100,000 Likes.

I must pause …

cover Nelson3“Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” is playing on Pandora. It’s Willie’s famous duet with Waylon Jennings from 35 years ago.  It hit No. 1 on the Country charts, climbed the Billboard Hot 100 and nabbed a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a duo. The line “Cowboys ain’t easy to love and they’re harder to hold” stands out for me so I make a mental note of it before turning back to the book, my search for some life lessons in full swing.

In the memoir, Willie explains that he started the Teapot Party after he was busted for pot in 2010. Apparently, the organization now has reps in every state. He claims that on a few occasions, the group has even backed some politicians who share some of their ideals, mainly that marijuana should be legalized, taxed, regulated the “same way we do alcohol and tobacco.”

“If we legalized drugs in this country, and treated abuse as the disease it is, and offered medical treatment for these addicts, it would make much more sense than putting them in prison, and we should leave the marijuana users alone but tax them,” he writes. “It’s already been proven that taxing and regulating marijuana makes more sense than sending young people to prison for smoking a God-given herb that has never been proven to be fatal to anybody.”

No doubt this month’s recent speech in San Francisco by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder about revamping “mandatory minimum” sentences on small-time drug offenses intrigued Willie. Holder noted that prosecutors in his Department of Justice would no longer seek the harshest possible charges in “low-level” narcotics cases, charges that, thus far, have spawned lengthy minimum sentences and tend to overcrowd prisons with “nonviolent offenders.”

Could Lesson No. 1 be: Don’t Send Young People to Prison For Smoking a God-given Herb?

You know, I must confess, I am not much of a pot smoker. In fact, I’m not a pot smoker—at all. I only came up with the idea for this article. Oh, people have done their best to encourage me to smoke pot. Oh, yes they have.

“Really, Greg, with all of your mood swings, I don’t see why you don’t get a medical marijuana card and call it a day?”

Or … “You just need to chill.”

Chill? Easy for them to say.

As if being a Sagittarius with a Scorpio Moon, Scorpio Rising, Scorpio in Neptune and Scorpio in Venus who was birthed from the loins of a Polish immigrant who barely escaped Stalin’s wrath is such a wonderful biochemically-balanced walk in the park.

I digress.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with questioning the esoteric fabrics of one’s inner being and the Universe to boot. And it isn’t always fun and games. (Well, it is, but on a much deeper level, and really, it would take too long to explain it here … for the day is progressing and the world must be Tweeted about and there are kids to pick up from day care, after all, so why get into that now when I’m beginning to feel really really good … We can wait for the likes of Deepak Chopra to come to town to chat about these deeper topics. But we don’t have Deepak Chopra coming to town so we’ll have to push aside the craving to consume quantum soup and stay on track.)

Willie Nelson. The lessons.

There’s more to learn. But what, exactly?

By the way, if you could all see how quickly I am typing right now, you’d be impressed. God knows—I am.

And no, it has nothing to do with being “high.” Who knows if I really am. (I never said what I brought that flame to, after all. LOL.) Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to water down the flow of the prose with something as inane as a Text-cronym. (Really, at some point we’re all going to look back on the LOLs we’ve texted and be utterly ashamed that we’ve participated in the deadening of our brain cells.)

Wait a second … I could have made that point much better, considering the circumstances.

Back to Willie.

But first, more about me.

Truth is: I’m typically high on life. Aren’t you? I mean, my goodness, it’s so rich and delicious. You know, I’ve often said—and feel free to quote me on this—that “Life is like one big, fat, juicy peach … and that you have to take a big bite out of it and let the juice dribble down your chin.” I mean, really, what are we here for if we’re not supposed to surpass our own previous incarnations and expectations of ourselves; move further beyond what we think we think we can do?

Grow, damnit, grow!

Willie has. I mean, look at the man—he with all his hit singles, his legions of fans, and countless musings about life.

For a guy born in the Depression era, he didn’t settle for doing just fine. He paved his own way, created a stallion out of his music— that embraceable hybrid of jazz, pop, blues, rock and folk—and rode it all the way to Country Town. This, from a guy who is said to have toured with the Bohemian Polka as lead singer and guitar player when he was in high school. This is a man who made his way into Ray Price’s band in the early ’60s and recorded his first album  … And Then I Wrote by 1962. He’s the dude whose singles “On The Road Again,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Blue Skies,” “Always on my Mind” and “If You’ve Got The Money, I’ve Got the Time,” sold millions. He’s the fella that owns the bio-diesel brand Willie Nelson Biodiesel—or BioWillie—which is made from vegetable oil. He’s the animal rights advocate who fiercely campaigned for the passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Taking things a prairie further, he also went on to warn consumers about the cruel and illegal living conditions of calves that were raised to produce milk for various dairy products.

Not to be left out: LGBT rights.

Nelson has been a supporter of LGBT civil rights for some time … for it was back in 2006 that he launched on iTunes that quirky-cool version of Ned Sublette’s “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other.” He’s also the guy that boldly went on to tell Texas Monthly this year that, regarding same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act, that, “We’ll look back and say it was crazy that we ever even argued about this.”

Willie—free, unconventional and full of heart?

Yes, methinks, yes.

Learning Lessons

Page 87. Willie’s thought of the day: “If there is no solution, there is no problem.”

He writes … “if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s I don’t know nothin’ for sure.”

And on the following page: “I housebroke my dog. Every time he shit on the floor I would rub his nose in it, then throw him out the window. Now when he shits on the floor, he rubs his nose in it and jumps right out the window.”

And later still: “I shouldn’t have a problem writing this book: I’m so opinionated that I can give you my opinion on almost anything, anytime, and I’m glad to do it because I’m just an asshole. But they say opinions are like assholes: everybody has one. … I guess. ‘While in all your knowing, know yourself first.’ I’m not sure who said that. It was either Billy Joe Shaver or Jesus.”

I’m tempted to share Willie’s passage on passing gas on an airplane—and how medicinal and healing he claims his gas is—but really, let’s fact it: We’ve already slid so far down such a slippery slope here I fear none of us will walk away from this having learned a damn thing. (Although “Don’t Smoke and Write!” immediately comes to mind.)

You know, I’ve shared with people that the Universe often strums three magical words for us to listen to whenever we’re in need of assistance or guidance.

There’s “Let it go.”

There’s “Get over it … !”

And my personal favorite: “Don’t freak out!”

Maybe that’s the magic Willie holds and shares: Not freaking out. Somehow, as he’s moved creatively during his eight decades of living, the guy has managed to allow art to imitate life—and vice versa. He’s become a living, breathing country music song, something fluid, something with refrains and crescendos, with twangs and chords, and even when life and love get messy—as he croons about so deeply in the song “Three Days”—you still get the sense that, despite the woes, the guy’s country grace has the ability to keep him—and his fans—coming back for more.

That’s art. That’s Willie.

And that’s a wrap.

Willie Nelson’s Magic Guitar

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Sun Magazine
Country music’s megastar Willie Nelson is beloved by fans for both his unique musical sounds and his action-packed movies, but much of his energy and excitement on stage comes from the magical power of his golden-toned guitar.

So says noted Chicago area psychic Joseph DeLouise who explains Nelson’s guitar is a tremendous reservoir of creativity because of the autographs of all the country music greats who have signed the instrument.

It’s those high energy signatures, as much as Nelson’s innate talent, that give the star much of his magnetism.

This metaphysical instrument, named Trigger, Jr., is an acoustic Martin N-20 Classic made of rosewood, spruce and ebony which retailed for $475 when the performer purchased it back in 1969.

The star remarks that Trigger Jr. wasn’t his first guitar.  “The Baldwin company gave me a guitar with a pickup on it,” relates Nelson.  A pickup is a device to electrically amplify the instrument.

“I dropped the Baldwin one day and busted it.  So I had the Baldwin pickup put in this Martin Classic.”  The tone knocked me out when I first heart it.

“I’ve tried putting other Baldwin pickups in Martins, but I can’t get an equal sound,” he explains.

According to Nelson, Leon Russell told him having somebody sign your guitar was a good insurance policy.

“I had Leon sign it, and as I traveled around, I got everyone else I worked with to autograph it,” the singer smiles.

Nelson says he has so many names on the instrument now he can’t even remember everybody who has signed it.  The all star crew includes such big guns as Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Rita Coolidge.  DeLouise explains that the signatures contain the energy of the stars they belong to, and this energy is transmitted to Nelson everytime he picks up his instrument.

“Nelson is a metaphysial genius,” says DeLouise. “By having fellow performers sign the guitar, Nelson taps into their greatness.  Their talent and their energy becomes part of Nelson’s talent and energy.

DeLousie claims Trigger, Jr., is so powerful that if you placed the guitar in a museum, people walking by it would feel the energy.

“There is no way Willie can have a bad day or perform an off concert when he uses that guitar,” states DeLouise.  “All he has to do is run his fingers over some of those names.”

According to DeLouise, most successful people use a metaphysical technique similar to this one to help achieve their goals.

It’s the same idea as trying to touch somebody who is famous or wanting a photograph of somebody great.  By having that part of the person whom you admire in your possession, some of that person’s magic rubs off on you.

Willie Nelson, the early years

Thursday, December 11th, 2014


Willie and the Wheel

Monday, December 8th, 2014






Paul English: The man behind Willie Nelson (Oxford American: Southern Music Issue)

Thursday, December 4th, 2014


Order your copy here:

The Oxford American is proud to release the 16th annual Southern Music Issue, which honors the profound musical history of TEXAS in 160 pages of writing and art, along with a 25-song CD compilation.

The cover features a stunning portrait of Guy and Susanna Clark taken in 1975 by iconic Nashville photographer Jim McGuire. Guy Clark’s song “My Favorite Picture of You,” the title track from his Grammy-winning 2013 album—written for his wife just a year before she died in 2012—is a highlight of the CD.

Along with Clark, the Texas compilation features music that best exemplifies the state’s rich, diverse sounds and traditions. Artists showcased on the album include Ray Price and Bob WillsBilly Joe Shaver and James McMurtryBuddy Holly and Waylon JenningsLee Ann WomackOrnette ColemanSarah JaroszFreddy FenderWillie NelsonBarbara LynnJohnny Winter, and others.

In the magazine: Tamara Saviano on the poetry of Guy Clark; Joe Nick Patoski profiles Willie Nelson’s longtime drummer, Paul “The Devil” EnglishAmanda Petrusich remembers Houston hip-hop genius DJ ScrewDom Flemons interviews Arhoolie Records founder Chris StrachwitzRachel Monroe tries on Roy Orbison’s glasses; Michelle García searches for the birth of Tejano music; Margaret Moser pays tribute to the Austin music scene; Tom MaxwellCynthia Shearer, and Nathan Salsburg profile Texas folklorists and the musicians they recorded—and much more. The issue also presents new poetry by John PochNaomi Shihab Nye, and David Tomas Martinez, and short fiction by Bret Anthony Johnston.

The Oxford American’s Southern Music Issue has generated high praise during its years of publication. The Houston Chronicle described it as “the single best music-related magazine of any given year,” while the Boston Globe simply termed the issue “a welcome fix.” Chris Issak called it “a great, great magazine . . . like getting four years of Rolling Stone all in the same magazine.” In December of 2012, New York Times critic Dwight Garner wrote that the Music Issue CDs “practically belong in the Smithsonian.”

The Texas Music Issue was funded, in part, by a successful kickstarter campaign that raised $53,757 from 1,008 individuals.