Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Willie on Weed (High Times, October 2005)

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

Willie on Weed
High Times Magazine
October 2005
by Richard Cusick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WN: Yeah. That’s right.

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

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

HT: Does marijuana help your songwriting?

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

HT: Really?

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

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

WN: Yeah. You need that age.

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

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

Bob Dylan: They gotcha trapped.

HT: We got him now.

BD: I’ll come back.

WN: All right.

(exit Bob Dylan)

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

WN: You did?

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

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

HT: I believe we were talking about songwriting.

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

HT: Black Drop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HT: You just think a certain way and…

KS…groups like NORML start using you politically.

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

WN: Zero that I know of.

HT: It’s amazing how you get buy.

WN: Well, I got busted.

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

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

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

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

WN: I thought it was brilliant.

KS: I did, too.

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

WN: You’ve gotta get there.

HT: Well, I know you recommend moderation.

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

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

WN: It costs more money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Country Music: Willie Nelson (October 1980)

Monday, October 1st, 2018


Country Music: Willie Nelson (October 1980)

by Bob Allen

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

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

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

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

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

“Hhhheeeeyyyy Willieeee!!!!!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson, “Vote ’em out”

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

photo:  Taylor Hill

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Thom Duffy

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

Willie Nelson is pissed off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson Interview: Country Music Magazine (March 1992)

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

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Country Music
March/April 1992
by Michael Bane

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Question Two, then is has it change?

Let’s let Willie answer in hs own words.

To Question One:

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

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

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

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

Might as well blame it on the road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Has it been pretty hard on you?”

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

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

“Well, that’s true…” [laughter]

“Where are you living, anyway?”

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

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

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

“You still give away everything you get?”

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

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

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

— Michael Bane
Country Music (March/April 1992)

People Magazine (September 1, 1980)

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

 

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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.”

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Country Rhythms (September 1981) (UK)

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

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

Country Rhythms
September 1981

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

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

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Willie Nelson, Connie Nelson and daughters Amy and Paula

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

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Willie and Frank

Monday, August 27th, 2018

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Patrick Doyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I call it ‘My Way,’ Francis.”

“Touché,” says Sinatra.

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

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

Asleep at the Wheel, Avett Brothers, “Willie Got There First”

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

“Willie Got There First” appears on Asleep at the Wheel’s album ‘New Routes,’ due out September 14th

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Jeff Gage

After 48 years of making music, Asleep at the Wheel will be the first to admit there’s nothing new under the sun — and when it comes to country songs, you can probably thank Willie Nelson for those. So says the veteran Texas swing act on their latest track, “Willie Got There First,” featuring Seth and Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers.

Written by Seth Avett, “Willie Got There First” is a playful ode to the Red Headed Stranger and his omnipresent influence on the genre. “I had such a good idea for a song, but Willie got there first,” he sings, his voice taking on a hint of Nelson’s own famous, airy warble. Dropping in references to several of Nelson’s songs and albums, including Phases and Stages, the song spares no compliment, even comparing the 85-year-old Texan to a “Renaissance master.” That cross-generational admiration gets underlined by Asleep at the Wheel frontman Ray Benson — a cohort of Nelson’s since the Seventies — chiming in on the last verse and chorus. Guests on the track include two longtime Nelson collaborators: his sister Bobbie, at the piano, and Mickey Raphael playing the harmonica.

“Willie Got There First” will be the final track on New Routes, the 11-song collection due out September 14th that is Asleep at the Wheel’s first of mostly new music in over a decade. The 10-time Grammy winning band visits Kalamazoo, Michigan tonight to play Bell’s Electric Café.

Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings: Music City News (August, 1995)

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018

Willie & Waylon – “From Outlaws to Good Guys”
Music City News
August 1995
by Lydia Dixon Harden

Together and alone, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson stand tall in the eyes of country music fans.  They each stepped out of the mainstream of country music to put their own indelible brand to the genre — Waylon’s music with its walking bass and his growling voice; Willie with his unique phrasing and trademark guitar licks.

In 1970s, the two teamed together for a series of duets which fused their long-standing friendship.  They urged people to “get back to the basics of love” and extolled the virtues of a good hearted woman.  They have been tagged as outlaws, but in reality, they are also good hearted.  Willie has raised more than $12 million for American farmers.  Waylon has made adult literacy his cause.  For all their efforts through the years, each earned an honor during this year’s TNN Music City News Country Awards.

Now Waylon and Willie will work again this summer with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson as the Highwaymen.  The foursome released their third Highwayman collaboration in the past ten years.

Individually, Willie is making plans for another Farm Aid and has released a new album for Justice Records, “Just One Love,” and Rhino Records is releasing “A Classic & Unreleased Collection.” Waylon is still writing songs and working to follow-up his “Waymore’s blues Part II” album.

Music City News took time to catch up with these two busy artists during the TNN Music City News Country Awards.

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‘I love Minnie Pearl to death,” says Willie about the woman for whom his award was named.  “She is a wonderful person and we have been friends for many, many years.  I was a big fan before I ever met her.  But then through the years, we became great friends.  This is a great award, and especially great because of Minnie Pearl.”

Willie was chosen for the honor due to his efforts with Farm Aid.  “We are talking about doing another Farm Aid, maybe in September.  I have heard Louisville mentioned a couple of times.  We’ll see.  I never thought we would have to do more than one,” he adds.  “I figured that maybe once people realized, that something would be done.  This is the tenth anniversary and things are worse now than they were, what with the environmental disasters like floods and those things.  It’s pretty bad out there.  The situation started out as one thing and now it has grown into another.  Now farm aid is trying to help all those people who are going through all those different disasters much at the same time as their farm problems. Now they have all these environmental problems.’

Willie Nelson has a global outlook when it comes to his music.  He and his band recently returned from Europe.  The trip covered 23 cities in 12 countries in a span of 25 days.

‘It was a whirlwind tour, but a good one,” he says.  “There are a lot of fans over there.  I have been several times and each time I go back.  it seems to be growing a little bit more.”

Closer to home, Nelson has his own recording studio.  One of the real benefits of that is he gets to hear what other musicians are up to.  He was pleasantly surprised when he came home one day to find the members of his first band laying down tracks.  Willie joined in and they recorded a whole bunch of material.

“The Offenders is the name of the group that I first put together,” he tells.  “We went on the road and for some reason we decided to call ourselves the Offenders.  Johnny Bush, who has gone on to have a lot of record sales and hits on his own, played drums for me back then.  David Zettner played the bass and Jimmy Day played steel guitar.  I came home a few weeks ago and those guys were in the studio just recording this song.  We wound up doing a lot of the older songs and a couple of new things.  I’m trying to sell it to somebody.”

That project will be put to the back burner now that the Highwaymen tour is under full swing.  Does he think the Highwaymen concept would work with four other people?

“Would it work with any other configuration?  I didn’t think it would work with us!” he laughs.

“It is one of those miracles again.  Fortunately, we are not in control.  Each time it comes together, it is another miracle because we all come in from so many different directions.  But it is a good thing,” he states.  “Whether it could happen again with anybody else, I am sure it could.  There are four people around somewhere, I am sure, that they can get along a little while on the road. We get along amazingly well.

“It is a vacation for me.  I stand over there three-quarters of the time and listen to these guys sing and listen to a great band and usually a full house.  So I get to be entertained.  The rest of the time, I get to entertain.  So I am having a big time.  It is not work.  All I have to do is show up.”

Willie Nelson, on guitar

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

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Willie Nelson: Mr. Record Man (Houston Press) (4/24/13)

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

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William Michael Smith won awards for “Best Print Article 2013) for his article.
One of Our Own Wins VMG Music Writing Award

Mr. Record Man
The Houston Press
by: William Michael Smith
April 24, 2013

WILLIE NELSON was dead broke.

The American music icon, who turns 80 years old on April 30, was once just another starving musician looking for his next gig. In early 1959, he was 26 years old and waiting for Larry Butler, who’d had some records do well on Houston radio and was an established name in Gulf Coast music circles, to finish an afternoon band rehearsal at the popular Esquire Ballroom on Hempstead Highway.

According to Joe Nick Patoski’s exhaustive 2008 biography Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, Nelson was freshly arrived in Houston, then known as the murder capital of the entire nation, and had decided the bustling port city was the right one to further advance his own career. He had recently left the hard-knuckle honky-tonks of Fort Worth and had already networked enough to catch the attention of D Records, the most important country-music label in Houston, if not the entire region.

Nelson had signed a fresh contract with Houston music mogul George “Pappy” Daily ­before leaving Fort Worth that identified him as a D Records recording artist and a Glad Music songwriter. Daily had orchestrated East Texas hillbilly George Jones’s rocket ride to country-music stardom in 1957 with the release of “Why Baby Why” and, like others, Nelson figured Daily could do the same for him. This was an iffy deal at best, but it was as close to a solid future in the music business as Nelson had ever come.

Nelson’s goal from the beginning had been to become a songwriter and performing star, but back at the Esquire Ballroom, he was thirsty. Butler asked him if he wanted anything, and ­Nelson asked for a Coke and a pack of cigarettes. Butler had the waitress put them on his tab.

Johnny Bush, the author of “Whiskey River,” the song Nelson has used to open every show for four decades now, recalls driving from San Antonio to see Nelson at a gig in Waco.

“He told me he was moving to Houston,” Bush chuckles. “I was born in Houston and I know Houston. I’d just moved back to San Antonio, and I told Willie there was nothing happening down there. But he went anyway.”

Right there on the spot, Nelson set up a small reel-to-reel tape machine and played Butler a few demos, a term for usually rough, raw recordings of songs generally not meant for public consumption. The songs were “Family Bible,” “Mr. Record Man,” “Crazy” and “Night Life,” and Nelson’s asking price was $10 per song.

“I told him I wasn’t going to buy them; they were too good to just give away like that,” says Butler today from his home in Conroe, where he and wife Pat settled after leaving Houston. “And Willie, always the smooth-talking salesman, just smiled and said, ‘Well, I need the money right now and I can always write more songs’.”

Willie Nelson wasn’t always the Red Headed Stranger, king of outlaw country or a multi­platinum-selling national treasure. But his short-lived tenure in Houston in 1959 and into 1960, which lasted maybe 18 months, was one of the most important developmental milestones in what would become an enormous career.

Born near Waco in 1933, Nelson bounced around his early career like a pinball, working gigs as a sideman, radio personality, gas-station attendant, even Bible salesman. Whatever he did, he was always a dollar short, bill collectors on his trail. Not only did the future biodiesel advocate and marijuana-reform icon try Waco (1952), San Antonio and Pleasanton (1954), and Fort Worth (1955; again in 1958) for steady work, he even forayed as far north as Portland, Oregon  (1956), and Vancouver, Washington (1957), where he had a DJ gig as “Wee Willie Nelson.”

But when Nelson got to Houston, Butler says, he instantly recognized the slightly younger man was a gifted songwriter. Of the songs Nelson offered him at the Esquire Ballroom, he says, “I didn’t have any reason to take advantage of him just because he was having a tough time.”

These weren’t just any old run-of-the-mill two-steppers Butler was letting slip by, either. “Crazy” would go on to be the top-selling jukebox song of all time, and “Night Life” would be recorded by countless artists in several genres, particularly blues. “Family Bible” and “Mr. Record Man” would also figure large in Nelson’s catalog as time progressed.

So instead of grabbing his songs for a pittance, Butler loaned Nelson $50 and gave him a job in his band, marking the beginning of a lifelong friendship. When club owner Raymond Proske balked at paying another musician — union scale in those days was $15 a night for band members, $25 for the leader — Butler offered to split his pay with Nelson, who started that very night.

Shortly after joining Butler’s Sunset Playboys, in which the charismatic young hustler was given the chance to perform a few of his own songs in the set and close the show with “The Party’s Over,” Nelson also landed a radio gig at Pasadena country station KRCT (650 AM). The pay was terrible, but he could use the air time to promote shows for Butler and other friends. With his radio job in hand, relates Patoski, popular local acts like Smilin’ Jerry Jericho would use Nelson as lead guitarist and pay him $25 per night in exchange for some radio push. Before long, he was on his feet enough to bring wife Martha and three children down from Waco to a tiny apartment in Pasadena.

Sleepy LaBeef, another musical transplant who was part of Pappy Daily’s talent roster and would eventually be inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, once lived in the same Pasadena neighborhood as Nelson, just blocks from the intersection of Southmore and Richey Road. He recalls falling in with Nelson and cutting several demos of Nelson’s compositions at his home.

“Willie’d come over with that little recorder of his — he took that thing everywhere — and we’d get set up in my living room,” LaBeef recalls from his home in Springdale, Arkansas. “I’d play upright bass and Willie would play acoustic guitar. I’ve got an old tape he left here somewhere of four brand-new tunes we laid down one night, and none of them have ever been recorded as far as I know.”

Frequently asked why he hasn’t cut one of the songs, the 77-year old LaBeef explains, “Willie was a good friend and I don’t want to be one of those people trying to make money off his back. If I ever locate those tapes again, I think I’ll just give ’em to Willie.”

Working on the west side and living on the east side, Nelson spent a lot of time in his car. The long drives across Houston allowed him time "to turn private thoughts into poetry." Here are 11 significant points on the map of his Houston history. (Click to enlarge)

Working on the west side and living on the east side, Nelson spent a lot of time in his car. The long drives across Houston allowed him time “to turn private thoughts into poetry.” Here are 11 significant points on the map of his Houston history.
“The one I really liked that’s stuck with me all these years was called ‘The Eleven-Oh-Three,’ he continues. “It went, ‘I’m catching the train at 11:03, that’s the last you’ll ever see of me.’ I always wondered why Willie never recorded it.

“Heck, I still might,” adds LaBeef. “But I’d call Willie first and make sure it’s okay with him.”

Nelson and virtuoso instrumentalist Paul Buskirk had become close friends when both lived in Fort Worth. A lightning-fast picker, Buskirk had spent time on the Grand Ole Opry and earned his bones playing with outfits like the Louvin Brothers. Prior to Nelson’s arrival, Buskirk had established himself in Houston; once Nelson got settled here, Buskirk hired his friend as an instructor at Buskirk Music Studios in ­Pasadena.

There are two versions of the Willie-as-­guitar-instructor story. Patoski’s book says Buskirk told Nelson to buy the Mel Bay book for guitar beginners and just teach that. Another version floating around the Internet says Buskirk would teach Nelson a lesson one day and Nelson would then teach the same lesson to his students the next day. Either way, the lessons were another small Band-Aid on his unstoppable financial hemorrhaging.

Whichever it was, everyone noted that Nelson’s guitar playing, which was already good enough to get him lead-guitar gigs in solid bands like Jericho’s, here took a quantum leap forward. Certainly part of that can be attributed to the training and discipline that went with teaching. But a larger impetus probably came from Buskirk’s working with Nelson on his technique, as well as introducing him to the music of European jazz master Django Reinhardt, who remains one of Nelson’s favorite guitarists to this day. In her book They Came to Nashville, songwriter and performer Marshall Chapman observes that Nelson and sister Bobbie make a habit of playing Reinhardt’s classic “Nuages” as a pastime on the tour bus. (“Nuages” also appears on Nelson’s brand-new album, Let’s Face the Music and Dance.)

LaBeef, singer Claude Gray and Butler all tend to tell one part of the Willie story a little differently from Patoski’s biography. Seconding Rich Kienzle, who wrote the extensive liner notes for the meticulous box sets of Nelson’s earliest works on the Bear Family label, Patoski speculates that the long drives across town from Nelson’s nightclub gig in far west Houston to his home and day jobs in the metro area’s easternmost reaches left Nelson time to “turn private thoughts into poetry.”

Patoski also writes that “Houston was an inspirational setting for some of his best songs,” and surmises that both Nelson’s personal-life turmoil as well as the chaotic Houston beer joint/dance hall scene became fuel for some of his finest lyrics. But there seems to be a slight contradiction between Nelson’s attempting to sell “Family Bible, “Night Life,” “Crazy” and “Mr. Record Man” to Butler when he first arrived in town and Patoski’s observation that during Nelson’s time in Houston, “songs flowed like never before,” among them “Night Life,” “Crazy,” “Mr. Record Man” and “I Gotta Get Drunk.”

“I’m pretty certain Willie came to town with all those except ‘I Gotta Get Drunk,’” asserts LaBeef. “And of course Willie was very musical, so he could have been tinkering with those songs, changing the way he played them or sang them. But he came to town with some good ‘uns.”

“As far as Houston having a big effect on Willie’s writing, I don’t think there’s any doubt,” LaBeef reasons. “I can’t recall what other songs he wrote there, but Willie just wrote all the time back then. He had so many ideas. And he didn’t just suddenly get talented because he moved to Nashville. He went there with a lot of skill and experience, most of it earned the hard way.”

Patoski makes a rational explanation of the seeming contradictions.

“Willie had been writing prolifically in Fort Worth, Vancouver, Portland, even in San Antonio,” the biographer says. “But none of the songs that mattered had come together in the form of a recording until Willie arrived in Houston. Really, that’s where all these disparate pieces came together.”

Pappy Daily may have been a music-­industry genius, but he committed a monumental blunder when it came to Willie Nelson. In fact, in the treacherous, fluid, highly competitive music business, this one is positively historic.

To help Nelson out of one of his continual financial binds, his buddy and mentor Buskirk bought “Night Life” for $100 and “Family Bible” for another $50. At the same time, honky-tonk singer Claude Gray, a native of Henderson, Texas, was working in Houston, selling cars at Perkins Auto by day and singing some gigs at night. Gray finally gave up on Houston and took a disc-jockey job in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1959.

But in mid-December of that same year, Gray swung back into town to do a D Records session for Daily at Gold Star Studios, today known as SugarHill. Buskirk put the session band together and convinced Gray to cut four of Nelson’s tunes: “The Party’s Over,” “Family Bible,” “Night Life” and “Leave Alone.”

...And Then I Wrote  Willie Nelson's first album, recorded in Nashville less than two years after he left Houston, contained "Crazy," "Hello Walls" and another handful of his tunes that were monster hits for other artists like Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price.

…And Then I Wrote  Willie Nelson’s first album, recorded in Nashville less than two years after he left Houston, contained “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and another handful of his tunes that were monster hits for other artists like Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price.
He was a long way from the "Wee Willie Nelson" persona he assumed when he was a disc jockey and bandleader in Vancouver, Washington, in 1957.

He was a long way from the “Wee Willie Nelson” persona he assumed when he was a disc jockey and bandleader in Vancouver, Washington, in 1957.
As part of swinging the deal for Gray to cut the songs, the enterprising Buskirk sold Gray a share of “Family Bible” for $100, and for another $100 hired the session musicians and the studio. “I also had a contract with Paul, if you can call us signing a napkin a contract, to buy a piece of ‘Night Life,’” says Gray, who eventually had enough chart and touring success to relocate to Nashville. “The catch was that I only got to keep my rights if the song was actually released.”

But Daily didn’t care for Gray’s version of “Night Life.” Instead, he released D Records singles for “My Party’s Over” (a slight alteration of Nelson’s original title) and, subsequently, “Family Bible.” “My Party’s Over” didn’t do much, but “Family Bible” caught on and eventually climbed all the way to No. 7 on the country charts. Poor Willie didn’t realize a penny from the success of “Family Bible,” and it had to have hurt his self-esteem to have a national hit but be left out of the financial windfall.

Still, the song’s success was the first positive proof that he could write a hit. It certainly raised his profile, and would later serve as a good calling card and icebreaker when he moved to Nashville to try to sell songs in the big time.

Like Gray, Nelson also had a recording contract with D Records, and he cut his first single for the label, “A Man with the Blues” backed by “The Storm Has Just Begun,” during a 1959 session in Fort Worth. The single was released on both D and Daily’s sister label, Betty Records, but went nowhere.

Buskirk then arranged two sessions at Gold Star for Nelson in the spring of 1960. The superior quality of these recordings compared to that of the first tracks cut in Fort Worth is immediately obvious, but these sessions yielded only another mediocre single, “Misery Mansion” backed with “What a Way to Live.”

But even before that single had been issued, Buskirk and Nelson returned to Gold Star with a different set of musicians. There Nelson showed off his rapidly developing guitar chops on “Rainy Day Blues,” but the recording of “Night Life” makes this one of the most significant sessions in his career — and in Houston music history.

“Something had happened between the two sessions,” Patoski writes in An Epic Life. “‘Night Life’ was from another realm. Mature, deep and thoughtful, the slow, yearning blues had been put together in his head during long drives across Houston. At Gold Star, he was surrounded by musicians who could articulate his musical thoughts. He sang the words with confident phrasing that had never been heard on any previous recording he’d done.”

But Daily absolutely hated the track. He went so far as to tell Nelson that if he wanted to write blues, he should go work for Don Robey of Duke-Peacock Records, who had built the Fifth Ward-based company into the most important black record label in the South. Daily refused to release Nelson’s version of “Night Life,” just as he had Claude Gray’s.

Once again, opinions differ about what happened. Daily had made his bones in the murky jukebox business before adding recording, publishing and artist management to the enterprise, and had made George Jones a national smash with tunes recorded at Gold Star. He thought he had the best handle on what people wanted to hear, and was certain a jazzy song like “Night Life” would go nowhere with jukebox users or radio. Also, given the era’s racial prejudices, Daily in no way wished to be identified with so-called race records or their audience. His clientele was working-class crackers, plain and simple, and he felt “Night Life” was too fancy for them.

Bob Wills veteran and Western swing pioneer Herb Remington, the steel guitarist on this storied session, recalls Daily as a “smart guy, a good but cautious businessman.” Remington, who turns 87 in June, says he has “nothing but respect for Daily.”

“Paul Buskirk and I came up with the arrangement on the fly the day we cut the song,” recalls Remington. “Obviously it was a sophisticated lyric and meter, and we wanted the arrangement to really fit the subtlety of the song. We didn’t realize until much later how almost revolutionary the sound on that cut was. I guess it’s no surprise that away from our regular gigs, most of us on that session were into a lot of jazz and other types of music.”

As for how such an astute song-picker as Daily could miss so badly on “Night Life” and Willie Nelson, the guitarist laughs.

“Pappy had a good ear but he just wanted hits, and to him most hits sounded pretty much the same,” he says. “He hated ‘Night Life’ partly because he despised what he called ‘musician’s music.’ Nothing drove Pappy crazier than a bunch of us jamming. He didn’t like it or get it. And he sure didn’t want to pay for it.”

“I also think Pappy just didn’t get Willie’s singing,” he adds. “The way he phrases wasn’t like most other singers who were popular at that time. Willie heard a whole lot of people tell him he couldn’t sing.”

…And Then I Wrote  Willie Nelson’s first album, recorded in Nashville less than two years after he left Houston, contained “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and another handful of his tunes that were monster hits for other artists like Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price.

Whatever the reason, between selling away a hit song for peanuts while he was desperately broke and relinquishing most of his rights for the soon-to-be classic “Night Life” and Daily’s flat-out rejection of “Night Life” — which Nelson felt was his best musical accomplishment yet — Nelson soured on Houston. He made plans to head east.

Could Willie Nelson have also picked up his well-known taste for marijuana in Houston? Since achieving worldwide fame and recognition, he has become one of the sweet leaf’s highest-­profile advocates. Nelson has supposedly smoked a joint on the White House roof, filmed a smoke-out video with Snoop Dogg in Amsterdam and been arrested several times for possession, most recently at a West Texas U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in 2010.

He once admitted to former CNN talk-show maven Larry King on national television that he smoked just before he came on King’s show. With 110,000 Facebook followers on his Tea Pot Party page, Nelson has thrown considerable weight behind the nationwide movement to legalize pot.

According to Patoski, Chapman and others who have traveled on Nelson’s bus, he’s a quiet guy who likes scrambled eggs after a gig, a glass or two of white wine, a lungful of killer reefer and picking some Django Reinhardt with sister Bobbie. This is the Zen Willie of today, the one who wrote the koans collected in his 2012 book Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.

But back in his Houston days, Nelson was a hard-partying little dude. Larry Butler recalls many nights when Nelson was too drunk to drive home, “so he’d just spend the night with us.”

“Willie loved a good party, and he’d drink right along with everybody else,” adds Butler. “Of course, that wasn’t helping his marriage any, but Willie’s always been Willie.”

The various biographies of Nelson have been quite frank about his hard drinking back in the day, and there are casual mentions of pills, which have always been around wherever musicians are working late hours. Butler was probably around Nelson more than anyone else, even Buskirk, during the Houston phase. Confronted with the question of whether Nelson was already smoking pot when he lived in Houston, Butler just giggles.

“Listen, fella, I think Willie was born with one of those things in his hand.”

Houston wasn’t all that kind to Willie Nelson. According to Pasadena Police Department records, he was arrested for speeding and driving without a license — going 85 miles an hour in a 40-mph zone at 3:52 a.m. — on Red Bluff Road in July 1960. Bond was set at $80, and his wife at the time, Martha, appears to have co-signed the property receipt for $9 in cash and a set of car keys.

By all accounts, at this time Nelson was accumulating debts much faster than he could pay them, and Patoski notes that when Nelson left town hoping to land a radio job in Mississippi at the same station where Claude Gray was working, he was four payments behind on his “ugly green ’46 Buick.”

Once again, Nelson had to park his family with Martha’s parents in Waco while he went off to chase the next rainbow. That turned out to be Nashville, after six seeks of hanging around Meridian didn’t turn up a radio job or anything else that would pay a decent wage.

Nelson certainly left Houston with more songs in his notebook, some decent demo tapes of his songs and considerably improved skills as a guitarist. He got his feet wet in the studio and, although it was shunned and overlooked at the time, he recorded one of the true classics of country music.

He also released two singles on D Records and Betty Records, and had a hit song he’d written that would open some industry doors. He gained even more experience in the rough-and-tumble honky-tonk world, and Houston’s joints had a reputation as being some of the toughest in the nation.

He even kept a few copies of his amazing take on “Night Life.” Following Daily’s rejection, he and Buskirk surreptitiously paid to have the song mastered, pressed and released as “Nite Life” on tiny Rx Records under the moniker “Paul Buskirk and His Little Men featuring Hugh Nelson.” While it managed to get some airplay by Uncle Hank Craig on across-the-border superstation XEG, other interest in the recording was sparse.

That was perhaps the final nail in the coffin of Nelson’s Houston stay. He began to feel that the situation here was both spiraling out of control and becoming increasingly untenable.

“I was into a lot of negative thinking back then,” Nelson tells Patoski inAn Epic Life. “I did a lot of bad things, got into fights with people. My head was just pointed in the wrong way.”

It was time to go. Herb Remington, who composed the famous Bob Wills instrumental “Remington’s Ride,” recalls meeting up with a handful of other local players to wish Nelson well the night before he left town.

“Hank Thompson was playing Cook’s Hoedown, and a bunch of us went down to see Willie off,” says Remington. “Everybody liked him and we really did hate to see him go. My main memory is that Willie was dressed real nice and we had a fine send-off.”

Most likely with a strong sense of failure, Willie Nelson kissed Houston goodbye the next day.

Willie Nelson Interview in Vanity Fair (August 20, 2009)

Monday, August 20th, 2018

hair3
www.VanityFair.com
by: Eric Spitznagel

Willie Nelson is one of those rare American icons that you’re just not allowed to dislike. He doesn’t have to be your favorite artist. You don’t even need to be able to name any of his songs—he’s got well over 2,000 of them, and off the top of my head I can only recall “On the Road Again”. But saying you don’t care for Willie Nelson is like saying that Elvis Presley was overrated, or that Abraham Lincoln gets too much press, or shrugging off the Bill of Rights as overrated claptrap. No, sorry, that’s just not okay. Loving Willie Nelson, like paying taxes and pretending to have an opinion about politics, is just part of being a citizen of the United States. Nobody’s asking you to memorize the lyrics to “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” or “Good Hearted Woman”, but if you happen to hear one of those songs on the radio and it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you’ve shamed yourself and your country. Why not just spit on the flag while you’re at all, ya fucking commie?

I called Willie Nelson to talk about his latest album, American Classic, a collection of standards (his third since 1978’s megahit Stardust) that comes out next Tuesday, August 25th. It took me almost a month to track down the 76-year-old singer—actually, if you include my entire history of trying and failing to interview Nelson, it’s been at least two years. “We just can’t find him,” his PR rep has repeatedly told me. Given Willie’s age and propensity for smoking immense amounts of cannabis, that’s actually pretty remarkable. One doesn’t usually encounter senior citizens who are quite so wily and elusive. But that’s why Willie Nelson is a legend.

Eric Spitznagel: During your almost 50-year career, you’ve dabbled in a diverse array of musical styles. You’ve done country, pop, gospel, rock, jazz, and even reggae. Is there a genre that you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole? Can we expect a Willie hip-hop record any time soon?

Willie Nelson: (Laughs.) Well, you know, I try to do what I think I can do. I’m not sure that doing a rap record would be the best idea I ever had. I like to stick with music I know I can play. I love classical, but I don’t think I could ever play it. I’m just not qualified.

You’ve never been tempted to pick up a French horn?

Oh, I’ve thought about it. But it never ends well. The only time I ever picked up a horn, nothing came out the other end. I was disappointed at the time, because I kinda thought I could play anything. But I guess that isn’t true.

You re-recorded “Always On My Mind” for American Classic, which was originally a huge hit for you in 1982. Is that what happens when you’ve been in the business this long? “Aw crap, I did that one in the 80s? Why didn’t anybody fucking tell me?!”

(Laughs.) That’s possible. In fact, I suggested to my producer that maybe I’d done that song enough. But Barbra Streisand had talked about maybe wanting to do “Always On My Mind” with me for the album, so that’s the reason we recorded it, just on the outside chance she’d do it. But then she wasn’t available, and we just had the version I did by myself. I honestly would’ve left it off the album, because I thought I already did a pretty good take on that twenty-seven years ago.

You also recorded “Baby it’s Cold Outside” with Norah Jones. I’m not sure how closely you’ve listened to the lyrics, but I’m pretty sure that song is about date rape.

Yeah. That’s what I liked about it. (Laughs.) It’s about this guy who’s finally found what he needs from this gal and he’s just going for it.

You’re kidding, right?

Oh, I don’t know. You think it’s about rape? I’ve been listening to that song for a long time and I never picked up on that. The song’s older than you and me put together, probably.

Those lyrics are kinda difficult to interpret any other way. When a song begins with a woman pleading “the answer is no” while trying to get out of a dude’s apartment, it seems pretty inevitable that their date ends with a police report.

(Laughs.) A lot depends on how you sing it. You could make any song sound creepy if you wanted. It’s all about the inflection. At least the lyrics aren’t too obvious.

I guess that’s true. It could be so much worse. (Sings.) “You’re hurting my arm/ Baby’s it’s cold outside.”

Yeah, yeah. That’s when you know something is really wrong. (sings.) “My leg’s turning blue/ Baby’s it cold outside.”

You’ve been touring with Bob Dylan this summer. What’s it like backstage? Is it all giggles and pillow fights?

Honestly, no, it’s not that exciting. I open the show, so I usually get to the stadium first. I go on at 6:10, play for about hour and then get out of the way so that John Mellencamp can come on. Then Bob Dylan finishes it up. By the time Bob goes onstage, I’m a couple hundred miles down the road.

So the two of you haven’t had a chance yet to sit down with a one-hitter and share war stories?

Nope, not yet. There’ll hopefully be time for that later. And I think it’ll take more than a one-hitter. (Laughs.)

How have you resisted walking over to Bob and ripping that god-awful mustache off his face?

Bob has a mustache? I didn’t notice.

It’s just horrible. It’s like a cross between Vincent Price and a 14-year-old boy trying to grow facial hair. I love the man’s music, but somebody has to shave that thing.

Well, I’ve never been one to carry around a razor. (Laughs.) So I think he’s safe with me.

You sold the rights to “Family Bible,” one of your first songs, for just $50 and it went on to become a gospel classic. In hindsight, do you feel cheated?

No, no, not at all. I needed the $50 real bad. If the same thing happened today and I needed $50, I’d sell another one.

Do you have any songs lying around that you’d be willing to sell to us for $50?

I’d have to see the money first.

You’re shockingly prolific. It seems like you’re releasing a new record every few months. In the time it’s taken to do this interview, have you composed another album worth of songs in your head?

(Laughs.) Yeah, I sure have. And I’ve already sent it to you. Check your email. I sent you mp3s of some rough cuts.

Wow. Thank you, Willie. And you’re not even going to charge us for this one?

Naw, that one’s for free. It’s not really my best work.

As a country music legend, can you do something to stop the mullet?

(Laughs.) I can try if you want, if you think it’s worthwhile. I’ll try to write a song that’ll make it happen.

Would you? Just rewrite “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” but make it about mullets.

(Laughs.) So it’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Grow Mullets?”

Hey, you’re the artist. I’m just trying to push you in the right direction.

I’ll see what I can do.

You did a song in 2006 called “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other,” in which you claimed that “Inside every cowboy there’s a lady who’d love to slip out.” Is your inner lady a redhead too?

Um. (Long pause.) I’m not sure I know exactly what you’re talking about.

I don’t think I could be any clearer. Does the female Willie Nelson have a fire crotch? Does the red-headed stranger have a red snatch patch?

Well c’mon, I gotta have some secrets. (Laughs.) I’ll tell ya, though, I don’t cross-dress a lot. And my voice is kinda lower than most, so I don’t think I could get away with that. I don’t have anything against anybody. I’m not prejudiced in any way that I can think of. That’s just not the guy I am.

You once claimed that marijuana is better than sex. You’ve either been having terrible sex or smoking some really, really, really incredible weed. Which is it?

I don’t think I ever said that marijuana is better than sex. If I did, I must’ve been really fucked up. But no, I don’t think I ever said that. Marijuana is a nice high, but that’s about all you can say about it.

You got stoned on the roof of the White House in 1978. Not that we’d ever try it, but if we happen to be in the White House and we happen to have a fat Austin torpedo on us, how do we get up to the roof?

(Laughs.) Oh god, it’s been too many years. It’s kinda hard to tell you on the phone. I’ll send you a map.

How’d you even find your way up there the first time? Did you just make a lucky guess?

The fella that I was with knew his way around, so I didn’t ask any questions. I just followed him.

Now that there’s a Democrat back in the White House, it’s probably safe to light up again. Have you gotten the call from Obama yet?

Not yet, but I’m expecting it any day. (Laughs.) Next time I see him, I’m gonna ask if there’s a new way up to the roof that I should know about.

You’ve got your very own flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. What’s the THC content on that?

It’s high. I’ll just say that. It’s very, very high. It’s the equivalent of eight pounds of Oaxacan.

Holy Christ.

Yeah, you need to be careful with this stuff. It’s a lot. One bowl at a time.

Bruce Robison wrote a song called “What Would Willie Do?” Given your history, don’t you think it’d make more sense to ask, “What Would Willie Not Do?”

I think so, yeah. (Laughs.)

Not everybody’s liver is as durable as yours.

It’s funny you said that. There was a guy who worked for me named Poodie Locke. He was my road manager for 35 years, and he died just a few weeks ago. I hated to lose him. There’s a picture on my ice box of Poodie I’m looking at it right now, and it says “What Would Poodie Do?” I crossed off “What Would” and wrote in “What Didn’t“. (Laughs.) But I guess that applies for me too, doesn’t it?

That’s an excellent question. What haven’t you done yet? Hand-gliding? Gator rasslin’? Hunting men for sport?

Well I don’t know. I’ve tried to do as much as I can, but every day has something new. That’s how I like it. I’m always surprised to find out that there’s still so much left to do. I may have to wait till tomorrow to see what it is, but I know there’s some things out there I haven’t done.

So you’re telling us you haven’t tasted the sweet nectar of human flesh?

(Laughs.) Can’t say that I have.

Despite your hard-living, you seem as healthy as ever. What’s your secret?

Well, here’s the thing. For a long, long time, I had to spend my days trying to recuperate and recover from all the bad stuff I did at night. I’d wake up in the morning and think, “Well, how much fun did I have last night?” Because I had to spend the entire day trying to make up for it. After awhile, I just got tired of it, and I just quit abusing myself so much at night. It made my days easier.

I’ve heard that you enjoy jogging. How did you discover that? And were you being chased at the time?

(Laughs.) You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But no, I’ve always been a big jogger. I like to run and ride my bike and swim. I’m also into martial arts. I’ve always been an athlete, ever since I was a boy. So it’s not unusual that I’m still doing it. Despite my reputation, I really do enjoy things that are good for me.

You recently earned a black belt in Taekwondo. Under what circumstance would Willie Nelson kick somebody’s ass?

Probably under no circumstances. A guy who really knows martial arts doesn’t have to kick anybody’s ass. He knows when to just get out of the way.

You have a reputation for carrying guns in public. Are you packing right now?

No, no, I don’t carry guns anymore. It’s not necessary. I don’t know if anybody else in my group does. There might be one or two guys, like some of the security guys, but I don’t know. I never really ask. But not me, I have no use for a gun anymore.

I find that vaguely depressing. The guy with the nickname “Shotgun Willie” doesn’t have an arsenal of firearms strapped to his hip? What about your guitar? Isn’t it named Trigger?

Well yeah, but Trigger was a horse. Trigger was Roy Rogers’s horse.

So your guitar can’t also be used as a weapon? I was hoping it was a James Bond kinda thing. If the audience starts getting mouthy, you could just mow ’em down.

(Laughs.) No, I’m afraid not. Trigger is just my horse. It’s not a weapon at all.

In the mid-60s, you briefly gave up music for pig farming. Do you still keep a few pigs around the house for inspiration?

Oh yes. You know there’s nothing prettier than a pig. Have you ever seen an ugly pig?

I can’t say that I have.

I guarantee you’ve never seen an ugly pig or an ugly bulldog. There’s just something about them that just turns me on. (Laughs.) I’ve got pigs all over the house.

Do you take your pigs on tour with you?

Absolutely. I’m always on tour, so I never get rid of them. I just keep pigs in the back of the tour bus. Have you ever heard of pigs in a blanket? Well, you ain’t ever seen nothing like these pigs. (Laughs.)

You wrote a book called The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes. What’s the dirtiest joke you’ve ever heard?

Hmm. (Long pause.) See, my idea of a really great dirty joke isn’t something you can share with everybody. You gotta watch yourself.

Come on, you can tell us. We won’t judge you.

Well, one of my favorites goes something like this…. A kid asks his mama, “How come you’re white and I’m black?” And she says, “Honey, from what I can remember of the party, you’re lucky you don’t bark.”

(Laughs.) Wow. That is good. But you’re right, probably not for everybody.

You gotta be careful. Not everybody can appreciate a funny goddamn joke.

In the 1979 comedy Electric Horseman, you said, “I’m gonna get myself a bottle of tequila and one of those Keno girls who can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch.” Thirty years later, are those still words to live by?

(Laughs.) Well, there are a few things these days that I don’t crave as much anymore. I can get along without Tequila. And it’s hard to find chrome trailer hitches these days.

(Long pause. We both burst into laughter.)

I think I hear what you’re saying. If given the chance, you wouldn’t turn down some private time with a Keno girl?

(Laughs.) Ooooh the Keno girls, I do love ’em. I’ll sing ’em a song

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

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Newsweek
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.”

Willie Nelson at 65

Monday, August 6th, 2018

Texas Monthly
by:  Gary Cartwright
April 1998

I first met Willie Nelson on August 12, 1972, a few hours before his first gig at the Armadillo World Headquarters, in Austin. Both of us were in our late thirties and relatively new to psychedelics and long hair. A couple of friends and I were in the small office that the Armadillo had set aside for Mad dog, Inc., a shadowy organization that Bud Shrake and I had founded at roughly that same time. Artist Jim Franklin was decorating a wall of the Mad Dog office with a portrait of a crazed Abe Lincoln when we spotted Willie and the band across the hall.

I didn’t recognize him at first. I had been a fan since 1966, when Don Meredith handed me a copy of Willie’s album that was recorded live at Panther Hall in Fort Worth. The album cover pictured a straight-looking country singer with short hair and a bad suit. He clutched a guitar, but from his looks it could have easily been a pipe wrench.

Willie was different now. His hair fell almost to his shoulders, and though he was still clean-shaven and passably middle class, he was obviously undergoing a metamorphosis. “I saw a lot of people with long hair that day,” Willie recalls. “People in jeans, T-shirts, sneakers, basically what I grew up wearing. I remember thinking: ‘F— coats and ties! Let’s get comfortable!’”

The real eye-opener for me came that night. Who in his right mind could have predicted that the same audience that got turned on by B.B. King and Jerry Garcia would also go nuts for Willie Nelson? This Abbott cotton picker had merged blues, rock, and country into something altogether original and evocative.

Willie Nelson Interview, Interview Magazine (August 2005)

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

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portrait: Julian Schnabel

Interview Magazine
by: Stephen Mooallem
August 2005

WILLIE NELSON: Outlaw, legend, Countryman, Rastafarian? It’s been a long and tempestuous road for music’s braided troubadour, and with a big-time movie, an old-time tour, and a good-time reggae record all on the go, he’s still the wildest ace in the deck.

Stephen Mooallem: So, this reggae record you’ve done, Countryman [Lost Highway], has been nearly a decade in the making.

Willie Nelson: Yeah. It started around 10 years ago when don Was and I went to Jamaica to see Chris Blackwell, who was the head of Island Records at the time. He had wanted us to do a reggae album, and we did one track, so we took it down to play it for him. He liked it, but I also took a copy of a CD I’d just produced called Spirit, and he liked that, too, so he said, “Let’s put that out now, then we’ll put the reggae record out later.” Meantime, the company had some shake-ups, so Chris moved into another spot, and the reggae album just lay around for a long time.

SM: Is reggae music something you’ve been into for a long time?

WN: No. When I first heard it, there was way too much rhythm for me. It took me a while to realize that they were doing something with all that rhythm and not just banging. So once I was able to figure out what was going on, I discovered how well country songs could adapt themselves to reggae rhythms.

SM: Why did you think they would adapt well? Were there similarities in any way?

WN: I tried doing my song “Undo the Right” in reggae style, and it turned out so well that I felt I could do any country song an put reggae rhythms behind it. Then these musicians told me that reggae started from people in Jamaica listening to music from United States radio. The people there had fiddles and guitars but no drums, so they added their own rhythms to what they were hearing. They swore that’s where reggae came from.

GM: How did you pick the songs for Countryman?

WN: A friend of mine told me I couldn’t do a reggae album without “The Harder They Come” and “Sitting in Limbo,” so I did those. Then I did a Johnny Cash song called “I’m a Worried Man.” When he found out I was doing a reggae album, he played me his song, and I said, “Yeah, that’d be good.” Then on the rest of them, I used a lot of my old songs — just country songs that I’d written back in the ’60s and ’70s.

SM: Was it hard waiting for this record to come out?

WN: Oh, yeah. But it’s the record business, so everything is different and strange. [laughs]

GM: You’re also in the new Dukes of Hazzard movie. How was that experience?

WN: Exceptionally good. Movies come along so rarely that when they do it’s kind of like a vacation. You pull the bus in there, and you stay for a week or two, and you get to see a lot of great people every day.

GM: You play Uncle Jesse in the movie.

WN: Most of my scenes are with Wonder Woman.

GM: Oh, Lynda Carter. Who does she play?

WN: She plays my girlfriend.

GM: Very nice.

WN: Yeah. She’s a great gal.

SM: Do you still like being on the road?

WN: Yes, I do. I enjoy being able to hang out during the day and not having anything to do until the nighttime. But I do run and try to stay in shape. With the way I abuse myself in the nighttime, I have to do something the next morning to at least even it out.

SM: Do you still keep late nights.

WN: No, I don’t really. A lot of the old things I used to do, I don’t do anymore. I don’t drink much anymore, so I have no reason to wake up feeling bad.

SM: Did you ever think when you were starting out that you would still be touring and playing music at this point in your life? What keeps you interested?

WN: Every day is a challenge, for one thing. And it keeps me off the streets. It keeps me from getting into trouble, because I don’t know how to do days off that well. For me, being out on the road, when you’ve got something to do every day, is good therapy. And my boys are playing with me, and they are just incredible musicians, so it’s fun to have them around.

SM: Do yout hinkyour sons are going to become musicians as well?

WN: No doubt. It just depends on how quick their mom will let them hit the road. She’s very interested in keeping them in school long enough to learn how to take care of the business part of it. I am, too, because i learned mainly by making mistakes. I started out playing in bands when I was around 8 or 9 years old, living in Abbott, Texas. I was living with my grandmother, who raised me. I’d play around town, in school and church and everything, and she said, “That’s all f ine, but I don’t ever want you to go on the road.” So there was a little old club down in West, Texas, about six miles south of Abbott. I went down there one night and played with a bohemian polka band. Nobody heard me, but I made $8. When I got home, my grandmother was a little upset. She said, “You promised me you wouldn’t go on the road.” Six miles away was “on the road” to her.

SM: What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever learned?

WN: Be careful what you say, and be careful what you promise, and be sure you’re able to do what you say you’ll do.

SM: Do you have a philosophy then about, how to go about things?

WN: Yes: Fortunately, we’re not in control.

interview
August 2005