Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Music Legend Willie Nelson Live @ the PAC, Santa Clarita Valley (4/5/14)

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014


Thank you so much to Ruth Hegley, of Scooterville, the Franks Brothers Traveling Willie Nelson & Family Store, for sending me a beautiful collection of brochures and pamphlets from Willie Nelson & Family shows around the country. Willie plays in some incredibly beautiful venues, and Ruth collects show programs and magazines announcing Willie’s shows, and kindly shares them.


Santa Clarita Valley
A Legend Comes to Town

By: Stephanie Struyck Elgin
Photos:  David McCuster

He’s the longhaired, bandana-wearing  guitarist who captured the hearts of audiences worldwide and changed the face of country music.  A pioneer of outlaw country, Willie Nelson’s rough and tumble grit, coupled with raw emotion and honesty, breathe life to his songs, making him a legend in his own right.

Born in Abbott, Texas, Willie Nelson has an impressive six-decade career with over 60 studio albums in addition to live recordings, soundtracks, and collaborations with other artists and more.  One of the most decorated musicians of all time, Willie is a seven-time Grammy Award winner, and has  received numerous accolades for his work.

Known as a songwriter of rare and precise elegance, Willie was the mastermind behind 1960’s classics like Crazy (Patsy Cline), Hello Walls (Faron Young), and Night Life (Ray Price), to name a few.  In the 1970’s, however, Willie’s unique style didn’t fit the traditional classic country mold, making him an “outlaw” in the country music scene.  Despite  his resistance to confirm, Willie’s popularity continued to grow, and in 1975, his first album for Columbia Records titled The Red Headed Stranger, catapulted Willie into stardom.  Just a few years later, he released Stardust, a multi million dollar album and contributed to the compilation Wanted:  The Outlaws, which featured legendary greats like Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter.  Willie and Waylon’s popular collaboration Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be cowboys earned the two artists a Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group in 1978.

By the end of the decade, Willie was a musical phenom, revolutionizing outlaw country  His success continued into the 1980′s, topping country charts and also making a name in pop music.  On the Road Again and Always on My Mind were some of the many songs that emerged during this decade.  Willie collaborated with Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash to form the group The Highwaymen.  The group recorded and toured for a number of years.

While Willie Nelson has etched his name in music history, he is also the co-founder of Farm Aid, an annual series of fundraising events, which began as an all star benefit concert in 1985, to raise money for American family farmers.  Having grown up on the farm himself, Willie continues to lobby against horse slaughter and produces his own blend of biodiesel fuel.

Throughout out the years, Willie has continued to make music, collaborating with other musicians, and in 1993, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Willie has also appeared on the big screen, starring in many films including The Electric Horseman and Honeysuckle Rose, to name a few.

In May of 2012, Willie released Heroes, his first album for Legacy Recordings.  The album spent five weeks at a number one on the Americana Radio Chart.  The same year, he released his book, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” which landed in the Top 10 on the New York Times’ Best Seller List.

Recently, the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center announced that one of the greatest entertainers of all time, Willie Nelson, will be coming to the Santa Clarita valley for the special event, “Willie Nelson and Family:  Live in Concert”.

“The PAC will be the place to be on April 5, and we are thrilled to have him in Santa Clarita, if only for just one night,” states Evy Warshawski, Executive Director of Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center.

College of the Canyons Chancellor Dr. Dianne Van Hook adds, “Featuring an icon like Willie Nelson at the Performing Arts Center demonstrates our commitment to bringing the best in entertainment to Santa Clarita.”

With his 1969 Martin N-20 named “Trigger” in tow, signature braided ponytails, bandana and outlaw country tunes, I, too, look forward to welcoming the legendary music icon to our stage.



Willie Nelson promoted to Fifth-Degree Black Belt (4/28/14) (@TaeKwonDoe Times)

Friday, July 25th, 2014


On April 28, 2014, Wilie Nelson – the musician who’s known for his renditions of On the Road Again, To All the girls I’ve Loved Before and Always on My Mind, among other songs — received his fifth-degree black belt in the modern Korean martial art of gong kwon yu sul. the ceremony took place at Master Martial Arts in Austin, Texas, a studio operated by Sam Um. The following day, the country music legend turned 81.

Nelson, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, has practiced martial arts for much of his life.  He began with Kung Fu lessons when he was a songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee.  The past 20 years have seen him focus on the Korean arts, including tae kwondo and gong kwon yu sul.  Nelson often can be seen practicing his techiniques, even when he’s on tour.

Farm Aid 2014 in Raleigh, NC (Sept. 13, 2014)

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Farm Aid is coming to Raleigh, North Carolina’s Walnut Creek Ampitheater on September 13th, and this year Jack White will be joining board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews on the bill. Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Jamey Johnson, Delta Rae, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Carlene Carter, Pegi Young & The Survivors, and Insects vs Robots are also playing. Tickets go on sale August 1st at 10:00 am EST.

Neil Young, Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson Triumph At Soggy Farm Aid

“In North Carolina and across the Southeast, family farmers have struggled to stay on the land, but they have also pioneered new roads to economic sustainability,” Farm Aid president Willie Nelson said in a statement. “This region knows the value of its farmers and offers increasing opportunities for new farmers to build a strong regional food system. On the Farm Aid stage Saturday, September 13, we’ll celebrate family farmers and the healthy communities they’re growing for all of us.”

The first Farm Aid, which was inspired by offhand comments Bob Dylan made about struggling family farmers at Live Aid, was held September 22nd, 1985 at Champaign, Illinois’ Memorial Stadium. With the exception of 1988 and 1991, it’s been held every year since, attracting everyone from Guns N’ Roses to Phish to Lou Reed.

“There is a fair-like feeling when you go to Farm Aid,” John Mellencamp said in a statement. “All day long, people are performing onstage and food from family farmers is being served. It’s a great occasion for families to come listen to great music and teach their children about where their food comes from. We’re proud to bring Farm Aid 2014 to North Carolina for the first time to feature the family farmers whose hard work and innovations are essential for all of us.”

Last year’s Farm Aid was held at the Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center, and featured the last major public appearance by Pete Seeger.

Willie Nelson and John Varvatos

Friday, July 25th, 2014


photographed by Danny Clinch / interview by Alex Scordelis

“Willie would like to see you on his bus now.”

For a country music fan, those words are the equivalent of inviting a Trekkie to spend time with Captain Kirk on the starship Enterprise. In terms of famous vehicles, Willie Nelson’s bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, is up there with the Pequod from Moby-Dick and the Batmobile. When the “Red Headed Stranger” just can’t wait to get on the road again, this is his trusty ride.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in West Hollywood, and Nelson’s mythical tour bus is parked on Melrose Avenue. Nelson, 81, is relaxing onboard, waiting to perform at John Varvatos’ 11th Annual Stuart House Benefit, which raises funds for a program that serves sexually abused children.

Varvatos boards the bus with me. Nattily dressed in a Sgt. Pepper-style military jacket, the Detroit menswear designer, a beacon of old-school rock cool, is visibly giddy at the prospect of spending time with Nelson. Last year, Varvatos appointed the country legend and his sons, Lukas, 25, and Micah, 24, to be the faces of his brand’s Fall/Winter 2013 campaign. At today’s benefit, Nelson’s sons will join their old man onstage to burn through a set of Willie’s timeless hits.

As expected, a haze of pot smoke lingers on the luxury liner. Nelson beckons us over to his breakfast nook. A cartoonishly huge Cheech-and-Chong-sized joint rests, unlit, an arm’s length away. Nelson flashes an impish smile, stretching the crinkles and crannies in a face that deserves to be chiseled on Mount Rushmore.

A celebrity-studded audience, which includes Amy Adams, Courtney Love, Gene Simmons and Jessica Simpson, has packed the venue, waiting for Nelson’s performance. But on the Honeysuckle Rose he seems blissfully unfazed by the hullabaloo outside. Maybe it is because he is in his element. Or maybe it is what he is smoking.

AS: Willie, you’re renowned for having a joke for every occasion. What’s the last good zinger you heard?

WN: Lemme think… You know what they call a guitar player without a girlfriend? Homeless.

AS: That’s a good one. John, you’re from Detroit, and Willie, you’re from Abbott, Texas, but you two seem to share a similar rebel sensibility. Why do you think you clicked when you worked together?

JV: We each have a pride in our roots, in where we started. If you lose track of that, you lose track of where you’re going with your life.

AS: There are city blocks in Detroit that are bigger than Abbott, Texas.

WN: There are a lot of things in Detroit that are bigger than Abbott.

AS: Last year, Willie, you and your sons shot a video for Varvatos at the Salisbury House museum in Des Moines, Iowa. What was your experience doing the ad campaign?

WN: Well, the boys were there. We got to dress up. John’s clothes look great, and we had fun doing it. We have fun every time me and the boys get together anyway, but if you get to dress up, that’s even more fun.

AS: Willie, you’re performing with your sons, Lukas and Micah, today. Why is it important for you to keep music a family affair?

WN: I have to keep an eye on ‘em. It’s just a lot of fun to play music with my sons, and they’re really good, which makes it even better.

AS: Willie, who did you look up to in terms of style when you were a kid?

WN: I was a huge Gene Autry and Roy Rogers fan. I liked their sequins and embroidered shirts.

JV: The Nudie suits — I’m sure you were into those.

WN: Oh yeah, loved the Nudie clothes. They were cool.

AS: John, music is the cornerstone of Varvatos — why is it important to you to incorporate icons like Willie Nelson in your work? 

JV: It wasn’t something I consciously tried to do. It happened organically. And it’s blossomed into something that’s become synonymous with the brand. If I thought about it too hard, I think I’d ruin it. Just this morning, Bob Ezrin [Alice Cooper's producer] was introducing me to a big record producer, and he said, “John’s more of a music guy; fashion’s his part-time thing.” I took that as a huge compliment.
AS: Why’d you pick Willie?

JV: With Willie, you can’t put him in a box. When you think about all the music that he’s played, he’s one of the few artists in music history that doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre. I don’t think too hard about conveying a particular message with who we pick for our campaigns. It’s about working with icons. Willie’s music is transcendent. When you go to Willie’s shows, it’s a very broad demographic in the audience. There aren’t many artists who are able to cross generations like that.

AS: Speaking of icons, Trigger, Willie’s guitar, is an icon in its own right. Do you have an article of clothing that has as much wear and tear as Trigger does?

WN:[long pause] No. [laughs]

JV: I have a simple black motorcycle jacket that I’ve had since I was in high school. I saved every penny from delivering newspapers to buy it. It fits me a bit slimmer now than it did back in the day, which is cool. It’s the one piece where, if there was a fire, it’s the one article of clothing I’d want to save. But it doesn’t have as many stories in it as Trigger does. How old is Trigger?

WN: He’s 50 years old now.

JV: So yeah, he’s not as old as Trigger, but I have a lot of good memories with that jacket. The jacket is beat up and crusty now. But like Trigger has that hole in the middle — that changes the whole tone, right?

WN:, Yeah. Each time Trigger’s hole gets a little bigger, the tone changes.

AS: How much thought do you put into what you wear onstage?

WN: None. I just need a clean T-shirt.

JV: Annie [Nelson's wife] wants him to think about it.

Annie Nelson: [from the back of the bus] But that’s what people look for in Willie! They like that he doesn’t care.

AS: John, what can the average guy learn from Willie’s sense of style?

JV: Be yourself. Be comfortable. Follow your own path. It’s what he’s done with his music and with his style. Don’t try to be anybody else. It’s about style and not fashion. You can wear a black T-shirt and blue jeans, but it’s about how you carry yourself and your aura.

AS: Willie, I play guitar, and I’d be foolish not to ask: what’s the best advice you could give to a guitar picker?

AN: Get a real job.

WN: Ha! That’s funny. There’s a line in a song I just recorded: “Our mothers don’t know what we’re doing and why we stay up all night long / I told mine I was a drug dealer and she said, ‘Thank God you’re not writing songs.’”

AS: And John, what advice would you give to someone starting out in fashion?

JV: Be a sponge. Listen to people when you have the opportunity to learn.

AS: Thanks for your time, it’s been a…

WN: Wait, I was gonna tell you another joke.

AS: Please. Go for it.

WN: In a house of ill repute, there was a couple on the second floor gettin’ it on. They got too close to the window, and they fell out and onto the ground. But they just kept on going at it. Then a drunk walks up and knocks on the brothel door and says, “Ma’am, your sign fell down.”

JV: I think you just got the perfect ending to this interview.

Rolling Stone Interview: Willie Nelson (7/13/1978)

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Rolling Stone
July 13, 1978
by Chet Filippo

The desk man at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Holiday Inn shook his head when I asked for Willie Nelson. “Got no Willie Nelsons today.” He turned away officiously and resumed cleaning his fingernails with a Holiday Inn matchbook.

He was about as encouraging as my cab driver had been: “You goin’ to see  Willie Nelson? Man, he was a no-show last week. They had ta haul that Wet Willie in; he play instead. You see Willie Nelson, you tell him for me, ‘Man, you die fast in this town.’ ”

I went back to the Holiday Inn desk man: “See here, I was really looking for the party of Fast Eddie and the Electric Japs.”

“Well, goddamnit, why dincha say so.” He started thumbing through registration forms: “Lemme see, Mr. Eddie ain’t here yet, but Mr. Snake is, Mr. Poodie is, Mr. Beast is….”

“Okay, gimme Snake’s room number.”

Poodie, who is Willie’s road manager, and Beast, his cook and caterer, would, I knew, be over at the coliseum setting up for the night’s concert. But Snake would be here, taking care of business. I would be hard pressed to say what Snake’s duties are exactly. He’s a lean, rangy ex-paratrooper who, if you ask him point-blank what he does, will reply with a slight smile: “What do you want done?” He is one of about twenty persons whom Willie Nelson has handpicked over the years to help him in his calling. The Electric Japs, a.k.a.
Willie Nelson’s Family, a.k.a. the Rolling Smoke Revue, are a devoted crew, all loyal to the point of being ready to jump forward and take the bullet — if, that is, Fast Eddie weren’t so proficient with kung fu that he himself would have already wiped out the gunman. If, that is, there were a gunman. Because everybody, it seems, loves Willie Nelson these days.

It wasn’t always thus, I reflected as I went off in search of Snake. Ten years ago, Fast Eddie couldn’t even get himself arrested in Nashville, despite the fact that he was the best songwriter to hit Music Row since Hank Williams, the king of them all. Everybody else was having hits with Willie’s songs — Rusty Draper with “Night Life,” Jimmy Elledge and Johnny Tillotson with “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Patsy Cline with “Crazy,” Faron Young with “Hello Walls,” Andy Williams with “Wake Me When It’s Over” and Roy Orbison with “Pretty Paper,” to name a few — but Willie’s own records went nowhere. Good writer, no singer, said Nashville’s establishment.

Now he rules country music. Oddly, the album that brought him the wide audience he now enjoys was not composed entirely by him. He wrote only five of the fifteen cuts on Red Headed Stranger, the brilliant allegorical album that forever changed Nashville’s idea of what is and is not country music.  He wrote none of the songs on his current album, Stardust, a collection of “my favorite ten songs.” His record company, CBS, was not real hot about either album. Willie was supposed to be a country singer, so what the hell, they wondered, was he doing with these off-the-wall albums? But then, I remembered as I knocked on Snake’s door, Fast Eddie got his nickname by doing the unpredictable. Rules don’t mean a lot to him.

Snake opened his door: “Damn, I didn’t know you were coming. I guess it’s okay if you didn’t bring too many women. C’mon, Eddie’s just down the hall.”

Fast Eddie Nelson was in room 326, sitting barefoot, in jeans and a blue T-shirt, reading the trade magazines. “Shit, Eddie,” said Snake. “Stardust is seventy-six on the pop charts. We’re gonna sell 24million.” Willie laughed softly, as he always does.

I told him about the cabdriver: “And not only do you die fast, the driver said: ‘Shoot, I ain’t gonna pay no $8.95 for Stardust. Thoseold songs, I heard them before.’” Willie fell over laughing. “Why, hell yes,” he finally said. “Why buy old songs?”

“What happened to your beard, Willie?” I asked. He fingered his chin gingerly. “Aw, I shaved it for the summer. Gets too hot. How you doin’? Ready to go ride the bus with me, son?”

With the beard, Willie had always reminded me of a benign patriarch. Without it, the forty-five-year-old singer resembles a proud Indian chief: stark, chiseled profile, flowing red hair, deeply lined face and piercing brown eyes.

Eyes that don’t miss much. He is not the most talkative person around —  lending credence to the theory that the best writers are watchers, not doers.  Willie Hugh Nelson, a.k.a. Fast Eddie, is an intense watcher. I always get the feeling around him that he’s sizing me up: am I a potential song or just another disciple? He gets plenty of both.

Disciples are many and fanatical now that he positively exudes spirituality. I have heard first-person tales of marriages saved, of nervous breakdowns averted, of illnesses healed by the power of Willie’s music.

He was a Sunday school teacher in a Baptist church in Fort Worth when he had to decide about his career. Fort Worth in the 1950s was a shining jewel on the Bible belt, and some of the Baptists there felt that Willie’s singing in honky-tonks on Saturday night and then teaching God’s word on Sunday morning were incompatible callings. The Baptists uggested that he make a choice. He chose music. “I had considered preaching,” he now laughed, “but preachers don’t make a lot and they have to work hard.

Still, he didn’t protest strongly when I suggested that he is pop music’s only preacher. “I have met people,” I said, “who have driven hundreds of miles just to touch the hem of your garment. Literally.”

He looked a little uncomfortable at the thought. “Maybe you’re exaggerating.   I am religious, even though I don’t go to church. I believe in reincarnation. We’re taught to believe that all men are created equal and yet we know that one guy is born without eyes and one guy is born with eyes.  So that’s not equal. They had to be born together in the beginning. At one time,  we were all born at the same time. God imagines everyone, so we’re all images of  him — in thebeginning. He made us all in the beginning and since then
we’ve been coming back and forth. First time we came in we knew a lot and we’ve lost it along the way. Being down here is kinda like goin’ through the university: you go through one grade at a time and if you fail, you gotta go back and take those tests again.”

He laughed at the analogy and fell silent for a moment. “But I know what you mean about fans,” he continued. “And I know what they’re doing. In their minds,  they’re relating the music to something else, and I appreciate that. There are answers in music. Poems and music about our problems and situations  are good for us to hear-how other people react to the same problems and live through them and survive. This is all put in songs; I guess the history of the whole world is in songs and poems.”

When I met Willie Nelson, backstage at the Dripping Springs Picnic on July 4th, 1972, I didn’t even know it was him.  That picnic was a real oddity; a bunch of Dallas promoters booking Nashville singers into a cow pasture in Dripping Springs under an unmerciful Texas sun.   The crowd was a hostile mix of young longhairs looking for their own Woodstock and traditional country fans who just wanted to get drunk.  The truce was an uneasy one, broken by beatings of the longhairs by both the drunks and the security goons.   I was standing backstage, talking about all this to a shorthaired guy who was wearing a golf cap and oversized shades.  I didn’t know who he was until Tex Ritter walked over and introduced him to me as Willie Nelson.   I was properly embarrassed, but Willie just laughed about it.   We retired to the shelter of an air-conditioned Winnebago to have a beer and to talk.

He said he was tired of Nashville and had moved back to Texas for a while.  He told me his history:   born in Abbott, a wide spot in the road south of Dallas, April 30, 1933; parents separated; raised by his grandparents.   As a boy, he worked in the cotton fields for three dollars a day.   At age ten, he started playing guitar with a polka band in the Bohemian towns of central Texas, where German and Czech immigrants had settled.   He tried for a baseball scholarship at Weatherford Junior College, failed.   Did a stint in the Air Force.  Tried being a business major at Baylor University, but preferred playing dominoes and music.  Dropped out.  Sold Blbles door-to-door.  Sold encyclopedias door-to-door.  Became a disc jockey, kept playing music on the side.

Taught Sunday school till that became a conflict with playing honky-tonks.   Disc jockeyed all around the country.   Played every beer joint there was.   Taught guitar lessons.   Finally sold a song in Houston for fifty dollars — “Family Bible” — and decided to take the money and head for Nashville, “the big time.   Traveled there  in a ’51 Buick that sank to the ground and died once he got there.

Hung out drinking in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge behind the Grand Ole Opry, where he met songwriter Hank Cochran, who liked his stuff and got him a publishing contract.   Other people had hits with his songs but his own recording career languished.  “I’m not worried, though,” he laughed as we emerged from the Winnebago just before his set.  “I’ll do all right.”

Indeed he did.  That picnic was pretty much a disaster, but Willie was carefully watching everything that was going on.  Half a year later, he had long hair and an earring and was a cult figure in Austin rock clubs.

The next July 4th, we were all back at Dripping Springs for “Willie Nelson’s First Annual Fourth of July Picnic,” with performers like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm.   This time, the longhairs weren’t beat up.  It was the watershed in the progressive country movement.  Prominent state politicians mingled with longhaired kids. University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal had his arm around Leon Russell.   Peaceful coexistence had come to Texas, thanks to Willie’s pontifical presence.  Two years later, for his 1975 picnic, the Texas Senate declared July 4th “Willie Nelson Day.”

From that first 1973 picnic, he had to take out a bank loan to cover his losses — too many gate-crashers — but he was established.  Texas was his.

That picnic was also the first time that I had witnessed the uncanny ability of him to appear – or disappear – at exactly the right time.   When the picnic ended at about four in the morning and the 50,000 or so people there were jamming the two lane highway that led back to Austin, I decided to find a back way out.   I took off driving across flat ranchland and, finally, miles away, found an alternate highway.   But between me and that highway was a locked cattle gate.   I was just revving up my Chevy to ram the gate when, from out of the ghostly blackness, a Mercedes came roaring up beside me.   Willie got out, nodded hello and held up a key.   He unlocked the gate, smiled goodbye and drove off.

I don’t know how the hell he pulled that one off, but timing has been the key to his career.   Right place at the right time.  Seemingly, everything he has done has been wrong.   His vocal phrasing is off the beat, the songs he writes are unconventional, his albums are unpredictable, his guitar playing is a startling mixture of Charlie Christian and Mexican blues picking (“Maybe I am half-Mexican,” he says, half-jokingly), he does not hang out with the right people and he has never compromised himself, so far as I can tell, in his entire life.   “I don’t think he ever has a bad thought,” his harp player, Michael Raphel, told me.

Such people aren’t supposed to be successes in the opportunistic world of popular music.  But, thought it took years, Willie Nelson managed to do it.

Viewed in retrospect, his body of songs is remarkable, a unified world of transgression and redemption, human suffering and compassion and joy, all told by an anonymous Everyman.

“Willie understands,” is the most-heard quote from his fans.

Another Rolling Stone cover for Willie Nelson in the Works?

Monday, July 21st, 2014


Willie Nelson’s facebook page put out a nice tease today …

It’s the thrill that’ll getcha when you get your picture
On the cover of the Rolling Stone…

I have always said that the Rolling Stone loves Willie Nelson, and this won’t surprise me.

Friday, July 18th, 2014


Willie Nelson, Mr. Record Man (Houston Press) (2/24/13)

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014


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

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

WILLIE NELSON was dead broke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patoski makes a rational explanation of the seeming contradictions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was a long way from the “Wee Willie Nelson” persona he assumed when he was a disc jockey and bandleader in Vancouver, Washington, in 1957.

As part of swinging the deal for Gray to cut the songs, the enterprising Buskirk sold Gray a share of “Family Bible” for $100, and for another $100 hired the session musicians and the studio. “I also had a contract with Paul, if you can call us signing a napkin a contract, to buy a piece of ‘Night Life,’” says Gray, who eventually had enough chart and touring success to relocate to Nashville. “The catch was that I only got to keep my rights if the song was actually released.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, “Crazy”

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014


A famous philosopher once said that adversity is the key to success. In the case of songwriters, that philosopher might have added-”adversity-plus talent-breeds success.”  And in the case of Willie Nelson-all of the above certainly applies.  Willie has proven-more than once-that he has enough talent for an entire neighborhood and he could write a book on adversity.

Most songwriters have a reason for writing their songs. A lot of songs are pages from the lives of writers-about his wife-or his ex-wife-his love life-or the lack of a love life-or a million and one other stories. But most of those stories-and songs—have to do with love-at some stage in their life—in one form or another.

Willie Nelson said he never really had a reason for writing “Crazy,” a song that became the signature song for Patsy Cline and a country music standard.  But “Crazy” could have been a reflection of Willie’s place in life at the time he wrote it.  It was one of those songs he wrote soon after moving to Nashville, Tennessee. And as the story goes in the business of songwriting, the first several artists Willie pitched to song to were not the least bit interested in recording it. Willie was in Nashville without his family and with very little money. He could barely afford to move himself-much less bring his family with him. He had hoped to make enough money from his music to relocate his family to Music City but things just weren’t working out.

In the eyes of his critics, Willie must have been “Crazy” to keep trying the “Crazy” music business!  Soon after finishing the song, he gave a tape copy to Patsy Cline’s husband, Charlie Dick. Although Dick loved the song, Patsy did not and there was no way she’d ever record it.  Later, Willie personally pitched the song to Patsy and again, she flatly refused to have anything to do with it.

But as in the music business-as in life in general-all things are subject to change and sometimes when you least expect it.  “Crazy” was pitched to Patsy’s record producer, Owen Bradley, who thought the song was made for Patsy and he informed her that she WOULD record the song.  As was he case of most Patsy Cline recording sessions, the battle between she and Bradley was on – but Owen being the boss – he had the final say – and he finally said that Patsy Cline WOULD record “Crazy.”

Patsy was unable to perfect her voice on the first record session, as she was still healing from broken ribs suffered in a car crash several weeks earlier.  But a week later, she was back in the studio and this time her vocal version of “Crazy” was heard round the world!  Willie Nelson said that “Crazy” went from being a song that he never really cared for to being his favorite of all the songs he’d written! And his critics no longer called him “Crazy” for sticking with songwriting.

“Crazy” entered the country music charts November 13th, 1961.  It has been reported that it is the song most-played in any juke box.

“Willie Nelson is like a light house.” — Gary Busey

Monday, June 16th, 2014


“Willie Nelson is like a lighthouse, like a preacher.  Every time I find myself in an emotional pressure situation, the first thought in my mind is what would Willie do?  ‘Cause nothing seems to rattle him.  I’ve had some problems here lately with my mind, like, ‘Oh, gosh, everything’s moving so fast, what gear should I be in?’ And Willie, he’ll tell me which gear.”

– Gary Busey
Rolling Stone
September 1978

Willie Nelson Will Release Two Albums

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Copied from Music Times

Willie Nelson Will Release Two Albums: ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘December Day’

Looks as if Willie Nelson is in a writing mood…
Nelson has a new album coming out on June 17 titled Band of Brothers. He now claims that he’ll have another original-heavy record ready to be released this fall titled December Day.

To find his inspiration for getting back to writing original tunes, turns out the musician had to look no further than Band of Brothers producer Buddy Cannon.

Nelson recently told Billboard, “He produced the album, but he’s also a great writer and we’re good together.” The two, Nelson and Cannon, worked closely on nine out of the 14 tracks that appear on Band of Brothers.

The June 17 release will be the first issue in many years for Willie Nelson, who hasn’t dropped an album of original material in quite some time.

Read the entire article on Music Times


Rising Sons: Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson, Micah Nelson featured in Austin Man Magazine

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

rising sons
by:  By Steve Uhler





Rising out of their fathers’ shadows, four talented young musicians come in to their own.

By Steve Uhler



It’s called the Julian Lennon Syndrome— a peculiar malady visited on the sons of famous musicians. Symptoms include critics and audiences compulsively comparing the talents of the sons to the fathers. Notable cases include Julian and Sean Lennon, Ziggy Marley, and Gunnar and Matthew Nelson, twin sons of the late Ricky Nelson. Coincidently, it also afflicts another pair of siblings named Nelson: Lukas and Micah, heirs apparent to the kingdom of their dad, Willie.

On this particular day, the brothers are in a festive, rambunctious mood. It’s their dad’s 81st birthday, and later they’ll be celebrating by playing with him at his annual birthday party-cum-concert at The Backyard. Right now, though, they’re setting up shots at a photo shoot. Mugging, wrestling and trading quips, they’re driving the photographer to distraction, but having a good time.

Though only two years apart, Lukas and Micah Nelson don’t appear much alike. Twenty-five-year-old Lukas is compact and muscular, with a finely chiseled face and easygoing but outwardly wary demeanor that can effectively stave off the curious. When he speaks, the unmistakable inflections and twangs of his father’s voice pepper his conversation.

Younger brother Micah is tall and wiry, loose-limbed and loquacious with no discernible accent when he speaks, which he does with exceptional articulation and candor. On the surface, no one would assume they were brothers. Until someone brings up the subject of their dad. Then they blend in to one protective entity.

“I rarely tell people who I am ’cause it seems to make people act differently,” Lukas says. “I don’t mind introducing people to my father if they’re my friends, but I’m very protective of my family, of my dad’s privacy and my own.”

“There’s a lot of mosquitoes in the world,” Micah says. “It’s a small fraction of humanity, but when my brother and I were growing up in that world, we realized that when we met new people, it was better to have them get to know us for who we are, and respect and appreciate us as individuals before they knew who our family was. If our last name falls in to the picture, then a lot of times, there’s an agenda behind it. There’s a lot of fake people surrounding the music industry and entertainment business in general, people who just want to suck your blood and get what they can out of you.”

Both brothers are keenly aware of the unique position of having Willie Nelson as a father.


“I wouldn’t say he’s a textbook parent,” Micah says. “But he’s the greatest dad that anyone could ever have. Just by growing up around him and observing how he interacts with people and how he carries himself, the respect he shows for people and having that example to live by. He’s the best.”

“We have a family rule, which is don’t be an asshole. If you can master that, you’ll have a good time being alive,” Micah says.

“Our family doesn’t live the same way a lot of people do in terms of the kind of traditional values that some people would impose on others,” Lukas says. “We really believe that caring for others is the most important thing in the world. We forgive each other a lot of mistakes that we make because we understand that everybody’s got a light and a dark side, and those who pretend they don’t have a dark side are controlled by it. It’s the yin/yang thing. They both work together.”

The brothers were raised together, often spending summers on the road with their dad.

“We did a couple of tours with Bob Dylan,” Micah recounts. “My brother had picked up a guitar when he was about 10. I was younger, so I figured, ‘Well, I guess I’ll play drums.’ I was his rhythm section, basically. We learned by jamming with each other. That was a lot of our musical education, learning through observation and playing with each other.”

As time passed, each developed his own unique vision and talents, though they still collaborate frequently. Both brothers understand the slippery slope of celebrity, their father’s and their own.

“Whatever anybody thinks about me—or anybody else in the limelight—I’d caution them that you never truly know who they are; you never truly know why they do what they do,” Lukas says. “Like Miley Cyrus, for example. Everybody gives her a bad time. Nobody knows her the way she knows herself. When you’re in front of everybody, you’re never going to be safe from criticism. That’s just how it is. We’ve learned to deal with it.”

The two brothers’ respective artistic pursuits reflect their differences. Lukas is drawn to the grittier side of blues and country, and his finely honed guitar chops owe more than a little to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. He wrote his first song at 11, You Were It, which impressed his father so much that he recorded it. His band, Promise of the Real, has built a solid rep with audiences, tours constantly and has appeared on numerous late-night shows, including a memorable appearance on Letterman when Lukas’ glasses went flying off his head in mid-flail.

“I didn’t have ’em on tight enough,” he confesses. “Maybe I should’ve taped ’em to my head.”

38_lukas2His early recordings came under occasionally snarky fire from critics, who accused him of dabbling in different genres. Lukas is unfazed.

“That’s kind of how I am,” he says. “I don’t like to be in one genre. I have no boundaries. The sky’s the limit. I’ve got 100 songs that I haven’t released or recorded yet, and they’re all in different styles.”

He lives to tour, calling the road his home.

“I’m in it for the rush, really,” he says candidly. “The rush of playing for people. It doesn’t matter if it’s 300 or 30,000, it’s the same. When the energy is flowing back and forth and everybody’s jumping up and down and dancin’…it’s like riding a big wave. Rock ’n’ roll, that’s what I love.”

While Lukas embraces the rowdier side of the musical spectrum, Micah is at once more introspective and diversified, taking his considerable talents beyond traditional song templates, incorporating animation, art, video and film in to his palette. His website is more of an interactive museum than a marketing tool, incorporating samples of his work. His animation and video work are particularly arresting, with surreal shades reminiscent of Edward Gorey and David Lynch.

“My mom will tell you some of the stuff I used to draw as a kid freaked her out,” he admits. “She brought in psychiatrists, thinking I may turn in to Jeffrey Dahmer or something. And they were like, ‘No, he’s just a creative dude. He’s OK.’ ”

His music is abstract and impressionistic, more informed by Brian Eno than Johnny Cash, and light years removed from his dad and brother’s. He’s also incredibly prolific, with a musical output that far outpaces his dad’s and his sibling’s, both as a solo artist and founder of his touring band, Insects vs. Robots. (When he tours alone, he’s sometimes billed as Particle Kid.) As a boy, he was heavily influenced by movie soundtracks.

“When I was in middle school, I’d get those CDs and be sitting at the bus stop listening to this music and seeing entire films inside my head,” Micah says.

Micah doesn’t place one artistic outlet above the others.

“To me, they’re all kind of one and the same thing,” he says. “They all inform each other and complement each other. I’ll see a film or painting and I’ll have an entire concept album pop in to my head. Or I’ll hear a musical piece and a whole body of paintings will come to me. They’re symbiotically linked together, and I’m always trying to explore different ways to explore those links, just trying to find the links between all of our senses, the way we’re receiving and putting out information. They’re all from the same place somehow.”

Therein lies the key link in the Nelson brothers: the desire to explore new means of artistic expression, whether through a shredding guitar solo or a surreal film of seemingly random images. Lukas and Micah Nelson are taking their own paths on their own terms, just like their father did.

“My dad, to me, is like a f**king superhero,” Micah says. “His whole story of doing it his way and succeeding. I make much different music from my dad—from different worlds almost—but at the same time, I connect with him on a much different level because we’re both doing what makes sense to us, regardless of anyone’s expectations or what the end goal is. The end goal is right now.”


Willie Nelson’s guitar featured in Acoustic Guitar Magazine (July 2014)

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014


“The July issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine features this cool close up photo that I took of Willie Nelson’s guitar.” — Jay Blakesberg,

Jay Blakesberg Photograpy

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014


Willie Nelson interview, ‘Stomp and Stammer’ (April 1999)

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

At 66, Willie Nelson is Still on the Road, and Headed for Another Joint

by Bob Townsend
April 1999

After the Yesterday’s Wine album came out a friend of mine got a call from a hippie fan in San Francisco who said, “I’m worried about Willie.  He thinks he’s Jesus.”

I got a kick out of that.  Just last year, one of those supermarket newspapers had a full page story about the face of Jesus suddenly appearing on the outside wall of a grocery store in South America  after a dramatic rainstorm.  Hundreds of people came to pray to the image of Jesus, and some of the sick went away cured.  A few days later, following another thunderstorm, a new figure appeared on the wall beside Jesus.  It was Julio Iglesias.

What happened, the rain had washed off the coat of whitewash that had covered a poster for “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

The supermarket headline said:  THAT’S NOT JESUS – IT’S JUST OLD WILLIE

– Willie Nelson
An Autobiography

It’s hard to say much about Willie Nelson without reverting to hyperbole, let alone spiritual metaphor.  But the man is a cultural icon like few others — fiercely capable of maintaining his artistic integrity while somehow being all things to all people.

An idol beloved by bikers and hemp smokers, old ladies and babies and almost everyone in between, Willie has done time in Nashville and Hollywood, recorded over 200 albums and, in a career that has spanned nearly 40 years, appeared in the guise of country-politan songsmith, redneck outlaw, rural folk hero, canny interpreter of sappy standards, savior of the family farmer, and David fighting the IRS Goliath.

An ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic wrote in the liner notes to the recent weirdo tribute Twisted Willie, he is the rare figure who ‘transcends genre and generation.”  But unlike many big stars, his larger-than-life persona exudse a mellow, comforting quality.  Willie is the wide-eyed, pothead rascal in red pigtails, T-shirt and running shoes, who seems to hold some cabalistic clue to the meaning of the universe.

“He has this presence that radiates out of him – an aura.”  Emmylou Harris has said, “You can feel it even when he’s not in the room.  If you want to understand what I’m taliking aobut, go to one of his concerts.  People act like they’re in church, as if he fills a spirtual void for them.”

That commingling of the everyday and the ethereal even translates over the telephone wire.  Calling from a stop in Albuquerque one afternoon, Nelson’s sonorous baritone fills the receiver like a familiar refrain.  “This is Willie,” he says.  And so it is.

Nelson is on the road again.  But isn’t he always on the road, if only in his mind?  Through he turns 66 this month – an age when most of his associates have retired, or set up shop in Branson — Willie is touring behind one of the most adventurous recordings of his career.

Teatro harks back to the turbulent early ’60′s, when Nelson sojourned in the wilderness of Nashville as a short-haired Music Row songwriter.  That’s when he penned such jazz-bent masterpieces as “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Hello Walls” and “Crazy”  — songs that forever changed the sound of country music, and gained Nelson his first measure of success.  But it was also a period when his personal life was disintegrating along with his first marriage.

With the help of producers Daniel Lanois and fellow traveler Emmylou Harrris, Nelson recalled those days in radical fashion on Teatro.  Recording in a converted Mexican movie theater, Lanois delivered the kind of cinematic energy he made famous in his work with U2, the Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan and lately, Harris herself.  But Nelson didn’t allow Lanois to go too far over the top, as he turned in one of his most battered and beautiful performances since the early ’70s, when he made Phases and Stages in Miracle Shoals with Jerry Wexler.

Nelson, who entrusted Lanois with nearly complete control of the Teatro sessions, is magnamimous in his praise for the shifting sonic textrues he conjured on the disc.  “I felt like I was lucky to get him” he says.  “I left it up to him, more or less, because his idea was to take the song, and the voice and the guitar and then build around it and enhance it.  I was interested to see what he would do, so I let him have a free hand.”

Interestingly, Nelson says he even allowed Lanois to pick the songs for the album.  “We started out with 100 songs, picked 20 of those, and then ten of those to record . I turned in new songs and old songs together.  And I felt like maybe all the new songs would get reocrded, but I was going to let Daniel choose the ones he liked.  He listened to the old ones and the new ones not knowing which was which, and he picked the songs that are on the album/  I left it enterely up to him.”

But there was one tune Nelson thought twice about:  “The one where I choke the girl.”  He says he thought the jealous murder ballad, “I Just Can’t Let You Say Good-Bye” was a tad too dark — even for an album that features, “I Never cared for you,” “I Just Destroyed the World” and “Darkness On the Face of the Earth,” in its exhibition of lovesick devastation.  “I probably wouldn’t have put it in.  But he liked it so well.  I even argued with him.  I said, ‘No.  You don’t want to put that goddammed song in there.”

Of course, listeners who’ve only heard Willie crooning with Julio or pickin’ with Waylon may be surprised by how much he risks on Teatro.  But longtime fans have seen Nelson through all manner of changes.  And as his continuing spate of concept albums (he recorded his first, Yesterday’s Wine, in 1971), duet projects and musical tributes prove, he clearly likes shaking things up from time to time.  “Maybe that’s what I do best,” he allows.

Nelson laughs easily when reminded of the grocery store Jesus story.  “Pretty weird,” he says.  But when it comes to accounting for all the fame, fortune and awards — such as being named a Kennedy Center honoree, and squeezing into a tux to stand alongside the likes of Bill Cosby and Shirley Temple Black — Willie cops the perfect Zen bastard blend of antic, irony and wistful awe.

“I guess I think, “Fooled ‘em again,’” he says.  “Dazzled ‘em with fancy footwork.’ But I do, I wonder about it occasionally — how it all happened, and how it all got to where it is — until I just give up wondering about it.”

When he was born in 1933, in the town of Abbott, in the midst of the Great Depression, it would have been pretty hard to predict that Willie Hugh Nelson would amount to anything.  It would have been nigh on impossible to foresee Red Headed Stranger, let alone The Electric Horseman, or Wag the Dog.

“I was doomed to go to hell by the time I was 7,” Willie recently told an Entertainment Weekly writer.  “Because I had been told that if you smoke cigarettes and drink beer your’re going to hell.  And by 7, I was gone.”

Willie found salvation in poetry and music:  “I started writing poems when I was about 5. And when I learned to play guitar I was about 6, so I started putting melodies to the poems.”  And he began embracing the whole wide world of sounds that emanated from the fields and churches of Abbott, and the air waves beyond.

“I listened to the radio a lot when I was growing up.  I listened to all the stations, from jazz, to blues, to boogie woogie, to country to WSLM in Nashville — and we listened to WLS in Chicago, and we’d catch a station out of New Orleans — so I just listened to everything.”

As to his distinction Django Reinhardt meets Bob Wills style of guitar playing, Wilie has a rather surprising explanation:  “I’ve always felt that I was about half Mexican.  And I may be, because I really love the Spanish flavors, and Mexican mariachi, and gypsy type music.  I was just born and raised around that kind of music and I love it.  So I guess that’s why you hear a lot of that in my music, because that’s part of me.”

One thing that hasn’t changed much over the years is the way he goes about writing a song, “I guess it’s always been the same,” he ways. “I get an idea and I write it.  But I have to have an idea to start with.  The melodies aren’t that hard, once you get the lyrics.”

Nelson says his early years as a songwriter, which Teatro reveals in stark relief, were a kind of excruciating conundrum.  “Nashvile was easy, really, because everything was formula.  If you wanted to write commercial stuff and you were a professional writer, it wouldn’t be a problem to do it.  I just wanted to write what I felt like saying.  And then, if at the same time I could imagine someone singing that song, then I would write it with a melody, or a rhythm that I felt like that one perosn might be comfortable with.”

“For instance I wanted to hear Billy Walker do “Funny How Time Slips Away’ and I wanted to hear Faron young do “Hellow Walls’ and wanted to hear Ray Price do ‘Night Life’ – so I just had these little ideas of what I wanted to hear, and I would try to work in that direction.”

Confronted with the standard show biz query as to if there’s anyone he hasn’t worked with that he’d like to, Nelson pauses to think about it for a moment.  “I would be sort of greedy and selfish if I said, “Oh I’d like to do this, and this, and this and this,” he says.  “Because I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of things with a lot of great people.  I’ve sung with B.B. King and Hank Williams and Ray Price and Faron Young and Lefty Frizell and Julio.  What else could I want?  I jokingly said the other day that I think Barbra Streisand and I ought to do something together.  But after I think about it awhile, maybe we could.  Like ‘A Star is Buried.’”

The Family, Willie’s legendary road band,  is another thing that has remained fairly constant over time.  His sister, Bobbie Nelson, can still be found on keyboards, offering an emotional and musical continuity that goes back to Abbott, where she and Willie learned to play through mail order courses taught to them by their grandparents.  And then there’s long time sidekicks, harmonica player Mickey Raphael and drummer Paul English.

“We’re more acoustic than we used to be,” Nelson offers.  “The instrumentation is a little different.  The bass player now is playing acoustic bass.  Paul is playing just the snare.  So we’ve reduced the loudness of the rhythms -  it’s a little more subtle.  And I like that because it makes everything stand out a little better.”

Willie says the current show runs the gamut from old favorites such as “Whiskey River” to several songs form Teatro and even a set from the jazz flavored instrumental album Night and Day that’s due out in July.

Asked if the new acoustic bent to his live performances is a sing he’s finally slowing down, Nelson says simply, “Mother Nature has a way of doing that to you.  But, he quickly adds, life’s too good, and he’s having way too much fun to ever consider retirement.

“I guess the best part of it is that I’m still here.  Still out here having a good time playing music and hanging out with my friends and family and fans — hey, let me put a melody to that and I’ll call you back.  But, seriously, that’s it.  I just enjoy what I do.  I don’t know why I’m still here.  A lot of my friends are gone.  And a lot of the guys that are my age decided long ago that they didn’t want no more of this stuff.  But I’m lucky.  I’m healthy and I enjoy what I’m doing.  People ask, ‘Why are you still doing this? And I say, ‘All I do is play golf and music.’  And don’t wanna quit either one of them.  I don’t really wanna quit nothin’”