Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Why Willie Nelson’s Still Cool, by Joe Nick Patoski (Texas Monthly, April 2003)

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

Why Willie’s Still Cool
by Joe Nick Patoski
A Texas Monthly Magazine Tribute to Willie!
April 2003

Ever since I was a kid, when his grinning visage first flickered at me over the black-and-white on Channel 11 live from Panther Hall, in Fort Worth, Willie Nelson has been a fixture in my life. I swear I heard him introducing 45’s when he was a disc jockey on KCNC-AM, my first exposure to country and western music. Like him, I saw the neon Stars and Stripes that once flew over the Tarrant County courthouse at night. Like him, I was moved by the blind couple who sold pencils in front of Leonards Department Store downtown (Willie paid tribute to them by writing “Pretty Paper,” the best Texas Christmas song ever). Growing up in Texas back then, you couldn’t help but hear Faron Young’s recording of “Hello Walls” and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” jukebox staples that never went away; Willie wrote the lyrics of both songs. When I finally met him fact to face in the offices of KOKE-FM, in Austin, the station that revolutionized radio by playing a brand new mix of music called progressive country. I remember thinking that he was unlike any musician — any person, for that matter — I’d ever seen or heard.

Who’d have guessed that after all these records, picnics, scandals, and road miles later, he’d still be so much in his prime? At a time when his peers have either hightailed it to Branson or are being wheeled out onstage to show they’re still alive, Willie’s till Willie — on the road again, on the bus again, worthy of tribute songs and accolades and whatever else you can throw at him.

Which raises the question: What keeps him going? What makes Willie Willie, who turns seventy on April 30, more of an icon that ever? Everyone has his opinion. Willie surely has his own. Here’s mine.

He’s a family man. Four marriages and what can be charitably described as an unconventional lifestyle explain why a lot of people thing Willie and family values don’t go together.  They’re wrong. He’s the epitome of family. It’s not just that he’s a father, a grandfather, and a great-grandfather or that his sister plays piano in his band or that his eldest daughter goes out on the road with him and writes the band’s official Web site diary (www.willienelson.com).  Not for nothing is his band called Willie Nelson and Family; they’ve stayed together longer than most blood relations. His steadfast followers are likewise called family. To them, he’s more than a star; he’s a combination of daddy, patron, sage, boss man, fearless leaders, beloved outlaw, and benevolent shepherd tending his flock.

He’s a uniter, not a divider. The original cosmic cowboy came to Austin and brought rednecks and freaks together, mainly because he’s a little of both (he was the first hippie I ever saw wearing a diamond pinkie ring). His audience today is the face of America, bringing together folks who’d never darken the same door — from baby boomers to yahoos, academics to convicts — and making them want to stay all night and a little longer.

He’s the Teflon Troubadour. From unpaid bar tabs and pistol down payments to high-dollar lawsuits and high-profile tax hassles, he has nimbly stepped around buckets of excrement without getting any on him in a manner unrivaled this side of Ronald Reagan. Think about it: In just ten years he seamlessly segued from IRS target to A-plus patriot, leading the likes of Tome Cruise and Julia Roberts in a stirring rendition of “America the Beautiful” on the nationally televised post-9/11 telethon.

He’s loyal. It works in the White House. It works in the Mafia. And it works in Willie’s world, where the operating rule of thumb is Darrell Royal’s “Dance with the one who brung ya.” Following the first Willie Nelson Picnic, in Dripping Springs, he severed ties with the hippie crew from the Armadillo World Headquarters who’d helped put on the show after hearing one of them complain about his pal’s toting firearms backstage. “If my friends aren’t good enough for you,” Willie told them, “then I’m not good enough for you either.”

He’s an activist without being overly political. He championed small, independent farmers by starting Farm Aid, a no-brainer fit of inspired populism that pays back the culture he was part of growing up in Abbott. On almost the opposite end of the spectrum, he has had a thirty-year relationship with NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), making a public service announcement here and there. And he’s even raised money to rebuild the fire-damaged Hill County courthouse in Hillsboro. yes, he lends his name to causes, bu the causes don’t define him: his Williness transcends all controversy.

He’s a jack-of-all-trades. No one slides in and out of so many musical skins. He’s country as all-get-out, but he’s also a folkie for the ages, a great gospel artist (look no further than Family bible and Healing Hands of Time), a connoisseur of pop standards (Stardust is one of the best-selling albums of all time), and an organic-rocker who can take a jam on on a trip farther out than even . The Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead may have preceded him in their two-drummer setup, but only Willie Nelson’s band has sported two bass players as well. Reggae?  Been there (though the album has yet to be released). Sentimental schmultz? Done that (“On teh Sunny Side of the Street?) Dance times? Yes, thsoe were disco whistles you heard on a recent single, “Maria (Shut Up and Kiss Me).” He has sung credible duets with Julio Iglesias, Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Little Joe, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt; B. B. King, Kid Rock, and Nora Jones.  Now that’s versatility.

He’s an extraordinary talent. He can jump from genre to genre so effortlessly because he’s so gifted musically — the greatest all-around Texas player born in the twentieth century. He writes songs that have   As a singer, he’s surpassed only by Sinatra.  He’s an American original, right up there with Hank, Miles, and Elvis.

He’s a crossover dream. unlike Mariah Carey and Madonna, he has managed to transition form music to movies (Honeysuckle Rose, Wag the Dog) and television (the edgy detective series Monk) without being ridiculed — mainly because he’s smart enough to play a version of himself, if not the real thing, and act naturally. What you see is what you get.

He’s Ours. Willie is Texas and Texas is Willie, pure and simple, no one represents the brand like he does. The spiritual descendant of Bob Willis, who blazed trails by welding together seemingly incompatible styles to invent western swing. Willie is responsible for birthing this think called Texas Music and taking Texas to the world. Bonus points for making red-bandanna headbands, braids and running shoe symbols of Texas culture.

He’s cool. He has lived a thousand lives and died a thousand deaths, having been wrongly written off more times than any other cat in showbiz. While he could be resting on laurels that include a discography ofmore than two hundred albums, he’s plahying 145 nights ayear, cranking out sets in excess of two hours, while on the side pitching booze (Old Whiskey River Kentucky Straight Bourbon), financial services (Frost Bank), and blue jeans (the Gap) in television commercials and on a billboard overlooking Broadway.

Wilie and blue jeans? Could there be a more perect match? It isn’t so much that the was made for them as they were made for him. And you can’t get any cooler than that.

[Joe Nick Patoski is author “Willie Nelson: An Epic Life,” among many other great documentaries on Texas music and history.  His latest is The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America”.

Willie Nelson CMT Insider Interview (4/23/2010)

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

countrymusic

www.cmt.com

Even when his albums centered around pop standards, blues, jazz and reggae, Willie Nelson has always put his unique country spin on the music. With his new album, Country Music, he chose to delve deep into the kind of music he grew up hearing and playing.

Produced by T Bone Burnett, Country Music was recorded in Nashville with a band of local musicians that included Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller and Ronnie McCoury. The song selection includes new arrangements of traditional material and covers of songs popularized by Porter Wagoner (“Satisfied Mind”), Hank Williams (“House of Gold”), Ernest Tubb (“Seaman’s Blues”), Merle Travis (“I Am a Pilgrim”) and Al Dexter (“Pistol Packin’ Mama”).

During a recent interview, CMT Insider talked to the Country Music Hall of Fame member about the album and if there was a reason it had a specific release date of April 20 — also referred to by some as 4/20 or “Pot Day.”

Where did the idea for this album country music come from?

Nelson: My idea of country music is basically what this album has on it. It’s fiddles, steels, mandolins, and it just seems like a natural title. And underneath Country Music, I was tempted to say, “Lest we forget this is country music.”

What was the criteria for this album?

Well, T Bone Burnett produced it, and if you’ve got a good producer like that, you kind of just let him have the ball and run with it. And that’s what I did. He brought all the songs to the session except for “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” and all the musicians, he called them all together. He’s really the best at doing things like that.

I’ve read that you said three takes are enough if you’ve got the right people in the studio. Did you feel like you had that there?

Oh, yeah. And a lot of times, the first take is the best, so the second and third are just insurance.

A lot of people are saying Country Music is similar to yourStardust album because these songs are standards. Do you agree with that?

I do. It’s a Stardust in its own right. All of these songs are the same type of standard songs in the country music as theStardust album were in pop. So, yeah, there is definitely a connection.

Is there a song on this album that means the most to you personally?

They’re all really good songs that I grew up singing — “Satisfied Mind,” “Dark as a Dungeon.” You know, these days the mining songs are very special to me because of all the tragedies with all these mines. But all of these songs are very good songs.

The traditional song, “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” was one you hadn’t even heard before.

No, I hadn’t heard that. T Bone brought some good things to the session, but I had never heard that one. He brought a Bob Willssong I had never heard. I thought I’d heard all the Bob Wills songs, but “Gotta Walk Alone” is an obscure Bob Wills song that I had never heard.

You included Hank Williams’ “House of Gold” on the album and have said it helped get you through some hard times. What is it about his songs that have the power to heal?

Well, songs like “House of Gold” … it’s just pure Hank Williams. No one sings those like Hank did, but I sure love to try.

Is there a type of music that you wouldn’t touch these days?

Oh, I don’t know. There are probably lots of different things. … I’m just now aware yet.

You had carpal tunnel surgery a few years back. How is your hand doing?

The hand’s doing better. I’ve got a rotator cuff that’s torn, and it’s cutting down on my golf but … .

There was a lot of speculation about your reasons for releasing the album on 4/20. Is this a coincidence?

Well, you know, I wasn’t even aware of a 4/20 kind of the release date. I never put anything together — because I’m usually kind of slow on things like that — but I think it’s funny.

A district attorney in North Carolina is planning to prosecute some of your band members for possession of moonshine and marijuana. That’s kind of got to be disappointing.

Well, yeah it’s very disappointing. … To have a little moonshine, in North Carolina, I thought they put that in baby bottles. I didn’t know that was a problem.

We’ve been hearing rumors that you’re going to do a movie with Johnny Knoxville. Is that happening?

We’re certainly talking about one together. And that’d be great. I love Johnny. We’d have a lot of fun.

Anything new to report about your constant touring?

Not really. I’m having fun playing. We played … in Vegas for all the broadcast people, and we had the band from Nashville there. That’s happening a few more times. I think we’re doing it in L.A. and New York. I’m looking forward to it because these guys are very good.

And T Bone will be doing some performances with you, right?

He’s great musician, and any time he’s around, you feel a little better because you feel like he’s got your back. I’m glad to know he’s in the studio or on the stage or anything.

Willie Nelson in Life Magazine (April 2013)

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

Outlaw Country: the Birth of the Music That Changed Texas Forever, Texas Monthly (April 2012)

Friday, April 12th, 2019
img272

Forty years ago, Willie, Waylon, Jerry Jeff and a whole host of Texas misfits grew their hair long, snubbed Nashville, and brought the hippies and rednecks together.  Country Music has never been the same.

by John Spong
Texas Monthly
April 2012

What it was, was a generational shift, and not one that Music Row wanted. In the late sixties, Nashville country music was defined by the string-swelling, countrypolitan gloss of Tammy Wynette and Glen Campbell. RCA executive Chet Atkins was a chief architect of the Nashville sound, and when people asked him to define it, he liked to jingle the change in his pockets and say, “It’s the sound of money.” No tweaks to the formula were tolerated. Even Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, two Texas boys with ideas of their own, were forced to fit the mold. They recorded for RCA, and their records sounded exactly the way Atkins wanted.

img274

Monday, April 1st, 2019

Read article and see lots more great photos
www.texashighways.com
by: Turk Pipkin

There’s nothing like the feeling of stepping onto Willie Nelson’s tour bus. Whether you do it once or a hundred times, it’s a thrill to be invited onto Willie’s rolling roadshow. Stories will be told. New songs may be played. Jokes that may or may not be suitable for print will be exchanged. And laughter will definitely ensue.
It’s Saturday night in the Fort Worth Stockyards. A sold- out crowd is already finding their seats just a few steps from Willie’s bus, which is parked behind the world’s largest honky tonk, Billy Bob’s Texas. I’ve come to see an old friend and to hear what might be my 100th Willie concert. Or maybe my 300th—I lost count long ago.

I first met Willie 40 years ago at the door of his bus, though that was about five buses previous. I was his opening act at Auditorium Shores in Austin, and when I left the stage, the promoter told me to go back in front of a rowdy crowd and tell them their headliner might be delayed. Ten thousand strong, they were chanting Willie’s name, and I was afraid to face them again, so I went to the bus and knocked on the door. Willie opened it wide, already a Texas legend and one of the biggest acts in America—his  braided ponytails held in place by his trademark bandana.

“They’re ready for you, sir,” I told him. He gave me a big grin, and said, “Let’s go.”

Though the buses have grown more refined over the decades, they haven’t changed much, and neither has Willie. Soon to turn 86 years old, his braids remain long and strong, and his enthusiasm for entertaining a crowd hasn’t waned. Willie and the bus are still together for more than 100 days a year. He feels at home on the bus and knows that the tour’s three lead drivers, with 100 years of experience between them, will get him safely down the road from one show to the next.

Willie’s and my paths don’t cross as much as they used to, so it feels good when he stands and gives me a hug and a smile.

“How you doing?” Willie asks. “Are we working or having fun?”

“Both,” I tell him. He laughs. And that’s a good start for an interview, especially one with an old friend.

I’ve just arrived from Austin and tell Willie I stopped in his hometown of Abbott, which doesn’t seem to have changed much since he was a skinny red-haired kid nicknamed Booger Red.

“You have two new Grammy nominations,” I say. “You’ve recorded a hundred studio albums, and you’re still recording and touring hard. You’ve come a long ways from Abbott.”

“Yep,” Willie says with a smile. “About 60 miles!”

We both laugh. It’s a good line, partially because he really has come far, even while staying true to who he was before the awards and adoring crowds.

I tell him I checked out the Methodist Church that he and his sister, Bobbie, rescued, and the West Volunteer Fire Department’s new firetrucks that Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic funded after the West fertilizer plant explosion. I even swung by the Hill County Courthouse, rebuilt after a fire with the proceeds of a Willie Nelson concert, then rededicated with another Willie show on the town square.

“Abbott and Hill County are where I grew up,” Willie reminds me. “I had a lot of fun there. And a lot of friends. I still do.”

Willie still plays poker and dominoes with some of those friends, and I can testify firsthand that you can get your pockets cleaned in those games. I’m fairly good around a gaming table, good enough to recognize how great Willie is at poker, chess, checkers, and dominoes

“Which game are you the best at?” I ask.

“Dominoes. By far,” he says immediately. “When I was young, a lot of old men from Abbott sat around playing dominoes every day, and when they got up for a break, they’d set me down in their spot. If I messed up, they’d really chew my ass out!”

Willie’s wife, Annie, seated on one of the bus’ sofas, joins in on the laughs. Annie has been his dedicated companion and partner since they met while shooting a Western movie in the ’80s. Willie’s parallel career in movies has had a focus on Westerns, and from early classics like Red Headed Stranger and Barbarosa, it was clear Willie really knew his way around a horse.

“Did you ride horses when you were a kid?” I ask.

“I have a picture of me about 2 years old riding a milk cow,” he says. “I’d ride anything that would stand still long enough for me to jump on it. One time when I was really young and dumb, I was riding this calf, and I thought if I tied my hands and feet together, he can’t throw me off. Wrong. He dragged me around town for a while!”

Willie and Annie once rescued a herd of American paint horses who were destined for a slaughterhouse. The idea was to save their lives, then find them new homes, but I’ve noticed that many of those beautiful black and white paints are still living happily at the Nelsons’ ranch and Western movie town outside of Austin, a place Willie calls Luck, Texas.

“If you’re not here,” he likes to say, “you’re out of Luck!”

I mention that I’d seen the couple’s son, Lukas, play a couple of nights before. Lukas and his band Promise of the Real had one of the best albums of 2018, and Lukas played Bradley Cooper’s bandleader in the
Oscar-nominated movie A Star is Born. What you don’t see on screen is that Lukas also taught Cooper how to sing, played Cooper’s guitar parts, and wrote or co-wrote seven songs in the movie, some with Lady Gaga. When he’s not touring with his own band or Willie, Lukas and his brother, Micah, are front and center for Neil Young’s tours. “The best band I’ve ever had,” says Neil, which is saying a lot.

“I know you’re proud of those boys,” I tell Willie.

“I’m lucky enough to have family that also plays music, and they’re all pretty good,” Willie says. “It’s about as good as it gets when you get your kids up on stage with you and you can be proud of them at the same time.”

Having seen the patience with which Willie teaches a guitar lick to one of his kids, I point out that the kids are not good by luck; they learned a lot from their dad.

“I inherited a lot of my talent,” Willie says modestly. “I’m sure they did, too.”

For Willie, getting to hear their music and play with his boys, and with his daughters, Amy and Paula, is better than taking credit.

The results of their joint creations are often spectacular. Nashville’s Buddy Cannon, who produced the album Willie & the Boys with Willie, Lukas, and Micah, remarked that sometimes their harmonies are so perfect they sound like one voice.

PreviousNext12

Click the image above to view the slideshow.

Wanting to see Willie’s entrance, I make my way inside Billy Bob’s, an enormous night club with the best seats at long picnic tables stretching out from the stage and additional viewing tiers stretching to the back bars. Surveying the crowd, I see plenty of families spanning from teenagers to great grandparents. Going to a Willie concert is a family affair.

When the stage lights dim, Willie walks out to cheers and a standing ovation, and launches straight into “Whiskey River,” which brings an even louder roar from the crowd. The mood is electric, and Willie barely pauses between songs on a 90-minute set of hit after hit. His Family band is smaller than in the old days—the passing of guitarist Jody Payne and bassist Bee Spears in 2013 and 2011, respectively, were deep-felt losses, but Willie was able to move forward with a smaller group that’s as tight as ever. Willie’s sister, Bobbie Nelson, then a few months shy of her 88th birthday, wows the crowd on every piano solo.

“He wears a lot of hats: mentor, guitar god, friend, father figure.”

Consider this: Willie and Bobbie have been playing together for eight decades, with hardly a break since the 1970s, and she is as much a part of Willie’s live sound as his famous acoustic guitar, Trigger, or Mickey Raphael’s distinctive harmonica.

Mickey, who began playing harmonica for Willie at 22, is a perfect example of why everyone in the group is called “family.”

“Willie is the same guy now as when I first started in 1973,” Mickey tells me.

“And who is that?” I ask.

“He wears a lot of hats: mentor, guitar god, friend, father figure,” Mickey says. “That all means he’s just Willie.”

The show moves at a rapid pace. Willie doesn’t stop to chat and only takes enough time between songs to kick things into the next gear.

Taking off his straw cowboy hat, Willie spins it dexterously into the audience, sailing it 20 feet deep and bringing another big cheer. A few minutes later I walk past the guy who caught it, and he’s holding the hat in his hand like a holy relic, a look on his face like he’s achieved nirvana. And in a way, I guess he has.

Willie once told me that if an audience is slow to warm up, he likes to win them over one by one. Watch close and you’ll see him looking people in the eye, giving each one a tiny smile, a wink, a nod. I’ve had more people than I can count tell me that Willie singled them out with some special recognition during a show.

How many winks and how many waves, I wonder. How many hats and bandanas? How many $100 tips in some roadside cafe?

A few years back, I was Willie’s co-author on a best-selling book called The Tao of Willie (or the “Toe of Willie” as he liked to pronounce it). For a year or two after the book was published, strangers would tell me their stories of how Willie’s generosity saved the day for them at some low point in their lives. Those recipients all became lifelong Willie fans, buying albums and going to shows for years to come, so the generosity seems to have worked for everyone involved.

The show flies by—one for Waylon, two for Hank, then “Bloody Mary Morning” for the fans who’ve been with him since 1974 when he turned country music upside down with his album Phases and Stages, a cycle of concept songs that tell a husband and wife’s contrasting perspectives of divorce. With that album and Red Headed Stranger following in 1975, Willie changed country music from three chords and a tired suit to a world that had room for artists like Townes Van Zandt and Charley Pride.

PreviousNext12

In the ’70s, Willie basically integrated country music clubs in Texas and Louisiana by hiring Charley Pride as his opening act. One night at the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas, Willie introduced Charley to an audience whose applause fell quiet when a black man walked to the mic. Going back on stage, Willie kissed Charley right on the lips. “That shut ‘em up,” Willie told me. “And they loved his music.”

Charley was soon one of the biggest acts in country music, ultimately garnering 29 No. 1 country hits. He calls his tours with Willie “a watershed” in his career. Still friends with Willie, he came from his home in Dallas to say hi and see the show at Billy Bob’s.

Charley’s admiration for Willie is seconded by just about every other musician in Texas. When Willie moved back to Texas from Nashville in the early ’70s, his shows at Armadillo World Headquarters, Willie’s Fourth of July Picnics, and almost everywhere he played had two audiences: rednecks and hippies—two groups that didn’t get along.

“They all got together and listened to music, drank a little beer, and did other things,” Willie says, “and they realized they didn’t hate each other after all.”

“Are we divided like that again in America?” I ask him.

“Not as much as people think,” Willie tells me.

Willie in front of his statue at Austin City Limits. Photo: Turk Pipkin

PreviousNext12

Offstage, Willie has never been shy about politics. He’s dedicated a fair amount of his life to Farm Aid’s support of America’s family farmers; he’s supported Native American causes, and has had friendships with a number of governors and presidents, going all the way back to Jimmy Carter. But you won’t hear any of that at his shows.

“We don’t do politics during the show,” Willie reminds me. “The people come to hear my music. And that’s what we do.”

Willie has slowly cut down from 200 shows a year to closer to 100, which is still more than most acts half his age. Lots of big names command huge ticket prices by playing only a few shows a year, but if you want to play for lots of fans all over the country, then you just keep going “On The Road Again” (an anthem Willie wrote in five minutes on an airplane barf bag after producer Sydney Pollack suggested their movie Honeysuckle Rose needed a song about life on the road).

Two nights after the Billy Bob’s show, Willie was playing one of the bigger shows of his year, a taping of Austin City Limits, the longest-
running music show in television history. Guess who was the star performer at that first taping 44 years ago? Now he’s back, playing in The Moody Theater that was built on his legend.

There was an excited crowd for the ACL taping, but when Willie came onstage it was cold in the theatre, and he was wearing a jacket. For a song or two, his voice wasn’t as strong as at Billy Bob’s. But I still saw him looking into the crowd from person to person, and before long, he was warmed up, taking off the jacket, and singing in full Willie form. The crowd knew it too, and their spirits rose with him.

His guitar solos on “Night Life” are always incredible, but at ACL his hands seemed to find some new inspiration; likewise for his playing on “Angel Flying Too Close the Ground” and Django Reinhart’s jazz classic, “Nuages.”

The audience knew they were seeing something special. In a way, they all seemed to have that same look of joy as the guy at Billy Bob’s who caught Willie’s hat. It was, without a doubt, a room filled with love. When the house lights came on the crowd filtered out, but a couple in front of me stood together holding hands for a long while, watching the spot where Willie walked offstage, not wanting to let the moment go.

Willie Nelson is defined by music and by time—both his decades-spanning career and his ability to make the most of every moment. And he is defined by love, not just love for his family or his fans, but by the universal concept—that living from one’s heart is the best use of our lives.

It’s almost impossible to imagine a world without Willie Nelson. Despite the frequent internet rumors that his health is failing, Willie shows no signs of surrendering to time. Instead, he responds with a funny song like “Still Not Dead Again Today.” Those lyrics are now an anthem all their own: “I woke up still not dead again today. The news said I was gone to my dismay. Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play.”

Not long after New Year’s, I found myself in Luck, literally, where Willie signed a Martin guitar for my wife’s birthday (after playing “Nuages” on it to make sure it was a good one). Then he took out his phone and played recordings of five incredible new songs for us, three of which he’d written in the last week.

“Willie still plays 100 shows a year, more than most acts half his age.”

“When do you write all these songs?” I asked.

“In my dreams,” he said. We laughed, but I don’t think he was kidding.

My favorite of the new songs is called “Come on Time.” Co-written with Buddy Cannon, who is producing his 13th album with Willie, the song sets Willie’s conversation with time to a gentle waltz tempo.

“Time,” Willie sings in a voice still strong but also clearly marked by its passage. “As you pass me by. Why did you put these lines on my face? You sure have put me in my place. Come on time. Looks like you’re winning the race.”

The song was so beautiful, I was practically in tears. After the last notes played, we sat there quietly for a long while. It was time for me to leave, but I didn’t want to go.


Willie Nelson in Texas Highways, by Turk Pipkin

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

Willie Nelson in Country Magazine March 1990

Saturday, March 16th, 2019

Friday, March 15th, 2019

People Magazine

“I started playing music so that I could get closer to my dayd,” the frontman for the country rock band Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Reas has said.  He also served as musical consultant for Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born.

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

Friday, March 1st, 2019

img412

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…’”

img413

Willie Nelson interview “Country Music” (February 1976)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Country Music Magazine
February 1976
by Patrick Carr

We begin with an ending of sorts. We are in Nashville on a drizzly night, packed into the Municipal Auditorium like so many high-rent sardines approaching the strung-out finale of the Disk Jockey Convenion 1975.

Taken together tonight, we are perhaps the most professional audience any of these Columbia/Epic acts are likely to play for at least another year: all of us are Somebodies in the country music business, and we’are all hip to the score. The Columbia/Epic actes bounce on stage and do whatever thing they do, three numbers each, one after the other. Tammy Wynette, Mac Davis, Barbara Fairchild, David Houston… it’s very democratic but pretty soon it becomes obvious which artists are getting corporate nod right now because all you really have to do is watch the company personnel pay or not pay attention. Nevertheless, it’s a subtle affair.

But when Willie Nelson and his band of gypsies make their entrance backstage, looking for all the world like some flying wedge of curiously benign Hells Angels, subtlety goes by the board and it’s plain that this year’s Most Likely To Succeed slot has just been taken with a vengeanance: a great shaking of hands begins.

The impression is confirmed when Willie proceeds to get up onstage with his full band (all the other acts were backed by the Columbia band) and play a 40-minute set that, except for a qute seemly absence of illegal drugs and teenage nudity among the audience, might just have well be happening in Texas on the 4th of July. This is the ending of sorts, and what it means is that after telling the Nashville powers-that-be to get lost and leaving town just three short years ago, Willie Nelson has become the country music wave of the future and is now accepting Nashville’s praise and promotional efforts on his own terms.

There is a postscript, though. Three or four hours later — after another couple of hundred handshakes, after attending a very high-rent Columbia party to which his band was not invited, and after behaving like a perfect gentleman through it all — Willie gets himself down to Ernest Tubb’s Record Store and plays for two hours while most every other star in town is out at Opryland all gussied up to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry amid great pomp and ceremony of the By Invitation Only Kind.

It isn’t that Willie couldn’t have shown up at the Opry — with his current Columbia-backed status, that’s a silly notion — and it isn’t that he’s trying a reverse-chic move like one of Nashville’s several dozen I’m-so-hip-isn’t-this-earthy tipes might attemps. It’s just that his old friend and musical hero Ernest was gracious enough to invite him, and that Ernest Tubb’s Record Store is still the best place in town to get down and play straight honky tonk music for the friends and neighbors.

Apart from being a rebel against Nashville’s creative restrictions, a culture hero, a real sweetheart, a person blessed with a highly sophisticated sense of humor, and the man who first made it possible for hippies and rednecks to co-exist under the protection of his music — all of which he is — Willie Nelson has always been one other thing. He has always been a wrtier and singer of the classic country honky tonk song, which is to say that he has always had a very precise, lonely, realistic understanding of the hard ways of this vale of tears in which we all live and suffer form time to time. This is the juke box Willie.

Historicallly, this music came out of more or less, his whol career up to today (which seems somewhat more optimistic when you consider the conclusions of the Red Headed Stranger album). It’s the kind of stuff — like “Hello Walls,” “Ain’t It Funny (How Time Slips Away),” “Pretty Paper,” “Touch Me” and all those other perfectly songs — that really say it to you when you’re down and getting kicked. Willie wrote most of it in Nashville when he was a highly-reputed songwriter trying to be a singing star, simultaneously going through the usual business of divorce, marriage, divorce, marriage and consequent craziness (or is that vice versa?) and running with the likes of Faron Young, Roger Miller, Mel Tillis and other distinguished crazy people.

A segment of my Willie Nelson interview:

Willie (laughing): “I think a lot of people got to thinking that everybody had to do the same thing Hank Williams did, even die that way if necessary. And that got out of hand. I always used to think George Jones got drunk because Hank Williams did, like he really thought that was what he was uspposed to do.”

Me: “You ever do that?”

Willie: “‘Course I did. That’s the reason I know it’s done.”

Me: “You still do it?”

Willie: “I still get drunk, but I’m not really mimicking anybody now. I have my own drunken style.”

These days, see, Willie won’t talk about the personal agonies of those Nashville years without humor, but it’s all there in the songs which made him one of Nashville’s most sought-after songwriters, and it came to a head during the years — his last year in Nashville — that gave rise to his Phases and Stages album. That year was a turning point, and it is chronicled in Phases and Stages. The album is an excruciatingly universal account of the way one man and one woman deal with their divorce (”That was the year I had four or five cars totalled out and the house burned down,” says Willie), but it ends with a very significant song called “Pick Up the Tempo.” It goes like so:

People are sayin’ that time will take
care of people like me
And that I’m livin’ too fast, and
they say I can’t last for much longer
But little they see that their
thoughts of me is my savior
And little they know that the beat
ought to go just a little faster,
So pick up the tempo just a little,
and take it on home….

For a man hitting the crucial age of forty, those are important lines. They speak of an affirmation of life and a determination to triumph over its emotional problems, and they represent Willie’s decison to leave Nashville, move back home to Texas, and finally realize his potential which is, in fact, exactly what he did. “I knew I only had a few years left to do what I was gong to do, and I had to make a move,” says Willie. “I wasn’t going down there to quit. I was going down there with a purpose.” the purpose, quite simply, was first to make himself a national recording star, and then to use that power base to make damn sure that people like him could be free to make their own music their own way without having to starve in the process.

Remember, Willie has a history in this department. It was he who first chaperoned Charley Pride into the country music concept scene, bringing him on stage in Louisiana — actually kissing him right there in the spotlights – and risking God only knows what kind of backlash in the process. The risk, once taken, paid off: Charley was accepted because Willie was behind him. Similarly, Willie, used his high prestige and general likeability in country music artist circles to ease Leon Russell into the Nashville scene by surrounding him with Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, Jeanne Pruett and a whole galaxy of main-line performers when he was cutting the sequel to his “Hank Wilson” album.

Willie can get away with heresy because more than any other artist occupying the often-queasy ground between because more than any other artist occupying the often queasy ground between country and something else, his country credentials are in order — more to the point — he has never betrayed his roots.

So Willie arrived in Austin (where he was already a star), formed his present band around himself and his old compadre drummer Paul English (of “Me and Paul” fame), began booking his own dates and managing himself, set up that first media-shocking Picnic at Dripping Springs, connected with the local power elite in the person of Darrell Royal (coach of the University of Texas football team and a very influential citizen), and quickly assumed the role of main Godfather in the Austin scheme of things. That, incidentally, is some gig: you don’t know what a loyal crowd is until you’ve been to Austin and watched a whole clubful of liberated young things worship the ground good ol’ Willie walks on to quite embarrasing excess.

Along the way — just before that first Picnic, in fact — Ritchie Albright of the Waylors suggested that he get in touch with Neil Reshen, a New york manager and fixit person who at the time was looking to consolidate his country music holdings. Reshin already had Waylon as a client, and Willie followed suit. This action signified the arrive with the neccessary teeth for the coutlaw allliance Willie had been pondering for years, and it became a classic Beauty and the Beast operation that continues to this day.

An example of the dynamics of that Beauty and the Beast relationship:

Willie on Neil Reshen: “He’s probably the most hated and the most effective manager that I know of. He enjoys going up to those big corporations and going over their figures. He’s so sadistic, he loves to do it.”

And once again, Willie: “At least you know where you’re at with Neil. Nowhere.”

And again: “Anyone who can learn to like Neil can like anyone. It’s a challenge to like Neil.”

“Willie, how are you doing on that?”

“I’m coming along, I’m coming alone. I can stay around him a little while now.”

Althought the mere mention of Neil Reshen’s name has been known to send secretaries to the bathroom and turn grown executives into violent monsters (”He’s another of those guys I don’t understand how he lived so long with somebody really hurting him,” says Willie), you have to admit that while Willie and Waylon (”It’s like having a maddog on a leash,” says Waylon) may have been able to get out of Nashville’s grasp without him. It’s only through this man’s unspeakably vicious yet effective manner of dong business, that the outlaw bid for independent power on country music has avoided bankruptcy and actually shown a profit.

So, with the active assistance of New York Neil, Willie has established the power base he was after. It is now possible for Willie to record with Waylon or Kris or Leon (he’s planning a whole Willie/Waylon joint album), and what’s more, with the formation of Lone Star Records, he can get people like Jimmy Day, Johnny Darrell, Floyd Tillman, Billy C., Bucky Meadows, his sister Bobbie and other Texas worthies into the recording studio and, since Columbia Records pays for promotion and distribution under a joint Columbia/Lone Star deal, actually get the finished product before the public. Like Willie says, “We’re all togethe

hr, and we have the same idea about what we wnat to do, which is to do our thing our own way. I’m trying to get these guys to do for themselves what they’ve been bitching about people not doing for them.”

Willie’s long affair with the business of honky tonk music represents one considerable side of his character which may be traceable to the fact that he and his sister Bobbi (”it’s alwyas been me and her”) were raised without parents. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson divorced when Willie was a baby and Bobbi was there, and so for the first six eyars of his life Wilile was with his grandparents. For the next tne year, he was raised by his grandmoter alone, grandfather having passed away. That of coruse is a vast oversimplification, but the roots of his two divorces and highly creative loneliness must lie buried somewhere in there, just as the roots of his present, almost uncanny serenity must be located in the emotional steps he took to overcome his personal problems. Whatever, it is an absolute fact that the presnet-day Willie Nelson is most definitely not an individual still in conflict with himself.

In a sense, Willie Nelson now is in some sort of still-perceptive, still creative cruise-gear, moving through a world of incredibly high pressure with almost perfect equilibrium. You can hear this feeling on the Red Headed Stranger album (a concept suggested and assisted by his wife Connie, with whom he does in fact seem quite happy) and you can see it when, dead center in the eye of one of this nation’s strangest cultural hurricanes, he drifts through the absolute mayhem of his Picnic and somehow manages to be a rock-like source of calm and competence for (literally) thousands of the most outrageously uncalm, incompetent hustlers, freaks and assorted weirdos ever assembled under one patch of Texas sky.

It also shows when, in the middle of yet another night of pushing his ragged band through a set of half-tragic, half-boogie music and watching with a smile as his audience stumbles and whoops its way towards unconsciousness, it comes down to just him and his Spanish-style, gut-string amplified Martin, and for a while the most carefully emotional, beautifully balanced little collection of mood notes in the world go soaring through the rancid air.

This is the musical legacy of Django Reinhardt, Grady Martin and the other psychological gypsy guitar pickers from whom Willie developed his style; it is also the mark of a man who has really seen it all and can still look it straight in the eye.

Atlanta, Georgia: Willie is on a First Class trip. Laid out in the back of the limousine behind his big spade shades, he is relaxing into the ways of being a star with records on the charts. There’ll be no more no-money dives to play, and for a while there won’t even be any songwriting unless the fancy takes him. Willie explains that he’s not one of those poeple who get headaches when they’re not writing, and since his next two albums — a Gospel album and an album of Lefty Frizzel songs — are already in the can, all he really has to do is keep on showing up for Willie Nelson concerts.

There are also some interesting projects in the wind, and they might even get done. there’s the issue of a Red Headed Stranger movie, for instance (”If I had the money and any idea about how to do it, I’d be somewhere doin’ it right now”,) and the almost equally interesting notion of Willie, Ray Price, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Johnny Bush getting together to do a couple of original Cherokee Cowboy dates.

Tonight Willie’s nose will be back on the grindstone as once again he takes the stage with his gypsies and plays for the sticky young drunks and dopers of Atlanta. Tonight, once again, he’ll be up there doing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” and “Eileen Goodnight” with whoever wants to join in (this time it’s Tracy Nelson and Linda Ronstadt and Mylon LeFevre), and tonight there’ll be another endless hillbilly amnesia session up in the hotel room.

Tomorrow there’ll be another bloody mary morning when Paul, bless him, has paid the bills and checked us all out and onto the road again. But now, just for a while, Willie is thinking about his Gospel album and remembering that he was asked to quit teaching in Sunday School when they found out that Little Willie played the local Texas beer joints at night.

“Were you a good preacher, Willie?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “I really was.”

“Are you a religious man?”

“Yes,” he says, “Probably more than I ever was. Y’know?”

Somehow, when you really get serious about Willie Nelson, the answer is not at all surprising.

Willie Nelson’s First Grammy (February 28, 1976)

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

When Willie Nelson recorded his concept album Red Headed Stranger in Garland, Texas, in 1975, he insisted on simplicity for the tracks.  But according to the books Willie, by Michael Bane, that simplicity proved a bit too much for the studio musicians and his record label.

As Willie recorded the song, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” he stopped the session, played through the tune with just guitar and vocal and asked the band to play only what was necessary.  Several of the musicians, realizing that they basically had nothing to do, voluntarily got up and left the session.

Willie remembers that his record label was also not exactly receptive to the bare-bones product.  “They expected more Shotgun Willie, something more tempo,” he says in the book. But the label released the album along with the sing, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” which surprisingly started climbing the charts.  It became Willie’s first No. 1 hit in October of 1975.

“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” was also responsible for another Willie milestone.  On Feb. 28, 1976, Willie picked up his first Grammy award, winning the honor for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male.

Willie Nelson & Waylan Jennings in Nashville’s City Beat

Monday, January 28th, 2019

Thanks, Phil Weisman.

This day in Willie Nelson History: “We Are the World” (January 28, 1985)

Monday, January 28th, 2019

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

world1

People Magazine
February 25, 1985

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

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

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

people2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A guitar solo from Willie Nelson is as pleasing as you’d ever want to hear” — Billy F. Gibbons

Monday, January 7th, 2019

aclnye8

www.TexasMonthly.com
by:  Andy Langer

ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons brought in 2019 onstage, playing guitar with his normal New Year’s Eve running buddies: Willie Nelson & Family. Gibbons has been a not-so-surprise special guest at a half-dozen of Nelson’s annual new year’s performances at Austin’s ACL Live. And while this year Gibbons unfurled a long solo on Nelson’s version of “Texas Flood,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer says he’s generally just happy to have the best seat in the house to watch Willie play guitar.

“I think he’s underrated as a soloist,” Gibbons told us on the first National Podcast of Texas episode of 2019. “A guitar solo from Willie Nelson is as pleasing as you’d ever want to hear.”

A few days after New Year’s, Gibbons left Austin for Houston to join bandmates Duty Hill and Frank Beard to rehearse for the band’s first-ever residency in Las Vegas—an eight-show series at The Venetian that runs through early February. The Vegas gigs are the first real acknowledgment of the band’s 50th anniversary for 2019. Indeed, short of the first few singles and tours, it’s been what Gibbons describes as the “same three guys, same three chords” for a half-century.

“Someone asked recently, ‘How did you three guys manage to stay together for longer than most marriages?’” Gibbons says. “Two words come to mind: separate buses. It’s made it all go all right. It’s a good team.”

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE

 

Willie Nelson Interview (Spinner, January 2008)

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019

Willie Nelson is 74 years old and has absolutely no plans of slowing down. Lucky for us.‘Moment of Forever, ‘ a collection of songs that mirror his life: There’s a little bit of humor, a lot of love and a sound that stands the test of time.

I hear you’re talking to us in between golf games right now. What’s your handicap?

My driver and my putter! [laughs]

The music icon and all-around national treasure somehow found time between touring, his philanthropic endeavors and his golf game to record

Spinner caught up with the Redheaded Stranger to talk about his new project and his surprisingly simple explanation for his prevalence in modern music. And, of course, we couldn’t help but let the conversation drift back to his notoriously wilder days.

And you actually bought a golf course!

I’m across the street from it right now. It’s a little nine-hole golf course called Pedernales Country Club. We have a lot of fun over there.

So you’re a golf course owner, singer, songwriter, actor, philanthropist and father of ten. Is there anything you’ve yet to accomplish that’s on your to-do list?

I don’t like to think too far ahead. I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot done and have a lot of success. I don’t want to be greedy. And when I’m happiest is when I’m out here playing music and staying out of trouble! [laughs] In the early days, we’d be out on the road and go out and play our concert, and then go back to the hotel and party till daylight. And then when it came time to leave, you couldn’t find anybody! [laughs] So I decided somewhere along the way that it’s better to leave town right after the show. And since we’ve started doing that, I’ve noticed that the marriages are actually staying together. [laughs]

You have certainly changed your ways; people may not realize that you’re actually somewhat of a health nut these days.

Well, I have started running. What I was trying to do was do at least as much good in the daytime as I was destroying in the nighttime. [laughs] But it got to the point where I was losing ground. I had to start trying to stay alive or I was going to die. So I’ve had to give up the smoking and drinking. And when I quit that and started running, I got a lot healthier.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about you?

There probably aren’t any. [laughs] But if you think of all the people who don’t like me, just think of all the millions who’ve never heard of me!

I can’t imagine there are “millions” who haven’t heard of you. You’re Willie Nelson! You probably get recognized several times a day. Does your fame ever overwhelm you?

Honestly, no. I love it. I thrive on it. I enjoy people. And when I first started out watching Gene Autry and Roy Rogers on the movie screen every Saturday, I wanted to be like them. I wanted to ride my horse, shoot my gun, sing my songs and be like Gene and Roy. And that’s what I’m doing, and I couldn’t be happier. And I’m making enough money to pay the bills and support my family, so I have no complaints.

Speaking of your family, your youngest sons Micah and Lukas are featured on your new album in the opening track, ‘Over You Again.’ And they’re actually musicians themselves, right?

They have a band called 40 Points and have toured with me over the last couple of years, but they’re back in school now. They’re just two really talented kids. I’m proud of them.

You also worked with Kenny Chesney on this CD. He acts as both duet partner on ‘Worry B Gone’ and as co-producer of the album. What did he bring to the table that was different from your past producers?

First of all, he’s a good musician and has a good ear in the studio. And his name certainly didn’t hurt at all, either! [laughs] He’s a big star, and after hanging out with him for a while you can see why. He’s got a lot of talent.

In addition to Chesney, are there any other artists these days who you think have a real shot at longevity?

There are a lot of guys who seem to have staying power … Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Travis Tritt. Those guys are going to be out there working for a long time. They’ve got talent.

As someone who’s certainly achieved it, what do you think is the secret to longtime success in the music industry?

I think you’ve just gotta keep living! Just look at Johnny Cash or Waylon [Jennings]. They kept going until they died. Ray Price is still doing great, and he’s 82 years old. We just celebrated his birthday over in Tyler, Texas. He and I and Merle [Haggard] are all touring again this year. So I think staying busy is important.

You’ve collaborated with so many different artists, from Waylon and Merle to Julio Iglesias to Dave Matthews. Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet but would like to?

Can you sing? [laughs]

You don’t want to hear me sing, at least not sober.

[laughs] Darn, then I’ll have to find somebody else.

How about all the different artists who’ve covered your songs. Is there one that stands out to you?

You’ve got to go back to ‘Crazy,’ Patsy Cline. How could you top that one? Also, Ray Price with ‘Night Life,’ Roy Orbison, ‘Pretty Paper’; Billy Walker, ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’; Faron Young, ‘Hello Walls.’ Those performances … there’s just no way to beat ’em.I just heard a Hank Williams classic, ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’ That’s a piece of literature. I don’t wish I’d written it, but I am glad somebody did!

If you could change anything about the country music business, what would you change?

I would like to see more airplay for all artists, no matter what age. I think there’s a lot of money being spent toward the young guys, but a lot of the older guys are the ones who blazed the trail for those young guys. Plus, the old guys have kept those record companies in business for all these years. So I think there’s a certain amount of respect due. I’m not complaining … we’ve made some good records and have sold a lot. I’m talking mainly for the other artists coming along. They’ll have a better chance if they stay traditional and don’t try to get too far out one way or another. Like Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Ray Price … they’ve stayed traditional, and they’re gonna be around for forever.

You tend to be pretty vocal about your political beliefs. So, what do you think is the most important issue in the ’08 presidential election?

Stop the war. Stop the bleeding. That’s the first thing. Then the economy — we have all kind of problems, but the number-one priority is to stop this war. Once that happens, all the trillions of dollars that we’re spending over there can be spent here on our people, our poor people, for health insurance and all the things that evidently we don’t have the money to work with because it’s all over there fighting wars. And if it’s not that war, it’s another war. It’s just this series of one war after another.

Are you supporting any particular candidate?

I liked Dennis Kucinich, but he dropped out. I like Obama and Hillary, so I’ll wait to see which one of those folks come out on top. But they’ve both changed their positions on the war, I think, in the last several months. Dennis never did have to change his position, because he was always against it. But as for who I’ll support, I don’t really know yet.

Was it your stance on the war that drove you to start the Willie Nelson Peace Research Institute?

I wanted to connect all people who are thinking about peace on Earth. When I was growing up, that was the theme that every Sunday morning, they yelled at us. [laughs] “Peace on Earth!” And then it looks like that somewhere along the way, people forgot that message. Now it’s war on Earth. So I want to connect all the people who think like I do, that there should be and hopefully will be peace on Earth.

If we were to ask you to write Willie’s Theme, a rule you live your daily life by, what would it say?

A couple of funny ones come to mind. My ex-wife Martha used to say, “Don’t worry about a thing, because there ain’t nothin’ that’s gonna be all right.” [laughs] And my father-in-law when I was married to Connie used to say, “Take my advice and do what you want to.” I thought that was funny.

I think the lyrics to your new song ‘Always Now’ are a good rule to live by.

I think you’re right. That’s an absolute truth.