Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Kris Kristofferson to release 16- CD music collections to celebrate his 80th

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson
photo:  Rick Diamond
by: Stephen L. Betts

The 80th birthday of songwriter, actor and country-music icon Kris Kristofferson will be celebrated next month with the release of The Complete Monument & Columbia Album Collection, a 16-CD deluxe box set from Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings. Due June 10th, the collection will consist of 11 of Kristofferson’s studio albums spanning the entire decade of the Seventies. At the same time he was recording his own material, Kristofferson’s massive song catalog was mined for hits by artists ranging from Janis Joplin (“Me and Bobby McGee”) to Ray Price (“For the Good Times”) and beyond.

All of the albums in the collection, released from 1970 through 1981, will be individually packaged in facsimile sleeves reproducing the original album artwork. Five additional albums in the set will spotlight rare and unreleased live and studio recordings encompassing Kristofferson’s years recording for the Monument and Columbia labels, with three concert recordings (two of them previously unreleased) from 1970-1972 and two full discs of rarities – non-LP singles, studio outtakes, previously unavailable demos – and more.

The package will also include a deluxe booklet featuring essays and liner notes penned especially for the project, including an introduction to Kristofferson contributed by his fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member Fred Foster, the founder of Monument Records who signed the Texas native and former Army pilot to a songwriting contract at Combine Music and a recording pact with the Monument label. Producer/musician Don Was contributes an aesthetic appreciation titled “Kris Kristofferson True American Hero,” and the set also features an insightful essay on Kristofferson’s artistry penned by longtime Rolling Stone contributor Mikal Gilmore.

One week after the boxed set is issued, the Grammy-winning legend will release a double album, The Cedar Creek Sessions, 25 songs recorded over a three-day period in the summer of 2014. The set includes stripped-down versions of some of Kristofferson’s most revered tunes, including “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” a dark, meditative tune he penned while living in a tenement and going through a divorce. Johnny Cash would go on to record it in 1970, winning Kristofferson CMA Song of the Year honors for it.

In March, the Nashville tribute concert, “The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson,” featured performances by Willie Nelson, Reba, Eric Church, Emmylou Harris and more.

The Complete Monument & Columbia Album Collection:

Kristofferson (Monument, 1970)

The Silver Tongued Devil and I (Monument, 1971)

Border Lord (Monument, 1972)

Jesus Was a Capricorn (Monument, 1972)

Spooky Lady’s Sideshow (Monument, 1974)

Breakaway—Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge (Monument, 1974)

Who’s to Bless…and Who’s to Blame (Monument, 1975)

Surreal Thing (Monument, 1976)

Easter Island (Monument/Columbia, 1978)

Shake Hands With the Devil (Monument/Columbia, 1979)

To the Bone (Monument/Columbia, 1981)

Bonus Discs:

Live at The Big Sur Folk Festival (recorded 1970, previously unreleased)

The WPLJ-FM Broadcast (recorded 1972, previously unreleased)

Live at the Philharmonic (recorded 1972/released 1992)

Extras (previously released non-LP singles, outtakes and appearances)

Demos (previously unreleased)




Willie Nelson interviewed by the Barbi Twins, for Origin Magazine

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

glasses horse
by: The Barbi Twins

Barbi Twins: Why have you and your family become so active specifically in anti-horse slaughter?

Willie Nelson: I’m a little prejudiced when it comes to horses. I have always loved them. I currently have about 68; 25-30 were rescued directly from slaughter. I got involved 8 years ago when Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) first made me aware that American horses are being slaughtered and shipped overseas for human consumption. It’s a shame that horses – or any animal – be treated this way when horses are the foundation of America. Horses were a way to travel to get to where we are today, and it is our job to protect them.

BT: The wild horses have been in the news, but most people don’t understand that horse slaughter is legal. Can you explain what the government does?

WN: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency in charge of protecting wild horses, has been rounding them up at an alarming rate, supposedly for their own good. Sadly, there are more wild horses in holding pens than in the wild. Something is wrong with that, so we must act now before the BLM has managed these magnificent animals into extinction.

BT: Why should Americans be worried about horse slaughter still being legal?

WN: Americans don’t eat horses. They are not raised as food animals and they are treated with chemicals that render them unsafe for consumption. The regulations needed to change their status to “food animals” would cripple every aspect of the horse industry as we know it. Plus, it would be wrong.

BT: What benefit does horse slaughter have if most people are against horse slaughter?

WN: America’s horses and horse industry are under attack by a small group of folks out to line their pockets at the expense of our wild and domestic horses, American taxpayers, and those restaurant patrons who are ingesting toxic horse meat. However, we can pass the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which will ban the slaughter of all American horses for the purpose of human consumption, while also ensuring they aren’t sent abroad to suffer the same fate. My family has been working closely with our friend Chris Heyde at AWI on the SAFE Act and other important horse welfare issues for years. I encourage everyone to join with us by visiting, taking action, and signing up for eAlerts today. Together we can make a difference.

BT: What can you tell people about how they can help stop horse slaughter of domestic and wild horses?

WN: Folks, please join my family and friends at the Animal Welfare Institute to see how you can help with this important American cause.

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Willie Nelson at Home in Texas (McCall’s, March 1988)

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

img815 by you.

May 1988
by Teresa Taylor Von-Frederick

When he’s not performing on the road to sell-out crowds, there are only two places you might look for Willie Nelson — and hope to find him.  One is in the Colorado mountains, resting and recuperating from hard travel, in the romantic three-story Swiss chalet he owns there; the other is a 775 acre ranch outside Austin, Texas, where I visited him recently.

Here, Willie is surrounded by the rivers, hills and the down-home country folk of his childhood, very close to the place where his ma and pa, along with his grandparents, raised him.  It’s where he feels most at home in the world, consequently, where he’s most himself  No wonder friends like Kris Kristofferson and his longtime producer, Chips Moman, enjoy visiting the ranch, sometimes for weeks at a time.

“There’s another house, too,” Willie tells me.  He loves houses, perhaps because he travels so much.  “It’s less than a block from the place where I was born.  In fact, we’re restoring it — an old house on the edge of town.”

A gentle light shimmers in his eyes as Nelson remembers his grandfather.  “He died when I was six years old.  He was a blacksmith near Abbott, Texas.  It was my grandfather who bought me my first Stella guitar when I was five.  I learned how to play dominoes and guitar early — that was what we used to do.”

Born Willie Hugh Nelson on April 30, 1933, in Abbott, Willie has one sibling, an older sister, Bobbie Lee.  “Bobbie and I started out together.  Then she got married, had children, and now we’re back playing music again.  She plays piano in the band.”  He recalls tenderly those “good ol’ days” when he was trying to make a living in the rough-and-tumble clubs around Fort Worth, Texas, first with Bobbie and later by himself.  Times were pretty hard then, and he credits his five children and his current wife, Connie Jean Koepke (whom he met in 1968 at a show in Cut ‘n Shoot, Texas), with sticking by him and encouraging his dream of someday making music that people would want to hear.

But his grandparents, Willie says, were his true, and earliest, inspiration.  They themselves learned music through mail-order courses, and, when he was very young, they deeply involved grandchild Willie in church and gospel music.  They also gave him a lsting feeling for the church itself.

We hike up into the hills were a church stands on one of his acres.  (It appeared as a post-Civil War set in his film Red Headed Stranger.)  Lana, his oldest daughter, who’s 33, comes with us.   Willie grabs the tattered hemp rope hanging from the belfry, and we hear the sound of bells clattering.  “Whenever we can, my children and grandchildren (he has seven) have church up here.  It’s a nice feelin’, havin’ your own church on your own property.  I try to instill sound values in my children as much as possible.  None of them are interested in becoming entertainers.  My son — we call him Wild Bill, although sometimes he’s Mild Bill — goes through changes, but he’s gettin’ better.  He’s thirty years old, lives in Tennessee with his wife and children, and just started farmin’ his own land.”

“That’s one thing Daddy instilled in us,” Lana interjects.  “His spirituality and love and God and human nature.  Daddy always taught us to have good relationships with people.”

Lana, the first child born to Willie and his first wife, Martha Matthews, speaks of her parents with great feeling.  “Daddy was seventeen and my mama was sixteen when they met; she was a car hop serving food at a restaurant.  Daddy is still very close to her, but they were so young!  I was four years old when my daddy wrote a song called Family Bible.  He sold it for fifty dollars to pay for rent and food, and I cried and cried because I thought he just gave it away.  He grabbed me by the hand on the front porch and said, ‘Look out there, honey.  One of these days I’m gonna buy you that land as far as you can see.’  I knew my daddy would be a star.”

Lana has directed and produced Willie’s music videos, including the very first country-and-western video, Poncho and Lefty, which was nominated for an American Video Award.  Today, she still works with her father.  “I know his values and what kind of story he likes to tell.  I also inherited his sense of humor.”

Willie and Connie Nelson

Besides Lana and Billy, Willie has another child, Susie, from his first marriage.  He and Connie, who have been married for 17 years, also have two daughters, Paula Carlene and Amy Lee.  Connie has stayed by his side through all of his struggles and, finally, his success.  “Willie and I try to spend as much quiet time as possible away from everything,” Connie says.  “We like to go to the movies.  Willie likes to ride horses, and I like to ski.  I spend a lot of time in California with our daughters when he’s off performing.”

Willie leans into a char and relaxes by the fireplace.  “Yeah, I enjoy my horses and playing golf,” he concedes., “but I love my music just as much.  Honestly, I have all these guys who are my heroes.  … But when I was struggling, it didn’t matter if there was only one person in the audience.  That was enough for me to get inspired.  I’m still starstruck.”

A while ago, in Illinois, with some of his heroes — Neil Young, Merle Haggard, John Couger Mellencamp — Willie put together a musical cast that included B. B. King, Bob Dylan, Glenn Campbell, Carole King, Billy Joel, George Jones — a stupendous concert to raise money for America’s financially stricken farmers.  Farm Aid became a cultural and historic high point of the ’80s.  Since that first concert Willie helped to sponsor, 14 million dollars have been raised in this nation for farm relief.

“I was brought up on a farm and know a lot about agricultural and farming,” he reveals.  “It’s darn hard work; I couldn’t do it.  But it keeps families together on the farm.  A lot of them who are suffering now don’t have money for their children or for medical emergencies.  There’s hope out there, though.  All kinds of folks are helping us all across the country, Jody Fischer, my assistant works loyally on behalf of Farm Aid.  That’s what life is all about; helping each other, if we can.”

Willie identifies strongly with the poor.  Graciously and proudly, he welcomes those who are troubled in his Texas home — built in a rustic, Ponderosa style reminiscent of a land baron’s mansion of the 1980s.  The interior sports a Western motif complete with shelves of Indian arrowheads and a buffalo skin draped over a beam.  His simple futon bed lies on the floor in front of a huge fireplace.  Willie hops onto it, assuming his favorite yoga position.

“This is the best form of meditation for me,” he explains.”  “Sometimes a song or an idea will come, and I just write it.  I enjoy meditating when I jog and play golf, too.  I’d rather be workin’ than not.  And we can cut ten sides of a record here in one day.  It’s been a real help, havin’ the recording studio on my property.”

Memories of his difficult early years appear in his conversation.  It was nearly 30 years ago, in 1961, that he made the trek to Nashville in a second hand car.  His struggle in the musical world had already gone on for more than a decade; he had attempted to become a party-time hog farmer… and failed at it.  “I was the worst hog farmer you ever saw,” Willie says, laughing.  But by 1985 he was able to release four albums within a single year:  Funny How Time Slips Away (with Faron Young); Highwayman (with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings); Half Nelson, Brand New Heart (with Hank Snow) and Me and Paul (written for and about his friend Paul English)   In 1986, The Promiseland was Willie’s strongest LP in years.  And no sentimentalist can ever forget Willie’s Crazy, recorded by Patsy Cline.  (His newest album, Island in the Sun was released earlier this year.)

Of all contemporary songwriters, he has most effectively observed and interpreted the life around him.  “The master of sadness, the poet of honky-tonks,” he has been called.  His songs elucidate his highest priorities:  love, God, prayer, staying close to his kin.

Willie Nelson and Lana Nelson, at Lana’s wedding.

Lana testifies to that.  “I produced a family album that included all of the significant events in my daddy’s life and some of his song lyrics and family photo. I gave it to him for his forty-seventh birthday.  Boy, was he happy!  He grinned from here to Nashville.”

In the kitchen, Willie messes around with his restaurant-size stove. “You bet I can cook,” he replies, in answer to my question.  “I love to make all kinds of gravies.  And I can eat bacon and eggs any time of the day or night.”  He grabs a soda from the fridge, sit down, takes off his tennis shoes and puts on a pair of cowboy boots.   “How would you like to go up and see my horses now?” he asks.

We walk out the back door that gives him his favorite view of two lakes that come together and travel yet another third of a mile up to his barn.  His two horses, Scout, a large palomino, and Dancer, a sorrell horse with a blazed forehead, timidly run for cover in the barn when we approach.  But as soon as Willie brings out some feed, Scout comes over.  Willie lumps in the hay and sits there feeding Scout, as if he were sitting next to his best friend.  “I rid every day when I’m home,” he tells me.  “I have a lot more horses on the property, but they’re all off somewhere now.”

The sun begins to set, the landscape shaded by tall plains grass, mesquite and scrub oak trees.  I feel as peaceful and calm as Willie, a man who like to take life one day at a time when he’s home.  His friend and colleague, Chips Moman, has joined us for the evening.  “I’d do anything for that man and so would a lot of other people,” Chips says.  “There seems to be nothing he can’t do to please everyone.  And he thrives on the excitement of the road.  He’s performed with the best:  Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt.  He’s now with CBS Records.  We’re a long way form 1964 when he first signed with Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.  But he became fed up with the politics of becoming a star there.  He moved to Texas and He’s een there ever since.”

We climb into his black truck, and he invites us back to visit some more with his family.  After strong coffee and with nighttime creeping up, I take my leave reluctantly.  He thanks me generously for coming down to visit, and I drive off down the wonderful, winding dirt road that’s as serene as the Texas sunset, as serene as Willie Nelson himself.


We should all be this cool at 83

Saturday, April 30th, 2016


We Love Willie Nelson

Friday, April 29th, 2016


Friday, April 29th, 2016


Thursday, April 28th, 2016

doll doll

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

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016
by: Vanessa Grigoriadis
December 25, 2008

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

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

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

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

Yes, Willie has an iPhone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he takes a puff on the vaporizer.

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

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard and their 40 year friendship

Friday, April 15th, 2016

by: Patrick Doyle

Merle Haggard, who died last week at 79, considered Willie Nelson one of his closest friends. “I love Willie and I think Willie loves me,” Haggard told Rolling Stone in 2014, detailing how the two bonded on the Nevada casino circuit in the Seventies. “We’d play a couple of long shows a day, then spend all night long jamming,” said Haggard. “There’s seldom a straight moment between us. He likes to pop a good funny, and so do I.” They went on to score a Number One hit with 1983’s “Pancho and Lefty.”

Merle Haggard Merle Haggard: 30 Essential Songs »
As the two got older, Haggard came to admire Nelson’s work ethic as well as his talent. “That’s why we all admire Willie: because he doesn’t go out every six years. He goes out every six minutes, and he’s on all the time. Anytime you call on him, he can handle it. He can be Willie Nelson. He’s gonna do it till he drops. I guess I’m the same way.” Nelson spoke with Rolling Stone about their friendship, which Nelson calls “a bond that went a long way.”

Merle and I were buddies from way back. I first met him at a poker game at my house in Nashville in the early Sixties, before he went back to Bakersfield and I went back to Texas. We always had a lot in common. We both hopped trains as kids. We both got our starts playing bass in other bands before stepping out on our own. We’d both been married for the last 20 years. We both had our sons playing guitar with us. Over the years, we played a lot of dates, a lot of poker. He was a great audience for my jokes. I told him recently, “You know what you call a guitar player without a girlfriend? Homeless,” and he laughed.

“I always had a lot of admiration for him.”
In the early Eighties, he came to stay with me in Texas to record. We were living pretty hard back then, but we’d also try to be a little healthy. We used to go jogging a lot. We’d burn one down and run two miles in cowboy boots. In Texas, we went on a 10-day cayenne-pepper juice cleanse. It was horrible. One day after we’d been up all night, Merle went to the condo to get some rest. Around 4 a.m., we woke him up to sing his part on “Pancho and Lefty.” He sang it half in his sleep, but Hag sings pretty good in his sleep.

I always had a lot of admiration for him. He came onto the scene with a bang. He wrote more Number One songs than me, Kris [Kristofferson], anybody. He was a great one to follow. He was able to talk about his life in his songs intelligently and ingeniously, really. And from the time he met Johnny Cash in prison to “Okie from Muskogee,” it’s a great story.

Willie Nelson; Merle Haggard
John Doyle
It’s hard to pick a favorite Merle song. “Looking For A Place to Fall Apart” is a great one. “Somewhere Between” is another. He could play guitar with anybody. When we’d play together, he’d do his show and I’d sing a couple with him and then he’d come back out on my show and just jam the rest of the evening. It was so much fun.

Merle was also a great imitator. I just happened to see a thing recently with him on the Glen Campell show. Merle does imitations of Glen, Johnny Cash and Buck Owens. He does a great job.

Last year, we did another record together, Django and Jimmie. We’d text ideas back and forth. He wrote a song called “The Only Man Wilder Than Me,” which I took as a great compliment. Our last tour was special. I loved singing “Okie From Muskogee” with him. He wrote that song straight from the heart. But as he lived, his thinking progressed. The last time we did it, it was tongue-in-cheek, and the audience knew it. That’s the way he was – he always evolved.

When he called me to cancel the tour, he told me he had lung cancer. I told him they have a lot of great stuff these days, and they can do miracles. I was hoping they would be able to do something, but it had already gone too far, I guess. We’re finishing the tour in Merle’s honor. We’re getting through it.

The Django and Jimmie album and tour were big hits, and we had a lot of fun together. His last year was probably one of his best ones. Old Merle’s timing has always been perfect, and it was here, too.
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Willie Nelson: An American Original (Dope Magazine April 2016)

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

by:  Sharon Letts

Within the cannabis community, our life stories and lessons learned make up who we are. Our differences through struggles come together for the greater good when the artists of a community tell our stories through personal and creative expression.

American musician, singer-songwriter, and activist Willie Nelson has told a thousand stories from his own life that began when he was just a child. Born in rural Texas in 1933 during the Great Depression and raised by his grandparents, he and his family picked cotton beside immigrants and offspring hailing from Mexico and Africa.

When discussing his fellow laborers, Willie quickly commented, “They were Mexican-American and African-American,” emphasizing on the soil on which they worked together as equals.

From his autobiography It’s a Long Story: My Life, Willie writes of a tenacity learned in the fields. “Even though I’d get into fights now and then, I got along with everyone,” he wrote. “It felt natural, for instance, to be living across the street from a Mexican family. We accepted them and they accepted us. Our Mexican neighbors worked out in the field right alongside us.”

Willie never learned discrimination. Instead, the experience founded the basis for his musical and philanthropic endeavors.

“I loved listening to the black workers making music of their own,” Willie said. “They weren’t singing songs of complaint. They were singing songs of hope driven by a steady beat and flavored with thick harmonies made up on the spot. I couldn’t help but sing along.”
He penned his first song at the age of nine and played in a polka band for money at the age of 12, much to his Bible-loving grandmother’s disappointment.

Mama Nelson believed that the smoking and drinking associated with life in the barroom would send her grandson straight to hell. But in the end, she surrendered to the music, as the $8 made from one night of playing polka equaled one week’s worth of hard labor in the fields. Her love of the Lord couldn’t compete with practicality.

n 1954, fellow musician Fred Lockwood handed Willie a joint while sitting in a bar slamming whiskey and watching Senator McCarthy grill suspected communists within the entertainment industry.

“We’d probably get happier faster if we blew some tea,” Fred said.

But Willie wasn’t yet ready and downed another whiskey. Drinking, smoking cigarettes, and chasing women were his vices, until lung issues and a bad case of pneumonia put the brakes on his two to three packs a day.

“It’d take years before I’d understand the beneficial properties,” he wrote. “In the meantime I stuck to my two habits: cigarettes and booze. I was too young and dumb to see the harm they were doing.”

The songs he wrote during that time reflected his state of mind. I Gotta Get Drunk needs no CliffsNotes, and Bloody Mary Morning was written as he played two women, admittedly changing the facts to suit the rhyme.

“The song had me running fast,” he said. “The song had me looking for a way to deal with a hangover. I was hung over from too much liquor and too much running. It all made sense to give up booze. I was a lousy drunk, a foolish drunk, a fighting drunk, a drunk who did himself much damage.”


During the 1960s, his own kids convinced him to take a look at Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Pop laced with folk sensibilities was giving people another way to express their frustrations with the powers that be.

“I liked what I heard on the radio,” he said. “Most of it came out of the blues. I heard Led Zeppelin as a blues band. Janis Joplin sure as hell was singing the blues.”
With this new mentality also came the drug culture, but Willie wasn’t interested. He was, however, inspired to do away with his vices.

“About the same time I adopted the song Whiskey River, I threw whiskey out of my life,” he said. “Any fool could see that booze was bad for me. Booze made me say shit I shouldn’t say and fight guys I shouldn’t fight. Booze made me headstrong, violent, and dumb as dirt. Booze jacked up my ego and drowned out my humanity. On top of that, I still had a two-to-three-pack-a-day cigarette habit. The combination of liquor and tobacco was slowly killing me.”

Willie began smoking cannabis during the ’60s, but said he used it only as a supplement, initially.

“As I moved closer to the Woodstock Nation, as I bore witness to their music-loving, life-loving, peace-loving ways, I saw the key role played by pot,” he wrote. “Pot was a communal experience. Unlike cigarettes, you didn’t smoke a joint alone. You shared it. You passed it around. Pot was a plant, a natural substance whose positive uses, I would soon learn, were varied.”

Realizing that our country’s very constitution was written on hemp paper had this former cotton-picking Texan thinking.

“In short, I fell in love with this lovely, leafy plant,” he wrote. “As time went on I quit tobacco and booze entirely. As the years went by, as the growers of the crop learned to cultivate an increasingly satisfying product, my appreciation increased.”

Willie said just as he loved robust coffee beans and the strong buzz felt by the brew, he felt the same way about cannabis.

“It pushed me in the right direction,” he wrote. “It pushed me in a positive direction. It kept my head in my music. It kept my head filled with poetry.”


Today, he’s even more entrenched in the healing world of cannabis, creating his own brand. Willie’s Reserve was inspired from the many post-concert hangouts by his bus, Honeysuckle Rose.

“Cannabis has been a positive thing in my life for a very long time,” he said, speaking from his home in Hawaii. “I finally replaced alcohol and cigarettes with smoking weed.”

Recently Willie was lambasted, then redeemed, as he shrugged off detailed questions of the plant in an article in New York Magazine. But the surprise that he didn’t know the differences of indica from sativa was ultimately judged as refreshing in the age of snooty cannabis connoisseurs.

“As long as the bowl is full, I’m happy,” he joked.
But, the larger question remained: did he medicate or get stoned, while burning a few on the rooftop of friend and former President Jimmy Carter’s White House prior to giving concerts?

Even the most ardent stoners insisting there is no medicinal value to cannabis may find comfort and relaxation in medicating before or after a stressful event. An artist’s third eye could be opened up before a performance, making the experience more meaningful for all. And then there’s the spiritual connection to consider.

“We do it for a lot of reasons,” he said, in true Willie form. “I don’t know if you are aware, but cannabis is mentioned in the Bible. It’s been used in spiritual ceremonies for centuries. It’s been around for a very long time.”

Willie’s longevity may be credited to his belief in staying positive, but his legacy is heavily laden with lessons learned, lessons “born out of experience and genuine grief,” he wrote. Lessons shared with us through his music.

Read article, see photos, videos here.

Merle Haggard talks about working with Willie Nelson and “Django and Jimmiew” (Paste Magazine)

Sunday, April 10th, 2016

The last time we talked to Merle Haggard, he was beaming with pride over his latest collaboration with Willie Nelson. RIP to one of the greatest songwriters and troubadours of all time.

“Everybody wants to be wilder than it’s accepted to be,” Merle Haggard, raggedy growl tempered with warmth, says without ceremony. “They wanna do and be more than people think is right. You know that saying ‘Well behaved women seldom make history’? It’s not just for women, you know.”

It’s afternoon in Lake Shasta, Calif., and Haggard has been kept twice as long by reporters as he was supposed to be. But the cantankerous legend is in a joyous mood, and he’s willing to ponder his reputation in light of Django & Jimmie, his duo project with Willie Nelson that hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums and No. 7 on the Top 200 Albums charts.

“Well-behaved men?” asks Haggard incredulously. “Never been around ’em. Step out of line, you’ll be remembered because you stood out! Though as old as I am, it’s hard to step anywhere, let alone out.”

Haggard laughs a dust cloud of red dirt, hard life and light. It rolls down the phone line like a tumble weed. Cagey even at 78, he’s not beyond a joke, even if it’s on him.

Of course, he and Nelson weren’t afraid to mix it up a little, leveraging their elder status to drop “It’s All Going To Pot” back in April. The song, as much social commentary as an endorsement of smoking dope over other highs, is a frolic that uses common sense and humor to make points beyond the obvious.

“That’s one of those [songs] you just know people are going to love,” Nelson says with a chuckle from his bus somewhere in Idaho a few weeks later. “I’m surprised how fast medical marijuana is going, and decriminalization…People are figuring out it isn’t going away, I guess.

“Plus there’s a whole lot of money those bottom-liners can pick up, and that works for some people. Colorado’s doing very well and showing the rest of the country how this can go. Other parts of the world are more evolved and handle it, like Israel and Copenhagen…Here we’re a little dumber, a little more redneck in our attitudes. There are medical benefits, everything else.”

Haggard, more hardcore honky tonk to Nelson’s zen country, is even more direct: “I like the insinuation of giving up pills and giving up whiskey, that stuff. The financial aspects of the alcohol industry, the Valium and Diazepam people, that’s big business. But Grandma doesn’t get whipped and the little girl doesn’t get molested when people are high.

“And now that people are seeing the industrial reality? The monetary implications are immense.”

But beyond the clever Buddy Cannon/Shawn Camp/Jamey Johnson song, there’s much more to their collaborating. Having recorded five albums together over 50 years, including 1983’s No. 1Pancho & Lefty, they tap a vein of creativity that brings out the best in each other. On Django & Jimmie, each covers one of the other’s classics: Haggard does “Family Bible” and Nelson roadhouses “Swinging Doors,” as well as a freewheeling take on Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

“There are things that don’t get considered on our own,” Haggard explains. “We’re both writers and we have an excellent understanding of great songs, so when you bring us together, our focus isn’t on who wrote it, but what’s there and how does it work? Like a love song? We can sing it together. It’s about her, the woman you love, which is different than to her.”

Nelson concurs. “There’s a creative thing that happens. When you can do something with another person [like Haggard], something comes from that creative energy. It’s pretty simple like that: two people can make more music than one!”

And for all the classics and covers, it is the new songs like “Wilder,” “Where Dreams Go To Die” and “Unfair Weather Friend” that show both icons firing at the top of their creative game. The LP also captures the essence of the Man in Black in “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash” with guest vocals from Bobby Bare, Nelson’s shufflin’ blues on “It’s Only Money,” and the crux of Haggard and Nelson’s relationship on “The Only Man Wilder Than Me.”

Culling some of Nashville’s best players, employing Nelson’s longtime producer Buddy Cannon, and setting up in Austin, the pair decided to have fun and savor the songs. Though there are no plans for the future, they’re enjoying the moment just fine.

“I write a little bit every day,” Nelson says. “It may not be any good, but I write and I get it out. When there’s something to write I try to put it down…and it feels good.

“Here we are with a No. 1 record, and that’s inspiring. The idea people want to hear what you have to say. Especially since we’re not getting any AM or FM airplay, really. I wanna enjoy this one for a little bit, just enjoy it without moving on to the next thing.”

Additionally, Haggard offers, “I’d like to leave a legacy of something. I can picture the music in my heart…I think it’ll keep my legacy alive. You look at Gene Autrey and Lefty Frizzell, Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb, those people playing dance halls when America was still really alive, that lasts.

“Willie and I both started playing music and got our first jobs trying to be guitar players, not singers, not songwriters, not stars. So people like Django and Roy Nichols were important to us both. We chased the same heroes and it shows. It’s why it’s the perfect title song for the album.”

In the end, the music still matters to them—mixing it up with good players, taking their songs out on the road. Nelson acknowledges the power and the draw of what both men are known for.

“I think it keeps you young! Something that makes you sing along, clap your hands and jump up and down? Nothing else does that, and when you’re doing that, you’re feeling alive.”


Willie Nelson with Toots Hibbert, “Still is Still Moving to Me”

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016
by: Sebastian Modak

Conde Naste includes Willie Nelson’s, “Still is Still Moving to Me” duet with Ziggy Marley as one of their favorites:

With so much tension and fear in the travel world today, it’s important to remember the real value of travel: Its ability to bring cultures together, and yield the unexpected. The same sentiment applies to music, too. In this edition of Global Playlist, we look at some of the magic that has been created when musicians from around the world get into the same studio or share the same stage. Whether it’s the grandfather of Malian blues, Ali Farka Touré trading solos with American guitar hero Ry Cooder, or Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood teaming up with the Israeli Shye Ben Tzur and 19 musicians from Rajasthan in India, here are some sonic examples of what can happen when people fly across the world and come together, instead of staying divided

Toots & The Maytals and Willie Nelson: “Still Is Still Moving to Me”
Key figures in Jamaican reggae bring in a dose of Willie Nelson’s signature Texan country vibes.

Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder: “Soukora”
The late legend of Mali, Ali Farka Touré, teams up with American guitarist Ry Cooder, for Talking Timbuktu, an album that put Malian blues on the map and inspired hundreds of artists from around the world to collaborate.

D’Gary and Béla Fleck: “Kinetsa”
American banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck took a tour of Africa to search for the origins of the banjo, which was captured in the documentary Throw Down Your Heart. Along the way, he collaborated with D’Gary, a guitarist and singer from Madagascar.

Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood, and the Rajasthan Express: “Junun”
Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood joined forces with the Israeli-American musician Shye Ben Tzur and 19 Rajasthani musicians to create the double-album Junun, which was released last year.

René Lacaille and Bob Brozman: “Pondaurat”
An unlikely collaboration between an accordionist from Reunion Island and a slide guitarist from the United States.

AfroCubism: “Mali Cuba”
This is what Buena Vista Social Club was supposed to be, but the Malian musicians who had been recruited for the projects ran into visa troubles. Finally, in 2010, producer Nick Gold pulled it off on a Grammy-nominated album that brings Malian all-stars like Toumani Diabaté, Bassekou Kouyate, and Djelimady Tounkara together with Cuban legends like Eliades Ochoa of Buena Vista fame.

DRC Music: “Hallo”
A cut from the album Kinshasa One Two, which saw British songwriter Damon Albarn (Gorillaz, Blur) collaborating with a host of Congolese musicians.

Kiran Ahluwalia and Tinariwen: “Mustt Mustt”
A lively rocker that features Indian-Canadian singer Kiran Ahluwalia in the studio with the Tuareg guitar pioneers Tinariwen.

Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Edgar Meyer: “Out of the Blue”
Béla Fleck on the banjo, tabla prodigy Zakir Hussain propelling mind-blowing rhythms, and Edgar Meyer on a double-bass. Throw in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for good measure and you have a one-off collaboration that we wish would make many, many more records.

DJ Krush and ?uestlove: “Endless Railway”
The Japanese electronic pioneer DJ Krush brings in The Roots’ ?uestlove to make an irresistible beat even groovier..

Willie Nelson on cover of “All You” Magazine (March 2016)

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Willie Nelson will be feature on the cover of healthy living magazing, “All You”.  Willie tells editor Tonya Givens about how he eats only white foods, and about his 30 day fast on Apple Juice and raw honey.

Willie Nelson: King of Country Music (Newsweek 8/14/1978)

Monday, March 28th, 2016

August 14, 1978
King of Country Music: Willie Nelson
by Pete Axthelm

His rough, red-bearded face has been lined by years of tequila nights and Bloody Mary mornings, but the clear eyes sparkle as if each song, each cheer and each success is happening to Willie Nelson for the very first time. Surrounded by a merry band of pickers and pranksters, he travels the hard miles and one-night stands; but like the cowboys he celebrates in songs, Nelson can seem pensive and alone in the wildest of crowds. Willie has always carried himself with a kind of fierce innocense, defying those who would corrupt or label him. And now, to his whimsical delight, it is all paying off. At 45, the old outlaw has become music’s “in” phenomenon. The night life, Willie Nelson'[s life, has become a good life indeed.

Twenty years after he wrote “The Night Life” and other country classics — only to have them recorded by others because his own haunting, unusual voice was deemed unsuitable by record executives — Willie is now singing not only his own hits but ones that he didn’t even write himself. His new “Stardust” album, an evocative country-blues treatment of ten old standards, has topped the country charts for two months — after supplanting a wonderful No. 1 album that Willie did with his outlaw friend Waylon Jennings. His Western epic, “Red Headed Stranger,” remains on the charts three years after it smashed all the old rules about what a country musical album was supposed to be. With his hard-edged poetry and intensely personal blend of country, rock and gospel sounds, Willie has crossed over to the pop charts and reached out to enbrace a widening audience of good old boys, young rockers and almost anyone else who can see beyond narrow categories onto a brand of music that sometimes seems very close to magic.

“The nice thing about what’s happening now,” says Nelson, “is that I’m doing pretty much what I’ve been trying to do for 25 years. During a lot of those years, I wondered if anybody out there was listening. But now, the word seems to have gotten around about me.”

The message began to get out about 1973, when Nelson threw a Fourth of July picnic in Dripping Springs, Texas, and 50,000 of his friends showed up. Soon he was being hailed as a great synthesizer who could bring together rock groups and country stars, as well as hippie and red neck fans. Nelson’s music is described in catchall phrases like progressive country and redneck rock. But when ever the trend spotters thought they had him pinned down, Willie slipped away.

Just when people began to call him an avant-garde poet, this country genious turned back to old-time melodies like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Georgia (On My Mind) — and merely became more popular than ever.

Despite such apparent contradictions. Nelson is not really an elusive person. To know him, the trick is to keep listening. “I’ve come as close to keeping a real diary as anybody,” he says. “I just disguised it as a bunch of songs.”

My front tracks are bound for a cold water well
And my back tracks are covered with snow
And sometimes it’s heaven,
And sometimes it’s hell
And sometimes I don’t even know

Nelson sings of not only highs and lows but the confused moments in between. In the wreckage of his first marriage, he stared at the walls of a Nashville garage, while the rain hit the lone window like tears. The result was the ode “Hello Walls,” with the conclusion: “We must all pull together/Or else I’ll lose my mind/Cause I’ve got a feeling she’ll be gone a long, long time.”

Many of Nelson’s early songs dealt with pain and loss, but must were different from traditionally sudsy Nashville fare. Like a Greek dramatist, Willie sought wisdom through suffering and often it arrived in the form of brilliant insights like those in his thematic album about divorce, “Phases and Stages.” A later album, “Red Headed Stranger,” highlighted the stern frontier morality that can transform melodrama into something remarkably akin to tragedy.

Willie isn’t writing much these days. After all the early years of playing in Texas honky-honks behind chicken-wire fences put up to keep the drunks from hurling bottles at the band, he is reveling in the huge crowds that turn out during his tours. Unlike many performers, most notably the reclusive Jennings, Willie loves audiences — and his obvious enthusiasum infuses his concerts with tremendous energy. “I get restless when I don’t pay,” he says. “If I had a choice, I’d play four hours a night, seven nights a week. The playing is the fun, the writing is the work. To write, reflects the present state of Willie’s heaven-and-hell existence: “Life don’t owe me a living,” the song goes, “But a Lear and limo will do.”

Out in the land of Learjets and limousines, Nelson is a hot property. United Artists is planning a motion picture called, “The Songwriter,” inspired by Willie and written by his good friend, novelist-screenwriter Edwin (Bud) Shrake. Universal is planning a Western based on “Red Headed Stranger,” and there are long-range plans for a book and a movie about Nelson’s life. Willie will write the movie sound A Beverly Hills bartender put it in less Hollywood terms: “He’s the most interesting thing I’ve seen out here since the right-hand turn on red.”

“Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin” #1 Billboard Jazz Chart

Friday, March 11th, 2016

by:  Will Hermes

Willie Nelson may be the king of outlaw country, but the LP that made him a household name was Stardust, his quintuple-platinum 1978 set of old-school pop standards like “Georgia On My Mind,” “All Of Me,” and “Blue Skies.” Blue-jeaned badasses might’ve sneered that their Whiskey River-running hero had gone soft. But it was a revelatory set, connecting Red Headed Stranger’s roughneck conceptualist to the prodigy traditionalist who wrote Patsy Cline’s 1962 hit “Crazy,” and then outwards to phrase-parsing croon scientists like Sinatra and master musicians like Nelson’s beloved Bob Wills, who gave precious few fucks when it came to genre borders. The songs were unfade-able, the arrangements unconventional, Nelson’s readings unsentimental and, to a one, killing.

The theme here, a return to Stardust’s approach, seems to have chosen itself in the wake of Willie receiving the prestigious Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2015. Yes, his voice is more fragile than it was 38 years ago, the vibrato a less tightly reined. But it remains vivid and well-matched to the material. On the title track and elsewhere, Mickey Raphael echoes Willie’s breathy tremors on harmonica. And it’s not all ballads: Paul Franklin swings the pedal steel on “Somebody Loves Me” (a hit for Canadian choirboys The Four Lads in 1952), with Willie skipping along. Cyndi Lauper, with a country set of her own due this year, brings her best Betty Boop to a fairly adorable version of “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off,” while Willie saunters through “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” serenading the way his lover sings off-key with a wink.

But the torch songs are the thing. He brings tender dignity to the loneliness of “Someone To Watch Over Me” as a “little lamb who’s lost in the woods.” And he plays leading man on “Embraceable You” beside Sheryl Crow, who convincingly conjures Doris Day while Willie invites her to “come to Poppa” with absolute stoner elegance. The harmonies may be a bit wobbly, but they’re more charming for it. At 82, the man has been banging out an album or two of new recordings every year for a while now, all of them remarkably worthy additions to his catalog. It’s a work ethic his fellow cannabis advocates, and indeed all Americans, can be proud of.