Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Willie Nelson and Ray Charles

Monday, March 30th, 2020

www.RollingStone.com
by: Stephen Betts

In early March 1978, Willie Nelson was atop Billboard’s country albums and country singles charts with friend and frequent duet partner Waylon Jennings. Their Waylon & Willie LP had spawned a massive hit with “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” which enjoyed a four-week run at the Number One spot. Nelson, meanwhile, could be seen as sort of taking that song’s message to heart with his follow-up album which, on the surface anyway, would seem to appeal less to cowboys than to “doctors and lawyers and such.” Released April 19th, 1978, Stardust offered Nelson’s interpretations of American pop standards. The album’s first single, Nelson’s passionate reading of the Hoagy Carmichael classic “Georgia on My Mind,” was released March 2nd, 1978, 42 years ago today.

With Stardust, Nelson the hit songwriter was completely absent, which meant that his interpretive skills were allowed to fully flower on songs such as “All of Me,” “Moonlight in Vermont,” and “Blue Skies.” Following Nelson’s version of “Georgia on My Mind,” which would reach Number One in June, becoming only the third of the Texas native’s solo hits to top the chart, “Blue Skies” became another country chart-topper, which made Stardust Nelson’s first LP to produce more than one Number One hit.

A year after its release, Nelson’s version of the song earned a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. Most impressively, however, Stardust logged 540 weeks on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, eventually dropping off the survey a full decade later in 1988, by which time Nelson was a bona fide American legend.

Georgia on My Mind” was written in 1930 by Carmichael with his roommate, lyricist Stuart Gorrell. Thirty years later, Ray Charles had a Number One pop hit with it, and remains the artist most closely associated with the wistful tune. In 1984, Charles, who in 1962 had released Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, a landmark LP interpreting classic country songs, returned to the genre for Friendship, an LP of duets with Nashville acts including George Jones, Hank Williams Jr., Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs and more. With Nelson, Charles recorded the Number One LP’s chart-topping “Seven Spanish Angels,” making it the biggest of Charles’ handful of country-chart entries.

In 1985, Nelson teamed with Charles during a Nashville Network concert simply titled The Willie Nelson Special. The pair’s performance of “Georgia on My Mind” was a highlight of the program, as the two longtime friends sat together at the piano to trade vocals on the song, as seen above. But Nelson and Charles also played behind the scenes, too, enjoying a rivalry at chess that Nelson joked about during the special.

“He won,” Nelson said, adding, “But the next time we’re gonna turn the lights on.” The comment earned a hearty laugh from Charles, as can be seen in the clip below.

Stardust would coincide with Nelson’s first appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1978. In an interview with the magazine’s Chet Flippo, Nelson acknowledged the major gamble he was taking with the LP.

“I had had the idea for some time but until I met Booker [T. Jones, who produced Stardust], I wasn’t really sure in my mind how well I could do these songs because of my limited musical ability, as far as writing down songs of this caliber. These are complicated songs; they have a lot of chords in them. I needed someone like Booker to write and arrange. Once I got with him it was easy to do the album.”

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

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020
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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 and Amy

Monday, March 2nd, 2020

Willie Nelson, “Country American” (March 1990)

Sunday, March 1st, 2020

Willie Nelson New York Times Interview (February 23, 1995)

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020
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www.nytimes.com

by Alex Witchel
February 23, 1995

Most men will tell you Willie Nelson is a hero. With a copy of his 1982 hit “Always on My Mind” and the phone number of a good florist, they can get away with murder. “Girl, I’m sorry I was blind,” indeed.

They learn from a master. Mr. Nelson, who is married to wife No. 4, may be most recognizable for his Pocahontas braids, but it’s those eyes that start the trouble. Even now, at 62, they are perfectly almond shaped, deep brown and, well, just deep. Look into them for too long and you may regret it.

Mr. Nelson’s misfortune in love may be the reason he can wail his songs about heartbreak so well. Not to mention write them. When he went home drunk and passed out cold for the thousandth time, his first wife sewed him into the bedsheets “buck naked,” as he likes to say, and piled his clothes and the kids into the car and left. It makes you wonder whom he really wrote “Crazy” about.

These days, though, Mr. Nelson insists, he’s a cheating heart no more. His newest album, “Healing Hands of Time” (EMI Liberty), is filled with classic love songs, his and other people’s, accompanied by a 63-piece orchestra. But life can be funny for a crooning cowboy. A new album means going on the road to sell it, so he has to sing his love songs to everyone but his wife, Anne Marie, back in Spicewood, Tex., for whom they are meant.

And being on the road again means living on his bus, Honeysuckle Rose II. The previous night, he played Syracuse; this night, in early February, the United States Military Academy.

At 5 P.M. it’s not quite dark outside, but it certainly is dark in the bus. Up front, there are built-in couches along the sides, and thanks to a satellite dish, CNN is on TV. At the back is the door to Mr. Nelson’s bedroom. In the middle is a small kitchen area with a cut watermelon in the sink. Mr. Nelson sits at the table wearing a sweatshirt, sweatpants and thick white socks. Behind him is what he calls the art museum, snapshots of his two youngest sons, Lucas, 6, and Micah, 5, and a drawing with the message “Hi, Dad From Lucas” surrounded by hearts. His hair, reddish-brown and finely sifted with gray, hangs loose down his back. And his face! It is marked with so many creases, hollows and furrows it looks almost geological. He sits quietly, watching, like a cornered animal that can’t decide if he should pounce, flee or purr.

How was Syracuse? “It was cold.”

What did he do today? “Slept till noon.”

Why did he make this new album? “It seemed like the thing to do.”

How’s his back? (He fractured it baling hay as a teen-ager.) “Let me tell you a strange story,” he says, suddenly animated, as if a quarter dropped into his slot. And with the passion of pain he starts his tale of woe and redemption, which culminates in Rolfing.

“My wife recommended it highly,” he says. “I heard it was painful, but I didn’t care. The first of 10 sessions fixed it.” He rests his thick hands on the table. His wedding band looks loose on his finger. That seems right.

It’s hot in here. Navy velvet curtains hang over the windows, and the dark brown paneling and dark carpet seem to soak up light. “It’s kind of like living in a submarine,” Mr. Nelson acknowledges, showing a small smile. “But I’m happy on the bus. Home is where you’re happy. It can be anywhere, out there playing music, wherever I’m at. I refuse to stay where I’m not happy, and if I can’t change it, because of bad vibes or whatever, there’s no reason to stay.”

“A lot of people get tired of the road,” he continues. “But as much as I enjoy being at home with the toys I have there, I still need to leave that and go play music. I have the best of two worlds, though it’s hard to balance them. They’re both fragile. There’s the desire to be where you are plus the desire to go back where you were.”

The phone rings. It’s his eldest daughter, Lana, 41.

“Hey, nothing. What do you know?” Mr. Nelson asks affectionately. “Oh, we’re traveling to the gig. West Point. Yes, the West Point. As opposed to the east point. I don’t know what we’re doing. We’re playing for the folks.”

He speaks so quietly, barely above a whisper, that it’s hard to conjure visions of his legendary temper. Does he still have one? “If I said I didn’t I’d be lying,” he says. “I don’t show it every time. At least I hope I don’t. People say about me, ‘He’s a tough old bird.’ I must be or I wouldn’t be here.”

He says he doesn’t know exactly how many albums he’s made. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 to 100 legitimate albums, but there’s also bootleg.” From which he doesn’t make money, of course.

Money has been a loaded issue for Mr. Nelson since 1990, when the Internal Revenue Service seized his house and all his assets for nonpayment of $16.7 million in taxes. What happened, he says, was that he owed $2 million in taxes, and on advice of his accountants, Price Waterhouse, was told to borrow $12 million to invest in tax shelters so he wouldn’t have to pay the $2 million. The only problem, he says, was that, after the fact, the shelters were disallowed.

But the story has ended happily. He settled out of court with Price Waterhouse and paid back the Government. When his house was auctioned, a group of farmers bought it for him, grateful for the singer’s Farm Aid concerts, which have raised $12 million, so now he has it back. “There’s a lot of good people out there,” Mr. Nelson says simply.

So, why bother touring, especially if his debts are paid? “Well, I don’t know,” he says. “I seem to be happier when I’m working. I tend to get into trouble with too much time on my hands.”

Like what?

“Like you name it,” he shoots back.

He started working by the age of 5, picking cotton in Abbott, Tex. (When he was a toddler, his mother, a dancer, and his father, a musician, left him and his older sister, Bobbie, who plays keyboards in his band, to be raised by their grandparents.) He played his first professional date at 8, and as an adult sold vacuum cleaners door to door. After working as a disk jockey, he moved in the early 1960’s to Nashville, where he sold his songs and despaired of becoming a singer. The fact that he didn’t sound like anyone else was not an advantage at the time. Now, of course, his idiosyncratic phrasing and nasal twang could be copyrighted.

“I never pretended to have a great voice,” he says. “It works and I can carry a tune. If you have a good song, that’s about all that’s required.”

The new album has lots of good songs. “EMI Liberty, my new record label, said I should do an album of standards. Like ‘Crazy.’ ” He smiles. “I hadn’t been looking at those as standards.”

As a writer, Mr. Nelson has slowed down in recent years, though it’s hard to blame him. He says that between the mid-1950’s and mid-1970’s, he wrote about 2,000 songs.

“I went into the studio last week with my original band and a new songbook of mine,” he says. “We started on the first page, and in two days we did 11 segments. I want to do that with all my songs, the way I hear them and feel them now. People wouldn’t know but one or two of ’em.”

In this, his 54th year of performing, does he worry about the show-biz adage “No one is on top forever”? “That’s not my plan,” he says. “There’s a saying I could never decide was mine or Roger Miller’s. I decided I’d take credit for it: ‘I didn’t come here and I’m not leaving.’ ”

Very wise. Does that wisdom extend to fatherhood? He has had seven children in all, yet he has traveled his entire life, leaving home for vast stretches of time. His eldest son, Billy, who had been treated for alcohol abuse, committed suicide three Christmases ago. Should he have done anything differently?

“Well, you have all those guilts and regrets, but you can run yourself crazy,” he says quietly. “You’re not the same person now you were then, so why take responsibility for something you didn’t do?” When he lifts his eyes, the anguish in his face belies the slickness of the words.

The bus has parked, and he goes inside the Eisenhower Hall Theater for a rehearsal. He starts to sing, and his familiar voice lifts, the cry of an old soul who’s seen more than he’s wanted to. He is completely fallible, which is his charm. A frog prince who’d rather stay a frog.

A few cadets peer at him from the wings, while Larry Gorham, a former Hell’s Angel who is Mr. Nelson’s bodyguard, glares. “Be all that you can be,” he grumbles not-so-under his breath.

“Be nice,” Mr. Nelson calls out.

It’s only 7 P.M. Rehearsal is over, and the show’s not until 8. Mr. Nelson heads toward the bus. What’s he going to do now? He smiles.

“I’m gonna roll me up a big joint and smoke it.” Then he eats a plate of vegetables and settles back with some of the band to watch videos of himself, including one from Howard Stern’s cable-television show, in which he handily wins a joint-rolling contest. Everyone laughs. The feeling is easy, relaxed. You would never know that, a few yards away, 4,400 people are growing restless.

Toward the end of the tape, he goes into his bedroom and comes out with his hair braided (he does it himself). At 8:10 P.M. he walks backstage and picks up his guitar with no noticeable increase in energy. He keeps his world small, parking his living room just outside and walking in here now to play. He could be anywhere. On the other side of the curtain are howls and whoops as the lights go down. One member of the band asks, “Should we open with ‘Anchors Aweigh’?”

When the curtain rises and the flag of Texas unfurls behind them, though, they launch into “Whisky River,” their customary opening number. They’re all so used to each other, they’re like fingers on a hand. They just stand and play, with no videos or special effects.

But when Mr. Nelson launches into “Always on My Mind” the yelling accelerates. “My favorite song!” a man screams from the balcony. As Mr. Nelson sings, his energy is intense. He invests the words with all kinds of feeling, every bit he can muster. When he sings “Give me one more chance to keep you satisfied,”the meaning seems to switch and he’s no longer pleading with a woman but with the audience. He’s not young, he’s not pretty, he doesn’t have a fancy headset or smoke machines. He holds Trigger, his old, beaten guitar with a hole in it, and sings his heart. And it goes, the sound, the feeling, the plea, and hits the cadets and the rest full force, and they scream and holler and clap.

And then he asks, “Everybody doing all right out there?” And they roar, “Yeah,” back at him, and someone tosses a cadet’s hat onto the stage, which he puts on — a real sight with those braids.

And when he says, “Good night, everybody,” and the roar intensifies, they somehow find their way backstage, and they’re lining up outside near the bus, and everywhere he goes there are arms and hands and people shouting, “Willie!”

And he talks to each of them, one at a time, in no particular rush now to climb back on the bus and drive into the night. He’d like to stay awhile.

Paul English: On The Road with Willie Nelson (Modern Drummer)

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020

www.ModernDrummer.com
by: Scott K. Fish
May 1981

It’s difficult to write about Paul English without mentioning Willie Nelson. Paul says that Willie is his “favorite subject.” But, there’s something admirable about long relationships. For three decades the team of Nelson and English has been on the high and low sides of country and pop music. No drummer can play Willie Nelson’s music better than Paul English because Paul’s drumming is a great part of Willie’s music. You can hear the empathy, the craziness and the love.

SF: You’ve been playing with Willie Nelson for a long time. Maybe you could go back and talk a bit about how you got started playing drums.

PE: Playing the drums was really an accident. My family were musicians. My older brother had me going to music school before I was out of grammar school. I was taking trumpet lessons. I played trumpet in church, junior high school and in the high school bands. Then, after I got out of school I set up a leather shop. Willie was a disc jockey at the time. 1954. My brother called me on the phone and wanted me to come up to the radio station. They were doing a live 30 minute thing to help promote jobs for their band. Back then, musicians were really having a hard time. So, they called and wanted me to play a little snare drum with the brushes. That was my debut on drums! They couldn’t pay me anything, but since I had my own shop I could take off. Most other drummers who had to have a separate job could not take off. My job was ideal. I could take off anytime I wanted.

Up until that time, I’d never played drums before in my life! I just came in and all I did was play the snare drum. Then, after about a week somebody dug up a bass drum, and pretty soon they had almost a little set. I had a hi-hat, snare, bass drum, and one cymbal. I didn’t know what to do with a pair of sticks at that time! But, after about six weeks, the band got a job and they all asked Willie, “Well, who do you want to get as a drummer?” And good ol’ Willie said, “Well, I think we ought to use Paul. He’s been working six weeks for nothing!” By then, I was starting to enjoy it.

SF: Could you read music?

PE: Well, I did know about music. I took music and theory. I can’t sight read drum music, but I know how to read it. I can sight read trumpet music because I had to transpose that during church. The trumpet’s a B flat instrument and church music is all written in C major. So, I had to learn how to transpose in church and play the other keys in school. At any rate, I went to work, and Willie would start the count off and that’s how it would go! Everywhere we went we started out making $8.00 a night. Three nights a week. That was pretty good pay, really. That was about the highest they paid.

SF: Were you doing any road tours at that time?

PE: Oh no. Nobody could think about that at the time. Even Roger Miller at that time was living in the back of his car playing about five miles outside of Fort Worth. No one was making any great money at that particular time.

SF: Was this around the time you were playing those clubs where they used to stretch chickenwire across the bandstand so you wouldn’t get hit with beer bottles?

PE: Yeah. There were actually two of those places. I’ve worked in some pretty hardcore clubs. One place was called The County Dump. It was next door to the county dump! And somewhere else over on the Northside, called The Bloody Bucket or The Basement. Whichever! We worked there for awhile.

SF: I wanted to ask about a stigma that seems to get attached to country drummers. That because they’re not “busy” players you often hear that it requires little or no skill to play country western drums.

PE: That depends on what they’re playing! Music is music. Working with Willie is a lot different than working with somebody else. Without people knowing it, maybe, we play jazz, pop, and we play some hardcore country. Musicians know it! I like to go from a funky 4 beat into a good country 2/4 in the same song. It gives it a good release, a good feel.

Also, I like to interpret the song. What does the song say? The only thing I dislike about acid rock is that it only has one level and that’s “high.” I think music should have lows and valleys and sometimes no drums at all!

Louie Bellson was the only drummer I ever talked to when I was younger. And he said, “It’s not what you play—it’s what you don’t play.” I’ve found that to be my inspiration, really. I like to build up to something loud, and just leave out that one beat. Then, maybe come back to a soft shuffle. See, I play with mallets, brushes, sticks, and I play with wooden brushes that nobody has ever heard of because I made ’em!

SF: What are wooden brushes?

PE: You take some little bitty dowels. Wooden dowels. Take about 15 or 20 and cut them off the length of the stick and glue them all together in a circle. Wrap some tape around them and file the ends off. They’re only about a quarter inch in diameter. Then you have your set of wooden brushes! I used them on “On the Road Again,” ’cause I’m playing 16th notes with a syncopated accent. I also like to play bells. I like to play bells in between the notes. I like to accent with the sock cymbal rather than the bass. Just an open sock. I haven’t seen anybody else do it, really. I got to doing that because when I first started playing with Willie we played with brushes and one stick most of the time. I didn’t have a stick in my right hand to accent, so I would just crash the sock cymbal and catch it loose, not quite tight at the top.

And I crash it with my left foot. Now, after 15 years of working with this style, I can crash it on a 16th, just before the beat. Ka-choom! And then just bring it down to a nothing. Ba-doomp.

I like things like that. I use two rhythm patterns on “On the Road Again.” I’m playing ah 1, ah 2, ah 3, ah 4, still with a four beat with the wooden brushes. Then it will go into the instrumental part. I’m trying to imagine the bus swaying back and forth while I’m playing and 1, and 2, and 3, and 4. Accenting the and on 1 and then 3 and 4. When I play ah I , ah 2, ah 3, ah 4, the accent is on 2 and 4.

The wooden brushes give a tremendous effect. A lot of times on outdoor gigs where you should use brushes, like on “Stardust,” if it’s pretty noisy I’ll use the wooden brushes. Sometimes, I’ll start out with the wire brushes, switch to wooden brushes and then go to the sticks in the middle for the instrumental part. And then go back to the wire brushes again.

SF: Were you playing the old standards like “Stardust” back in 1954?

PE: We were doing some of that. We were also doing “Perdido.” But, back
then songs like “Sixteen Tons” were the style. That was really hot. Lefty Frizzel was about the hottest thing going then. A musician had to be really diversified to play an old joint, but you didn’t have to be good! So, in one respect I came up lucky because now you have to be good and diversified also! At that time, you didn’t really have to be good because it didn’t pay any money and you were liable to show up for work and the place would be locked up. And that was no big deal either.

SF: Back then, on an average night, what songs would you most likely have to play?

PE: You had to do whatever was popular at that time. We did everything. Elvis, Dean Martin, Lefty Frizzel. My cousin, brother and myself organized a band and we did go on the road with that band. This was 1956. Willie at this time had moved to Waco, just before he moved to Nashville. So, we organized a band and we did what was sort of like Elvis rock.

SF: Rockabilly material?

PE: Well, that’s what they call it now. Back then, everybody called it rock. We called ourselves Rock & Roll Cowboys. And then we had a show called The Grand Old Uproar and that lasted about 45 minutes. Before that we’d do songs by Willie, Elvis, Nat King Cole. The good dance stuff. That’s what they wanted. The Grand Old Uproar was a type of a show. My cousin would do imitations— change hats, you know. And he had different names for everybody: Ernest Bucket, Lefty Frizzle, and he’d do their songs. He’d imitate them. I’ll tell you, if we worked as hard now with as much talent as we have now as we did back then, we’d be dynamic!

In Kansas City the other night, we were doing “On the Road Again” and 18,000 people all lit matches at the same time. It was like they turned all the lights on! Willie was really emotional. This is tears to my eyes. I looked over and Willie was wipin’ a tear out of one eye, trying to hide it, and then he got the other eye. I saw him and I remembered back when he and I were driving along in this old station wagon, pulling a trailer. We were driving and one tire had a blow out. And I just remembered that and thought, ‘Boy, this is sure a long way from that blow out.’ But, it was really living back then. For me it was.

SF: You’ve been with Willie about 26 years now, right?

PE: Yes. I haven’t been with him constantly, but we’ve been in constant contact.

SF: When did Willie decide to make it with his own material?

PE: He put the band together in ’66. We never tried to buck the establishment or anything like that. This is when Willie was recording for RCA. What happened was, we would go in to record and cut a voice track, and it would be released with 37 pieces! It would be a fantastic arrangement but it wasn’t what we were selling. We couldn’t match that on stage. We were drawing a pretty good crowd, but our record was only selling about 20,000 a year. Will does that a day on each album now. All we wanted to know was, “Can we go in and produce? Can we go in and cut our stuff?” Because at our shows people would come out and tell us, “We like to hear you, but we don’t like your records.” So, we just wanted to go in and see if we could make records. It wasn’t like we were trying to make it big or anything. We never even dreamed of anything like that. We always thought we were a success as long as we could make a living!

So, Willie said, “The hell with it.” One time they wouldn’t even release a record so Willie said, “Well, we’ll just move to Texas.”

Several record companies got in touch with Willie. Columbia was one of them. I thought they were offering too much money! At that time I think they were trying to take him off the market. That’s when we made a deal with Atlantic. We got to use our band and I got signed approval. We did two records for them, Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages. In Phases and Stages they talked Willie into using another band after we did it.

SF: Why do you think the record companies wouldn’t let Willie use his own band for recording?

PE: RCA just didn’t do that! They didn’t have to promise him any money upfront, and Willie was about breaking even. They figured if he ever hit something, he’d be good. Merchandising is all it is. At any rate, when Atlantic dropped their country office in Nashville and Jerry Wexler (producer) quit, that gave us an excuse. So, we went to Columbia and Willie now has complete artistic control. I mean, we go out and do the records; we did Stardust in three days. We’ve never taken over three days to do an album.

We don’t know what we are gonna do when we go in the studio! Alright? When we did Stardust, Willie had 80 songs. We got the lead sheets because he didn’t want to do them wrong. This is the type of a song you’re supposed to revere. That’s what we thought. That’s our thinking still! We weren’t trying to jazz them up or anything like that. No, they were good when they came out. So, Willie just wanted to make sure he got the melody straight-on. We got a hold of Booker T. and he played with us and that was a real inspiration.

Willie never tells us how to play. If I’m playing fancy he might say it’s too busy. But, like he told me one time, if I wasn’t a better drummer than he was, he wouldn’t have hired me!

SF: Let’s backtrack a moment, Paul. What was it like when you were traveling in a station wagon pulling that trailer?

PE: Well, it varied. Of course we weren’t out nearly as much as we are now. I still remember our longest route very well. We went 15,000 miles in 18 days and played 9 jobs. We started in San Antonio, to New Jersey, to Los Angeles, to San Francisco, to San Diego, back to Los Angeles, to Phoenix, and back again to Los Angeles for the American Association of Country Music (AACM) awards. The last day was from Los Angeles to Stamford, Connecticut. We had 69 hours to make it!

SF: How many of you were there in the car?

PE: There were 5 people. Pulling a trailer with our P.A. system and everything. We set it up ourselves. Amps, and brain that I worked. One microphone. One microphone stand.

SF: Were you playing Rogers drums back then?

PE: I was playing Gretsch.

SF: I imagine that life on the road is a little different now?

PE: Yeah, it’s quite a bit different, but we were having fun then. A lot of people talk about them being hard times. They weren’t really hard times. We might not have had any money, but we had enough where we didn’t go hungry. We weren’t wet. Back home, if we ain’t cold, we ain’t wet and we ain’t hungry, we classified it as a “good time.” We got a kick out of being 69 hours from that 3,280 miles. It was a challenge and we said, “Well, we’ll show ’em that we can do it!” And we had to dress in the car on the way to the gig. I don’t remember them as bad times. There are just as many bad times now as there were then. You know, I worry about Willie now security- wise. Of course most times, like Willie says, “Who hurts you worse than security?”

SF: Do you rehearse before you go on the road?

PE: We’ve never rehearsed in our lives. Even to this day. Willie doesn’t want to rehearse. That’s the reason we don’t know what we’re gonna record. When we recorded Redheaded Stranger we did not know it was a concept album until the second day. So, Willie didn’t do the songs in sequence. But, we did hold that mood for 3 days. That’s how our group cut that one, too. Willie doesn’t want you to pre-plan anything. That’s where we’re different from a lot of people because we don’t want anything planned. We want it to be spontaneous. Willie won’t have a soundtrack or anything play behind him when he appears on TV. We do it ourselves because we think that after we’ve done the songs awhile, they can improve. The only arrangement we have is what we follow from Willie. That’s how we improve it. But, if I hear him hit it one time, then the next time he does it again, I may do something with it. And if he hits it again, I may do something and then Willie may hear me do something with it. The bassman will probably hear me and then it sort of gets left in the arrangement. It builds as we play. Willie doesn’t want anything rehearsed to sterility and everybody in our band believes in that.

SF: When Willie writes new material, he just goes out onstage and surprises everybody?

PE: Oh, he does that. We did one song at a recording session just the other day. Took us two and a half days. I asked, “How do you want the ending?” Willie said, “I don’t know. Something like that.”

SF: Are you still taking care of the business end of the band as much as you used to?

PE: Yes. Well, I started out that way, I guess, because it got down to where it was just me and Willie. Just by seniority alone, I probably have been the bandleader. I make sure everything’s coming off right. We don’t believe in many titles, but if you had to put a title it would be bandleader. Bandleader and Road Manager. Whatever. But, now I have a lot of help.

I’ll say one thing for our band. Everybody in our band, except Chris who we just hired, worked in 1973 for $100 a week for a year. What’s so funny is that we owe more money now than we did then!

SF: When were you first aware that your music was catching on to a much larger audience than it had been?

PE: Well, the music was catching on almost everywhere we played. We played a place in Texas, the type of place where they have hay in the rafters. That’s their acoustics. At that time, I was wearing black suits with a long red felt-lined cape. And they called me “The Devil.” We played there on Friday night; Saturday during the day we played at the State Capitol; Saturday night we played in Austin; Sunday we played at a Country Club in Brownsville, Texas. We played the same show at every place! And we were going over! Our records didn’t represent us at all.

SF: With such a large following now. Do you feel any kind of responsibility towards your listeners?

PE: Oh, for sure. That is why I told you about the first time I’d seen Willie cry before an audience. I did, too! I was really emotional. I felt that was a moving thing. Of course, all the time the audience controls us. They always determine what we play. Many times, before we were very popular, we’d start off playing one thing, and if it was a country crowd, Willie started throwing in “Fraulein” and things like that. He makes sure he pleases. We try to please the crowd. We’ve always tried to do that. One time Willie was signing an autograph not too long ago. A policeman told him to move on. He said, “You’re gonna find yourself in jail!” Willie said “Okay.” Kept signing autographs. I ran and got the sergeant and that sergeant took that policeman and got him away from there! In Kansas City they wanted us to set up a table and sign autographs! You can’t do that, really. If it comes spontaneously, it comes. But, if you set up a table, they’ll take the table and everything! There’d be such a crowd. One time we played a place and a girl passed out and she didn’t have anywhere to fall. She stayed passed out upright.

SF: Was it a tough adjustment not playing small clubs anymore and playing the big halls?

PE: We still play the small clubs. Just before we played at the last Fourth of July picnic, we played all the old Texas joints that we used to work in. We just didn’t advertise. I mean, we didn’t tell anybody anything. We just went back and played for them and did a grand opening that seated 300 people.

SF: So, being famous wasn’t a hard adjustment?

PE: No. I don’t think I am famous. Maybe infamous! I guess I’m recognized a lot now. And I like it. There’s a price you pay for it, naturally. Like Willie said one time to this lady that was right on top of his head. It was in San Antonio and she said, “Oh, you’re Willie Nelson! You don’t remember me do ya?” And he said, “No M’am. I don’t. But, I appreciate you rememberin’ me.” I thought that was the greatest comeback I’d ever heard in my life!

SF: Newsweek had quoted you as saying that one of the things you learned from Willie was tolerance.

PE: Oh yeah. I have learned that. I used to get in fights. I still do, but now maybe it’s just twice a year instead of every week. Now, everything I do is a reflection on Willie. These people don’t really know me, and so whatever they say doesn’t really matter. If they say something smart, I just turn around, say ‘Thank you very much,’ and go on. Whereas before, I would just turn around and say “Okay mother! Let’s get it on!” I fought Golden Gloves for 9 years. I really can take care of myself. But, also I always carried a pistol. But, I’ve seen Willie ride in the back of cars when I know he’s had 2 hours sleep. And I’d wake him up and he woke up with a smile! And I know that has been a forced smile a lot, but, it did things for me. You know, I thought, “Well by God, if he can do it, I can do it!” The tolerance is for the people. A lot of people can be abusive sometimes and overbearing. And Willie will just be so kind and so gentle. In that respect I learned an awful lot.

I never took any of his heed in business, now! I think Willie’s a lousy businessman. Because he believes in people. All the people. He doesn’t believe in contracts or anything like that. Y’know, everybody isn’t that nice.

SF: As far as your commitment to the music, back in 1954, did you always feel that music was what you wanted to do with your life?

PE: Oh yeah. For sure. I had to play. It’s in your blood. Or if it’s not in your blood—it’s addictive. I had to spend less than $50 traveling or flying somewhere and back for a gig, and unloading my drums cost $40. I was working 3 nights a week and making $15 a night. So yeah! I’d say I was working for the love of it.

SF: Did you ever reach a point where you wanted to get out of music?

PE: No, I never did. That’s the reason I went to work with Willie this last time. I owned about 5 houses and a couple of duplexes. I sold them all one at a time because I needed the money to play and stay with what I wanted to do. At that time, I didn’t think it was dedication to the music, so to speak. It was just really what I wanted to do. So, it was purely selfish.

SF: And you never had dreams of becoming famous?

PE: No, I never did. ‘Course after you see people around you that do make it, you might think, “Boy, that would be nice.” But, we never did think we could really do it. We weren’t really thinking in that direction, back then. I can recall the first 500 dollar day that I booked. Took me 6 months to get another one!

SF: How do you feel about Rogers drums?

PE: Well, I love ’em, really. I already had a brand new set of Rogers, and the company gave me another set. Instead of taking them I just augmented the drums I already had. Now I’ve got 7 tom-toms, one bass drum and a few little toys that I play with. A vibraslap, a cabasa, a tambourine, and a Chinese bell tree which I’ve got mounted on a stand. I play it note for note. They’re not ‘true’ in pitch so you have to memorize which note corresponds with the other. Like, I have one of the bells that naturally has a mark on it. And I can count, like, one time I’ll start on that one, on some other songs I’ll start with the one below it, or two above it. I just have to memorize which bell corresponds down.

SF: How about your cymbals?

PE: Well, I’ve always used A. Zildjians. Rogers drums, Speedking pedal, and a Ludwig snare.

SF: Does it matter to you, really? Are you fussy about what you’re going to play on?

PE: Not as long as they’ve got good hardware and handle like these handle. It really doesn’t matter. These particular drums I’ve got, I don’t know whether they’ve aged or what, but the reason I didn’t want to take a new set is because I like the wood in them. I like the way they sound.

SF: Is your snare wood?

PE: No, it’s metal. I like the snare really crisp. I’m using a brush head, y’know, a symphony type brush head and it’s got a rough surface.

SF: You play a lot of brushes!

PE: Yeah, I do play a lot of brushes. Fastest brush in the West.

SF: Why did the band decide to use two drummers for awhile?

PE: Well, when Jody Payne had a song out called “Three Dollar Bill” we were trying to let Jody have about 15 minutes to push his song. I would come out and play behind him and the crowd was used to seeing Willie behind or in front of me. They’d always start clapping for Willie and when Jody would start to sing you could forget it! So, we hired Rex Ludwick just to sit in for Jody. And it worked fine. We were coming back from New Jersey for the CMA (Country Music Awards) awards and CBS had two sets of drums already miked on the set. I said, “Let’s try ’em together.” And that’s how we started with two drummers. But, Rex hasn’t played with us since last year.

SF: How did you personally like working with another drummer?

PE: I liked it for awhile. I think at the end we got a little too overpowering. Rex is more or less like a rock star. My theory is if I can’t hear every word that Willie’s saying, I’m playing too loud. Rex’s theory was supposed to be if he couldn’t hear everything I was playing, he was playing too loud. That came from Willie. I learned that from Willie. Sometimes I would ask him, “Am I too loud? Am I too soft?” He’d ask, “Well, can you hear me?” With the microphones, I can play brushes and they can turn the volume up. We always have the same sound man, light man, monitors, sound system, same monitor guy working on it. That helps a lot. They’ve got, I think, 13 mikes on my drums. All my drums are double-miked. They mike the snares on the top and bottom.

SF: Why double-miked? One set for recording?

PE: No. There’s just two mike’s on each drum. I’ve got two overheads and also a swinging mike for the bell tree and the toys that I play with. I like that.

SF: Do you use the same drums in the studio?

PE: Oh, yes.

SF: All seven toms and everything?

PE: Yeah. In the studio, I don’t play like I do live, because it doesn’t sound the same. It would sound terrible! Now, if you had the same crowd noise like we had in Tahoe when we did the Live album that would be different! The audience was about 90 decibels. But, in a studio, I just couldn’t play that loud.

SF: Do you use different tuning or heads in the studio?

PE: I mute them a lot. Just put tape on them and mute them. We did that Ray Price album, and that was one I really loved! I played good on that, I’ve got to admit. It was mostly brushwork. That’s one thing about playing country music or the old songs. We’re not playin’ what we heard. We’re playin’ what we lived a long time ago.

SF: Is there a history of “country drummers” that could be traced, say similar to the history of “jazz drummers?”

PE: Well, when I started out there was only one drummer of any prominence. Gene Krupa. I still have some old records that he used to do. Then it was Joe Morello, naturally. I’d like to sit down and figure out all his rhythm patterns. And now, I don’t know. There’s so many great ones now. Probably the greatest one was Ginger Baker. But, there’s so many great ones now, it’s hard to pick a drummer.

SF: What kind of music do you listen to for your own enjoyment?

PE: Usually, I don’t listen to music at home unless it’s something that we’ve done. We make a tape of every show, and that is more or less our rehearsal. We listen to it. After I’ve listened to what I’ve done I’ll say, “Well, I shouldn’t have done that there.” Or, “That’s in the way there.” When people come over, that’s when I play my records. And, I don’t like hardcore country! Or acid rock.

SF: You don’t like hardcore country?

PE: No. Because there’s nothing there. You know what I mean? I like to take out our records and listen to lyrics and sometimes the rhythm patterns.

SF: What are you listening to when you’re onstage?

PE: I listen to who’s playing the lead, and the bassman. That’s Bea Spears. The band has two bassmen now, but Bea Spears is who I listen to. We play very good together. Jody and I hit some new licks while we were playing “Kansas City” behind Hank Cochran the other night. I don’t know how it came about because I was just listening to him and it came out that way. We can never duplicate it because we don’t know what we did! You had to be there.

SF: Have you ever thought about doing clinics?

PE: No, I couldn’t. I’m not capable. If somebody asked me something, I’d answer them. I’ve always done that. Especially younger kids. But I don’t know if I’m capable enough to teach. No, not at all. I’m not a rudimental drummer. I don’t play rudiments. I did talks at a Career Day in a high school recently, if that’s what you’re talking about. About traveling in bands. I’ve done that. I did it to show what they could expect. That is what you can expect if you go out, you know. If you’re expecting to make big money, well, be a plumber, because you’re going to make a lot more money. Twenty years is not very long to be a musician. I’ve been playing music per se since I was seven years old. I’m 47 now. I usually tell them, if you think you ought to quit, and you can, then you should. I never was able to.

SF: How’s Willie as a bandleader?

PE: He’s what you see. Willie’s not the luxury type. He’s the blue-jean type. Sometimes we forget how famous he is. To us he’s just ol’ Will. He’s not the boss or anything like that. And if anybody ever messes up, all you have to say is, “Man, I’m sorry I messed up. I’ll try to do better next time.” And he always says, “Well, I can relate to that.” He doesn’t want to hear any excuses. Just say, “I messed up, man. I’ll try not to let it happen again.” I usually say, “I messed up and if I live long enough it’ll happen again.” Because it will. I want to say I like what I do, but I like what other people do, too. But I hear something different. It’s not rudiments. It’s . . . .

SF: Experience?

PE: Yeah, true. I guess it’s something like that.

SF: Could you single out any one thing that you could attribute your success to?

PE: Willie Nelson, really. The main thing. Because, of the kind of person he is. I never would’ve worked that hard for money. And then the type of music he’s playing. With Willie the first thing you’ve got to do is forget to count and start feeling it instead. Willie says the difference between reading music and playing by ear is the difference between writing a book and reading a book. At one time, Willie was classified as a musician’s entertainer. When he came out with his first record, I went down to the radio station and had them put it on an 8-track so I could play it in my car. Then I Wrote . . .had all the heavy songs on it. When I started playing with him, it was so hard! We would do things like “Blackjack Country Chain” and the sock cymbal comes down on one. And that’s all! One on the sock cymbal. And the bass drum was 2, 3 and 4. With your right hand you played a shuffle with a brush. With your left hand you hit in between the beat with a stick. I played with groups where once we started playing good, they fired us! Because it wasn’t country. The other guy I used to work for was Ray Channing. I loved him, but he’s dead now. We worked a hall one night with him and he came over and said, “What kinda shit ya call that?” But, I said, “This is where I want to be, man.” It wasn’t the money. It was where I wanted to be. Willie didn’t ask to hire me. I asked to be hired.

Willie used to come through Houston with just a bassman and he didn’t have a drummer. He came through there and was just putting together a band and I’d always go out to see him. He knew I was making a lot of money. He asked me how to get a hold of a certain drummer we both knew in Fort Worth. I said, “Shit, Willie! I’m better’n him!” And he said, “Well, would you work for $30 a night?” I said, “Damn right I would!” And that struck it off and I went to work for him. We did 29 one-nighters in a row. And that was pretty good money then. It wasn’t what I was used to making though.

I worked on a little kids T.V. show. Captain . . .something! We used to work all day. Real early in the morning and then in the evening. And it paid great money, about $500 or $600 a week. The host hated us because the union made him hire a live band. All we did was play some song while he made up words to it.

SF: So, what’s ahead for the group?

PE: Well, all that’s good, as far as I’m concerned. We’ve been working hard this year. This is the first time we’ve really had off. The last tour lasted over 6 weeks. Before that, we’ve only had as much as 6 days off between tours. And now we’ve got quite a bit of time off and I’m enjoying myself, personally.

SF: Were you working much with the movies?

PE: We worked on this last one, Honeysuckle Rose. It lasted 6 weeks. But, it wasn’t that time consuming. It was just waiting for them to get everything together. All we did in the movie was play to a live audience. A real audience. See, we promoted the gigs and everything and we charged the people to get in. That was a real audience. We promoted that outside show just like we’d ordinarily do. Like the Fourth of July picnic we promoted in Austin. They were real shows for the audience. That was the only time I really got off. But, it’s a lot of waiting before you get ready to go. That’s not good for us because we like to pick.

Willie Nelson: His own story in his own words (Country Song Roundup) (February 1979)

Sunday, February 2nd, 2020
roundup

Country Song Roundup
America’s #1 Country Music Magazine
February 1969

The Willie Nelson Story
by Judy Myers

When I was given the assignment to do a story on Willie Nelson, I couldn’t have been more pleased.  You see, I’m a big Willie Nelson fan!  Not only do I appreciate his song writing, but he’s one of the best song writers ever.  Proof can be found in the listening to such songs as “It Should Be Easier Now” (one of my favorites), “Night Life”, “Crazy”, “Funny How TIme Slips Away”, “Hello Walls”, and I could go on and on… I really “dig” Willie’s singing.  I’d just about rather hear Willie sing than anyone I can think of.

The day finally arrived and I met Willie at his office for the interview.  His manner was charming and relaxed.

“Where do I start?” Willie asked.

“Why not start at the beginning”, I said.

“In the beginning I created”… he began laughing.  Then he got serious and there followed a series of reminiscence that had me sitting on the edge of my chair, listening to Willie, who has a mind that works like a human tape recorder.  He had almost total recall of everything.  It was one of the most enchanting hours I’ve ever spent.  Now, I want to share it with you…

“I was born in Abbott, Texas, on April 30, 1933.  That’s in West Texas.  My grandparents raised us, and my daddy (Ira) was a blacksmith.  My grandparents taught music that they had learned by studying a correspondence course.  My father got me a guitar when I was about four or five years old, and I learned to play.  I guess I started writing songs when I was about eight or a little younger.  My first song was pretty bad!  My mother still has it, along with a lot of others in a scrapbook, and she says one day she’s going to publish it.  I’d sure like to have that book, but she won’t give it up.”

“When I was thirteen, I started playing clubs with my sister, Bobbie.  She played the piano, my brother-in-law was our manager and he played a broomstick.  You  know, a broomstick with a piece of shingle attached that he could beat back and forth to create a little rhythm.  He later took up playing the bass, but mostly he just hit it and swung it around.  My father played a little fiddle and rhythm guitar and I played lead guitar.  We were called “Bud Fletcher and His Texans.”  Bud is my brother-in-law.

We had a sign-on show on KHBR Radio in Hillsboro, Texas, every Sunday morning.  We’d come dragging in after playing and driving all night, making us late most of the time.  We were followed by preachers, and most of the time they directed their preaching right at us.  You know, they thought we were wicked hillbillys.

“I was a relief telephone operator there in Abbott.   We had a central switchboard and the woman who ran it liked to go out on Saturday nights so my sister or I would take over for her.  My voice was changing then and I guess they thought I was a girl.  They didn’t know I was a boy, but I sure knew everything that was going on in the county.

“My first real job was that of a tree trimmer.  We went around cutting branches away from the high tension wires.  Once my buddy was about forty feet up and needed a rope, so I took it up the tree.  Then, rather than climb down, I decided to go down the rope.  I got about four feet down and got my finger hung up.  I couldn’t go up or down, and I was too far from my friend for him to help, so the only choice I had was to have him cut the rope.  I fell down through those high tension wires and branches and I was able to get up and walk away, but I never went back to that job.

“Then I worked in a pawn shop, went into the Air Force, got out, worked as a bouncer in one of the roughest joints in Texas, (that didn’t last long, there was a fight every night, and I don’t like fights).  I got married, worked as a parts man in an auto house, trimmed trees again, formed a band and started pickin’ again, made saddles, worked in the oil fields in Texas, got married for the second time, and worked for a short time at a radio station in San Antonio.

“I went to work for Johnny Bush.  He had a band and I played lead guitar.  I asked him if I could sing, so he did let me sing some, but then he asked me to just play guitar,  I don’t think he liked my singing.  I managed him for awhile.

“We moved to Pleasanton, Texas, where I saw an ad for a D.J. job on KBOP Radio.  I had two kids by then, Lana and Susie.  I’d never worked as a D.J., but I wanted that job.  I went to see Dr. Ben Parker, who incidentally did more to help me than almost anyone.  He asked me if I had any experience and I told him that I had.  He then asked me if I was familiar with the board there.  I said, “That’s a Gates board isn’t it?  Anybody could see it was a Gates board, it was written right across it.  I told him I didn’t know that board as I’d worked on an RCA Victor Board.  I remember that’s what they had at the other station.  He’d have to show me how to use that one because they looked different.

“My test was to do fifteen minutes of news…live…the first time I’d ever been on the air as an announcer.  Then he gave me a commerical to do.  It was for the Pleasanton Pharmacy.  It went like this…’The Pleasanton Pharmacy Pharmaceutical department accurately and preciseley fills your doctor’s perscription,’ and after I got through with that, he knew I’d never done radio work.  It was the hardest commercial I’ve ever done.  He gave me the job anyway.  Then he worked with me to show me all arbout radio work.

“Dr. Ben Parker really helped me a lot.

“I worked at KBOP for awhile, and then got itchy feet.  I went to Denton, Texas where I got a job as salesman for KDNT radio.  I wasn’t on the air so I didn’t like that much.  I went on to Ft. Worth, where I worked with Uncle Hank Cragg on station KCUL.  I learned some more about radio work from him.  From there I went to KCNC and Western Express.  I was still working nights pickin’.

“Well, I got itchy feet again.  I decided we should go to San Diego.  The only catch was, we didn’t have any money, and no car.  I saw an ad in the paper where you could drive cars to different places.  I went to see them and asked about taking a car to San Diego. They said that they had a car to go that way, and they would pay for the oil… but they had to know that I could get the car there. 

They said they would have to see at least $50.00.  Well, I was down to my last $25.00, and that was that.  However, i told them I’d go get the money as I didn’t have it on me.  I went out and found a friend and asked him to let me have $50.00.  I didn’t want to borrow it, I explained about the car.  I just wanted to show it.  He let me have the money and I took it to show, and they let me have the car.  I gave the money back to my friend, but we still had to get to San Diego, buy gas and food, and only had $25.00 to do it on.  Well, we made it, but I won’t go into details about how it was done.”  He gave a sort of half chuckle.

“Well, when we got to San Diego, I couldn’t find any work. My wife got a job, and I didn’t like that much, her working and me not working.  So I decided to go to my mother’s in Portland, Oregon and see what I could get there.

I planned to get something going and then send for my family.  So I started hitchhiking with $10.00 and a suitcase.  That was some trip.  We could get a whole story just out of the details of that trip alone.  I’ll just tell one thing that happened along the way.  I got to Orange, California.  It was night time and I was tired and broke, and awfully tired of carrying that ole’ suitcase.  I found a country music nightclub, went in, and found I had just enough money for one beer. 

By buying that beer and making it last all night, I was able to stay there without getting thrown out.  When the band was packing up, I asked if they knew of anybody who might give me a job, but they didn’t.  One old boy told me to stick around for a few mintues and he would make some phone calls for me and maybe find something.  I waited and he did make the calls, but with no luck.  Then, I had an idea.  This old suitcase was getting heaver every mile, and I thought I could trust him, so I gave him my mother’s address in Portland, and asked him if he would send the suitcase to me there.  Well, I never did see that suitcase again!

“I made Portland eventually.  I got a job with KVAN in Vancouver, Washington, just across the river.  I also had my own weekly t.v. show.

” I sent for my family to join me, and things were going pretty well in Portland but…..I got restless.

“On the move again, we headed for Springfield, Mo.  On the way, we went through Denver, Colorado, and I got a job pickin’ there, at a place called “Heart’s Corner.”  The guy that ran the place rented a guitar for me, and I guess I stayed there about six weeks.  Then we were on the move again.  When we got to Springfield, I ran into Billy Walker. He was working the Ozark Jubilee at the time.  His wife and my wife had been friends in Texas, so they invited us to stay with them for a few days.  Billy even set up an interview for me with Si SImon, who was running the Jubilee.  Si didn’t seem to think I was too good, so I took the only job I could find, dishwashing.

I wasn’t too happy as a dishwasher, so I took my family and headed south to Waco, Texas.  Right after that, we moved to Ft. Worth and I quit the music business for a year.  During that time, I sold just about everything, door to door.  They even made me manager for Ameriana Encyclopedia.

“But I wanted to pick.  I went back to Waco, then to Houston.  I had, in the meantime, written “Family Bible” for Frankie Miller, who was recording on Starday, but Don Pierce wouldn’t let him record it.  When in Houston, I ran into a guy I’d known before, Paul Buskirk. I was pretty broke so I decided to sell the song, “Family Bible”  Paul, Walt Breelin and Claude Grey split it three ways and gave me $25.00 for it.

“Looking for work, I went to the Esquire Club where Larry Butler was the head of the band.  I asked him for a job, but he said that he didn’t need anyone at that time.  I aksed him if he would buy some of my songs then, for $10.00 each.  I sang him about ten or twelve of my best ones, including “Mr. Record Man”, “Crazy”, “Nightlife” and “What a Way to Live.”  He wouldn’t buy my songs, not because they weren’t good he said, but because they were too good, and if I needed money that bad, he would loan me some, and he did.  That kept me from being compeltely broke.

“Paul Buskirk had a recording studio and he offered me a job teaching guitar.  Well, I didn’t know how to read music, but he said that was okay, he’d teach me.  I got my first lesson on Wednesday, and gave my first lesson on Monday.  I always managed to stay one lesson ahead of the students.  They didn’t know any better, since I did know how to play, I didn’t know how to read music, that’s all, but I learned that.

“I finally went to work for Larry Butler pickin’ in the evenings, and I worked the Sunday morning sign-on DJ show at KRCT radio, which now has the call letters, KIKK.  Leroy Gloger was the manager there, and he fired me.  That hurt my ego, and I left town.

“I took my family to Waco, and I headed for Nashville, and the first person I ran into there was my old buddy, Billy Walker.  I sent for my family, and brought them to Nashville.  Billy took me to Starday records and introduced me to Tommy Hill.  I sang some of my songs for him, and he told me that he’d set up a recording and writer’s contract for me, but Don Pierce turned us both down.

“One night when a bunch of us were jammin’ in Tootsie’s, Hank Cochran heard me and took me to Pamper music, where I signed an exclusive writer’s contract.  Faron young had heard me sing “Hello Walls” at Tootsie’s and told me that he wanted to record it.  I was working on the road with Bobby Sykes, playing lead guitar and Faron, who was on the show that night, asked me to sing the song again so that he could learn it.  I also sang “Coungratulations” that same night, and the next week, he recorded both of them, back to back.

“I moved my family into a trailer house, and I had three kids by then.  I found out later that it was the very same trailer Hank Cochran and his wife and three children lived in when they first came to Nashville.  It was green and ugly and the rent was $25.00 a week, and it was worth about $3.00, but they were always there to collect the rent eery rent day.

“I heard that Ray Price needed a man to play bass and front his band.  I didn’t know how to play bass, but I told Ray I did, got the job, then went out and got a bass and learned real quick. If he ever knew I didn’t know how to play, he was kind enough not to mention it.  I worked for Ray for a year.

“Crazy” was doing real good then, and Billy had recorded “Funny How Time Slips Away”, I wrote it for him, to follow “Thank You For Calling”.  Joe Allison signed me to Liberty Records, and produced an album and single for me.  The album was “And Then I Wrote” and the single was “Mr. Record Man.”  I did two albums on Liberty.

“My marriage broke up about that time and I moved to Texas.  I met and married my present wife, Shirley there.  Incidentally, she was a regular on the Ozark Jubilee the time I went through Springfield, but we didn’t know each other then.

“I stayed in Ft. Worth until 1963.  After that I went to California to run the office for Pamper Music.  I didn’t like that because I wasn’t pickin’, just running the office.  So we came back to Tennessee, and bought a farm at Ridgetop, just out of Nashville.

“I had been on Monument Records in the meantime, and had a record with them, but in 1964 I signed with RCA Victor.  My first release for them was “Pretty Paper.”  I’ve had six albums on Victor, and my latest single is, “Johnny One time”, written by Dallas Frasier.  I am really sold on the song, and I think we’ve got the most commercial sound on it of any of my other records.  Were hoping that this one will make it, but if it doesn’t, well, maybe next time.

“That’s it, up to now.  I remember some things I left out, but let’s save them for next time.”

That’s Wille’s story, and the hour I spent getting it was one of the most interesting I’ve had in a long time.  there’s nothing left for me to add, it’s all been said.

Author Judy Redditt read this post and kindly responded with her own stories.

  • Judy Redditt says: This takes me back. Willie was a good friend. I really enjoyed sitting down with Willie from time to time and just talking. I wrote several articles with him, but it was the stories that weren’t published that I loved the most. The ” road stories” that had me rolling on the floor, the stories behind the songs, and the family stories. Jeannie Seely was my roommate for several years, and the only reason we stopped being roommates was that she left to marry Hank Cochran. Hank was at our apartment much of the time and he would often bring his buddies with him.

    I was always delighted when he brought Willie. They would sing and often bring out their latest new song they had written. I was privileged to hear so many of the classics in their infancy or shortly after they were finished. I loved the songs that both Hank and Willie wrote and bugged Ray Price to record them, since Ray was my favorite singer of all time. Nobody had better control of their voice or could put more feeling into a song, or sang more beautifully than Ray. It got to the point that when he came into town to record, he would call me to ” find me the songs for this album, and have them by tomorrow.”

    All I generally had to do was look at Hank and Willie’s catalogs. I picked a lot of songs for Ray, and one of them, NOT written by Hank or Willie, turned out to be the biggest of his career.   Bonnie Guitar had been in town, and we were hanging out together. She was getting ready to record and was looking for songs. One night, we were in her hotel room and Kris Kristopherson and Mickey Newberry came to sing her some of their songs.

    Kris sang a song that night that I heard Ray singing in my mind. Ray had called me a few days before and told me to be on the look out for some songs for him, he would be in the next week to record. I asked Kris for a copy of the song, and of course, he wanted to know who I was taking it to. I told him just to get it for me and I would tell him who it was for later. The next day, Kris gave me a demo of the song and when Ray got to Nashville the following week, I gave him the demo of “For The Good Times”.

    The rest is music history. I went to work for Pamper Music as P.R Directer and the company was owned By Willie and Ray Price at the time, so for the time I worked there, I had my two favorite singers of all time as my boss’. Talk about the ideal job! It afforded me the opportunity to hear Willie’s stories, and Ray’s recordings, often and usually first hand. Stories from Willie like the one about the time he came home drunk, and passed out, only to wake up to find Shirley had sown him up in the bed sheet and was beating him up with the broom stick.

    It was while I was working there that Willie’s house burned down and being frustrated that no one in Nashville would let him make music his way, Willie decided to pull up stakes and return to Texas, and to do music ” his way.” Once again, music history was made. I could go on telling stories of those days, but I think I will save them for the book I plan to write. But I will say this, I am proud and happy to have formed a lasting friendship with one of the all time musical genius’, the awesome and amazing, Willie Nelson!

Willie Nelson and birth of Austin Music Scene

Friday, January 17th, 2020

www.texasalmanac.com
by: Joe Nick Patoski

Over the summer of 1970, a loose collective of hippies, free spirits, and dreamers refashioned the old National Guard armory building at the corner of South First Street and Barton Springs, just across the Colorado River from downtown Austin, into a concert hall and beer garden.

The Armadillo World Headquarters was all about music, a shared tolerance for marijuana, psychedelic drugs, and cold beer, and like its namesake had a hard-shell interior with a docile disposition. During its first two years of operation, the Armadillo brought in a parade of touring talent who otherwise would have bypassed Texas, including Ry Cooder, Captain Beefheart, Taj Mahal, Dr. John the Night Tripper, Frank Zappa, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Bill Monroe, and especially Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.

But it wasn’t until the night of Aug. 12, 1972, when Willie Nelson walked onto the stage of the Armadillo that everything changed. That performance in front of a mixed crowd of hippies and rednecks is recognized as the starting point of the modern Austin music scene.

A vibrant music community was already in the making, articulated by several outsiders who relocated to Austin like Nelson did to make music unfettered by commercial restraints. Most prominent were Jerry Jeff Walker, a New York folkie from the Greenwich Village scene who had written a hit song about a New Orleans street dancer called “Mr. Bojangles,” another singer-songwriter from Houston named Guy Clark, whose vivid story songs had been covered by Walker, and a lanky Fort Worth kid with high cheekbones and a taste for liquor named Townes Van Zandt, considered by his peers as the purist songwriter of all.

Walker also fronted the Lost Gonzo Band. Their live recording Viva Terlingua! — made in 1973 in the old Hill Country dancehall at Luckenbach (pop. 3) withfiddler Sweet Mary Egan and a harmonica player named Mickey Raphael — set thestandard for rowdy Texas-style country rock. It was the first“made-in-Austin” album to go gold.

The Lost Gonzos — Gary P. Nunn, Bob Livingston, Michael McGeary, Herb Steiner, Craig Hillis, and Kelly Dunn — performed as the Cosmic Cowboy Orchestra whenever they supported Micheal Murphey, the flaxen-haired, buckskin-loving singer-songwriter from Dallas with the two best-selling albums in Austin, Geronimo’s Cadillac and Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir. Murphey came out of the same Rubiyat Club folk scene in Dallas where a husky-voiced belter named B.W. Stevenson from Murphey’s high school, Adamson, developed his robust singing style that led to several hit singles, notably “My Maria,” No. 9 on Billboard’s pop singles chart and No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart in 1973.

Another Adamson grad and Rubiyat regular, Ray Wylie Hubbard, was beginning to make forays down to Austin from Red River, New Mexico, where he had a music club, while another Rubiyat vet, Willis Alan Ramsey, recorded his debut album for Leon Russell’s Shelter Records showcasing a country/folk/rock songcraft so exquisite he would never make another album.

Jerry Jeff Walker frequently worked as a solo act at Castle Creek, a listening room a block from the State Capitol that showcased singer-songwriters. Walker arranged for a friend of his from Florida named Jimmy Buffett to sit in between sets before getting his own gig. Castle Creek inspired a song Buffett was crafting called “Wasting Away In Margaritaville” that would become his calling card.

A San Antonio native named Doug Sahm came to Austin from the other direction, relocating from San Francisco where his rock ’n’ roll Tex-Mex flavored band, the Sir Douglas Quintet, had gone after their 1966 pop hit “She’s About a Mover.” A homesick Sahm chose Austin over San Antonio for its tolerance of people who looked and acted different. Besides, he had been playing the city since he was a seven-year-old lap steel guitar prodigy who sang country.

Music-making had historically been a provincial and low-key affair in Austin. Scholz’ Garten, established by August Scholz in 1866 and still the home of the Saengerrunde German singing club, was the city’s oldest drinking establishment.

The abiding appreciation of folk music and traditional music could be traced to 1909 when University of Texas assistant extension school director John Lomax and professor Leonidas Payne co-founded the Texas Folklore Society. Within six months, there were 92 charter members.

Fifty-five years later, Kenneth Threadgill’s filling station and beer joint on North Lamar served as the informal meeting place for folk music aficionados, including a young University of Texas student named Janis Joplin who showed up to sing and play at the weekly hootenannies. When properly inspired and lubricated, Mr. Threadgill would cut loose with yodels in the style of Jimmie Rodgers, country music’s first star.

Willie Nelson at the Armadillo in 1972. Photo by Burton Wilson.

Before Willie, traditional country music had been largely limited to a few bars and dancehalls such as Big G’s, Dessau Hall, Big Gil’s, and the Broken Spoke, and bands such as Dolores and the Bluebonnet Boys, the Moods of Country Music, Johnny Lyons and Janet Lynn & the Country Nu-Notes, Jess DeMaine and the Country Music Revue featuring Mary Margaret Kyle, and Bert Rivera and the Night Riders, whose leader had several years road experience as Hank Thompson’s steel guitar player.

In 1970, Freda & the Firedogs, a band of like-minded college students led by a dark-haired Cajun pianist named Marcia Ball, aka Freda, tapped into the traditional country zeitgeist and started drawing an unusually strange mix of students, bikers, Mexican families, hippies, hillbillies, and old-time country music fans to the Split Rail Drive-Inn on South Lamar.

Similarly, a small clutch of white kids were drawn to East Austin to soak up the African-American sounds of performers such as Erbie Bowser, Blues Boy Hubbard, T.D. Bell, Hosea Hargrove, and barrelhouse pianist Robert Shaw at clubs including the Victory Lounge, the IL, Charlie’s Playhouse, Ernie’s Chicken Shack, and Marie’s Tea Room Number 2. The white blues kids had their own playhouse, the One Knite on Red River Street, a half block from the police station where the Storm, featuring Dallas’ Jimmie Vaughan on guitar and Lubbock’s Lewis Cowdrey on harmonica, and the Nightcrawlers, the band headed by Irving drummer Doyle Bramhall and including Jimmie Vaughan’s little brother Stevie, were part of the weekly lineup.

Mexican-Americans had their own music scenes in clubs along East Sixth Street and in salons de baile on the edge of town where conjunto combos fronted by Johnny Degollado (El Montopolis Kid) and accordion maestro Camilo Cantu and Tejano big bands such as Ruben Ramos, aka El Gato Negro, and the Mexican Revolution played for dancers.

Rock ’n’ roll bands played cover versions of popular songs at fraternity and sorority parties at The University of Texas, but by the mid-1960s, some bands began to dabble in original music, most significantly the 13th Floor Elevators, a pioneering psychedelic band led by a yowling Travis High School dropout named Roky Erickson that had a national Top 40 hit in 1966 called “You’re Gonna Miss Me” distinguished by an electric jug. The Elevators and like-minded rock bands worked in such places as the Old New Orleans around the UT campus.

By the late 1960s, Austin had its first hippie venue, the Vulcan Gas Company at 300 Congress Avenue, inspired by music ballrooms in San Francisco where many Austin musicians and hangers-on had migrated. The Vulcan was the predecessor to the Armadillo, featuring local and touring psychedelic rock, folk, and blues artists and led to the discovery of an albino blues guitarist from Beaumont named Johnny Winter, who opened for blues giant Muddy Waters. House bands included Shiva’s Headband and the Conqueroo, an eclectic folk-rock-blues-jazz group. Vulcan shows were promoted with posters created by Gilbert Shelton, the creator of the Furry Freak Brothers, and other underground artists, and Jim Franklin, who made the armadillo into the iconic symbol of Texas hippies.

Willie Nelson became Austin’s music catalyst through his Nashville connections and extensive body of recorded work, and because he represented the kind of country music the rock ’n’ rollers and the folkies were trying to project in their own sounds. At 39, he was older than the student-aged musicians and had experience with publishing and recording contracts. And while he came to town clean-shaven with his hair barely covering the tops of his ears, he adapted quickly, letting his hair grow long, cultivating a beard, dressing on stage in blue jeans, tennis shoes, and T-shirts, with a bandanna around his neck or head, and an earring in his lobe.

With bass player Bee Spears wearing a headband and moccasins in Indian fashion and drummer Paul English performing with a black cape with red lining draped over his shoulders, and new addition Mickey Raphael, an Afro-haired harmonica player who had been playing with B.W. Stevenson, Willie Nelson and band fit right in in Austin.

Nelson’s groundbreaking Armadillo performance in 1972 opened with a string of early songwriting hits — “Crazy,” “Hello Walls,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and “Nightlife” — to introduce himself to those in the audience who had never heard him before, then demonstrated his guitar-playing prowess as his band alternated sets with young country-rockers Greezy Wheels until closing time at midnight. Afterward, the show moved to a suite at the Crest Hotel across Town Lake that writers Edwin “Bud” Shrake and Gary “Jap” Cartwright had rented, where a guitar pulling ensued featuring Willie Nelson, with University of Texas football coach Darrell K Royal calling out requests and making sure the audience adhered to his rule to respect musicians and the music they were making: “If I can hear you, then you are too loud. If you wish to socialize, please go out on to the front or back porch.” Those who failed to observe the rule were asked to leave.

Willie Nelson’s first show at the Armadillo coincided with the appearance of KOKE-FM, an Austin radio station that coined the phrase “progressive country” to explain its eclectic playlist, which included Ernest Tubb and classic Texas honky-tonk, Bob Wills and the Made-in-Texas sound called western swing, Nashville rebel Waylon Jennings, as well as the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and lots of Willie Nelson, who also sang jingles for the station and played impromptu shows on the air with friends such as Kris Kristofferson. Progressive country would also be labeled as redneck rock, Texas music, and outlaw country. Whatever it was, the music sounded like nowhere else but Austin.

In 1974, Willie added television to his Austin portfolio when he agreed to perform in front of cameras at Studio 6A on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin for KLRN-TV (now KRLU-TV), the Public Broadcasting Service television channel serving San Antonio and Austin. KLRN program director Bill Arhos, producer Paul Bosner, and director Bruce Scafe secured grant money to film a pilot for a live music series focusing on original Texas music. The pilot led to the first broadcast of Austin City Limits in 1976. The series is the longest running music program on American television.

Willie would proceed to further invest in the Austin music scene by buying the old Terrace Motor Inn on Academy Street, just off South Congress Avenue, and by helping transform the Terrace’s convention center into the Texas Opera House, later known as the Austin Opry House, where he built a recording studio, before moving his operations to near Spicewood in the Hill Country west of the city where his empire included the most modern recording facility in Texas, a golf course, a western town, and condominiums.

— Joe Nick Patoski has been writing about Texas and Texans for four decades. His biography Willie Nelson: An Epic Life was published by Little, Brown & Company in 2008 and was recognized with the 2009 TCU Texas Book Award for the best book written about Texas. The article was written for the Texas Almanac 2012–2013.

Willie and Waylon

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

Willie Nelson, Texas Monthly (December 2012)

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019
texas

Willie Nelson in Texas Monthly (December 2005)

Friday, December 20th, 2019

Willie Nelson
The 72-year-old singer on growing up in Abbott, playing in public for the first time, what he listens to on the bus, and why he doesn’t hate the music business

by Evan Smith
Texas Monthly
December 2005

ES:  Could there have been a Willie Nelson without an Abbott?

WN:  I doubt it.  I’ve always felt like Abbott was a special place.  It was the perfect place for me to grow up because it was a small town and because everybody knew everybody.  Everybody there was friends or family or worked together or went to school together.  There was something real positive about that.

ES:  In a lot of small towns, everybody gossips about everybody else; there’s nothing positive about that.  But not inAbbott?

WN:  If it’s gossip that bothers you, you’re in trouble, because there’s gossip everywhere, in little towns and big towns.  I was a elephone operator in Abbott back when they had telephone exchange operators.  My sister was really the one who had the job.  Whenever the oerpators would take a vacation, they would hire her to run the board, and I would ocme in and help her.  All the time I was sitting there, I’d be listening in to the conversations going on all over Abbott.  I tapped every phone in town!  I knew everything about the whole county.

ES:  What’s your earliest memory of Abbott?

WN:  Playing in the mud and the creeks and the water and the cotton patches.

ES:  Did you have any sense back then that there was a while other world out there, and were you intersted in seeing it?

WN:  No, I didn’t think there was a lot out there for me.  I was surprised when I left Abbott that there was another world out there, because I thought we had it all right here.  In a way, Abbott was a littlebitty picture of the whole world.  You had nice people, you had assholes, and you learned to live with them and like them and work with them.  I thought it wa a good education growing up there.

ES:  tell me about the house your family lived in.

WN:  the first one was down at the edge of town.  We had a house with a well where we got our water.  We had a garden we grew vegetables in. We had a hog pen where we raised hogs and cattle.  We had a barn where we fattened up calves.  I was with the Future Farmers of America, so every year I had a project.  I loved being outside.

ES:  Big house or small house?

WN:  Very small house.  My parents were divored when I was six monts old, so it was my sister and my grandparents who raised me.  My grandfather was a blackmith. I hung out with him every day in his shop.  After he died, we mvoed to another house just a couple of blocks to the north, and my grandmoterh started teaching school and cooking in the school lunchroom.  The house wa a little bigger and a little nicer.  It was right next to the church tabernacle, so we got religous services through the summer.  We were pretty well soaked in religion.

ES:  Did it take?

WN:  Yeah.  I realized there’s a highter power.  There’s somebody smarter than I am out there, and I’m not picky about who it is.  It’s like Kinky [Friedman] says:  “May the God of your choice bless you.”  If you’ve got one, you’re all right.

ES:  You’ve been back to Abbott a bunch of times over the course of your life, right?

WN:  I still go back a lot.  I just bought another house there — the doctor who delivered me used to own it — and we fixed it up a little bit.  That’s where I spend some time every now and then.

ES:  Could there have been a Willie Nelson without a Texas?

WN:  I don’t think so.  Texas suits me so well.  I love the freedom, the wide-opened spaces.  Now, a lot of people out there might say, “That’s a load of horseshit, because I live in Oklahoma, and we’re just as crowded as you are.”  I’m sure that’s true.

ES:  Is Texas a good place to make country music, or do you have to go to Nashville?

WN:  I went to Nashville becasue that’s where I thought you went to sell your product.  Maybe it still is.  Maybe you take care of your business in Nashville becuase that’s where the store is — that’s where they pay you off, that’s where your publisher and your record company are.  In my day, Nashville was were you needed to go to get some recognition, so I did.  And then, when my house burned up there in Ridgetop, Tennessee, I thought it was a good time to go back home.

ES:  Did it every occur to you while you were in Nashville that Tennessee had become your home, or was it always just another stop along the way?

WN:  Well, I have a lot of friends in Nashville and all over Tennessee, so it really was my home for a while.  But I always thought I’d probably go back to Texas one day.  I didn’t realize it would be sooner rather than later.

ES:  Do you respect the popular strain of country music that comes out of Nashville now?

WN:  I respect songwriters and musicians probably more than anybody.  It’s difficult dealing with the record company.  You’re supposed to be commercial today and tomorrow.  That was always one word I couldn’t get along with, “commercial.”  I never could fall into any of the categories that they would say were commercial.

ES:  Was there ever a point in your career when you thought, “I need to get with the program and figure out a way to be more radio friendly or album friendly or I’ll never be successful?

WN:  Never.  I always thought that If was having fun doing what I was doing and making a living doing it, then I was already successful.  I didn’t have any idea I’d be this successful, but the first night that I made money making music, I knew that I had succeeded.

ES:  Do you remember when that first night was?

WN:  I played rhythm guitar in a bohemian polka band in West, Texas.  It was John Rejcek’s band.  There’s no way he could have heard anything I did, but I would just sit there and play, make my mistakes ad move on.  I made $8, so I’ll never forget that.

ES:  How did you get the gig?

WN: He was from around Abbott, and he was a blacksmith, like my granddaddy.  We had a lot in common, I guess, and I think he just liked me.  I grew up playing with his kids.  He had sixteen kids, and they were all musicians.  Every one of them could play horns or drums or something.

ES:  Could you ever imagine having sixteen kids in your life, Willie.

WN:  There probably would have been sixteen wives and one Willie.

ES:  Who taught you to play the guitar the first time?

WN:  My grandfather taught me some open chords and taught me to play a couple of songs.  After that, I picked it up from various people listening to the radio and hanging out with other guitar players who happened to come by.

ES:  Do you remember the first song you learned?

WN:  The first song I learned was “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”  You ever hear that song?  [singing] “Show me the way to go home/I’m tired and I want to go to bbed.”  You remember a song called “Polly Wolly Doodle”?  That was another one I learned.

ES:  How old were you?

WN:  I was six when I started playing guitar, but I started writing songs when I was about five.

ES:  And your grandfather gave you your first guitar?

WN:  Yeah.  It was a Stella guitar, from Sears,Roebuck.

ES:  When was the first time you played by yourself?

WN:  I started a band when I got to high school.  It was me and my sister — she was a junior then — and a guy named Bud Fletcher, who she eventually wound up marrying.  I had my football coach in it; he played trombone.  My dad played fiddle, and we had a guy named Whistle Watson, out of Hillsboro, to play drums.  We were probably pretty bad.

ES:  And the name of the band was?

WN:  Bud Flether and the Texans.

ES:  Why not Willie Nelson and the Texans?

WN:  I was the guitar player and the singer, but I wasn’t really old enough to go out oand book the jobs. We but Bud’s name on it because we was the front man.

ES:  Was there ever a time when you thought you would end up dong anything other than this to make a living?

WN:  I always thought I would figure out a way to do it with music.  I knew I might have to do other things along the way.  Of course, I have had to do other things.  I was disc jockey, a vacuum salesman.  I got a pretty good education in that respect.

ES:  At what point did you no longer have to do those odd jobs to make enough money to live on?

WN:  When I started playing in clubs all the time.  It was harder to do a day job as well as play six nights.  So it kind of eliminated itself. I drifted over into the nighttime and got away from the salesman stuff that you have to get up early in the morning to do.  I couldn’t do them both for very long, so I finally gave up the salesman part.

ES:  What do you like about what you do?

WN:  I love to play.  I love to play to an audience. I love having good musicians around me.  I love the fact that we travel from one place to another.  That keeps it new and fresh every day.

ES:  You’re on the road an extraordinary amount of time.

WN:  Almost all the time.

ES:  What sort of music do you listen to on the bus?

WN:  I listen to XM satellite radio a lot because I can pick it up all the way across the country.  When you travel as much as I do, satellite is the most dependable thing.  You hear a song and think, “Wow, that takes me back.”  That’s the joy in listening to traditional music.  It’s like Trisha Yearwood said in her song:  “The Song Remembers When.”

ES:  Since you mention traditional music, there ought to be a Willie Nelson channel on satellite radio, if there isn’t one already.

WN:  Well, I do a radio show on XM channel 171 every Wednesday.  They call it Willie Wednesday.  I’m on with Bill Mack, my old disc jockey buddy from years and years ago.  When he was in Fort Worth, he was the Midnight Cowboy, but now that he’s on XM, he’s the Satellite Cowboy.  A guy named Eddie Kilroy also has a show on channel 13. I listen to that a lot, because you can hear Lefty Frizzell and Bob Wills and all that good stuff 24/7.

ES:  What happened to that kind of music?  Why has it been forgotten by so many people?

WN:  The bottom line is whatever’s commercial today, whatever’s selling.  And, you know, Hank Williams is dead, and Bob Wills is dead, and they can’t make any money off of them.  They move on to somebody else.

ES:  Do you have the bad feeling about the music business that a lot of people have?

WN:  No.  You might think, “Whoever is running this record coming is going to run it into the ground and ruin music” or “Whoever’s doing all these radio stations, they’re going to ruin music,” but I don’t think so.  I don’t see it.  I know a lot of guys who are doing it a different way.  In Austin there’s Sam and Bob.  They have a radio show in the morning over there on KVET, and they play great music.  And they’re at a Clear Channel station.  It just depends on the personalities.  Some stations will play good music and some won’t.

ES:  How hard must it be to play good music?

WN:  There are a lot of politics going on with a lot of those records you hear played.  The word “payola” has been around since I can remember.  I don’t remember anybody giving me any say, and I don’t remember paying anybody any, but I knwo it happens. Payola ain’t dead. It ain’t even sick.

ES:  Does it make a difference, really, if Willie Nelson moves product anymore?  Don’t they just want to have you on their label? You must get an exemption.

WN:  I don’t think anyone has an exemption.  I think maybe there might have been a time, years ago, when they carried you for a while even if you weren’t selling, but I don’t think that’s true today.  Even with the great guys, at some point the record companies say, “That’s it for you.”  They’re pretty cold-blooded; they’ll drop you in a second.

ES:  I bet you’ve probably been dropped at least once in your life.

WN:  Oh, I’ve been dropped and drop-kicked.  but I don’t mind it.  I’m just looking for a good label. I’m just looking for a fan.  If I can find somebody in the executive branch who’s a fan, then I don’t really are what label it is. I can figure out a way to make it happen.

ES:  Am I remembering correctly that you’re about to be 73?

WN:  Born in ’33.

ES:  A lot of people much younger than you would have already said to themselves, “You know something?  I’ve had a god career, I want to sit in a lawn chair and drink a beer.”

WN:  Well, I don’t like lawn chairs, and I don’t drink beer.

ES:  So you’re not tired of this life of yours?

WN:  I’ve been home [outside of Austin] now for a few days, and I’ve had a lot of fun.  I played some golf and rode my horse, but now I’m ready to go back out and play, ‘Whiskey River.’

ES:  How’s your golf game?

WN:  I lie so much that I don’t really know.

ES:  Can you get out there and beat the average person?

WN:  I really don’t like to play people I can’t beat.

ES:  Probably the same with chess.

WN:  The same with chess and dominoes. I love to play all those games.  I’m not a horrible golfer, but you know, the really good golfers can have their way with me.

ES:  Speaking of golf, you’re about to play in a tournament to raise money for Kinky’s campaign for governor.  Are you totally on board with his running as an independent?

WN:  I like what he says about himself.  He says, “I might not be worth a dam, but I’m better than what you got.”  I’m a farmer and a rancher, and I want to see agriculture do well.  I haven’t seen any help from either Democrats or Republicans on that front.  There’s plenty of blame all over the place.

ES:  Kinky has made so many joke about what your job will be in a Friedman administration that I can’t keep track of them.

WN:  The last offer I had was to be head of the DEA or the Texas Rangers. I’m not sure.

ES:  this is not the first time you’ve been involved in politics.  You campaigned for Dennis Kucinich during the last presidential race.

WN:  Right, I did back him.  I didn’t have any idea if he could win, but we felt the same about the war and oil.  I had to go with the guy I believed in.

ES:  You don’t cut George Bush any slack because he’s from Texas.

WN:  Hell no.  Being from somewhere doesn’t give you any rights.  I don’t have anything at all against the president personally.  In fact, I understand he’s a pretty nice guy. He’s said a couple nice things about me.  I’ve got nothing derogatory to say about him, but I do think he’s getting a lot of real bad advice.  The people around him who whisper in his ear all the time?  They’re not his friends.

ES:  I’m imagining what a kid — say, six years old or a little bit older — must think walking down the street in Abbott, and here comes Willie Nelson riding his bike.  It must be a total shock.

WN:  It’s not exactly like I sneak into town.  The last time I was there, we had two buses parked in the driveway with the generators going.  I’m sure everyone knew I was home.

Willie Nelson at 80, Acoustic Guitar (December 2013)

Monday, December 2nd, 2019
acoustic guitar

photo: Jay Blakesberg Photography

Willie Nelson in Gadfly Magazine (November 1998)

Saturday, November 9th, 2019

Are there Any More Real Cowboys?

Interviews with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings
Born in a Place:  An Interview with Emmylou Harris

Willie Nelson: The Playboy Interview (November 2002)

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

The Playboy Interview:  Willie Nelson
November 2002
by David Sheff

Willie Nelson — looking exactly as we have come to expect him, with waist-long hair tied in braids, red bandanna,  jeans and sneakers — is in Honeysuckle Rose III, his tour bus, before a sold-out concert at Harrah’s Casino near Lake Tahoe, Nevada.  Nelson spends more time on the bus than he does at his 700-acre ranch near Austin, where he has a golf course and a recording studio.  He’s no homebody. After all, he’s the guy who wrote, ‘I just can’t wait to get on the road again.”

The bus, outfitted with satellite TV and DVD, a 30-speaker stereo and a satellite-modem computer, is parked in the shadow of Harrah’s.  It’s smokey inside, the result of a cigar-size joint smoldering in an ashtray, another expected feature of Nelson’s traveling living room.  (Nelson is a famous dope smoker and proponent of legalized marijuana, who even rolled a big joint on the White House roof when he was a guest of President Jimmy Carter.)As comedian Robin Williams cracked during his recent tour, “When he looks at Willie, even Buddah’s going, ‘That guy’s mellow.’”

Carter isn’t the only president to have hosted Nelson.  Though Willie proudly inhales, his fans include President Clinton and both George Bushes.  In fact, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like Nelson.  His enormously broad audience is visible when he leaves the bus to duck into a back entrance to Harrah’s.  When he walks onstage, there’s deafening boot stomping and hooting. Nelson’s music crosses most genres and has near mystical appeal to all sorts of people, typified by tonight’s crowd:  20-year-olds in ripped clothes with pierced body parts, boozed-up cowboys, white-haired retirees, aging hippies, wild-haired Hell’s Angels and buzz-cut-and-goateed entertainment executives up from Hollywood.  “Anyone who doesn’t like Willie Nelson is dead or may as well be,” according to Kris Kristofferson, a friend and frequent collaborator.

Born in 1933, Nelson grew up poor in Abbott, Texas, where he was raised in a family of musicians, including his grandparents and his piano-playing sister Bobbie (still a band member).  His window on the world was the crystal radio on which he first heard Jimmie Rodgers, Benny Goodman and gospel music.  “It was a hard life,” he says, “But we had music.”  After picking up the guitar at six, he accompanied Bobbie at church recitals and began writing poems and songs by the time he was seven years old.

As a teenager, he performed in Texas dancehalls and bars, covering songs by his heroes Hank Williams, ernest Tubb, Bob Wills and Lefty Frizell.  Before he recorded his own songs, he began selling his compositions — for $10.00 and $25.00 – to music publishers and musicians.  His first hit was Crazy, recorded by Patsy Cline.  Next came hit songs for Ray Price (Night Life) and Faron Young (Hello Walls).  Other singers had hits with his songs, including The Party’s Over, Funny How Time Slips Away, Good Hearted Woman and Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.

In the early Sixties, when he moved to Nashville, Nelson performed with such country stars as Mel Tillis and Roger Miller; and while playing bars and clubs most nights of the year, Nelson broke into the country top ten with Willingly and Touch Me.  In 1975 he released Red Headed Stranger, a masterful concept album that established him as a first-rate country artist.  The remainder of the century was Nelson’s with such hits as Georgia on My Mind, Whiskey River, Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow UP to Be Cowboys, I Gotta Get Drunk and, of course, On the Road Again.

In 1978, Nelson released a record with 10 of his favorite songs, standards line Moonlight in Vermont, Someone to Watch Over Me and On the Sunny Side of the Street.  The record, Stardust, remained on the album charts for more than a decade, Nelson had become a symbol of and hero to – as he proudly put it — “cowboys, lowlifes rednecks, hippies, bikers — hell, all sorts of misfits like me.”

Nelson’s life has been as bittersweet as a country song.  He has been married four times.  In 1990, the government sued him for tax evasion (the final bill:  $16.7 million).  Nelson blamed his tax woes on some bad investment advice, but the IRS seized much of his property and sold it.  To help pay the bill, Nelson released a mail-order album titled Who’ll Buy My Memories?:  the IRS Tapes.  He suffered personal tragedy in 1991, when one of his seven children, Billy committed suicide.  But Nelson’s family — blood and extended (including may of his band members) — remains close-knot.  Willie’s sister Bobbie plays in his band, and two of his daughters and a granddaughter run his website (www.willienelson.com), where his fans congregate and DCs and other merchandise are sold.  Nelson was once well known for his heavy drinking as well as his marijuana use.  “I’ve toned down,” he says, “but toning down ain’t the same thing as quitting.”  His friends say he is healthier than ever running, playing golf and practicing martial arts and yoga.

In addition to his music, Nelson has established himself as a champion for the family farmer with his annual Farm Aid concerts.  With his friends Neil Young and John Mellencamp and other performers, nelson has raised millions of dollars for the cause.  Meanwhile, nelson has also found time to write for and act in films, including The Electric Horseman (with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda), Songwriter (with Kris Kristofferson) and Wag the Dog (with Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman).  This year he turned author, too, releasing the Facts of Life and Other Dirty jokes, which became a best-seller.

When we decided to sit Nelson down for an interview, we sent contributing editor David Sheff, whos last interview in these pages was with billionaire Larry Ellison.  Here’s Sheff’s report:  “Nelson is unique in the canon of American celebrities because he has crossed so many boundaries.  When I said as much to him, he wrinkled up his I’ve-seen-it-all eyes and smiled, ‘I’ve fooled lots of folk, haven’t I?’  Then he let out a laugh — one of many that punctuated the interviews.

“Much of the interview was conducted on the Honeysuckle Rose at a small dining table set with a bottle of Old Whiskey River, a family-size box of Zig-zag rolling papers and filled ashtrays.  The mood was generally light, but at moments Nelson became thoughtful and somber.  They didn’t last long, however, with a twinkle in his eyes, there would follow some wisecrack and another fit of laughter.

“Indeed, when we first sat down for the interview, Nelson rubbed his hands together, ‘Most times I can’t tell interviewers the good jokes — only the G-rated ones,’ he told me.  He grinned, ‘But this is PLAYBOY.  It’s going to be fun.’  It was an opening if I ever heard one.

PLAYBOY:  Well?  Do you have a joke you would like to tell us?

NELSON:  OK.  A lady went to a drugstore and asked if they had Viagra.  The guy behind the counter, the pharmacist said, “Yeah,” and she asks, ‘Have you tried it?”  He said he had and so she asked, “Can you get it over the counter?”  He thought about it awhile and then said, “I think I could if I took two.”  [laughter]

NELSON:  There’s one more thing about Viagra.

PLAYBOY:  What’s that?

NELSON:  They say it can make a lawyer taller.  [laughter]

PLAYBOY:  Where does all this joking come from?

NELSON:  Jokes help pass the time on the road and they help get though life.  You’ve got to laugh.  I always loved a good joke.”

PLAYBOY:  If you’re always laughing and joking, why are so many of the songs you’ve written sad?

NELSON:  Those are the three-in-the morning songs.  That’s when you may feel so much like a joke.  Also, as a songwriter I’m challenged by sad songs.  They’re harder to write.

PLAYBOY:  What makes them harder?

NELSON:  I don’t know, but I can knock off a happy ditty pretty easily.  Something real — something meaningful and deeper — is harder.  You may not be feeling all that happy when a song comes in the middle of the night.  You may not be feeling so good because you had too much to drink or stayed out too late.  So the feeling might be there, but crafting it into a song is the challenger.

And, of course, sometimes you’re fooling around on the guitar and suddenly you just played a pierce of a new song and it wakes you up.  You think, What was that?  I just wrote a song. Of course, when you can’t remember it [laugh].  All those lost songs.  So the sad song may come from sad experiences, but not necessarily.  You draw on your past — the stories that you’ve heard, your friends’ lives.  If I write a song about breaking up with my girlfriend, it doesn’t mean I’m breaking up with my girlfriend.    It means I thought it would make a good song.

PLAYBOY:  But to write or sing the blues don’t you have to have lived them?

NELSON:  If they’re real, yeah.  But at the same time I wrote songs about love affairs when I was five and six years old and I hadn’t had any.  I just listened to other songs and realized I could write ones, too.  I had no idea what i was talking about even though I thought I did.  But the truth is that you couldn’t sing songs and make them believable if you hadn’t experienced the blues.  If they come across as real maybe it’s because they are real.  It doesn’t mean I’m depressed when I’m writing, though I have been there.  It’s not like I started writing songs as a way to express how sad I was.  I wrote poems before I could pay the guitar, and after I learned a few chords and put melodies to the poems.  I knew I could make a rhyme and write songs, so I never really made the decision to start doing it.  I just did it.  I thought everybody could do it.  I make records when I have enough songs to go into the studio.  then I go out and play — play the songs every night.

PLAYBOY:  You’re smoking a joint as we talk.  Do you believe pot is harmless?

NELSON:  Too much of anything is no good.  Too much alcohol, too much sugar.  I think pot is a lot less harmful than alcohol for most people.  What happens to people on pot?  They get mellow.  People who are drinking can get dangerous, but not people on pot.  People I know have quit every drug and even drinking, but they may still smoke a little pot to take the edge off.  That doesn’t bother me.  I don’t drink as much as I used to.  I dont’ get drunk anymore.  If you take a couple of sips, there aint’ nothing wrong with that.

PLAYBOY:  Does marijuana affect your memory?

NELSON:  What was the question?  [laughs]  I don’t know if it does.  I remember an awful lot about an awful long life, and I don’t know if I would want to remember any more.  [laughs]

PLAYBOY:  Do you think that there’s any chance the pot laws will be changed?

NELSON:  They may be, someday. There is some momentum at least in terms of medical marijuana.  I love that they don’t want people who are dying to smoke pot because — why?  It will kill them?  People smoke marijuana and their brains don’t fall out.  It’s not a big deal and most people know that.  I have cut down [He smokes and laughs.]  I am healthier now than I have ever been.  I run almost every day, and if the weather’s good, I play golf.

PLAYBOY:  Do you ever worry that you romanticize pot and drinking?

NELSON:  I hope I don’t.  There’s a whole thing about romanticizing the lifestyle and I agree that it can be dangerous.  Many of my heroes when I was a kid were alcoholics, which I think is a bad thing.  What are you learning?  Somewhere along the way you think if I’m going to be like Hank Williams I got to get drunk like Hank Williams.  I sure tried it and I’m glad I’m not doing it anymore.  George Jones drank.  Bob Wills.  A lot of them.  I’m not blaming Hand or anyone.  I would have drunk anyway.  Most young people do at some point.  But I admired the people who pulled themselves out.  They are the real heroes. I admire the ones who survived and got sober.  It ain’t romantic to be a drunk.  Which leads to a joke Roger Miller told me about the guy kicking tires at a used car lot. The salesman came up and asked, “You thinking about buying a car?”  The guy said, “No, I’m gonna buy a car.  I was thinking about pussy.”  That’s in my book.

PLAYBOY:  Why did you write the book?

NELSON:  Just something I always wanted to do and there was a lot of interest.  thought it would be the best to do like a daily diary or journal. Whenever I got up in the morning I tried to remember where I was or guess where i was last night and write about all that and throw in a  joke every now and then. Whatever I thought about at the moment.

PLAYBOY:  Do you keep journals?

NELSON:  Never keep them, but if I did that’s what they would sound like.

PLAYBOY:  Was it similar to writing songs?

NELSON:  Completely different, a lot easier.  Songs have to have a form to rhyme, to follow a theme, but when I write this other stuff I can go all different directions.  When you run out of something smart to say it’s nice to be able to tell a joke, which is why I told all these stupid jokes in the book.

PLAYBOY:  Is it a struggle each time you write a song?

NELSON:  It gets easier over time.  You get better at it like anything else.  You get pretty good at it and instinctively know what you have to do. One of the hardest things is keeping it within limits.  It can’t be 20 minutes long — has to be two or three minutes.  That’s the challenge.

PLAYBOY:  When you play your songs, do they bring you back to the time you wrote them?

NELSON:  Depends on whether I want to go there or not.  Sometimes it’s not that pleasant to make all those trips; sometimes you don’t want to feel it.  But sometimes you do — the songs take you there.

PLAYBOY:  Do you know how people will like any given song?  Can you predict which songs will become hits?  Do you have a sense if a song has the potential in become a classic — an On the Road Again or Crazy?

NELSON: I wish I did, but you never know.  A lot of the songs I have written –  99 percent or more — have never been heard by anyone.  I think they are good songs, as good as any.  I have written more than 1,000 songs, most of them never recorded.  The timing wasn’t right or whatever.  The songs that became the hits don’t tell the whole story.  Most songs disappear without a trace.  You never know how people will take to them, what will strike a chord.  If you did, you’d always do it.  You’d record only hits.  No one can do that.

PLAYBOY:  Do you like to listen to your voice?

NELSON:  Sometimes.  I hear me a lot, so I can get sick of it.  I listen in a different way than most folks probably do.  I am critical, listening for when I’m on key and in tune and when I’m sounding like a hyena or something.  Other than that, I just do it and don’t ask too many questions.  It works best that way.  I’m just glad people like it when they do.  I am blessed they do.  I don’t have an act.  I’m like this all the time.  I’m just me. I’m lucky if I can remember the words  If I can, that’s really all I have to do on any given day.

PLAYBOY:  In your book you recount the night when you forgot the words to Crazy.

NELSON:  [laughs]  Yeah, I did.  Never had before.  the audience always likes it when I mess up.  They think I was ripped.  I wasn’t.  Just forgot.

PLAYBOY:  Your biggest hit song was On the Road Again.  What inspired it?

NELSON:  I was asked to write a song for the movie Honeysuckle Rose by the producer, Sydney Pollock.  I asked, “What do you want the song to say?”  Sydney said, ‘Something about being on the road again.”  So I said, “How about this:  ‘On the road again, on the road again, I just can’t wait to get on the road again.  The life I love is making music with my friends and I can’t wait to be on the road again.’  How’s that?”  He said, “Something like that, sure.”  He wasn’t that impressed.

PLAYBOYHoneysuckle Rose was one of the few major movies you’ve done.  How have you chosen them?

NELSON:  You can trap me with a guitar or a horse.  Write a story about those and I’ll jump it.  I’m doubtful about anything else.  Wait.  I have a little joke.  Did you hear about the duck that went into the bar and said, “You got any grapes?”  And the bartender says, “No.”  So the duck leaves, and then comes back the next day and says, “You got any grapes?”  The bartender said, “No.”  So the duck left, then came back the next day and said, “You got any grapes?”  The bartender said, “No.  I don’t have any grapes.  I didn’t have any yesterday, and I didn’t have any the day before.  And I won’t have none tomorrow.  If you ask me again, I’m going to nail your feet to the bar.”  The duck comes back the next day, and says, “You got any nails?”  The bartender says, “No.”  And the duck says, “Well, you got any grapes?”

Sorry.  What did you want to know again?

PLAYBOY:  Some musicians complain that they’re pigeonholed in one musical genre.  You record and sing everything.  How have you gotten away with this?

NELSON:  Fooled an awful lot of people an awful lot of the time.  [laughs].  I’m lucky, I know it.  I just play music I like.  Many people can’t do that.  People are always worrying about if I am country, rock and roll, blues or whatever.  They don’t know where to put the new Willie Nelson CD in the record stores.  When I came out with Milk Cow Blues, working with people like B.B. King, Dr. John and Susan Tedeschi, they were worried that it shouldn’t go in the Willie Nelson bin in country music because it didn’t fit.  It was blues, but what about the rest of the Willie Nelson records?  Where do you put Stardust?  That ain’t country or blues.  Where the hell does my new record, The Great Divide, go?  It’s one of the reasons I like the Internet.  People can listen in and see what they think and are more likely to try new things.  A kid into rock and roll ain’t going to go hanging out in the country section of a record store, but maybe he would like a song filled away over there.  gospel, reggae, classical — whatever.  It’s why a collaborate with everyone from B.B. to Merle Haggard to Sheryl Crow.  On the new record, I’m doing songs by Bernie Taupin and Matt Serletic and Lee Ann Womack sings with me.  So do Bonnie Raitt, Brian McKnight, the Jordanaires and Kid Rock.  It’s a hell of a good time.  But it’ll drive you crazy if you want to classify it.

PLAYBOY:  After all your collaborations, is there anyone left you haven’t worked with that you would like to?

NELSON:  I would like to sing with Barbra Streisand and I haven’t done that.  Maybe if I say it enough times it will happen.

PLAYBOY:  What inspired the collaboration with Paul Simon?

NELSON:  I’d cut Graceland with Paul.  I love that song.  I know that some people think it’s strange when they hear me playing with something with Paul Simon, but I don’t make those distinctions. To me, we’re all musicians.  What’s the difference between a rock musician and a country musician?  I can relate to reggae musicians or classical musicians.  We’re all just playing music.  I’ve done it with just about everybody.  Bob Wills, Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Julio Iglesias.

PLAYBOY:  Including rapper Lil Black, who made a wild version of On the Road Again.

NELSON:  It just happened that we were all in the same place in Texas and they asked me to do a rap on On the Road Again with them.  It was fun.  I’m always interested in something new.

PLAYBOY:  Do you like rap?

NELSON:  I like some  of it, don’t like some.

PLAYBOY:  Some people criticize rap and hip-hop for violent and misogynistic lyrics.

NELSON:  I don’t like that shit and don’t necessarily want to encourage it.  But I understand it’s the way people are speaking.  Rather than worry about trying to put an end to Eminem or some other rapper, Lil Black or Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg, whatever or whoever, politicians should think about why they’re rapping.  If they are growing up in a violent ghetto, do people expect them to sing about flowers and — whatever the hell?  It’s a lot easier to try to censor some kid swearing about the poverty on the street in whatever it is than to sop the poverty on the street.  Solving problems in harder.

PLAYBOY:  Yet you try.  What brought you to the issue of the family farms and the founding of your charity, Farm Aid?

NELSON:  I started Farm Aid in 1985.  I worked on farms and ranches growing up, but I didn’t know there were any problems.  Neil Young and I were just talking.  After all those concerts, you’d think the farm situation might be better.

PLAYBOY:  It’s not?

NELSON:  It’s not.  It’s getting worse.  I always knew about farming — grew up on them.  Knew it was hard and knew that farmers didn’t always make ends meet.  Later I saw the Life Aid concert, Bob Geldof’ benefit held the same day in England and the U.S.  The money was for the famine in Ethiopia.  Everybody played — Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Madonna.  I was in a motel somewhere and was watching when Bob Dylan came out and played.  He said, “It would be nice if some of this money that’s going out all over the world could stay here at home.

Our family farmers are in trouble.”  I started checking around and learned more.  I discovered that it was a serious problem.  I was working in Springfield for the state fair and ran into the governor, who came by for a bowl of chili.  We were talking about the farm problems and he told me more.  We started talking about a concert.  The first Farm Aid show was in Champaign, Illinois.  I thought we’d do a show, raise some money and it would be solved.  I called up Neil Young and John Mellencamp and thought we would take care of the problem.  Unfortunately, things don’t work like that.  We once had 8 million family farm since the Fifties, and now we’re down to less than 2 million and we’re still losing them — losing 500 a week.

PLAYBOY:  Why are small farmers better?

NELSON:  The huge companies are destroying the environment.  We’ve seen what happens when you aren’t careful.  Look at the mad cow disease and hoof-and-mouth disease.  Small farmers have to take better care of their land, have fewer animals grazing.  We also need to stop producing genetically engineered food, another fiasco introduced by agri-business.  They only care about volume, not health, and never mind taste.  I want a tomato that tastes like a tomato, not one that tastes like a piece of — I don’t know — cardboard.

PLAYBOY:  How would you help the farmers?

NELSON:  Farmers should get fair prices.

PLAYBOY:  Does that mean subsidies?  Why should farmers be given special federal subsidies and special help from the likes of you?

NELSON:  They don’t really want subsidies.  They want enough money to make a living without subsidies.  They want enough money for their product and don’t want giveaways or welfare, but they can’t compete with the corporations subsidized by the government.  America was founded as a place for everyone, where everyone has an opportunity.  Do we want it to be a  place only fit for the rich?  I don’t.  It’s worth fighting for and that’s the American way, too. After September 11, everyone forgot what it is we’re trying to protect.  It’s understandable that we want to be safe, but let’s not lose the America we love. After the terrorist attack we’re not supposed to criticize America.  It’s viewed as unpatriotic.  But true patriotism is wanting America to be the best place it can be.

PLAYBOY:  How did September 11 change your life.

NELSON:  Like everyone.  I watched it an at first thought it was a movie they were promoting.  I hear that kids saw that over and over again and didn’t understand that it was a single attack — they thought that it kept happening every time they showed it on TV.  I didn’t like the way the news media exploited it.  No wonder we’re toughened to things like that.  We see it and don’t  know it’s real because we are bombarded with images.  Every time you see it, it starts looking more unreal.  How long are we going to exploit it?  When are we going to let it become what it was?  Are we going to learn lessons from it or keep making the same mistakes?

PLAYBOY:  What lessons?

NELSON:  Are we going to look at poverty, disproportionate wealth and the horrors in the world or ignore them?  The poorest places are the ones where terrorism breeds.  If someone wants to kill me bad enough to kill himself at the same time, there has to be a reason.  People jump all over you if you ask the question, but if someone in America murdered 10 people or 3000, the first thing we would ask is Why?

Nothing can justify the attack, but there might have been something we could do to prevent an attack in the future.  I’m not talking about giving in or negotiating with terrorists, I’m talking about looking at the complaints of people in the world who hate us.  Is it because our troops are over there?  Are we afraid to say that?  Anything else?  Our policies regarding Israel?  I’m not saying we should stop doing anything they don’t like just because  they don’t like it, but we should understand why and try to acknowledge that people in other parts of the world have rights, too. That they matter. What arrogance to say it doesn’t matter what they think.  It’s not un-American to ask these questions.  It’s un-American not to ask them.  America really stands for human rights and freedom.  Let’s apply it everywhere.

PLAYBOY:  What led to your  performance at the benefit for September 11 victims at which you sang America the Beautiful?

NELSON:  Just got a call and they asked.  Of course I would do it.  Everybody at the show felt helpless and wanted to do something.  We are still frustrated.  We may have gotten a whole lot of people, but not the ones who actually did it.  Where is Osama bin Laden?  How do you stop terrorism when your enemy is scattered in 80 countries?  At least they stopped pretending that we have won any wars.  For a while they were saying it:  We won the war, blew Afghanistan sky-high.  Big deal.  Blew up a lot of dirt. I can’t see that we have own any wars.  The information you get from the people in charge is frustrating; they lead you to believe that they don’t know any more than you know.  All the alerts — trying to scare the hell out of us — don’t seem much good.  I’m not sure what good there is to try to scare the death out of us — don’t seem much good.  I’m not sure what good there is to try to scare the death out of every man, woman and child in the country saying the bogeyman is coming.  If they know for sure, that’s one thing.  But the more times you hear them say, “Be alert,” the less alert you get.  You can only stay so alert.  When you say something and it doesn’t happen, you’ve lost the crowd.

PLAYBOY:  After the concert, some people were saying that the money wasn’t reaching the victims of the attacks.  What was your view?

NELSON:  I hope the people who deserved the money got it.  After Farm Aid, I know the types of problems you can have with a charity.  You get a lot of calls and letters asking for money.  Most are legitimate requests but some are not.  I’m sure with the millions we took in at all the shows, there were criminals trying to figure out how to get the money.  I can understand why you would want to take your time.  Maybe they took more time than anyone thought it should.

PLAYBOY:  In our interview with Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, he was particularly incensed about this issue.

NELSON:  Bill O’Reilly screams because it gets more people watching him.  I used to pull tricks like that when I was in radio.  I used to read letters from the one listener who was saying what a horrible disc jockey I was and how did I ever get into this business.  I’d get 20 more letters from listeners telling me how good I was.  I know what O’Reilly is up to.  He’s building his ratings.  He ain’t bullshitting anybody.  He would build ratings any way he could — by putting down whoever on the way.

PLAYBOY:  He maintained that celebrities who asked the public to give had a responsibility to make sure the money got to the intended recipients.

NELSON:  We did, and as far as I know it did.

PLAYBOY:  He also complained that celebrities wouldn’t discuss it on his show.

NELSON:  And help him with his ratings?  Why?  That’s one show I won’t be doing.

PLAYBOY:  Let’s talk some about your background.

NELSON:  I can’t remember.  You know, all that pot…. [laughing]

PLAYBOY:  What are you earliest memories of music?

NELSON:  I was raised in the cotton fields around Abbott, Texas.  There were African Americans and Mexican Americans and we listened to their music all the time.  I also heard gospel music, Hank Williams and whatever else was on the radio — country or jazz or blues.  There was music in my family, too, since my grandparents, who raised me, played.  They took music courses by mail.  My older sister Bobbie played piano and I got a guitar when I was little.  She played and I’d play along.  Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, When Johnny Comes Marching Home.  The first song I ever sang was Amazing Grace.  Since early childhood, we played together in church, sang in school and went around to talent contests.  Still playing together.

PLAYBOY:  After the concert, some people were saying that the money wasn’t reaching the victims of the attacks.  What was your view?

NELSON:  I hope the people who deserved the money got it.  After Farm Aid, I know the types of problems you can have with a charity.  You get a lot of calls and letters asking for money.  Most are legitimate requests but some are not.  I’m sure with the millions we took in at all the shows, there were criminals trying to figure out how to get the money.  I can understand why you would want to take your time.  Maybe they took more time than anyone thought it should.

PLAYBOY:  In our interview with Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, he was particularly incensed about this issue.

NELSON:  Bill O’Reilly screams because it gets more people watching him.  I used to pull tricks like that when I was in radio.  I used to read letters from the one listener who was saying what a horrible disc jockey I was and how did I ever get into this business.  I’d get 20 more letters from listeners telling me how good I was.  I know what O’Reilly is up to.  He’s building his ratings.  He ain’t bullshitting anybody.  He would build ratings any way he could — by putting down whoever on the way.

PLAYBOY:  He maintained that celebrities who asked the public to give had a responsibility to make sure the money got to the intended recipients.

NELSON:  We did, and as far as I know it did.

PLAYBOY:  He also complained that celebrities wouldn’t discuss it on hs show.

NELSON:  And help him with his ratings?  Why?  That’s one show I won’t be doing.

PLAYBOY:  Let’s talk some about your background.

NELSON:  I can’t remember.  You know, all that pot…. [laughing]

PLAYBOY:  What are you earliest memories of music?

NELSON:  I was raised in the cotton fields around Abbott, Texas.  There were African Americans and Mexican Americans and we listened to their music all the time.  I also heard gospel music, Hank Williams and whatever else was on the radio — country or jazz or blues.  There was music in my family, too, since my grandparents, who raised me, played.  They took music courses by mail.  My older sister Bobbie played piano and I got a guitar when I was little.  She played and I’d play along.  Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, When Johnny Comes Marching Home.  The first song I ever sang was Amazing Grace.  Since early childhood, we played together in church, sang in school and went around to talent contests.  Still playing together.

PLAYBOY:  When did you begin to write songs?

NELSON:  I wrote poems before I wrote songs and then I put them to music.  My first guitar had strings so far off the fretts that they made my fingers bleed, but I played all the time.

PLAYBOY:  When did you have your first professional gig?

NELSON:  I played around when I was pretty young, playing some of the roughest joints anywhere.  The best was the Bloody Bucket in West Texas when we carried pistols in our guitar cases.  I went from Texas to Tennessee, Nashville, to try to break into the business.  I was writing songs but it wasn’t until I went back to Texas that I found an audience for what I was doing.  Sold my first songs.  I got $50 for Family Bible and $100 for Night Life.  It was lie getting a million bucks.

PLAYBOY:  Who was coming to see your shows?

NELSON:  It changed over time.  The audience for country music was changing, expanding.  I had grown my hair and was playing just when the hippie redneck thing was a big deal in Texas.  The long-haired hippies over here liked country music by Hank Williams and Waylon and other people, and the old redneck cowboys liked the same thing.  I sort of put them together with Red Headed Stranger, which was the first big success I ever had.  Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain was a single that did well, too.  The look I had until then was me trying to look like I was supposed to look:  putting on a suit and tie and short hair.  There was a show business look and I tried to do it, but I never felt comfortable.  It took a while for me to figure out exactly who I was.

PLAYBOY:  What inspired Stardust?

NELSON:  There were more pop songs being brought into country music and more strings and more arrangements.  It was just an idea.  I wanted to bring back Stardust, All of Me and those songs.  I played them in clubs and people liked them.  It didn’t matter that they weren’t so-called country music.  It’s just music and those are beautiful songs.

PLAYBOY:  Were you surprised by the success?

NELSON:  Of course.  All I ever wanted was to make a living playing music.  I did that pretty young.  I wanted to be like Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams, my heroes.  The rest is gravy.  Good gravy, I admit.

PLAYBOY:  Where did you meet Waylon Jennings?

NELSON:  In Phoenix one night in a club.  He was at an all-night cafe.  He’d been playing over in another club, and we started talking and found out that we were both from Texas.  We became good friends. I miss him, but he’ll aways be around.  we wrote Good Hearted Woman together.  What a great man, a good friend.

PLAYBOY:  When you play his songs do you miss him?

NELSON:  Sure.  It takes some time when your friend dies.  You want to hear a joke?

PLAYBOY:  Are jokes your way of dealing with emotion?

NELSON:  Maybe.  Hell, I deal with them.  I been dealing with them all my life.  Do you want to hear a joke, or not?

PLAYBOY:  Why not.

NELSON:  A man and a woman who had been married forever were having breakfast and the wife said, “Honey, do you remember our wedding night when we were sitting here 50 years ago?  Afterward, we were sitting at this same breakfast table without any clothes on.”  He said, “Yeah,” and she said, “Do you think we could do that again?  Sit here without clothes on?  “I guess so,” he said.  So they took off their clothes and she said, “Honey, my nipples are just as hot for you today as they were 50 years agao,” and he said, “I don’t doubt it, since one’s hanging in the oatmeal and the other’s in the coffee.”

PLAYBOY:  Is it tough to be reaching an age when you’re friends pass away?

NELSON:  You got another choice?  Sign me up.  You just keep breathing and that is all you can do.  And there’s a lot to be grateful for and a lot to be excited about.  I mean to see the changes in the world — not only the bad ones, but also the good ones.  Look at the Internet.  Now we’re communicating with people around the world without having to go through a record company or publicity machine.  We’re sending songs out in digital form.  Amazing sit.

PLAYBOY:  Part of sending songs out on the Net has raised controversy about copyrights.  Are you concerned?

NELSON:  I think it’s all good.  I’m for the people and this is giving them a new way to listen to music.  It’s good for artists, too, especially artists just breaking out because it’s a way to get heard even if they haven’t been signed by a big label.  This doesn’t mean I don’t want to get paid for my work, but I do all right.  Things are shaking out and the internet may work like the radio or something so artists get their royalties.  I’m not worried.  I put samples of songs on the web all the time.  You ain’t gonna hear this stuff on the radio.  They’ll sort it all out — royalties, whether you’re gonna have to pay takes on the Internet, or not.

PLAYBOY:  Taxes must be a sore subject for you after your widely publicized IRS audit.

NELSON:  The Internal Revenue Service.

PLAYBOY:  Which in 1990 presented you with a bill for tens of million of dollars.

NELSON:  An impressive sum.  I got an official letter.  I owe what?  We knew it was coming, actually.  It was happening to other people who invested in the same things I invested in — these shelters we were sold on — and we were told to expect it.  They seized everything I had.  I was angry, of course.  Especially angry at the people who advised me and got me into the mess.

PLAYBOY:  Were you thumbing your note at the IRS by releasing The IRS Tapes?

NELSON:  I was just trying to test their sense o f humor.  I suppose I actually heard that they thought it was pretty funny.  The funniest part was that it was the best promotion of an album I ever had.  People heard about it every where.  The more people heard about my troubles, the more they came out to help.  I got phone calls and letters from people wanting to do everything you can think of.  At shows, people would try to give me money.  Friends bought my stuff so I could buy it back form them.

PLAYBOY:  What lessons did you learn from your IRS debacle?

NELSON:  A couple of things.  First, not to trust other people with things that are your responsibility.  I just didn’t want to know and I let people make decisions and nodded, thinking, I’m just playing music.  “You deal with this other shit.”  That was a mistake and I want to know what people are doing in my name and with my money or anything else.  Second, it made me think clearer about what I really want in my life, what I need.  You can caught up thinking you need a lot more than you do. Then it can be like a weight on you, keeping you down.  The IRS didn’t mean to do me a favor, but in a  way they did.  They helped me clean house.  I didn’t need all that stuff anyway.

PLAYBOY:  Stuff like?

NELSON:  Stuff like a jet.  That’s what can happen and then you have all this shit and think, Now I have to pay the bills.  I prefer the bus anyway.  Everybody thinks it was this hell in my life, but it wasn’t.  It was just something I had to get through.  There has been worse.

PLAYBOY:  Presumably the worst was when your son Billy passed away.

NELSON:  That was the worst.  Everything is insignificant when you have to face something like that.  Billy’s with us though.  That’s the way I feel about it.

PLAYBOY:  After four marriages, have you given any thought to a fifth?

NELSON:  My lifestyle isn’t conducive to marriage  It took four times because I guess I’m a slow learner.  Maybe they don’t like my sense of humor.  Still, every one I was married to was a wonderful woman.  My lifestyle’s a little hard.  I’m on the road so much.

PLAYBOY:  Did you miss anything because of all the miles you’ve logged?

NELSON:  Did I miss anything?  I’m sure I did.  But if I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d do it exactly the same.  Wrong or right, it’s my life.  Sounds like a song, doesn’t it?

PLAYBOY:  When did you begin to write songs?

NELSON:  I wrote poems before I wrote songs and then I put them to music.  My first guitar had strings so far off the fretts that they made my fingers bleed, but I played all the time.

PLAYBOY:  When did you have your first professional gig?

NELSON:  I played around when I was pretty young, playing some of the roughest joints anywhere.  The best was the Bloody Bucket in West Texas when we carried pistols in our guitar cases.  I went from Texas to Tennessee, Nashville, to try to break into the business.  I was writing songs but it wasn’t until I went back to Texas that I found an audience for what I was doing.  Sold my first songs.  I got $50 for Family Bible and $100 for Night Life.  It was lie getting a million bucks.

PLAYBOY:  Who was coming to see your shows?

NELSON:  It changed over time.  The audience for country music was changing, expanding.  I had grown my hair and was playing just when the hippie redneck thing was a big deal in Texas.  The long-haired hippies over here liked country music by Hank Williams and Waylon and other people, and the old redneck cowboys liked the same thing.  I sort of put them together with Red Headed Stranger, which was the first big success I ever had.  Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain was a single that did well, too.  The look I had until then was me trying to look like I was supposed to look:  putting on a suit and tie and short hair.  There was a show business look and I tried to do it, but I never felt comfortable.  It took a while for me to figure out exactly who I was.

PLAYBOY:  What inspired Stardust?

NELSON:  There were more pop songs being brought into country music and more strings and more arrangements.  It was just an idea.  I wanted to bring back Stardust, All of Me and those songs.  I played them in clubs and people liked them.  It didn’t matter that they weren’t so-called country music.  It’s just music and those are beautiful songs.

PLAYBOY:  Were you surprised by the success?

NESLON:  Of course.  All I ever wanted was to make a living playing music.  I did that pretty young.  I wanted to be like Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams, my heroes.  The rest is gravy.  Good gravy, I admit.

PLAYBOY:  Where did you meet Waylon Jennings?

NELSON:  In Phoenix one night in a club.  He was at an all-night cafe.  He’d been playing over in another club, and we started talking and found out that we were both from Texas.  We became good friends. I miss him, but he’ll always be around.  we wrote Good Hearted Woman together.  What a great man, a good friend.

PLAYBOY:  When you play his songs do you miss him?

NELSON:  Sure.  It takes some time when your friend dies.  You want to hear a joke?

PLAYBOY:  Are jokes your way of dealing with emotion?

NELSON:  Maybe.  Hell, I deal with them.  I been dealing with them all my life.  Do you want to hear a joke, or not?

PLAYBOY:  Why not?

NELSON:  A man and a woman who had been married forever were having breakfast and the wife said, “Honey, do you remember our wedding night when we were sitting here 50 years ago?  Afterward, we were sitting at this same breakfast table without any clothes on.”  He said, “Yeah,” and she said, “Do you think we could do that again?  Sit here without clothes on?  “I guess so,” he said.  So they took off their clothes and she said, “Honey, my nipples are just as hot for you today as they were 50 years ago,” and he said, “I don’t doubt it, since one’s hanging in the oatmeal and the other’s in the coffee.”

PLAYBOY:  Is it tough to be reaching an age when you’re friends pass away?

NELSON:  You got another choice?  Sign me up.  You just keep breathing and that is all you can do.  And there’s a lot to be grateful for and a lot to be excited about.  I mean to see the changes in the world — not only the bad ones, but also the good ones.  Look at the Internet.  Now we’re communicating with people around the world without having to go through a record company or publicity machine.  We’re sending songs out in digital form.  Amazing shit.

PLAYBOY:  Part of sending songs out on the Net has raised controversy about copyrights.  Are you concerned?

NELSON:  I think it’s all good.  I’m for the people and this is giving them a new way to listen to music.  It’s good for artists, too, especially artists just breaking out because it’s a way to get heard even if they haven’t been signed by a big label.  This doesn’t mean I don’t want to get paid for my work, but I do all right.  Things are shaking out and the internet may work like the radio or something so artists get their royalties.  I’m not worried.  I put samples of songs on the web all the time.  You ain’t gonna hear this stuff on the radio.  They’ll sort it all out — royalties, whether you’re gonna have to pay takes on the Internet, or not.

PLAYBOY:  Taxes must be a sore subject for you after your widely publicized IRS audit.

NELSON:  The Internal Revenue Service.

PLAYBOY:  Which in 1990 presented you with a bill for tens of million of dollars.

NELSON:  An impressive sum.  I got an official letter.  I owe what?  We knew it was coming, actually.  It was happening to other people who invested in the same things I invested in — these shelters we were sold on — and we were told to expect it.  They seized everything I had.  I was angry, of course.  Especially angry at the people who advised me and got me into the mess.

PLAYBOY:  Were you thumbing your nose at the IRS by releasing The IRS Tapes?

NELSON:  I was just trying to test their sense of humor.  I suppose I actually heard that they thought it was pretty funny.  The funniest part was that it was the best promotion of an album I ever had.  People heard about it everywhere.  The more people heard about my troubles, the more they came out to help.  I got phone calls and letters from people wanting to do everything you can think of.  At shows, people would try to give me money.  Friends bought my stuff so I could buy it back from them.

PLAYBOY:  What lessons did you learn from your IRS debacle?

NELSON:  A couple of things.  First, not to trust other people with things that are your responsibility.   I just didn’t want to know and I let people make decisions and nodded, thinking, I’m just playing music.  “You deal with this other shit.”  That was a mistake and I want to know what people are doing in my name and with my money or anything else.  Second, it made me think clearer about what I really want in my life, what I need.  You can caught up thinking you need a lot more than you do. Then it can be like a weight on you, keeping you down.  The IRS didn’t mean to do me a favor, but in a  way they did.  They helped me clean house.  I didn’t need all that stuff anyway.

PLAYBOY:  Stuff like?

NELSON:  Stuff like a jet.  That’s what can happen and then you have all this shit and think, Now I have to pay the bills.  I prefer the bus anyway.  Everybody thinks it was this hell in my life, but it wasn’t.  It was just something I had to get through.  There has been worse.

PLAYBOY:  Presumably the worst was when your son Billy passed away.

NELSON:  That was the worst.  Everything is insignificant when you have to face something like that.  Billy’s with us though.  That’s the way I feel about it.

PLAYBOY:  After four marriages, have you given any thought to a fifth?

NELSON:  My lifestyle isn’t conducive to marriage.  It took four times because I guess I’m a slow learner.  Maybe they don’t like my sense of humor.  Still, every one I was married to was a wonderful woman.  My lifestyle’s a little hard.  I’m on the road so much.

PLAYBOY:  Did you miss anything because of all the miles you’ve logged?

NELSON:  Did I miss anything?  I’m sure I did.  But if I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d do it exactly the same.  Wrong or right, it’s my life.  Sounds like a song, doesn’t it?

Willie Nelson, Fit Magazine (November 2012)

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019
Austinfit

www.austinculture.com

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 www.austinfitmagazine.com.