Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Willie Nelson on Retirement

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

www.People.com
by: Yvonne Juris

Willie Nelson is 84 and he’s not thinking about retiring from music –probably ever.

When asked in an interview on CBS Sunday Morning whether he’s considered hanging up his guitar, the country legend-turned-pot activist scoffed.

“What do you want me to quit? I just play music and a little golf and I don’t wanna give up either one of those!”

He also doesn’t plan on giving up pot, either.

“For myself, it’s good for me,” he said. “It keeps me from going off and doing crazy things. I can relax and play some music and sit around and visit and act like a grown-up, I think.”

In the singer-songwriter’s latest album, God’s Problem Child, the country music star reflects on his life, sometimes using a humorous approach in songs like “Still Not Dead Again.”

In Nelson’s memoir, It’s a Long Story, released in 2015, Nelson charted his adventures and bad boy, wild, freewheeling lifestyle of drugs, women and music. The artist has released at least 110 albums during the course of his long and sensational career.

Nelson lives on a ranch outside Austin, with his fourth wife, Annie. The couple has been married for more than 31 years.

WIllie Nelson in Cowboys and Indians

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

Good job, Phyllis Rademacher, for reorganizing the mags at your local HEB.  Looks much better.

Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic Posters and History, by Dave Thomas

Friday, June 30th, 2017

davet

I’m happy to have a copy of Dave Thomas’ history of Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnics and  learning more about Willie’s annual summer music celebrations.  He really brings the picnic to life with stories and pictures of posters from the past 40 plus years.  It brings back great memories for fans lucky enough to be there, and enjoyable  for new fans just learning about the Picnics.  It’s  an amazing list of artists that have played the event over the years.   Some of the picnic posters are very  rare.

PREFERRED*** Alicia Mireles/ Austin American-Statesman 04/30/08 Mug of staffer Dave Thomas for a blog.

“About halfway between attending my first Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic in 1995 and my 17th in 2015, I became obsessed with chronicling the history of Willie’s Picnic and collecting Picnic posters.”

— Dave Thomas

I’ve been following Dave Thomas’ year-by-year  reports on Willie Nelson’s picnic concerts for years in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.  Each year the paper’s music blog Austin360.com publish a slideshow with Dave’s collections and stories about the Picnic’s history.  In his new book, he includes pictures of posters, along with a brief story about each year’s picnic.  It’s very informative and fun to read.  You will learn a lot, even if you’ve been to lots of picnics or if you have never been and are a fan of Texas music.

picnicposter

There is an extra section on Steve Brooks, a Dallas artist known for his work with Willie Nelson & Family in the 1980’s.  Steve designed many concert posters, as well as holiday posters.  Dave’s book includes some of Steve’s artwork and puzzles portraying Willie’s 4th of July picnic, too.

This book’s a great gift – for another fan, or for yourself.

I couldn’t find it on e-bay;  we can e-mail Dave Thomas to see about getting a copy, at davetx@austin.rr.com.

 

Image result for dave Thomas willie nelson's picnic poster book

 

Willie Nelson Playlist

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

www.CowboysandIndians.com

Pick up the July 2017 issue on newsstands June 6. (Photo by Rodney Bursiel)

On the cover of the July 2017 edition of Cowboys & Indians (on newsstands June 6) we’re featuring one of the most prolific and enduring artists of any generation.

At 84 years old, Texas’ beloved Red Headed Stranger Willie Nelson continues his ever-expanding legacy of authentic roots music and dynamic live performances?—?his 4th of July Picnic will return to Austin this year, and he’ll also be the focus of a festival tour featuring everyone from Bob Dylan to Sheryl Crow as co-headliners.

Achieving the status of consummate road warrior and timeless musical icon has rarely been a solo journey for Nelson. Since before the country-outlaw days of 1970s Texas, he has surrounded himself with like-minded individuals who put true musicianship and good vibes first. Everyone seems to love the man, which is why Willie’s “family” comprises both blood relatives and bosom buddies.

Like many a music lover, I’ve enjoyed heaping helpings of his tunes throughout my life. I’ve also heard impassioned fan stories from septuagenarian relatives, fellow middle-aged friends, and young’uns in the family who’ve only just discovered the magic of vinyl records. Willie’s appeal transcends age and status; the sight of his weathered face and the sound of his well-worn voice and Martin guitar evoke a bevy of emotions for fans of all stripes around the world.

Whether it’s the classic anthem “On the Road Again,” the bookend barnburner “Whiskey River,” a pensive cover such as “Stardust,” or a tearful lament like “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” his songs make up the kind of catalog that could fuel a lifetime of diverse road-trip playlists. Below, you’ll find a playlist we’ve put together that touches on many of Willie’s creative peaks. You can listen to as you consider Willie’s legacy and/or embark on your own summer vacation. 


Read our cover story with Willie Nelson in the July 2017 issue on newsstands June 6.

Willie Nelson in Cowboys and Indians Magazine (July 2017)

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

 

www.cowboysindians.com
by:  Joe Leydon

The 84-year-old icon and his musician sons weigh in on never-ending road adventures and secrets to staying on top of his game for decades.

Willie Nelson arguably is the most energetic octogenarian in country music. But even he admits that aging into the role of gray eminence has its downside. Indeed, the celebrated Red Headed Stranger repeatedly addresses the subject throughout God’s Problem Child, his most recent album, which Rolling Stone writer Jeff Gage aptly and admiringly described as Nelson’s “stark, honest, sometimes bleak, and often funny look at mortality and the specter of his own death.”

In “Old Timer,” one of the album’s most poignantly melancholy cuts, Nelson sings: “One by one, your friends have crossed over. You pray for mercy and a few more days. Still got dreams inside your head. Some days it’s a struggle just to get out of bed.”

On the other hand: Don’t assume he’s looking to quit cheating the reaper anytime soon. Another album cut, “Still Not Dead,” which Nelson co-wrote with Buddy Cannon, comically insists that reports of his impending demise are way too premature. “The internet said I had passed away,” but pay that no mind. “I run up and down the road, making music as I go. They say my pace would kill a normal man. But I’ve never been accused of being normal anyway. And I woke up still not dead again today.”

So there.

Listening to those lyrics, I was reminded of the day in April 2015 when I got to hang out in Luck, Texas?—?the faux Old West town Nelson maintains on his ranch near Austin?—?and watch while the Country Music Hall of Famer and occasional actor filmed Waiting for the Miracle to Come, a still-unreleased indie feature co-starring Charlotte Rampling. Even then, mortality was on Nelson’s mind. But not so seriously that he couldn’t shrug it off.

“Honestly, and I mean this sincerely, I do 150 shows a year or whatever, and we do some recording in there, and we do a movie here and there, or a video,” Nelson told me after wrapping up the day’s shooting. “And I’m always amazed that I wake up the next day feeling good and ready to go do it again. I’m 82 years old, so that’s kind of a miracle in itself.”

Nelson is now 84. And judging from a recent TV interview he did in Luck with veteran CBS newsman (and, not incidentally, longtime country music aficionado) Bob Schieffer, he continues to feel pretty dang miraculous.

“Everything’s going good,” Nelson told Schieffer. “I think age is just a number. It’s the way I’ve heard it all my life: It’s not how old you are, it’s how you feel. And I’ve been lucky with [everything], health-wise and career-wise.” Laughing, he added: “I haven’t really got anything to bitch about!”

In other words, life is good. And as anyone who knows anything about Willie Nelson can tell you?—?go ahead, cue the “On the Road Again” lyrics?—?the life he loves is making music with his friends. He’ll be doing just that, again, this summer as the headliner of the Outlaw Music Festival Tour, a multi-genre traveling concert that kicks off July 1 in New Orleans, and continues on to Dallas (July 2); Rogers, Arkansas (July 6); Detroit (July 8); Milwaukee (July 9); and Syracuse, New York (July 16). Among the rotating array of artists who’ll be joining Nelson: Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, The Avett Brothers, My Morning Jacket?—?and Nelson’s son, Lukas Nelson, who’ll be performing with his father and his own band, Promise of the Real.

Lukas, whose group has also toured with Neil Young, says that he has learned from his father some invaluable lessons about sustaining his enthusiasm, and his sanity, while on the road for lengthy stretches. “Exercise is important,” he says. (Willie Nelson, it should be noted, celebrated his 81st birthday by earning his fifth-degree black belt in Gong Kwon Yusul, a Korean martial arts discipline.) “And having a routine that you stick to really helps you keep your head on straight. When you’re on the road, all your surroundings are changing all the time, and it can feel chaotic. You can lose your sense of balance. So you need to have a set routine: You wake up, you work out a little bit, you go to sound check, you kind of do the same thing every day. And that really helps.”

These days, Willie Nelson’s sons Micah (pictured in black) and Lukas (in plaid) often tour with their dad and play with him onstage. Photography: Ebet Roberts/Getty Images

Also?—?and don’t try this at home, kids?—?there is an occasional indulgence that has famously worked for Willie Nelson.

“You try and keep it pretty mellow,” Lukas concedes. “And weed is pretty mellow. … But that’s pretty much the only thing he does. He doesn’t drink. And he also keeps his family around him. He makes sure he’s got good folks around him that don’t sap his energy too much. They give him inspiration.”

Another musically inclined Nelson offspring, Micah Nelson, also tours with Dad when he isn’t busy with his own endeavors. (In addition to sometimes playing with Promise of the Real, he divides his time between the group Insects vs Robots and, more recently, his “experimental musical identity,” Particle Kid.) Last year, when he recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side,” he updated the classic protest song with slightly altered lyrics to make it more relevant to contemporary events. It’s an approach, he says, partially inspired by his father’s willingness to keeps things fresh by mixing things up while on tour.

“For the most part,” Micah says, “it’s been kind of the same show for decades now. But at the same time, he never plays the same show twice. It’s always like he’s playing it for the first time. He’ll throw in new songs. He’ll kind of skip verses. He’ll extend things. He keeps it fresh every night.” If you’re performing with him, “You’re never allowed to just be phoning it in. He’s never going through the motions?—?even though he’s basically doing the same show.

“That spontaneity, that energy, that sense of anything can happen at any minute is not only what keeps an audience captivated, and keeps them coming to the shows night after night. It also keeps you engaged, and keeps the band engaged. It keeps every show fresh and different and unique.”

Echoing his brother Lukas, Micah says that, while on the road, his father “finds his routines. He likes to play chess and poker. He likes to smoke cannabis, and he likes to watch western films. He keeps the news on most of the time. He has his bike out on the road, so he’ll ride his bike around if he can and try to stay fit.

“I think there’s something that seems to be in our blood, where if we’re home long enough, we’re antsy and restless, and we need to get back on the road. Then, if you’re on the road long enough, it’s really great to come home and just chill and not think about playing shows for a minute. It’s kind of this symbiotic relationship between the road and being at home. They bleed into one another.”

Photography: James Minchin/Courtesy Shock Ink

Willie Nelson has told me that, yes, he truly does appreciate downtime on his ranch. On a typical day there, “I go look at my horses. I can look at the weather. There’s a lot of beautiful things out here to see.” But after a while, he can’t resist the siren call of the road because, well, he’s still not dead.

“There’s a certain kind of energy exchange that takes place in a concert no matter who it is, me or whoever,” Nelson believes. “People pay money to come see it, and for some reason, they usually all are clapping their hands, and they’re singing. And for some reason, I enjoy it too. When we can all get together and exchange that good positive energy, it makes for a good show.

“Yeah, you know, you look around and you don’t see too many guys out here as old as I am still doing one-nighters and still enjoying it. Still having good crowds. So, yeah, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”

And he remains thankful to the folks who have made it all possible.

“Willie reminds me of Walter Cronkite,” Schieffer says. “When people used to ask me what Walter was really like, I always said, ‘He’s just the way you want him to be.’ He was without question the most famous and recognized man in America?—?but he always had time for the folks who wanted an autograph or a handshake. That’s Willie.”

Schieffer recalls that after wrapping up their Luck conversation, Nelson “didn’t know we were following him, but we wanted a picture of him leaving. So we went down to the place where the bus was waiting to take him to the next show. Now keep in mind: He had been up past midnight doing a show the night before, he was dead tired and had a six-hour bus ride ahead of him. But as he was getting on the bus, a guy appeared out of nowhere with three or four items to sign. And then he asked Nelson for a selfie. Most celebrities would have brushed the guy off. But as tired as he was, and as anxious as he was to get going, Willie stood there, talked to the guy, signed all the stuff, and took three or four pictures. Finally his wife made him get on the bus.

“I love the guy. When I asked him when he was going to retire, he said, ‘All I do is play golf and music. Why would I want to quit either of those things?’ Pretty good philosophy.”


From the July 2017 issue.

 

Willie Nelson and family in Life Magazine (August 1983)

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Life Magazine (8/83)
Photography: Harry Benson
Text: Cheryl McCall

“I’ve about forgotten what a private life is,” says Willie Nelson, padding around his kitchen with a mug of tea. “But when I really want to get away, this is the santuary.”

Here, 40 miles outside Denver, a contented Nelson is secluded with his wife, Connie, and their daughters, Paula and Amy. In the largest of four houses on a 122-acre spread. (One house is an office, the others for rare guests.) The Nelsons’ family life is anchored here; it’s where the girls go to school (public).

But they have another big house near Austin, Texas., site of the country superstar’s personal recording studio. During the summer, Connie and the kids adopt a gypsy lifestyle to keep up with the perapathetic. Willie., who, at 50, shows no sign of setting a more sensible pace. He logs over 200 days a year on the road for as much as $500,000 per concert, and often takes his family along in a customized bus.

“The kids don’t mind the traveling because it’s all they’ve ever known,” says Connie. When she married Willie in 1971, she recalls, “We had to search for pennies before we could go to the grocery store.” In the years since, the royalties form a dozen gold and six platinum albums have made them land barons.

Besides their two “hideouts,” they own a 400-acre ranch in Utah, a 200-acre farm near Nashville and two houses in Hawaii. Their holdings in the Austin area include a 44-acre ranch, an 80-unit town-house complex, the 1, 700-seat Austin Opry House, a motel and a small catfish restaurant called Mona’s.

“That’s a lot of doorknobs,” Nelson says with some satisfaction. What’s it all worth? “It would take a week of inventorying to figure that out,” says his business manager. Recently the Nelsons’s gave LIFE a first-ever look at their homes in Colorado and Texas.

“The most important thing I do for Willie is make sure he gets rest. He doesn’t even realize when he’s running himself into the ground,” says Connie, soaking with her old man in their king-size tub. “I keep the people to a minimum, or before we know it, our time together is gone.”

“When I have time off the road, I try to split it between Colorado and Texas,” says Nelson. To shuttle back and forth, he bought a $1.7 million, seven-passenger Learjet this winter. “The plane makes a difference,” says Paula. “Dad gets home more, and we go to Texas a lot when we’re not in school.”

West of Austin, the family as an eight-room house overlooking the 775 acre Pedernales Country Club, which Nelson owns outright and permits his band, staff and friends to use. His clubhouse office, filled with tapes, awards and a six-foot feathered headdress given him by an Oklahoma Indian tribe, is next to his state-of-the-art recording studio. “I like being able to go in there in the middle of the night,” he says. When fellow muscicians drop by, the beer and tequila flow.

“It can be a continuous party,” Connie sighs. “When one set of people gets worn out, there’s another set ready to go. But there’s only one Willie.” In Austin, Nelson also does some fatherly fence-mending with his children by his first marriage. (Lana, 29, Susie, 27, and Billy, 26, live nearby.) “I was too busy trying to pay the rent when they were small,” he says. “I spend more time with them and my six grandkids now than I ever did before. I like being a father.”

Willie Nelson in Cowboys & Indians Magazine

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

Again.

Willie Nelson is featured on the cover of Septembers 2008’s Cowboys and Indians magazine, which features an article about Willie by Joe Nick Patoski, who wrote:  “Willie Nelson:  An Epic Life.”

He’s a cowboy and an Indian. Maybe the ultimate Cowboy and Indian, even.  Of the many things I’ve learned about Willie Nelson over the course of three decades of writing about him, those two qualities say a whole lot about the musician and the man. His cowboyness came both naturally and through fantasy.

He grew up in the town of Abbott in rural Hill County, Texas, just north of Waco and a few miles east of the Chisholm Trail. In Abbott, even poor town people like the Nelsons raised stock, although in their case, the Nelsons were so poor, little Willie Hugh rode the family cow, Reddy, before he rode a horse. As a boy he was active in Future Farmers of America, where he learned to castrate bulls and twice won the FFA Sweetheart of the Year award in high school. He even briefly pondered a career in agriculture.

More significantly, like most other kids of his age, he was smitten with watching cowboy movies at the picture show, in his case the Best in West or the Ritz in Hillsboro.

Willie Nelson Art

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Willie Nelson in Parade Magazine (6/27/10)

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Parade Magazine
Sunday, June 27, 2010
By Dotson Rader

‘Since I was a kid, music was what I wanted to do,” Willie Nelson says. “I thought I could make it by my own talents. That’s what I wanted to prove.”

It is a hot, sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, and Willie sits at a table in his tour bus, the Honey-suckle Rose IV. Fitted out like a two-bedroom yacht on wheels, the vehicle is powered by biodiesel from his own alternative-fuel company, Biowillie.

“When I was about 12,” he says, “I had my first paying gig—$8 to play rhythm guitar in a polka band. Pretty soon, I ended up playing in all the bars within driving distance of Abbott, Tex.”

Abbott is the rural town in east–central Texas where Willie grew up dirt-poor during the Depression. By 6, he was writing songs and playing the guitar. Now 77, he’s still at it, touring on his fancy bus 200 days a year, playing to sold-out clubs and stadiums. This month, he and wife Annie, 50, will travel to Austin, Tex., for the annual Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic. The picnic is his Woodstock, with a hillbilly twang.

“I started it in 1973 to bring together different kinds of people, and that’s still what we do,” Willie says. It’s gotten bigger over the years, attracting rock bands, folk singers, rappers, and country stars who perform before as many as 20,000 music lovers of all ages, beliefs, and races. The event, just like the man himself, is a uniquely, magnificently American phenomenon. “It’s people drinking beer, smoking pot, and finding out that they have things in common and don’t really hate each other,” Willie says. “Music gives people a chance to enjoy something together.”

He sits with his elbows on the table, mellow and relaxed. He smiles a lot, and his deeply lined face is dominated by serene brown eyes. “A lot of country music is sad,” he notes softly. “I think most art comes out of poverty and hard times. It applies to music. Three chords and the truth—that’s what a country song is. There is a lot of heartache in the world.”

Willie has known his share of it. Three failed marriages, a son who committed suicide, troubles with the IRS, drug busts. “Anybody can be unhappy,” he says. “We can all be hurt. You don’t have to be poor to need something or somebody. Rednecks, hippies, misfits—we’re all the same. Gay or straight? So what? It doesn’t matter to me. We have to be concerned about other people, regardless.”

He is famously dedicated to helping others, giving away his own time and money, raising millions of dollars for small farmers and victims of natural disasters, war, and AIDS. Among his efforts are Farm Aid and the Willie Nelson Peace Research Institute. He is known as a soft touch. “I don’t like seeing anybody treated unfairly,” he says. “It sticks in my craw. I hold on to the values from my childhood.”

His was a tough and unpromising childhood. “I was 6 months old and my sister Bobbie was 3 years old when my parents divorced and gave us to my grandparents,” he recalls. (Bobbie, 79, his only sibling, plays piano in his band.) “I have no anger about my parents. They did us a favor. My grandparents were very reliable Christian people who gave us a good raising.”

At 2, Willie began going into the hot, unforgiving cotton fields with his grandmother. “I was too young to pick, so I’d ride on her sack,” he says. “She’d pull me on it, picking cotton, filling it up, making me a soft bed to ride on. The sack would start out empty, and before the morning was out, there would be 60, 70 pounds of cotton in it. Then, still just a little bitty kid, I got old enough to pull my own sack. As I got older, the sacks got bigger.”

When he was 6, his granddad died, and the family’s financial situation worsened. His grandmother took a job for $18 a week as a cook at the school cafeteria. “I worked there, too, carrying out the garbage to pay for me and Bobbie’s lunches.” Still, he recalls, “It wasn’t humiliating. Nobody else had anything to speak of in Abbott. I don’t remember ever going hungry.”

Willie was a good student and athlete, a popular kid, but he felt the pull of music and the tug of faraway places. “I saw Gene Autry and Roy Rogers movies every weekend,” he says. “They were my heroes. Riding my horse, shooting my gun, singing my songs, playing my guitar—that’s what I wanted to do.”

Following high school graduation, Willie joined the Air Force. The Korean War was on, and he was broke. “I joined because I knew that for four years, I wouldn’t starve to death,” he explains. “A lot of people joined up for that reason. I don’t think things have changed much in the world since.”

Willie served nine months before receiving a medical discharge due to back injuries. At 19, he married Martha Matthews, a beautiful 16-year-old. “I was always a sucker for long-black-haired women,” he admits. They quarreled, brawled, drank heavily, and had two daughters, Lana and Susie, and a son, Billy. Willie tried college but left after a year. He kept writing songs and playing music and also worked as a radio DJ, a door-to-door salesman, and a plumber. After 10 contentious years, his marriage collapsed.

In 1960, Willie went to Nashville and experienced his first big success—as a songwriter. He wrote “Crazy,” “Pretty Paper,” “Hello Walls,” and hundreds more, becoming one of America’s best composers of popular song. Overall, he has recorded over 300 albums that have sold more than 50 million copies and performed with the full range of the nation’s musical talent, from Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles, and Merle Haggard to Frank Sinatra, Bob Dyla-n, Dolly Parton, Norah Jones, and Snoop Dogg. His newest CD, Country Music, is hauntingly beautiful.

Willie married singer Shirley Collie in 1963, but the next year he began an affair with Connie Koepke, who was just two years out of high school. He and Collie divorced, and he wed Koepke in 1971. Their 16-year marriage produced daughters Amy and Paula and brought him and his family back to his home state. “I really felt like I needed to be in Texas,” he says, “playing to the people that were and still are my base.”

His fourth wife, Annie D’Angelo, entered his life as the make-up artist on the set of the 1986 film Stagecoach, co-starring Johnny Cash. (Willie has made 31 movies, few of them memorable.) He and Annie wed in 1991. Their marriage works, because, “well, I now understand a lot more than I did,” Willie says. “I’m not easy to live with. I’m pretty temperamental, you know. I’ve been used to doing things my own way for so long that I’m not interested in any suggestions. There was friction with my other wives. But it seems like Annie and I did okay with each other. It takes a special person to live with me.

“I’ve got great wives, great kids, great grandkids,” he boasts. “Both my sons, Micah and Lukas, are doing well.” (Jacob Micah, 20, and Lukas Autry, 21, are his children with Annie.) “Micah’s at college and has a band, The Reflectables. Lukas has a band, too, The Promise of Real.” Willie chuckles at those names. “Lukas has opened for Bob Dylan and B.B. King, so he’s doing really well.  He’s also opened for me a few times, and he will again.”

Beyond aging, the reason Willie offers for his being easier to live with is his cutting down on liquor while increasing his intake of cannabis. He is an outspoken proponent of marijuana and strongly opposes hard drugs like meth and cocaine.

“Legalize weed,” he declares. “It’s 50% of what’s causing the problems along the border with the drug cartels. A lot of people who sell it want to keep it illegal because that’s where the money is. The cartels are now in hundreds of our cities, growing and selling weed. Legalize it, and it would stop all that immediately.

“There are many bands that are not here anymore because of the drugs and alcohol,” he adds. “I know a lot of singers who have ruined their careers drinking and drugging.”

Willie and his family have also suffered through the devastating consequences of drug addiction. His son Billy hanged himself on Christmas Day, 1991, at 33. He had been in and out of rehab for substance abuse, and his death was the worst event of Willie’s life. I ask about Billy.

“Death is not the ending of anything,” Willie says quietly. “I believe all of us are only energy that becomes matter. When the matter goes away, the energy still exists. You can’t destroy it.It never dies. It manifests itself somewhere else.” He pauses. “We are never alone. Even by ourselves, we are not alone. Death is just a door opening to somewhere else. Someday we’ll know what that door opens to.”

Willie smiles at me, looking impossibly tranquil, even beatific. “I believe that,” he affirms. “I really do.”

Willie Nelson Interview (Entertainment Weekly, (Sept. 18, 1998)

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

photo:  Laura Farr

www.ew.com
by:  Jeff Gordinier

Willie Nelson reaches across the table and whispers four soft words: “It’s good for you.” His brown eyes are shining like sunlight on the Rio Grande. His voice is rustling like wind through a wheat field. And between those burlap knuckles of his, well, he’s got a joint as fat as a rope.

It all feels like Luke Skywalker taking the lightsaber from Obi-Wan Kenobi. You can’t say no.

So I don’t. I inhale. Deeply. Which probably isn’t the smartest journalistic strategy in the world, considering that my life’s experience with ganja consists primarily of a couple of pathetic coughing fits in college. The thing is, there’s something so gentle about Willie Nelson, so utterly blissful and reassuring, that climbing into his tour bus feels like stepping into the lost ashram of a Himalayan mystic. Just the sound of his laugh can lower your heart rate. Besides, it’s late in the afternoon, and Willie’s tiny office on the bus, the Honeysuckle Rose II, is already so banked with sweet herbal fog that a plane wouldn’t be cleared for landing. A puff or two won’t make any difference, right?

It’s a busy day, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Willie’s supposed to ride the highway up to Boulder, Colo., to play songs from his haunting new album, Teatro, for radio station KBCO and a packed house at the Fox Theatre. Plus, he’s just been named a Kennedy Center honoree, alongside entertainers like Bill Cosby and Shirley Temple Black, so people keep calling the bus to congratulate him.

If anyone deserves an official blessing from the United States government, why not Willie Nelson? He wrote national anthems like “Crazy” and “Night Life” and “On the Road Again.” He’s saved Nashville from its cheesiest impulses with albums like Red Headed Stranger and Spirit and Stardust. His voice is seared on the American landscape as indelibly as the voices of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra. Besides, he’s done a guest spot on King of the Hill. “For me, Willie is what you’d imagine an elder would be like in native mythology,” says Daniel Lanois, Teatro’s producer. “Without saying too much, he projects an aura that just makes you feel good to be around.”

But there’s a fantastic irony here, too, when you think about a bunch of Beltway Babbitts squeezing into their tuxes and clinking their champagne flutes to the original Nashville outlaw, a man who’s wrangled with drug laws and the Internal Revenue Service, who’s crisscrossed miles of conservative highway with his beard and ponytails and beatific smile intact, who’s spent a large portion of his 65 years whispering four soft, subversive words to the stress-battered American people: It’s good for you.

“I was doomed to go to hell by the time I was 7,” Willie is saying, “because I had been told that if you smoke cigarettes and drink beer you’re going to hell. And by 7, I was gone.” Thus resigned to eternal damnation, Willie came up with the only spiritual approach that made sense: There’s nothing to hide, and nothing to get too upset about. “If you get up thinkin’ everything’s gonna be wonderful, you’re gonna find out somethin’ happened that wasn’t that wonderful,” he says. “And if you think everything’s gonna be terrible, then you’re gonna miss what was good. So there is a little bit of Zen in there: You shouldn’t be too elated at the good things, and you shouldn’t be too depressed at the bad things.” Not since Butch Cassidy has somebody so defiant been so laid-back about it.

You can ask Willie anything, good or bad, and he’ll respond with that sagebrush laugh and a flash of those muddy-river eyes. The night in 1970 when he dashed into the flaming eaves of a burning house to rescue a pile of pot? “A guitar and the pot,” he gently corrects me. The night when he walked out of a Nashville bar and stretched his bones in the middle of a busy road? “I was pretty drunk, but I do remember it,” he says. “It was one of those Russian roulette things, you know? You really didn’t give a damn, and yet you did. Just before the truck woulda hit me, I’d have said, ‘Why did I do that?’”

I ask whether it’s true that the first of Willie’s four wives tied him up and beat him purple as punishment for a drunken binge. Willie not only verifies the story, he muses over the method of bondage. “I think there were sheets stitched together, and then jump ropes to secure them,” he says. “Then she packed all of my clothes and left. So when I finally got out of the sheet, all my clothes were gone.”

The father of seven (and grandfather of seven more) waves toward a beautiful woman sitting toward the back of the bus. “This is Lana, my daughter,” he says. “Her mother was the one in that story you asked about.”

“I might’ve been 4 or 5,” says Lana, now 44. “She left us in the car waiting while she hit him with the broom. And she came runnin’ out and threw the broom on the porch and jumped in the car.”

And…how did you feel?

“Well, I hated to see Daddy get beat up with a broom!” she laughs whimsically. “But if my husband came home drunk, I might do the same thing.” “And,” Pop chimes in, “if he’d done it on more than one occasion.”

Willie gave up booze years ago—”To me, alcohol is not positive,” he says–but he’s been smoking weed since 1953, when a fiddle player in Fort Worth first passed him a joint. “It wasn’t a big deal back in the early days in Fort Worth,” Willie insists. “Most of the law enforcement agents were smokin’ pot. They’d bust other people, get the pot, and we’d sit around and smoke it. They realized it was a bad law, but they were makin’ the best of it.”

Texas troopers may be a bit more zealous these days, but whenever there’s a head-on collision between Willie and various statutes and ordinances, it seems like Willie’s the one who comes out unscathed. Four years ago he was arrested when police found him and a joint cuddling in the backseat of a Mercedes; pretty soon the charges were dropped. “There was no cause to give me any problems there that night, because I wasn’t botherin’ nobody,” Willie explains. “When it’s foggy and you’re tired, you pull over and go to sleep. You shouldn’t be harassed by the police department.” Eight years ago the IRS saddled him with a massive burden of back taxes—$32 million—but Willie struck a deal with the feds to whittle down the debt, paid off the rest, and moved on.

It’s been that way since Abbott, the lean Texas town where he baled hay and picked cotton as a kid. “We had no law in Abbott. There was nothing illegal,” he recalls as the Honeysuckle Rose II rolls through the strip malls and cheeseburger troughs of the New West. “I’ve kind of brought Abbott with me.”

In the front of the bus is a TV. CNN is blasting the news that Bill Clinton has bombed outposts in Sudan and Afghanistan—an event of weird significance for one of the stars of Wag the Dog. Willie asks if I want to watch a video. I suggest he might prefer to catch up with the military showdown instead. “The war’s about over, probably,” he laughs. “We’re gonna miss the whole f—in’ war, just goin’ to Boulder.”

Willie may come across as the un-Clinton—he’s inhaled, he’s fooled around, he doesn’t lie about it—but he’s actually quick to forgive Slick Willie his amorous misadventures. “I think any male on the planet will have sympathies for where he’s at,” he says. “Most of us can withstand everything but temptation. And a guy who’s bombarded as much as he is, as president? Most presidents are too old to worry about s— like that!” As for his own battles with temptation on the road, Willie and his crew long ago came up with an official policy: “We leave town early.”

Keeping on the move has always been a Willie trademark. Daniel Lanois is such a sonic perfectionist that it often takes him months to cut an album, but when the Grammy-winning producer of Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind and Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball hunkered down in an old California movie theater to record Teatro, it took…four days. Which is not to say it feels tossed off: A spooky flamenco hayride of a record, Teatro proves that after 213 albums over the course of four decades, Willie Nelson is hitting another moment of creative fervor. “I’m so used to making records where one has to labor, it sort of caught me by surprise,” Lanois marvels. “Willie really trusts first takes.”

Eventually Willie and I do watch a movie, an upcoming made-for-CBS Western called Outlaw Justice. My critical faculties are fairly warped at this point, but I think Willie and Kris Kristofferson play old gunslingers who team up to avenge the death of a fellow desperado, played by Waylon Jennings.

After a few minutes Willie picks up the phone. “Hey, Waylon,” he says. “I just watched you die again in that movie.”

Maybe it’s the thin Colorado air, but by now the phrase mile-high has taken on a new meaning. Suddenly I have come to believe that Willie Nelson is a great American sage, that sculptors should carve his saintly visage into Mount Rushmore, that Outlaw Justice is a cinematic masterpiece, that…er…uh, dude, could you pass the potato chips?

Willie Nelson & Family, People Magazine (9/1/1980)

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

magazine1

People Magazine
September 1, 1980
by Cheryl McCall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Songs of Willie Nelson for Guitar

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

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

Monday, May 15th, 2017

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 (www.willienelson.com).  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”.

New Willie Nelson album, “God’s Problem Child” (Rolling Stone Review)

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017


www.RollingStone.com
by:  Jeff Gage

Country’s ultimate survivor addresses mortality, both humorously and poignantly, on introspective new LP.

Listening to a new Willie Nelson album with a set of fresh ears is almost impossible to do in 2017 – and Nelson knows it. Hovering over all news regarding the Red Headed Stranger are worries about the health of the country icon, who turns 84 on April 29th. So he decided to make the elephant in the room – his own mortality – the focal point of his new LP, God’s Problem Child.

 

Nelson’s first album since his 2015 collaboration with Merle Haggard, Django & Jimmie – the Hag’s final album before his own death – God’s Problem Child is a stark, honest, sometimes bleak, and often funny look at mortality and the specter of his own death. It may not be a concept album, but that grim reality is writ large on nearly every song.

That doesn’t mean God’s Problem Child makes for heavy listening. Nelson brings not only his distinctive sense of humor to the proceedings, but also an appreciation for the moments that he has left, and those individual glimpses of beauty leave a lasting impression. Here’s our track-by-track guide to the new album, which arrives April 28th.

“Little House On the Hill” (Lyndel Rhodes)
The opening track on God’s Problem Child is its jauntiest, and also its most heartwarming, written by Lyndel Rhodes, the 92-year-old mother of Buddy Cannon, the producer and songwriter who co-wrote half the songs on the album. A video of a joyous Rhodes hearing Nelson sing her song for the first time went viral last fall, and the comforting memories of “Little House on the Hill,” a reimagining of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” carry an end-of-days undercurrent that sets the tone for the album.

“Old Timer” (Donnie Fritz/Lenny LeBlanc)
Nelson confronts those end of days head on in “Old Timer,” a mournful, piano-driven ballad that ruminates on the ravages of time – and how time is leaving Nelson behind. “You’ve had your run / and it’s been a good one,” goes the opening line, as though to console the listener before the bad news to come about the “old timer” who thinks he’s “still a young bull rider.” Nelson’s vocal – quivering and frail, thoughtful and proud – is the first of many stellar ones on the record, conveying every ounce of that life well lived.

“True Love” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Even on the cusp of his 84th birthday, Nelson remains a hopeless romantic. The first writing credit for the Red Headed Stranger on God’s Problem Child, “True Love” is his fire-and-brimstone vision of never giving up hope. But love alone is no salvation: “I’ll go to hell believing true love is still my friend,” he sings, his optimism both a blessing and a curse, his memories – and even his mortal coil – a “prison.” Hopeless, indeed.

“Delete and Fast Forward” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Much of God’s Problem Child focuses on the personal, but “Delete and Fast Forward” is Nelson’s bemused look at the political world around him, a winner-take-nothing appraisal of today’s mess in the White House. “The truth is the truth, but believe what you choose,” he sings, shrugging at the alternative facts that could make a mushroom cloud feel like a sordid punchline. But even if he’d rather get a fresh start and skip to the next scene, Nelson sees history repeating itself: “We had a chance to be brilliant and we blew it again,” he laments.

“A Woman’s Love” (Mike Reid/Sam Hunter)
Once again, Nelson’s own weathered voice is his greatest, most expressive tool on “A Woman’s Love,” the flip side to the tortured romantic visions of “True Love.” His singing is deep and gruff, conjuring the darkest, most sensual of passions. Accented by fragmented Spanish guitar lines and a wailing harmonica solo, “A Woman’s Love” is a love letter to womankind, but also a cautionary tale – Nelson’s most profound bit of wisdom to impart to his younger self.

“Your Memory Has a Mind” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
If your memory had ears they’d be burning,” Nelson sings on the bridge of this playful tune, which breaks from the heavy tone of God’s Problem Child‘ss other love songs. Yes, he might not be able to control those memories of the one that got away (even smoking and drinking won’t help), but there’s a comic relief in the tortured fate that he finds himself in: “If your memory had a heart, it’d leave me alone,” Nelson sings, knowing full well that it won’t.

“Butterfly” (Sonny Throckmorton/Mark Sherrill)
Coming at the midpoint of the album, this tender ballad by Sonny Throckmorton and Mark Sherrill, underpinned by noodling electric guitar work, turns Nelson’s eye away from his own life and toward that of the natural world. Yet, not exactly: As he ponders the beautiful butterfly flitting in and out of his view, Nelson is contemplating several things at once, like the delicacy and impenetrability of love or the fleeting nature of life itself.

“Still Not Dead” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Nelson has never been as darkly funny as he is on “Still Not Dead,” a song that he co-wrote with Cannon. Even the self-referential humor of 2012’s “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” has nothing on the caustic black comedy of this song, in which the Red Headed Stranger pokes fun at the constant rumors about his impending death – some, even, that he’s already kicked the bucket. “I woke up still not dead again today,” he croons, all but apologizing for the fact that the rumors aren’t true. Nelson, however, insists that he’s just too busy to die: “I’ve got a show to play.”

“God’s Problem Child” (Jamey Johnson/Tony Joe White)
Death may be something that Nelson can poke fun at, but it’s still no laughing matter – and the title track to God’s Problem Child drives that point home. It’s the only song with guest vocalists, with one coming from beyond the grave: “God’s Problem Child” is believed to be the final song that Leon Russell ever recorded before his death last November. Russell’s passing only adds more heft to this soulful track, which also features Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White, and it marks a thematic turning point as the album heads into the closing stretch.

“It Gets Easier” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Several of the songs on God’s Problem Child have been premiered with black-and-white videos of Nelson performing them in the studio with his trusty guitar, Trigger. None, however, are as sweet, as plaintive, or defiant as “It Gets Easier,” the most simple and tender ballad on the album. “I don’t have to do one damn thing that I don’t want to do,” he insists, a man who’s learned to be completely comfortable in his own skin and live on his own terms. But there’s a catch: “Except for missing you / and that won’t go away.”

“Lady Luck” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Life is a fickle thing, and few people appreciate that more than Nelson. With each passing year, he becomes more of a last man standing as more of his friends and partners in crime pass away. Whatever the reason, Nelson is the outlaw who gets to ride off into the sunset. Waylon, Merle, Leon – their luck all ran out before his, and Nelson is pretty sure Lady Luck is on his side. “I’ll bet you a hundred, if you still got a hundred,” he sings, ready to lay his fortune on the line one more time. It’s all or nothing.

“I Made a Mistake” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Steel guitar dominates this benediction of a tune, in which Nelson looks back on a life of living by his own rules and admits he may not have done everything right. “I made a mistake: I thought I was wrong,” goes his repentance. He name-checks Jesus, Elvis and Ripley (of Believe It or Not! fame) in the chorus, trying to rationalize his behavior to each, but in the end, he knows his stumbles are all his own. “So if anyone’s praying, a request I would make / is to mention my name, cause I made a mistake.”

“He Won’t Ever Be Gone” (Gary Nicholson)
God’s Problem Child saves its most heartbreaking song for last: Nelson’s tribute to his best friend, Merle Haggard. “Got the news this morning / Knew it’d be a tough day,” goes the opening couplet, as Nelson recalls hearing word of Hag’s death on April 6th, 2016. “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” chronicles the pair’s friendship while mixing in references to Haggard’s best-known songs, but it’s really a shared story involving two giants. As with most of the album, the emotional core of the song, written by Gary Nicholson, lies in what isn’t said — that while Lady Luck may have smiled on Nelson, he misses his larger-than-life friends. After all, even giants are mortal.

We Love Willie Nelson

Friday, April 21st, 2017

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