Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

My Willie, by Kinky Friedman

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Backstage at any show has its similarities, whether it’s Broadway or the circus or the meanest little honky-tonk in Nacogdoches — the palpable sense of people out there somewhere in the darkness waiting for your performance, or being able to pull a curtain back slightly and experience the actual sight of the audience sitting there waiting to be entertained by someone who, in this case, happens to be you.  Standing alone in the spotlight, up on the high wire without a net, is something Willie Nelson has had to deal with for most of his adult life.

One night at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, I was standing backstage in the near darkness when a voice right behind me almost caused me to drop my cigar into my Dr. Pepper.  It was Willie, “Let me show you something,” he said, and he pulled a curtain back, revealing a cranked-up crowd beginning to get drunk, beginning to grow restless, and packed in tighter than smoked oysters in Hong Kong.  Viewed from our hidden angle, they were a strangely intimidating sight, yet Willie took them in almost like a walk in the trailer park.

“That’s where the real show is,” he said.

“If that’s where the real show is,” I said, “I want my money back.”

“Do you realize,” Willie continued in a soft, soothing, serious voice, “That ninety-nine percent of those people are not with their true first choice?”

“Do you realize,” I said, “that you and I aren’t with our true first choice either?  I mean, a latent homosexual relationship is a nice thing to have going for us, but sooner or later…”

Willie wasn’t listening to my cocktail chatter.  He looked out at the crowd for a moment or two longer and then let the curtain drop from his hand, sending us back into twilight.  “That’s why they play the jukebox,” he said.

Kinky Friedman
September 1997

Willie Nelson Guitar Center Interview (2006)

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Willie Nelson stands in the pouring rain to meet and greet hundreds of fans that have just watched him perform the 2-hour plus set he plays almost every night somewhere in the world. Trigger, his 1969 Martin classical, and Snub-nose, his custom semi-hollow electric, have delivered for Willie another stellar show, and accompanied his 67 year-old voice through one classic song after another. Finally, some two hours after the show has ended, after Willie has obliged the last request from a fan, he sits down for an interview with Guitar Center.

GC: Congratulations on your Grammy nomination and your induction into the Songwriting Hall of Fame.

Willie Nelson: Thank you.

GC: I’ve often heard you refer to yourself as a guitar player, rather than a songwriter. Why is that?

Willie Nelson: That’s really the way I made my living when I was coming along, when I was a young musician, by playing guitar. I could sing a little bit and as the years went by I would sing a little more. But, I really started out playing guitar in my band and other bands.

GC: Have you come to terms with the fact that a lot people also think of you as a great singer/songwriter?

Willie Nelson: Actually, I think of myself more now as a songwriter than I do a guitar player because of guys like Jackie King (a current member of Willie’s band) and Django Reinhardt and all the great guitar players. It’s humbling to be in the presence of that kind of talent.

GC: How big was Django’s influence on your playing?

Willie Nelson: Very. A great deal more than I really thought. A lot of the stuff I was playing earlier, I found out later had come from some Django stuff, his rhythms.

GC: A sense of place permeates your music. I hear a lot more Texas than Nashville.

Willie Nelson: Since I come from Texas, there’s a lot of Texas in me. Just because I cross a state line, I can’t get it all out.

GC: Let’s talk about recording. When you record, what kinds of mic’ing and room choices do you make?

Willie Nelson: If I’m producing the album myself, either one of those things can happen. The last time I recorded was around Christmas time. I did two albums. One was an acoustic album called Rainbow Connection in my studio in Luck, Texas. Then, I went to Los Angeles for a big session for another album called The Great Divide. So I’ve done both extremes. Honestly, I’d just as soon have one mic with the guitar, play acoustic, and let the guitar run through the vocal mic. It runs engineers crazy when you want to do that. (laughs)

GC: I think you’ve earned it.

What are your thoughts on digital recording versus analog recording?

Willie Nelson: Used to be, I wasn’t sure. I have two studios, now. I have a big studio in Austin where I have a whole lot of equipment, both digital and analog. I have another little studio across the street (from where I live), where I just did Rainbow Connection, and it’s all digital. It’s hard for me to tell the difference in the sound.

GC: So you’re happy with it?

Willie Nelson: Yeah. We’re happy with it.

GC: Neil Young is one guy I can think of who seems to be on the analog side of the fence.

Willie Nelson: Maybe so. Of course, it’s everyone’s personal opinion, however they like to hear themselves. I think it has a lot to do with the building you’re in. The studio we’re in is all very old wood, so it’s like recording inside a big speaker. It really sounds good.

GC: With regard to your songwriting process, how do you introduce new songs to the band?

Willie Nelson: We have soundchecks every day. Whatever we’re working on at the moment, we’ll go over those songs at soundcheck. Hopefully, by the time we get to the studio, we’ve already worked them up. It will just be a matter of going in and putting them down.

GC: So everything’s worked out live?

Willie Nelson: We work it out live on the stage. We did one of them tonight, “The Great Divide.” That’s one from the new album that’s coming out that we’re doing on the stage. The other album, Rainbow Connection, I haven’t started doing that yet, but I will.

GC: How does Martin feel about you using one of their guitars (Trigger) for over 30 years?

Willie Nelson: I’m sure they like that. They’ve made a bunch of Trigger look-alikes and they’re great guitars.

GC: Have you ever had the desire to play another acoustic guitar?

Willie Nelson: I’ve never found anything as good to me, for what I was trying to get, as Trigger. I could play it acoustically. I can run it through an amp. It still gets a great sound.

GC: What strings are on Trigger?

Willie Nelson: There’s a guy named Tunin’ Tom that takes care of my guitar. He has a lot of different strings that he uses. I think he has one particular brand that he tries to find, but I’m not sure what they are.

GC: You also played an electric tonight.

Willie Nelson: I have an electric there, on-stage, the little Snub-nose I call it. I play the blues stuff with that. I play it more during a longer show, but mostly I stay with the acoustic.

GC: Finally, is there a point or year in your career you look on with more fondness?

Willie Nelson: This is better than anything. It has been very good for a long time. For a long time before that, it was fine. It wasn’t great. I was doing well and traveling around. But, then things starting clicking pretty much back when the Red-Headed Stranger album came out. Since then, it has been easier. Recently, the last couple of years, it seems like we’ve gotten hotter than ever.

GC: Thank you very much for sitting down with me at the end of a long night.

Willie Nelson: Thank you for waiting.

(Sorry, I don’t know who the interviewer is.)

Willie Nelson: The Enduring Face of Country Music (Newsweek)

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

by:  Malcolm Jones Kevin Winter

Everyone knows Willie Nelson. I know this because the other day I saw a billboard advertisement that featured Nelson modeling an upscale line of menswear. Here’s the thing: the only type on the ad was the name of the clothing company. Obviously the advertisers assumed that you’d recognize Willie without any help from them. And why shouldn’t they?

In his 80 years on this planet, Nelson has written something like 1,000 songs, recorded more than 100 albums, and won 10 Grammys. “Crazy” was rated the No. 1 jukebox song of all time, according to NPR. Performing professionally since he was a teenager growing up in little Abbott, Texas, he has, he estimates, spent at least half of every year since then either recording or touring, playing nightclubs, honky-tonks, outdoor arenas, concert halls, and every other venue imaginable. Somewhere in there he found the time to appear in more than 20 movies and a handful of television shows. He co-founded Farm Aid, which has raised $43 million to help America’s small farmers hang on to their land, and he sits on the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). He has also written seven books, including an autobiography and a novel, played at the White House, and sung at the wedding of Bill and Melinda Gates (his fee: $1 million). Last year the city of Austin erected a statue in his honor—larger than life, naturally.

Somewhere along the line, he ceased being famous as a singer or a songwriter or an activist and simply became famous. You may not care for his songs. You may not give a damn about farmers or marijuana. But the chances that you live in this country and don’t know Willie Nelson are somewhere between slim and none. Like Louis Armstrong—and almost no one else, really—he is a musician whose appeal transcends genre, race, age, or fashion, a stranger to no one, and if you had to put a face on American music, that face would be Willie Nelson’s.At this point it gets a little trickier. Which Willie Nelson do you know? Is it Willie, the “good timing man” who has graced thousands of stages? The “outlaw” who along with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings taught Nashville how to reach a new generation of young listeners more comfortable with long hair and jeans than Nudie suits and beehive hairdos? Or is it the avuncular apostle of pot? The farmers’ friend or the proponent of biodiesel fuel? Animal-rights and LGBT advocate? Or the man so honorable that rather than declare bankruptcy he worked to pay off the $16.7 million he owed the IRS in back taxes? Or is it Willie Nelson, the exquisite vocal stylist who can navigate from honky-tonk weepers to the intricate verbal acrobatics of a Rodgers and Hart ballad without missing a beat (he may toy with the beat, sing behind it, ahead of it, or take it halfway to Mars, but he never misses). Or is it Willie Nelson, the peerless songwriter who once wrote “Crazy,” “Night Life,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” all in one road trip from Texas to Tennessee?   Like Walt Whitman, Willie Nelson contains multitudes.

All those questions flooded my mind on a recent autumn evening as I was ushered onto Nelson’s tour bus outside the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, where Nelson and the Family, his band, were set to play later that night. I’ve listened to him since a friend played me a record called Red Headed Stranger in 1975. I know probably an album’s worth of his songs by heart, and I’ve had his voice inside my head for so long that it has become an old friend. Despite all that, I realized while waiting for that bus door to wheeze open that I really had no idea who I was about to meet. I didn’t even know what to call him. “Mr. Nelson” seemed too formal somehow, and just “Willie” too presumptuous. In the end I went with “Willie” on the shaky grounds that even one-sided friendships have their prerogatives.

The stocky man who stands to greet me in the bus’s kitchen certainly looks familiar: black jeans, T-shirt, and sneakers, and the once-red hair now gone to silver but still long enough to make two chest-length braids. And there is no mistaking that piercing pair of dark brown eyes that know more than they will ever tell, or the still-boyish drawl that has purred out of countless jukeboxes, record players, car radios, and concert halls and is now asking if I want some coffee.We sit facing each other in a small but comfortable booth. A laptop lies on the table between us, and behind his head is a bulletin board covered in photographs of children and grandchildren. Up close, the famous face looks like a well-creased map of rough country, and the unwavering gaze appears less intimidating and maybe even secretly amused, as though to say, there’s nothing you can ask me that I haven’t been asked a dozen times or more, but let’s do this anyway.

I begin by asking if music was an inevitable path for him. “I think so,” he says after a moment of silence. “My parents, grandparents were all musicians. I think there’s something in the DNA.” His parents split up when he was a small boy, and Willie and his sister, Bobbie, who plays piano in his band, were raised by their grandparents, who both taught music and ran the choir at the Methodist church (among other jobs—Willie’s grandfather was also the town’s blacksmith, and Willie grew up picking cotton to help the family out). The Nelsons were poor, but music mattered to them, even in the depths of the Depression: there was a piano in the house for Bobbie, and Willie got a Stella guitar when he was 6 years old.

The family didn’t have a record player, but they did have a Philco radio. “I grew up listening to all kinds of music,” he says. “I’d hear blues, I’d hear country, I’d hear Western swing, and I could see how it all fit together.” Before he got the guitar, Willie wrote poems, but as soon as he learned to form a few chords, he started writing his own songs. His early influences included Floyd Tillman, Leon Payne, and Ted Daffan. “They’re some great songwriters.” But the king of them all, for Willie and most every other music lover in the American Southwest, was Bob Wills, the fiddle-playing bandleader whose Texas Playboys set the standard for big-band excellence for most of three decades.“A lot of the Bob Wills stuff was for the Texas dance halls, the California dance halls, the Oklahoma dance halls, and it was very popular dance music,” says Willie, who got a chance to study his idol up close when he, just 16, helped his brother-in-law book Wills for a local dance (his career as a booking agent ended almost as soon as it began when someone ran off with the money from the ticket sales). Willie still remembers how tightly Wills kept things moving from one song to the next so people never had a chance to leave the dance floor, and how he would simply point to a musician when he wanted a solo. Two hours later, watching Willie run his own show inside the Capitol Theater, I thought back to what he had said about Wills, and I was struck by how much of it plainly stuck with him. You don’t think of the scruffy man who practically invented outlaw country as a disciplinarian, but no one puts on a tighter show.When I suggested that these days people seem to have forsaken dancing for just sitting and listening to concerts, Willie shakes his head. “They still dance a helluva lot in Texas!” he says with a laugh. “They haven’t quit down there. They didn’t get the word.” But is there a difference playing for people who are dancing? “Yeah, you feel close to the crowd. They feel part of you. There’s something about working a beer joint that brings you right to the people. I love it and always have.”

What’s the weirdest place you ever played, I ask him. “I don’t know,” he says, looking genuinely puzzled. “I don’t know what weird is.”WHEN WILLIE was a teenager, there wasn’t much difference between the people in the audience and the musicians on the bandstand, many of whom had taken to music as the fastest way out of the cotton patch. “And you were probably going with a waitress in the beer joint,” he chuckles. The thing is, you could hear that shared experience in the songs and the voices that sang them. It’s a sound, Willie agreed, that’s been mostly scrubbed out of modern country.With the instincts of a true gentleman, he politely declined all invitations to criticize what passes for country on most radio stations these days (“I don’t get a chance to listen to local radio a lot, so I don’t know what they’re playing”). But now that SiriusXM radio has given him his own channel, Willie’s Roadhouse, we have a very good idea of what he thinks a country music station should sound like, which turns out to be more Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell but not too many of the modern “hat acts.” Even contemporary artists sound traditional on the Roadhouse. “I like to think that on our channel we play all kinds of music, and one way or another we pull it together,” he says. “We play a little Vern Gosdin, a little Dolly, then we’ll do some Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel, some Merle Haggard, Texas swing. We pretty well cover it. It may not be for every ear, but nothing is.”Nor would he be inveigled into carping about the Nashville establishment.

Later, on stage, he’d sing “Me & Paul,” his autobiographical song about road life with his longtime drummer Paul English that hilariously and somewhat bitterly encapsulates his odd-man-out status with the country establishment back in the ’60s (“Nashville was the roughest”). But in the privacy of his bus, he is downright diplomatic when the subject comes up. “Nashville was a different town back then,” he says. “It’s changed a lot now. A lot of people are thinking more progressive now. It’s all coming together, so it’s all good.”WILLIE NEVER made it in Nashville as a singer. But as a songwriter he became a superstar.

He had spent the ’50s bumming around, playing Texas honky-tonks and taking the occasional deejay job (and selling encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners door-to-door). But ever since he cobbled together his first book of songs at age 12 (with a hand-drawn cover adorned in cursive script resembling a cowboy’s lariat), he has been dead serious about songwriting. He had his first big success in 1960 when Claude Gray had a hit with “Family Bible,” a good but rather pious song by Willie standards that gave no hint of the complex, open-a-vein material that soon followed and made him one of Nashville’s go-to songwriters.Ask him today to name his favorites in his own catalog, and he’ll deflect, as though he doesn’t want to be rude, even to a song: “It’s kinda like kids,” he says. “You can’t hardly separate one from the other. If you took the time to write it, put a melody to it, sing it, record it, whatever, then it’s important.” But when he does relent and starts listing favorites (“Crazy,” “Hello Walls,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Night Life,” “Pretty Paper,” “On the Road Again”), they’re almost all songs made famous by other singers and the songs that cemented his reputation as one of the best writers ever to cross the Nashville city limits.

About songwriting, Nelson says, “It’s just a thought process where you hear a good line and you think, well, maybe I’ll take that line and try to write a song. Or it could be a melody that you look for a line to put to it. Works both ways for me.”

Willie stuck it out in Nashville for most of the ’60s, but the industry never figured out how to sell this man with the dark songs, a reedy tenor, and a jazzman’s sense of phrasing. Yet whenever he became frustrated with his lack of recording success, he would retreat to writing, the one thing that always earned him respect—and generous paychecks. “I felt like Nashville was good to me” as a songwriter, he says. “And for a time I lived up there on my farm at Ridgetop and raised horses and cattle and hogs, just kinda retired for a while and just wrote songs. I enjoyed living in Tennessee. Great place.” The farm gave him perspective, reminding him that there was more to the world than being a star. “I had a guy work for me there, Mr. Hughes. Lived there all his life, there in Goodlettsville, and he had never seen the Grand Ole Opry. He was about 70 years old then, and had never been. He didn’t want to go. So that was a big thing to a lot of people, but to a lot of people there it wasn’t that big a deal.

”No one alive knows more about songwriting than Willie Nelson, but he would be the first to tell you that he can’t explain it. “It’s just a thought process where you hear a good line and you think, well, maybe I’ll take that line and try to write a song. Or it could be a melody that you look for a line to put to it. Works both ways for me.” But either way, it’s a mystery: “You wonder where it comes from.” As for trying to teach someone how to write a song, “I wouldn’t even know where to start.”The distinctive thing about his songs is their deceptively easygoing ability to balance the specific and universal. “Sad Songs and Waltzes” is written from the point of view of a songwriter (“I’m writing a song all about you/a true song as real as my tears/But you’ve no need to fear it/’cause no one will hear it/’cause sad songs and waltzes/aren’t selling this year”). But it doesn’t matter that most of us who hear that tune aren’t songwriters; the sadness at the core of that lyric could pierce the heart of anyone done wrong by love. Sometimes the transaction is more personal. In “It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way,” a frustrated father calls out to a teenager slipping past the bonds of parental control. I first heard the song when my kids were just becoming teens, and what I loved about the lyrics was that no lessons were imparted, just the vivid ache of helplessness that any parent feels at the loss of childhood. The best of Willie’s songs, certainly the ballads, work similar magic, articulating emotions we’ve all felt but couldn’t find the words for.

After his Ridgetop farmhouse burned down two days before Christmas in 1970, Willie moved back to Texas. “When I went to Nashville, things were already starting to click in Texas. I was drawing crowds there. And then when I got to Nashville, I kind of got stymied, because I was trying to play for the whole world. So I thought, I’ll just go on back to Texas and play there a while. And it was a good decision.” There would be one more move to Nashville, but by the early ’70s, Willie was ensconced in the Lone Star State, where he encountered an entirely new audience: young longhairs bred on rock and roll and the blues were turning up at his shows, and when Willie helped host the first annual Dripping Springs Reunion music festival in 1972, a precursor of his famous Fourth of July picnic concerts, the audience was equal parts Texas country folks and Woodstock nation, and nobody got beat up.In 1975 he recorded Red Headed Stranger, a concept album conceived and largely written on a road trip from Colorado to Texas (Willie, typically modest, sees nothing in that feat to boast about: “It’s not that unusual, really, because when you start writing, you think of one and then think of another. I wrote a couple of concept albums that way. One song led to another”). The antithesis of the string-drenched countrypolitan sounds emanating from Nashville, the album was so raw, so sparely produced (studio costs: $4,000) that Columbia Records thought he was handing them a demo.


Willie Nelson: He Will break your poor Yankee heart

Saturday, July 9th, 2016


Willie Nelson:  A Man for All Americans
by Charly Wilder

He’s recorded thirty-six albums, appeared in twenty-nine films, written four books, married four women, and fathered nine children. He’s been a Simpsons character, an ice-cream flavor, and a Baywatch guest star. He pretty much always seems to be in a good mood, except when he’s singing, and then he’ll break your poor Yankee heart.

Sometimes he seems more myth than man. He turns corn into diesel. Grown men cry in his midst. The unthinkable merger of beard and braid becomes something almost… elegant.

Then there’s his record of activism, which makes Tim Robbins look like a dabbler. In addition to Farm Aid, UNICEF, fair treatment of horses (you heard me), and First Amendment rights advocacy, Nelson has his other great pet project: marijuana legalization. And if that last one may not be entirely altruistic, we don’t think that will stop a certain constituency from bestowing appreciative, if somewhat meandering, thoughts on Willie this fine April day.

All that’s great, but it’s not why we love him. We love the guy for his nearly fifty years of great music, and for something even better: still being here to play it.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED: Willie Nelson on Marriage, Drugs, and More
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE: … to Get High with Willie Nelson (and Snoop Dogg)
PLUS: Nelson Makes Our List of 75 Albums Every Man Should Own
THE LIST OF MEN: Why You Should Emulate Willie Nelson

Farm Aid 2009 (Rolling Stone)

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

Photo:  Paul Natkin

by:  Dan Michel

Farm Aid 2009 hit St. Louis’ Verizon Wireless Ampitheatre yesterday with Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Willie Nelson leading a pack of performers that also included Wilco, Jason Mraz and late addition Gretchen Wilson. Local farmers and families packed the venue’s lawn eating locally produced meats and produce and donning shirts that read “Stop Factory Farms” and “Farmers Kick Ass.”

The show marks the first Farm Aid for Missouri, and the ninth consecutive year Matthews, Mellencamp, Young, and Nelson, all Farm Aid board members, have headlined the annual concert.  Since its inception in 1986, Farm Aid has raised more than $35 million to help support America’s family farmers.

Wilco took the stage at dusk and brought the crowd to its feet with a six-song set that included “Impossible Germany” and “Heavy Metal Drummer” — a song about hanging out in St. Louis’ Laclede’s Landing — and “Casino Queen,” an ode to a local riverboat casino.

Dave Matthews — fresh off his headlining set at Austin City Limits — and Tim Reynolds played an acoustic set with songs from Matthews’ newest album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. The show hit an upswing when Farm Aid President Willie Nelson joined the duo on stage for “Gravedigger.” Nelson’s slow, steady voice was almost overpowered by the crowd’s raucous applause.

“There are few people like [Willie] on Earth,” says Matthews after the song. “The more we get behind things he believes in, the better we’ll be.” Matthews then finished his set strong with a sweet and somber version of “Dancing Nancies.”

John Mellencamp opened on an energetic note with “Pink Houses.” After, he briefly addressed the crowd. “When we put [Farm Aid] together 24 years ago, I don’t think we knew what we were getting ourselves into,” he said before thanking the audience and playing a solid versions of “Check It Out” and “Small Town.”

Neil Young walked onstage wearing a “Stop Factory Farms” shirt, and immediately said to the already energized crowd, “We want our farms back!,” before segueing into “Sail Away.” Young kept the show’s energy up by inviting Nelson on stage for an apropos and much appreciated version of “Homegrown” and concluding with “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere.”

photo by: Squires

By the time Willie Nelson took the stage, a good portion of the audience had dispersed, but the dedicated fans that stayed behind were met with a “Whiskey River” opener. Then, Nelson invited his son Lukas, who played earlier in the day with his band the Promise of the Real, to join him for an amazing version of “Me & Paul.” The younger Nelson’s impressive guitar solos garnered emphatic cheers from the audience. Throughout his set, Nelson didn’t shy away from many of the songs that gave him his name, such as “Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “On The Road Again” and “Always On My Mind.”

To finish out the show, Nelson invited many of the day’s performers onstage, along with traditionally dressed Native Americans, to perform gospel renditions of “I’ll Fly Away,” “Amazing Grace,” and “I Saw The Light.”

photo by Paul Natkin

“When Willie Nelson sings, Time Stands Still”

Saturday, July 9th, 2016


— Rollings Stone

Willie Nelson in Mucchio Selvaggio the Rock Magazine

Thursday, June 30th, 2016


Country Style: Willie Nelson: A legend you can touch

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016


Thanks, Phil Weisman.

Willie Nelson Interview, “The Country Gentleman” (Autumn 1979)

Monday, June 20th, 2016


Willie Nelson: The Vibes of Texas are Upon Us

Ask Willie Nelson, the guru of country music, about his brief career as a pig farmer, and the usually sublime Nelson explodes into embarrassed laughter.  “You heard about  that, did you?” he says when the laughter subsides.  “Yes, I tried that.  I really did.  I lost a fortune on pigs.  Had the fattest pigs in town — or the country, I should say.  Paid 25 cents a pound for ’em, fattened ’em up for six months, and when I sold ’em, I got 17 cents a pound.  Lost my ass and all its fixtures.  But I later found out from the old-timers that you can’t just raise hogs one year and expect to make a killing and get out.  You’ve got to stay with it.”


[Thanks so much to Phil Weisman, from Illinois, for sending me this magazine.  I love magazines, especially from overseas.  They are rare, and the interviews are always interesting. ]

The same rule applies to the music business, of course.  But not long after his pig fiasco, some 10 years ago, Nelson sold his farm outside Nashville, where he’d gone in vain to establish himself as a singer as well as a songwriter, and returned to his native Texas.  To some in Music city, it might have looked as if Nelson had given commercial stardom about as much chance as he did pig farming.  But Nelson was committed to his own kind of music — simple but strong songs wrapped around his own soft baritone and acoustic guitar, rather than around the prevalent “Nashville sound” of layers of strings, singers — and syrup.  instead of compromising his music, Nelson remembered the pig farming rule and decided to “stay with it,” although returning to Texas surely meant the end of his dream of national stardom.

But there, something extraordinary happened.  By blending his own songs — “Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Hello Walls,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” — with traditional Texas, Mexican, blues, rock and even the old pop and country standards, Willie Nelson bridged the gap not only between country and pop, but between cultures.  His concerts attracted a curious mixture of hippies and rednecks, youngsters and oldsters, conservatives and liberals.  And soon people everywhere were talking about a revival of Texas music, and about the birth of something they called the “Austin sound.”  What they were taking about mostly was Willie Nelson.

And they are still talking, far after most careers have seen their peak.  “I’ve thought about that.  I’ve wondered, ‘Well, am I peaking yet?'” says Nelson, 46 years old and looking every dusty mile of it, stretched out on his bus before a show.  “So far, I don’t think we have peaked,” he continues. “I think everything just seems to be getting a little bit better every day.”

Indeed.  Willie the Youth Hero is about to become Willie the Movie Star.  His debut film, The Electric Horseman, with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, is due out in December.   By the time it gets into the theaters, another movie, Sad Songs and Waltzes, which Nelson describes as “just an ol’ movie about a guy with a band on the road.” will have started production in Texas.  Still another, The Songwriter, is due to get off the ground in 1980.   And better yet, a film version of Nelson’s classic concept album, Red Headed Stranger, is now in the planning stages and Willie is holding out for Redford tn the title role.  But if Nelson is happy about all that, he is most excited about the fact that Newsweek columnist Pete Axthelm is writing the story of his life, to be both a book and a movie.

How does acting compare to Nelson’s usual line of work?  “It’s really easier,” he replies, setting his Adidas shod feet up on the cushion opposite him.  “You’ve got more time to do what you have to do.  The only thing about it is you never know how good you did until later.  In fact, I still don’t know how good I did.  Well, actually,’ he adds, looking sheepish, “I thought I was good.”  The laughter rolls again.  ‘”I mean, what I was doing wasn’t that hard, and there wasn’t really that much to do.  They let you be yourself.  In fact, they encourage it.  The only thing about making movies is that they last from 10 to 12 weeks, and during that time, I don’t play as much music, of course, and I miss it.  But when we start this next one, I’m planning on playing on weekends.  I’m still trying to play 200 nights a year, and I’d go crazy not playing for three months.”

From the pace he sets when he’s not before the camera, some might say Nelson has already crossed that fine line.  He has “four or five album projects going on in my head,” and several he’s working on now, including a collection of the songs of Kris Kristofferson.  He’s thinking about a Christmas album, and a Son of Stardust LP, after his phenomenally successful album of pop standards.  Early summer saw the release of his duet album with Leon Russell, with whom he toured for several months, and another album, with country giant George Jones, is ready to go.  In between all that, he managed to play Las Vegas and put in an appearance at the White House, where he and Charley Pride presented President Carter — who shows up from time to time at Willie’s concerts, sporting a backstage pass — with a special award from the Country Music Association.

Today, about the only other place Nelson and Pride see each other is a at golf tournaments.  But years ago, at the height of the civil rights movement, the two met in far less genteel surroundings — and performed to far less receptive audiences.  When Pride had but one country single on the market, Nelson took him on a package tour.  The first stop out — in Louisiana — Pride was refused registration in the hotel. At the show that night, Nelson gave Pride a 10-minute build-up, telling the audience what a big star they were about to see.   Then he brought him out on stage — and kissed him full on the mouth.  “I think them folks were so hot to lynch old Willie for puttin’ em on that they clean forgot that Charlie was black,” Nelson’s drummer, Paul English, was to tell a reporter years later.  But “by the end of the tour, Willie was using him to close the show.  He made Charley a star before he’d even cut an album.”

Mention it to Nelson and the trademark orange beard breaks for a smile.  “Yeah, it was a little bit scary back in those days,” he admits.  “And I guess it was the first time that a black kid had ever crawled up in front of thousands of white people and started singin’ country songs.  That took a lot of nerve on his part, too.”

Nelson knows a lot about nerve.  Not too many years before, he was playing places so mean that the owners had to string chicken wire across the bandstand to keep the musicians safe from flying beer bottles.  That, of course, was before Willie cultivated the legion of fans that were “Matthew, Mark, Luke and Willie” T-Shirts and turn out 80,000 strong at his picnics every Fourth of July.

A lot of people have wondered which came first with Nelson and the Austin sound.  Was the town already a hotbed for a new breed of musicians, or did Willie’s success make it so?

“All the ingredients were there,” he answers.  “I just happened to stumble onto an audience, really.  I saw that there were a lot of young people that liked country music, and I started looking for the young crowds because I enjoyed that energy.  So we started seeking each other out, I guess.”

“But back to your question — I don’t believe in the Austin myth.  I don’t believe the Nashville myth or the New York myth.  I think there are good musicians all over the world making music.  If they stop in Nashville, they’re not going to sound any different than if they stop in Austin.  Now, there might be some towns where good musicians gather more than they do in other towns.  Austin is that place, for sure.  There’s probably more good bands playing live music in Austin than in any other city in the country.  The climate is good, the attitude of the people is good, and then it’s just a nice place to go.”

Contrary to what other’s say about a growing deterioration of the “let’s-get-together-and-pick-and-be-friends” feeling in Austin, Nelson says the town “hasn’t changed much over the years.  there’s more people down there now.  But it’ s like Nashville and every other place — it’s grown.”

Nashville has grown particularly in its tolerance of country/rock and pop in the last few years, and especially in its attitude toward Willie Nelson.  Where Nelson was once branded an “outlaw” for his approach to music, his lifestyle and dress (no Nudie suits for him), Nashville now welcomes him with open arms.

Of course, record sales have a lot to do with it.  Wanted:  The Outlaws, the album Nelson cut in 1976 with his pals Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser, was the first country album to “go platinum’ selling more than one million copies.  Even Nashville is willing to let bygones be bygones in a situation like that.  So much so that by the next CMA awards, Willie and Waylon were the toast of the town.

“That was a big evening,” Willie says, remembering.  “I just enjoyed it.”  that’s all?  Just “enjoyed” it?  Didn’t he really just revel in it?  “Yeah,” he says, laughing again.  “It was nice.  It was real nice.”   “They threw a big party for us.  We played all night long, I think, at two or three different places.”

Suddenly, “outlaw” had new status.  Everybody wanted to know ol Willie and ol’ Waylon, and be an outlaw, too, if he could.  Of course, Nelson had had supporters in Nashville all along, among them Tom T. Hall, who wrote “Come on Back to Nashville” (Ode to the Outlaws)” for Nelson, Jennings and Roger Miller.  The first time he ever heard of Willie Nelson, it was 1961, and Hall had just gotten out of the Army.  “I was sitting one night listening to the juke box, and I heard Faron Young singing “Hello, Walls'” Hall remember.  “I went over and watched the record turning around and around, and it said, “‘Willie nelson’ in little letters under the titles.  I said, ‘There’s a new writer in Nashville, and boy, that sonofabitch can write songs.'”

Nelson laughs uproariously.  “Well,” he says finally, “you know all songwriters are sonofabitches.  You hear ’em say, ‘That sonofabitch can really write songs,’ or, ‘That sonofabitch can’t write.”  He laughs again.  “It’s kind of a brotherhood term, I think.  At least I hope it is.  I think everybody likes to be liked.  I like people and there’s no reason for people not to like me, really.  I don’t give ’em any reason.  Try not to.”

And indeed, Nelson’s temperament has been described as “buddah-like.”  He is a firm believer in the power of positive thinking, saying, “I just can’t be around anything or anybody negative.”  Nor will he tolerate hassles or rush to keep himself on schedule. All in all, he seems perpetually “laid back.”  In interviews, he appears to be the consummate “nice guy,” refusing to say anything critical about various of his musical peers, and politely skirting the issue on combustible topics.

But there are also reports of a reverse, dark side of his personality, of a temper that has at least once caused him to rip a ringing telephone off the wall.  Which is it then, Buddha or Brutus?  “Well, those are contradictory reports, I’d say, ” Nelson says between chuckles. “Somebody’s lyin’, he adds, “Or else they’re both right.”  But in serious moments, Nelson does contemplate his self-image.  “That’s a hard thing to talk about,” he says.  “It changes every second.  really.  Basically, I’m pleased with everything.  I like myself O.K.  I don’t think there’s anything I’d like to change.”

Except perhaps the constant infringement on his privacy.  Last year or so, the ultra-viligent fans forced Nelson to move his wife Connie and their two young daughters off their Austin ranch and retreat to the relative quiet of Evergreen, Colorado.  Before they left, they made a last-ditch effort to curtail the fanatics — some of whom come because they believe Nelson has magic powers of healing — by constructing a six-foot-high, three-foot-thick stone wall around the property.  Lest the die-hards think Willie was just kidding, a electrified barbed wire fence was strung atop the solid steel gate, just as he had along the wall.  For those who like it in words, he posted “No Hunting or Trespassing” and “No Admittance” signs between the barbed wire.  And for those with a legitimate message, he put in a closed-circuit television system and a call button with instructions to “Press the button, but do not hold the button down.”  From the pictures, it looked more like a military post than the dwelling of a good ol’ boy turned country superstar.

How does anyone hold on to any semblance of normal private life in such a situation?  “Well, I don’t know,” he says, running a hand over his face.  “Of course, I haven’t had one of those in years.  I’ve about forgotten what a private life is.  But the kids do it out of love, so I guess that makes it all right.  I moved mainly for my wife and family’s benefit, because I wasn’t there that much anyway.  I just got ’em out of the line of fire a little bit.”

Years ago, when nelson was paying his dues in honky-tonks, not even his most reckless dreams allowed for success on this grand scale, or at least certainly not the kind of success that reportedly brings him $40,000 a night.  “That’s right,” he agrees, shaking his pig-tailed head.  “I never thought about it seriously.  Of course, I didn’t know what to expect, but there’s no way you could imagine this — ever.”

but if Nelson is a national phenomenon, he is nothing short of Legend in Texas.  In years to come, they’ll probably erect a statue to him there.  the thought of it embarrasses the ever-humble Nelson, who says would be a waste of time and money.  But if they do, he adds, “Tell ’em I’m not in favor of it unless we can approve and design it.  It’d require a lot of thought, but there’d have to be a guitar on it, and a girl, and, of course, a horse…”

But not a pig. “Oh, no,” he says, “No pig.  But you know, I was raised in a small farming town.  (Abbott, Texas, just north of Waco), so I farmed all my life, really,  Usually for somebody else.  But I raised for the FFA, and back in school, I used to raise one pig at a time, to show.  I just never tried to raise as many before as I did in Nashville.  Never will again, either.”

Perhaps Nelson just wasn’t cut out for farming.  Asked if he remembers the moment when he realized he’d “made it” in music, he hesitates not a minute.  “Yeah, he says, “I was 11 years old.  I’d been making $2 a day chopping cotton, and I went out one night and made 48 playing music.  From that day on, I had it made.  that was the turning point.  That was it.  No more cotton chopping for me.”

“But I couldn’t begin to tell you what it is I do, except exchange energy with the audience,” he continues.  “I don’t know why we draw the old ones and the young ones, too, except the people come to be part of a togetherness, to be part of an audience that’s made up of all kinds of people of all ages.  And then some people come to hear one thing, and maybe some come to hear something else.  I don’t think I could define my style, though.  I’m not sure I’d even want to.  Bob Dylan said one time that when you start defining something, you destroy it.  That sounded real wise to me.  Ol Bob’s pretty smart.  I think I’ll use that one.  Besides, ” he says, staning up as his band plays the first chords of the show, “I’m not gonna question it.  I’m just gonna enjoy it.”





Texas Hatters

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Bobbie and Willie Nelson both wear hats made by Texas Hatters, in Lockhart, Texas. Paul and Billy English also had them hand make hats for them, too.

For more information about Texas Hatters, to see more pictures of their hats, and famous people wearing their hats — or to buy a hat for yourself, visit their website:

I think you’ll enjoy their history, from their website:

Marvin Gammage, Sr. had quit school to help take care of his family after his father lost an arm in a tragic incident. So, at the young age of 13, he was hired as a delivery boy at a hat company in Houston, Texas. He was a reliable and hard worker, which gained him a place as an apprentice hatter later on.

Despite his eighth grade education, he was a mathematical genius, which led to his other career in the chemical industry as a chemical engineer’s apprentice, or stillman, as I’m told he was called. This career moved him and family a few times and so the hat shop moved also.

Too often a move meant a new name for the shop; Houston Hatters, Pasadena Hatters, Abilene Hatters, Top Hatters and Marvin E. Gammage Hatters. It was in 1965 that he finally settled on Texas Hatters after his son, Marvin Jr., better known as Manny, made the statement, “You’re never gonna move outside of Texas Dad. So, why don’t you just call it Texas Hatters and you’ll never have to change it again.”

Manny had grown up in the hat business, as both of his older sisters, Alice and Sally, and younger brother, Gerry, had done, but for Manny, hat making was a calling not unlike the priesthood for some. He spent as much time as he could at his father’s shop watching and learning from his father and his mother. (more…)

Willie Nelson, Best in Texas

Sunday, June 19th, 2016


Willie Nelson: The Journal of Country Music

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Willie Nelson
born: April 30, 1933
Abbott, Texas

My grandparents raised me from the time I was six months old, and my grandfather started teaching me guitar when I was five.  The first guitar I ever owned was a Stella, a Sears Roebuck guitar that cost six dollars.  I was writing a few poems then — why, I don’t know.  But all of a sudden I was putting some of the chords I’d learned to the words of the poems I’d written.  My grandmother, who played piano and organ, taught my sister Bobbie how to read music.  She got some sheet music and I would learn from her.  When she’d learn a song, she’d teach it to me.  There were always people coming by the house and wanting us to play a song for them, and we always did.  And at school at study hall or for special programs, we’d play.  Back then, I thought we’d always be together and always be playing.

I grew up listening to Mexican music — I had a lot of Mexican friends in school in Abbott.  I’ve been listening to Mexican and Tex-Mex music all my life.  And I love to play it.  And Django Reinhardt is a hero of mine.  He has the gypsy touch, which is very close to the Spanish flavor.

I listened to the radio a lot and to a lot of country music — Bob Wills, Roy Acuff, Hank Williams.  I listened to the Grand Ole Opry and to the blues that came out of New Orleans.  We listened to the Johnny Mercers and Hoagy Carmichaels.  Whatever was being played in the radio and the jukeboxes was what we were playing because we played a lot of clubs and when you take requests you play what’s current.  We’d play ’stardust’ or “Fraulein” or “San Antonio Rose.”  I was playing with a band called Bud Fletcher and the Texans.  Me and my brother-in-law booked Bob Wills one night in a little club in Whitney, Texas, called Shady Grove.  While he was there, I got up and sang with him that night.  Later on I got to sing with him again.  And I wrote the liner notes for one of his albums.  He and I got to be buddies.

Another Willie Nelson cover: Leon Bridges and Robert Ellis, “Funny, How Time Slips Away “

Saturday, June 11th, 2016
Robert Ellis was joined by Leon Bridges in St. Louis to perform Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Eric Freeman

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Robert Ellis was joined by Leon Bridges in St. Louis to perform Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Eric Freeman

Read more:
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook

Leon Bridges might be best known for spinning his own soul revival, but that doesn’t mean he can’t lay down a classic country number with a fellow Texan — in this case, a cover of Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” with Robert Ellis. Bridges made a surprise appearance at Ellis’ St. Louis show earlier this week, where both guitar men ditched their axes for a smooth and sultry Detroit-meets-Nashville version of the often-recorded tune: Ellis on the keys, Bridges clutching a glass of the brown stuff. Watch the fan-shot video above.

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Approaching genre with a more elastic point of view isn’t anything new to Ellis, particularly in the wake of his most recent self-titled LP, which was inspired by everything from ambient jazz to the Eighties pop records of composer Randy Newman. And covering Nelson isn’t out of bounds for Bridges, either — he sang “Funny How Time Slips Away” at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., back in January, when the Red Headed Stranger was awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. This particular track from Nelson’s extensive catalog has been sung by everyone from Elvis to the Supremes to Al Green and Lyle Lovett, whose duet version took home a Grammy.

“I’m so confused and perplexed by what people think of genres right now,” Ellis tells Rolling Stone Country. “The tuff that people think sounds one way, to me, sounds completely different. My criteria for listening to music is a lot different than how most people listen to things. Harmony and writing are much more fundamental in a song than the accent someone has.”

Willie Nelson GQ Interview (Aug. 31, 2015)

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

photo:  Pari Dukovic
by:  Chris Heath

Marijuana’s state-by-state march toward full legalization would never have happened without Willie Nelson. He’s 82 now, and he’s spent nearly half his life asAmerica’s most famous stoner. But this fall he’ll be making the leap from aficionado to entrepreneur. What Paul Newman did for tomato sauce, what Francis Coppola did for Cabernet, Willie Nelson is hoping to do for weed

“I’ve bought a lot of pot in my life,” Willie Nelson tells me, “and now I’m selling it back.”

Willie Nelson has this kind of answer—stock, pithy—for all kinds of questions, and he’s been using them for decades. Bring up his brief abortive stint at college studying business administration? Invariably he’ll soon say, “I majored in dominoes.” Mention the massive sum he owed the IRS in the early ’90s—somewhere between $17 million and $32 million—and you’ll get the one about how it isn’t so much “if you say it real fast.”

As time passes, the world offers up new questions, and so sometimes new answers are required. Once he reached the age when people began asking about retirement, Nelson would reply that he doesn’t do anything but play music and golf: “I wouldn’t know what to quit.” And now that one of America’s stoner icons is going into the pot business and planning to launch his own proprietary brand called Willie’s Reserve, this bought-a-lot-of-pot-in-my-life line is already on instant replay and you can confidently expect to hear Nelson use it for the next few years, anytime the subject is raised in his vicinity. In fact when we first meet, on the tour bus where he likes to do interviews and live much of his life, less than ninety seconds pass before he deploys it.

There’s a lot of shade and space behind answers like these. They leave people feeling like they’ve had a funny and intimate encounter with someone who, as Willie Nelson does, knows how to deliver them—with an amiable mischievous half-smile and a wizened wink in his eye, as though the words have just popped into his head. Answers that charm and entertain but also leave his real thoughts unbothered, his real life unruffled.

Willie Nelson has plenty of real thoughts, and he has lived a life as real and unreal as they come for eighty-two years and counting. Those stories are a little harder to shake loose, but he will share some of them, too. And when it comes to Willie Nelson, it’s worth holding out for the good stuff.

Maybe all of us are engaged in a lifelong fight to find our better natures. But some of us, perhaps the luckiest ones, find a reliable shortcut. For Willie Nelson, that shortcut has turned out to be pot. It works for him, and he needed it. His public image is a kind of Zen cowboy, a naturally chilled-out elder—Robin Williams used to have a bit in his act about how even Buddha was jealous of how mellow Willie Nelson was—but of course the truth is more complicated. “I can be a real asshole when I’m straight,” he tells me. “As Annie can probably adhere to.”

Annie is Nelson’s fourth wife—“my current wife,” as he has sometimes described her, though they have now been married for twenty-four years. She sits out of my sight, behind me, but periodically she contributes to the conversation. “He’s not an asshole sober,” she clarifies, coming to her husband’s defense. Briefly, at least. “Only when he’s drinking. Then he’s an asshole.”

Did you think you were an asshole at the time?

“Oh, I’ve always known that possibility, you know,” he says. “I saw a funny cartoon the other day. ‘How do you piss off a redhead?’ ‘Say something.’

And you felt like some anger came with your red hair?

“I could associate with the temper that goes with it.”

So are you still as angry as you used to be, but now that you smoke you’ve just learned how to not show it?

“Probably. I still get pissed off, and take a couple of hits and say, ‘Well, it ain’t that bad.…’ Delete and fast-forward: That’s my new motto.”

“It works,” Annie attests.

How long’s that been the motto?

“Oh, six months,” he says.


What kind of things can annoy you?

“Life itself, you know. If you start going over the way things are and you don’t get pissed off, you just haven’t studied the facts yet.” He laughs.

So, overall, you’re proposing that one should study the facts, get pissed off, and then smoke and get un-pissed off?

“Yeah. Delete and fast-forward, start over again. Admit that you’re an asshole and move on.”

You’ve said that you’re naturally a little too revved up, and that pot brings you back closer to normal.

He nods. “I have compared myself to the motorboat where the fuel for the motorboat is a little too hot for the motor, where you have to add a little oil in it. I figure that’s my oil, you know. It’s what I have to do to, you know, to make it easier.”

And what happens to the motorboat without the oil?

“Burns out,” says Annie.

“Yeah. It wears out. And he does dumb and dumber things.”


Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard

Monday, May 30th, 2016


Thanks Phil Weisman for sending to me.