Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Raelynn Nelson featured in Rolling Stone Country Magazine

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

by:  Marissa R. Moss

Raelyn, growing up in a family so synonymous with country music, was there a point where you wanted to rebel?

Nelson: No. It’s just always been around, and that’s just what was and what is. I love it. Old country just feeds my soul.

Raelyn, do you have conversations with Willie about how to survive in the industry here?

Nelson: He doesn’t not like Nashville, but he got out of here because it wouldn’t let him do what he wanted to do and let him be him. So that’s what he told me when we were sitting around on the bus. He said, “Keep doing this. Keep going, keep putting your music out yourself.” He’s kind of against people taking his money for his songs, you know?

If you could score a major-label deal, would you want it?

Nelson: I don’t really aspire to get a label deal — my grandpa said, “Don’t give away your music, just put it out on your own,” so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not saying never. But now, it’s not the one thing on my mind.

Well, speaking of other people’s songs, what did you listen to growing up?

Nelson: Papa Willie, Loretta, and Patsy [Cline] and Waylon [Jennings].

photo: Butch Worrell


Country’s New Generation
by:  Marissa R. Moss

Tuesday evening at storied Nashville club , Exit/In Rolling Stone Country will present it’s inaugural showcase, as three must-hear acts on the fall installment of our  Artists You Need to Know feature — Margo and the Pricetags, Cale Tyson and Raelyn Nelson Band, led by Willie Nelson’s ukulele-wielding granddaughter — take the stage for a night of traditional country with a capital T.
We assembled Price, Tyson and Nelson, along with Nelson’s bandmate Jonathan Bright, in a West Nashville coffee shop for a roundtable discussion about the good, the bad and the ugly that come with playing music that’s unmistakably country but not exactly the breed currently played on the radio — Price and Tyson are much more about lap steel than pop beats, more salty tears and less shiny trucks. And though her band flirts with a distinctly garage sound, “Papa Willie” exposed Nelson early to the genre’s most vital founding fathers, embedding it not only in her blood but her brain.

But just because their music may touch more on Tammy Wynette than Tim McGraw, it doesn’t mean this trio is always content with being plagued by words like “throwback,” “vintage” or “whiskey-soaked,” either. Though their music can be called traditional, they certainly have no designs on simply recreating the past. (more…)

Willie Nelson at Home in Texas (McCalls, March 1988)

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

img815 by you.

May 1988
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.”

Willie and Connie Nelson

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.

Willie Nelson and Lana Nelson, at Lana’s wedding.

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 ride 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 been 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.


Willie Nelson, on the cover of the Rolling Stone

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

Rolling Stone July 13, 1978 by Chet Filippo

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

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

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

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

“Okay, gimme Snake’s room number.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still Willie After all these years

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014


Still Willie After All These Years
by Steve Labate

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Lone Star is Born

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson sings the songs of Cindy Walker

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

release date: March 14, 2006

Bubbles in My Beer
Not That I Care
Take Me In Your Arms and Hold Me
Don’t be Ashamed of your Age
You Don’t Know Me
Sugar Moon
I Don’t Care
Cherokee Maiden
The Warm Red Wine
Miss Molly
Dusty Skies
It’s All Your Fault
I Was Just Walkin’ Out The Door

Ms. Walker pronounces Mr. Nelson’s latest CD “wonderful.” While she was not directly involved, the disc does feature a number of her peers. The fiddler Johnny Gimble, credited as session leader, played with Wills’s band for many years, in addition to frequent stints with Mr. Nelson. Fred Foster is a close friend of Ms. Walker’s who produced Roy Orbison’s hit version of her “Dream Baby,” as well as her sole LP, the 1964 “Words and Music.” His arrangements on “Songs of Cindy Walker,” which include backing vocals by the Jordanaires, are retro but clean-lined, with a modern use of space.

Cindy Walker
by Will Hermes
March 13, 2006

At this point, Willie Nelson is a national monument. One of country music’s most fertile songwriters, tireless performers and distinctive vocal interpreters, he is also a longtime ambassador between red and blue states of mind; he has been pals with presidents, allegedly smoked marijuana on the White House roof (and just about everywhere else), founded Farm Aid to assist family farms and recently launched his own biodiesel fuel company.

And Mr. Nelson has made dozens of records and this year he’s on a roll. In addition to campaigning for hurricane relief and the usual endless touring, he has released ” in light of the media attention surrounding the hit film “Brokeback Mountain” a touching version of Ned Sublette’s gay cowboy homage “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly (Fond of Each Other)” as an exclusive single on iTunes. And this month, Mr. Nelson, 72, will release a record of pop and country classics titled “Songs of Cindy Walker.”

So much for the lethargy of pot smokers.

In addition to being a tremendously likable, laid-back set of classics with jaunty, western swing-flavored arrangements by the veteran Nashville producer Fred Foster, “Songs of Cindy Walker” spotlights another monument of American music, one who might have been forgotten had she ever been properly known in the first place. Ms. Walker, who lives and works in the small East Texas town of Mexia, is a prolific songwriter whose works have been covered by Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Ernest Tubb, Roy Orbison and many others. Her tunes ” including “You Don’t Know Me,” “Dream Baby,” “In the Misty Moonlight,” “I Don’t Care” made regular appearances on the top 10 charts beginning in the 1940’s and are still covered today.

With hundreds of recorded songs to her credit, she is known as the dean of Texas songwriting and is generally considered the foremost female composer in country music history; in fact, the late Harlan Howard called her “the greatest living songwriter of country music” and he had some claim to that title himself.

“Her work as a writer, spanning so many decades, and still getting things cut, is unparalleled,” said Eddie Stubbs, country music historian and announcer for the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts on WSM-AM in Nashville. “A lot of the songs she wrote have become standards, although people may not know Cindy Walker wrote them.”

A good example of her direct, finely chiseled art is “You Don’t Know Me.” A hit for Eddy Arnold in 1956, Ray Charles in 1962 and Mickey Gilley in 1981, it was re-recorded by Mr. Charles with Norah Jones for 2004’s best-selling “Genius Loves Company,” and is the lead single for Mr. Nelson’s record. It telegraphs the silent longing of a man for a female friend:

You give your hand to me and then you say hello
And I can hardly speak my heart is beating so
And anyone could tell you think you know me well
But you don’t know me.

Some of Ms. Walker’s best-known songs — “Miss Molly,” “Cherokee Maiden,” “Sugar Moon” â” were written for Bob Wills, a fellow East Texan and master of the country-jazz hybrid known as western swing. In fact, she wrote more than 50 songs for Mr. Wills, the Texas Playboys bandleader.

“Wills was a big hero of mine,” Mr. Nelson said by telephone from his tour bus before a show near Fresno, Calif. “And Cindy is from Mexia, Tex., which is only a few miles from Abbott, where I was born and grew up. I didn’t know her personally in those days, but I was well familiar with her writing. I told her years ago I wanted to do an album of her songs; she’d probably given up on me.”

She hadn’t, but she was hardly holding her breath ” she was too busy writing. Ms. Walker began writing songs when she was around 12, and until a recent stretch of ill health, she never stopped. Each morning, she woke up before dawn, poured herself some black coffee, headed upstairs to her little studio, sat down at her pink-trimmed Royal typewriter (which graces the cover of Mr. Nelson’s CD) and set to work.

“Songwriting is all I ever did, love,” Ms. Walker said in an interview last month from her home. “I still can’t cook, to this day!”

She has been in the music game for a while. As a young woman visiting Los Angeles in 1940 with her father, Aubrey (a cotton buyer), and mother, Oree, she talked her way into what was the Crosby building on Sunset Strip in an attempt to show her suitcase of songs to Bing. When she got an on-the-spot audition with his brother, Larry Crosby, she ran to get Oree, her lifelong piano accompanist.

“Mama said: ‘Are you crazy, girl? Don’t you know I’m not goin’ anywhere with my hair not fixed? It’s up in rollers!’ And I said, ‘I don’t care what it’s in ” You c’mon with me!’ ” With Oree at the piano, she sang a song called “Lone Star Trail,” which Crosby recorded later that year. It was her first sale.

Others quickly followed, and Ms. Walker was so successful that she remained in Los Angeles with Oree when her father’s business in town was done. As a handsome blonde with singing and dancing talent (she had performed for years in Texas), she soon had her own recording contract and was a pioneer in the proto-music videos called “soundies.” She shows a husky, jazzy and rather elegant voice on her sole hit as a singer, “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” (not her composition, surprisingly). But songwriting was her calling, and she soon abandoned performing, returning to Texas in the mid-1950’s to be near family.

And there she stayed, except for regular trips to Nashville, New York and Los Angeles to sell her songs. Like a honky-tonk Marianne Moore, she lived most of her life with her mother, who died in 1991, and has led a very private life, the details of which remain sketchy, which seems to suit her fine. While most biographers note she has never married, Ms. Walker claims she did marry once. “But it was a short-lived marriage,” she said. “A very short-lived marriage.” She closes discussion on the topic with a long, hearty chuckle.

In the end, songs seem to be her preferred mode of expression. She quotes her own lyrics often during a conversation. After finding out about a death in a reporter’s family, she insists he hear Arnold’s recording of her poignant cowboy eulogy “Jim, I Wore a Tie Today,” even offering Arnold’s home phone number to request a copy.

The CD recalls “Stardust,” Mr. Nelson’s 1978 Tin Pan Alley set, also a career high point. But while the singer’s voice may be a tad less steady here, the material lies closer to his roots, the mix of Texas country, blues and jazz, of ballads and uptempo romps, a mirror of his impish, hybrid-minded character. It may in fact be the quintessential Willie Nelson album.

This disc aside — and not counting the hard-to-find “Words and Music” and a recent tribute set by the former Wills vocalist Leon Rausch — there are no proper documents of the breadth of Ms. Walker’s achievement. Fans might trawl eBay for a gray-market transcription of a seven-hour Cindy Walker radio special, broadcast in 1997 on the California freeform radio station KFJC. Or they might try assembling an MP3 playlist from tracks available on digital music services like iTunes or eMusic.

But they’ll have to play catch-up with a writer whose catalog is said to number over 500 songs and counting. And does Ms. Walker intend to return to writing when her health permits? “I sure do hope so, love,” she said. “I sure do hope so.”

Legends of Country: Willie Nelson (Country Weekly, 20th anniversary) (Dec. 2014)

Monday, November 3rd, 2014


Legends of Country
Country Weekly: 20th Anniversary
December 2014

Willie Nelson has been known for many things. He is an activist for animals and marijuana legalization, owner of the eco-friendly fuel Willie Nelson Biodiesel, honorary chairman of the Advisory Board of the Texas Music Project, the co-founder of the agricultural benefit concert Farm Aid and the proud holder of a fifth-degree black belt. Oh, and lest we forget, a country music legend and outlaw.

Willie was born during the Great Depression back in 1933 in Abbott, Texas. Raised by his grandparents, young Willie penned his first song at the age of 7 and joined his first band when he was 10. he toured locally throughout high school, putting a majority of his focus into music. After a brief stint in the Air Force in 1950. Willie attended Baylor University for two years, before dropping out to perform and write full time. During that period, he wrote songs that would go on to become country standards, such as “:Funny How Time Slips Away.” “Hello Walls,” “Pretty Paper” and “Crazy.”

He eventually packed up his belongings and moved to Nashville in 1960, later signing a publishing deal with Pamper Music, allowing him to join Ray Price’s band as a bassist.  Willie recorded his full-length album….And Then I Wrote, two years later, and the success landed him a record deal with RCA Victor in 1964.

From there, Willie Nelson was on a steady climb to becoming one of the greatest country stars of all time.  He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, charted countless hit singles, including, “On the Road Again,” “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” and “Pancho and Lefty,” and joined forces with Waylon Jennings for several side projects and collaborations.  Continuing his run and relationship with Waylon, the two teamed up with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson to form The Highwaymen.

Of course with a little bit of fame comes a little bit of backlash.  Willie’s assets were seized by the IRS in 1990 for nonpayment of taxes and he’s had his run-ins with the law due to possession of marijuana.  You may not always agree with Willie Nelson’s unapologetic lifestyle, but it’s pretty harad to deny that the Red Headed Stranger is a bona fide musical legend.


Willie Nelson at 65 (Texas Monthly, April 1998)

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Willie Nelson at 65
by Gary Cartwright
Texas Monthly Magazine
April 1998

We’re sitting alone in his bus, me and Willie, drinking coffee and sharing a smoke, two geezers talking about how it feels to approach age 65… We agree that when dealing with life’s vagraries — the hits, misses, insights and sorrows — attitude is everything. “However you want things to be,” Willie assures me, “create them in your own mind, and they’ll be that way.”

The miles are mapped on his face and crusted in his voice, which seems less melodic by daylight. Willie traveled all day yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, 1997, arriving in Las Vegas from the Bahamas just before show time. When he was in the Bahamas in 1978, I remind him, they threw him in jail for smoking pot and then banished him from the island for life. So they did, Willie recalls with a nod. He was so happy to be free of that damned jail he jumped off a curb and broke his foot.

The following night, his foot in a cast, he celebrated by firing up an Austin Torpedo on the roof of President Jimmy Carter’s White House: “That was an incredible moment, sitting there watching all the lights. I wasn’t aware until then that all roads let to the Capitol, that it was the center of the world.” Also the safest spot in America to smoke a joint, he adds. Willie credits God and the hemp plant for much of his good fortune and openly advocates both at every opportunity. Without encouragement he begins to list the consumer items produced by the lowly plant:Â shirts, shorts, granola bars, paper products, motor fuel, not to mention extremely enlightening smoke. “Did you realize the first draft of our Constitution was written on hemp paper?” he marvels.

From the window of the bus we can see the afternoon players drifting through the front entrance of the Orleans Hotel and Casino. Though management has reserved a suite for Willie in the hotel, by long habit he sleeps aboard his bus, venturing out only to play golf or make it onstage in time for the first note of “Whiskey River,” his traditional opening number. Willie says that inside his head is a network of communication outlets, that he has a mental tape recorder that starts with “Whiskey River” and lasts two and a half hours — the time needed to complete a concert. He also receives messages from angels and archangels and several bands of broadcast signals, some in languages unknown to the human race.

This bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, is Willie’s home, office, and sanctuary, not only on the road but also at Willie World (his compound outside Austin that features a house, a recording studio, a golf course and a western film set). The bus is the one place he truly feels comfortable. It’s as well equipped as any hotel, with multiple TV sets, a state-of-the-art stereo sound system, kitchen, toilets, showers, and beds. Willie’s private compartment at the rear is as cozy and as densely packed as a Gypsy’s knapsack. One of Willie’s old aunts once confided to writer-producer Bill Wittliff, “That Willie, he can pack a trailer faster than anyone I ever saw.”


On his king-size bed lie three guitars, and surrounding it are Native American paintings, beaded necklaces, and breastplates; a giant American flag; photographs of his two youngest sons, Lukas and Micah (by his fourth and current wife, Annie); a jump rope; some dumbells; and a speed bag anchored to a swivel above the door. Willie’s elder sister, Bobbie Nelson, and has daughter Lana also travel on the Honeysuckle Rose. Members of the band and crew ride in two additional buses and a truck that make up Willie’s relentless caravan.

“I don’t like to be a hermit, but I”m better off staying out here by myself,” Willie explains, taking a drag and passing the smoke across the table. “El Nino,” a song from his new Christmas album, plays in the background. “Too many temptations In the old days we’d stay in town after a gig and start drinking and chasing women, and some of the band would end up in jail or divorced. That’s when I started leaving right after a gig, driving all night just to get out of town. If it wasn’t for the bus and this weed, I’d be at the bar right now, doing serious harm to myself.”

For a man who’ll be eligible for Medicare on April 30, Willie appears fit, trim, content, and comfortably weathered, a man who has not only transcended his wounds and scars but also made them part of his act. In his unique American gothic way, he appears semi-elegant, a country squire in an orange sweatshirt, jeans, and running shoes, his hair neatly braided, his eyes crackling with good humor. He looks ready to run with the hounds.


Micah Nelson: Expect the Unexpected (Texas Music Magazine) (Fall 2014)

Friday, October 31st, 2014


Texas Music

November 2014

Micah Nelson:  When It Comes to Willie Nelson’s Youngest Son, expect the unexpected
by Steve Uhler

Micah Nelson has been screwing with everyone’s expectations since before he was even born.

His dad originally wanted to name him Jake — a “cowboy name” — but the still-gestating prodigy had other ideas.  “Apparently, when my mother was pregnant with me, she had a dream in which I came to her and said, “Hey, listen.  I’m gonna be showing up soon, so I want to let you know ahead of time.  My name is Micah.  You can call me whatever you want, but that’s my name.  Micah.  OK, great — see you soon.”  Then she woke up and turned to my dad and said, ‘Hey, uh… so his name is Micah, apparently.”

“That wasn’t enough convincing, however.  “They settled on Jacob, Jake for short,” he continues.  “But then I showed up and said my name is Micah.  Only doctors and cops and people at the DMV call me Jacob.”

Anyone expecting Willie Nelson’s youngest son to reflect the spitting image of his iconic father is likely to be simultaneously disappointed and amazed.  Flying in the face of preconceptions — ore -re-anything — is a lifelong motif for the 24-year-old musician.  his music is as similar to his dad’s as John Cage is to Johnny Cash.  Same canvas, wildly different colors.  “Micah has never followed the herd in anything he odes,” says his older brother, Lukas.  “To follow any formula would limit him, which he knows.  He’s as unique as he is creative.”

Even as a toddler, Nelson was messing with people’s heads.  “I started playing harmonica in my dad’s band when I was about three,” he recalls.  “I thought I was just getting harmonica lessons.  I was oblivious to the thousands of people watching.  My Aunt Robyn asked me if I was nervous in front of all those people?  I said, “If I don’t see them, they can’t see me.’  Eventually I got pretty decent at the harmonica, and my dad would throw me the nod to take a solo or two.”

Like his iconoclastic father, Nelson does things his own way — and he does a lot of things.  In addition to being a full-time musician, both with his band, Insects vs Robots, and as a solo artist, he’s an accomplished painter, photographer, filmmaker and animator.  Imagine H.R. Giger channeling John Audobon at a seance with David Lynch, and you’ll get some idea of Nelson’s vision.

As a musician, he eschews the formulaic and polished in favor of the ragged, unformed and spontaneous.  As such a conduit as a creator, Nelson conjures “found sounds” into complex musical works of astonishing depth, imagery and surprising humor.  An intuitive sonic forager, he finds inspiration in serendipitous places:  the rhythm drip of a leaky faucet, the arthritic, groan of an old rocking chair, the distant howl of hungry coyotes in the night.  “When I was in high school, every morning on Maui I’d wake up to the most psychedelic bird calls right outside my window,” he recalls.  “the weirdest riffs.  A human couldn’t write those melodies.  I had a growing suspicion that all birds were just musical robots flying around with little tape decks built into them with old warped tapes that would loop the strangest, tweekiest sounds.”

So do inanimate objects, “I know a guy named Lewellyn with an old creaky rusty cat,” he continues.  “Every time he opens his door it sings the strangest creaky melodies.  I”ve ripped his car’s riffs off countless times.  Sometimes I see music as this mysterious forest to be explored.  Or like archeaology.  You never know what treasures and artifacts you might find, but you can’t know unless you start digging.”

Nelson meticulously builds layers of tracks, weaving a tapestry of songs that are often otherworldly.  Anyone expecting echoes of his dad’s distinctive voice and mainstream op sensibilities will find Nelson’s oeuvre disorienting.  It’s a beguiling mash-up of traditional folk, psychedelia and world beat, peppered with guileless vocals, dissonant chordings and shifting time signatures.  It’s musical Chaos Theory.

“A lot of popular music is so safe, so predictable, like it was processed in a factory,” he explains.  “You can literally go in and buy it at Target next to the Tupperware.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that .. except that a lot of it tends to sound like Tupperware.  Some folks want ot make a pop hit that sells deodorant and plays every five minutes at Walgreens and gets them a Super Bowl halftime show.  I tend to get bored with that intention.  It spooks my horse.”  Perhaps the closest he’s ever come to a traditional love song is “Mosquito,” his bizarre ode to the pesky insect.




Creepiest Country Murder Songs: “Red Headed Stranger” (Willie Nelson)

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


Thanks in part to the influence of Appalachian folk, hillbilly and Western swing, country music has always addressed some pretty dark subject matter. Sure, there are songs about cheating, fighting and stealing, but it’s those even darker tunes about killin’ that are the guiltiest of pleasures. They’re also among the most popular — trying to count the number of times murder is alluded to in country’s storied history is, like James Joyce said of eternity, akin to moving a beach one grain of sand at a time.

To be a bona fide country murder tale, the song must have a homicide (or two), a narrative and, of course, possess that distinctive country sound. Ergo, “Murder Was the Case” wouldn’t qualify. Likewise, simply mentioning the capital offense does not a murder ballad make — there needs to be action. Here then are 10 country murder songs that best sum up the sub-genre.

The Red-Headed Stranger, by Willie Nelson

This entire album of the same name is one long murder ballad, telling the tale of the red-headed stranger who may be a cold-blooded killer, but is also somewhat of an American treasure. Chalk that up to the universal compassion for lost love, animals and Willie Nelson’s voice. Plus, when listening to this track alone, we don’t know that he actually killed his wife, as revealed in another song on the album, “Blue Rock Montana.” “Red Headed Stranger” itself resolves the penalty for the crime, and the widower is simply protecting his deceased wife’s horse. Shame on the “yellow haired lady” for trying to steal that bay!

See all the videos, read more:

Willie Nelson’s first New York Appearance, “A Lot of Heart”

Friday, October 17th, 2014

05-18-73 NYT Review - Willie Nelson @ Max's Kansas City

Willie Nelson Interview: Country Music Magazine (March 1992)

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014


Country Music
March/April 1992
by Michael Bane

“And now, ladies and gentlemen,” the unseen Nashville Network announcer says in his perfectly modulated radio voice, “America’s favorite outlaw… Willie Nelson!”

And Willie Nelson strides to center stage, as he has a million times before — and as he probably will a million times more — oblivious to the incongruity of the words “favorite” and “outlaw” being strung together in his introduction; oblivious o the cameras and lights and dancers and producers and directors and general mayhem that accompanies any television production; oblivious as always to the storm o f controversy that has once again descended on his long-haired head.

Craggy and timeworn, he is as he has always been — unlikely golfer, long distance runner, famous songwriter, semi-fugitive from justice and, of course, the Lord High Zen Master of the Road.

“Howdy, folks,” he says in his perfect Willie Nelson voice.  Next he will say, “Good to see you,” and damned if he doesn’t mean it.

You’ve probably been reading a lot of news about Willie recently, and none of it has been good news.  Depending on which tabloid you happen to be reading at the time, Willie Nelson is broke, destitute, desperate and probably living in some cardboard box under an Intestate overpass.  He does, in truth, owe the internal Revenue Service around, o, say $16.7 million.  (“Say it real quick,” Willie confides, “and it don’t sound so bad.”)  The federales auctioned off his property to pay the debt, although, other than a few souvenir-hunters, there weren’t a lot of takers.  It just wouldn’t you know, be right, somehow, profiting from Willie’s Nelson’s distress.


I have caught up with Willie Nelson, whom I have known for the better part of two decades, to ask him two simple qustions I already know the answer to.  Both are pretty obvious.  The last time Willie and I talked, it was in a ritzy club in New York City.  Willie and Burt Reynolds, actresses Carol Lynley and Candice Bergen and me.  It’s sure as heck, I say, not the bad old days.

“No,” Willie laughs, “thank God, it’s not.”

Question One, then, is how did the bad old days come back with such a vengeance?

Question Two dates back to the first time we met, not surprisingly in another older and substantially more decrepit tour bus parked outside a gig in Charlotte, North Carolina, and where a younger Willie Nelson told a much younger me, win or lose, that this — the bus, the road, the gig — was his life, and he never wanted it to change.

Question Two, then is has it change?

Let’s let Willie answer in hs own words.

To Question One:

“Ah, Michael,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.  “You know how it is.”

And to Question Two:
“Look around you, Michasel,” he says, his arms encompassing the Honeysuckle Rose II tour bus, his manager Mark Rothbaum doing business in the back, Kris Kristofferson exchanging “remember when” stories with assorted Family members, all the flotsam and jetsam of a life of the road.  “Do you see anything different?”

That’s a fair question, but it’s not what you can see that gets you.  What happened to Willie Nelson was, as Robert Draper in his exhaustively chronicled financial story in Texas Month, said, not “a story of greed that backfired. It’s instead a story of generosity to a major fault.”

In a story that’s suitable for the lyrics of a country song, the single most successful act in the history of country music made it all, than gave it all way — unfortunately, before he had paid any of the taxes due.  In the scrambling to salvage his life and lifestyle, Willie Nelson has been forced to make decisions that make the bad old days look like a church picnic.  So far, he hasn’t had to race back into another burning house to rescue his legendary guitar, but it’s been close.

Might as well blame it on the road.

Here’s one of my favorite images of Willie on the road.  We’re out somewhere, Louisiana, I think, ten years or so ago.  Outlaw music is riding high, but Willie hasn’t yet reached the stature of saint –at least, not nationally.

The show’s been over for a while, and the road manager comes onto the bus. 

“Well,” he says, “guess it’s time to get the money.”

Everybody laughs, and the road manager goes over to his briefcase, hauls out a battered Colt 45 automatic and racks a round into the chamber, clicking the safety on.  this is, for most of the history of country music, business as usual.  Pick up the gate money from the show promoter or the club owner, stuff the cash in a briefcase and walk it back to the bus, or whichever beat-up car or truck was carrying the freight.  The hardware, of course, was for that long, dark walk back to the bus, but it didn’t hurt for your average sleazypromoter to understand that this was serious business.

Other money came from song royalties and record company advances — no one ever expected the record company to sell enough records to pay off the advance — but it seemed like magic money, to be spent just about as quickly as a person could.   For people like Willie Nelson, the money got bigger.  Unimaginably bigger.  Once the Outlaw Train began rolling, around 1976, there was no stopping it.

Everybody, though, did start casting around for a conductor.

For Willie and Waylon Jennings, the conducter came in the form of a hot-shot New York music business wiz named Neil Reshen, who signed on as manager to both Willie and Waylon.  Reshen brought a shock of negotiating to small town Nashville.

“Why are they afraid of him?” Waylon told me when I was working on the Outlaws book back in the 1970’s.  “Cause he knows where all the bodies are buried, man!  I tell him, ‘You’re my old mean, dog.  I got you on a chain over there, and every once in a while I’m gonna pull it and you just bite.”

Unfortunately, the chain proved to be a speck too long, allowing the “ole mean dog” to bite the hand that held it.

“I can’t be sure the taxes are paid and records kept and also write songs and play music,” Willie says. “At some point you have to trust somebody.  And that’s always dangerous.”

Wilie broke with Reshen in 1978 and sued him two years later.  Onc particularly bitter point of contention being that, according to Willie, one of his manager’s prime dutie was filing Willie’s retruns and taking care of the taxes, something Reshen disputes.

Even more controversy swirled around the famous Fourth of July Picnics.  Willie has been concerned with Reshen’s handling of the events, and there were serious questions of where the money went.  Willie claimed that was something he’d like to know.  So did the IRS.

Willie’s troubles continued to escalate.  All his financial records for the 1975 through 1978 — the Outlaw Years — had been destroyed, and the IRS is aking $2 million for those years, according to Draper.  Willie and new manager Mark Rothbam went to one of the top accounting firms in the world, Price-Waterhouse, for financial hlep and advice.

What followed there, as evidenced bya 1990 lawsuit by Willie against Price Waterhouse, was nothing short of falling out of the frying pan and into the fire.  A serious of disastrous tax-deferred investments left Willie in worse tax shape than ever.  In 1984, the IRS began getting serious, demanding taxes due from the mid-1970’s, and tax notices began snow-balling.

And now we’re in Nashville where “America’s favorite outlaw” and Kris Kristofferson, in jeans and ragged T-shirts, are on the set of a television show performing to the vast chasm of the Operyhouse.

“They wanted us to wear tuxedos,” Kristofferson says later.  “Ha ha.”  Somethings, I suppose, never change.

Willie sings his barroom anthem, “Whiskey River,” and Kristofferson sings, “Me and Bobby McGee.”  Also, when he gets to the refrain of “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” he pauses.  “Just ask Willie,” he adds.  The crowd gives an appreciative laugh.

We are on the bus later, and we are laughing.  Kristofferson is telling Kris stories, Rothbaum is doing business and the whole bus has the atmosphere of an old club.  Earlier, I’d grabbed Rothbaum and asked how things were really going.

“Willie’s Willie,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

I grab Willie and tow him to the back of the bus.  We sit on the edge of the bed.  Willie with his hands clasped and his uncanny ability to tune out the entire rest of the world.

“How do you survive in all this crap?” I ask.

“I maybe even thrive in all this crap,” he says.

“Has it been pretty hard on you?”

“Not on me, Michael.  A lot of people worry about me, and it’s been hard on them.  I haven’t noticed any major changes in my life… You know, the road is really the only safe haven.  Once I get stopped in one place too long, I get in all kinds of trouble.”

“You told me once that it was hard to write when things were going too good…”

“Well, that’s true…” [laughter]

“Where are you living, anyway?”

“Well, I’ve still got a house in Austin and a house in Abbott, my home town.  I move around a bunch on my days off.  ‘Course, there’s not many of those this year.”

We talk about running, about doing Farm Aid in Russia, about Who’ll Buy My Memories:  The IRS Tapes.

“Somebody asked my bass player, Bee Spears, if I was in trouble.  Bee says, “Well, if he owed them $1 million, he’d be in trouble.  but he owes them $17 million, so they’re in trouble!”

“You still give away everything you get?”

“I try to.  It’s hard to carry all that shit.”

In the front of the bus, Kristofferson has everybody on the floor laughing, and, pretty soon, we join them.  Stories are the currency of the road, maybe what we’ve bought and paid for.  I can’t help thinking of another Kristofferson song, one I’d heard when I was just starting out on the road.  ‘Once he had a future full of money, love and dreams, which the spent like they were going out of style..”  I thought “The Pilgrim” was the most romantic song I’d ever heard.  Having it, losing it, still knowing that, “The going up was worth the coming down…”

Hell, maybe it still is the most romantic song I’ve ever heard.

— Michael Bane
    Country Music (March/April 1992)

Gospel According to Billy Joe Shaver (Texas Monthly)

Sunday, October 5th, 2014


by: Don McLeese

He tours now in what he describes as an old “church van,” a 15-seater with almost 500,000 miles on it. It replaced another van that eclipsed 500,000 miles. Billy Joe Shaver still has that one. It still runs. He married Brenda Tindell three separate times. After she died, he married Wanda Lynn Canady. Three separate times.

When he was young, he wrote a signature song with the chorus hook, “I’m just an old chunk of coal, but I’m gonna be a diamond someday.” A decade or so later, he wrote another one of his best, a Christian testament to life everlasting titled “Live Forever.” He’s still a diamond in the rough, but his new Long in the Tooth album doesn’t sound like the music of a man who plans to live forever. On this earth, at least. He raps (yes, raps!) on the title cut — “Time did a number on me / I ain’t the man I used to be.” On the opening “Hard to Be an Outlaw,” he sings, “It’s hard to be an outlaw who ain’t wanted anymore.” It’s an album about getting old, about falling apart, and Billy Joe thinks it’s the best one he’s ever recorded. It’s hard to argue with him. Top three at least.

Willie Nelson, who sings with him on “Hard to Be an Outlaw” (and has also included that and another song from Billy Joe’s album on his own new album, Band of Brothers), has often called Shaver the best songwriter alive. Waylon Jennings once recorded almost an entire album of Shaver songs, 1973’s Honky Tonk Heroes, which became the cornerstone of the Outlaw Country movement. Elvis Presley sang one of his songs, and so has Bob Dylan (who also name-checked him in his own “I Feel a Change Coming On,” where Dylan sings, “I’m listening to Billy Joe Shaver, and I’m reading James Joyce”).

Nobody is more country than Billy Joe Shaver. On a new song titled “Last Call for Alcohol,” he sings it “al-kee-hol.” Nobody who is less country than Billy Joe Shaver pronounces it “al-kee-hol.”

He was born and raised in Corsicana, a central Texas town that many know for its fruitcakes. He’s long lived in nearby Waco, as reflected in “Wacko from Waco,” which details the 2007 incident in which he shot a man at a bar and was subsequently acquitted. He can’t wait to hit the road and get away from home, as soon as his new knee works right and his inner ear problems, which affect his balance, clear up.

The night after his mother died, he played his scheduled club date. The night after his only son, guitarist Eddy, was discovered dead from a heroin overdose, he played his scheduled club date. The night his trial ended and he was free, he played his scheduled club date. The show must go on.

When he talks, he has no filter, and he pulls no punches. He’ll turn 75 on Aug. 16. A month later, on Sept. 28, luminaries will gather in Austin for a star-studded concert celebration. He deserves nothing less — and a whole lot more.

– See more at:

At the Movies, with Willie Nelson

Thursday, September 25th, 2014


Whether playing a vengeful preacher in Red Headed Stranger or a killer version of himself on USA’s Monk, Willie Nelson is as at home in front of a camera as he is onstage. With a natural charisma and a drawling way with dialogue (his phrasing is as unique as the way he sings), Nelson has been casting bait for directors since Sydney Pollack first placed him opposite Robert Redford in 1979’s The Electric Horseman. We count down a dozen of his most memorable roles, including his epic 1986 Miami Vice appearance and — run for the border! — a Taco Bell commercial in 1991. By Adam Gold, Joseph Hudak and Andrew Leahey


Electric Horseman 1979

“I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna get me a bottle of tequila, find me one of them keno girls that can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch and just kind of kick back.” With those lines, Willie Nelson made his feature-film debut unforgettable. Costarring as Wendell, the cowboy buddy of washed-up rodeo champ Sonny Steele, played with verve by Robert Redford, Nelson stole his scenes. Whether encouraging Steele to saddle up after one too many drunken nights or ruminating on how media folks — like Jane Fonda’s Hallie Martin — use people to get what they want, Nelson’s Wendell was full of Western wisdom. Of course, director Sydney Pollack couldn’t have a country star on his set and not find a reason to have him sing. When an argument turns heated between Steele and another rodeo pal, Wendell defuses the situation by belting out a few bars of — what else? — “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”


Barbarosa 1982

Nelson plays a horse-riding, pistol-twirling, double-braid-rocking outlaw in this overlooked western from 1982. Gary Busey, still fresh from his Academy Award-nominated turn in The Buddy Holly Story, is his bumbling sidekick, and writer William D. Wittliff — who also worked with Nelson on Honeysuckle Rose and Red Headed Stranger — handles the script. Barbarosa didn’t exactly shoot ‘em up at the box office, but the movie currently boasts a 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes — proof that it’s aged rather well, much like ol’ Willie himself.

Read about all the movies and see the clips:

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The Highwaymen

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014


Thanks, Phil Weisman, for sharing this photo from your collection.

Even in Korea they know Willie Nelson is kick ass

Monday, September 22nd, 2014


This is such a cool cover.