Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Willie Nelson, the Decemberists Headline Inaugural Pilgrimage Festival

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

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www.rollingstone.com
by:  Stephen Betts

Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Will Hoge and newcomer Rainey Qualley are among the country-flavored artists set for the inaugural Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival, held this fall in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville.

But the music and arts event is far from just a country concert. Indie rock acts the Decemberists and Weezer, along with Americana darlings Neko Case and Iron & Wine, soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members Jimmy Cliff and Dr. John are also on the bill. Slated for September 26th and 27th, the festival will take place at the Park at Harlinsdale, a 230-acre, century-old horse farm that is now a city-owned park.

Better Than Ezra lead singer — and Franklin, Tennessee, resident — Kevin Griffin is one of the founders of the festival and a frequenter of the park’s jogging trails. According to a statement announcing the festival, Griffin had an epiphany on a trail one September morning a few years ago “surrounded by those rolling hills and natural amphitheaters: this is the perfect setting for an amazing, unique music festival.”

Griffin and festival co-founders W. Brandt Wood and Michael Whelan, all born and raised in Louisiana, were heavily influenced by the long-running New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In a nod to Jazz Fest, which celebrated its 45th anniversaary last year, the diverse lineup of acts represents a wide variety of the Southern musical landscape.

Pilgrimage will also take place during the day, with many of the acts performing acoustic sets. Another unique aspect of the two-day event, which includes a “Little Pilgrims” stage to spotlight young performers, will be the “Pilgri-mashups,” pairing artists together on stage for special one-time collaborations.

More performers are expected to be announced throughout May and June. See the current lineup and learn more about Pilgrimage here.

Willie Nelson launches new marijuana business, “Willie’s Reserve”

Monday, April 20th, 2015

www.rollingstone.com
by: Patrick Doyle

Smoking Willie Nelson’s weed is a lifelong ambition of stoners everywhere, enjoyed only by a few lucky fans and friends like Snoop Dogg and Merle Haggard. Not anymore, though. On Monday, Nelson announced his own cannabis company, Willie’s Reserve, which will bring “Willie Weed” to the masses. The product will be grown and sold by local businesses in Colorado and Washington and more as state regulation allows.

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Rolling Stone recently caught up with Nelson on his bus backstage near San Antonio, Texas, where he discussed the product. “I will make sure it’s good or it won’t be on sale,” the singer says. “There should be a menu just like in a restaurant because there’s so many different kinds of pot that do many different things. It’s a good idea to have everything labeled for what it does, what it don’t do [and] how powerful it is.”

Nelson says the business will also include stores with “menus of products” and edibles. “It fell together like evolution wants it to,” Nelson says. “It’s just a matter of time in this country before it’s legal. I feel like I bought so much, it’s time to start selling it back!”

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The singer said in a statement that Willie’s Reserve “is an extension of [my] passion and appreciation for the many varieties and range of the plant’s qualities. Some of the best master growers in America will collaborate…to define quality standards so that fans can expect clean and consistent products.”

Nelson has been an advocate for legalization and has been involved with National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) for decades. He was arrested as recently as 2010, when he memorably created “The Teapot Party.” “They mostly want autographs now,” Nelson says of police officers. “They don’t really bother me anymore for the weed, because you can bust me now and I’ll pay my fine or go to jail, get out and burn one on the way home. They know they’re not stopping me.”

Nelson says the company will emphasize environmental and social issues to “support the gradual end of marijuana prohibition across America.” “Seeing the power of legalization, regulation and taxation to impact how Americans view cannabis is a life’s work realized for Willie,” a rep for the singer said in a statement.

“I am looking forward to working with the best growers in Colorado and Washington to make sure our product is the best on the market,”  Nelson added.

The singer has also teamed with friend Merle Haggard for the pro-marijuana video “It’s All Going to Pot,” which premiered Monday on Conan O’Brien’s website.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/willie-nelson-why-you-should-buy-my-weed-20150420#ixzz3XtApDyab
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Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson at White Water Amphitheater.

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
Merle Haggard Willie Nelson
photo:  John Doyle 

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Chuck Eddy

Capping three evening pairings with Willie Nelson at WhiteWater Amphitheater on Saturday, 15 minutes outside the Central Texas river-tubing paradise of New Braunfels, Merle Haggard thought the audience wasn’t being responsive enough to his “we don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee” line, so he tried it again. A minute or so later, Nelson came out to finish “Okie From Muskogee” with him, for fans who by then were all in on the joke, and from there they both went into what Haggard called a new song “about the same subject”: “It’s All Going to Pot,” off their impending fourth duets album together, Django & Jimmie. After “Pancho and Lefty” and another new tune, they took a break while Nelson’s smaller combo set up. But the night served as a primer on what both great men share.

They both have birthdays coming up, for one thing. In April, Nelson turns 82 and Haggard turns 78. And Haggard’s earlier set was itself preceded by brief turns by two of the icons’ offspring: Paula Nelson opened, finishing her string of covers dueting with her dad on Creedence’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”; Noel Haggard’s somewhat stoic set was lengthened a little, since it took some time to lure his dad from the tour bus. Add much younger Ben Haggard backing Dad on guitar and Nelson’s sister Bobbie adding boogie-woogie piano bounce to his songs, and it was quite a family affair in general.

Hill Country trees behind them – WhiteWater’s the kind of venue where people with RVs can camp out – Haggard and Nelson both indulged blues and jazz sides, though Nelson both more blatantly and nonchalantly, and with fewer musicians. Haggard’s set allowed for several sax and harmonica breaks and a good fiddle hoedown, though. He opened with “Big City,” covered “Folsom Prison Blues,” dedicated “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” to “all the female drunks in the house,” and speeded up “The Fightin’ Side of Me” for “all the soldiers fightin’ for us.” But what most got his nine-person combo cooking was Sleepy John Estes’ “Milk Cow Blues.”

Nelson’s band – spiked by standup bass and two drummer-percussionists, one specializing in egg shakers, along with Bobbie tinkling ivories and a frequently gnarly tone from the frontman’s beat-up guitar – was almost all rhythm. “On the Road Again” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” most got a crowd marinated in light beer and other substances singing along, and a Toby Keith-less “Beer for My Horses” shocked the system. But between the “Whiskey River” kickoff and spiritual-choir wrap-up, the real highlights came when sister Bobbie supplied the most groove: an extended “Night Life” and a Hank Williams “Jambalaya”/”Hey Good Lookin’”/”Move It On Over” medley that led straight into “Georgia on My Mind” followed by Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia on a Fast Train.” Rock, jazz, blues, gospel, Hoagy Carmichael, it all fed into the same stream – like Haggard’s set, an object lesson for those who believe great country music is about purism, when really it can come from anywhere.

 

Still Willie

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Still Willie After all these years

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Still Willie After All These Years
by Steve Labate

“My greatest achievement? Waking up this morning, probably,” Willie Nelson says with a hearty laugh. “And getting out of bed.  I just kinda take ‘em one at a time.”

Don’t let the 77-year-old American icon’s mix of modesty and effortless self-deprecating humor fool you — his resume is a little more impressive than he lets on.  In his life, Nelson has been a singer, songwriter, guitarist, poet, disc jockey, high-school football halfback, Air Force private, actor, political activist, environmentalist and philanthropist. And he’s a black belt in tae kwando, to boot.

Next up for the Red Headed Stranger?  Following his most recent album, last year’s T-Bone Burnett-produced Country Music, and leading up to this spring’s Country Throwdown tour with Jamey Johnson, Nelson is kicking off Austin City Limits’ new ACL Live concert series at the freshly opened 2,700-seat Moody Theater in downtown Austin.   ACL events are familiar territory for Nelson, who played the show’s very first taping in 1975, and has been back to perform 15 times since then — more than any other artist in the award-winning PBS series’ 35-year history.

“The folks at Austin City Limits know sound,” Nelson says. “That was one of the big problems with television (back before the show started), trying to do music on tv without anybody knowing anything much about sound. But (executive producer) Terry Lickona and those guys —  when I heard how good their television shows sounded, I told ‘em I wanted to stay a part of it.  Over the years, Austin City Limits has given a whole lot of great talent a place to pay. I think it is one of the best things that’s happened to music.”

Nelson’s Feb 13 and 14 shows at ACL Live at The Moody Theater will be among the first at the venue, which — no coincidence — is located at 310 Willie Nelson Blvd. The new venue effectively doubles as a working monument to the Texas-born troubadour, also featuring a special outdoor backstage smoking area named in his honor and a statue of his likeness at the bottom of the theater’s main staircase.  And to further connect Austin City Limits’ new home with Nelson and his aesthetic, the Moody was built to comply with the U. S. Green Building Council’s LEED Certification standards.  It’s in a walkable location, close to transit, features water-saving plumbing fixtures, energy-efficient lighting, and was built using carefully selected materials with a significant percentage of recycled content, in order to divert waste from landfills and conserve virgin resources.

“I think it’ a great idea,” Nelson says of the theater’s environmentally friendly design. “I’m glad they’re thinking in those terms.”

A Lone Star is Born

Willie Nelson was delivered on April 30, 1933, smack between Dallas and Waco, in the town of Abbott, Texas. He grew up learning music alongside his big sister, Bobbie, who to this day plays piano in Willie’s touring band.  The pair started early, and Willie was writing songs by the time he was seven years old.  But even before the music, he was penning little poems, a form of expression he learned from his grandmother.  In fact, Nelson’s very first public performance was not as a musician, but a poet. It didn’t go very smoothly, but the resourceful Willie pulled through, averting what — for many kids — would’ve been a traumatic experience, and tunring it into a story he still cracks up over all these years later.

“I got up in front of this church when I was about five,” he says, “And I had on a little red-and-white sailor suit.  I got nervous, and my nose, it started bleedin’, so I had blood all over my little white sailor suit.   So I put one finger over the nostril that was bleeding, and my poem was, “What are you lookin at me for, I ain’t got nothing’ to say/ If you don’t like the looks of me, you can look the other way.”  That was my first attempt at show business.”

In his teens, Nelson played halfback for Abbott High School, guitar in a band called the Bohemian Fiddlers, and records for his first disc-jockey gigs at nearby stations KHBR and KBOP. After graduating in 1950, he joined the Air Force, but was discharged within a year due to back problems. The military, however, still owed him the college tuition it had promised, and Nelson enrolled at Baylor University in Waco.  “I don’t feel like I learned a lot at Baylor, and I’m not sure they were proud to have me there,” Nelson says, grinning, mischief in his voice, “But I didn’t go there to get an education — and I didn’t.”

After a stint recording, performing and working as a radio announcer in Vancouver, Washington, Nelson moved to Nashville in 1960.  There, he pursued music full-time.  “We were so busy every day — ‘I wrote this song last night, let me see if I can find somebody to record it today,’” Nelson remembers.  “Me and Hank Cochran — a great songwriter, he’s the one who got me started at Ray Price’s Pamper Music in Nashville — we would hang out every day and see who could come up with songs.  It was good to have another writer to bounce your songs off of.  Every morning, me and him and Roger Miller and Ray Pennington and Don Rollins, a bunch of us would come in and we’d play each other the songs we’d written the night before.  It was kind of a friendly competitive thing, but I think it was good for us.”

It was during this period that Nelson had his first successes, writing a string of country hits, including Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”  These breakthroughs as a writer soon led Nelson to a recording career of his own.  He signed with RCA Victor in the mid ’60’s and cut a string of countrypolitan records with producer Chet Atkins.  “Chet was fantastic,” Nelson says.  “He was one of my first heroes.  He was one of the first guys who had faith in my songs and my music.  Besides being a fantastic guitar player , he was also a great producer, and he was really good for the music industry in Nashville for many, many years.”

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In the early ’70s, Nelson’s Nashville home was destroyed in a fire, so he decided to leave town and head back to Texas.  “I wound up moving to Autin because that’s where my sister was living,” he says.  “I hadn’t decided if I wanted to go to Houston or Austin, but when I got to Austin, I realizd this is where I want to hang out because the music scene was just getting started, and I could kinda jump on the bandwagon.”

The laid-back, hippified Austin scene had a big impact on Willie’s music, and he began pulling away from the more-slickly-produced sound of his ’60’s albums, and moving toward the more organic approach that would become his trademark.  This is probaly best exemplified by his classic 1975 concept album, Red Headed Stranger, which — even though it ended up going multi-platinum — was not well-received at first by Nelson’s label, Columbia.  “I’ve always trusted my own instincts when it comes to music,” he says.  “Now, I dunno shit about a lot of things, but music I know pretty good.  It wasn’t hard for me to see ‘this is a good song, and I know the people will like it.  I’d perform the songs live, and I knew the people liked ‘em.  And then I’d hear these record executives say, ‘Well, it’s not commercial.’  I really got sick of the word ‘commercial’ early — I think that less is more.  It’s that simple.”

Throughout the decade and beyond, Nelson continued blazing his own trail alongside friends and contemporaries like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, who ended up being branded as “outlaws”  because of their refusal to confirm to industry trends.  “They came up with that term because we wanted to play our music the we wanted to play it,” Nelson says.  “I was really honored to be called an outlaw because I felt like, “Well, all right, now I’m getting their attention.”

In late May, Nelson will head out on the highway for his six-week Country Throwdown tour.  “We’re traveling in a little better style than we used to — we went from station wagons to a bus,” he says, contrasting his current biodiesel-fueled accommodations with the less-regal chariots of his humble beginnings.  “It’s easier now than it used to be, but I’m not sure we’re having any more fun now than we used to.”

Of course, they’re not having any less fun either.  His is a tight-knit, loyal crew, billed as Willie Nelson and Family for a reason.  “It extends beyond bloodlines,” Nelson says.  “It goes all the way back to me and Paul English and Bee Spears, and Mickey Raphael and all of us who’ve been out here playing music together all these years.   When you travel that much, that close together, it’s family.”

After  all the miles he’s racked up in his six decades on the serpent’s tail, as he fast-approaches the big 8-0, folks have to wonder whether Nelson will ever take a well-deserved rest on his laurels, if he’ll ever take his inner-road dog out back like Travis did to Old Yeller and retire him from touring, “I don’t see any reason,” Nelson says, without hesitation.  “I’ve got a great group of musicians and a good crew, and I know that when I get out there it’s gonna be right.  For years and years it’s been that way.  I’ve gotten it to where I want it, and I won’t accept anything less.  And it’s still fun to go out there every night.  As long as the crowds are showing up, and as long as we feel like playing, there’s no reason to quit.”

Farm Aid and Dollars and Sense Collaboration (introduction by Willie Nelson)

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

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Farm Aid has collaborated with the magazine Dollars & Sense to create an issue that examines the current economic state of agriculture in America. Read Willie Nelson’s introduction and then browse and download the entire issue below.

The Wealth of the Land and the Power of the People

By Willie Nelson

Last year at the annual Farm Aid concert in Raleigh, N.C, I met Phillip and Dorathy Barker, Black farmers who, like many minority farmers, lost much of their farmland as a result of discriminatory lending practices by banks and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Today, Phillip and Dorathy farm the 20 acres they were able to hold on to in Oxford, N.C. They also operate a non-profit organization, Operation Spring Plant, which provides resources and training to minority and limited-resource farmers, including a program that introduces young people to farming and provides youth leadership training. Phillip said one of his goals is to provide tools for the next generation and to help young people “come back to the farm to understand the wealth of the land.”

“Wealth of the land.”

That’s a powerful phrase. Phillip believes the next generation must see a sustainable livelihood from the land, but the wealth he refers to can’t be measured only in dollars. It is measured in the experience of working on the land, tending the soil, and caring for the animals and crops that grow from it. It’s measured in the ability to be independent, to feed himself and his family. It’s measured in the way he and Dorathy sustain and strengthen their community. It’s measured in being rooted to a place, and passing something valuable to the next generation.

It seems to me that understanding the real wealth in the land is key to a sustainable future for all of us.

Our greatest challenge is in re-visioning how the majority see “wealth.” The wealth of the land cannot be boiled down to the investors’ return on investment. It cannot be gauged by the commodities it returns to us—in gallons of oil and bushels of corn.

The drive to extract as much value from the land as possible—to maximize production without regard to whether we’re exhausting the soil, to give over our farmland to Wall Street investors, to seize land held by families for generations for corporate profit— bankrupts the land, our food, our nation, and our future.

We need to redefine wealth as the ability to make a decent living from the land as well as to sustain it for the next generation. To grow crops for food and fuel while simultaneously enriching the soil upon which future crops depend. To support a family and a community. To work in partnership with nature to protect our health and the health of our planet. As caretakers of our soil and water, this has been and always should be the essential role of the family farmer.

Today, fewer than 2% of us live on farms. Clearly, we can’t all be family farmers, but we can all shift our priorities to ensure we’re doing our best to support them and encourage new farmers to get started on the land. Playing music to bring awareness is how I started Farm Aid in 1985, and it’s how I continue to support the people who best know how to care for the land: our family farmers. Each and every one of us has the power to do what we can to support and sustain family farmers.

Our common wealth depends on it.

— Willie Nelson
President, Farm Aid
www.FarmAid.org

DOWNLOAD DOLLARS & SCENTS:

http://www.farmaid.org/site/c.qlI5IhNVJsE/b.9265629/k.D90D/Farms_Today__A_Collaboration_with_Dollars__Sense.htm?msource=homepage

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard at Whitewater Amphitheater (March 26,27,28, 2015)

Monday, March 30th, 2015

johndoyle
photo: John Doyle

www.RollingStone.com
by: Chuck Eddy

Capping three evening pairings with Willie Nelson at WhiteWater Amphitheater on Saturday, 15 minutes outside the Central Texas river-tubing paradise of New Braunfels, Merle Haggard thought the audience wasn’t being responsive enough to his “we don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee” line, so he tried it again. A minute or so later, Nelson came out to finish “Okie From Muskogee” with him, for fans who by then were all in on the joke, and from there they both went into what Haggard called a new song “about the same subject”: “It’s All Going to Pot,” off their impending fourth duets album together, Django & Jimmie. After “Pancho and Lefty” and another new tune, they took a break while Nelson’s smaller combo set up. But the night served as a primer on what both great men share.

SIDEBAR
Willie Nelson and Jimmy Kimmel Watch Willie Nelson Ace Jimmy Kimmel’s ‘Pot Quiz’ »
They both have birthdays coming up, for one thing. In April, Nelson turns 82 and Haggard turns 78. And Haggard’s earlier set was itself preceded by brief turns by two of the icons’ offspring: Paula Nelson opened, finishing her string of covers dueting with her dad on Creedence’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”; Noel Haggard’s somewhat stoic set was lengthened a little, since it took some time to lure his dad from the tour bus. Add much younger Ben Haggard backing Dad on guitar and Nelson’s sister Bobbie adding boogie-woogie piano bounce to his songs, and it was quite a family affair in general.

Hill Country trees behind them – WhiteWater’s the kind of venue where people with RVs can camp out – Haggard and Nelson both indulged blues and jazz sides, though Nelson both more blatantly and nonchalantly, and with fewer musicians. Haggard’s set allowed for several sax and harmonica breaks and a good fiddle hoedown, though. He opened with “Big City,” covered “Folsom Prison Blues,” dedicated “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” to “all the female drunks in the house,” and speeded up “The Fightin’ Side of Me” for “all the soldiers fightin’ for us.” But what most got his nine-person combo cooking was Sleepy John Estes’ “Milk Cow Blues.”

Nelson’s band – spiked by standup bass and two drummer-percussionists, one specializing in egg shakers, along with Bobbie tinkling ivories and a frequently gnarly tone from the frontman’s beat-up guitar – was almost all rhythm. “On the Road Again” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” most got a crowd marinated in light beer and other substances singing along, and a Toby Keith-less “Beer for My Horses” shocked the system. But between the “Whiskey River” kickoff and spiritual-choir wrap-up, the real highlights came when sister Bobbie supplied the most groove: an extended “Night Life” and a Hank Williams “Jambalaya”/”Hey Good Lookin’”/”Move It On Over” medley that led straight into “Georgia on My Mind” followed by Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia on a Fast Train.” Rock, jazz, blues, gospel, Hoagy Carmichael, it all fed into the same stream – like Haggard’s set, an object lesson for those who believe great country music is about purism, when really it can come from anywhere.

Willie Nelson on the Jimmy Kimmel Show

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

www.RollingStone.com
by: Joseph Hudak

Jimmy Kimmel wrapped up his week of South by Southwest shows in Austin last night with a love song to the Texas capital: “To Austin, I Can’t Love You More.” But shortly into the performance, Kimmel, dressed in a cowboy hat and bolo tie, dramatically stopped and asked for a little help. Enter Willie Nelson, who walked onstage to a standing ovation.

Set to the tune of Nelson and Julio Iglesias’ Number One duet “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” the lyrics found the talk-show host paying homage to the city that is “beautiful and weird,” along with its breakfast tacos, ubiquitous pedicabs and Matthew McConaughey’s “alright, alright, alright.” Texas’s favorite son Nelson, meanwhile, saluted all the Congress Avenue bats he ate — “got high and put them on my plate” — and lamented being too stoned to feel his legs. In the end, Kimmel dedicated the song not only to Austin, but to “Willie Nelson’s bong,” as a Texas flag unfurled behind them. (Watch the performance, complete with lyric subtitles, above.)

Prior to the showstopping performance, Nelson joined Kimmel for an interview, in which he announced his new album: a record of duets with longtime friend and collaborator Merle Haggard. Titled Django & Jimmie, the album will be released later this spring, with first single “It’s All Going to Pot” out April 20th — the very pot-friendly date of 4/20. Django & Jimmie also includes the pair’s musical tribute to Johnny Cash.

Nelson sang a few lines of “It’s All Gone to Pot” during his couch time: “It’s all going to pot, whether we like it or not/as far as I can tell, the world’s gone to hell and we’re sure going to miss it a lot.” Kimmel also asked the famously longhaired singer about his braids, which sold at auction for $37,000 earlier last year. Quipped Nelson, “Plant them and they’ll grow.” (Watch the exchange below.)

Earlier this week, Nelson appeared in the show’s “Pot Quiz,” in which a reporter asked SXSW festivalgoers questions about history, geology and weed. Only Nelson answered all of them correctly.

Read more: www.rollingstone.com

The Highwaymen (Country Weekly, March 2015)

Friday, March 6th, 2015

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Thirty years ago, four musical giants–Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson–came together to form country’s first supergroup, The Highwaymen. In this special cover story, we take a look back at the group’s legacy and ongoing influence.

Another Willie Nelson Fan

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Willie Nelson, on Guitar (Frets Magazine, Dec. 1984)

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Frets Magazine
December 1984
by Jim Halo

Willie Nelson is a man of surprises. “Improbable” is the mildest word that describes the course of his career from sideman to superstar, a career marked by so many odd twists, turns and bumps that the story would be hard to pass off a convincing fiction. It isn’t out of character, then, that as an instrumentalist he plays a type of guitar that country bandleaders aren’t supposed to play, uses a technique usually reserved for another type of guitar altogether, and first chose to do so for one of the least likely reasons.

In place of the obligatory pear-monogrammed steel-string, Shotgun Wilie packs a Martin short-scale N-20 classical guitar, one of perhaps only 277 ever built. In country circles, let alone the string music world at large, Martin classicals are about as common as Porsche limosines. And while manicured fingers are considered de rigeur for the playing of classical guitars, Willie uses a flatpick — which accounts for one of his intrument’s trademarks. In the soundboard, a ragged gash extends from near the lower quadrant of the soundhole rosette down almost to the treble end of the bridge saddle. Classical guitars traditionally do not have pickguards. Wille’s instrument, after 15 years of flatpicking, provides an object lesson in while steel-string guitars usually do.

Even if the famous auxiliary soundhole, surrounded by pick-abraded bare wood, with skeletal brace ends and edges peeking through, never had formed on Willie’s N-20, there would have been no question of the guitar’s identity. Besides its battle scars, the soundboard bears the autographs of such artists as Roger Miller and Johnny Bush, along with other graffiti left — at the owner’s invitation — during Willie’s days as a Nashville songwriter who couldn’t quite go over the top as a performer.

Why did Willie Nelson start using a classical guitar in the first place? Test your musical intuition by choosing one of the following: Willie switched to a classical guitar because he wanted to (a) favor a weak left hand by changing to the lower tension of nylon strings; (b) inject an element of mariachi music into his Texas-based country stylings; (c) get a guitar that was strikingly different from those of his performing peers; (d) sound like France’s Gypsy jazz guitar virtuoso, Django Reinhardt.

The correct answer is (d).

Any similarities between the style of Nelson and the style of Reinhardt are purely intentional. “I wanted to look for a guitar that I could use to find that tone that Django was getting,” Willie says, referring to the sound of Django’s unusual Selmer-Maccaferri steel-string acoustics. “The guitar that I am using now is the closest that I could find to that.”

Most guitarists would figure that Willie was drawn to a nylon-string instrument because of it’s comparatively easygoing action. But he says that in fact, the opposite is true.

“The action is really a lot slower than what you’d get on a regular Fender electric or something, which I used to play all the time,” he explains. “I played a lot of Fenders and a lot of Gibsons — all electrics. I really didn’t play the acoustic guitar on stage then, for the simple reason that the fingering was more difficult. But finally I sort of settled for the harder action to get the tone I wanted.”

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As a performer, Willie also settled for harder action to get the kind of results he wanted. For years he channelled royalties from a successful songwriting career into a money-losing band, so that he could play his music the way he wanted with his “family” of loyal sidemen. He went against the Nashville grain in the early ’70s, switching to a non-country label, recording in New York, and moving his base of operations to Texas. That earned him the label “outlaw,” but it helped launch a new wave in country music that eventually overflowed into the rock and pop markets and carried Willie Nelson to megastar status. At present, his roll call of recording credits includes no less eight gold albums, six platinum albums, one double platinum album, and one triple platinum album.

Ironically — or perhaps, characteristically — the triple platinum album isn’t country at all. It is Stardust, Willie’s 1978 tribute to the standards (like “Stardust,” “Blue Skies,” “September Song,” and “All of Me”) that he heard and loved as a boy in the 1940s.

Born in the teeth of the Depression in April 1933, Willie grew up in Abbott, Texas, south of Fort Worth. His mother left home when eh was six months old, and he was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather, a blacksmith, gave Willie his first guitar lesson at age six. Willie’s grandmother, who wrote gospel songs, also played guitar. “I started out with a thumbpick,” Willie recalls, “Because that was what my grandparents used, so I was taught that way. But later on I began to hear players like Eldon Shamblin [of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys], and they used a straight pick. So I changed because that music was more what I wanted to play. When I was a kid I used to play the mandolin — fool with it a lot, and the banjo, and everything that had strings o it. I usually could get some sort of sound out of them. But I never really tried to get good on anything other than a guitar.”

His older sister, Bobbie (now the pianist in Willie’s band), was taking piano lessons, so the sheet music she brought home supplemented the songs he heard on the radio — World War II pop hits like “Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer” and “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me).” Through radio he also drank in Grand Ole Opry country music, western swing, and jazz. As he grew bigger, Willie earned $3 a day picking cotton with black field hands. What made the work bearable for him was the blues and work songs they sang.

At age 10 Willie made his professional debut, playing in a Bohemian polka band for $8 a night. He began working in a small group with Bobbie on piano, their father on fiddle, Bobbie’s husband on bass, and the local football coach on trumpet. Gradually he evolved a guitar style influenced by such players as Johnny Smith, Hank Garland, George Barnes, Barney Kessel and Django Reinhardt. “I liked those rhythms that Django’s band laid down, too,” says Willie, “the stuff his brother Joseph played on rhythm guitar.” Perennially electric, he also was drown to the music of flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya. “The Spanish flavor was something I always enjoyed anyway,” he says, “So Montoya was one of my favorites from the beginning.”

After high school he served a short stint in the Air Force during the Korean War, then spent the ’50s working as a door-to-door salesman (variously selling vacuum cleaners, Bibles, and encyclopedias), a plumber’s helper, a used-car salesman, a janitor, a Sunday School teacher, and a disc jockey, all the while playing in bars and honky tonks. And writing music. One of his first successful songs was “Family Bible.” He sold the rights to it for $50, so he could buy groceries for his family. In 1959 he wrote his classic “Light Life,” which would eventually be recorded by more than 70 different artists and sell over 30 million copies. But two years later he sold the rights to it for $150, which he used to buy a second-hand Buick. He used the Buick to move to Nashville.

Willie’s work won quick recognition in Music City. Songwriter Hank Cochran heard Willie one night in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the bar that served as the unofficial artists’ club room for the neighboring Grand Ole Opry, and signed him to a publishing contract. Singer Ray Price, who with Cochran was a part-owner in the publishing company, also was impressed. He made “Night Life’ his theme song, and hired its author as a bass player.

Soon vocalist Patsy Cline had a huge hit with Nelson’s “Crazy,” and Faron Young had another with Willie’s “Hello Walls.” Liberty signed Willie to a recording contract, and he scored his first Top Ten country hit in 1962 with the single “Touch Me.” He became a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1964, and the following year he signed with RCA. But though he recorded more than a dozen albums for RCA between 1965 and 1971, Willie didn’t enjoy the kind of usccess that other artists were having with his material.

One reason was his phrasing. Intrigued by crooner Frank Sinatra’s knack for singing off, or against, the beat, Willie had adopted the technique in his own music. (That kind of phrasing often turns up in Willie’s guitar solos). But his producers saw Willie’s use of rhythmical license as a liability, not an asset — and often remixed his studio tapes to get his voice back on the beat.

The results weren’t impressive, commercially; and artistically they were frustrating for Willie. His substantial songwriting income allowed him to hold his road band together, however, and they kept the faith in live performances. “The music I played on a bandstand was better than the music I played in the studio,” he once told Al Reinert of New York Times Magazine. “For one thing, I’d be using my own band, and we’d have a better feel for it — be more relaxed. We’d have an audience to play for, and it was just a whole lot more fun.”

In 1969, in the middle of his second divorce, Willie’s Nashville house burned down. His guitar was one of the few things eh was able to save from the flames. While Willie’s home was being rebuilt, he moved back to Texas — and stayed. He made the relocation official in 1972. Meanwhile, Willie and his band began hitting the Southwest tour circuit again; and with the expiration of his RCA contract, he left the Nashville studios behind as well. In 1971 he signed with Atlantic, which was venturing into the country market. It was a good move for both parties.

Given a free hand, Wilie took his own band to New York to record Shotgun Willie. Finished in less than to days, the LP brought their “outlaw” sound out into the open. Within six months, sales of Shotgun Willie had surpassed the sales of all his Nashville albums combined.

From there, the successes began to snowball. Phases And Stages, completed in 1974 as Atlantic wound down its country operations, sold 400,000 copies. Meanwhile, the Nashville songwriting fraternity saluted his earlier contributions to country music by inducting him into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973.

Willie formed his own record company, signed a distribution agreement with Columbia, and in 1975 released Red-Headed Stranger. From that came the single, “Blue Eyes Cryin’ In the Rain,” which gave him his first Top Ten country hit in 13 years and won him his first Grammy Awared. (It also documented a rare reversion to fingerstyle playing on the guitar solo. “I didn’t use a pick on that one,” Willie says. “Sometimes I use my thumb by itself, to get a softer sound. On ‘Blues yese,’ that was strictly thumb and fingers.”)

Red-Headed Stranger was certified gold in March 1976, and before the month was otu Willie shared in the plaudits as RCA’s The Outlaws — a compilation featuring the music of Willie, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser — also earned gold record status. Honors and hit records came almost predictably thereafter. Among his laurels to date are eight Country Music Association awards, including Best Album (twice), Best Single (twice), Best Vocal Duo (with Waylon Jennings in 1976, with Merle Haggard in 1983, and with Julio Iglesias in 1984), and Entertainer of the Year — a title conferred on him in 1979 by both the CMA and the Academy of Country Music.

Willie no longer has to worry about breaking even outside the studio. This summer, Willie Nelson & Family was No. 14 in Billboard Magazine’s list of top-grossing concert appearances (a roster on which the much-hyped Victory Tour by the Jacksons sewed up 6 of the top 12 spots). Willie also is listed as one of the top ten money-earners on the Las Vegas shworoom circuit (along with his old diol, Frank Sinatra).

But despite all the justifiable to-do about his gilt-edged performing status, Willie still prefers to think of himself first and foremost as a picker.

“What I always liked to do was be the guitar player,” he says. “Somewhere along the say, I started being the singer. I’m not sure how that happened. I think one night the front man didn’t show up, and I wound up fronting the band and doing the singing. And I don’t know if that was really the best day of my life! I really do like to be just the guitar player, sometimes. It’s very enjoyable when the only responsibility you have is playing the guitar.

Fret Magazine. When you are playing lead, what’s gong on in your mind? Are you thinking of right chord changes or melodic patterns on the fretboard, or modes related to the key of the tune, or positions you like to work from?

Willie Nelson. Not consciously. I think probably if somebody put a computer on me, they’d find I use a lot of things the same way. But consciously — I just play off the top of my head. On the songs that I do a lot, I guess I’m subconsciously aware of the chord structures and I just play whatever notes I hear that fall within those. I really don’t think about all that. I guess I’m playing from somewhere else.

Fret: Do you work out solos ahead of time? Often, when you’re fronting your band, your solos will restate the melody. But in some situations — on the Angel Eyes album, for example — you’ll take what sounds like a more spontaneous lead break.

WN: It’s all how I feel at the moment. I really am not confined to playing anything the same way. I don’t have any arrangements that I try to follow, other than the basic things that are always there in a tune — the stuff that you can’t get around. Whenever anyone in the band takes choruses, they just play what they want to play.

Fret: Back on 1976, when you were interviewed by our sister magazine Guitar Player, you said that in doing solos you didn’t get into a lot of minor scales, because you felt you were major-chord oriented. How that youre’ playing things closer to mainstream jazz, is that still true?

WN: I think so. I love minor chords, and I have written some songs with minors in them. But basically, the songs that I listened to and learned in the beginning were major-chord songs.

Fret: Is that when you developed yoru feeling for standares like “Stardust”? Would it be fair to say that your growing up with that kind of material helped you learn how to put together well-crafted melodies?

WN: I think it very well could have. I was always exposed to those songs through the radio and through music that came into the house — sheet music, and so forth. I love good melodies, so I’m sure that had a lot of influence on me.

Fret. Through albums like Stardust and Angel Eyes, you’ve probably influenced a lot of younger musicians yourself, giving them their first exposure to standards and jazz. Do you have any other styles of music up your sleeve — material you might record in the future?

WN: There are some of the older styles I still ahven’t done, like Stephen Foster songs and old Songs of the Pioneers things — the real cowboy songs like “Leaning On The Old Top Rail” and “Empty Cot In The Bunkhouse Tonight.” All of those classics are still tehre to do.

Fret: Often you’re functioning as a rhythm player. In your opinion, what goes into really playing rhythm as well as it can be played?

WN: I think you ahve to know the chord forms. I think guys like Paul Buskirk and Homer Haynes are two of my favorites because of their styles. [Ed note: Mandolinist Paul Buskirk and guitarist Henry “Homer” Haynes (half of the team of Homer & Jethro) had strong elements of swing in their music.] It’s 4/4 rhythm and it’s done without drums. Or it can be done with drums; but I really liket he sound of the kind of rhythm section where you just hvae an upright bass and the rhythm guitar.

Fret: Does a rhythm guitarist need a special sensitivity to where the lead player is going?

WN: Yes, I think that’s an innate thing that most good rhythm guitarists know, becasue most rhythm guitar players are also leadguitar players, to a certain degree. So you just have t have a feel of when to play and when not to play, or hwo loud to play.

Fret: When you’re chording, do you ever use your thumb to fret notes?

WN: Yeah, a lot of times. I do that especially in open-chord rhythms. For instance, on a first position D chord I’ll use the thumb on the low E string to play an F#.

Fret: You generally use Fender medium flatpicks on your nylon-string guitar, instead of fingerpicking it. How often do you change picks? Some steel-string players have told us they go through a half-dozen a night, because the picks get worn and start sounding scratchy. But it would seem that nylon strings would be easier on a flatpick.

WN: I guess a normal person probably would be able to make them last longer, but there’s one tune we do each night — “Bloody Mary Morning” — where I’ll go through a pick every time I play it.

Fret: You can hear the difference? The pick starts to sound rough?

WN: No — I just break it.

Fret: Do you play with the point of the pick, or do you turn it and use the rounded corner for a mellower sound, as some players do?

WN: I try to keep it on the point, but in the course of “Bloody Mary Morning” I play every side of it. I think! I use up a couple of picks a night, because “Bloody Mary Morning” will take care of one, and “Whiskey River” will eat up another, so I’ll go through at least two picks, maybe three, every show.

Fret: You used to use ball-end La Bella nylon strings. Are you still staying that that brand?

WN: As far as I know, I am. The strings are automatically changed on my guitar every few days by a guy in our crew, and I’n not sure if he is still using La Bellas or not. I can’t tell any difference.

Fret: Are the strings changed on a regular schedule, or does the frequency just depend on how often you are performing?

WN: I think probably every three or four days he’ll change the strings. And we keep another guitar handy, with the strings on it already stretched, so that we kind of rotate them. When you put new nylon strings on a guitar, you’re always retuning them as they stretch out. That happened to me a lot of times on stage. Boy, it was hard, especially under those hot lights. Finally, we got real brilliant here and figured out that if you stretch them a few days before you put them on, you wouldn’t have to do that. I don’t know why we didn’t think of it years before, but better late than never!

Fret: Are there certain strings you’re more likely to break than others? Some players find that the G string is the first to go, for example.

WN: I very rarely break strings. In fact, I don’t remember the last string I broke. The picks go before the strings do, because the nylon strings are more flexible.

Fret: The nylon strings are one of the things that set your sound apart; but the way you amplify your guitar has a lot to do with that, too, doesn’t it?

WN: I think so. It’s a Baldwin amp with a Martin classical guitar — which is kind of a bastard situation. I’ve tried other combinations, and I don’t get the same sound that I do with this one, which was really accidental.

Fret: Didn’t the pickup itself come from a Baldwin guitar that got broken?

WN: Yeah, I had it taken out of the Baldwin and put in this one years ago, by Shot Jackson’s place in Nashville [Ed note: In the late ’60s, after Baldwin acquired Gretsch and began marketing a line of guitar amplifiers, the company briefly offered a classical guitar model with a ceramic piezo-electric pick up, and a companion amplifier designed for a “natural” tone response.] I’ve never changed it. I’ve tried to keep everything exactly the same, and the amplifier is still the same one. They don’t make Baldwins any more, you know. Each time I come across a used Baldwin amp, I try to buy it so I can use the parts for replacements on this one. I’ve got a couple of them.

Fret: Youv’e had a lot of work done on your guitar to keep it in service through all yoru years of touring. Who handles the repairs?

WN: A guy named Newman, in Austin [Newman Guitars, 200 Academy, Austin, Texas]. He has a guitar shop in the Opera House in Austin, and he’s been fixing my guitar for years.

Fret: Does your road crew take special precautions with the guitar and amp, since those are really one-of-a-kind items?

WN: They have nice sturdy cases for both. Steel cases. They take real good care of them.

Fret: Do you carry any other acoustic guitars on the road with you, or keep some at home that you just use for recording?

WN: I have a couple of guitars around the house, and sometimes I have one on the bus just to fool around with, but my stage guitar is my main guitar. The others are a variety of things — just whatever is available. It varies from one day to the next, really.

Fret: How many days a year are you on the road?

WN: I think probably somewhere between 200 and 250. That’s this year. It’s been like that practically every year, and each year I say, “Next year I’m going to slow down.’ But I still like doing it. I just enjoy playing music a lot.

Willie Nelson to star in “Waiting for a Miracle to Come” movie

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

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photo: Kevin Winter

www.rollingstone.com
by:  Beville Dunkerley

Willie Nelson’s “Luck, Texas” — the Old West film set that sits on a corner of his sprawling Hill Country ranch — is opening its saloon doors to Hollywood once again. Waiting for the Miracle to Come, a fantasy adventure flick starring the country icon in one of its lead roles, will be filmed in the same Lone Star spot built for 1986’s Red Headed Stranger, with production set to begin in March.

Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Lian Lunson, Waiting for the Miracle to Come is about a young girl, played by fellow Aussie Sophie Lowe (Beautiful Kate, Adore), who finds a letter from her late father directing her to a goldmine in a remote area of the California desert. That’s where she meets two retired vaudeville stars, played by Nelson and acclaimed British actress Charlotte Rampling (Stardust Memories, The Duchess). In their talks, the couple enlightens the girl, an aspiring trapeze artist, to findings more valuable than gold.

“I wrote this script for Willie Nelson; his presence and stillness as an actor is unlike anyone else,” says Lunson. “And growing up I always wanted to be Charlotte Rampling, so bringing these two icons together on screen is a dream come true for me.”

Joining Lunson on the film’s six executive producer credits is legendary U2 lead singer, Bono, who will also write a song for Nelson to sing on the movie’s soundtrack. Lunson has a history with both musicians: She wrote and directed the 1997 documentary, Willie Nelson: Down Home, and she featured Bono in her 2005 documentary, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man. (In fact, Waiting for the Miracle to Come is titled after Cohen’s haunting ballad, “Waiting for the Miracle.”) Nelson and Bono’s pairing is a reunion decades in the making. The rock star wrote “Slow Dancing” for the country crooner back in 1989. They also recorded the song together for U2’s 2011 Duals album.

The 81-years-young Nelson has somehow balanced nonstop touring with an impressive acting career. He made his feature film debut in 1979’s The Electric Horseman and has since starred in such blockbusters as Honeysuckle Rose, Barbarosa, Wag the Dog and The Dukes of Hazzard. The “Luck” set has remained in tact since Red Headed Stranger, the film based on his classic concept album of the same name. Robert Redford was originally set for its leading role but pulled out, making way for the country star to log one of the most memorable performances of his second career.

Jamey Johnson covers Willie Nelson @ Grand Ole Opry

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

www.RollingStone.com
by: Beville Dunkerley

Jamey Johnson has long been a disciple — and friend — of Willie Nelson, so when the Alabama native took the stage of the Grand Ole Opry last week, it was no surprise that he covered one of the Texas legend’s tunes. Watch above as the singer-songwriter performs the sonically sober, but lyrically intoxicated, “I’d Have to Be Crazy,” which originally appeared on Nelson’s 1976 LP, The Sound in Your Mind.

Since touring together in 2011, Johnson and Nelson have been frequent guests on each other’s albums. The younger singer joined his mentor on 2012’s Heroes, lending his voice to both “Hero” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” — the latter alongside Snoop Dogg and Kris Kristofferson. Nelson returned the favor for Johnson’s 2012 Livin’ For a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran LP, singing “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me” and “Everything But You” (which also features Vince Gill and Leon Russell). And the only duet on Nelson’s 2014 Band of Brothers album is one with Johnson, “The Git Go.”

So, it will also be no surprise if the Redheaded Stranger is a guest artist on Johnson’s upcoming album. Details are few and far between at this time, but the project will be the musician’s first full-length since his Cochran compilation and first on his own label, Big Gassed Records. So far, he’s released two very different sounding songs from the indie project: the acoustic “Alabama Pines” and whimsical “You Can.”

Willie Nelson on Austin City Limits Hall of Fame Show (PBS, Saturday Feb. 14, 2015)

Friday, February 13th, 2015

www.FarmAid.org
by:  Stephen L. Betts

Since Austin City Limits made its TV debut in 1974, the genre-busting PBS music series has gone from celebrating the music of the Lone Star State to spotlighting country, folk, blues and rock acts from around the world. To cap off the Peabody Award-winning show’s 40th season, on Saturday, February 14th, PBS will air a special hour-long finale featuring highlight from the first-ever Austin City Limits Hall of Fame presentation.

Hosted by Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey on April 26th, 2014, the ACL Hall of Fame ceremony included performances from inductee Willie Nelson, along with Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph and more. Also inducted into the Hall of Fame were blues-rock pioneers Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, with show creator Bill Arhos and Texas Longhorns football head coach Darrell Royal honored, as well.

Among the songs Texas native Nelson performs during the special is “Crazy,” featuring Emmylou Harris on lead vocals as he plays his trusty guitar, Trigger. (Watch the exclusive premiere of their collaboration above.) Nelson’s longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael and members of Lyle Lovett’s band are also featured during that performance. Nelson penned the now-classic tune in 1961 for Billy Walker to record, although Walker turned it down. In spite of initially hating it, Patsy Cline recorded it the following year, and hers remains the definitive version of the tune, although it has since been covered by hundreds of artists (and attempted by karaoke singers across the globe).

Nelson also performs his concert favorite, “Whiskey River,” during Saturday’s special, and is joined by Lovett for a performance of another of his most enduring tunes, “Funny How Time Slips Away.” (Watch below.) A song embraced for the past five decades by country and R&B acts, the melancholic song has been recorded by Billy Walker, Elvis Presley, Al Green, the Supremes and Lulu, among many others. Nelson, Lovett and Harris also perform “Pancho and Lefty” and “On the Road Again” during the show, which also features Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph, Doyle Bramhall II and recent Grammy winner Mike Farris.

Austin City Limits‘ season finale premieres Saturday, February 14th, at 9:00 p.m. ET on PBS.

Grand Old Opry Show Magazine with Willie Nelson

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

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

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

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

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People Magazine
February 25, 1985

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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