Do you know how much we love you? Let me count the ways.
You were a vital part of the soundtrack to our childhood. Your deep, soulful sound still reminds me of road trips to the lake, and evenings spent dancing at our ranch.
It seemed almost destined that we would meet in San Antonio–Texas a place we both adore–on Valentine’s week.
Thanks for hosting me in Honeysuckle Rose (your bus!). Talking with you about your childhood in Abbot, Texas; the music you have written, friends you lost this year (Merle Haggard and Leon Russel). It was everything I had hoped it would be.
And your show! Your music, your voice still as good as when I saw you 15-years-ago. You made one homesick Texan, very. Very. Happy
“Jenna, the younger sister — by a minute — is an editor-at-large of the magazine, as well as a “Today” correspondent.
On Friday’s show, she shared her own praise for her big sister.
“They (wrote) ‘She greets everyone with her warm smile and those bright blue eyes.’ And I said, ‘Anyone who meets Barbara adores her,’” she said.
The NBC correspondent also dished that despite her city living, she is raising her children with strong Southern values.
“I want my kids to be kind. I want them to put others before themselves,” she said.
Hager has two daughters, Margaret and Poppy.
“I also want them to know about Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers and Johnny Cash – of course Aunt Dolly. We always dance around the house to Dolly Parton,”
Driving into Willie Nelson’s ranch, off Highway 71 northwest of Austin, is like driving onto a movie set. Actually, it is a movie set; it’s been used in commercials, films, and TV spots. Cars leave dusty clouds behind as they wind around dirt roads right into the middle of an Old West town, a “main street” complete with saloon, church, and other buildings as well as corrals of horses. Inside the saloon, the wooden floorboards are uneven in places—they probably make a cool cowboy noise with your steps if you wear boots. But running shoes navigate the terrain just as well, which is what Willie Nelson had on, with workout shorts and a tee shirt, as he and his wife, Annie, welcomed guests into the saloon. A bar runs along one side, with a large flat-screen TV at the opposite end where FOX news was on but muted. The walls are decorated with old posters and photos, many signed by the legends in the photos with Nelson. In addition to a pool table, there is a round poker table, with chips and cards at the ready. Comfortable swivel chairs—on wheels that can get stuck in the uneven floorboards—surround the table. Nelson leans back in one and Annie perches on a bar stool behind him.
A few weeks prior to visiting with Austin Fit Magazine, Nelson had had to leave Colorado where he was on tour.
“Oh [my health is] all right,” he said. “I smoked cigarettes. I drank quite a bit. Emphysema.”
“You go up to altitude,” Annie interjected.
“And I woke up and I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “But other than that I’m in pretty good shape.” At 79, Nelson is a second degree black belt in tae kwon do.
“I ran to stay in shape,” he said. “You remember Charles Atlas and dynamic tension; it’s what Bruce Lee does. So I noticed a comparison between mental, physical, spiritual evolution. I think martial arts are one of the best things a person can get into. Back in Nashville, I got into kung fu; kicking and gauging. We used to go out and sign up kids to take kung fu lessons. It was a heck of a lot of fun.”
In terms of diet, the Nelsons “eat clean” and get their food from local farmers’ markets when they are on the road.
“I eat six times a day,” he said. He eats bacon, eggs, and potatoes.
“Look, it actually works,” Annie said. “It matters that it’s clean.” She makes a point to know the source of the foods they eat, rather than just buying whatever is in a store.
“The food that turns into energy,” Nelson said. “I grew up on eggs and potatoes. I can get by on [that]. If there’s some greens out there, that’s good. But that’s what I eat. Biscuits and gravy if you’ve got it.”
“For 25 years, Farm Aid has been [helping local farmers],” said Nelson, wasting no time diving into the subject he and his wife are passionate about. “And we’re still losing a lot of farms. At one time we had eight million family farmers; now we’ve got less than a half a million.” Nelson said the change is mostly in the Farm Belt, an area generally defined as the Midwest and central plains of the United States.
The family farmers are struggling because of the drought and because of the competition from what Annie Nelson termed “industrial ag.”
“Look at your food in the morning for breakfast,” Nelson said. “Most everything you’re eating came from 1,500 miles away when it could have been grown right over there. Get a local farmer to grow your bacon and eggs and your chickens, whatever you need in your garden. But trucking it 1,500 miles does a lot of damage to the environment and the price and everything. So sustainable, local agriculture is what Annie’s involved in a lot, and us too.”
“The U.S. is the only place that doesn’t have some sort of ban on GMO or control over GMO or labeling on GMO,” Annie said. (GMO is the acronym for genetically modified organism). “They have a terminator seed…they’ve patented something that’s a plant,” she said, referring to Monsanto, the herbicide and seed conglomerate.
“A farmer can’t keep his seeds from this year and use them again next year like he used to,” Nelson said. In addition to the genetically modified seeds which the company prohibits customers from saving from year to year, Monsanto, an American multinational agricultural biotechnology company, also makes pesticides which, according to Nelson, farmers are required to use.
“If I’m a farmer and I go to the bank and I want to borrow some money to do my crop next year, they’ll say, ‘Well, okay, but you’ve got to put so much pesticide, so much chemical, so much fertilizer on each acre or we’re not going to loan you the money. That way we know you’re going to get enough yield to pay us back.’”
“It’s really wrong,” Annie said, referring to Monsanto’s seed patent protection practices. She referenced the famous case of Percy Schmeiser v Monsanto which has become the iconic story of an agricultural David versus Goliath. Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer, was sued by Monsanto for having used their seeds without paying for them. Schmeiser held that the seeds had blown over from another farm; he had always been an organic farmer and not only didn’t use GMO seeds, he didn’t want them contaminating his fields. Over a decade later, after an appellate court battle, instead of paying Monsanto the $400,000 they said he owed, Monsanto paid him $660, which was the cost of removing Monsanto’s “Roundup ready” canola oil seeds from his land.
On its website, Monsanto has a page titled “Why Does Monsanto Sue Farmers who Save Seeds?” The company states that, “Since 1997, we have only filed suit against farmers 145 times in the United States.” The statement points out that Monsanto has patented seeds and “spends more than $2.6 million per day in research and development.” The statement continues with tautological explanations of the link between a company’s patents and revenue.
Monsanto has developed a seed that is resistant to Roundup, a powerful herbicide also sold by Monsanto. According to a June 2003 article in Scientific American, “Until now, most health studies have focused on the safety of glyphosate [the active ingredient in Roundup], rather than the mixture of ingredients found in Roundup. But in the new study, scientists found that Roundup’s inert ingredients amplified the toxic effect on human cells—even at concentrations much more diluted than those used on farms and lawns.“
“It went from weaponry to the food we eat,” said Ronda Rutledge, Executive Director of the Sustainable Food Center in Austin. Rutledge was commenting on Monsanto, a maker of Agent Orange, which, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, is “a blend of tactical herbicides the U.S. military sprayed from 1962 to 1971 during Operation Ranch Hand in the Vietnam War to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover.”
“The manufacturing companies [making Agent Orange] included Diamond Shamrock Corporation, Dow Chemical Company, Hercules, Inc., T-H Agricultural & Nutrition Company, Thompson Chemicals Corporation, Uniroyal Inc. and Monsanto Company, which at the time was a chemical manufacturer. Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange from 1965 to 1969,” according to Monsanto’s website.
The big issue, and the focus of worldwide “Occupy Monsanto” events in September 2012, is about labeling GMO foods. Proposition 37 (read the text at www.carighttoknow.org/read_the_initiative) is on the November 6 ballot in California and is being watched very closely by farmers, grocers, and consumers around the country because, as Rutledge said, “Many times, as California goes, so goes the country.” Her question, and the question of many organic and sustainable farm advocates and health-conscious consumers is, “If [GMO foods] aren’t bad, then why not tell us what’s in [them]?”
The battle heated up over the summer with Monsanto spending $4.2 million to defeat California’s Proposition 37, according to Truthout, a nonprofit organization “dedicated to providing independent news and commentary on a daily basis.” The Sacramento Bee newspaper characterized the situation as “a battle between organic farmers and food manufacturers on one side and, on the other, conventional grocery store brands and the biotech companies that make some of their ingredients.” The paper listed parent companies for Cheerios, Chef Boyardee, Nestle, Coke, and Pepsi, as well as Monsanto, DuPont, and Bayer that make pesticides and genetically modified seeds as those on the “no” side that had raised $32.5 million. On the organic side, the paper listed manufacturers including Lundberg’s, Nature’s Path, Clif Bar, and Amy’s Kitchen who have raised $4.3 million in support of the proposition. Whole Foods endorsed the proposition, but most grocery stores are opposed. It is a heated topic.
“I’m not willing to kill my child,” said Annie. “It’s not just low energy [food], it’s toxic. I need to know [what’s in the food I feed my family]. It’s still not okay. It seems to be more expensive [to buy organic produce]. … As long as it’s poor people, there will be poor kids dying. We need to force [GMO producers] to label the fruit,” Annie said. “When you educate people, they don’t mind spots on their [organic] food. Why would you give your kid a piece of fruit that even a bug wouldn’t want to eat?”
In addition to their opposition of GMOs and “industrial ag,” the Nelsons are also active in supporting alternatives to petroleum and petrochemical-based products. Their buses and trucks run on biodiesel.
“The diesel engine was invented to run on peanut oil,” Annie explained. “It was modified to be able to use petroleum-based diesel fuel.” They get their biodesel from a variety of sources. “We get it from restaurants,” she said. “We haul it back to the plant.” The oil used in fryers at restaurants can be used for biodiesel fuel rather than being thrown out after use. “That oil would end up in landfills or animals.”
“There’s no need to go around starting wars for oil,” Nelson said.
Nelson has formed Willie Nelson Biodiesel Company to distribute his own blend of biodiesel fuel called BioWillie. It’s available at various locations in Texas and along the Eastern Seaboard.
“We’re talking about doing something on the Lincoln highway, 180, as you move from San Francisco to New York,” he said. “The government wants to make that a biodiesel highway. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway and they’re trying to do the whole highway with alternative fuel, which is a great idea. And build plants along the way. They have the government supporting that so we’re going to do a tour there. We’re going to get Neil Young to start it out in San Francisco and bring it on. And we’ll get Jimmy Johnson or Luke [Bryan] somewhere along the way. Vegas along the way. We’ll do a final one in either New York or Washington and promote the whole thing with biodiesel.”
“The Obama administration facilitated it,” Annie said. “This has been a while, so now from Times Square to Lincoln Park in San Fancisco you can get a minimum of B20 on a trip.”
“We’re trying to coordinate it with my 80th birthday,” Nelson said, “which is April 30 next year. Somewhere along the way we’ll do a birthday bash, try to tie it all together.
Nelson is known for his support of hemp, and he notes that drafts of the Declaration of Independence were likely written on hemp. Much of the paper used in the 18th century was made of hemp, as well as sails, rope, and many other products.
“Anything that used to be made of hemp is now made out of chemicals,” he said. “There’s a huge push and drive in the States to bring back hemp. You can buy the material. You can bring the seed. There’s a huge market we’re not getting any money from, and it’s not just the drug. There’s a lot more involved.”
In addition to his music and activism, Willie Nelson has written a new memoir which will hit shelves November 13, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, from William Morris Publishers.
What would Willie like Austin Fit Magazine readers to know? “Family farmers kick ass. Find your farmer, not sharecroppers that grow for Monsanto.”
Published on Nov 1, 2012
Austin Fit Magazine joins Willie Nelson on his ranch off of HWY 71.
Read the article: Fighting for Farmers, (Bio) Fuel, and Hemp, Willie Nelson is Still Rolling http://ow.ly/eWxEw
“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!”
For the first time in almost three years, Willie Nelson will release a collection of all-new material. God’s Problem Child, out April 28th, the day before the Country Music Hall of Famer turns 84 years old, includes seven songs co-penned by Nelson and his longtime collaborator and producer, Buddy Cannon. Closing the album is “He Won’t Ever Be Gone,” written by Gary Nicholson as a tribute to the country legend’s longtime friend and frequent singing partner, Merle Haggard.
The LP’s title cut, co-written by Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White, includes vocals by both writers as well as Leon Russell, marking one of the musician’s final recordings before his death last November. In addition to recording together, Russell was the first person to affix his signature to “Trigger,” Nelson’s ubiquitous guitar.
The album’s opening cut, “Little House on the Hill,” was written by Lyndel Rhodes, Buddy Cannon’s 92-year-old mother. When video featuring Rhodes hearing Nelson sing her song for the first time hit the Internet last fall, it immediately went viral and has since racked up nearly one million views. Watch the video below.
Last month, Nelson shared the lyrics of another of the album’s tracks, the politically motivated “Delete and Fast Forward,” quoting a portion of the song’s chorus during a conversation with Rolling Stone:
“Delete and fast-forward, my friend/
The elections are over and nobody wins/
But don’t worry too much, you’ll go crazy again/
Delete and fast forward, my friend.”
He also jokes that the idea for a tune called “Still Not Dead” came from the fact that he is still not dead.
“I got up two or three times in the last couple of years and read the paper where I’d passed away,” he says. “So I just wanted to let ’em know that’s a lot of horseshit.”
The release of God’s Problem Child, which will be available on CD, 12″ vinyl LP and digitally, will be accompanied by the opportunity to packages that will include music, t-shirts and more, available via www.pledgemusic.com/willienelson.
The 11-time Grammy winner is nominated for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin. The Grammys air live February 12th on CBS.
God’s Problem Child track listing and songwriter credits:
1. “Little House on the Hill” (Lyndel Rhodes)
2. “Old Timer” (Donnie Fritz/Lenny LeBlanc)
3. “True Love” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
4. “Delete and Fast Forward” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
5. “A Woman’s Love (Mike Reid/Sam Hunter)
6. “Your Memory Has a Mind Of Its Own” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
7. “Butterfly” (Sonny Throckmorton/Mark Sherrill)
8. “Still Not Dead” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
9. “God’s Problem Child” (Jamey Johnson/Tony Joe White)
10. “It Gets Easier” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
11. “Lady Luck” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
12. “I Made a Mistake” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
13. “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” (Gary Nicholson)
September 1, 1980
by: Cheryl McCall
Before he ever imagined the high life, the whiskey nights and the bloody mary mornings to follow, Willie Nelson yearned for the road and it’s promise of freedom. As a Texas schoolboy, chopping cotton for $1.50 a day, he listened to the gospel songs of the field hands and dreamed about moving on. “I didn’t like picking cotton one bit,” he recalls. “I used to stand in the field and watch the cars go by and think, I want to go with them.”
Today, nearly four decades and a million miles later, Willie, 47, continues to heed the call of the highway. Overtaken by fame a mere five years ago with the release of his album, Red Headed Stranger, he simply picked up the tempo and put his foot to the floor. Once branded an outlaw by Nashville’s rhinestone encrusted music establishment, Nelson has recently become an inadvertant and unassailable national monument. No one really objected when Willie dropped a lyric from the Star Spangled Banner at the recent Demoncratic National Convention.
Since Stranger went platinum in 1976, Nelson has added two more platinums, two double platinums, four golds and a whole attic full of Grammys and Country Music Association awards. Currently, with seventeen LPs on the charts, plus his new double LP Honeysuckle Rose, Willie has taken his guitar and his low key persona and is trying his hand at being a movie star.
As he tells it, his starring role as Buck Bonham in Honeysuckle Rose is one he could almost play from memory. “I never did know you had to be trained to have your picture made”, drawls Willie. “Maybe that’s the whole point, not knowing anything is maybe better than just knowing a little.”
Willie Nelson was arrested in Hewitt, Texas, on May 10, after police found him asleep in the back of his Mercedes and discovered a bag of marijuana in his car.
Nelson, 61, claims he was returning home after a poker game when he pulled off the road due to bad weather.
“I played all night and was driving back to Austin,” says Nelson. It was foggy, so I pulled to the side of the road to sleep, and the policemen found me.”
A Hewitt police report says officers “saw a man lying in the back seat who appeared to be asleep. While looking in the vehicle, officers observed a hand-rolled cigarrette in the ashtray.”
“The officers tapped on the window. The subject sat up, opened the door and identified himself as Willie Nelson.”
The report adds, “The officers believed the cigarette in the ashtray to be marijuana, and Mr. Nelson was placed under arrest for possession of marijuana under 2 ounces.”
“Mr. Nelson advised the officers there was additional marijuana in the vehicle. A bag was found which contained a substance believed to be marijuana.”
Nelson was taken to the McLennan County Jail in Waco and held for two hours before posting bail.
“Mr. Nelson was turned over to the booking officers there. Standard procedure is to fingerprint and photograph the individual and collect the person’s property,” says Hewitt Police Lt. Wilbert Wachtendorf.
“After his release, he returned to the station here in Hewitt, and retrieved his car, credit cards and cash.
“I was in the station when Mr. Nelson returned. He actually shook the hands of the two arresting officers. He was in good spirits, and seemed to be a nice individual.”
The charge against Nelson is a Class B misdemeanor and the case will be referred to the local district attorney.
Who is this Willie Nelson and why is he hosting those giant music festivals?
What is this Willie Nelson charisma that has caused the redneck to make peace with the hippie?That can get the cowboys to sit down in the dust and share a beer and a joint with a longhair? That can make an outdoor festival in Texas in July the naiton’s largest annual music event?
I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. You have to experience for yourself the excitement of the Willie Nelson performance. The energy of the crowd, generated by the man with the gut-string guitar with a hole worn right through the top of it from years of hard picken’.
Willie himself doesn’t understand it. He just rolls with the punches, although it does give him a few anxious moments. Like a few weekends ago at an outdoor concert in Dallas when a young lady, sans shirt, was hoisted above the heads of the crowd and demanded a kiss from Willie. When he obliged she grabbed his guitar strap and wouldn’t let go. Rather than be pulled off the 10-foot tall stage, Willie and some stagehands pulled her up and escorted her down the back steps. After regaining his composure, Willie returned to sing for a few more hours.
Willie’s nationally famous outdoor country music spectacular, the Willie Nelson Third Annual Fourth of July Picnic, will happen this year at Liberty Hill, Texas, about 30 miles north of Austin on a green country slope where the South Gabriel River winds into the Texas hill country.
The site is more accessible than the site of the historic 1st Annual Picnic near Dripping Springs nad is covered with trees, two ponds and the winding fork of the San Gabriel River.
Appearing this year with Willie and his Family are the Pointer sister, the Charlie Daniel Band, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Billy Swan, Donnie Fritts, Doug Sahm, Billy C., Milton Carroll, Alex Harvey, Delbert McClinton, Johnny Bush, Floyd Tillman, and like all Willie Nelson performances, especially the Picnic, there will probably be a few artists appear unannounced.Â Leon Russell was onstage at sunup at Dripping Springs singing gospel songs to the early arrivals and last year John Sebastian and David Carradine spent the Forth in front of Texas picnic freaks.
Texas Monthly’s May 2008 issue with Willie Nelson cover was the winner of Best Celebrity Cover in the third-annual best-covers contest organized by the American Society of Magazine Editors.
BEST CELEBRITY COVER
No celebrity in Texas is as iconic as Willie Nelson. This issue marked the seventh time Texas Monthly featured Nelson on the cover—more times than anyone else. Over the years, the covers watched him go from being a breakout country sensation in 1976, to a tax-evader in 1991, to a senior citizen in 1998, to a symbol of Texan humor in 2002 (he and Kinky Friedman posed for a riff on the painting “American Gothic”). When it came time to design the cover of this issue, which commemorates his 75th birthday with a massive oral history, Nelson’s longevity posed a challenge: What could be done that had not been done before? Ultimately, when photographer Platon came back from Nelson’s ranch with this incredible shot, the decision was made. Cover type seemed irrelevant: For the newsstand, a small “Willie at 75: The Oral History” was placed to the right of his face; subscribers received a cover with no type at all. This turned out to be unquestionably the most popular Nelson cover for the magazine. Within a week it was besieged with requests for posters or prints of the image, a sure sign that it had managed to capture the musician’s incomparable celebrity.
We just had to write to thank you for your great cover issue and interview with “the man,” “the entertainer of the years,” Willie Nelson! We enjoy your magazine very much, but the May edition and “Willie” puts the icing on the cake. We will never forget you for featuring Willie on your premier issue, either.
From “Hello Walls” and “crazy,” up to Tougher than Leather, Willie has always been the best and will be “Always on My Mine!”
Carole & Willie Farkas
My mother brought home the Country Rhythms magazine today and I was so excited to see Willie Nelson on the cover. I wanted to write as soon as possible. I read the Willie Nelson article part I and I can’t wait for part II
Thanks to Country Rhythms article I will now be able to start my third photo album of articles on Willie. I have loved Willie and his music for 10 years now. WIllie has given me so much happiness and doesn’t even know it. Willie has autographed my boots, shook and kissed my hand and wore my bandanna during his concerts.
I want to thank Country Rhythms for the great part I interview and thank you ahead of time for part II.
I would also like to thank Willie Nelson for all the happiness and may he be as happy as he has made me!
San Antonio, TX
Every week I look for a magazine or book in hopes of finding a good article on Willie Nelson. I just had to let you people know the may edition was fantastic. I’ve never read such a big article on him — and there is still another edition to come in June! The pictures were the nicest and clearest I’ve ever seen. I’m probably one of his biggest fans. Although he doesn’t know me, I feel like we’ve been close friends for a long time. This man certainly deserves such good interviews and beautiful pictures of him like the ones you published. I do have a problem though, I was hoping you could help me with. I’ve never seen a fan club address that I could write to. Would you please help me find the address of his fan club, because I know I will never be fortunate enough to write to him personally? Please help me if you can.
Fans are Getting a Full Nelson
May 9, 1993
by Bill Ben
Willie Nelson’s on the road again, and more to the point, back on track again.
“I just don’t like staying in one place,” he was saying the other day, fidgeting on a sofa in his Manhattan hotel suite.
“For a while there, I was laying low, but I wasn’t putting down roots.”
Willie just turned 60, and here he is, careening all over North America, performing with his own band and as part of the historic association that is billed as The Highwaymen (himself, Johny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings).
Taco Bell .. “Saturday Night Life.” A prime-time birthday bash on CBS. Farm Aid VII. Two big “Country Takes Manhattan” gigs — at Radio City Music Hall and the very next day, a Central Park benefit with the Highwaymen.
Now compare this with his schedule last year when he spent all of May through October in Branson, Mo., an Ozarks country music resort where many performers have moved to wind down their careers.
“If you’re looking to retire Branson is the place to do it,” Nelson says, “but I’m not looking to do it.”
Not yet? “Not ever,” he says.
Even in Branson, though, he worked. He did 144 shows, which covered his various costs of living — golf, alimony, headbandsand all — but Willie is a restless troubadour, and his idea of getting sick is coming down with diesel poisoning from the fumes emitted by his touring bus.
First things first.
He looks good. The mustache and beard are white, and the long hair that Willie keeps under the trademark rolled headband is red-brown, about the same color as his oh-so-long ago ‘Red Headed Starnger’ days.
Hes as laconic and easy going as ever, slim, wearing sneakers — he isn’t big on cowboy boots — and somewhere on the scene is his fourth wife and the youngest of his six children. They are aged 3 and 4.
“I’m kind of like Ray-O-Vac,” he says. “I just keep going and going.”
Musically, he keeps rolling right along, too.
The new album, “Across the Borderline,” his 35th on Columbia, is a gem, selling like crazy, with Paul Simon, Bonnie aitt, Sinead O’Connor, Bob Dylan and Kristofferson joining his long long list of singing partners.
Incidentally, is there anybody anywhere he has not sung with?
“Well, there’ s you,” he says, “But since you ain’t left the room yet, there’s still a chance we’ll do a little something.”
The tax thing is straightening itself out, too. He is still working off that Texas sized claim from the Internal Revenue Service — it once hit $32 million, counting interest and penalties.
Nelson even cut a special Uncle Sam album called “The IRS Tapes,” just him and his guitar, which was heavily promoted through late-night TV ads, with 75 cents fo each $1 going directly to the IRS.
“I was down to where going platinum wouldn’t help,” he says. “After a whle, you just laugh and turn it all over to the lawyers.”
The lawyers whittled the amount down to a manageable $million, an half of that has been paid, largely from the sale of property the IRS seized. The kicker is that most of it was bought by friends hwo promised to hold it until he was solvent.
His troubles stemmed from tax shelters that the IRS later disallowed, and he’s now suing his accounting firm, which set up the shelters.
Nelson is living in a cabin on a 700-acre ranch in Spicewood, Tex., where he plays golf – “I worry more about my game than anything else right now” – and gets away from all the silly questions.
Sample question: Which young singer out there most reminds you of you? Answer: I don’t hear anybody who sounds like me, which is probably a good thing.”
He doesn’t write as any songs as he once did. “I’m not as desperate for money, that’s why,” he says.
Still, there’s plenty more where “Crazy,” “Funny How Time Slips Away.” “Good-Hearted Woman,” “On the Road Again” and so many other big hits came from. They are on tape in boxes stored in boxes around the place.
“I’ve outlived everybody,” he says. “Hell, even Jones is younger than me. That’s something, ain’t it?”
Paul English has been with Willie off and on as a drummer since 1954. “We were in Ft. Worth, Texas, and Willie was doing a radio show called Western Express. He needed a drummer and he called me to see if I knew anybody. I told him I could drum for him.”
“I got the job. I debuted that day with a spare drum and brush. The only thing I had neglected to tell Willie was that I had never played a drum before. I had musical training in high school, so I figured I could play the drums just like the trumpet,” he said.
A delightfully sincere individual with a heart of gold, but who really does look like a mind’s image of the devil, English serves as an extension of Willie. He’s more than just a right arm and there appears to be no one more important to Willie than Paul and vice versa.
“When I lost my wife of 14 years,” English said, “Willie stayed by me. He told me we wouldn’t go back to work until I was ready. He stayed off the road for three months and helped me get through some of the pain of losing her.
“He wrote a song for me about her. It’s called, “I Still Can’t Believe That You’re Gone.’ and it came out on the Atlantic ‘Phases and Stages’ album. I guess it means about as much to me as anything in this world.
“There is a love between us that you get after seeing a lot of life together. He wrote a song, ‘Me and Paul,’ about our relationship. We’ve been through a lot of things, covered a lot of ground — we’re more than just friends.”
And then Willie Nelson, red bandana tied around his forehead to keep his long sun-reddened brown hair from falling into his eyes, returned from his picture taking excursion.
“Hey, Susie, glad you could make it,” he said as he leaned over gently, kissed me on the cheek and squeezed my hand in soft salutation.Â these are natural gestures for Willie and other Family members. Paul doesn’t shake hands very often, he hugs everybody.
At the concert that night the backstage area was a conglomeration of Family members, press people and other guests. Also on the bill with Willie was Tracey Nelson (no relation), Linda Ronstadt had come to the club after her performance at another hall across town.
The crowd of Nelsonite fans at the second show went into a frenzy as the three singers swung into the old time gospel standards. The show went into th ewee hours of the morning and it was close to 3:30 a.m. before everybody reached the hotel and congregated in Willie’s suite.
Willie was the center of attention as he sat on the couch and talked about music and life to other writers that had wandered in. “Some say I’m an outlaw and play progressive country. Progressive is more a way of thinking and the way others interpret your music. It’s not how you look or what you do off stage.
“In conventional Country music some things are done and some are not and I never really believed in following all of the conventions. I was doing things that were foreign to a lot of people in Nashville. They’d been doing things their way a long time and it was working so resistance was understandable. We just reached a stand off and that’s about the time I went to Austin.
By 5:30 a.m. thee were only a few people left in the suite. Willie, who had wandered to another room, called out to everyone that was left. “Come here a minute everybody!”
The group gravitated toward the Texan. He was standing in front of a large picture window with the drapes drawn to their full recoil. Shades of gray, pink, violet and orange lighted the skyline. He leaned intently; his face pressed against the window. “Look at that,” he said almost in a whisper. “The moon is sitting there on that mountain, the stars are shining like they just came out and the sun’s going to be here any minute. There’s something about morning, its…” his voice trailed into a mumble and nobody quite got the last of his thoughts. He smiled as he watched the sun break over a distant hill. the group stood motionless and wordless, wrapped in the warmth of a Willie Nelson sunrise. there was an eerie feeling that it was all happening just for him that morning.
Willie Nelson, the Traveling Road Show
Country Song Roundup
by Susan Scott