Thanks, Phil Weisman.
Thanks, Phil Weisman.
Willie Nelson: The Vibes of Texas are Upon Us
Ask Willie Nelson, the guru of country music, about his brief career as a pig farmer, and the usually sublime Nelson explodes into embarrassed laughter. “You heard about that, did you?” he says when the laughter subsides. “Yes, I tried that. I really did. I lost a fortune on pigs. Had the fattest pigs in town — or the country, I should say. Paid 25 cents a pound for ’em, fattened ’em up for six months, and when I sold ’em, I got 17 cents a pound. Lost my ass and all its fixtures. But I later found out from the old-timers that you can’t just raise hogs one year and expect to make a killing and get out. You’ve got to stay with it.”
[Thanks so much to Phil Weisman, from Illinois, for sending me this magazine. I love magazines, especially from overseas. They are rare, and the interviews are always interesting. ]
The same rule applies to the music business, of course. But not long after his pig fiasco, some 10 years ago, Nelson sold his farm outside Nashville, where he’d gone in vain to establish himself as a singer as well as a songwriter, and returned to his native Texas. To some in Music city, it might have looked as if Nelson had given commercial stardom about as much chance as he did pig farming. But Nelson was committed to his own kind of music — simple but strong songs wrapped around his own soft baritone and acoustic guitar, rather than around the prevalent “Nashville sound” of layers of strings, singers — and syrup. instead of compromising his music, Nelson remembered the pig farming rule and decided to “stay with it,” although returning to Texas surely meant the end of his dream of national stardom.
But there, something extraordinary happened. By blending his own songs — “Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Hello Walls,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” — with traditional Texas, Mexican, blues, rock and even the old pop and country standards, Willie Nelson bridged the gap not only between country and pop, but between cultures. His concerts attracted a curious mixture of hippies and rednecks, youngsters and oldsters, conservatives and liberals. And soon people everywhere were talking about a revival of Texas music, and about the birth of something they called the “Austin sound.” What they were taking about mostly was Willie Nelson.
And they are still talking, far after most careers have seen their peak. “I’ve thought about that. I’ve wondered, ‘Well, am I peaking yet?'” says Nelson, 46 years old and looking every dusty mile of it, stretched out on his bus before a show. “So far, I don’t think we have peaked,” he continues. “I think everything just seems to be getting a little bit better every day.”
Indeed. Willie the Youth Hero is about to become Willie the Movie Star. His debut film, The Electric Horseman, with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, is due out in December. By the time it gets into the theaters, another movie, Sad Songs and Waltzes, which Nelson describes as “just an ol’ movie about a guy with a band on the road.” will have started production in Texas. Still another, The Songwriter, is due to get off the ground in 1980. And better yet, a film version of Nelson’s classic concept album, Red Headed Stranger, is now in the planning stages and Willie is holding out for Redford tn the title role. But if Nelson is happy about all that, he is most excited about the fact that Newsweek columnist Pete Axthelm is writing the story of his life, to be both a book and a movie.
How does acting compare to Nelson’s usual line of work? “It’s really easier,” he replies, setting his Adidas shod feet up on the cushion opposite him. “You’ve got more time to do what you have to do. The only thing about it is you never know how good you did until later. In fact, I still don’t know how good I did. Well, actually,’ he adds, looking sheepish, “I thought I was good.” The laughter rolls again. ‘”I mean, what I was doing wasn’t that hard, and there wasn’t really that much to do. They let you be yourself. In fact, they encourage it. The only thing about making movies is that they last from 10 to 12 weeks, and during that time, I don’t play as much music, of course, and I miss it. But when we start this next one, I’m planning on playing on weekends. I’m still trying to play 200 nights a year, and I’d go crazy not playing for three months.”
From the pace he sets when he’s not before the camera, some might say Nelson has already crossed that fine line. He has “four or five album projects going on in my head,” and several he’s working on now, including a collection of the songs of Kris Kristofferson. He’s thinking about a Christmas album, and a Son of Stardust LP, after his phenomenally successful album of pop standards. Early summer saw the release of his duet album with Leon Russell, with whom he toured for several months, and another album, with country giant George Jones, is ready to go. In between all that, he managed to play Las Vegas and put in an appearance at the White House, where he and Charley Pride presented President Carter — who shows up from time to time at Willie’s concerts, sporting a backstage pass — with a special award from the Country Music Association.
Today, about the only other place Nelson and Pride see each other is a at golf tournaments. But years ago, at the height of the civil rights movement, the two met in far less genteel surroundings — and performed to far less receptive audiences. When Pride had but one country single on the market, Nelson took him on a package tour. The first stop out — in Louisiana — Pride was refused registration in the hotel. At the show that night, Nelson gave Pride a 10-minute build-up, telling the audience what a big star they were about to see. Then he brought him out on stage — and kissed him full on the mouth. “I think them folks were so hot to lynch old Willie for puttin’ em on that they clean forgot that Charlie was black,” Nelson’s drummer, Paul English, was to tell a reporter years later. But “by the end of the tour, Willie was using him to close the show. He made Charley a star before he’d even cut an album.”
Mention it to Nelson and the trademark orange beard breaks for a smile. “Yeah, it was a little bit scary back in those days,” he admits. “And I guess it was the first time that a black kid had ever crawled up in front of thousands of white people and started singin’ country songs. That took a lot of nerve on his part, too.”
Nelson knows a lot about nerve. Not too many years before, he was playing places so mean that the owners had to string chicken wire across the bandstand to keep the musicians safe from flying beer bottles. That, of course, was before Willie cultivated the legion of fans that were “Matthew, Mark, Luke and Willie” T-Shirts and turn out 80,000 strong at his picnics every Fourth of July.
A lot of people have wondered which came first with Nelson and the Austin sound. Was the town already a hotbed for a new breed of musicians, or did Willie’s success make it so?
“All the ingredients were there,” he answers. “I just happened to stumble onto an audience, really. I saw that there were a lot of young people that liked country music, and I started looking for the young crowds because I enjoyed that energy. So we started seeking each other out, I guess.”
“But back to your question — I don’t believe in the Austin myth. I don’t believe the Nashville myth or the New York myth. I think there are good musicians all over the world making music. If they stop in Nashville, they’re not going to sound any different than if they stop in Austin. Now, there might be some towns where good musicians gather more than they do in other towns. Austin is that place, for sure. There’s probably more good bands playing live music in Austin than in any other city in the country. The climate is good, the attitude of the people is good, and then it’s just a nice place to go.”
Contrary to what other’s say about a growing deterioration of the “let’s-get-together-and-pick-and-be-friends” feeling in Austin, Nelson says the town “hasn’t changed much over the years. there’s more people down there now. But it’ s like Nashville and every other place — it’s grown.”
Nashville has grown particularly in its tolerance of country/rock and pop in the last few years, and especially in its attitude toward Willie Nelson. Where Nelson was once branded an “outlaw” for his approach to music, his lifestyle and dress (no Nudie suits for him), Nashville now welcomes him with open arms.
Of course, record sales have a lot to do with it. Wanted: The Outlaws, the album Nelson cut in 1976 with his pals Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser, was the first country album to “go platinum’ selling more than one million copies. Even Nashville is willing to let bygones be bygones in a situation like that. So much so that by the next CMA awards, Willie and Waylon were the toast of the town.
“That was a big evening,” Willie says, remembering. “I just enjoyed it.” that’s all? Just “enjoyed” it? Didn’t he really just revel in it? “Yeah,” he says, laughing again. “It was nice. It was real nice.” “They threw a big party for us. We played all night long, I think, at two or three different places.”
Suddenly, “outlaw” had new status. Everybody wanted to know ol Willie and ol’ Waylon, and be an outlaw, too, if he could. Of course, Nelson had had supporters in Nashville all along, among them Tom T. Hall, who wrote “Come on Back to Nashville” (Ode to the Outlaws)” for Nelson, Jennings and Roger Miller. The first time he ever heard of Willie Nelson, it was 1961, and Hall had just gotten out of the Army. “I was sitting one night listening to the juke box, and I heard Faron Young singing “Hello, Walls'” Hall remember. “I went over and watched the record turning around and around, and it said, “‘Willie nelson’ in little letters under the titles. I said, ‘There’s a new writer in Nashville, and boy, that sonofabitch can write songs.'”
Nelson laughs uproariously. “Well,” he says finally, “you know all songwriters are sonofabitches. You hear ’em say, ‘That sonofabitch can really write songs,’ or, ‘That sonofabitch can’t write.” He laughs again. “It’s kind of a brotherhood term, I think. At least I hope it is. I think everybody likes to be liked. I like people and there’s no reason for people not to like me, really. I don’t give ’em any reason. Try not to.”
And indeed, Nelson’s temperament has been described as “buddah-like.” He is a firm believer in the power of positive thinking, saying, “I just can’t be around anything or anybody negative.” Nor will he tolerate hassles or rush to keep himself on schedule. All in all, he seems perpetually “laid back.” In interviews, he appears to be the consummate “nice guy,” refusing to say anything critical about various of his musical peers, and politely skirting the issue on combustible topics.
But there are also reports of a reverse, dark side of his personality, of a temper that has at least once caused him to rip a ringing telephone off the wall. Which is it then, Buddha or Brutus? “Well, those are contradictory reports, I’d say, ” Nelson says between chuckles. “Somebody’s lyin’, he adds, “Or else they’re both right.” But in serious moments, Nelson does contemplate his self-image. “That’s a hard thing to talk about,” he says. “It changes every second. really. Basically, I’m pleased with everything. I like myself O.K. I don’t think there’s anything I’d like to change.”
Except perhaps the constant infringement on his privacy. Last year or so, the ultra-viligent fans forced Nelson to move his wife Connie and their two young daughters off their Austin ranch and retreat to the relative quiet of Evergreen, Colorado. Before they left, they made a last-ditch effort to curtail the fanatics — some of whom come because they believe Nelson has magic powers of healing — by constructing a six-foot-high, three-foot-thick stone wall around the property. Lest the die-hards think Willie was just kidding, a electrified barbed wire fence was strung atop the solid steel gate, just as he had along the wall. For those who like it in words, he posted “No Hunting or Trespassing” and “No Admittance” signs between the barbed wire. And for those with a legitimate message, he put in a closed-circuit television system and a call button with instructions to “Press the button, but do not hold the button down.” From the pictures, it looked more like a military post than the dwelling of a good ol’ boy turned country superstar.
How does anyone hold on to any semblance of normal private life in such a situation? “Well, I don’t know,” he says, running a hand over his face. “Of course, I haven’t had one of those in years. I’ve about forgotten what a private life is. But the kids do it out of love, so I guess that makes it all right. I moved mainly for my wife and family’s benefit, because I wasn’t there that much anyway. I just got ’em out of the line of fire a little bit.”
Years ago, when nelson was paying his dues in honky-tonks, not even his most reckless dreams allowed for success on this grand scale, or at least certainly not the kind of success that reportedly brings him $40,000 a night. “That’s right,” he agrees, shaking his pig-tailed head. “I never thought about it seriously. Of course, I didn’t know what to expect, but there’s no way you could imagine this — ever.”
but if Nelson is a national phenomenon, he is nothing short of Legend in Texas. In years to come, they’ll probably erect a statue to him there. the thought of it embarrasses the ever-humble Nelson, who says would be a waste of time and money. But if they do, he adds, “Tell ’em I’m not in favor of it unless we can approve and design it. It’d require a lot of thought, but there’d have to be a guitar on it, and a girl, and, of course, a horse…”
But not a pig. “Oh, no,” he says, “No pig. But you know, I was raised in a small farming town. (Abbott, Texas, just north of Waco), so I farmed all my life, really, Usually for somebody else. But I raised for the FFA, and back in school, I used to raise one pig at a time, to show. I just never tried to raise as many before as I did in Nashville. Never will again, either.”
Perhaps Nelson just wasn’t cut out for farming. Asked if he remembers the moment when he realized he’d “made it” in music, he hesitates not a minute. “Yeah, he says, “I was 11 years old. I’d been making $2 a day chopping cotton, and I went out one night and made 48 playing music. From that day on, I had it made. that was the turning point. That was it. No more cotton chopping for me.”
“But I couldn’t begin to tell you what it is I do, except exchange energy with the audience,” he continues. “I don’t know why we draw the old ones and the young ones, too, except the people come to be part of a togetherness, to be part of an audience that’s made up of all kinds of people of all ages. And then some people come to hear one thing, and maybe some come to hear something else. I don’t think I could define my style, though. I’m not sure I’d even want to. Bob Dylan said one time that when you start defining something, you destroy it. That sounded real wise to me. Ol Bob’s pretty smart. I think I’ll use that one. Besides, ” he says, staning up as his band plays the first chords of the show, “I’m not gonna question it. I’m just gonna enjoy it.”
For more information about Texas Hatters, to see more pictures of their hats, and famous people wearing their hats — or to buy a hat for yourself, visit their website:
I think you’ll enjoy their history, from their website:
Marvin Gammage, Sr. had quit school to help take care of his family after his father lost an arm in a tragic incident. So, at the young age of 13, he was hired as a delivery boy at a hat company in Houston, Texas. He was a reliable and hard worker, which gained him a place as an apprentice hatter later on.
Despite his eighth grade education, he was a mathematical genius, which led to his other career in the chemical industry as a chemical engineer’s apprentice, or stillman, as I’m told he was called. This career moved him and family a few times and so the hat shop moved also.
Too often a move meant a new name for the shop; Houston Hatters, Pasadena Hatters, Abilene Hatters, Top Hatters and Marvin E. Gammage Hatters. It was in 1965 that he finally settled on Texas Hatters after his son, Marvin Jr., better known as Manny, made the statement, “You’re never gonna move outside of Texas Dad. So, why don’t you just call it Texas Hatters and you’ll never have to change it again.”
Manny had grown up in the hat business, as both of his older sisters, Alice and Sally, and younger brother, Gerry, had done, but for Manny, hat making was a calling not unlike the priesthood for some. He spent as much time as he could at his father’s shop watching and learning from his father and his mother. (more…)
born: April 30, 1933
My grandparents raised me from the time I was six months old, and my grandfather started teaching me guitar when I was five. The first guitar I ever owned was a Stella, a Sears Roebuck guitar that cost six dollars. I was writing a few poems then — why, I don’t know. But all of a sudden I was putting some of the chords I’d learned to the words of the poems I’d written. My grandmother, who played piano and organ, taught my sister Bobbie how to read music. She got some sheet music and I would learn from her. When she’d learn a song, she’d teach it to me. There were always people coming by the house and wanting us to play a song for them, and we always did. And at school at study hall or for special programs, we’d play. Back then, I thought we’d always be together and always be playing.
I grew up listening to Mexican music — I had a lot of Mexican friends in school in Abbott. I’ve been listening to Mexican and Tex-Mex music all my life. And I love to play it. And Django Reinhardt is a hero of mine. He has the gypsy touch, which is very close to the Spanish flavor.
I listened to the radio a lot and to a lot of country music — Bob Wills, Roy Acuff, Hank Williams. I listened to the Grand Ole Opry and to the blues that came out of New Orleans. We listened to the Johnny Mercers and Hoagy Carmichaels. Whatever was being played in the radio and the jukeboxes was what we were playing because we played a lot of clubs and when you take requests you play what’s current. We’d play ’stardust’ or “Fraulein” or “San Antonio Rose.” I was playing with a band called Bud Fletcher and the Texans. Me and my brother-in-law booked Bob Wills one night in a little club in Whitney, Texas, called Shady Grove. While he was there, I got up and sang with him that night. Later on I got to sing with him again. And I wrote the liner notes for one of his albums. He and I got to be buddies.
Robert Ellis was joined by Leon Bridges in St. Louis to perform Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Eric Freeman
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/see-robert-ellis-and-leon-bridges-sultry-willie-nelson-cover-20160610#ixzz4BJg0Cg00
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Leon Bridges might be best known for spinning his own soul revival, but that doesn’t mean he can’t lay down a classic country number with a fellow Texan — in this case, a cover of Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” with Robert Ellis. Bridges made a surprise appearance at Ellis’ St. Louis show earlier this week, where both guitar men ditched their axes for a smooth and sultry Detroit-meets-Nashville version of the often-recorded tune: Ellis on the keys, Bridges clutching a glass of the brown stuff. Watch the fan-shot video above.
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/see-robert-ellis-and-leon-bridges-sultry-willie-nelson-cover-20160610#ixzz4BJfHSFCq
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Approaching genre with a more elastic point of view isn’t anything new to Ellis, particularly in the wake of his most recent self-titled LP, which was inspired by everything from ambient jazz to the Eighties pop records of composer Randy Newman. And covering Nelson isn’t out of bounds for Bridges, either — he sang “Funny How Time Slips Away” at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., back in January, when the Red Headed Stranger was awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. This particular track from Nelson’s extensive catalog has been sung by everyone from Elvis to the Supremes to Al Green and Lyle Lovett, whose duet version took home a Grammy.
“I’m so confused and perplexed by what people think of genres right now,” Ellis tells Rolling Stone Country. “The tuff that people think sounds one way, to me, sounds completely different. My criteria for listening to music is a lot different than how most people listen to things. Harmony and writing are much more fundamental in a song than the accent someone has.”
photo: Pari Dukovic
by: Chris Heath
Marijuana’s state-by-state march toward full legalization would never have happened without Willie Nelson. He’s 82 now, and he’s spent nearly half his life asAmerica’s most famous stoner. But this fall he’ll be making the leap from aficionado to entrepreneur. What Paul Newman did for tomato sauce, what Francis Coppola did for Cabernet, Willie Nelson is hoping to do for weed
“I’ve bought a lot of pot in my life,” Willie Nelson tells me, “and now I’m selling it back.”
Willie Nelson has this kind of answer—stock, pithy—for all kinds of questions, and he’s been using them for decades. Bring up his brief abortive stint at college studying business administration? Invariably he’ll soon say, “I majored in dominoes.” Mention the massive sum he owed the IRS in the early ’90s—somewhere between $17 million and $32 million—and you’ll get the one about how it isn’t so much “if you say it real fast.”
As time passes, the world offers up new questions, and so sometimes new answers are required. Once he reached the age when people began asking about retirement, Nelson would reply that he doesn’t do anything but play music and golf: “I wouldn’t know what to quit.” And now that one of America’s stoner icons is going into the pot business and planning to launch his own proprietary brand called Willie’s Reserve, this bought-a-lot-of-pot-in-my-life line is already on instant replay and you can confidently expect to hear Nelson use it for the next few years, anytime the subject is raised in his vicinity. In fact when we first meet, on the tour bus where he likes to do interviews and live much of his life, less than ninety seconds pass before he deploys it.
There’s a lot of shade and space behind answers like these. They leave people feeling like they’ve had a funny and intimate encounter with someone who, as Willie Nelson does, knows how to deliver them—with an amiable mischievous half-smile and a wizened wink in his eye, as though the words have just popped into his head. Answers that charm and entertain but also leave his real thoughts unbothered, his real life unruffled.
Willie Nelson has plenty of real thoughts, and he has lived a life as real and unreal as they come for eighty-two years and counting. Those stories are a little harder to shake loose, but he will share some of them, too. And when it comes to Willie Nelson, it’s worth holding out for the good stuff.
Maybe all of us are engaged in a lifelong fight to find our better natures. But some of us, perhaps the luckiest ones, find a reliable shortcut. For Willie Nelson, that shortcut has turned out to be pot. It works for him, and he needed it. His public image is a kind of Zen cowboy, a naturally chilled-out elder—Robin Williams used to have a bit in his act about how even Buddha was jealous of how mellow Willie Nelson was—but of course the truth is more complicated. “I can be a real asshole when I’m straight,” he tells me. “As Annie can probably adhere to.”
Annie is Nelson’s fourth wife—“my current wife,” as he has sometimes described her, though they have now been married for twenty-four years. She sits out of my sight, behind me, but periodically she contributes to the conversation. “He’s not an asshole sober,” she clarifies, coming to her husband’s defense. Briefly, at least. “Only when he’s drinking. Then he’s an asshole.”
Did you think you were an asshole at the time?
“Oh, I’ve always known that possibility, you know,” he says. “I saw a funny cartoon the other day. ‘How do you piss off a redhead?’ ‘Say something.’
And you felt like some anger came with your red hair?
“I could associate with the temper that goes with it.”
So are you still as angry as you used to be, but now that you smoke you’ve just learned how to not show it?
“Probably. I still get pissed off, and take a couple of hits and say, ‘Well, it ain’t that bad.…’ Delete and fast-forward: That’s my new motto.”
Thanks Phil Weisman for sending to me.
by: Andy Langer
Willie Nelson was getting high once when he leaned in and whispered, “Two nuns are cycling down a cobbled street. The first one says, ‘I’ve never come this way before.’ The second replies, ‘Must be the cobbles.”” I’ve never been so high or laughed so hard. Willie’s jokes are old and corny — they’re mostly about golf or sex. Sometimes both. But the goal in the telling seems to be to disarm. People get weird around famous people, let alone bona fide American icons. They talk too much or too little. they fidget and breathe heavy. But I’ve never seen anyone freak out around Willie Nelson. Laughter takes the edge off. So does humility. Last year, moments after the mayor of Austin unveiled an eight-foot, one-ton statue of Willie downtown at 310 Willie Nelson Boulevard, rather than ponder his triumps, he said, “I guess I’ll be stoned 1,000 years.”
Street and statues are typically posthumous honors, but Willie turns 80 this month. He’s become part Yoda, part John Wayne. Or is it George Burns and Santa? Anyway, he’s an icon. What’s gotten lost is that he’s the most important songwriter of the 20th century. Had he written onlyPatsy Cline’s “Crazy,” the simplest, most beautiful Valentine ever, he’d be only as influential as the ladies who wrote “Happy Birthday to You.” But then there’s ‘Night Life” And “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Andy maybe most importantly, “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” — the yardstick against which all songs about love and mortality (approximately 43 of all songs ever written) are measured. Willie deals in “Standards” — songs that make mere hits seem silly and disposable. Sinatra and Elvis sang them, but Willie wrote them, consistently and authoritatively. On paper, his peers were Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and George Jones, but when you’re looking at the hypothetical construct that’s the Great American Songbook, they’re really George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin. You can make an argument for Bob Dylan, but if Ginger Rogers did everything Frank Astaire did backwards and in high heels, Willie did everything Dylan did stoned and in New Balance running shoes.
Willie has said he believes his music will eventually fade away, that like fame itself, achievements are impermanent. Zen, but probably bullshit. There’s always been a timelessness to his songs that ought to ensure, uh, timelessness: “Crazy” itself is more than 50 years old. Then again, much of Willie’s iconic status was earned off stage. Like the best legendary Texans — from Sam Houston to Ann Richards — he’s got not so much a biography as a mythology: In his autobiography, Willie claims to have sparked up “a fat Austin torpedo” on the roof of the White House. Elsewhere in the book, his first wife refutes the old story about her sewing him up in a bedsheet while he was passed out, then beating himw with a broomstick — instead she tied him up with a jump rope before beating him. Better documented is the work he’s done as an agitator, provacateur and champion: battling the IRS, lobbying for the family farm, and backing alternative energies. Marijuana legalization? Sure. But he’s also been outspoken about horse slaughter and, through a cover of “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly (Fond of each Other)” championed gay rights. He’s not perfect: Willie may be a 9/11 truther, telling Larry King that logic led him to look at the day’s events from another angle. It makes him look out of touch.
Friends say his arthritis is so bad he can’t roll a joint anymore. His latest song is comically morose: He sings, “Roll me up and smoke me when I die.” Willie says he still tours as hard as he does because he’s afraid of losing his muscle memory. And the shows are strong 90 minutes, no teleprompters, no breaks. When his son Lukas sits in on guitar, his grin is as wide as it’s ever been. And night after night, one lucky fan — usually a young kid on his parent’s shoulders or a young lady with a little extra cleavage — gets a trademark Willie Nelson bandanna tossed from the stage by Willie himself. It’s a souvenir, a permanent thing. But it’s the memory — the show, the brief flicker of interaction — that’s indelible. Willie Nelson’s legacy will live in the largess of small gestures, the right word at the right time, and songs and melodies that become milestone markers in real people’s lives.
Buy the April issue of Esquire Magazine, to read the entire article, and see more photos.
On May 26, 2004, music video to Toby Keith and Willie Nelson song, ‘Beer For My Horses’ wins best video award at CBS’ 39th annual Academy of Country Music Awards at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay.
October 14, 2003
by Chris Neal
Like a lot of great country music tales, this one begins with whiskey. Willie Nelson and Toby Keith were on Willie’s bus, passing the bottle back and forth — to be precise, a bottle of Willie’s own signature brand, Old Whiskey River. They were having fun, but Toby had a serious question for his hero.
“I’ve got a project I’d love to talk to you about,” he offered. “It’s singing the second verse on a song that I think fits you like a glove.”
“What’s the name of it?” asked Willie. “Whiskey for My Men; Beer for My Horses,” replied Toby.
“Hell, let’s go cut it!” Willie exclaimed with a laugh. “It’d be hard to have a bad song with a title that good.”
Many months later, Willie’s judgment turned out to be right on. “Beer for My Horses” shot to No. 1 and stayed there for six weeks.
“Johnny Cash said one time that all that’s wrong with any of us can be cured with a No. 1 song,” said Willie. “And I think he was about right. I’m almost cured of everything.”
The ride actually began many years ago, way back in mid-Sept. 1976. Toby, then 15, made his way backstage when Willie was appearing in concert at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla., as part of an “Outlaws” tour with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser.
At the time, Toby already idolized Willie, who was then riding high with the No. 1 Waylon duet “Good Hearted Woman” – a song Toby himself would sing with Willie months after Waylon’s death in 2002.
Toby still remembers meeting Willie that night, 27 years ago. “He was his usual polite self,” he smiles. “Willie is a real sweetheart. He takes care of everybody and wants everybody to have a piece of him.”
By the time they met again in the ‘90’s, Toby had followed in Willie’s footsteps to become a star himself. It happened that Toby’s guitarist, Joey Floyd, had played the part of Willie’s son in the 1980 movie Honeysuckle Rose, and still kept in touch. Joey made the introductions — and Toby and Willie’s friendship was off and running.
“I’d already heard his music before I met him,” recalls Willie. “I think he’s a great talent. He’s one of those guys coming along — well, I don’t know how young he is. Younger than me for damn sure.” (Toby is 42.)
“Probably the thing that ties us together most is the music,” says Toby. “But he’s got a great sense of humor, and so do I. We call each other all the time and tell our latest jokes, and we really have a good time when we’re hanging out.”
Perhaps the most notorious occasion the two spent “hanging out” was during this year’s ACM Awards. Tongues wagged after Toby was named entertainer of the Year at the evening’s end, but wasn’t around to accept it because he’d already left.
Where was he?
“I was up in my room, at the same hotel where the show was going on,” explains Willie. “I was watching it on TV. Next thing you know, there’s a knock on my door and there’s Toby. He said, “Hell, I ain’t gonna win.” I said, ‘OK, come in here and we’ll write a song or something.” So we got the whiskey bottle going around — again — and we were having some fun.”
“You can tell when it’s your night,” explains Toby, “And it didn’t feel like it was my night.”
So Toby figured that spending time with his friend and idol sounded better than waiting around to not win an award.
“That’s important to me, getting a chance to enjoy some of the stuff I grew up wanting to do,” he says. “But I did feel real bad when they said my name and “Entertainer of the Year.”
There’s always the upcoming CMAs, where “Beer for My Horses” is nominated for Single, Song, Vocal Event — and Music Video of the Year, for it’s imaginative clip featuring Willie and Toby as father and son police detectives chasing a killer.
The two are lining up tour dates together, including a New Year’s Eve show. Willie is currently making a new album with Toby’s producer, which will include at least one song Toby wrote. And both men say they’re reading and willing to duet again.
“I’ve had a lot of fun singing with Toby,” declares Willie. “He’s one of us.”
But one question remains: Do horses really like beer?
“Good God yeah” says Willie. “It’s got wheat, barley, corn — why wouldn’t a horse like it? It’s horse soup.”
photo: Rick Diamond
by: Stephen L. Betts
The 80th birthday of songwriter, actor and country-music icon Kris Kristofferson will be celebrated next month with the release of The Complete Monument & Columbia Album Collection, a 16-CD deluxe box set from Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings. Due June 10th, the collection will consist of 11 of Kristofferson’s studio albums spanning the entire decade of the Seventies. At the same time he was recording his own material, Kristofferson’s massive song catalog was mined for hits by artists ranging from Janis Joplin (“Me and Bobby McGee”) to Ray Price (“For the Good Times”) and beyond.
All of the albums in the collection, released from 1970 through 1981, will be individually packaged in facsimile sleeves reproducing the original album artwork. Five additional albums in the set will spotlight rare and unreleased live and studio recordings encompassing Kristofferson’s years recording for the Monument and Columbia labels, with three concert recordings (two of them previously unreleased) from 1970-1972 and two full discs of rarities – non-LP singles, studio outtakes, previously unavailable demos – and more.
The package will also include a deluxe booklet featuring essays and liner notes penned especially for the project, including an introduction to Kristofferson contributed by his fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member Fred Foster, the founder of Monument Records who signed the Texas native and former Army pilot to a songwriting contract at Combine Music and a recording pact with the Monument label. Producer/musician Don Was contributes an aesthetic appreciation titled “Kris Kristofferson True American Hero,” and the set also features an insightful essay on Kristofferson’s artistry penned by longtime Rolling Stone contributor Mikal Gilmore.
One week after the boxed set is issued, the Grammy-winning legend will release a double album, The Cedar Creek Sessions, 25 songs recorded over a three-day period in the summer of 2014. The set includes stripped-down versions of some of Kristofferson’s most revered tunes, including “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” a dark, meditative tune he penned while living in a tenement and going through a divorce. Johnny Cash would go on to record it in 1970, winning Kristofferson CMA Song of the Year honors for it.
In March, the Nashville tribute concert, “The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson,” featured performances by Willie Nelson, Reba, Eric Church, Emmylou Harris and more.
The Complete Monument & Columbia Album Collection:
Kristofferson (Monument, 1970)
The Silver Tongued Devil and I (Monument, 1971)
Border Lord (Monument, 1972)
Jesus Was a Capricorn (Monument, 1972)
Spooky Lady’s Sideshow (Monument, 1974)
Breakaway—Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge (Monument, 1974)
Who’s to Bless…and Who’s to Blame (Monument, 1975)
Surreal Thing (Monument, 1976)
Easter Island (Monument/Columbia, 1978)
Shake Hands With the Devil (Monument/Columbia, 1979)
To the Bone (Monument/Columbia, 1981)
Live at The Big Sur Folk Festival (recorded 1970, previously unreleased)
The WPLJ-FM Broadcast (recorded 1972, previously unreleased)
Live at the Philharmonic (recorded 1972/released 1992)
Extras (previously released non-LP singles, outtakes and appearances)
Demos (previously unreleased)
by: The Barbi Twins
Barbi Twins: Why have you and your family become so active specifically in anti-horse slaughter?
Willie Nelson: I’m a little prejudiced when it comes to horses. I have always loved them. I currently have about 68; 25-30 were rescued directly from slaughter. I got involved 8 years ago when Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) first made me aware that American horses are being slaughtered and shipped overseas for human consumption. It’s a shame that horses – or any animal – be treated this way when horses are the foundation of America. Horses were a way to travel to get to where we are today, and it is our job to protect them.
BT: The wild horses have been in the news, but most people don’t understand that horse slaughter is legal. Can you explain what the government does?
WN: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency in charge of protecting wild horses, has been rounding them up at an alarming rate, supposedly for their own good. Sadly, there are more wild horses in holding pens than in the wild. Something is wrong with that, so we must act now before the BLM has managed these magnificent animals into extinction.
BT: Why should Americans be worried about horse slaughter still being legal?
WN: Americans don’t eat horses. They are not raised as food animals and they are treated with chemicals that render them unsafe for consumption. The regulations needed to change their status to “food animals” would cripple every aspect of the horse industry as we know it. Plus, it would be wrong.
BT: What benefit does horse slaughter have if most people are against horse slaughter?
WN: America’s horses and horse industry are under attack by a small group of folks out to line their pockets at the expense of our wild and domestic horses, American taxpayers, and those restaurant patrons who are ingesting toxic horse meat. However, we can pass the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which will ban the slaughter of all American horses for the purpose of human consumption, while also ensuring they aren’t sent abroad to suffer the same fate. My family has been working closely with our friend Chris Heyde at AWI on the SAFE Act and other important horse welfare issues for years. I encourage everyone to join with us by visiting www.awionline.org, taking action, and signing up for eAlerts today. Together we can make a difference.
BT: What can you tell people about how they can help stop horse slaughter of domestic and wild horses?
WN: Folks, please join my family and friends at the Animal Welfare Institute to see how you can help with this important American cause.
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by Teresa Taylor Von-Frederick
When he’s not performing on the road to sell-out crowds, there are only two places you might look for Willie Nelson — and hope to find him. One is in the Colorado mountains, resting and recuperating from hard travel, in the romantic three-story Swiss chalet he owns there; the other is a 775 acre ranch outside Austin, Texas, where I visited him recently.
Here, Willie is surrounded by the rivers, hills and the down-home country folk of his childhood, very close to the place where his ma and pa, along with his grandparents, raised him. It’s where he feels most at home in the world, consequently, where he’s most himself No wonder friends like Kris Kristofferson and his longtime producer, Chips Moman, enjoy visiting the ranch, sometimes for weeks at a time.
“There’s another house, too,” Willie tells me. He loves houses, perhaps because he travels so much. “It’s less than a block from the place where I was born. In fact, we’re restoring it — an old house on the edge of town.”
A gentle light shimmers in his eyes as Nelson remembers his grandfather. “He died when I was six years old. He was a blacksmith near Abbott, Texas. It was my grandfather who bought me my first Stella guitar when I was five. I learned how to play dominoes and guitar early — that was what we used to do.”
Born Willie Hugh Nelson on April 30, 1933, in Abbott, Willie has one sibling, an older sister, Bobbie Lee. “Bobbie and I started out together. Then she got married, had children, and now we’re back playing music again. She plays piano in the band.” He recalls tenderly those “good ol’ days” when he was trying to make a living in the rough-and-tumble clubs around Fort Worth, Texas, first with Bobbie and later by himself. Times were pretty hard then, and he credits his five children and his current wife, Connie Jean Koepke (whom he met in 1968 at a show in Cut ‘n Shoot, Texas), with sticking by him and encouraging his dream of someday making music that people would want to hear.
But his grandparents, Willie says, were his true, and earliest, inspiration. They themselves learned music through mail-order courses, and, when he was very young, they deeply involved grandchild Willie in church and gospel music. They also gave him a lsting feeling for the church itself.
We hike up into the hills were a church stands on one of his acres. (It appeared as a post-Civil War set in his film Red Headed Stranger.) Lana, his oldest daughter, who’s 33, comes with us. Willie grabs the tattered hemp rope hanging from the belfry, and we hear the sound of bells clattering. “Whenever we can, my children and grandchildren (he has seven) have church up here. It’s a nice feelin’, havin’ your own church on your own property. I try to instill sound values in my children as much as possible. None of them are interested in becoming entertainers. My son — we call him Wild Bill, although sometimes he’s Mild Bill — goes through changes, but he’s gettin’ better. He’s thirty years old, lives in Tennessee with his wife and children, and just started farmin’ his own land.”
“That’s one thing Daddy instilled in us,” Lana interjects. “His spirituality and love and God and human nature. Daddy always taught us to have good relationships with people.”
Lana, the first child born to Willie and his first wife, Martha Matthews, speaks of her parents with great feeling. “Daddy was seventeen and my mama was sixteen when they met; she was a car hop serving food at a restaurant. Daddy is still very close to her, but they were so young! I was four years old when my daddy wrote a song called Family Bible. He sold it for fifty dollars to pay for rent and food, and I cried and cried because I thought he just gave it away. He grabbed me by the hand on the front porch and said, ‘Look out there, honey. One of these days I’m gonna buy you that land as far as you can see.’ I knew my daddy would be a star.”
Lana has directed and produced Willie’s music videos, including the very first country-and-western video, Poncho and Lefty, which was nominated for an American Video Award. Today, she still works with her father. “I know his values and what kind of story he likes to tell. I also inherited his sense of humor.”
Besides Lana and Billy, Willie has another child, Susie, from his first marriage. He and Connie, who have been married for 17 years, also have two daughters, Paula Carlene and Amy Lee. Connie has stayed by his side through all of his struggles and, finally, his success. “Willie and I try to spend as much quiet time as possible away from everything,” Connie says. “We like to go to the movies. Willie likes to ride horses, and I like to ski. I spend a lot of time in California with our daughters when he’s off performing.”
Willie leans into a char and relaxes by the fireplace. “Yeah, I enjoy my horses and playing golf,” he concedes., “but I love my music just as much. Honestly, I have all these guys who are my heroes. … But when I was struggling, it didn’t matter if there was only one person in the audience. That was enough for me to get inspired. I’m still starstruck.”
A while ago, in Illinois, with some of his heroes — Neil Young, Merle Haggard, John Couger Mellencamp — Willie put together a musical cast that included B. B. King, Bob Dylan, Glenn Campbell, Carole King, Billy Joel, George Jones — a stupendous concert to raise money for America’s financially stricken farmers. Farm Aid became a cultural and historic high point of the ’80s. Since that first concert Willie helped to sponsor, 14 million dollars have been raised in this nation for farm relief.
“I was brought up on a farm and know a lot about agricultural and farming,” he reveals. “It’s darn hard work; I couldn’t do it. But it keeps families together on the farm. A lot of them who are suffering now don’t have money for their children or for medical emergencies. There’s hope out there, though. All kinds of folks are helping us all across the country, Jody Fischer, my assistant works loyally on behalf of Farm Aid. That’s what life is all about; helping each other, if we can.”
Willie identifies strongly with the poor. Graciously and proudly, he welcomes those who are troubled in his Texas home — built in a rustic, Ponderosa style reminiscent of a land baron’s mansion of the 1980s. The interior sports a Western motif complete with shelves of Indian arrowheads and a buffalo skin draped over a beam. His simple futon bed lies on the floor in front of a huge fireplace. Willie hops onto it, assuming his favorite yoga position.
“This is the best form of meditation for me,” he explains.” “Sometimes a song or an idea will come, and I just write it. I enjoy meditating when I jog and play golf, too. I’d rather be workin’ than not. And we can cut ten sides of a record here in one day. It’s been a real help, havin’ the recording studio on my property.”
Memories of his difficult early years appear in his conversation. It was nearly 30 years ago, in 1961, that he made the trek to Nashville in a second hand car. His struggle in the musical world had already gone on for more than a decade; he had attempted to become a party-time hog farmer… and failed at it. “I was the worst hog farmer you ever saw,” Willie says, laughing. But by 1985 he was able to release four albums within a single year: Funny How Time Slips Away (with Faron Young); Highwayman (with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings); Half Nelson, Brand New Heart (with Hank Snow) and Me and Paul (written for and about his friend Paul English) In 1986, The Promiseland was Willie’s strongest LP in years. And no sentimentalist can ever forget Willie’s Crazy, recorded by Patsy Cline. (His newest album, Island in the Sun was released earlier this year.)
Of all contemporary songwriters, he has most effectively observed and interpreted the life around him. “The master of sadness, the poet of honky-tonks,” he has been called. His songs elucidate his highest priorities: love, God, prayer, staying close to his kin.
Lana testifies to that. “I produced a family album that included all of the significant events in my daddy’s life and some of his song lyrics and family photo. I gave it to him for his forty-seventh birthday. Boy, was he happy! He grinned from here to Nashville.”
In the kitchen, Willie messes around with his restaurant-size stove. “You bet I can cook,” he replies, in answer to my question. “I love to make all kinds of gravies. And I can eat bacon and eggs any time of the day or night.” He grabs a soda from the fridge, sit down, takes off his tennis shoes and puts on a pair of cowboy boots. “How would you like to go up and see my horses now?” he asks.
We walk out the back door that gives him his favorite view of two lakes that come together and travel yet another third of a mile up to his barn. His two horses, Scout, a large palomino, and Dancer, a sorrell horse with a blazed forehead, timidly run for cover in the barn when we approach. But as soon as Willie brings out some feed, Scout comes over. Willie lumps in the hay and sits there feeding Scout, as if he were sitting next to his best friend. “I rid every day when I’m home,” he tells me. “I have a lot more horses on the property, but they’re all off somewhere now.”
The sun begins to set, the landscape shaded by tall plains grass, mesquite and scrub oak trees. I feel as peaceful and calm as Willie, a man who like to take life one day at a time when he’s home. His friend and colleague, Chips Moman, has joined us for the evening. “I’d do anything for that man and so would a lot of other people,” Chips says. “There seems to be nothing he can’t do to please everyone. And he thrives on the excitement of the road. He’s performed with the best: Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt. He’s now with CBS Records. We’re a long way form 1964 when he first signed with Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. But he became fed up with the politics of becoming a star there. He moved to Texas and He’s een there ever since.”
We climb into his black truck, and he invites us back to visit some more with his family. After strong coffee and with nighttime creeping up, I take my leave reluctantly. He thanks me generously for coming down to visit, and I drive off down the wonderful, winding dirt road that’s as serene as the Texas sunset, as serene as Willie Nelson himself.