Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Watching Willie Nelson’s Back

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

by:  Joe Nicki Patoski

Paul English was talking about breaking someone’s legs, cheerily using the threat as a means to get to the punch line of a story. The four men listening to him in the back of the touring bus hung on every word—because it was Paul, because it was very difficult deciphering his nasal mumble filtered through a twang, and because whatever he said was likely to be true.

“I told Lana we could do something,” Paul was saying. “We could break his legs. We have to do something to him. We cain’t go and leave him walking. We’d of done that to him. That’s nothing.”

He was discussing the shoot-out at Ridgetop back in 1970, just outside of Nashville, when Willie Nelson and Paul English defended a house full of family against Willie’s daughter’s husband and his gun-toting brothers, one of many larger-than-life incidents that have been burnished into legend over the course of the career of Paul English’s boss and best friend, Willie Nelson. In this particular story, Willie’s daughter Lana’s  husband, Steve, had hit her, prompting Willie to go over to their house and slap Steve, pissing off Steve so much that he and his brothers drove over to Willie’s house and started shooting. The altercation ended with Paul firing .380-grain bullets from his M1 rifle into the bumper of Steve’s car to “get him to go on, goodbye.”

When Steve returned to apologize the next day, Paul told him he was glad he had kept driving away. “Otherwise, I would’ve had to aim to kill, rather than shoot to miss,” Paul said in a low growl that suggested a ruthless predatory killer, followed by a sharp cackle. Everyone hearing the story laughed. But Paul wasn’t kidding.

For almost fifty years, Paul English has spent his nights literally watching Willie Nelson’s back, as his drummer. The rest of the time he has functioned as Willie’s more figurative back—a job that runs 24/7.

From the drummer’s chair, English sees everything, just like the catcher on a baseball team. His oversight goes far beyond maintaining the odd, minimalist beats that guide Willie’s music. For him, the drummer’s chair is the perfect perspective for running the most storied touring organization in country music. More important than being Willie’s drummer, or his best friend, is Paul English’s combined role as the road boss of Willie’s traveling company, tour accountant, protector, collector, and enforcer, roles embellished by his proud past as a hoodlum, pimp, and police character. For all the good vibes that the Red Headed Stranger imparts at his Fourth of July picnics, Farm-Aids, and wherever he plays “On the Road Again,” there’s an understanding shared by one and all in this band of gypsies: Mess with Willie Nelson and the next thing you’ll see is the wrong end of a gun held by the Devil himself, Robert Paul English.

Say what you want about economics, ethics, efficiencies, legalities, and proper ways of conducting commerce in the world of entertainment. Anyone who’s survived six decades in the music business understands the value of having a police character in your organization. As Willie explained to an associate who’d wondered why he kept an asshole like Paul on the payroll, especially when he couldn’t keep time as a drummer: “He’s saved my life.” More than once. Besides, as the singer Delbert McClinton has observed, “Everyone in this business needs an asshole.”

That sort of explains why the asshole drummer who can’t keep time was once the highest-paid sideman in the business, getting 20 percent of all of Willie’s action as well as a fat salary for drumming and for doing the books, which he has done since he signed on in 1966.

Those songs, such as “Nightlife” and “Family Bible,” that Willie famously sold for fifty bucks a pop, giving up his publishing rights? Paul got them back.

No telling what his method of persuasion might have been, but with Paul there is always, always—to this very day—the veiled threat of violence bubbling under the surface. Often as not, the perception is tied to Paul’s fondness for guns, at least one of which is always somewhere on his person.

Largely thanks to Paul, Nelson was able to survive on the rough and rowdy honky-tonk circuit traveled by Nashville recording artists in the 1960s. He was also instrumental in running the road part of the business when Willie ascended to one-name superstar status in the 1970s and 1980s.

At eighty-two, a year older than Willie and four years off a minor stroke, Paul has slowed down considerably. But in the musical subgenre known as outlaw music, where country and rock have mixed it up ever since Waylon and Willie and the boys stepped forward, Paul English is that rare bird who really is an outlaw, a hoodlum-made-good as sideman, sporting so much character for a character that his boss wrote not one but two songs about him: the autobiographical “Me and Paul” and “Devil In A Sleeping Bag,” complementing Leon Russell’s tribute, “You Look Like the Devil.”

As his son Paul Jr. observed, “If you’re writing songs about shooting people, it’s nice to have a guy who’s shot people up there onstage with you.”

The high cheekbones, long sideburns, thin beard and goatee, the widow’s peak and slicked-back hair framed by designer glasses (whose tinted lens mask a glass eye) all telegraph Beelzebub, despite his age. Although he no longer wears the black satin cape with red lining that was once his trademark on stage, and he doesn’t appear to carry his “bidness” in his sock anymore, darkness shrouds Paul’s lanky frame—black shirt, black slacks, black hat, and black boots. It’s his favorite color, he’ll tell you.

Paul English at Willie Nelson’s Atlantic Session. © Estate of David GOf all the characters in the merry-prankster rolling revue known as Willie Nelson and Family, no one—not even Willie—casts a shadow like Paul, Willie’s shadow for life. He first drummed for Willie on the fly in 1955, on Willie’s radio show on KCNC in Fort Worth, and he drums for Willie today, assisted for the past thirty years by his younger brother Billy, who also plays percussion.

Inside the Family, Paul is the ultimate authority. He’s the Judge. It’s the same role he played back in Fort Worth in the 1950s and early 1960s when the Dixie Mafia ruled the underworld. If two hoodlums had a beef that they couldn’t take to the police, they’d go to Paul. No matter what he decided, his word was accepted as law, because Paul English had the reputation among characters as a man who was even-handed, judicious, and demanded respect.

“I was a good street hustler because I treated it as a business,” he explained. (more…)

Willie Nelson and Bobbie Nelson, “Who’ll Buy My Memories”

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
by: Andrew Leahey
November 21, 2014

When federal agents raided Willie Nelson‘s home on November 9, 1990, they weren’t looking for drugs. Instead, the feds were intent on seizing most of Nelson’s worldly possessions — including his recording studio, instruments, memorabilia and more than 20 properties in four different states — to help pay off the whopping $16.7 million he’d racked up in back taxes and penalties. The only thing they didn’t get was Trigger, Nelson’s favorite guitar, which had been spirited away from the home several days earlier by his daughter, Lana.

Nelson wound up using Trigger — and nothing else — to record his next album, The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?, an acoustic collection of new songs and old standbys. Released in 1992, the album’s profits went straight to the IRS, which helped Nelson finally dig himself out of debt. More than two decades later, he’s still playing Trigger (a Martin N-20 classical guitar that’s as weathered and mellow-sounding as its owner), as well as “Who’ll Buy My Memories?,” which makes a revised appearance on the upcoming album December Day.

Due out on December 2nd, December Day finds Nelson teaming up with his sister and longtime bandmate, Bobbie Nelson, for a mix of re-recorded greatest hits, deep cuts, cover songs and new originals. The project was borne from a string of casual jam sessions aboard the country legend’s tour bus, the biodiesel-fueled Honeysuckle Rose, where he and Bobbie — armed with Trigger, a travel-size keyboard and a musical chemistry that dates back to the siblings’ childhood days in Abbott, Texas — have a long history of regrouping after shows to play their favorite songs. The two rustle up the laid-back, stripped-down vibe of those bus sessions in a live studio performance of “Who’ll Buy My Memories Again?,” which makes its premiere today exclusively on Rolling Stone Country. [Watch above.]

“A past that’s sprinkled with the blues / A few old dreams that I can’t use,” Willie sings at the song’s outset, punctuating certain lines with jazzy, out-of-time runs on Trigger’s beat-up fretboard. Bobbie accompanies him on grand piano, and the pair’s performance is intercut with grainy footage of their hometown, including churches, crops, the Abbott water tower and endless expanses of blue Texas sky.

Twenty years ago, “Who’ll Buy My Memories?” felt like a kiss-off to the IRS, which sold Nelson’s repossessed belongings to the highest bidder. [In a touching display of support, many of Nelson’s fans purchased those belongings and then donated them back to the original owner.] Today, with Shotgun Willie nearing 82 years old, the song is a poignant reminder that everyone — even one of the country music’s most enduring icons — is mortal.  After nearly 70 studio albums, Nelson is focused less on sticking it to the (tax)man and more on highlighting the things that never really die: family bonds, memories and the music that glues them all together.

Willie Nelson: “It’s a Long Story: My Life”

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

by: Blair Jackson

aving devoured Joe Nick Patoski’s entertaining and tremendously detailed biography, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, a few years ago, I wondered what Willie’s own autobiography (actually his second; the first came out in 2000) could add to my understanding of this wonderfully idiosyncratic artist. The answer is: plenty!

Reading It’s a Long Story: My Life feels a little like sitting at a neighborhood bar (or, perhaps more apropos, sharing a joint) and listening to Willie spin tales. It’s casual and conversational, irreverent and self-effacing, but also soulful and deep in places. It is also relentlessly upbeat and nice to just about everyone who gets mentioned in its brisk 375 pages. He has nothing but good things to say about his various wives (the breakups were usually his fault, he admits), his children (all of whom he adores), and every musician who’s ever played with him or influenced him. He paints himself as an iconoclastic screw-up who somehow managed to persevere and eventually thrive, even though he never quite fit in with the mainstream—all true.

You learn about the magic he heard in Django Reinhardt and Lefty Frizzell and Frank Sinatra, and the importance of his piano-playing sister Bobbie on his development and musical stability. His old pal Waylon Jennings helped him escape the clutches of a Nashville establishment that wanted to change him and tame him. (Producer Chet Atkins was one of many who did not “get” what was special about Nelson.) Moving back to his home state of Texas ultimately saved him and his career (his later IRS woes also get a lot of ink).

One thing this book does really well is describe how the details of his life affected his songwriting every step of the way. He goes almost line by line through songs such as “The Night Life,” “Crazy,” “Bloody Mary Morning,” and “The Party’s Over,” drawing parallels with his mindset at the time he wrote them. He also discusses how and why various songs he covered by other writers through the years resonated with him so strongly. His description of the more than two dozen diverse albums he recorded in the past decade alone speaks of his restless artistic nature and also his current relevance.

And then there’s his now-legendary beat-up old Martin classical guitar, which he nicknamed Trigger “thinking of the closeness between Roy Rogers and his beloved horse,” he writes. When Nelson’s spread near Nashville went up in flames in December 1970, “I managed to make it to my bedroom where, dancing between the flames, I grabbed two guitar cases. One contained Trigger and the other two pounds of primo Colombian pot.”

He writes plenty about weed, of course, but in the end not as much as he does about his abiding faith in Jesus. This is one complex fellow, filled with multiple conflicting impulses. And this book lays them out unflinchingly for all the world to see.

It’s a great read.

– See more at:

Willie Nelson, Poco, Grateful Dead, Jerry Jeff Walker in Mucchio Selvaggio Magazine

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015


Jack Johnson sings about smoking dope, and playing poker, with Willie Nelson

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015
by:  Will Hodge

It’s understandable to think that Jack Johnson might’ve been a little nervous before his afternoon set at Farm Aid 30 this past weekend. After all, it’s been almost a year since the last time he and his band have played a show together, and it’s been two years since he last played Farm Aid. But speaking with Rolling Stone Country a few hours before taking the stage, the relaxed surfer-turned-musician seemed none too worried.

“We don’t do sound checks too much,” said Johnson, sitting comfortably among the packed-in gear of his makeshift rehearsal room. “We just come together an hour or so beforehand and try new things and figure out what we’re going to do.”

This doesn’t mean that the singer-songwriter and his rock-solid backing trio (Zach Gill, Merlo Podlewski, and Adam Topol) weren’t taking the gig seriously. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Johnson, who is already known for mixing music with altruism throughout his own career by starting the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation in 2008 and by donating 100 percent of his 2010-2013 tour profits to charity, sees Farm Aid as an important opportunity to raise awareness and to engage with the struggle of family-owned farms.

“I know so many people that, if they could only go to one show a year, they’d choose Farm Aid,” he said. “And that goes for me too.”

To commemorate this year’s Farm Aid festivities, Johnson wrote a new song that could not have been more tailor-made for the event. “Willie Got Me Stoned and Took All My Money” is a playful, barroom piano-led ditty retelling a night of cards-and-cannabis with Willie Nelson, Farm Aid’s founder and president. The inspiration for the song came to him while reading Nelson’s biography, It’s a Long Story, and he came across the mention of Harlan Howard’s “three chords and the truth” songwriting mantra. Introducing the new tune at Farm Aid, Johnson told the crowd, “This next song has got three chords in it, and it might be a little too honest.”

Although brand-new songs can often land flat during a live debut, the Farm Aid audience was immediately and enthusiastically on board from the first few lines:

Willie got me stoned and took all my money
I was 50 dollars up and then my mind went funny
It didn’t really help that I didn’t know the rules of the game
And it probably didn’t help that I couldn’t remember my name

Between Johnson’s new song and Toby Keith’s classic “Weed with Willie,” it seems that cautionary tales of the country legend’s marijuana are in high demand.

Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘Best 15 Things We Saw at Farm Aid 2015″: Micah Nelson, and Insects v Robots

Monday, September 21st, 2015


photo:  Rob Grabowski

Best Fish Out of Water:  Micah Nelson

Were it not for this being the third year in a row that Insects vs Robots have descended upon the Farm Aid stage, the self-described “psych-punk-orchestra” may have caused some festival attendees to momentarily scratch their heads during the band’s eclectic set. Sure, there was a little harmonica and fiddle sprinkled in, but the trippy song structures, surrealist lyrics, heavy percussive elements, and jazzy, improvisational guitar lines may have been a bit disarming to some. Led by Willie Nelson’s multi-talented son, Micah, the band won the early crowd over with their experimental spirit and youthful enthusiasm. W.H.

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Willie Nelson, Fit Magazine (November 2012)

Thursday, September 17th, 2015


The songs of John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Willie Nelson and Neil Young have made their way from A-tracks to CD players to today’s iPhone. Most would be surprised to know that those same names that appear on your shuffle playlist appear on the list of names of board members for an organization that is fighting for the family farmer in America. The four renowned recording artists are leaders for Farm Aid, whose slogan reads “Keep America Growing!”

Farm Aid’s mission is simple: keep family farmers on their land. This nonprofit organization assists farmers struggling economically by connecting them to local and regional markets to get family food into the grocery stores and families’ cabinets in urban neighborhoods. Along with this focus on family farming is the Good Food Movement, which promotes the use of “direct sales” through farmers’ markets, community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) and farm stands. Through it all is the common thread of making good choices — for farms, in our food and the country’s agriculture policies — that build a better, healthier future.

27 years ago, in 1985, Nelson, Mellencamp and Young organized the first Farm Aid concert to raise awareness about the danger family farms were facing at the hands of factory farms. Today, local farmers are feeling the danger even more, with upwards of 80 percent of farms in certain agricultural markets owned by private companies. “We all see what’s happening with agriculture, what’s happening to our small towns,” John Mellencamp stated for the organization. “They are going out of business, and that’s a direct result of the farm problem.”

According to the group’s website, the movement has gone so far as to provide workers from the organization to participate in protests outside of factory farms. In addition, the group provides a hotline for support services for farm families in times of crisis. More recently, the Farmer Resource Network has been developed for families in difficult financial situations across the country. Another stride taken towards factory farms and the privatization of the market is education in the area of hormones and genetically modified food more widely produced by the corporate sector of farming.

“If we lose the family farm, we lose the caretakers of our land,” Dave Matthews told his audience in a short clip about the company’s mission. “It’s something worth fighting for because I think we’ll lose a lot more than the family farmer if we lose the family farmer.”

Every year, thousands of farmers are pushed off their land by the growing economic pressures of an industry that has created too much competition for a family farmer to survive without help. Through market strengthening, education and personal assistance to thousands of Americans, Farm Aid is working alongside the good food movement to get high quality produce straight from local farmers to schools, local stores and into the pantries of a wider market.

“It’s not about how big the food is, or how shiny it is,” Neil Young said in a video made for the Farm Aid website. “It’s about where it came from, and how it was grown.”

Last year’s concert featured a variety of high caliber bands, such as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Jamey Johnson, Kenny Chesney and Jack Johnson, alongside the veteran fundraisers and founding members. Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews also graced the stage for Farm Aid’s Benefit Concert.

The appearance of such widely recognized performers speaks to the growing respect Farm Aid is gaining nationwide. Nelson, who has been a part of the company since its beginnings, describes his involvement simply: “There’s a new food movement sweeping across the country and Farm Aid is doing all we can to promote that movement.”

Read more about Willie Nelson’s views on fitness, food and fuel (among other topics), in Austin Fit Magazine’s November cover story, Willie Nelson Talks Food, Fuel, and, yes, Hemp by Melanie P. Moore, at

People Magazine (September 1, 1980)

Monday, September 7th, 2015


People Magazine
September 1, 1980
by Cheryl McCall

Before he ever imagined the high life, the whiskey nights and the Bloody Mary mornings to follow, Willie Nelson yearned for the road and its promise of freedom.  As a Texas school boy, chopping cotton for $1.5o a day, he listened to the gospel songs of the field hands and daydreamed about moving on.  “I didn’t like picking cotton one bit,” he recalls.  “I used to stand in the fields and watch the cars go by and think, ‘I want to go with them.'”

Today, nearly four decades and a million miles later, Willie, 47, continues to heed the call of the highway.  Overtaken by success a mere five years ago with the release of his album Red Headed Stranger, he simply picked up the tempo and put his foot to the floor.  Once branded an outlaw by Nashville’s rhinestone-encrusted music establishment, Nelson has lately become an inadvertent and unassailable national monument.  No one really objected when Willie dropped a lyric from The Star-Spangled Banner at the recent Democratic National Conveniton.

Since Stranger went platinum in 1976, Nelson has added two more platinums, two double platinums, four golds and a whole atticfull of Grammys and Country Music Association awards.  Currently, with seven LPs on the charts plus his new double LP Honeysuckle Rose, Willie has taken his guitar and his low-key persona and is trying his hand at being a movie star.

As he tells it, his starring role as Buck Bonham in Honeysuckle Rose is one he could play almost from memory.  “I never did know you had to the trained to have your picture made,” drawls Willie.  “Maybe that’s the whole point — not knowing anything is maybe better than just knowing a little.  Besides, I can sympathize with Buck,” he adds. “He’s a married guy who succumbs to temptation on a potholed highway.  I’ve been that route myself.”

It shows.  On-screen, Willie projects the same earthy sex appeal and relaxed masculinity that give his life performances tension.  His face is as brown and creased as a walnut, the reddish hair and beard dusted with gray.  But the camera dimisses the etchings of age and lingers instead on the soulful brown eyes and the effortless smile.  When Nelson is teamed with Dyan Cannon, who plays his lusty wife, Viv, in Honeysucke Rose, the movie crackles with high voltage.  “Willie does it like a real person, which is what an actor is supposed to do,” says the film’s director, Jerry Schatzberg.  “He’s very natural in the love scenes because he’s had a lot of experience there.  The man’s been married three times and he knows what he’s doing.”

While Honeysuckle Rose borrows freely from the singer’s nomadic, loosely plotted existence, the unabridged script of Willie’s life story is part Grapes of Wrath, part contrified Battle of the Sexes.  Children of the Depression, Willie and his older sister, Bobbie, were raised by their paternal grandparents in dusty little Abbott, Texas after Ira and Myrle Nelson divorced.  While Bobbie learned piano from her grandmoteher, Willie was given his first guitar at 7 by his grandfather, a blacksmith who took mail-order music lessons.  When the old man died the following year, Willie kept his ear to the family’s wooden Philco radio, learning as many Grand Ole Opry songs as he could.  “He’d pick up things just like that,” says Bobbie.  “His ear is so fantastic, he doesn’t even know how good he is.”

Graduating from high school at 16, Willie left the cotton fields for a job as a disc jockey.  “When I found myself singing over the radio, I didn’t think life got much better than that,” he recalls.  For a while it didn’t.  He joined the Air Force in 1950, but was discharged with a back injury.  Afterward he enrolled at Baylor University, but spent most of his single semester there playing dominos.  Dropping out, he was earning as little as 50 cents a night with a local band when he met and married Martha Matthews, a 16-year-old Waco carhop, in 1952.  “She was a full-blooded Cherokee.”  Willie recalls, “and every night with us was like Custer’s last stand.  We’d live in one place a month then pack up and move when the rent would come due.”  By 1958 Willie had three children to support.  He made ends meet, after his fashion, as a plumber’s helper and a door-to-door salesman, while working nights playing his songs in the honky-tonks.

The Nelsons drifted to Nashville in 1960, about the time their stormy marriage was nearing its end.  Martha resorted to bartending, while Willie hawked his satchel of songs on Music Row and drank up the profits at Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge.  In what turned out to be her final gesture of compassion, Martha had to rescue Willie from a drunken suicide attempt when he sprawled in the street outside Tootsie’s and waited for a car to run him over.  The last night of their marriage was even more garish.  “I came home drunk,” Willie remembers, “and while I was passed out, she sewed me up in a sheet.  Must’ve taken her two hours.  Then she got a broomstick and started beating the hell out of me.  I woke up in this strait jacket, getting pounded like a short-order steak,” he continues.  “By the time I got loose, she’d lit out in the car with the kids, her clothes and my clothes.  There was no way I could follow her naked, and that was kind of the end of it.”

That was about the time his intensely personal, offbeat laments began turning into hits for better-known singers.  Night Life (which Willie had sold for $150), Crazy, Hello Walls and Funny How Time Slips Away all cracked the country Top 20 by 1963, and soon he was earning $600 a week in composer royalties.  (His own renditions weren’t selling then, because producers kept smothering his reedy baritone in syrupy strings.)  Over the years Nelson has composed more than 1,000 songs, while successfully avoiding the old Nashville formulas.  “I’d say that 99 percent of what I write has come from my own experience,” he says.  “A person could probably start from my first song and go all the way to my last and — if he knew what to look for — write my autobiography.”

Several painful chapters were inspired by his second marriage, to country singer Shirley Collie.  Husband and wife sang, recorded and traveled together until settling down on 200 acres near Nashville in 1964.  There Willie blew a small fortune fattening hogs (“I bought them for 25 cents a pound and ended up selling for 17”) while performing at the Grand Ole Opry.  When Willie hit the road again to recoup his losses, he left Shirley at home to take care of his kids.  Both drifted into smashing up cars, drinking, drugs and infidelity until the marriage simply died of neglect.

Still, Willie wasn’t destined for bachelorhood.  Even before the divorce from Shirley was final, he had gone ahead and married his present wife, Connie Koepke Nelson, 36, a factory worker whom he’d spotted during a club date in Cut and Shoot, Texas.  “When Willie came out to sing,” she remembers, “he looked down and smiled.  It wasn’t a flirty look, just a warm, neat feeling.  Before the night was over he asked for my phone number, and the next time he came through Houston he called.  I went to the show and that was it.”

By 1970 Shirley had moved out and Connie had moved in, but Willie’s career was going nowhere in Nashville.  Then his house caught fire.  “By the time I got there, it was burning real good,” Willie remembers, “but I had this pound of Colombian grass inside.  I wasn’t being brave running in there to get my dope — I was trying to keep the fireman from finding it and turning me over to the police.”  Willie saved the grass, but lost more than 100 tapes of songs he hadn’t yet recorded.  Still, out of the ashes came a sense of relief and a determination to abandon Nashville for Texas.  Installing his family in Austin, Willie bought a used Greyhound bus and began touring the county fairs, dance halls and violence-prone bars where he was known and loved.

Just as Merle Haggard was topping the charts with his hippie-baiting Okie from Muscogee, Willie — never a slave to fashion — began sporting long hair, a beard and and earring.  With fellow outlaws like Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Jerry Jeff Walker, he began forging the gritty Austin sound that finally brought him success as a singer.  Within six months of its release in 1973, the LP Shotgun Willie outsold all his previous albums combined; he was inducted int Nashville’s Songwriters’ Hall of Fame; and his first Fourth of July picnic draws 50,000 rockers and rednecks to the little hamlet of Dripping Springs, Texas.  Creative control over his recordings brought Willie a string of hit LPs that hasn’t been broken, and later led to his first movie role — as Robert Redford’s manager in The Electric Horseman.  Five more film commitments await, at a reported $1 million per roll, but Willie insists he’s not going Hollywood.  “I like making movies,” he said, “But it’s confining, and I don’t like to go too long without playing concerts.”

Willie and his extended family of 25 musicians and roadies average 250 days a year on tour, traveling in a convoy of three customized buses and two semis of sound gear.  Though he could comfortably afford to fly to his concerts, the bus is a kind of spiritual haven.  “I rest better because there’s no phone,” he explains, “and traveling is a big part of my life.  I haven’t seen much of the country, but I’ve been all over it a thousand times, just laying in the back with the blinds drawn.  I guess it’s the perpetual motion I like.”

Backed by what may be the highest paid band in country music (members earn $750 a night — $1,000 for cutting an album), Willie’s roistering performances always start on time and usually run through 54 songs.  Then he shrugs off his battered Martin guitar to sign autographs for perhaps another two hours.  Whether he’s playing Caesars Palace (where he’s paid $1.5 million a year) or a little Bible Belt fair, Willie’s accessibility is his immutable trademark.  “He just can’t say no to anybody,”  Connie says.  “I’ve seen Will so tired he can’t go any further.  Then someone will ask one more thing from him and he’ll do it.  He doesn’t ever want anybody to think that success has changed him.”

In some ways, of course, Willie has changed.  Though he and his sidemen continue to graze on $3, 500-a-pound Arkansas grass (“Most people smoke to get high,” says a friend.  “Willie smokes to get normal”), he has sworn off pills and cut back on his whiskey.  He offers no apologies for the marijuana (“I think most sensible human beings know it’s not something you send people to the penitentiary for”) but forbids the use of any other drugs — especially cocaine — by his band.  “If you’re wired,” he says simply, “you’re fired.”

Despite his new found willingness to set commonsense limits, Willie’s most powerful addiction is to life on the road.  “It’s been a strain on Willie and me to an extent, but we’ve never had trouble between us, ever,” reports Connie.  “I don’t worry about the women.  I trust Willie completely.  But sometimes I feel that he doesn’t need me.  He’s got the road and he’s got his life.  It’s real easy to feel pushed aside.”  This summer Connie and the kids have been touring with Willie — a visible rebuttal to stories linking Willie with actress Amy Irving, his adulterous interest in Honeysuckle Rose.  “Amy and I were friends during the movie and I hope we’re still friends.” says Willie.  “Anything more is only what people wanted to write about.”

There was a time when Willie’s definition of a successful performer was “anyone who got to play music and eat.”  Today he says, “I have all the material things I need and a couple I don’t.”  When their life in Austin became oppressively public, he, Connie and their two children moved to Colorado in 1977.  There Willie can hang his hat in a three-story chalet on 60 acres near Denver or at the family’s 64-acre Pedernales Country Club outside Austin, an 80-unit apartment complex, the 1,700-seat Austin Opry House and the previous Nelson residence — a 44-acre spread with $750,000 limestone ranch house hidden behind a wall topped with electrified barbed wire.  Around Nashville, his holdings include a music publishing company and 200 acres outside town.

Inevitably, becoming a man of property, as well as the father of five, grandfather of six and paterfamilias to a musical entourage, has given Willie a sense of responsibility that is occasionally burdensome.  “I’m not worried about the next car payment,” he says, “But I am worried about income taxes.  A lot of families (including numerous ex-in-laws) depend on me, and it’s a lot of pressure in some ways.  But we’re making more now than we ever did, so at least if I decide to hang it up for a couple of months, nobody’s going to starve to death.”  Shouldn’t his success entitle him to be a little more sanguine?  “Maybe,” he says.  “But I still get knocked off my feet like anybody else. I’ve had so many ups and down in the last 30 years that I’ve learned to live with both.  The successes are great, but they’re not going to last forever.  And I’ve come back from a lot of failures.”


Willie Nelson and Dwight Yoakam

Saturday, September 5th, 2015

img850 by you.

May 1998
by Mark Rowland
Photographs by Jay Blakesberg

Not far from the Santa Monica Pier one sunny afternoon, Dwight Yoakam and Willie Nelson were hanging out on Willie’s tour bus, listening to Nelson play … reggae. More precisely, they were listening to a tape of a record he’d just completed with producer Don Was, featuring reggaefied versions of great Willie Nelson songs like, “Three Days,” and “One in a Row,” along with a few classics of the genre like “The Harder They Come”

“Don Was could hear me singing reggae,” Nelson explained. “Cause I wasn’t too familiar with it. I just didn’t know it. But he could hear me doing my songs to a reggae rhythm.”

“That’s ironic,” Yoakum said, “’cause I’m doing a covers album, and I was gonna cover a Peter Tosh song. And listening to his stuff, there was a real emotional affinity to what they were doing in reggae, some of the early stuff, and what country was doing then.” There’s a certain melancholy essence with what you write and with some of those melodies. I think Don must have picked up on that.”

“Well,” Nelson replied, “you can take a really sad lyric and you put this rhythm behind it and it sort of leavens it a little bit, so the lyric doesn’t knock you down so much — you don’t want to get drunk and slash your wrists, you want to dance.” “You want to hear another one?”

Five minutes into their first joint interview ever, and Willie Nelson and Dwight Yoakam have staked out common ground in the Southern Caribbean. Somehow that shouldn’t surprise. After all, both musicians widened the frame of country music’s possibilities by combining a deep reverence for that music’s past with an idiosyncratic vision of its future.

Both made their mark despite initial indifference if not hostility from the Nashville establishment, fomenting their insurrections on the dance floors of Austin and Southern California, respectively, and putting the “W” back into C&W in the process. Within that milieu, it can easily be argued, both became the most influential singer/songwriters of their generations.

Yoakam, who grew up in the era of the ’60s rock concept album, spends years meticulously putting together records with his producer Pete Anderson. His effort shows; on each he’s found ways to expand his musical vocabulary, culminating with his latest effort, Gone, an album at once wildly inventive and polished to a blinding sheen.

Nelson, by contrast, grew up in the old school of Texas troubadours — write songs, make records when you can, hit the road. Since he cut his first sides nearly forty years ago he’s carved out a career of mythic proportion, and he’s never really showed down. ” I think that’ s just my personality and my character,” he says. “I’m not supposed to be sitting around much. I get bored real quick when I’m not doing something.”

Not to worry — along with the reggae record, Willie’s completed a trio album of original songs with sister Bobbie Nelson on piano and Johnny Gimble on fiddle, also scheduled for release later this year. He’d just returned from a tour of Australia with the Highwaymen before this interview, and as soon as it ended he cruised down the coast to begin a serious of duet shows with Leon Russell. He’s started work on a blues record, too.

“You know, if you listen to the people in each country you go into, it all sounds very much the same,” he was saying. “African country, Jamaincan country, the Swiss — have you been to Switzerland yet?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Yoakam.

“There’s some great country cowboys up there. Jamaicans go more with the heartbeat, their rhythms do. These guys were telling me that reggae came into existence by way of our country radio. That they were picking up the radio stations years ago, but they wouldn’t hear the bottom — so they put their own rhythms over what they heard. Now the biggest music in Jamaica is country and one of the biggest guys is Jim Reeves.”

Yoakam laughed. “Hey man, get a big sailboat and get ready to tour. You could be king there!”

Nelson nodded, “Well,” he said evenly, “it’s worth a shot.

Willie Nelson, the Bee Gees, Glen Campbell sing the Everly Brothers

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Not the Highwaymen, but another super group perform.
by:  Stephen L. Betts

In 1979, the Bee Gees were busy extricating themselves from the growing backlash against the decade’s biggest phenomenon – disco. Arguably the biggest recording act on the planet, the brothers Gibb (Barry, Maurice and Robin) attempted to move past the dance-floor phenomenon of Saturday Night Fever, for which they penned several massive hits, including “Staying Alive” and “Night Fever,” with Spirits Having Flown, a still-danceworthy LP that featured blockbusters such as “Tragedy” and “Too Much Heaven.” The trio’s subsequent world tour would be filmed for a TV special which captured the group on stage in July during the second of a three-night stand in Oakland, Cailfornia.

The Bee Gees Special aired November 15th, 1979, on NBC and included the siblings being interviewed by British presenter David Frost, as well as behind-the-scenes footage of tour preparation, vintage TV clips from their native Australia (where they began performing as youngsters), plus an appearance from younger brother Andy Gibb, who was breaking through on the pop charts with his own string of career-defining hits at the time.

Among the most unexpected highlights of the 90-minute special was an impromptu jam session with two of the biggest country stars of the decade, both of whom would enjoy pop crossover success: Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell. During their onstage jam, with Nelson’s familiar backdrop, the Texas Lone Star flag, draped behind them, the Bee Gees, Campbell and Nelson performed a medley of rock, pop and country tunes that included the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” featuring Barry Gibb and Campbell’s high harmonies. After a line from the Fifties’ rockabilly hit “Party Doll,” Gibb once again took the lead on a soulful rendition of the Don Gibson (and Ray Charles) classic, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” as Campbell and Nelson offered guitar accompaniment. Sure, the horn arrangement can’t help but date the performance but it’s nonetheless a great treat to hear some of the music that surely influenced the brothers early on, leading, of course, to Gibb’s penning of the massive Kenny Rogers-Dolly Parton crossover hit, “Islands in the Stream” just a few years after this collaboration.

The medley concludes with the once-in-a-lifetime group performing the Bee Gees’ own “To Love Somebody,” (covered recently by Dwight Yoakam), as the clip transitions back to footage of the Spirits Having Flown World Tour. That song was performed yet again in 2012, when Barry Gibb, the last surviving of his brothers, made his Grand Ole Opry debut as a guest of Opry member Ricky Skaggs.

Read article here:

Willie Nelson and Kinky Friedman, “Bloody Mary Morning”

Monday, August 24th, 2015

Willie Nelson and Kinky Friedman duet on Friedman’s upcoming new album. photo:  Gary Miller
by:  Chris Parton

At 70 years old, Kinky Friedman — Jewish cowboy, former Texas gubernatorial candidate, cultural satirist, author, singer-songwriter and campaigner against the scourge of political correctness — has recorded his first studio album in nearly 40 years.

Called The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, the project arrives October 2nd and finds Friedman applying his scathing sense of humor and love of traditional country to some of his favorite cover songs, as well as a few never-heard-before originals. One of the standouts is a duet with Willie Nelson on Nelson’s quirky 1974 breakup tune “Bloody Mary Morning.” Hear the exclusive premiere below.

“You hang on for dear life when you’re working with Willie,” Friedman tells Rolling Stone Country. “I just remember getting so high I needed a step ladder to scratch my ass. I don’t smoke pot really, but I will with Willie just as a matter of Texas etiquette.

“Some of Willie’s picking on this thing is just terrific, and talk about stripped-down,” he continues. “This is just Willie playing on [his famous Martin guitar] Trigger, his sister Bobbie playing baby grand piano and Kevin Smith, Willie’s bass player, on stand-up bass.”

Nelson and Friedman trade mellow lines about leaving L.A. in a funk, while a loose, improvised guitar solo fills out the song. Friedman says his collaborator’s unique style influenced the whole album.

“Willie breaks every rule, he bucks every trend, and I kept thinking [of] Red Headed Stranger when we did this record,” says Friedman. “I wanted it stripped down to the soul, because I think with music, as in literature, nothing is really worth a damn except what’s written between the lines.”

Friedman has a long history of pushing people’s buttons, making his name off of songs like “Asshole From El Paso” (a parody of  Merle Haggard te to victims of the Holocaust that Friedman says inspired Nelson Mandela while he was in prison.

On The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, he continues the trend of doing whatever the hell he wants, choosing covers from a wide swath of roots music like Haggard’s “Hungry Eyes,” Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” and Tom Waits’ “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.” Warren Zevon’s”My Shit’s Fucked Up,” written after Zevon found out he was dying from cancer, is a particular favorite of Friedman’s.

“It’s a song that starts funny and ends tragic, and I think that song is not just a description of one guy dying of cancer, but of the whole condition of the world today,” he says. “I mean, ‘My Shit’s Fucked Up’ describes it about as well as anything.”

Friedman will embark on an ambitious tour in support of the new album, visiting 36 cities in one run starting October 9th in Ashland, Virginia, and plans to release his 20th mystery novel, The Hardboiled Computer, sometime in the next year.

Listen to song here



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