Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

At 66, Willie Nelson Still on the Road (Stomp and Stammer) (April 1999)

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

At 66, Willie Nelson is Still on the Road, and Headed for Another Joint

by Bob Townsend
April 1999

After the Yesterday’s Wine album came out a friend of mine got a call from a hippie fan in San Francisco who said, “I’m worried about Willie. He thinks he’s Jesus.”

I got a kick out of that. Just last year, one of those supermarket newspapers had a full page story about the face of Jesus suddenly appearing on the outside wall of a grocery store in South America after a dramatic rainstorm. Hundreds of people came to pray to the image of Jesus, and some of the sick went away cured. A few days later, following another thunderstorm, a new figure appeared on the wall beside Jesus. It was Julio Iglesias.

What happened, the rain had washed off the coat of whitewash that had covered a poster for “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

The supermarket headline said: THAT’S NOT JESUS – IT’S JUST OLD WILLIE

– Willie Nelson
An Autobiography

It’s hard to say much about Willie Nelson without reverting to hyperbole, let alone spiritual metaphor. But the man is a cultural icon like few others — fiercely capable of maintaining his artistic integrity while somehow being all things to all people.

An idol beloved by bikers and hemp smokers, old ladies and babies and almost everyone in between, Willie has done time in Nashville and Hollywood, recorded over 200 albums and, in a career that has spanned nearly 40 years, appeared in the guise of country-politan songsmith, redneck outlaw, rural folk hero, canny interpreter of sappy standards, savior of the family farmer, and David fighting the IRS Goliath.

An ex-Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic wrote in the liner notes to the recent weirdo tribute Twisted Willie, he is the rare figure who ‘transcends genre and generation.” But unlike many big stars, his larger-than-life persona exudse a mellow, comforting quality. Willie is the wide-eyed, pothead rascal in red pigtails, T-shirt and running shoes, who seems to hold some cabalistic clue to the meaning of the universe.

“He has this presence that radiates out of him – an aura.” Emmylou Harris has said, “You can feel it even when he’s not in the room. If you want to understand what I’m taliking aobut, go to one of his concerts. People act like they’re in church, as if he fills a spirtual void for them.”

That commingling of the everyday and the ethereal even translates over the telephone wire. Calling from a stop in Albuquerque one afternoon, Nelson’s sonorous baritone fills the receiver like a familiar refrain. “This is Willie,” he says. And so it is.

Nelson is on the road again. But isn’t he always on the road, if only in his mind? Through he turns 66 this month – an age when most of his associates have retired, or set up shop in Branson — Willie is touring behind one of the most adventurous recordings of his career.

Teatro harks back to the turbulent early ’60?s, when Nelson sojourned in the wilderness of Nashville as a short-haired Music Row songwriter. That’s when he penned such jazz-bent masterpieces as “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Hello Walls” and “Crazy” — songs that forever changed the sound of country music, and gained Nelson his first measure of success. But it was also a period when his personal life was disintegrating along with his first marriage.

With the help of producers Daniel Lanois and fellow traveler Emmylou Harrris, Nelson recalled those days in radical fashion on Teatro.Recording in a converted Mexican movie theater, Lanois delivered the kind of cinematic energy he made famous in his work with U2, the Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan and lately, Harris herself. But Nelson didn’t allow Lanois to go too far over the top, as he turned in one of his most battered and beautiful performances since the early ’70s, when he made Phases and Stages in Miracle Shoals with Jerry Wexler.

Nelson, who entrusted Lanois with nearly complete control of theTeatro sessions, is magnamimous in his praise for the shifting sonic textrues he conjured on the disc. “I felt like I was lucky to get him” he says. “I left it up to him, more or less, because his idea was to take the song, and the voice and the guitar and then build around it and enhance it. I was interested to see what he would do, so I let him have a free hand.”

Interestingly, Nelson says he even allowed Lanois to pick the songs for the album. “We started out with 100 songs, picked 20 of those, and then ten of those to record . I turned in new songs and old songs together. And I felt like maybe all the new songs would get reocrded, but I was going to let Daniel choose the ones he liked. He listened to the old ones and the new ones not knowing which was which, and he picked the songs that are on the album/ I left it enterely up to him.”

But there was one tune Nelson thought twice about: “The one where I choke the girl.” He says he thought the jealous murder ballad, “I Just Can’t Let You Say Good-Bye” was a tad too dark — even for an album that features, “I Never cared for you,” “I Just Destroyed the World” and “Darkness On the Face of the Earth,” in its exhibition of lovesick devastation. “I probably wouldn’t have put it in. But he liked it so well. I even argued with him. I said, ‘No. You don’t want to put that goddammed song in there.”

Of course, listeners who’ve only heard Willie crooning with Julio or pickin’ with Waylon may be surprised by how much he risks onTeatro. But longtime fans have seen Nelson through all manner of changes. And as his continuing spate of concept albums (he recorded his first, Yesterday’s Wine, in 1971), duet projects and musical tributes prove, he clearly likes shaking things up from time to time. “Maybe that’s what I do best,” he allows.

Nelson laughs easily when reminded of the grocery store Jesus story. “Pretty weird,” he says. But when it comes to accounting for all the fame, fortune and awards — such as being named a Kennedy Center honoree, and squeezing into a tux to stand alongside the likes of Bill Cosby and Shirley Temple Black — Willie cops the perfect Zen bastard blend of antic, irony and wistful awe.

“I guess I think, “Fooled ‘em again,’” he says. “Dazzled ‘em with fancy footwork.’ But I do, I wonder about it occasionally — how it all happened, and how it all got to where it is — until I just give up wondering about it.”

When he was born in 1933, in the town of Abbott, in the midst of the Great Depression, it would have been pretty hard to predict that Willie Hugh Nelson would amount to anything. It would have been nigh on impossible to foresee Red Headed Stranger, let alone The Electric Horseman, or Wag the Dog.

“I was doomed to go to hell by the time I was 7,” Willie recently told an Entertainment Weekly writer. “Because I had been told that if you smoke cigarettes and drink beer your’re going to hell. And by 7, I was gone.”

Willie found salvation in poetry and music: “I started writing poems when I was about 5. And when I learned to play guitar I was about 6, so I started putting melodies to the poems.” And he began embracing the whole wide world of sounds that emanated from the fields and churches of Abbott, and the air waves beyond.

“I listened to the radio a lot when I was growing up. I listened to all the stations, from jazz, to blues, to boogie woogie, to country to WSLM in Nashville — and we listened to WLS in Chicago, and we’d catch a station out of New Orleans — so I just listened to everything.”

As to his distinction Django Reinhardt meets Bob Wills style of guitar playing, Wilie has a rather surprising explanation: “I’ve always felt that I was about half Mexican. And I may be, because I really love the Spanish flavors, and Mexican mariachi, and gypsy type music. I was just born and raised around that kind of music and I love it. So I guess that’s why you hear a lot of that in my music, because that’s part of me.”

One thing that hasn’t changed much over the years is the way he goes about writing a song, “I guess it’s always been the same,” he ways. “I get an idea and I write it. But I have to have an idea to start with. The melodies aren’t that hard, once you get the lyrics.”

Nelson says his early years as a songwriter, which Teatro reveals in stark relief, were a kind of excruciating conundrum. “Nashvile was easy, really, because everything was formula. If you wanted to write commercial stuff and you were a professional writer, it wouldn’t be a problem to do it. I just wanted to write what I felt like saying. And then, if at the same time I could imagine someone singing that song, then I would write it with a melody, or a rhythm that I felt like that one perosn might be comfortable with.”

“For instance I wanted to hear Billy Walker do “Funny How Time Slips Away’ and I wanted to hear Faron young do “Hellow Walls’ and wanted to hear Ray Price do ‘Night Life’ – so I just had these little ideas of what I wanted to hear, and I would try to work in that direction.”

Confronted with the standard show biz query as to if there’s anyone he hasn’t worked with that he’d like to, Nelson pauses to think about it for a moment. “I would be sort of greedy and selfish if I said, “Oh I’d like to do this, and this, and this and this,” he says. “Because I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of things with a lot of great people. I’ve sung with B.B. King and Hank Williams and Ray Price and Faron Young and Lefty Frizell and Julio. What else could I want?  I jokingly said the other day that I think Barbra Streisand and I ought to do something together. But after I think about it awhile, maybe we could.  Like ‘A Star is Buried.’”

The Family, Willie’s legendary road band, is another thing that has remained fairly constant over time. His sister, Bobbie Nelson, can still be found on keyboards, offering an emotional and musical continuity that goes back to Abbott, where she and Willie learned to play through mail order courses taught to them by their grandparents. And then there’s long time sidekicks, harmonica player Mickey Raphael and drummer Paul English.

“We’re more acoustic than we used to be,” Nelson offers. “The instrumentation is a little different. The bass player now is playing acoustic bass. Paul is playing just the snare. So we’ve reduced the loudness of the rhythms – it’s a little more subtle.  And I like that because it makes everything stand out a little better.”

Willie says the current show runs the gamut from old favorites such as “Whiskey River” to several songs form Teatro and even a set from the jazz flavored instrumental album Night and Day that’s due out in July.

Asked if the new acoustic bent to his live performances is a sing he’s finally slowing down, Nelson says simply, “Mother Nature has a way of doing that to you. But, he quickly adds, life’s too good, and he’s having way too much fun to ever consider retirement.

“I guess the best part of it is that I’m still here. Still out here having a good time playing music and hanging out with my friends and family and fans — hey, let me put a melody to that and I’ll call you back. But, seriously, that’s it. I just enjoy what I do. I don’t know why I’m still here. A lot of my friends are gone. And a lot of the guys that are my age decided long ago that they didn’t want no more of this stuff. But I’m lucky. I’m healthy and I enjoy what I’m doing. People ask, ‘Why are you still doing this? And I say, ‘All I do is play golf and music.’ And don’t wanna quit either one of them. I don’t really wanna quit nothin’”

Willie on Weed (High Times, October 2005)

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

Willie on Weed
High Times Magazine
October 2005
by Richard Cusick

When it comes to grass, Willie’s fans divide into three distinct camps:  stoners like myself who view Willie Nelson as a sterling example of humanity; politically conservative country folks who dislike the pot thing but cry in their beers whenever he sings “Crazy”; and finally, fans who don’t smoke and don’t care, but remain mildly amused by Shotgun Willie’s outlaw ways.  So, unlike most marijuana activists, Nelson doesn’t preach merely to the converted.  Arguably, on the strength of his art and his living example, he’s helped change more minds about marijuana than any other American.

“They’re watching me,” Nelson acknowledges.  “I’m like the canary in the coal mine.  As long as I can remember the words to my songs and do a good show, they say:  “Well, it may not be affecting them so much.”

And so, despite incessant interview request, HIGH TIMES has always been treated like a red-headed stranger by the managers, press agents, record companies, road managers and assorted family members who get paid to look out for Willie Nelson’s best interests.  Frankly, I don’t think the man himself gave a shit one way or the other.  We were all waiting for the right moment to make it happen.  The release of Willie’s long-delayed reggae CD, Countryman, turned out to be the right moment.  One look at the cover art proved that.  There are actually two covers:  “One for Wal-Mart,” Willie noted, and one for every fan of the singer’s favorite plant — with a big pot leaf commanding the center.

It’s the hottest day of the year.  The temperature on the field of Prince Geroge’s Stadium in Bowie, MD, reaches triple digits, but the Bob Dylan – Willie Nelson show has attracted a particular rugged type of music fan willing to roast for hours in the sun to secure a good seat on the general admission lawn.  I’m scheduled to meet with the American music legend for an hour and a half, but a family member’s illness delays Willie by nearly an hour.  How to stuff 30 years worth of interview into 30 minutes?  My strategy involves breaking the ice by bringing the musician’s old friend Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Allen St. Pierre, NORML’s executive director, along for the ride.  Willie has been a member of NORML’s advisory board for 22 years, and so I assumed their reputations would precede me…

The familiar sound of his guitar floats softly from a state-of-the-art sound system shelved above our heads on board one of the world’s most widely travelled and legendary tour buses.  A copy of Bob Dylan’s autobiography sits on the soft brown-leather couch in the front, while Willie holds court from a corner booth.  We will talk for the next 40 minutes without interruption — save for one very unusualy exception.

HT:  You’ve done reggae songs before, but Countryman is your first full-blown reggae album.  How did that happen?

WN:  Ten years ago, I went to see Chris Blackwell when he was the head of Island Records in Jamaica, and we talked about putting out a reggae album, Chris loved the idea, but I also played him a CD I produced called Spirit, and he said, “I love Spirit.  Let’s put that out now and y’all go finish the reggae and then we’ll put it out.”

But they had a shakeup, and he left the label.  So for 10 years it kinda laid there, until the good folks after at Lost Highway picked it up and ran with it.

Keith Stroup:  Does the title Countryman refer to the ganja growers up in the mountians?

WN:  Yeah.  That’s right.

HT:  I’ve always thought reggae and country gospel are very similar, not in sound so much as in spirit.

WN:  The way the musicians tell me, reggae took off – Peter Tosh, Toots and those guys — was that reggae came basically from country music, from listening to the radio in the United States and hearing WSM play ’em some Grand Old Opry.  When they told me that, I started thinking about how country songs just naturally lend themselves to a reggae rhythm.

HT:  Does marijuana help your songwriting?

WN:  I wrote most of my good songs before I ever heard of marijuana or used it, and I’m not sure that it doesn’t slow down your writing.

HT:  Really?

WN:  Well, if you’re hungry or on edge and you’re writing, you could always just sit down and smoke a little joint and not worry about it.  But some things you need to worry about.

HT:  So taking that edge off sometimes isn’t a good thing.

WN:  Yeah.  You need that age.

(Bob Dylan quielty enters the front of the bus — Yes, really.)

WN:  Hey! Bob! (rising from booth)  C’mere.  (A brief hug and Willie returns to the corner booth.)Â

Bob Dylan:  They gotcha trapped.

HT:  We got him now.

BD:  I’ll come back.

WN:  All right.

(exit Bob Dylan)

HT:  You know, I named my daughter after than man!

WN:  You did?

HT:  We figured the name works for either a boy or a girl.

WN:  Yeah, that’s true.  Well, he’s a good guy.  Believe it or not, that’s the first time I’ve seen him this tour.  We’ve been out two weeks.  He was gonna play some chess.  He asked me if I want to play some chess, so we can do it tomorrow or the next day.

HT:  I believe we were talking about songwriting.

WN:  I started writing songs a long time before I started smoking.  Well, I started smoking cigarettes when I was 4.  I started smoking something when I was 4.  Cedar bark, Grapevines, Cotton leaves, Coffee leaves.  I even tried Black Drop one time.

HT:  Black Drop?

WN:  It was an old laxative in powder form.  Cedar bark, I smoked that.  And then I used to raise hens, so I would trade a dozen eggs for a pack of cigarettes back in those days.  About 18 cents, I think.  About 18 or 20 cents for a pack of cigarettes.  Lucky Strikes.  Camels.

HT:  In your autobiography, you said that marijuana got you off cigarettes and drinking.

WN:  Yeah.  I knew I was killing myself with cigarettes, and I knew I was really putting myself in danger with drinking so much, so somewhere along the way I decided.  “Wait a minute!  You know, do what you can do.”  In the early years, I drank all the time.  Mainly before pot.  Up until then, I was into whiskey and uppers.  You know, that’s the deal.  Truck drivers had the bennies when they made those LA turnaounds, and all that stuff was going around.  All the guitar players had it.

HT:  Fred Lockwood.  He was the first guy to ever turn you on to pot?

WN:  Yeah. A Fort Worth musician.  That’s right.

HT:  Fred Lockwood was not only the first person to give you a joint, as I understand it, he’s always the guy who gave you the line.  “I Gotta Get Drunk and I Sure do Regret It.”

WN:  There was two.  There was Fred Lockwood and there was Ace Lockwood.  They were brothers.  Fred was the one who gave me the line, “I Gotta Get Drunk and I sure Do Regret It” and his brother Ace went and gave me a itty bitty little snuff can full of pot one time.

HT:  So that was your first ime around the block?

WN:  I played a club there, and we played together.  These guys were musicians, so we went over to their house, and Fred and I were playing dominoes.  That was the first time I ever smoked it.  I think I smoked it about six months before I ever got high.  And then, all of a sudden:  “Oh yeah –that’s what that is.”

HT:  Willie, you’re a musician known for making political stands.  Not every musician does that.

WN:  I’ve let my beliefs be known and they turned out to be political.  I didn’t start out taking any political stands — just taking stands.

HT:  You just think a certain way and…

KS…groups like NORML start using you politically.

HT:  You’ve also been out front about your use of cannabis for a long time.  Have you taken a lot of flak for it over your career.

WN:  Zero that I know of.

HT:  It’s amazing how you get buy.

WN:  Well, I got busted.

HT:  750,000 people got busted for marijuana last year.

KS:  Yeah, but none of them got busted because they slept on the side of the highway and then raised the “hand-rolled cigarette defense.” Which I don’t believe has worked for anybody else — wasn’t that it?

WN:  You can’t assume that a rolled-up cigarette in an ashtray, looking through the window, is a marijuana cigarette.

KS:  In Texas, in particular!  I think of that as the Willie Nelson Defense.

WN:  I thought it was brilliant.

KS:  I did, too.

HT:  I hope you don’t mind my blazing, but I’m about to see Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan play.

WN:  You’ve gotta get there.

HT:  Well, I know you recommend moderation.

WN:  Moderation is always the key, even for pot.  You can over-do pot.  And it’s not for the kids… After they get 18, 21 years old, they’re going to try whatever they’re gonna try…

HT:  What’s the difference smoking pot 50 years ago and now?

WN:  It costs more money.

HT:  People say it’s better now, but I don’t remember not getting high 25 years ago.

WN:  No, I don’t either.  You know, it’s kind of like sex — there’s none bad, but there’s just some that’s better.  I think our tolerance is pretty good, too.

HT:  I ususlaly stop for a month every year or so.

KS:  I usualy stop for a few days every now and then — because I run out.

WN:  I intentionally let myself run out every now and then.

KS:  A couple of days into that, I usually say, “Let me rethink that decision.”

WN:  Either that or one of the guys’ll bring me one and say, “Here, don’t you think it’s time?

Willie Nelson, “Ready to Roar” (new album, “Last Man Standing” out 4/27)

Friday, April 20th, 2018

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Jeff Gage

Willie Nelson’s new LP Last Man Standing is due to be released a week from today on April 27th, and the 84-year-old legend is ready to get the party started — or, as he puts it in his latest song to premiere from the album — “Ready to Roar.”

The Red Headed Stranger’s recent recordings, including last year’s God’s Problem Child, have dealt with some often heavy subjects relating to his own mortality, in both somber and humorous terms. “Ready to Roar,” however, simply sees Nelson wanting to cut loose, ready to punch the clock and escape the yoke of the bossman on a Friday night when he can “light a little up and drink a little down.” The jaunty tune comes with a hilarious twist, as the night of revelry lands the narrator in jail but ends with him ready to head right back out to the bar.

Last Man Standing comes out two days before Nelson’s 85th birthday, but it’s only the beginning of a busy spring and summer for the Texan, who will headline another Outlaw Music Festival tour beginning in may, along with his annual Fourth of July Picnic in Austin.

Why Willie Nelson still does it

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

www.TexasMonthly.com
by:  Michael Hall

Many of his peers are dead, and countless others haven’t picked up a guitar since their arthritis kicked in. But on April 29, two days after releasing his aptly titled seventy-third studio album, Last Man Standing, Willie Nelson turns 85. A few weeks later he’ll be, as per usual, on the road again.

He’s got plenty of cash and a legacy that rivals any musician who’s ever lived, so no one would blame Willie if he spent the rest of his life doing nothing but lounging on a beach near his home in Maui or enjoying edibles at his ranch outside Austin. Yet he’s still writing songs, playing guitar, and making music nearly every day. We joined him on his tour bus ahead of a show at Austin’s ACL Live at the Moody Theater to ask the big question: Why does he still do it?

Because it still makes him happy. “I think I need to keep being creative, not to prove anything but because it makes me happy just to do it,” Willie says. He partially credits doing what he loves for keeping him animate into his eighties. “I think trying to be creative, keeping busy, has a lot to do with keeping you alive.”

Because what else would he do? Over the past couple of decades, whenever Willie was asked about retirement, he’d reply, “All I do is play music and golf. Which one do you want me to give up?” And Willie doesn’t play as much golf anymore.

Because he’s never been good at sitting still. From his initial move to Nashville, in 1960; to his return to Austin, in 1972, growing out his hair and bringing the hippies and rednecks together; to his first turn in Hollywood in 1979 to try his luck on the silver screen, Willie has spent his life on the move. Like he says in 1993’s “Still Is Still Moving to Me,” the closest thing he has to a spiritual manifesto: “I swim like a fish in the sea all the time.”

Because the people keep coming. “The fact that people still show up and like what we do is a good enough reason to keep doing it,” Willie says. His concerts over the past few years haven’t been his best; he’s been sick (colds knocked him out of several gigs last year, and the flu forced him to cancel two months of shows this winter), and he doesn’t perform as long as he used to. But when he walks onstage, waves at the crowd, and greets them with a “How y’all doin’?” he’s repaid with adoration. His fans come for the music and the ritual: “Whiskey River” first; the medley of “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy,” and “Night Life,” in the middle; gospel songs at the end. But mostly they are there just to be in the same space as Willie, and he feeds off of that energy.

Many of his peers are dead, and countless others haven’t picked up a guitar since their arthritis kicked in. But on April 29, two days after releasing his aptly titled seventy-third studio album, Last Man Standing, Willie Nelson turns 85. A few weeks later he’ll be, as per usual, on the road again.

He’s got plenty of cash and a legacy that rivals any musician who’s ever lived, so no one would blame Willie if he spent the rest of his life doing nothing but lounging on a beach near his home in Maui or enjoying edibles at his ranch outside Austin. Yet he’s still writing songs, playing guitar, and making music nearly every day. We joined him on his tour bus ahead of a show at Austin’s ACL Live at the Moody Theater to ask the big question: Why does he still do it?

Because he likes to win. For a born competitor like Willie, staying relevant has remained a priority. “It’s all a game,” says his friend and frequent collaborator Ray Benson, the front man of Austin-based Western swing group Asleep at the Wheel. “It’s all a bet. He loves to win a game, whether it’s golf, chess, or poker. I was in Maui recently, and he said to me, ‘You should’ve been here last night—I beat Woody [Harrelson] out of $3,000 playing cards!’?”

Because all of a sudden he’s writing songs again. Until recently, Willie, who has penned some of the greatest tunes in the American songbook, seemed content to re-record old classics or pay tribute to other songwriters. As he admitted in 2012, “I haven’t had time to write anything new.” But then, later that year, he started working with Nashville producer Buddy Cannon and rediscovered his writer’s voice. Their first co-write was 2012’s “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” and the partnership has been thriving since.

Because it’s a family affair. Sure, he’s shared the stage with some of the world’s most renowned musicians, such as Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra, but nothing pleases Willie more than playing with family. Every night on tour, his sister, Bobbie, 87, whirls through the instrumental number “Down Yonder” on piano, while Willie looks on in admiration. And he gets special joy from performing with his brood: his sons Lukas and Micah and his daughters Amy and Paula. “There’s nothing better than having your kids get up onstage and play music with you,” he says. “You can’t beat that.”

Because his body lets him. He’s certainly had health issues over the years: one of his lungs collapsed in 1981 and again in 2008, and in recent years he has ruptured a bicep and torn a rotator cuff. But Willie stays in shape. He used to run; now he bikes, swims, lifts weights, and does tae kwon do. “I think Dad’s gonna live to be 108 years old if he wants to,” Lukas says.

Because it’s how he can best prove the death rumors wrong. In February 2015 a fake news site proclaimed that Willie was dead. Two months later it followed with a report that a gardener had found him lifeless in the front yard of his Maui home. On the morning of August 3, 2017, various radio stations began tweeting rumors that Willie had died. When Willie heard about his demise, he laughed.

But he knows that one day the rumors will be true. Last Man Standing, like last year’s God’s Problem Child, is about mortality. “I don’t want to be the last man standing,” he sings on the title track, “but, wait a minute, maybe I do.” As with loving and longing and drinking, Willie’s interested in death when he can turn it into a song. “I don’t think about dying,” he said in 2012. “It’s inevitable, so why worry about that shit?”

 

“Trippy Troubadour” — micah nelson

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

photo:  Janis Tillerson

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Andy Greene

Playing music with Neil Young has been like “getting a masters degree in Jedi training,” the musician says.

A little more than a dozen years ago, Willie Nelson stumbled out of the poker room at his house in Maui in a haze of marijuana smoke to find his then-14-year-old son Micah playing Mario Kart on a Nintendo 64. Micah had just returned from a school trip, and his father greeted him with a elcome home, Particle Kid!” Willie said.

“I thought it was the funniest thing, so I never forgot it,” Micah says. “Years later I asked him about it and he said, ‘I was trying to say “Welcome home, Prodigal Son,” but I was so stoned it came out as ‘Particle Kid.'”

By that point, the teenaged Micah had already started recording his own low-fi, dreamscape music – a slow tumble of guitars, far-off vocals, and washes of rhythm and noise – and when he decided to release it, he used the nom de smoke-plume that Willie had given him. The first Particle Kid collections were limited to 200 cassette tapes on the indie label Dome of Doom, and there was no sign they came from the son of Willie Nelson. “Instead of taking advantage of that I always felt that I had to work twice as hard as everyone else and live up the name, really earn it,” Micah says.

Earn it he has, though he may be working more than twice as hard as everyone else. A musical polymath who, according to Willie, “plays everything,” Micah combines an indie DIY aesthetic with a questing hippie spirit and a relentless work ethic. Over the last few months, the 27-year-old has done everything from open shows for Margo Price – one of Nashville’s sharpest and hardest rocking songwriters – to backing up Neil Young in his older brother Lukas’ band, Promise of the Real. Songs like “Gunshow Loophole Blues” from Particle Kid’s latest, Everything Is Bullshit, were inspired by the madness of Trump’s America. There’s also his adventurous rock quintet Insects vs. Robots, a series of animated short films he’s been working on, the Space Gnome deck of cards he’s designed to benefit the Bridge School (a cause Young has long supported), and an interactive album inspired by the patterns of hotel carpets he’s photographed that. “Whether I’m gardening or working on my car of making music or painting, it’s all part the same entity,” he says. “I’ve always felt like an artist who is using music as a medium.”

His role as integral member of Neil Young’s band began with an impromptu rendition of “Rockin’ in the Free World” at Farm Aid in 2014, which quickly lead to Promise of the Real backing Young on two studio albums and a series tours. Despite the nearly half-century age gap between Young and the band, they’ve become a very tight unit, and Micah and Lukas have coaxed Young to bust out rarities he hasn’t played since the 1970s, like “Alabama” and “Vampire Blues” and “L.A.”

2015heartbreakerjanis16

Micah says playing music with Young has been like “getting a masters degree in Jedi training.” Young has schooled the Nelson brothers with precepts like, “The perfect is highly overrated.” “The main thing he’s taught me about music is, ‘If you think, you’re fucked.’ You have to accept your flaws and embrace them.”

Young cast Micah, Lukas and the rest of Promise of the Real in his trippy western Paradox, directed by Young’s girlfriend Daryl Hannah and shot in the Rockies during a four day tour break, using vintage Super 8 film and Hannah’s phone. “We’re all miners in the future, mining for ancient technology like computers and phones,” says Micah. “It’s a strange, beautiful art film.” He say that Young and Hannah call Paradox “a very loud poem” — perhaps the only such poem streaming on Netflix.

Touring with Young means some nights Micah’s playing for 100,000 fans on a bill with Paul McCartney at Desert Trip, and then just a few weeks later he’s out on his own, singing to a handful of people at a dusty club. It’s a balance that Micah has learned to embrace, though in the future he hopes to gain just a little more traction with his own career. “I wish I had a roadie to help me carry shit around,” he says, then laughs. “I’d like to be able to employ a reliable sound guy and incorporate some of animation into the show. But I feel like I’ve come a long way in the past couple of years and I want to keep the momentum going. Hopefully I’ll hit a nerve with more people without sacrificing or compromising on anything.”

Willie Nelson Art (Paste Magazine, April 2010)

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Paste Magazine Cover (April 2010)

And he just keeps getting cooler

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

Willie Nelson, Life Magazine (April 2013)

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

Me and Willie, by Jerry Wexler

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

Liner Notes
The Complete Atlantic Sessions

“I think it was in 1972 or 1973 that I first encountered Willie in the flesh.  I was in Nashville checking the c&w scene for Atlantic.  Somehow I was invited to Harlan Howard’s house for his annual pickers party.  Who all was there… I think I remember Ray Price, Conway Twitty, among others.  And Willie Nelson minus a record contract!

How could this be?  Maybe because Willie was in bad odor with the Nashville establishment, he was a ‘rebel’; (whatever the hell that was intened to imply), he was rumored to partake of the herba buena.

Somebody introduced us, and it was instant karma.  I signed him up, and the first thing we did (mostly in our New York studios) was Shotgun Willie.  I had a hand in a side or two, but Aril Mardin did the heavy lifting.

Next came Phases and Stages, and it turned out to be on me.  And so I suggested doing it in Music Shoals, with those gifted Caucasian funksters David Hood, Robert Hawkins, Barry Beckett, Jimmy Johnson and Pete Carr.  The kibitzers were horrified.  ‘You can’t take him to Muscle Shoals — it’s much too R&B for Willie, you’ll never get radio play, you’ll scare off the market, blah, blah, blah.’  The band was augmented with the great Johnny Gimbel on fiddle and mandolin, Fred Carter, Jr. on guitar and dobro, and John Hughey on pedal steel.

If I remember correctly, the whole deal took only two days — vocals, background voices, various sweetenings, and, all.

I have been told time and again by the well informed — including a lot of Willie’s people — that it’s up there with his best recordings.

It is January 2006 as I write this, and two weeks ago I turned 89 — but I am never out of touch with Willie.  I love him dearly, and I occassionaly have the current phone number of his bus.”

Sound Canada

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

Thanks, Phil Weisman.

“Always Look for Hope” — Willie Nelson

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Willie Nelson

www.telegraph.co.uk
by: Martin Chilton

Willie Nelson, who was born on April 30, 1933, in Abbott, Texas, is one of the finest country music singers and songwriters of modern times. Nelson has won 11 Grammys and acted in more than 30 films. He has also campaigned for the legalisation of marijuana. This interview with Martin Chilton was originally published in December 2012.

If there’s one soothing voice you want talking to you about the end of the world, then I guess country singer will do just fine. But it’s just one of the odd subjects of an enjoyably eccentric conversation with one of America’s finest musicians in the lead-up to when the Mayans predicted it would all be over.

Nelson is still touring with a prodigious schedule, and has just published a memoir with the witty title Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die. The book went straight into the New York Times bestsellers list. The Texan, who was born on April 30, 1933, seems to be in remarkably good shape. Nelson says: “I have always been interested in keeping fit and doing boxing and wrestling. As a youngster, I loved Charles Atlas, Bruce Lee and Kung Fu. But when I lived in Nashville I switched to doing Taekwondo.

“Last year, at the age of 78, I got my second degree black belt [he went on to get a higher degree black belt]. And singing is the best exercise – two hours a day will keep you in pretty good shape. I think it’s very important to learn from your own body. It doesn’t lie to you. If it feels good, do it. If it don’t feel good, don’t do it.”

Nelson is asked ad nauseum about drugs, because he is co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and is in favour of marijuana legalisation. I’m more intrigued by the fact that he now supposedly uses a vapouriser for his recreational inhaling. “Yes,” he cackles, “I now have what they call a vapouriser apparatus. It means there is no heat and no smoke, which is better for the throat of an old singer. But every so often someone will pass me a joint, and it would be impolite to refuse.”
His brilliance as a singer and songwriter has been widely recognised. This is the man who wrote Crazy (such a massive hit for Patsy Cline) more than 50 years ago, and who has won 37 major music awards, including 11 Grammy trophies. Yet he still talks modestly and enthusiastically about other musicians. Of jazz maestro Django Reinhardt, he says: “There is no doubt that he is the best guitar player ever. I never saw him live but I have watched him on video and have hundreds of his songs. I play Nuages most every concert, and I especially love Vous & Moi.”

Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson Credit: Rex Features 

Willie Nelson’s 20 best songs

British music never made much of an impression on the man who was born in Abbott, Texas. He explains: “I didn’t hear a lot of UK music, although I did record a version of the Beatles song Yesterday. I was more interested in the European jazz players. I loved Americans such as Miles Davis, and Dave Brubeck, who just died, of course. I would loved to have recorded with Brubeck. Good musicians can play and record jazz and country. I grew up with country music and can adapt to jazz but sometimes jazz musicians have more trouble the other way because country is just not something they have grown up with.

Ray Charles could do both but then he could do anything. I still do everything off the top of my head, and if I make a mistake then it’s like the old joke . . . make one mistake people notice, make three and it becomes a hot lick.”

Songwriting is a craft he has always admired. He talks admiringly of somewhat neglected lyricists such as Lefty Frizzell. “I love him still,” says Nelson, “but I guess it’s only really people my age who know his work well. But the younger generation should know his music, and I always sing If You’ve Got The Money.”

Before Nelson made it as a singer, he paid his way writing songs for established artists. Once he’d made the breakthrough, he was free to write hit compositions for himself. Is it true he scribbled down On The Road Again on an airline sick bag? “It was pretty much like that,” he laughs. “I was travelling on an aeroplane with Sydney Pollack and Jerry Schatzberg and they said they needed a song for the film Honeysuckle Rose. So I just started singing, “I’m on the road again,” and I told them not to worry, the melody would come later. That was an easy song. My hardest song, I haven’t written it yet. I write less now than I ever did. I did a lot of writing when I was younger. I still write but don’t try to force a good idea. Once it starts coming you can’t put it off, anyway. It’s like labour pains.”

Love of music is in his bones. He spent a year teaching guitar in Houston and, like BB King, liked working as a radio disc jockey. Nelson says: “I enjoyed that and it was also a way to stay in music when I wasn’t playing regularly in clubs. I loved the fact that you could just go in an play a bunch of records that you liked. In those days, the DJ could just make his own show and play what he wanted, like Eddie Arnold, Django and Hank Williams. People used to love my programmes but in the end, and this is common now, programme directors always thought they knew best and there would be a falling out over what records should be played. I still do a bit for my XM Radio.”

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There really is no stopping him. Already set in motion for 2013, when he turns 80, are two new albums. Nelson says: “I have one coming out called Face The Music And Dance, with my band. I’ve always loved that Irving Berlin song. Then I have an album of duets with girls called To All The Girls. I sing with Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash and Barbra Streisand – that’s something I have long wanted to do. There will be 12 collaborations in all, with songs old and new. One song, brought by the producer Buddy Cannon, is a unknown song written by Waylon Jennings, one of the last he wrote, called She Was No Good To Me. And I get the chance to sing with Dolly Parton again, on a beautiful song she has written called From There To The Moon And Back.”

For good measure, he’s also just done a Christmas film called When Angels Sing with Lyle Lovett and Kris Kristofferson, and Nelson is talking about a couple of western movies in 2013, too. Does he call on his close pal (an incongruous duo they must make) Woody Harrelson for advice? “Oh, Woody’s great fun. He stays all the time. We hang out and play dominoes, poker and chess. He usually beats me at chess and I win at dominoes.”

He says it was fun writing his new book (his favourite novel is Huckleberry Finn) which ranges across music, anecdotes and politics. He talks about the struggles of ordinary American and farmers, environmental problems and about President Barack Obama. Nelson says: “He has been good for America and I knew him from when he was a young politician in Chicago. But when you get elected President I think the first thing they do is take you in a room and say you know you’re not gonna do sh-t. Your hands are tied and Congress have the whole thing locked down and we all get screwed. But Obama will do better this time. There are so many things going on in the world that he will be kept real busy with some major decisions.”

Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson Credit: Rex Features

 

The book has downbeat moments (“the world is a sinking ship,” he writes) but in conversation he seems an optimistic man. Is that right? Nelson says: “Well, I really do believe that you can’t worry about yesterday or dwell on mistakes. There is a lot to worry about if you choose to. The doom-and-gloom people are out there. Only this week I was reading about how many people believe the world’s coming to an end this December 21st. But I see reasons for optimism. It’s like my song, It’s Always Now. Look for the hope.”

It’s always now,
And nothing ever
Goes away.
Everything
Is here to stay.
And it’s always now.

Who’d have thought it? Hope in a country music song. That’s Willie Nelson for you.

 

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

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

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Country Song Roundup
March 1980
by:  Gail Buchalter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

img815 by you.

McCall’s
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.”

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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.

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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 rid every day when I’m home,” he tells me.  “I have a lot more horses on the property, but they’re all off somewhere now.”

The sun begins to set, the landscape shaded by tall plains grass, mesquite and scrub oak trees.  I feel as peaceful and calm as Willie, a man who like to take life one day at a time when he’s home.  His friend and colleague, Chips Moman, has joined us for the evening.  “I’d do anything for that man and so would a lot of other people,” Chips says.  “There seems to be nothing he can’t do to please everyone.  And he thrives on the excitement of the road.  He’s performed with the best:  Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt.  He’s now with CBS Records.  We’re a long way form 1964 when he first signed with Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.  But he became fed up with the politics of becoming a star there.  He moved to Texas and He’s een there ever since.”

We climb into his black truck, and he invites us back to visit some more with his family.  After strong coffee and with nighttime creeping up, I take my leave reluctantly.  He thanks me generously for coming down to visit, and I drive off down the wonderful, winding dirt road that’s as serene as the Texas sunset, as serene as Willie Nelson himself.

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Willie Nelson: one hell of a bad ass

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

philweisman102

www.savingcountrymusic.com

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

1. Surviving a Plane Crash

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

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

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


2. Recording Red Headed Stranger for $4,000

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


3. Gun Battle at the Birmingham Coliseum

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

Willie Nelson & Poodie Locke

Willie Nelson & Poodie Locke

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

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

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

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


farmaid4. Founding Farm Aid

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


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

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

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

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

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


6. Taking the Rap for Pot Bust in Texas

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

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


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

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


8. Getting Lost in Baton Rouge

As told by Willie’s manager Mark Rothbaum

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

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

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


9. “Shotgun Willie” & The Great Ridgetop Shootout

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

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

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

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

10. His Own Town

luck-tx-willie-nelson

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

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


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

Quotes taken from the autobiography Willie, by Willie Nelson with Bud Shrake.

1970’s Austin Music Scene

Monday, February 12th, 2018

photo:  Jim Marshall

www.TexasMonthly.com
by:  John Sprong

In 1972 the Austin music scene exploded with a new, rootsy form of country that turned its back on Nashville and embraced the counterculture. Forty years later, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Martin Murphey, and a host of other cosmic cowboys and redneck rockers remember the first Dripping Springs Reunion, the time Waylon Jennings almost got busted, and the birth of outlaw country.

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

The rest of the nation had less success maintaining the old order. In cities like San Francisco, the counterculture was popular culture. Hair was long, love was free, and dope smoking was considered tame. The music ranged from the psychedelic extremes of Jefferson Airplane to the rootsier jangle of Creedence Clearwater Revival, with acts like Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead straddling the two. Nashville, with its pompadours, whiskey, and quiet reliance on truck-driver amphetamines, had no use for any of it. When Los Angeles bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers started playing country rock, winking at Nashville in Nudie suits festooned with rhinestone pot leaves, Music Row responded with disgust.

Halfway between the coasts sat Texas, where hundreds of honky-tonks functioned as Nashville’s farm system. But that music belonged to the old guard. Texas kids were more interested in the state’s thriving folkie circuit. The hub was a Dallas listening room called the Rubaiyat, from which young singer-songwriters like Steve Fromholz and B.?W. Stevenson sallied forth to coffeehouses around the state. The music they played was distinct from the protest songs of Greenwich Village. Texas folk was rooted in cowboy, Tejano, and Cajun songs, in Czech dance halls and East Texas blues joints. It was dance music. And when the Texas folkies started gigging with their rock-minded peers, they found a truer sound than the L.A. country rockers. There was nothing ironic about the fiddle on Fromholz’s epic “Texas Trilogy.”

It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact moment when that sound and scene coalesced into something cohesive enough to merit a name, but then again none of the labels people came up with—cosmic cowboy, progressive country, redneck rock, and, ultimately, outlaw country—made everyone happy. Still, the pivotal year was 1972, and the place was Austin. Liquor by the drink had finally become legal in Texas, which prompted the folkies to migrate from coffeehouses to bars, turning their music into something you drank to. Songwriters moved to town, like Michael Murphey, a good-looking Dallas kid who’d written for performers such as the Monkees and Kenny Rogers in L.A. He was soon joined by Jerry Jeff Walker, a folkie from New York who’d had a radio hit when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band covered his song “Mr. Bojangles.” In March, Willie played a three-day country festival outside town, the Dripping Springs Reunion, that would grow into his Fourth of July Picnics. Then he too moved to Austin and started building an audience that didn’t look like or care about any Nashville ideal. By the time the scene started to wind down, in 1976, Willie and Austin were known worldwide.

To say that Nashville eventually got hip to what was happening would be too kind. Rather, the industry identified a chance to make money and came up with the “outlaw” label, which now applies to one more subset of the Nashville establishment. While it rightly conjures images of Willie, Waylon, and the boys, other stars who made careers off it, like Hank Williams Jr., couldn’t have had less in common with hippie poets like Murphey and Fromholz. But something more than marketing persists in the label. It was coined to describe country songwriters who wouldn’t conform to traditional strictures, who insisted on making music that sounded right to them. What follows are their stories of how they pulled that off.

Country Stars and Folkies

As the seventies began, there were two major schisms bearing down on Austin’s budding country music scene. The first was political. The cultural upheaval of the sixties was still going full force, particularly in Texas, even in a city that considered itself as forward thinking as Austin did. The second related more narrowly to the music. The only route to success for young Texas country songwriters went through Nashville, a stubbornly conservative industry town considered every bit as reactionary as the Nixon administration. Even Kris Kristofferson, a Brownsville-born Rhodes Scholar who followed the traditional path—he worked as a janitor at a Nashville recording studio before he started collecting number ones in 1970—failed to fit in. His writing was considered too esoteric. More to the point, his hair was too long.

Read entire article here.