Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Willie Nelson Busted at 61 (Star Magazine) (May 24, 1994)

Sunday, May 24th, 2020

Star Magazine
by Alex Burton
May 24, 1994

Willie Nelson was arrested in Hewitt, Texas, on May 10, after police found him asleep in the back of his Mercedes and discovered a bag of marijuana in his car.

Nelson, 61, claims he was returning home after a poker game when he pulled off the road due to bad weather.

“I played all night and was driving back to Austin,” says Nelson.  It was foggy, so I pulled to the side of the road to sleep, and the policemen found me.”

A Hewitt police report says officers “saw a man lying in the back seat who appeared to be asleep.  While looking in the vehicle, officers observed a hand-rolled cigarrette in the ashtray.”

“The officers tapped on the window.  The subject sat up, opened the door and identified himself as Willie Nelson.”

The report adds, “The officers believed the cigarette in the ashtray to be marijuana, and Mr. Nelson was placed under arrest for possession of marijuana under 2 ounces.”

“Mr. Nelson advised the officers there was additional marijuana in the vehicle.  A bag was found which contained a substance believed to be marijuana.”

Nelson was taken to the McLennan County Jail in Waco and held for two hours before posting bail.

“Mr. Nelson was turned over to the booking officers there.  Standard procedure is to fingerprint and photograph the individual and collect the person’s property,” says Hewitt Police Lt. Wilbert Wachtendorf.

“After his release, he returned to the station here in Hewitt, and retrieved his car, credit cards and cash.

“I was in the station when Mr. Nelson returned.  He actually shook the hands of the two arresting officers.  He was in good spirits, and seemed to be a nice individual.”

The charge against Nelsion is a Class B misdemeanor and the case will be referred to the local district attorney.

People Magazine, “Inside Country Music” (May 21, 1984)

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

People Magazine
Inside Country Music
May 21, 1984
by Chet Flippo

When country’s greatest star, the late Hank Williams, went into the studio to record an album, he was treated like a serf.  Fred Rose, the autocratic producer and co-writer, had already decreed what songs would be cut and which musicians would perform on those cuts.  A true feudal system, Hank was the first  country superstar and never made much more than $100,000 a year.  He didn’t know that he could complain — though had he lived to see Kenny Rogers take in more than $20 million last year, he might have figured it out. 

The drastic change – that is to say, the commercial change — began early in 1976 with Wanted:  the Outlaws.  That was the first Nashville album to go platinum.  And it was strictly a patch job designed to pick up a few extra bucks with a handful of songs already in the can.  Jerry Bradley, then running RCA in Nashville, had a keen eye for packaging a concept.  He saw that Willie Nelson had abandoned Nashville for  Texas, and that Willie’s buddy, Waylon Jennings, was wearing not only leather and long hair but a fierce spirit of musical independence that was drawing a new, young multiclass audience. 

For the Outlaws album, Bradley put together some cuts by Willie, Waylon, Jessi Colter (Waylon’s wife) and Tompall Glaser, fronting the package with an album cover that looked like a Wild West wanted poster.  The songs were not among any of the artist’s finest work, but the album’s image was perfect.  After years of country stars singing syrup and looking like mannequins, here were some mavericks daring to get down and dirty, if need be. 

The surprise was that the music had not changed — Willie had always sung eclectic country blues and Waylon had played a hard, rock-tinged sound ever since his stint in Buddy Holly’s band — but that the audience had.  It was a weird mix of hippies and rednecks, stumbling over this “progressive country” after rejecting the soft country and soft rock that were the alternatives.  The outlaw phenomenon took off, and amazing thins happened. Urban cowboys sprang up all over the pace.  This was not such a country-to-pop crossover hit as a Certified New Thing.  Utopia reigned as rednecks grew their hair long and hippies cut there’s short, and everybody danced arm-in-arm with honky-tonks everywhere.

After years of slumber, Nashville was cashville.  Out went the violins, back were the fiddles, albeit mixed with ringing electric guitars and a solid rock beat.  Into town came the money merchants, sniffing a trend.  In 1977 former pop singer, jazz singer and folk singer Kenny Rogers tested country’s water with Lucille — and he found something he never had before:  a big career.  Country became a genuine big business.


“Then there’s Willie Nelson, who is in his own time zone and can do whatever we wants.” — Chet Flippo

Willie Nelson: One hell of a bad ass

Monday, May 18th, 2020

Willie Nelson is in many ways a microcosm of the American experience. He grew up during The Depression, had a rough and tumble youth, battled through familial and financial problems for years, struck it rich, and reformed himself from his violent past to become one of the world’s most well-known and greatest pacifists and advocates for the poor and social justice. Lots of wisdom can be gleaned about life from simply studying the life of Willie Nelson . And ultimately, he is undoubtedly one hell of a badass.

1. Surviving a Plane Crash

As told by Willie Nelson’s friend, professional golfer Larry Trader:

“Willie was flying in to the landing strip near Happy Shahan’s Western town that they used for the Alamo movie set. Happy is watching the plane coming in, knowing Willie is on it. The plane hits a big chughole in the strip and flips over on its side and crashes. Happy likes news and publicity, you know, so first thing he does is pick up the phone and call the radio stations, the TV, the newspapers. Happy says, ‘Willie Nelson’s plane just crashed. Y’all better hurry.’

“He jumped in a Jeep and drove out to the crash to pick up the remains. And here comes Willie and his pilot, limping up the road. The media people were arriving by then. They started firing questions at Willie. How did he survive? Was he dying? Was he even hurt? Willie smiles and says, ‘Why, this was a perfect landing. I walked away from it, didn’t I?’”

2. Recording Red Headed Stranger for $4,000


That’s right. Arguably the greatest, most influential album in the history of country music was recorded on a shoestring budget at the renegade and recently-opened Autumn Sound Studios in the Dallas suburb of Garland in January 1975. Autumn Sound engineer Phil York was trying to promote the new studio, knew Willie through harmonica player Mickey Raphael, and offered Willie a free day of recording. With complete creative control over the album as part of his new contract with Columbia Records, Willie set out to record a stripped-down conceptualized record that was like nothing the overproducing bean counters on Music Row had ever heard. Willie’s version of “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” became Willie’s first #1, and the album remains many critic’s pick for the best country record ever. Eat that Music Row.

3. Gun Battle at the Birmingham Coliseum

After playing a concert in Birmingham, Alabama in the late 70?s, Willie and the band found themselves in the middle of a gun battle in a six-story parking garage as they were unloading gear from the stage. Though the story involves Willie getting involved in the fracas with his own weaponry, it also illustrates Willie’s unique disposition as a peacemaker.

Willie Nelson & Poodie Locke

Willie Nelson & Poodie Locke

“All of a sudden we hear ‘Kaboom! Kaboom!’” Willie’s long-time stage manager “Poodie” Locke recalls. “It’s the sound of a .357 magnum going off in the parking garage. The echoes sound like howitzer shells exploding. It’s kind of semi-dark, and this guy comes blowing through this parking deck…now here comes this bitch with a fucking pistol. ‘Kaboom!’ She’s chasing this motherfucker. It sounds like a fucking war.”

At the time, Willie Nelson and most of his band and road crew carried pistols as a matter of habit. The scene became chaotic as the shooting happened right as the crowd from the show was filing out into the parking garage.

“People are piling out of the show and they start scattering,” Poodie continues. “Here come the cops from every direction. They’re flying out of their cars, hitting the parking deck, spread-eagling the whole crowd–’On the deck, motherfuckers!’–because the cops don’t know who is shooting at who…All these cops are squatting down in the doorjambs, turning people over, frisking them, aiming guns at everybody, just waiting for the next shot to be fired.”

“And here comes Willie. He walks off the bus wearing cutoffs and tennis shoes, and he’s got two huge Colt .45 revolvers stuck in his waist. The barrels are so long they stick out the bottom of his cutoffs. Two shining motherfucking  pistols in plain sight of a bunch of cops nervous as shit. Willie just walks over and says, ‘What’s the trouble?’ Well he’s got some kind of aura to him that just cools everything out. The cops put up their guns, the people climb off the concrete, and pretty soon Willie is signing autographs.”

4. Founding Farm Aid

Along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson founded the annual benefit concert in 1985 to help raise money for struggling farmers that has since become an American institution. Before a crowd of 80,000, 52 performers at the original Farm Aid raised $9 million for American farmers. Then Willie went to Capitol Hill with a group of struggling farmers to petition the government for aid. The end result was the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 that helped many American farmers avoid foreclosure.

5. Bailing Dennis Hopper Out Of Jail in Taos, NM

Dennis was a part-time resident of the small northern New Mexico town of Taos. Back in the mid 70?s it was a hangout for country music types and Hollywood misfits like Hopper. It was also the scene of one of the most crazy country music stories involving Willie, Hopper, and of all people, golf pro Larry Trader.


“I hadn’t got a clue how Willie knew I was in jail in Taos. At the time I couldn’t imagine how Willie Nelson even knew who I was.

“In Taos I had gotten real drunk and proceeded to win a lot of acid in a poker game, so I swallowed the acid and saw weird dangerous shit going on, and I pulled my pistol out of my boot and shot up the plaza. I was ranting and raving in the jail, people were out to get me, man, and here came the sheriff saying Willie Nelson had come and paid my bill and was waiting outside. I was free to go with him.

“I freaked fucking out. Willie Nelson? Come on, man, who do you think you’re kidding? You’re gonna lure me out and yell jailbreak and blow my ass away! But I thought, hey, be cool, you are after all hallucinating all this. So I walked out of jail and got into Willie’s Mercedes with him and his wife Connie and his golf pro Larry Trader. We drove across the desert towards Las Vegas. Willie and Trader and I nearly drove Connie crazy with our laughing and shouting.”

6. Taking the Rap for Pot Bust in Texas

When Willie Nelson’s Honeysuckle Rose III was searched at the border patrol checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, Texas in November of 2010 and agents found 6 ounces of marijuana, anyone could have copped to the stash, or Willie could have pulled a “Do you know who I am ?!?”moment. But instead he offered his wrists to authorities, knowing that his arrest would prove the futility of the criminalization of marijuana that he’d been advocating against for many years.

Willie was booked into custody, a mug shot was taken, and he was later released on $2,500 bond. Eventually a plea deal was reached with prosecutors, and Willie paid a fine and spent 30 days on probation.

7. Dripping Springs Reunion and the 4th of July Picnics

Even though the events have many times been an annual financial bloodbath, Willie’s commitment to them has been steadfast, and they have become a Texas and American institution. It started with the Dripping Springs reunion in 1973, with the idea of putting on a “hillbilly Woodstock.” The Dripping Springs reunion featured Bill Monroe, Buck Owens, Charlie Rich, Dottie West, Roger Miller, Loretta Lynn, right beside Willie, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. Over the years the picnics have gone on to feature artists forgotten by Nashville and up-and-comers right beside big name talent. And because more times than not they have been losing propositions financially, it’s been Willie’s commitment that has kept them going.

8. Getting Lost in Baton Rouge

As told by Willie’s manager Mark Rothbaum

“Willie and I were at a hotel in Baton Rouge on the evening of a concert. We were on the twenty-third floor, and we could see the coliseum in a straight line from our windows. Looked like it was just right over there. So we decided we would run to the concert. Willie and I took off running through Baton Rouge after dark. We ran and kept on running through the neighborhoods, and we still weren’t arriving at the concert. After we had run ten miles, we decided we were totally lost. The gig was starting, and we had no idea where we were.

“Willie said, ‘I’ll just go up to that house and knock on the door and ask for help.’ I said, ‘You can’t knock on some stranger’s door.’

“He said, ‘I ain’t a stranger. I’m Willie Nelson.’”

9. “Shotgun Willie” & The Great Ridgetop Shootout

It was in the aftermath of an incident that would later be remembered as the “Great Ridgetop Shootout” that Willie Nelson got the nickname “Shotgun Willie.” Ridgetop was the house Willie lived in just outside of Nashville in the late 60?s. When it burned down in 1970, it stimulated Willie’s move back to Texas. In 1969, Willie and his first wife Martha separated, and his second wife Shirley moved into Ridgetop. Willie and Martha had three children, and right before Christmas in 1969, Willie’s youngest daughter Susie told Willie that his oldest daughter Lana was being physically assaulted by her husband Steve Warren.


“I ran for my truck and drove to the place where Steve and Lana lived and slapped Steve around,”Willie recalls. “He really pissed me off. I told him if he ever laid a hand on Lana again, I would come back and drown his ass. No sooner did I get back to Ridgetop than here came Steve in his car, shooting at the house with a .22 rifle. I was standing in the door of the barn and a bullet tore up the wood two feet from my head. I grabbed an M-1 rifle and shot at Steve’s car. Steve made one pass and took off.”

But this wasn’t where the incident ended. Willie drove back to Steve and Lana’s to confront Steve again, but he was gone and had kidnapped their young son Nelson Ray. Lana also told Willie that Steve was looking to “get rid of him (Willie) as his top priority.” So what did Willie do? He drove back to Ridgetop and waited for him.

“Thinking Steve would come to Ridgetop to pick me off about dusk, I hid in the truck so he couldn’t tell if I was home. We laid a trap for him. I had my M-1 and a shotgun. He drove by the house, and I ran out the garage door. Steve saw me and took off. That’s when I shot his car and shot out his tire. Steve called the cops on me. Instead of explaining the whole damn mess, the beatings and the semi-kidnapping and shooting and all, I told the officers he must have run over the bullet. The police didn’t want to get involved in hillbilly family fights. They wrote down what I told them on their report and took off.”

10. His Own Town


That’s right. Willie Nelson has his own town. Well, sort of.

It’s called Luck, TX, and it was originally constructed as part of the set of the movie The Red Headed Stranger released in 1986 as a companion to Willie’s album of the same name. The town was originally called Willieville, and was constructed to be a replica of Driscoll, Montana. It sits across the street from Willie’s golf course about 30 miles outside of Austin. The remarkable thing about Luck is it’s not just a Hollywood facade, but a collection of real buildings that despite their purposefully rustic condition, are generally solid structures that could constitute a real old-time town, with a church, opera house, and various other buildings. And the town is still used upon occasion for movies, video shoots, and special events including an annual music showcase around South by Southwest.

And then of course, there was that time he smoked pot on top of The White House…but that’s another story.

Willie Nelson in Songwriter Magazine (download for free)

Monday, May 18th, 2020

Willie Nelson, G.Q. Interview (May 11, 2012)

Monday, May 11th, 2020
photo: Mike Brooks
by:  Dan Hyman

Willie Nelson doesn’t schedule interviews. Nowadays, his publicist rings him up, and when the country legend happens to pick up—which, judging by our multiple failed attempts to get him on the line, is a rare occurrence—he’s informed there’s a reporter on the other line. Would he like to chat, perhaps? He almost never says no. So on the first call that Nelson answers—our fourth attempt overall—we’re on the line with the man known as the Red Headed Stranger.

At seventy-eight, Willie Nelson is a relic. But he doesn’t see it that way, because the country star has managed to stay as busy as ever. He’s usually touring. When he’s not, Nelson is either at his Austin, Texas ranch or at his home in Maui. Time away, however, doesn’t often suit Willie well. He likes to work. And after all, how fun could resting on your laurels be when you’ve has sold upwards of 50 million albums?

Nelson is most excited about his latest endeavor, Heroes (due May 15), a full-length album he recorded last year with family and close friends, including Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson, and Jamey Johnson. Heroes is not your average Willie Nelson post-millennial release—the man, in addition to a trio of new originals, covers Coldplay and Pearl Jam. Nelson was in Mississippi when he hopped on the line with GQ, and talked about his new album, enjoying Amsterdam with his pal Snoop Dogg, and how he’s smoking as much pot as ever. 

GQ: Thanks for hopping on the phone, Willie!
Willie Nelson: Sure!

GQ: Heroes was a family affair. Your sons, Lukas and Micah, share writing credits on the album.

Willie Nelson: It was, and is always nice to work with the kids. But I also had a lot (of others): Kris (Kristofferson) and Jamey (Johnson) and Snoop and Sheryl Crow and a bunch of other great talent in there. (Billie) Joe Shaver. Ray Price. So a lot of my friends were in there.

GQ: Speaking of Snoop, I hear you shared some time together in Amsterdam.

Willie Nelson: Yah. I was in Amsterdam and I got a call from Snoop and he was, I think, in New York or somewhere and didn’t have anything to do. So he just flew over and we hung out for a few days.

GQ: I assume you two frequented a few of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops?

Willie Nelson: We had a cup of coffee or two [laughs]. We got to be good buddies.

GQ: I know you are also longtime buddies with fellow country icon Billy Joe Shaver, who also appears on the album.

Willie Nelson: Heck, yah! In fact the song, “Heroes”, I wrote that song about Billy Joe, really. We stay in touch. We text back and forth all the time.

GQ: And Kris Kristofferson, another longtime friend of yours, also makes an appearance.

Willie Nelson: We’re big friends. I saw him a little while ago. I was in Maui and he lives over there also sometimes. He’d come by. We hung out a little bit. Another time before, that he brought Muhammad Ali by.

GQ: Kristofferson and Ali. Quite the combination.

Willie Nelson: [Ali]’s an incredible guy. One time I think we were playing in Kentucky or something and he’d come by and say hello. And I brought him on the bus and we hung out a little bit. And I’ve got a punching bag in the back so I got him back there punching the bag.

GQ: You have some surprising covers on Heroesyour cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” in particular.

Willie Nelson: It was for a [Chipotle] commercial first and it was pretty well received, so we decided to put it out on the new album.

GQ: And Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe”? Can’t say I saw that coming.

Willie Nelson: My son Lukas knew that song and he brought it to the studio. And that’s really how that happened. He brought about half the songs to the studio.

GQ: Is that a different process than normal? Do you usually come up with the track list yourself?

Willie Nelson: [It happens] all kind of different ways. On this particular one, Luke came up with the song and naturally I liked the song. But I wasn’t familiar with it until we recorded it.

GQ: It’s interesting because “Just Breathe” sounds like it could have been one of your originals.
Willie Nelson: Aw, thanks!

GQ: I know you have a home in Hawaii. Have you been spending a good deal of time down there lately?

Willie Nelson: I just spent a couple weeks over there and we’re back traveling now. I’m in Mississippi tonight and then Illinois. I just enjoy both working and not working. And fortunately I work enough where I get that out of my system and then we take a few days off, take a rest. It’s working pretty good. We work a couple weeks and then we take a couple off.

GQ: What does Willie Nelson do in his downtime? Are his off-duty activities a bit different than in, say, 1975?

Willie Nelson: Oh, it’s the same stuff I was doing in ’75! I don’t notice any changes. I went for a bike ride a while ago, a little run. The weather’s nice here so I can get out. So I’m just doing whatever I can do. And when I’m off I’m either playing some golf or some poker or whatever comes up.

GQ: What motivates you to get up each morning and keep playing and writing music?

Willie Nelson: New music keeps coming along and every now and then I write some new things—there’s “Hero,” “Roll Me Up,” and “Come On Back Jesus” on the new album. Then I go back and do something in the show that we hadn’t done in maybe a long, long time. Like last night I did “I Guess I’ve Come to Live Here in Your Eyes”. And I recorded that twenty, thirty years ago. [Editor’s Note: Nelson recorded this track in 1996] Every now and then I’ll think of something to put back in the show. I just kind of play it off the top of my head. If I do it that way it keeps it kinda fresh.

GQ: People love to mythologize your marijuana intake. Is your current pot consumption level exaggerated?

Willie Nelson: No, I still probably smoke as much as I ever did! I use a few different methods now. I don’t smoke as many joints as I used to. I use vaporizers a lot. It cuts down on the heat and the smoke. And for a singer that’s not a bad idea.

GQ: I must ask. How’s your famous acoustic guitar, Trigger? She still receiving the finest of care?

Willie Nelson: Trigger’s doing great! Trigger’s probably in better shape than I am.

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

Saturday, April 11th, 2020

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’”

Friday, April 10th, 2020

Willie Nelson Art (Paste Magazine, April 2010)

Paste Magazine Cover (April 2010)

Willie Nelson and Ray Charles

Monday, March 30th, 2020
by: Stephen Betts

In early March 1978, Willie Nelson was atop Billboard’s country albums and country singles charts with friend and frequent duet partner Waylon Jennings. Their Waylon & Willie LP had spawned a massive hit with “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” which enjoyed a four-week run at the Number One spot. Nelson, meanwhile, could be seen as sort of taking that song’s message to heart with his follow-up album which, on the surface anyway, would seem to appeal less to cowboys than to “doctors and lawyers and such.” Released April 19th, 1978, Stardust offered Nelson’s interpretations of American pop standards. The album’s first single, Nelson’s passionate reading of the Hoagy Carmichael classic “Georgia on My Mind,” was released March 2nd, 1978, 42 years ago today.

With Stardust, Nelson the hit songwriter was completely absent, which meant that his interpretive skills were allowed to fully flower on songs such as “All of Me,” “Moonlight in Vermont,” and “Blue Skies.” Following Nelson’s version of “Georgia on My Mind,” which would reach Number One in June, becoming only the third of the Texas native’s solo hits to top the chart, “Blue Skies” became another country chart-topper, which made Stardust Nelson’s first LP to produce more than one Number One hit.

A year after its release, Nelson’s version of the song earned a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. Most impressively, however, Stardust logged 540 weeks on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, eventually dropping off the survey a full decade later in 1988, by which time Nelson was a bona fide American legend.

Georgia on My Mind” was written in 1930 by Carmichael with his roommate, lyricist Stuart Gorrell. Thirty years later, Ray Charles had a Number One pop hit with it, and remains the artist most closely associated with the wistful tune. In 1984, Charles, who in 1962 had released Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, a landmark LP interpreting classic country songs, returned to the genre for Friendship, an LP of duets with Nashville acts including George Jones, Hank Williams Jr., Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs and more. With Nelson, Charles recorded the Number One LP’s chart-topping “Seven Spanish Angels,” making it the biggest of Charles’ handful of country-chart entries.

In 1985, Nelson teamed with Charles during a Nashville Network concert simply titled The Willie Nelson Special. The pair’s performance of “Georgia on My Mind” was a highlight of the program, as the two longtime friends sat together at the piano to trade vocals on the song, as seen above. But Nelson and Charles also played behind the scenes, too, enjoying a rivalry at chess that Nelson joked about during the special.

“He won,” Nelson said, adding, “But the next time we’re gonna turn the lights on.” The comment earned a hearty laugh from Charles, as can be seen in the clip below.

Stardust would coincide with Nelson’s first appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1978. In an interview with the magazine’s Chet Flippo, Nelson acknowledged the major gamble he was taking with the LP.

“I had had the idea for some time but until I met Booker [T. Jones, who produced Stardust], I wasn’t really sure in my mind how well I could do these songs because of my limited musical ability, as far as writing down songs of this caliber. These are complicated songs; they have a lot of chords in them. I needed someone like Booker to write and arrange. Once I got with him it was easy to do the album.”

Willie Nelson, Making Music, having fun (Country Song Roundup) (March 1980)

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

Country Song Roundup
March 1980
by:  Gail Buchalter

Willie Nelson finally landed on the sofa in his dressing room — it has taken him an hour to get there. People clustered in groups, constantly moving and changing direction as the Messiah of Music wound his way through the backstage area at Harrah’s, Lake Tahoe. Each formation had its own request — an autograph, a photograph, a kiss, or a simple thank you — but Willie was the common denominator. And he had time for everybody because he’s a nice guy. “I know it’s not easy to get backstage; you need a lot of patience and a good story. So if someone is willing to go through all that ttouble, of course, I’ll take the time to talk to them,” says Willie, leaning back against the cushions and wiggling his toes in his bright-blue Nikes, as he rests his feet on the coffee table.

This is the same wily Willie who breaks through police lines when he thinks he’s being overprotected, thus causing his fans to become underprivileged.  Nelson’s phenomenal success apparently hasn’t changed him and his music. There are just more of them. Also, life changes very little from what’s visible on stage to what happens once the curtain is dropped.

Once again that evening, the Nelson humor comes to the fore. A man in the audience shouted out his 40th-birthday request, “Hey, Willie, would ya sing ‘Johnny B. Goode?’”  “This man is gonna need all the help he can get,” commiserates the 46-year-old singer, “But I don’t know that song.  Jody Payne over here, on guiter does,” announces Willie, as the spotlight follows his pointing hand.

Nelson retrieves a bottle of Cuervo Gold that had been passed up to him from the audience, walks back to his amp, and tips the bottle to his lips. The moment lasts a bit too long and sends Willie hurrying back to his mike after missing the first couple of lines of the chorus. The smile-lines deepen around his eyes as he sings back-up harmony to Payne’s lead vocals.

“Willie doesn’t drink like he used to,” explains drummer Paul English. “In fact, the only time you see him with a bottle these days is when he’s on stage.”  A few sips of beer did manage to wet Nelson’s throat while he waited for the next show.

This is all a part of Nelson’s new plan of making it through the night and the next night, etc.  Willie’s traded in his cowboy boots for jogging shoes, and his nylon-mesh running shirt that he wears on stage is more than an apparel affectation.  “I run five miles a day.  It doesn’t matter whether we’re working Vegas in the summer, or filming in Hollywood during the winter,” he adds, looking lean from healthful activities.

Willie’s taking good care of himself these days — just the way he’s always taken care of his Family; an elite group that includes only his band and the road crew.

Bobbie Nelson, Willie’s older sister, is literally family.  They have ben playing together, on and off, since adolescence, though there is now talk of Bobbie’s possible road retirement.  Paul English might as well be Family, since he’s been with Willie for 25 years.  Nelson’s song, “Me and Paul,” details their travels and tribulations, and Willie dedicated his album Troublemaker to the memory of Paul’s wife, Carlene English, who initially worked for no money, earned $150,000 in 1978, as one of Willie’s two drummers.  The other drummer, Rex Ludwig, has been with the Family for five years.  The newest member of the band is Chris Ethridge, who joined two years ago.

Bee Spears had been playing bass for Willie for ten years when he left for personal reaons. Ethridge, whose credits begin with the Flying Burrito Brothers, and includes Delaney & Bonnie and thousands of hours of session work, replaced him.  When Spears wanted to return to the fold, he was immediately welcomed back.  The band recognized that this wasn’t a fireable offense as far as Chris was concerned, so now he and Bee share the bass lines.  Mickey Raphael, another veteran of the studios took his harmonica on the road with Willie eight years ago and has been touring with him every since.

“This organization runs best on confusion,” comments Paul.  “Nobody has a title.  Everybody is too busy helping everybody.”  But somehow things seem to work out.

“One thing we’ve all learned from Willie is, very few decisions have to be made immediately.  If you just let things slide, they will usually sort themselves out. Another Willie-tenet is, as long as it’s fun we’ll do it, and when it stops being fun, we won’t do it,” adds Snake, Willie’s… well, in any group he would be titled road manager, but at Harrahs he was registered  as “confidant.”  Of course, in any other band someone would know his Christian name.  The same holds true for “Beast.”

An ex-Army cook and supervisor of food services at the University of Iowa, h is in charge of the Chuck Wagon, one of three  Silver Eagle buses that bear the Nelson logo.  “This way, everybody gets one hot well-balanced meal a day,” says the portly part-time caterer.  “Willie’s favorite foods are Southern dishes so I cook a lot of hamhocks and different kinds of greens.”

Not only does Willie make sure his band gets a hot meal a day, he also guarantees them a $10,000 bonus on each album they record with him.  And as quick and casual as Willie is about recording (Willie and Leon boasted an unprecedented 100 songs in six days of session work.  “I don’t know what’s so special about that,” Willie laughs.  “The Lord made the world in six days.”), these bonuses plus studio scale go a long way towards putting each member of the band in the six figure salary range.

First-class accommmodations are provided for the band and the crew while they are on the road or in the air.  Even when the band is ensconced in the luxury of being a top act, Willie can still be founds sleeping on a berth in the bus.

As good as things are now, there was a time when things were even better.   It took a severe manager to tell Willie he had to stop paying the Family’s laundry, dry cleaning, and long-distance phone bills while they were on the road.  Though he listened, he no longer has a manager.

There are times when it appears that Willie’s Family extends to include all of his fans.  When he’s in the supermarket, he’ll return the waves and smiles of the ‘Hey, Willie’ bunch.  “They’re never a problem,” he says, “it’s the ones who don’t recognize me.  I run up to them, pull them on their shirt sleeps, and break into a chorus of ‘Whiskey River, take my mind…’”


Willie and Amy

Monday, March 2nd, 2020

Willie Nelson, “Country American” (March 1990)

Sunday, March 1st, 2020

Willie Nelson New York Times Interview (February 23, 1995)

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020
Image result for new york times willie nelson

by Alex Witchel
February 23, 1995

Most men will tell you Willie Nelson is a hero. With a copy of his 1982 hit “Always on My Mind” and the phone number of a good florist, they can get away with murder. “Girl, I’m sorry I was blind,” indeed.

They learn from a master. Mr. Nelson, who is married to wife No. 4, may be most recognizable for his Pocahontas braids, but it’s those eyes that start the trouble. Even now, at 62, they are perfectly almond shaped, deep brown and, well, just deep. Look into them for too long and you may regret it.

Mr. Nelson’s misfortune in love may be the reason he can wail his songs about heartbreak so well. Not to mention write them. When he went home drunk and passed out cold for the thousandth time, his first wife sewed him into the bedsheets “buck naked,” as he likes to say, and piled his clothes and the kids into the car and left. It makes you wonder whom he really wrote “Crazy” about.

These days, though, Mr. Nelson insists, he’s a cheating heart no more. His newest album, “Healing Hands of Time” (EMI Liberty), is filled with classic love songs, his and other people’s, accompanied by a 63-piece orchestra. But life can be funny for a crooning cowboy. A new album means going on the road to sell it, so he has to sing his love songs to everyone but his wife, Anne Marie, back in Spicewood, Tex., for whom they are meant.

And being on the road again means living on his bus, Honeysuckle Rose II. The previous night, he played Syracuse; this night, in early February, the United States Military Academy.

At 5 P.M. it’s not quite dark outside, but it certainly is dark in the bus. Up front, there are built-in couches along the sides, and thanks to a satellite dish, CNN is on TV. At the back is the door to Mr. Nelson’s bedroom. In the middle is a small kitchen area with a cut watermelon in the sink. Mr. Nelson sits at the table wearing a sweatshirt, sweatpants and thick white socks. Behind him is what he calls the art museum, snapshots of his two youngest sons, Lucas, 6, and Micah, 5, and a drawing with the message “Hi, Dad From Lucas” surrounded by hearts. His hair, reddish-brown and finely sifted with gray, hangs loose down his back. And his face! It is marked with so many creases, hollows and furrows it looks almost geological. He sits quietly, watching, like a cornered animal that can’t decide if he should pounce, flee or purr.

How was Syracuse? “It was cold.”

What did he do today? “Slept till noon.”

Why did he make this new album? “It seemed like the thing to do.”

How’s his back? (He fractured it baling hay as a teen-ager.) “Let me tell you a strange story,” he says, suddenly animated, as if a quarter dropped into his slot. And with the passion of pain he starts his tale of woe and redemption, which culminates in Rolfing.

“My wife recommended it highly,” he says. “I heard it was painful, but I didn’t care. The first of 10 sessions fixed it.” He rests his thick hands on the table. His wedding band looks loose on his finger. That seems right.

It’s hot in here. Navy velvet curtains hang over the windows, and the dark brown paneling and dark carpet seem to soak up light. “It’s kind of like living in a submarine,” Mr. Nelson acknowledges, showing a small smile. “But I’m happy on the bus. Home is where you’re happy. It can be anywhere, out there playing music, wherever I’m at. I refuse to stay where I’m not happy, and if I can’t change it, because of bad vibes or whatever, there’s no reason to stay.”

“A lot of people get tired of the road,” he continues. “But as much as I enjoy being at home with the toys I have there, I still need to leave that and go play music. I have the best of two worlds, though it’s hard to balance them. They’re both fragile. There’s the desire to be where you are plus the desire to go back where you were.”

The phone rings. It’s his eldest daughter, Lana, 41.

“Hey, nothing. What do you know?” Mr. Nelson asks affectionately. “Oh, we’re traveling to the gig. West Point. Yes, the West Point. As opposed to the east point. I don’t know what we’re doing. We’re playing for the folks.”

He speaks so quietly, barely above a whisper, that it’s hard to conjure visions of his legendary temper. Does he still have one? “If I said I didn’t I’d be lying,” he says. “I don’t show it every time. At least I hope I don’t. People say about me, ‘He’s a tough old bird.’ I must be or I wouldn’t be here.”

He says he doesn’t know exactly how many albums he’s made. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 to 100 legitimate albums, but there’s also bootleg.” From which he doesn’t make money, of course.

Money has been a loaded issue for Mr. Nelson since 1990, when the Internal Revenue Service seized his house and all his assets for nonpayment of $16.7 million in taxes. What happened, he says, was that he owed $2 million in taxes, and on advice of his accountants, Price Waterhouse, was told to borrow $12 million to invest in tax shelters so he wouldn’t have to pay the $2 million. The only problem, he says, was that, after the fact, the shelters were disallowed.

But the story has ended happily. He settled out of court with Price Waterhouse and paid back the Government. When his house was auctioned, a group of farmers bought it for him, grateful for the singer’s Farm Aid concerts, which have raised $12 million, so now he has it back. “There’s a lot of good people out there,” Mr. Nelson says simply.

So, why bother touring, especially if his debts are paid? “Well, I don’t know,” he says. “I seem to be happier when I’m working. I tend to get into trouble with too much time on my hands.”

Like what?

“Like you name it,” he shoots back.

He started working by the age of 5, picking cotton in Abbott, Tex. (When he was a toddler, his mother, a dancer, and his father, a musician, left him and his older sister, Bobbie, who plays keyboards in his band, to be raised by their grandparents.) He played his first professional date at 8, and as an adult sold vacuum cleaners door to door. After working as a disk jockey, he moved in the early 1960’s to Nashville, where he sold his songs and despaired of becoming a singer. The fact that he didn’t sound like anyone else was not an advantage at the time. Now, of course, his idiosyncratic phrasing and nasal twang could be copyrighted.

“I never pretended to have a great voice,” he says. “It works and I can carry a tune. If you have a good song, that’s about all that’s required.”

The new album has lots of good songs. “EMI Liberty, my new record label, said I should do an album of standards. Like ‘Crazy.’ ” He smiles. “I hadn’t been looking at those as standards.”

As a writer, Mr. Nelson has slowed down in recent years, though it’s hard to blame him. He says that between the mid-1950’s and mid-1970’s, he wrote about 2,000 songs.

“I went into the studio last week with my original band and a new songbook of mine,” he says. “We started on the first page, and in two days we did 11 segments. I want to do that with all my songs, the way I hear them and feel them now. People wouldn’t know but one or two of ’em.”

In this, his 54th year of performing, does he worry about the show-biz adage “No one is on top forever”? “That’s not my plan,” he says. “There’s a saying I could never decide was mine or Roger Miller’s. I decided I’d take credit for it: ‘I didn’t come here and I’m not leaving.’ ”

Very wise. Does that wisdom extend to fatherhood? He has had seven children in all, yet he has traveled his entire life, leaving home for vast stretches of time. His eldest son, Billy, who had been treated for alcohol abuse, committed suicide three Christmases ago. Should he have done anything differently?

“Well, you have all those guilts and regrets, but you can run yourself crazy,” he says quietly. “You’re not the same person now you were then, so why take responsibility for something you didn’t do?” When he lifts his eyes, the anguish in his face belies the slickness of the words.

The bus has parked, and he goes inside the Eisenhower Hall Theater for a rehearsal. He starts to sing, and his familiar voice lifts, the cry of an old soul who’s seen more than he’s wanted to. He is completely fallible, which is his charm. A frog prince who’d rather stay a frog.

A few cadets peer at him from the wings, while Larry Gorham, a former Hell’s Angel who is Mr. Nelson’s bodyguard, glares. “Be all that you can be,” he grumbles not-so-under his breath.

“Be nice,” Mr. Nelson calls out.

It’s only 7 P.M. Rehearsal is over, and the show’s not until 8. Mr. Nelson heads toward the bus. What’s he going to do now? He smiles.

“I’m gonna roll me up a big joint and smoke it.” Then he eats a plate of vegetables and settles back with some of the band to watch videos of himself, including one from Howard Stern’s cable-television show, in which he handily wins a joint-rolling contest. Everyone laughs. The feeling is easy, relaxed. You would never know that, a few yards away, 4,400 people are growing restless.

Toward the end of the tape, he goes into his bedroom and comes out with his hair braided (he does it himself). At 8:10 P.M. he walks backstage and picks up his guitar with no noticeable increase in energy. He keeps his world small, parking his living room just outside and walking in here now to play. He could be anywhere. On the other side of the curtain are howls and whoops as the lights go down. One member of the band asks, “Should we open with ‘Anchors Aweigh’?”

When the curtain rises and the flag of Texas unfurls behind them, though, they launch into “Whisky River,” their customary opening number. They’re all so used to each other, they’re like fingers on a hand. They just stand and play, with no videos or special effects.

But when Mr. Nelson launches into “Always on My Mind” the yelling accelerates. “My favorite song!” a man screams from the balcony. As Mr. Nelson sings, his energy is intense. He invests the words with all kinds of feeling, every bit he can muster. When he sings “Give me one more chance to keep you satisfied,”the meaning seems to switch and he’s no longer pleading with a woman but with the audience. He’s not young, he’s not pretty, he doesn’t have a fancy headset or smoke machines. He holds Trigger, his old, beaten guitar with a hole in it, and sings his heart. And it goes, the sound, the feeling, the plea, and hits the cadets and the rest full force, and they scream and holler and clap.

And then he asks, “Everybody doing all right out there?” And they roar, “Yeah,” back at him, and someone tosses a cadet’s hat onto the stage, which he puts on — a real sight with those braids.

And when he says, “Good night, everybody,” and the roar intensifies, they somehow find their way backstage, and they’re lining up outside near the bus, and everywhere he goes there are arms and hands and people shouting, “Willie!”

And he talks to each of them, one at a time, in no particular rush now to climb back on the bus and drive into the night. He’d like to stay awhile.

Paul English: On The Road with Willie Nelson (Modern Drummer)

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020
by: Scott K. Fish
May 1981

It’s difficult to write about Paul English without mentioning Willie Nelson. Paul says that Willie is his “favorite subject.” But, there’s something admirable about long relationships. For three decades the team of Nelson and English has been on the high and low sides of country and pop music. No drummer can play Willie Nelson’s music better than Paul English because Paul’s drumming is a great part of Willie’s music. You can hear the empathy, the craziness and the love.

SF: You’ve been playing with Willie Nelson for a long time. Maybe you could go back and talk a bit about how you got started playing drums.

PE: Playing the drums was really an accident. My family were musicians. My older brother had me going to music school before I was out of grammar school. I was taking trumpet lessons. I played trumpet in church, junior high school and in the high school bands. Then, after I got out of school I set up a leather shop. Willie was a disc jockey at the time. 1954. My brother called me on the phone and wanted me to come up to the radio station. They were doing a live 30 minute thing to help promote jobs for their band. Back then, musicians were really having a hard time. So, they called and wanted me to play a little snare drum with the brushes. That was my debut on drums! They couldn’t pay me anything, but since I had my own shop I could take off. Most other drummers who had to have a separate job could not take off. My job was ideal. I could take off anytime I wanted.

Up until that time, I’d never played drums before in my life! I just came in and all I did was play the snare drum. Then, after about a week somebody dug up a bass drum, and pretty soon they had almost a little set. I had a hi-hat, snare, bass drum, and one cymbal. I didn’t know what to do with a pair of sticks at that time! But, after about six weeks, the band got a job and they all asked Willie, “Well, who do you want to get as a drummer?” And good ol’ Willie said, “Well, I think we ought to use Paul. He’s been working six weeks for nothing!” By then, I was starting to enjoy it.

SF: Could you read music?

PE: Well, I did know about music. I took music and theory. I can’t sight read drum music, but I know how to read it. I can sight read trumpet music because I had to transpose that during church. The trumpet’s a B flat instrument and church music is all written in C major. So, I had to learn how to transpose in church and play the other keys in school. At any rate, I went to work, and Willie would start the count off and that’s how it would go! Everywhere we went we started out making $8.00 a night. Three nights a week. That was pretty good pay, really. That was about the highest they paid.

SF: Were you doing any road tours at that time?

PE: Oh no. Nobody could think about that at the time. Even Roger Miller at that time was living in the back of his car playing about five miles outside of Fort Worth. No one was making any great money at that particular time.

SF: Was this around the time you were playing those clubs where they used to stretch chickenwire across the bandstand so you wouldn’t get hit with beer bottles?

PE: Yeah. There were actually two of those places. I’ve worked in some pretty hardcore clubs. One place was called The County Dump. It was next door to the county dump! And somewhere else over on the Northside, called The Bloody Bucket or The Basement. Whichever! We worked there for awhile.

SF: I wanted to ask about a stigma that seems to get attached to country drummers. That because they’re not “busy” players you often hear that it requires little or no skill to play country western drums.

PE: That depends on what they’re playing! Music is music. Working with Willie is a lot different than working with somebody else. Without people knowing it, maybe, we play jazz, pop, and we play some hardcore country. Musicians know it! I like to go from a funky 4 beat into a good country 2/4 in the same song. It gives it a good release, a good feel.

Also, I like to interpret the song. What does the song say? The only thing I dislike about acid rock is that it only has one level and that’s “high.” I think music should have lows and valleys and sometimes no drums at all!

Louie Bellson was the only drummer I ever talked to when I was younger. And he said, “It’s not what you play—it’s what you don’t play.” I’ve found that to be my inspiration, really. I like to build up to something loud, and just leave out that one beat. Then, maybe come back to a soft shuffle. See, I play with mallets, brushes, sticks, and I play with wooden brushes that nobody has ever heard of because I made ’em!

SF: What are wooden brushes?

PE: You take some little bitty dowels. Wooden dowels. Take about 15 or 20 and cut them off the length of the stick and glue them all together in a circle. Wrap some tape around them and file the ends off. They’re only about a quarter inch in diameter. Then you have your set of wooden brushes! I used them on “On the Road Again,” ’cause I’m playing 16th notes with a syncopated accent. I also like to play bells. I like to play bells in between the notes. I like to accent with the sock cymbal rather than the bass. Just an open sock. I haven’t seen anybody else do it, really. I got to doing that because when I first started playing with Willie we played with brushes and one stick most of the time. I didn’t have a stick in my right hand to accent, so I would just crash the sock cymbal and catch it loose, not quite tight at the top.

And I crash it with my left foot. Now, after 15 years of working with this style, I can crash it on a 16th, just before the beat. Ka-choom! And then just bring it down to a nothing. Ba-doomp.

I like things like that. I use two rhythm patterns on “On the Road Again.” I’m playing ah 1, ah 2, ah 3, ah 4, still with a four beat with the wooden brushes. Then it will go into the instrumental part. I’m trying to imagine the bus swaying back and forth while I’m playing and 1, and 2, and 3, and 4. Accenting the and on 1 and then 3 and 4. When I play ah I , ah 2, ah 3, ah 4, the accent is on 2 and 4.

The wooden brushes give a tremendous effect. A lot of times on outdoor gigs where you should use brushes, like on “Stardust,” if it’s pretty noisy I’ll use the wooden brushes. Sometimes, I’ll start out with the wire brushes, switch to wooden brushes and then go to the sticks in the middle for the instrumental part. And then go back to the wire brushes again.

SF: Were you playing the old standards like “Stardust” back in 1954?

PE: We were doing some of that. We were also doing “Perdido.” But, back
then songs like “Sixteen Tons” were the style. That was really hot. Lefty Frizzel was about the hottest thing going then. A musician had to be really diversified to play an old joint, but you didn’t have to be good! So, in one respect I came up lucky because now you have to be good and diversified also! At that time, you didn’t really have to be good because it didn’t pay any money and you were liable to show up for work and the place would be locked up. And that was no big deal either.

SF: Back then, on an average night, what songs would you most likely have to play?

PE: You had to do whatever was popular at that time. We did everything. Elvis, Dean Martin, Lefty Frizzel. My cousin, brother and myself organized a band and we did go on the road with that band. This was 1956. Willie at this time had moved to Waco, just before he moved to Nashville. So, we organized a band and we did what was sort of like Elvis rock.

SF: Rockabilly material?

PE: Well, that’s what they call it now. Back then, everybody called it rock. We called ourselves Rock & Roll Cowboys. And then we had a show called The Grand Old Uproar and that lasted about 45 minutes. Before that we’d do songs by Willie, Elvis, Nat King Cole. The good dance stuff. That’s what they wanted. The Grand Old Uproar was a type of a show. My cousin would do imitations— change hats, you know. And he had different names for everybody: Ernest Bucket, Lefty Frizzle, and he’d do their songs. He’d imitate them. I’ll tell you, if we worked as hard now with as much talent as we have now as we did back then, we’d be dynamic!

In Kansas City the other night, we were doing “On the Road Again” and 18,000 people all lit matches at the same time. It was like they turned all the lights on! Willie was really emotional. This is tears to my eyes. I looked over and Willie was wipin’ a tear out of one eye, trying to hide it, and then he got the other eye. I saw him and I remembered back when he and I were driving along in this old station wagon, pulling a trailer. We were driving and one tire had a blow out. And I just remembered that and thought, ‘Boy, this is sure a long way from that blow out.’ But, it was really living back then. For me it was.

SF: You’ve been with Willie about 26 years now, right?

PE: Yes. I haven’t been with him constantly, but we’ve been in constant contact.

SF: When did Willie decide to make it with his own material?

PE: He put the band together in ’66. We never tried to buck the establishment or anything like that. This is when Willie was recording for RCA. What happened was, we would go in to record and cut a voice track, and it would be released with 37 pieces! It would be a fantastic arrangement but it wasn’t what we were selling. We couldn’t match that on stage. We were drawing a pretty good crowd, but our record was only selling about 20,000 a year. Will does that a day on each album now. All we wanted to know was, “Can we go in and produce? Can we go in and cut our stuff?” Because at our shows people would come out and tell us, “We like to hear you, but we don’t like your records.” So, we just wanted to go in and see if we could make records. It wasn’t like we were trying to make it big or anything. We never even dreamed of anything like that. We always thought we were a success as long as we could make a living!

So, Willie said, “The hell with it.” One time they wouldn’t even release a record so Willie said, “Well, we’ll just move to Texas.”

Several record companies got in touch with Willie. Columbia was one of them. I thought they were offering too much money! At that time I think they were trying to take him off the market. That’s when we made a deal with Atlantic. We got to use our band and I got signed approval. We did two records for them, Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages. In Phases and Stages they talked Willie into using another band after we did it.

SF: Why do you think the record companies wouldn’t let Willie use his own band for recording?

PE: RCA just didn’t do that! They didn’t have to promise him any money upfront, and Willie was about breaking even. They figured if he ever hit something, he’d be good. Merchandising is all it is. At any rate, when Atlantic dropped their country office in Nashville and Jerry Wexler (producer) quit, that gave us an excuse. So, we went to Columbia and Willie now has complete artistic control. I mean, we go out and do the records; we did Stardust in three days. We’ve never taken over three days to do an album.

We don’t know what we are gonna do when we go in the studio! Alright? When we did Stardust, Willie had 80 songs. We got the lead sheets because he didn’t want to do them wrong. This is the type of a song you’re supposed to revere. That’s what we thought. That’s our thinking still! We weren’t trying to jazz them up or anything like that. No, they were good when they came out. So, Willie just wanted to make sure he got the melody straight-on. We got a hold of Booker T. and he played with us and that was a real inspiration.

Willie never tells us how to play. If I’m playing fancy he might say it’s too busy. But, like he told me one time, if I wasn’t a better drummer than he was, he wouldn’t have hired me!

SF: Let’s backtrack a moment, Paul. What was it like when you were traveling in a station wagon pulling that trailer?

PE: Well, it varied. Of course we weren’t out nearly as much as we are now. I still remember our longest route very well. We went 15,000 miles in 18 days and played 9 jobs. We started in San Antonio, to New Jersey, to Los Angeles, to San Francisco, to San Diego, back to Los Angeles, to Phoenix, and back again to Los Angeles for the American Association of Country Music (AACM) awards. The last day was from Los Angeles to Stamford, Connecticut. We had 69 hours to make it!

SF: How many of you were there in the car?

PE: There were 5 people. Pulling a trailer with our P.A. system and everything. We set it up ourselves. Amps, and brain that I worked. One microphone. One microphone stand.

SF: Were you playing Rogers drums back then?

PE: I was playing Gretsch.

SF: I imagine that life on the road is a little different now?

PE: Yeah, it’s quite a bit different, but we were having fun then. A lot of people talk about them being hard times. They weren’t really hard times. We might not have had any money, but we had enough where we didn’t go hungry. We weren’t wet. Back home, if we ain’t cold, we ain’t wet and we ain’t hungry, we classified it as a “good time.” We got a kick out of being 69 hours from that 3,280 miles. It was a challenge and we said, “Well, we’ll show ’em that we can do it!” And we had to dress in the car on the way to the gig. I don’t remember them as bad times. There are just as many bad times now as there were then. You know, I worry about Willie now security- wise. Of course most times, like Willie says, “Who hurts you worse than security?”

SF: Do you rehearse before you go on the road?

PE: We’ve never rehearsed in our lives. Even to this day. Willie doesn’t want to rehearse. That’s the reason we don’t know what we’re gonna record. When we recorded Redheaded Stranger we did not know it was a concept album until the second day. So, Willie didn’t do the songs in sequence. But, we did hold that mood for 3 days. That’s how our group cut that one, too. Willie doesn’t want you to pre-plan anything. That’s where we’re different from a lot of people because we don’t want anything planned. We want it to be spontaneous. Willie won’t have a soundtrack or anything play behind him when he appears on TV. We do it ourselves because we think that after we’ve done the songs awhile, they can improve. The only arrangement we have is what we follow from Willie. That’s how we improve it. But, if I hear him hit it one time, then the next time he does it again, I may do something with it. And if he hits it again, I may do something and then Willie may hear me do something with it. The bassman will probably hear me and then it sort of gets left in the arrangement. It builds as we play. Willie doesn’t want anything rehearsed to sterility and everybody in our band believes in that.

SF: When Willie writes new material, he just goes out onstage and surprises everybody?

PE: Oh, he does that. We did one song at a recording session just the other day. Took us two and a half days. I asked, “How do you want the ending?” Willie said, “I don’t know. Something like that.”

SF: Are you still taking care of the business end of the band as much as you used to?

PE: Yes. Well, I started out that way, I guess, because it got down to where it was just me and Willie. Just by seniority alone, I probably have been the bandleader. I make sure everything’s coming off right. We don’t believe in many titles, but if you had to put a title it would be bandleader. Bandleader and Road Manager. Whatever. But, now I have a lot of help.

I’ll say one thing for our band. Everybody in our band, except Chris who we just hired, worked in 1973 for $100 a week for a year. What’s so funny is that we owe more money now than we did then!

SF: When were you first aware that your music was catching on to a much larger audience than it had been?

PE: Well, the music was catching on almost everywhere we played. We played a place in Texas, the type of place where they have hay in the rafters. That’s their acoustics. At that time, I was wearing black suits with a long red felt-lined cape. And they called me “The Devil.” We played there on Friday night; Saturday during the day we played at the State Capitol; Saturday night we played in Austin; Sunday we played at a Country Club in Brownsville, Texas. We played the same show at every place! And we were going over! Our records didn’t represent us at all.

SF: With such a large following now. Do you feel any kind of responsibility towards your listeners?

PE: Oh, for sure. That is why I told you about the first time I’d seen Willie cry before an audience. I did, too! I was really emotional. I felt that was a moving thing. Of course, all the time the audience controls us. They always determine what we play. Many times, before we were very popular, we’d start off playing one thing, and if it was a country crowd, Willie started throwing in “Fraulein” and things like that. He makes sure he pleases. We try to please the crowd. We’ve always tried to do that. One time Willie was signing an autograph not too long ago. A policeman told him to move on. He said, “You’re gonna find yourself in jail!” Willie said “Okay.” Kept signing autographs. I ran and got the sergeant and that sergeant took that policeman and got him away from there! In Kansas City they wanted us to set up a table and sign autographs! You can’t do that, really. If it comes spontaneously, it comes. But, if you set up a table, they’ll take the table and everything! There’d be such a crowd. One time we played a place and a girl passed out and she didn’t have anywhere to fall. She stayed passed out upright.

SF: Was it a tough adjustment not playing small clubs anymore and playing the big halls?

PE: We still play the small clubs. Just before we played at the last Fourth of July picnic, we played all the old Texas joints that we used to work in. We just didn’t advertise. I mean, we didn’t tell anybody anything. We just went back and played for them and did a grand opening that seated 300 people.

SF: So, being famous wasn’t a hard adjustment?

PE: No. I don’t think I am famous. Maybe infamous! I guess I’m recognized a lot now. And I like it. There’s a price you pay for it, naturally. Like Willie said one time to this lady that was right on top of his head. It was in San Antonio and she said, “Oh, you’re Willie Nelson! You don’t remember me do ya?” And he said, “No M’am. I don’t. But, I appreciate you rememberin’ me.” I thought that was the greatest comeback I’d ever heard in my life!

SF: Newsweek had quoted you as saying that one of the things you learned from Willie was tolerance.

PE: Oh yeah. I have learned that. I used to get in fights. I still do, but now maybe it’s just twice a year instead of every week. Now, everything I do is a reflection on Willie. These people don’t really know me, and so whatever they say doesn’t really matter. If they say something smart, I just turn around, say ‘Thank you very much,’ and go on. Whereas before, I would just turn around and say “Okay mother! Let’s get it on!” I fought Golden Gloves for 9 years. I really can take care of myself. But, also I always carried a pistol. But, I’ve seen Willie ride in the back of cars when I know he’s had 2 hours sleep. And I’d wake him up and he woke up with a smile! And I know that has been a forced smile a lot, but, it did things for me. You know, I thought, “Well by God, if he can do it, I can do it!” The tolerance is for the people. A lot of people can be abusive sometimes and overbearing. And Willie will just be so kind and so gentle. In that respect I learned an awful lot.

I never took any of his heed in business, now! I think Willie’s a lousy businessman. Because he believes in people. All the people. He doesn’t believe in contracts or anything like that. Y’know, everybody isn’t that nice.

SF: As far as your commitment to the music, back in 1954, did you always feel that music was what you wanted to do with your life?

PE: Oh yeah. For sure. I had to play. It’s in your blood. Or if it’s not in your blood—it’s addictive. I had to spend less than $50 traveling or flying somewhere and back for a gig, and unloading my drums cost $40. I was working 3 nights a week and making $15 a night. So yeah! I’d say I was working for the love of it.

SF: Did you ever reach a point where you wanted to get out of music?

PE: No, I never did. That’s the reason I went to work with Willie this last time. I owned about 5 houses and a couple of duplexes. I sold them all one at a time because I needed the money to play and stay with what I wanted to do. At that time, I didn’t think it was dedication to the music, so to speak. It was just really what I wanted to do. So, it was purely selfish.

SF: And you never had dreams of becoming famous?

PE: No, I never did. ‘Course after you see people around you that do make it, you might think, “Boy, that would be nice.” But, we never did think we could really do it. We weren’t really thinking in that direction, back then. I can recall the first 500 dollar day that I booked. Took me 6 months to get another one!

SF: How do you feel about Rogers drums?

PE: Well, I love ’em, really. I already had a brand new set of Rogers, and the company gave me another set. Instead of taking them I just augmented the drums I already had. Now I’ve got 7 tom-toms, one bass drum and a few little toys that I play with. A vibraslap, a cabasa, a tambourine, and a Chinese bell tree which I’ve got mounted on a stand. I play it note for note. They’re not ‘true’ in pitch so you have to memorize which note corresponds with the other. Like, I have one of the bells that naturally has a mark on it. And I can count, like, one time I’ll start on that one, on some other songs I’ll start with the one below it, or two above it. I just have to memorize which bell corresponds down.

SF: How about your cymbals?

PE: Well, I’ve always used A. Zildjians. Rogers drums, Speedking pedal, and a Ludwig snare.

SF: Does it matter to you, really? Are you fussy about what you’re going to play on?

PE: Not as long as they’ve got good hardware and handle like these handle. It really doesn’t matter. These particular drums I’ve got, I don’t know whether they’ve aged or what, but the reason I didn’t want to take a new set is because I like the wood in them. I like the way they sound.

SF: Is your snare wood?

PE: No, it’s metal. I like the snare really crisp. I’m using a brush head, y’know, a symphony type brush head and it’s got a rough surface.

SF: You play a lot of brushes!

PE: Yeah, I do play a lot of brushes. Fastest brush in the West.

SF: Why did the band decide to use two drummers for awhile?

PE: Well, when Jody Payne had a song out called “Three Dollar Bill” we were trying to let Jody have about 15 minutes to push his song. I would come out and play behind him and the crowd was used to seeing Willie behind or in front of me. They’d always start clapping for Willie and when Jody would start to sing you could forget it! So, we hired Rex Ludwick just to sit in for Jody. And it worked fine. We were coming back from New Jersey for the CMA (Country Music Awards) awards and CBS had two sets of drums already miked on the set. I said, “Let’s try ’em together.” And that’s how we started with two drummers. But, Rex hasn’t played with us since last year.

SF: How did you personally like working with another drummer?

PE: I liked it for awhile. I think at the end we got a little too overpowering. Rex is more or less like a rock star. My theory is if I can’t hear every word that Willie’s saying, I’m playing too loud. Rex’s theory was supposed to be if he couldn’t hear everything I was playing, he was playing too loud. That came from Willie. I learned that from Willie. Sometimes I would ask him, “Am I too loud? Am I too soft?” He’d ask, “Well, can you hear me?” With the microphones, I can play brushes and they can turn the volume up. We always have the same sound man, light man, monitors, sound system, same monitor guy working on it. That helps a lot. They’ve got, I think, 13 mikes on my drums. All my drums are double-miked. They mike the snares on the top and bottom.

SF: Why double-miked? One set for recording?

PE: No. There’s just two mike’s on each drum. I’ve got two overheads and also a swinging mike for the bell tree and the toys that I play with. I like that.

SF: Do you use the same drums in the studio?

PE: Oh, yes.

SF: All seven toms and everything?

PE: Yeah. In the studio, I don’t play like I do live, because it doesn’t sound the same. It would sound terrible! Now, if you had the same crowd noise like we had in Tahoe when we did the Live album that would be different! The audience was about 90 decibels. But, in a studio, I just couldn’t play that loud.

SF: Do you use different tuning or heads in the studio?

PE: I mute them a lot. Just put tape on them and mute them. We did that Ray Price album, and that was one I really loved! I played good on that, I’ve got to admit. It was mostly brushwork. That’s one thing about playing country music or the old songs. We’re not playin’ what we heard. We’re playin’ what we lived a long time ago.

SF: Is there a history of “country drummers” that could be traced, say similar to the history of “jazz drummers?”

PE: Well, when I started out there was only one drummer of any prominence. Gene Krupa. I still have some old records that he used to do. Then it was Joe Morello, naturally. I’d like to sit down and figure out all his rhythm patterns. And now, I don’t know. There’s so many great ones now. Probably the greatest one was Ginger Baker. But, there’s so many great ones now, it’s hard to pick a drummer.

SF: What kind of music do you listen to for your own enjoyment?

PE: Usually, I don’t listen to music at home unless it’s something that we’ve done. We make a tape of every show, and that is more or less our rehearsal. We listen to it. After I’ve listened to what I’ve done I’ll say, “Well, I shouldn’t have done that there.” Or, “That’s in the way there.” When people come over, that’s when I play my records. And, I don’t like hardcore country! Or acid rock.

SF: You don’t like hardcore country?

PE: No. Because there’s nothing there. You know what I mean? I like to take out our records and listen to lyrics and sometimes the rhythm patterns.

SF: What are you listening to when you’re onstage?

PE: I listen to who’s playing the lead, and the bassman. That’s Bea Spears. The band has two bassmen now, but Bea Spears is who I listen to. We play very good together. Jody and I hit some new licks while we were playing “Kansas City” behind Hank Cochran the other night. I don’t know how it came about because I was just listening to him and it came out that way. We can never duplicate it because we don’t know what we did! You had to be there.

SF: Have you ever thought about doing clinics?

PE: No, I couldn’t. I’m not capable. If somebody asked me something, I’d answer them. I’ve always done that. Especially younger kids. But I don’t know if I’m capable enough to teach. No, not at all. I’m not a rudimental drummer. I don’t play rudiments. I did talks at a Career Day in a high school recently, if that’s what you’re talking about. About traveling in bands. I’ve done that. I did it to show what they could expect. That is what you can expect if you go out, you know. If you’re expecting to make big money, well, be a plumber, because you’re going to make a lot more money. Twenty years is not very long to be a musician. I’ve been playing music per se since I was seven years old. I’m 47 now. I usually tell them, if you think you ought to quit, and you can, then you should. I never was able to.

SF: How’s Willie as a bandleader?

PE: He’s what you see. Willie’s not the luxury type. He’s the blue-jean type. Sometimes we forget how famous he is. To us he’s just ol’ Will. He’s not the boss or anything like that. And if anybody ever messes up, all you have to say is, “Man, I’m sorry I messed up. I’ll try to do better next time.” And he always says, “Well, I can relate to that.” He doesn’t want to hear any excuses. Just say, “I messed up, man. I’ll try not to let it happen again.” I usually say, “I messed up and if I live long enough it’ll happen again.” Because it will. I want to say I like what I do, but I like what other people do, too. But I hear something different. It’s not rudiments. It’s . . . .

SF: Experience?

PE: Yeah, true. I guess it’s something like that.

SF: Could you single out any one thing that you could attribute your success to?

PE: Willie Nelson, really. The main thing. Because, of the kind of person he is. I never would’ve worked that hard for money. And then the type of music he’s playing. With Willie the first thing you’ve got to do is forget to count and start feeling it instead. Willie says the difference between reading music and playing by ear is the difference between writing a book and reading a book. At one time, Willie was classified as a musician’s entertainer. When he came out with his first record, I went down to the radio station and had them put it on an 8-track so I could play it in my car. Then I Wrote . . .had all the heavy songs on it. When I started playing with him, it was so hard! We would do things like “Blackjack Country Chain” and the sock cymbal comes down on one. And that’s all! One on the sock cymbal. And the bass drum was 2, 3 and 4. With your right hand you played a shuffle with a brush. With your left hand you hit in between the beat with a stick. I played with groups where once we started playing good, they fired us! Because it wasn’t country. The other guy I used to work for was Ray Channing. I loved him, but he’s dead now. We worked a hall one night with him and he came over and said, “What kinda shit ya call that?” But, I said, “This is where I want to be, man.” It wasn’t the money. It was where I wanted to be. Willie didn’t ask to hire me. I asked to be hired.

Willie used to come through Houston with just a bassman and he didn’t have a drummer. He came through there and was just putting together a band and I’d always go out to see him. He knew I was making a lot of money. He asked me how to get a hold of a certain drummer we both knew in Fort Worth. I said, “Shit, Willie! I’m better’n him!” And he said, “Well, would you work for $30 a night?” I said, “Damn right I would!” And that struck it off and I went to work for him. We did 29 one-nighters in a row. And that was pretty good money then. It wasn’t what I was used to making though.

I worked on a little kids T.V. show. Captain . . .something! We used to work all day. Real early in the morning and then in the evening. And it paid great money, about $500 or $600 a week. The host hated us because the union made him hire a live band. All we did was play some song while he made up words to it.

SF: So, what’s ahead for the group?

PE: Well, all that’s good, as far as I’m concerned. We’ve been working hard this year. This is the first time we’ve really had off. The last tour lasted over 6 weeks. Before that, we’ve only had as much as 6 days off between tours. And now we’ve got quite a bit of time off and I’m enjoying myself, personally.

SF: Were you working much with the movies?

PE: We worked on this last one, Honeysuckle Rose. It lasted 6 weeks. But, it wasn’t that time consuming. It was just waiting for them to get everything together. All we did in the movie was play to a live audience. A real audience. See, we promoted the gigs and everything and we charged the people to get in. That was a real audience. We promoted that outside show just like we’d ordinarily do. Like the Fourth of July picnic we promoted in Austin. They were real shows for the audience. That was the only time I really got off. But, it’s a lot of waiting before you get ready to go. That’s not good for us because we like to pick.

Willie Nelson: His own story in his own words (Country Song Roundup) (February 1979)

Sunday, February 2nd, 2020

Country Song Roundup
America’s #1 Country Music Magazine
February 1969

The Willie Nelson Story
by Judy Myers

When I was given the assignment to do a story on Willie Nelson, I couldn’t have been more pleased.  You see, I’m a big Willie Nelson fan!  Not only do I appreciate his song writing, but he’s one of the best song writers ever.  Proof can be found in the listening to such songs as “It Should Be Easier Now” (one of my favorites), “Night Life”, “Crazy”, “Funny How TIme Slips Away”, “Hello Walls”, and I could go on and on… I really “dig” Willie’s singing.  I’d just about rather hear Willie sing than anyone I can think of.

The day finally arrived and I met Willie at his office for the interview.  His manner was charming and relaxed.

“Where do I start?” Willie asked.

“Why not start at the beginning”, I said.

“In the beginning I created”… he began laughing.  Then he got serious and there followed a series of reminiscence that had me sitting on the edge of my chair, listening to Willie, who has a mind that works like a human tape recorder.  He had almost total recall of everything.  It was one of the most enchanting hours I’ve ever spent.  Now, I want to share it with you…

“I was born in Abbott, Texas, on April 30, 1933.  That’s in West Texas.  My grandparents raised us, and my daddy (Ira) was a blacksmith.  My grandparents taught music that they had learned by studying a correspondence course.  My father got me a guitar when I was about four or five years old, and I learned to play.  I guess I started writing songs when I was about eight or a little younger.  My first song was pretty bad!  My mother still has it, along with a lot of others in a scrapbook, and she says one day she’s going to publish it.  I’d sure like to have that book, but she won’t give it up.”

“When I was thirteen, I started playing clubs with my sister, Bobbie.  She played the piano, my brother-in-law was our manager and he played a broomstick.  You  know, a broomstick with a piece of shingle attached that he could beat back and forth to create a little rhythm.  He later took up playing the bass, but mostly he just hit it and swung it around.  My father played a little fiddle and rhythm guitar and I played lead guitar.  We were called “Bud Fletcher and His Texans.”  Bud is my brother-in-law.

We had a sign-on show on KHBR Radio in Hillsboro, Texas, every Sunday morning.  We’d come dragging in after playing and driving all night, making us late most of the time.  We were followed by preachers, and most of the time they directed their preaching right at us.  You know, they thought we were wicked hillbillys.

“I was a relief telephone operator there in Abbott.   We had a central switchboard and the woman who ran it liked to go out on Saturday nights so my sister or I would take over for her.  My voice was changing then and I guess they thought I was a girl.  They didn’t know I was a boy, but I sure knew everything that was going on in the county.

“My first real job was that of a tree trimmer.  We went around cutting branches away from the high tension wires.  Once my buddy was about forty feet up and needed a rope, so I took it up the tree.  Then, rather than climb down, I decided to go down the rope.  I got about four feet down and got my finger hung up.  I couldn’t go up or down, and I was too far from my friend for him to help, so the only choice I had was to have him cut the rope.  I fell down through those high tension wires and branches and I was able to get up and walk away, but I never went back to that job.

“Then I worked in a pawn shop, went into the Air Force, got out, worked as a bouncer in one of the roughest joints in Texas, (that didn’t last long, there was a fight every night, and I don’t like fights).  I got married, worked as a parts man in an auto house, trimmed trees again, formed a band and started pickin’ again, made saddles, worked in the oil fields in Texas, got married for the second time, and worked for a short time at a radio station in San Antonio.

“I went to work for Johnny Bush.  He had a band and I played lead guitar.  I asked him if I could sing, so he did let me sing some, but then he asked me to just play guitar,  I don’t think he liked my singing.  I managed him for awhile.

“We moved to Pleasanton, Texas, where I saw an ad for a D.J. job on KBOP Radio.  I had two kids by then, Lana and Susie.  I’d never worked as a D.J., but I wanted that job.  I went to see Dr. Ben Parker, who incidentally did more to help me than almost anyone.  He asked me if I had any experience and I told him that I had.  He then asked me if I was familiar with the board there.  I said, “That’s a Gates board isn’t it?  Anybody could see it was a Gates board, it was written right across it.  I told him I didn’t know that board as I’d worked on an RCA Victor Board.  I remember that’s what they had at the other station.  He’d have to show me how to use that one because they looked different.

“My test was to do fifteen minutes of news…live…the first time I’d ever been on the air as an announcer.  Then he gave me a commerical to do.  It was for the Pleasanton Pharmacy.  It went like this…’The Pleasanton Pharmacy Pharmaceutical department accurately and preciseley fills your doctor’s perscription,’ and after I got through with that, he knew I’d never done radio work.  It was the hardest commercial I’ve ever done.  He gave me the job anyway.  Then he worked with me to show me all arbout radio work.

“Dr. Ben Parker really helped me a lot.

“I worked at KBOP for awhile, and then got itchy feet.  I went to Denton, Texas where I got a job as salesman for KDNT radio.  I wasn’t on the air so I didn’t like that much.  I went on to Ft. Worth, where I worked with Uncle Hank Cragg on station KCUL.  I learned some more about radio work from him.  From there I went to KCNC and Western Express.  I was still working nights pickin’.

“Well, I got itchy feet again.  I decided we should go to San Diego.  The only catch was, we didn’t have any money, and no car.  I saw an ad in the paper where you could drive cars to different places.  I went to see them and asked about taking a car to San Diego. They said that they had a car to go that way, and they would pay for the oil… but they had to know that I could get the car there. 

They said they would have to see at least $50.00.  Well, I was down to my last $25.00, and that was that.  However, i told them I’d go get the money as I didn’t have it on me.  I went out and found a friend and asked him to let me have $50.00.  I didn’t want to borrow it, I explained about the car.  I just wanted to show it.  He let me have the money and I took it to show, and they let me have the car.  I gave the money back to my friend, but we still had to get to San Diego, buy gas and food, and only had $25.00 to do it on.  Well, we made it, but I won’t go into details about how it was done.”  He gave a sort of half chuckle.

“Well, when we got to San Diego, I couldn’t find any work. My wife got a job, and I didn’t like that much, her working and me not working.  So I decided to go to my mother’s in Portland, Oregon and see what I could get there.

I planned to get something going and then send for my family.  So I started hitchhiking with $10.00 and a suitcase.  That was some trip.  We could get a whole story just out of the details of that trip alone.  I’ll just tell one thing that happened along the way.  I got to Orange, California.  It was night time and I was tired and broke, and awfully tired of carrying that ole’ suitcase.  I found a country music nightclub, went in, and found I had just enough money for one beer. 

By buying that beer and making it last all night, I was able to stay there without getting thrown out.  When the band was packing up, I asked if they knew of anybody who might give me a job, but they didn’t.  One old boy told me to stick around for a few mintues and he would make some phone calls for me and maybe find something.  I waited and he did make the calls, but with no luck.  Then, I had an idea.  This old suitcase was getting heaver every mile, and I thought I could trust him, so I gave him my mother’s address in Portland, and asked him if he would send the suitcase to me there.  Well, I never did see that suitcase again!

“I made Portland eventually.  I got a job with KVAN in Vancouver, Washington, just across the river.  I also had my own weekly t.v. show.

” I sent for my family to join me, and things were going pretty well in Portland but…..I got restless.

“On the move again, we headed for Springfield, Mo.  On the way, we went through Denver, Colorado, and I got a job pickin’ there, at a place called “Heart’s Corner.”  The guy that ran the place rented a guitar for me, and I guess I stayed there about six weeks.  Then we were on the move again.  When we got to Springfield, I ran into Billy Walker. He was working the Ozark Jubilee at the time.  His wife and my wife had been friends in Texas, so they invited us to stay with them for a few days.  Billy even set up an interview for me with Si SImon, who was running the Jubilee.  Si didn’t seem to think I was too good, so I took the only job I could find, dishwashing.

I wasn’t too happy as a dishwasher, so I took my family and headed south to Waco, Texas.  Right after that, we moved to Ft. Worth and I quit the music business for a year.  During that time, I sold just about everything, door to door.  They even made me manager for Ameriana Encyclopedia.

“But I wanted to pick.  I went back to Waco, then to Houston.  I had, in the meantime, written “Family Bible” for Frankie Miller, who was recording on Starday, but Don Pierce wouldn’t let him record it.  When in Houston, I ran into a guy I’d known before, Paul Buskirk. I was pretty broke so I decided to sell the song, “Family Bible”  Paul, Walt Breelin and Claude Grey split it three ways and gave me $25.00 for it.

“Looking for work, I went to the Esquire Club where Larry Butler was the head of the band.  I asked him for a job, but he said that he didn’t need anyone at that time.  I aksed him if he would buy some of my songs then, for $10.00 each.  I sang him about ten or twelve of my best ones, including “Mr. Record Man”, “Crazy”, “Nightlife” and “What a Way to Live.”  He wouldn’t buy my songs, not because they weren’t good he said, but because they were too good, and if I needed money that bad, he would loan me some, and he did.  That kept me from being compeltely broke.

“Paul Buskirk had a recording studio and he offered me a job teaching guitar.  Well, I didn’t know how to read music, but he said that was okay, he’d teach me.  I got my first lesson on Wednesday, and gave my first lesson on Monday.  I always managed to stay one lesson ahead of the students.  They didn’t know any better, since I did know how to play, I didn’t know how to read music, that’s all, but I learned that.

“I finally went to work for Larry Butler pickin’ in the evenings, and I worked the Sunday morning sign-on DJ show at KRCT radio, which now has the call letters, KIKK.  Leroy Gloger was the manager there, and he fired me.  That hurt my ego, and I left town.

“I took my family to Waco, and I headed for Nashville, and the first person I ran into there was my old buddy, Billy Walker.  I sent for my family, and brought them to Nashville.  Billy took me to Starday records and introduced me to Tommy Hill.  I sang some of my songs for him, and he told me that he’d set up a recording and writer’s contract for me, but Don Pierce turned us both down.

“One night when a bunch of us were jammin’ in Tootsie’s, Hank Cochran heard me and took me to Pamper music, where I signed an exclusive writer’s contract.  Faron young had heard me sing “Hello Walls” at Tootsie’s and told me that he wanted to record it.  I was working on the road with Bobby Sykes, playing lead guitar and Faron, who was on the show that night, asked me to sing the song again so that he could learn it.  I also sang “Coungratulations” that same night, and the next week, he recorded both of them, back to back.

“I moved my family into a trailer house, and I had three kids by then.  I found out later that it was the very same trailer Hank Cochran and his wife and three children lived in when they first came to Nashville.  It was green and ugly and the rent was $25.00 a week, and it was worth about $3.00, but they were always there to collect the rent eery rent day.

“I heard that Ray Price needed a man to play bass and front his band.  I didn’t know how to play bass, but I told Ray I did, got the job, then went out and got a bass and learned real quick. If he ever knew I didn’t know how to play, he was kind enough not to mention it.  I worked for Ray for a year.

“Crazy” was doing real good then, and Billy had recorded “Funny How Time Slips Away”, I wrote it for him, to follow “Thank You For Calling”.  Joe Allison signed me to Liberty Records, and produced an album and single for me.  The album was “And Then I Wrote” and the single was “Mr. Record Man.”  I did two albums on Liberty.

“My marriage broke up about that time and I moved to Texas.  I met and married my present wife, Shirley there.  Incidentally, she was a regular on the Ozark Jubilee the time I went through Springfield, but we didn’t know each other then.

“I stayed in Ft. Worth until 1963.  After that I went to California to run the office for Pamper Music.  I didn’t like that because I wasn’t pickin’, just running the office.  So we came back to Tennessee, and bought a farm at Ridgetop, just out of Nashville.

“I had been on Monument Records in the meantime, and had a record with them, but in 1964 I signed with RCA Victor.  My first release for them was “Pretty Paper.”  I’ve had six albums on Victor, and my latest single is, “Johnny One time”, written by Dallas Frasier.  I am really sold on the song, and I think we’ve got the most commercial sound on it of any of my other records.  Were hoping that this one will make it, but if it doesn’t, well, maybe next time.

“That’s it, up to now.  I remember some things I left out, but let’s save them for next time.”

That’s Wille’s story, and the hour I spent getting it was one of the most interesting I’ve had in a long time.  there’s nothing left for me to add, it’s all been said.

Author Judy Redditt read this post and kindly responded with her own stories.

  • Judy Redditt says: This takes me back. Willie was a good friend. I really enjoyed sitting down with Willie from time to time and just talking. I wrote several articles with him, but it was the stories that weren’t published that I loved the most. The ” road stories” that had me rolling on the floor, the stories behind the songs, and the family stories. Jeannie Seely was my roommate for several years, and the only reason we stopped being roommates was that she left to marry Hank Cochran. Hank was at our apartment much of the time and he would often bring his buddies with him.

    I was always delighted when he brought Willie. They would sing and often bring out their latest new song they had written. I was privileged to hear so many of the classics in their infancy or shortly after they were finished. I loved the songs that both Hank and Willie wrote and bugged Ray Price to record them, since Ray was my favorite singer of all time. Nobody had better control of their voice or could put more feeling into a song, or sang more beautifully than Ray. It got to the point that when he came into town to record, he would call me to ” find me the songs for this album, and have them by tomorrow.”

    All I generally had to do was look at Hank and Willie’s catalogs. I picked a lot of songs for Ray, and one of them, NOT written by Hank or Willie, turned out to be the biggest of his career.   Bonnie Guitar had been in town, and we were hanging out together. She was getting ready to record and was looking for songs. One night, we were in her hotel room and Kris Kristopherson and Mickey Newberry came to sing her some of their songs.

    Kris sang a song that night that I heard Ray singing in my mind. Ray had called me a few days before and told me to be on the look out for some songs for him, he would be in the next week to record. I asked Kris for a copy of the song, and of course, he wanted to know who I was taking it to. I told him just to get it for me and I would tell him who it was for later. The next day, Kris gave me a demo of the song and when Ray got to Nashville the following week, I gave him the demo of “For The Good Times”.

    The rest is music history. I went to work for Pamper Music as P.R Directer and the company was owned By Willie and Ray Price at the time, so for the time I worked there, I had my two favorite singers of all time as my boss’. Talk about the ideal job! It afforded me the opportunity to hear Willie’s stories, and Ray’s recordings, often and usually first hand. Stories from Willie like the one about the time he came home drunk, and passed out, only to wake up to find Shirley had sown him up in the bed sheet and was beating him up with the broom stick.

    It was while I was working there that Willie’s house burned down and being frustrated that no one in Nashville would let him make music his way, Willie decided to pull up stakes and return to Texas, and to do music ” his way.” Once again, music history was made. I could go on telling stories of those days, but I think I will save them for the book I plan to write. But I will say this, I am proud and happy to have formed a lasting friendship with one of the all time musical genius’, the awesome and amazing, Willie Nelson!

Willie Nelson and birth of Austin Music Scene

Friday, January 17th, 2020
by: Joe Nick Patoski

Over the summer of 1970, a loose collective of hippies, free spirits, and dreamers refashioned the old National Guard armory building at the corner of South First Street and Barton Springs, just across the Colorado River from downtown Austin, into a concert hall and beer garden.

The Armadillo World Headquarters was all about music, a shared tolerance for marijuana, psychedelic drugs, and cold beer, and like its namesake had a hard-shell interior with a docile disposition. During its first two years of operation, the Armadillo brought in a parade of touring talent who otherwise would have bypassed Texas, including Ry Cooder, Captain Beefheart, Taj Mahal, Dr. John the Night Tripper, Frank Zappa, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Bill Monroe, and especially Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.

But it wasn’t until the night of Aug. 12, 1972, when Willie Nelson walked onto the stage of the Armadillo that everything changed. That performance in front of a mixed crowd of hippies and rednecks is recognized as the starting point of the modern Austin music scene.

A vibrant music community was already in the making, articulated by several outsiders who relocated to Austin like Nelson did to make music unfettered by commercial restraints. Most prominent were Jerry Jeff Walker, a New York folkie from the Greenwich Village scene who had written a hit song about a New Orleans street dancer called “Mr. Bojangles,” another singer-songwriter from Houston named Guy Clark, whose vivid story songs had been covered by Walker, and a lanky Fort Worth kid with high cheekbones and a taste for liquor named Townes Van Zandt, considered by his peers as the purist songwriter of all.

Walker also fronted the Lost Gonzo Band. Their live recording Viva Terlingua! — made in 1973 in the old Hill Country dancehall at Luckenbach (pop. 3) withfiddler Sweet Mary Egan and a harmonica player named Mickey Raphael — set thestandard for rowdy Texas-style country rock. It was the first“made-in-Austin” album to go gold.

The Lost Gonzos — Gary P. Nunn, Bob Livingston, Michael McGeary, Herb Steiner, Craig Hillis, and Kelly Dunn — performed as the Cosmic Cowboy Orchestra whenever they supported Micheal Murphey, the flaxen-haired, buckskin-loving singer-songwriter from Dallas with the two best-selling albums in Austin, Geronimo’s Cadillac and Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir. Murphey came out of the same Rubiyat Club folk scene in Dallas where a husky-voiced belter named B.W. Stevenson from Murphey’s high school, Adamson, developed his robust singing style that led to several hit singles, notably “My Maria,” No. 9 on Billboard’s pop singles chart and No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart in 1973.

Another Adamson grad and Rubiyat regular, Ray Wylie Hubbard, was beginning to make forays down to Austin from Red River, New Mexico, where he had a music club, while another Rubiyat vet, Willis Alan Ramsey, recorded his debut album for Leon Russell’s Shelter Records showcasing a country/folk/rock songcraft so exquisite he would never make another album.

Jerry Jeff Walker frequently worked as a solo act at Castle Creek, a listening room a block from the State Capitol that showcased singer-songwriters. Walker arranged for a friend of his from Florida named Jimmy Buffett to sit in between sets before getting his own gig. Castle Creek inspired a song Buffett was crafting called “Wasting Away In Margaritaville” that would become his calling card.

A San Antonio native named Doug Sahm came to Austin from the other direction, relocating from San Francisco where his rock ’n’ roll Tex-Mex flavored band, the Sir Douglas Quintet, had gone after their 1966 pop hit “She’s About a Mover.” A homesick Sahm chose Austin over San Antonio for its tolerance of people who looked and acted different. Besides, he had been playing the city since he was a seven-year-old lap steel guitar prodigy who sang country.

Music-making had historically been a provincial and low-key affair in Austin. Scholz’ Garten, established by August Scholz in 1866 and still the home of the Saengerrunde German singing club, was the city’s oldest drinking establishment.

The abiding appreciation of folk music and traditional music could be traced to 1909 when University of Texas assistant extension school director John Lomax and professor Leonidas Payne co-founded the Texas Folklore Society. Within six months, there were 92 charter members.

Fifty-five years later, Kenneth Threadgill’s filling station and beer joint on North Lamar served as the informal meeting place for folk music aficionados, including a young University of Texas student named Janis Joplin who showed up to sing and play at the weekly hootenannies. When properly inspired and lubricated, Mr. Threadgill would cut loose with yodels in the style of Jimmie Rodgers, country music’s first star.

Willie Nelson at the Armadillo in 1972. Photo by Burton Wilson.

Before Willie, traditional country music had been largely limited to a few bars and dancehalls such as Big G’s, Dessau Hall, Big Gil’s, and the Broken Spoke, and bands such as Dolores and the Bluebonnet Boys, the Moods of Country Music, Johnny Lyons and Janet Lynn & the Country Nu-Notes, Jess DeMaine and the Country Music Revue featuring Mary Margaret Kyle, and Bert Rivera and the Night Riders, whose leader had several years road experience as Hank Thompson’s steel guitar player.

In 1970, Freda & the Firedogs, a band of like-minded college students led by a dark-haired Cajun pianist named Marcia Ball, aka Freda, tapped into the traditional country zeitgeist and started drawing an unusually strange mix of students, bikers, Mexican families, hippies, hillbillies, and old-time country music fans to the Split Rail Drive-Inn on South Lamar.

Similarly, a small clutch of white kids were drawn to East Austin to soak up the African-American sounds of performers such as Erbie Bowser, Blues Boy Hubbard, T.D. Bell, Hosea Hargrove, and barrelhouse pianist Robert Shaw at clubs including the Victory Lounge, the IL, Charlie’s Playhouse, Ernie’s Chicken Shack, and Marie’s Tea Room Number 2. The white blues kids had their own playhouse, the One Knite on Red River Street, a half block from the police station where the Storm, featuring Dallas’ Jimmie Vaughan on guitar and Lubbock’s Lewis Cowdrey on harmonica, and the Nightcrawlers, the band headed by Irving drummer Doyle Bramhall and including Jimmie Vaughan’s little brother Stevie, were part of the weekly lineup.

Mexican-Americans had their own music scenes in clubs along East Sixth Street and in salons de baile on the edge of town where conjunto combos fronted by Johnny Degollado (El Montopolis Kid) and accordion maestro Camilo Cantu and Tejano big bands such as Ruben Ramos, aka El Gato Negro, and the Mexican Revolution played for dancers.

Rock ’n’ roll bands played cover versions of popular songs at fraternity and sorority parties at The University of Texas, but by the mid-1960s, some bands began to dabble in original music, most significantly the 13th Floor Elevators, a pioneering psychedelic band led by a yowling Travis High School dropout named Roky Erickson that had a national Top 40 hit in 1966 called “You’re Gonna Miss Me” distinguished by an electric jug. The Elevators and like-minded rock bands worked in such places as the Old New Orleans around the UT campus.

By the late 1960s, Austin had its first hippie venue, the Vulcan Gas Company at 300 Congress Avenue, inspired by music ballrooms in San Francisco where many Austin musicians and hangers-on had migrated. The Vulcan was the predecessor to the Armadillo, featuring local and touring psychedelic rock, folk, and blues artists and led to the discovery of an albino blues guitarist from Beaumont named Johnny Winter, who opened for blues giant Muddy Waters. House bands included Shiva’s Headband and the Conqueroo, an eclectic folk-rock-blues-jazz group. Vulcan shows were promoted with posters created by Gilbert Shelton, the creator of the Furry Freak Brothers, and other underground artists, and Jim Franklin, who made the armadillo into the iconic symbol of Texas hippies.

Willie Nelson became Austin’s music catalyst through his Nashville connections and extensive body of recorded work, and because he represented the kind of country music the rock ’n’ rollers and the folkies were trying to project in their own sounds. At 39, he was older than the student-aged musicians and had experience with publishing and recording contracts. And while he came to town clean-shaven with his hair barely covering the tops of his ears, he adapted quickly, letting his hair grow long, cultivating a beard, dressing on stage in blue jeans, tennis shoes, and T-shirts, with a bandanna around his neck or head, and an earring in his lobe.

With bass player Bee Spears wearing a headband and moccasins in Indian fashion and drummer Paul English performing with a black cape with red lining draped over his shoulders, and new addition Mickey Raphael, an Afro-haired harmonica player who had been playing with B.W. Stevenson, Willie Nelson and band fit right in in Austin.

Nelson’s groundbreaking Armadillo performance in 1972 opened with a string of early songwriting hits — “Crazy,” “Hello Walls,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and “Nightlife” — to introduce himself to those in the audience who had never heard him before, then demonstrated his guitar-playing prowess as his band alternated sets with young country-rockers Greezy Wheels until closing time at midnight. Afterward, the show moved to a suite at the Crest Hotel across Town Lake that writers Edwin “Bud” Shrake and Gary “Jap” Cartwright had rented, where a guitar pulling ensued featuring Willie Nelson, with University of Texas football coach Darrell K Royal calling out requests and making sure the audience adhered to his rule to respect musicians and the music they were making: “If I can hear you, then you are too loud. If you wish to socialize, please go out on to the front or back porch.” Those who failed to observe the rule were asked to leave.

Willie Nelson’s first show at the Armadillo coincided with the appearance of KOKE-FM, an Austin radio station that coined the phrase “progressive country” to explain its eclectic playlist, which included Ernest Tubb and classic Texas honky-tonk, Bob Wills and the Made-in-Texas sound called western swing, Nashville rebel Waylon Jennings, as well as the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and lots of Willie Nelson, who also sang jingles for the station and played impromptu shows on the air with friends such as Kris Kristofferson. Progressive country would also be labeled as redneck rock, Texas music, and outlaw country. Whatever it was, the music sounded like nowhere else but Austin.

In 1974, Willie added television to his Austin portfolio when he agreed to perform in front of cameras at Studio 6A on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin for KLRN-TV (now KRLU-TV), the Public Broadcasting Service television channel serving San Antonio and Austin. KLRN program director Bill Arhos, producer Paul Bosner, and director Bruce Scafe secured grant money to film a pilot for a live music series focusing on original Texas music. The pilot led to the first broadcast of Austin City Limits in 1976. The series is the longest running music program on American television.

Willie would proceed to further invest in the Austin music scene by buying the old Terrace Motor Inn on Academy Street, just off South Congress Avenue, and by helping transform the Terrace’s convention center into the Texas Opera House, later known as the Austin Opry House, where he built a recording studio, before moving his operations to near Spicewood in the Hill Country west of the city where his empire included the most modern recording facility in Texas, a golf course, a western town, and condominiums.

— Joe Nick Patoski has been writing about Texas and Texans for four decades. His biography Willie Nelson: An Epic Life was published by Little, Brown & Company in 2008 and was recognized with the 2009 TCU Texas Book Award for the best book written about Texas. The article was written for the Texas Almanac 2012–2013.