Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Willie Nelson: Mr. Record Man (Houston Press) (4/24/13)

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

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William Michael Smith won awards for “Best Print Article 2013) for his article.
One of Our Own Wins VMG Music Writing Award

Mr. Record Man
The Houston Press
by: William Michael Smith
April 24, 2013

WILLIE NELSON was dead broke.

The American music icon, who turns 80 years old on April 30, was once just another starving musician looking for his next gig. In early 1959, he was 26 years old and waiting for Larry Butler, who’d had some records do well on Houston radio and was an established name in Gulf Coast music circles, to finish an afternoon band rehearsal at the popular Esquire Ballroom on Hempstead Highway.

According to Joe Nick Patoski’s exhaustive 2008 biography Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, Nelson was freshly arrived in Houston, then known as the murder capital of the entire nation, and had decided the bustling port city was the right one to further advance his own career. He had recently left the hard-knuckle honky-tonks of Fort Worth and had already networked enough to catch the attention of D Records, the most important country-music label in Houston, if not the entire region.

Nelson had signed a fresh contract with Houston music mogul George “Pappy” Daily ­before leaving Fort Worth that identified him as a D Records recording artist and a Glad Music songwriter. Daily had orchestrated East Texas hillbilly George Jones’s rocket ride to country-music stardom in 1957 with the release of “Why Baby Why” and, like others, Nelson figured Daily could do the same for him. This was an iffy deal at best, but it was as close to a solid future in the music business as Nelson had ever come.

Nelson’s goal from the beginning had been to become a songwriter and performing star, but back at the Esquire Ballroom, he was thirsty. Butler asked him if he wanted anything, and ­Nelson asked for a Coke and a pack of cigarettes. Butler had the waitress put them on his tab.

Johnny Bush, the author of “Whiskey River,” the song Nelson has used to open every show for four decades now, recalls driving from San Antonio to see Nelson at a gig in Waco.

“He told me he was moving to Houston,” Bush chuckles. “I was born in Houston and I know Houston. I’d just moved back to San Antonio, and I told Willie there was nothing happening down there. But he went anyway.”

Right there on the spot, Nelson set up a small reel-to-reel tape machine and played Butler a few demos, a term for usually rough, raw recordings of songs generally not meant for public consumption. The songs were “Family Bible,” “Mr. Record Man,” “Crazy” and “Night Life,” and Nelson’s asking price was $10 per song.

“I told him I wasn’t going to buy them; they were too good to just give away like that,” says Butler today from his home in Conroe, where he and wife Pat settled after leaving Houston. “And Willie, always the smooth-talking salesman, just smiled and said, ‘Well, I need the money right now and I can always write more songs’.”

Willie Nelson wasn’t always the Red Headed Stranger, king of outlaw country or a multi­platinum-selling national treasure. But his short-lived tenure in Houston in 1959 and into 1960, which lasted maybe 18 months, was one of the most important developmental milestones in what would become an enormous career.

Born near Waco in 1933, Nelson bounced around his early career like a pinball, working gigs as a sideman, radio personality, gas-station attendant, even Bible salesman. Whatever he did, he was always a dollar short, bill collectors on his trail. Not only did the future biodiesel advocate and marijuana-reform icon try Waco (1952), San Antonio and Pleasanton (1954), and Fort Worth (1955; again in 1958) for steady work, he even forayed as far north as Portland, Oregon  (1956), and Vancouver, Washington (1957), where he had a DJ gig as “Wee Willie Nelson.”

But when Nelson got to Houston, Butler says, he instantly recognized the slightly younger man was a gifted songwriter. Of the songs Nelson offered him at the Esquire Ballroom, he says, “I didn’t have any reason to take advantage of him just because he was having a tough time.”

These weren’t just any old run-of-the-mill two-steppers Butler was letting slip by, either. “Crazy” would go on to be the top-selling jukebox song of all time, and “Night Life” would be recorded by countless artists in several genres, particularly blues. “Family Bible” and “Mr. Record Man” would also figure large in Nelson’s catalog as time progressed.

So instead of grabbing his songs for a pittance, Butler loaned Nelson $50 and gave him a job in his band, marking the beginning of a lifelong friendship. When club owner Raymond Proske balked at paying another musician — union scale in those days was $15 a night for band members, $25 for the leader — Butler offered to split his pay with Nelson, who started that very night.

Shortly after joining Butler’s Sunset Playboys, in which the charismatic young hustler was given the chance to perform a few of his own songs in the set and close the show with “The Party’s Over,” Nelson also landed a radio gig at Pasadena country station KRCT (650 AM). The pay was terrible, but he could use the air time to promote shows for Butler and other friends. With his radio job in hand, relates Patoski, popular local acts like Smilin’ Jerry Jericho would use Nelson as lead guitarist and pay him $25 per night in exchange for some radio push. Before long, he was on his feet enough to bring wife Martha and three children down from Waco to a tiny apartment in Pasadena.

Sleepy LaBeef, another musical transplant who was part of Pappy Daily’s talent roster and would eventually be inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, once lived in the same Pasadena neighborhood as Nelson, just blocks from the intersection of Southmore and Richey Road. He recalls falling in with Nelson and cutting several demos of Nelson’s compositions at his home.

“Willie’d come over with that little recorder of his — he took that thing everywhere — and we’d get set up in my living room,” LaBeef recalls from his home in Springdale, Arkansas. “I’d play upright bass and Willie would play acoustic guitar. I’ve got an old tape he left here somewhere of four brand-new tunes we laid down one night, and none of them have ever been recorded as far as I know.”

Frequently asked why he hasn’t cut one of the songs, the 77-year old LaBeef explains, “Willie was a good friend and I don’t want to be one of those people trying to make money off his back. If I ever locate those tapes again, I think I’ll just give ’em to Willie.”

Working on the west side and living on the east side, Nelson spent a lot of time in his car. The long drives across Houston allowed him time "to turn private thoughts into poetry." Here are 11 significant points on the map of his Houston history. (Click to enlarge)

Working on the west side and living on the east side, Nelson spent a lot of time in his car. The long drives across Houston allowed him time “to turn private thoughts into poetry.” Here are 11 significant points on the map of his Houston history.
“The one I really liked that’s stuck with me all these years was called ‘The Eleven-Oh-Three,’ he continues. “It went, ‘I’m catching the train at 11:03, that’s the last you’ll ever see of me.’ I always wondered why Willie never recorded it.

“Heck, I still might,” adds LaBeef. “But I’d call Willie first and make sure it’s okay with him.”

Nelson and virtuoso instrumentalist Paul Buskirk had become close friends when both lived in Fort Worth. A lightning-fast picker, Buskirk had spent time on the Grand Ole Opry and earned his bones playing with outfits like the Louvin Brothers. Prior to Nelson’s arrival, Buskirk had established himself in Houston; once Nelson got settled here, Buskirk hired his friend as an instructor at Buskirk Music Studios in ­Pasadena.

There are two versions of the Willie-as-­guitar-instructor story. Patoski’s book says Buskirk told Nelson to buy the Mel Bay book for guitar beginners and just teach that. Another version floating around the Internet says Buskirk would teach Nelson a lesson one day and Nelson would then teach the same lesson to his students the next day. Either way, the lessons were another small Band-Aid on his unstoppable financial hemorrhaging.

Whichever it was, everyone noted that Nelson’s guitar playing, which was already good enough to get him lead-guitar gigs in solid bands like Jericho’s, here took a quantum leap forward. Certainly part of that can be attributed to the training and discipline that went with teaching. But a larger impetus probably came from Buskirk’s working with Nelson on his technique, as well as introducing him to the music of European jazz master Django Reinhardt, who remains one of Nelson’s favorite guitarists to this day. In her book They Came to Nashville, songwriter and performer Marshall Chapman observes that Nelson and sister Bobbie make a habit of playing Reinhardt’s classic “Nuages” as a pastime on the tour bus. (“Nuages” also appears on Nelson’s brand-new album, Let’s Face the Music and Dance.)

LaBeef, singer Claude Gray and Butler all tend to tell one part of the Willie story a little differently from Patoski’s biography. Seconding Rich Kienzle, who wrote the extensive liner notes for the meticulous box sets of Nelson’s earliest works on the Bear Family label, Patoski speculates that the long drives across town from Nelson’s nightclub gig in far west Houston to his home and day jobs in the metro area’s easternmost reaches left Nelson time to “turn private thoughts into poetry.”

Patoski also writes that “Houston was an inspirational setting for some of his best songs,” and surmises that both Nelson’s personal-life turmoil as well as the chaotic Houston beer joint/dance hall scene became fuel for some of his finest lyrics. But there seems to be a slight contradiction between Nelson’s attempting to sell “Family Bible, “Night Life,” “Crazy” and “Mr. Record Man” to Butler when he first arrived in town and Patoski’s observation that during Nelson’s time in Houston, “songs flowed like never before,” among them “Night Life,” “Crazy,” “Mr. Record Man” and “I Gotta Get Drunk.”

“I’m pretty certain Willie came to town with all those except ‘I Gotta Get Drunk,’” asserts LaBeef. “And of course Willie was very musical, so he could have been tinkering with those songs, changing the way he played them or sang them. But he came to town with some good ‘uns.”

“As far as Houston having a big effect on Willie’s writing, I don’t think there’s any doubt,” LaBeef reasons. “I can’t recall what other songs he wrote there, but Willie just wrote all the time back then. He had so many ideas. And he didn’t just suddenly get talented because he moved to Nashville. He went there with a lot of skill and experience, most of it earned the hard way.”

Patoski makes a rational explanation of the seeming contradictions.

“Willie had been writing prolifically in Fort Worth, Vancouver, Portland, even in San Antonio,” the biographer says. “But none of the songs that mattered had come together in the form of a recording until Willie arrived in Houston. Really, that’s where all these disparate pieces came together.”

Pappy Daily may have been a music-­industry genius, but he committed a monumental blunder when it came to Willie Nelson. In fact, in the treacherous, fluid, highly competitive music business, this one is positively historic.

To help Nelson out of one of his continual financial binds, his buddy and mentor Buskirk bought “Night Life” for $100 and “Family Bible” for another $50. At the same time, honky-tonk singer Claude Gray, a native of Henderson, Texas, was working in Houston, selling cars at Perkins Auto by day and singing some gigs at night. Gray finally gave up on Houston and took a disc-jockey job in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1959.

But in mid-December of that same year, Gray swung back into town to do a D Records session for Daily at Gold Star Studios, today known as SugarHill. Buskirk put the session band together and convinced Gray to cut four of Nelson’s tunes: “The Party’s Over,” “Family Bible,” “Night Life” and “Leave Alone.”

...And Then I Wrote  Willie Nelson's first album, recorded in Nashville less than two years after he left Houston, contained "Crazy," "Hello Walls" and another handful of his tunes that were monster hits for other artists like Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price.

…And Then I Wrote  Willie Nelson’s first album, recorded in Nashville less than two years after he left Houston, contained “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and another handful of his tunes that were monster hits for other artists like Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price.
He was a long way from the "Wee Willie Nelson" persona he assumed when he was a disc jockey and bandleader in Vancouver, Washington, in 1957.

He was a long way from the “Wee Willie Nelson” persona he assumed when he was a disc jockey and bandleader in Vancouver, Washington, in 1957.

As part of swinging the deal for Gray to cut the songs, the enterprising Buskirk sold Gray a share of “Family Bible” for $100, and for another $100 hired the session musicians and the studio. “I also had a contract with Paul, if you can call us signing a napkin a contract, to buy a piece of ‘Night Life,’” says Gray, who eventually had enough chart and touring success to relocate to Nashville. “The catch was that I only got to keep my rights if the song was actually released.”

But Daily didn’t care for Gray’s version of “Night Life.” Instead, he released D Records singles for “My Party’s Over” (a slight alteration of Nelson’s original title) and, subsequently, “Family Bible.” “My Party’s Over” didn’t do much, but “Family Bible” caught on and eventually climbed all the way to No. 7 on the country charts. Poor Willie didn’t realize a penny from the success of “Family Bible,” and it had to have hurt his self-esteem to have a national hit but be left out of the financial windfall.

Still, the song’s success was the first positive proof that he could write a hit. It certainly raised his profile, and would later serve as a good calling card and icebreaker when he moved to Nashville to try to sell songs in the big time.

Like Gray, Nelson also had a recording contract with D Records, and he cut his first single for the label, “A Man with the Blues” backed by “The Storm Has Just Begun,” during a 1959 session in Fort Worth. The single was released on both D and Daily’s sister label, Betty Records, but went nowhere.

Buskirk then arranged two sessions at Gold Star for Nelson in the spring of 1960. The superior quality of these recordings compared to that of the first tracks cut in Fort Worth is immediately obvious, but these sessions yielded only another mediocre single, “Misery Mansion” backed with “What a Way to Live.”

But even before that single had been issued, Buskirk and Nelson returned to Gold Star with a different set of musicians. There Nelson showed off his rapidly developing guitar chops on “Rainy Day Blues,” but the recording of “Night Life” makes this one of the most significant sessions in his career — and in Houston music history.

“Something had happened between the two sessions,” Patoski writes in An Epic Life. “‘Night Life’ was from another realm. Mature, deep and thoughtful, the slow, yearning blues had been put together in his head during long drives across Houston. At Gold Star, he was surrounded by musicians who could articulate his musical thoughts. He sang the words with confident phrasing that had never been heard on any previous recording he’d done.”

But Daily absolutely hated the track. He went so far as to tell Nelson that if he wanted to write blues, he should go work for Don Robey of Duke-Peacock Records, who had built the Fifth Ward-based company into the most important black record label in the South. Daily refused to release Nelson’s version of “Night Life,” just as he had Claude Gray’s.

Once again, opinions differ about what happened. Daily had made his bones in the murky jukebox business before adding recording, publishing and artist management to the enterprise, and had made George Jones a national smash with tunes recorded at Gold Star. He thought he had the best handle on what people wanted to hear, and was certain a jazzy song like “Night Life” would go nowhere with jukebox users or radio. Also, given the era’s racial prejudices, Daily in no way wished to be identified with so-called race records or their audience. His clientele was working-class crackers, plain and simple, and he felt “Night Life” was too fancy for them.

Bob Wills veteran and Western swing pioneer Herb Remington, the steel guitarist on this storied session, recalls Daily as a “smart guy, a good but cautious businessman.” Remington, who turns 87 in June, says he has “nothing but respect for Daily.”

“Paul Buskirk and I came up with the arrangement on the fly the day we cut the song,” recalls Remington. “Obviously it was a sophisticated lyric and meter, and we wanted the arrangement to really fit the subtlety of the song. We didn’t realize until much later how almost revolutionary the sound on that cut was. I guess it’s no surprise that away from our regular gigs, most of us on that session were into a lot of jazz and other types of music.”

As for how such an astute song-picker as Daily could miss so badly on “Night Life” and Willie Nelson, the guitarist laughs.

“Pappy had a good ear but he just wanted hits, and to him most hits sounded pretty much the same,” he says. “He hated ‘Night Life’ partly because he despised what he called ‘musician’s music.’ Nothing drove Pappy crazier than a bunch of us jamming. He didn’t like it or get it. And he sure didn’t want to pay for it.”

“I also think Pappy just didn’t get Willie’s singing,” he adds. “The way he phrases wasn’t like most other singers who were popular at that time. Willie heard a whole lot of people tell him he couldn’t sing.”

…And Then I Wrote  Willie Nelson’s first album, recorded in Nashville less than two years after he left Houston, contained “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and another handful of his tunes that were monster hits for other artists like Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price.

Whatever the reason, between selling away a hit song for peanuts while he was desperately broke and relinquishing most of his rights for the soon-to-be classic “Night Life” and Daily’s flat-out rejection of “Night Life” — which Nelson felt was his best musical accomplishment yet — Nelson soured on Houston. He made plans to head east.

Could Willie Nelson have also picked up his well-known taste for marijuana in Houston? Since achieving worldwide fame and recognition, he has become one of the sweet leaf’s highest-­profile advocates. Nelson has supposedly smoked a joint on the White House roof, filmed a smoke-out video with Snoop Dogg in Amsterdam and been arrested several times for possession, most recently at a West Texas U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in 2010.

He once admitted to former CNN talk-show maven Larry King on national television that he smoked just before he came on King’s show. With 110,000 Facebook followers on his Tea Pot Party page, Nelson has thrown considerable weight behind the nationwide movement to legalize pot.

According to Patoski, Chapman and others who have traveled on Nelson’s bus, he’s a quiet guy who likes scrambled eggs after a gig, a glass or two of white wine, a lungful of killer reefer and picking some Django Reinhardt with sister Bobbie. This is the Zen Willie of today, the one who wrote the koans collected in his 2012 book Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.

But back in his Houston days, Nelson was a hard-partying little dude. Larry Butler recalls many nights when Nelson was too drunk to drive home, “so he’d just spend the night with us.”

“Willie loved a good party, and he’d drink right along with everybody else,” adds Butler. “Of course, that wasn’t helping his marriage any, but Willie’s always been Willie.”

The various biographies of Nelson have been quite frank about his hard drinking back in the day, and there are casual mentions of pills, which have always been around wherever musicians are working late hours. Butler was probably around Nelson more than anyone else, even Buskirk, during the Houston phase. Confronted with the question of whether Nelson was already smoking pot when he lived in Houston, Butler just giggles.

“Listen, fella, I think Willie was born with one of those things in his hand.”

Houston wasn’t all that kind to Willie Nelson. According to Pasadena Police Department records, he was arrested for speeding and driving without a license — going 85 miles an hour in a 40-mph zone at 3:52 a.m. — on Red Bluff Road in July 1960. Bond was set at $80, and his wife at the time, Martha, appears to have co-signed the property receipt for $9 in cash and a set of car keys.

By all accounts, at this time Nelson was accumulating debts much faster than he could pay them, and Patoski notes that when Nelson left town hoping to land a radio job in Mississippi at the same station where Claude Gray was working, he was four payments behind on his “ugly green ’46 Buick.”

Once again, Nelson had to park his family with Martha’s parents in Waco while he went off to chase the next rainbow. That turned out to be Nashville, after six seeks of hanging around Meridian didn’t turn up a radio job or anything else that would pay a decent wage.

Nelson certainly left Houston with more songs in his notebook, some decent demo tapes of his songs and considerably improved skills as a guitarist. He got his feet wet in the studio and, although it was shunned and overlooked at the time, he recorded one of the true classics of country music.

He also released two singles on D Records and Betty Records, and had a hit song he’d written that would open some industry doors. He gained even more experience in the rough-and-tumble honky-tonk world, and Houston’s joints had a reputation as being some of the toughest in the nation.

He even kept a few copies of his amazing take on “Night Life.” Following Daily’s rejection, he and Buskirk surreptitiously paid to have the song mastered, pressed and released as “Nite Life” on tiny Rx Records under the moniker “Paul Buskirk and His Little Men featuring Hugh Nelson.” While it managed to get some airplay by Uncle Hank Craig on across-the-border superstation XEG, other interest in the recording was sparse.

That was perhaps the final nail in the coffin of Nelson’s Houston stay. He began to feel that the situation here was both spiraling out of control and becoming increasingly untenable.

“I was into a lot of negative thinking back then,” Nelson tells Patoski inAn Epic Life. “I did a lot of bad things, got into fights with people. My head was just pointed in the wrong way.”

It was time to go. Herb Remington, who composed the famous Bob Wills instrumental “Remington’s Ride,” recalls meeting up with a handful of other local players to wish Nelson well the night before he left town.

“Hank Thompson was playing Cook’s Hoedown, and a bunch of us went down to see Willie off,” says Remington. “Everybody liked him and we really did hate to see him go. My main memory is that Willie was dressed real nice and we had a fine send-off.”

Most likely with a strong sense of failure, Willie Nelson kissed Houston goodbye the next day.

Willie Nelson’s 60th Birthday Party

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Andrew Leahy

Willie Nelson turned 82 years old last month, spending his birthday in Maui with friends and family. Twenty-two years earlier, though, he threw a considerably bigger party for himself back home in Texas.

In April 1993, Nelson celebrated his 60th birthday in style, watching luminaries like Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Lyle Lovett, Neil Young, B B King, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt and Waylon Jennings cover his songs. The party was held at Austin’s WRLU Studios, with everyone from President Bill Clinton to Roseanne Barr joining Shotgun Willie in the audience. Nelson didn’t always stay seated, though; more often than not, he wound up onstage, duetting with his friends on some of the songs that had sustained his career.

One of the evening’s highlights was, “Seven Spanish Angels” a chart-topping song Nelson had recorded with Ray Charles in 1984. Nearly a decade later, the two pals sang it once again in Austin, both of them swapping verses before harmonizing during the final chorus.

Broadcast 22 years ago today under the title Willie Nelson: The Big Six-O, the birthday tribute was taped on April 28th. For those keeping track, that means it wasn’t Nelson’s actual 60th birthday — that milestone didn’t arrive until the following day, April 29th.
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/

Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow on CMT Crossroads

Friday, May 15th, 2015


www.rollingstone.com
by: Melinda Lorge

More than a decade before she made the official leap to country music with her Nashville-made Feels Like Home album, Sheryl Crow was proudly showing a reverence for the genre’s roots. In the summer of 2002, she teamed with longtime friend Willie Nelson for a CMT’s Crossroads episode — the series’ fifth installment, to be exact. Fresh off her chart-topping single “Soak Up the Sun,” from her multi-platinum C’mon C’mon album, she joined the Redheaded Stranger for an hour-long, televised (and countrified) jam session. Aside from swapping lines on their own hits, they also paid tribute to Johnny and June Carter Cash by resurrecting the classic duet, “Jackson.”

The show’s set-list included “Abilene,” “New Orleans,” “Let It Be Me,” “It’s So Easy,” “You Remain,” “Crazy” and “Everyday Is a Winding Road,” but it was “Jackson” – made famous by the iconic Cash pair – which hypnotized as the show’s opener. With Nelson taking on the Man in Black’s role, and the “Strong Enough” singer adding some rasp on June’s parts, the two traded looks and lines on the bickering husband and wife call-and-response.

Penned by Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber in 1963, “Jackson” was first a pop hit for Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, but it was Mr. and Mrs. Cash who cashed in on the country charts the following year with the tune, and won a Grammy for Best Country & Western Performance for Duet, Trio or Group.

Both Nelson and Crow have close ties to the Cash family. As country outlaws, Nelson and Cash shared a tight kinship and a band, the Highwaymen, alongside Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. The Missouri-born Crow, who also considered the couple dear friends, sang at both of their funerals in 2003. She duetted with Johnny on “Redemption Day,” which she still sings in concert to this day, with a jumbotron video containing clips of Cash playing behind her on stage.

“I believed everything that Johnny sang,” Crow told Rolling Stone Country last year. “His words had real meaning and real connection to his spirit.”

Crow and Nelson probably didn’t need much rehearsing for “Jackson.” Three years prior to their Crossroads debut, they opened an All-Star tribute to Cash in New York City with the song. The pair also teamed for a second Crossroads together in 2011, this time at Nashville’s Third Man Records with Jack White, Neil Young, Jamey Johnson, Norah Jones, Ashley Monroe and several other Nelson disciples.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/flashback-sheryl-crow-and-willie-nelson-channel-johnny-and-june-20150514#ixzz3aDnByULj

Willie Nelson and Golf, by Turk Pipkin

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

photo by Sam Jones

T I Golf
By Turk Pipkin

Willie Nelson, at the age of sixty-seven, may have discovered the secret of eternal happiness.   After being offered a mulligan on the first tee at Pedernales Golf Club — the course he owns in Austin, Texas — he tosses back the provisional pellet.  “Thanks, but I’ve hit so many bad shots, I don’t care anymore.”

Willie moves down the first fairway the same way he walks through life.  Undeterred by bad breaks or questionable decisions, he’s happy to be here, enjoying the moment but eager to take that next swing, to keep moving, to be as he so succinctly captured in his song — “On the Road Again.”

His palls call this place Willie World, an eight hundred-acre complex comprised of a daily fee golf course, recording studio, sprawling cypress log cabin with a thirty-mile view of the Texas Hill Country and his very own Western movie town called Luck, Texas.  “If you ain’t here,” Willie says, “you’re out of Luck.”

The typical Willie game at Pedernales covers from twenty-seven to forty-five holes (occasionally more), with a constantly rotating group of between five and fifteen golfers scattering balls in all directions, making outrageous best that will never be paid and often claiming whatever ball they find as their own.

“I’ve noticed,” says Willie, who drives a gas cart that could get a speeding ticket on the open road, “That the man with the fastest cart usually wins.”

Willie’s pro at Pedernales is Larry Trader.  Since the day they first saw the course, he and Willie have taken on all comers in marathon matches for big time bragging rights.

“Our finest day was when Willie and I scrambled against Trevino,” Trader relates as the course’s pet peacock fans its tail nearby.  “Lee shot a six under thirty on his own ball, and we had to shoot twenty-nine to beat him.”  “The secret of golf is picking your partner,” says Willie, before a crucial addendum:  “and winning nine and eighteen.”

“Understand this,” says Darrell Royall, the former University of Texas football coach.  “Willie doesn’t care about the score.  He just wants to play golf.  And nothing’s going to keep him from it.  In the dead of winter, he used to play Pedernales in his Mercedes because it had the best heater.”

Willie has never bothered to keep a handicap, but he proudly relates that his lifetime low round is a seventy-six.

On the sixteenth at Pedernales, Willie smacks a tee shot into the left woods.  “That needs a good kick!” says Ray Benson, leader of the Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel.

“It’ll get one,” Willie says, a nanosecond before the ball takes a rocket ricochet into the middle of the fairway.

The assembled gaze at him in awe.  Two holes later, on eighteen, with the sun sinking below the horizon and a dozen accumulated skins on the line, Willie eyes a twenty-foot putt to win them all.  Putting one-handed (as he often does, perhaps as much to unnerve his opponents as to smooth his stroke), he center-cuts the hole to win.

“The one-armed bandit got us again,” yowls Benson.

“Nine and eighteen,” Willie says with a wink and a smile and the knowing wisdom of a guy who can truly appreciate his moment.

This day in Willie Nelson History: Highwayman Released (May 2, 1985)

Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

On May 2, 1985, Columbia Records released the “Highwayman” album, with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson

The Highwaymen:  Four Superstars Come Together
Music City News
August 1985
by Neil Pond

I was a highwayman
Along the coach roads I did ride
A sword and pistol by my side
Many a young maid lost her baubles to my trade
Many a soldier shed his lifeblood on my blade
The master took me in the spring of ‘25
But I am still alive

I’ll always be around, and around, and around, and around.

by Jimmy Webb

Mystical and uplifting, Highwayman has become the summer’s collaborative hit for the superstar quartet of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.  Their new LP, also called “Highwayman,” is a a coming together of boldly distinctive stylists that prompted one reviewer to observe “if Mount Rushmore could sing, this is what it would sound like.”

At Willie’s recent 4th of July picnic event in Austin, the audience was treated to the first ever public appearance of “The Highwaymen,” as the foursome have come to be collectively called.  After an all-day rain, the quartet gathered onstage to sing three songs as the sky gradually opened and spilled luminous orange twilight throughout the dissipating clouds.  It was a grandiose bit of meterological staging — coincidence, you ask?  — that fit nicely with the cover of the album, which shows the heavens parting and the four entertainers peering through like gentle mythological gods.

But the “Highwayman” project, despite it’s majestic overtones, was not a carefully calculated attempt at clustering the individual stars into one spectacular supernova recording — although that’s pretty much how things turned out.

The album’s roots are actually in Switzerland, where Willie, Waylon and Kris were guests of Cash at the taping a Christmas TV special last year.  After performing together on the show the four returned stateside and joined forces to cut a couple of songs intended for Cash’s upcoming solo album.  One of the songs was Bob Seger’s Against the Wind, which they had all performed together on the TV special.  The other was Highwayman, a song by New York-based writer Jimmy Webb themed around reincarnation.

“We’d intended it for my solo album,” says Cash of the song.  “But the more we recorded together, the more we realized that it should be an album of the four of us.”

Once the idea for an entire quartet album was concrete, Cash decided to sideline his own album until the group project could be completed. For three nights the four singer/songwriters gathered at producer Chips Moman’s Nashville studio and bantered around songs that they felt would be appropriate for their collaboration.  They drew from material both familiar (like Cash’s own Big River and Guy Clark’s Desparados Waiting for a Train and obsure to come up with a slate of songs that somehow seemed to fit their individual and collective imagery as purveyors of things original, Old-Western, and American.

It’s the title cut, however, that is attracting the most attention.  Already a hit single and an engaging video, its haunting theme of reincarnation makes for unusual country music fare.  In the song, Willie, Kris, Waylon and Cash each sing the part of a different individual who, in the end, turns out to be various reincarnations of the same person, the highwayman of the title.

“As far as subject matter, it’s a very meaty topic,” explains Rick Blackburn, head of Nashville’s CBS Records who gave the ultimate go-ahead for “Highwayman.”  “But I think country music is ready to deal with heavier topics as opposed to the stereotypes we’ve had all along.”

Lest some listeners imply that the enterainers themselves might be espousing personal afterlife philosopy with the song, Cash responds that he, for one, holds to other beliefs.

“I don’t believe in reincarnation,” he says.  “I’m a Christian and I sang the song because I liked it.  It’s a good song.  It’s a good melody, it’s excellent lyrics written by a really great songwriter.  But so far as the philosophy and the religion, if you will, of the song… it’s not my belief.  I’m not making a statement of affirmation in belief of transmigration of souls or any such thing.”

Ego never raised it’s ugly head in “The Highwayman” project.   The recording sessions were dominated by a shared comraderie between the four entertainers, a brotherhood beyond the business at hand.

“We never had any problems,” says Waylon.  “We don’t think of each other as superstars.  There were no ego trips.  We’re a lot alike.  We’ve all had our starving days, paid our dues.  We have a lot of respect for each other.  If you don’t record with somebody you like, it ain’t gonna be no good.”

The future of The Highwaymen quartet is undecided at his point, although it’s possible that the four will be making several appearances together throughout the summer.  “We can’t decide whose band we want to use,” says Cash, referring to the equally terrific musical line-ups that back each entertainer.  The four will appear, however, as the Highwayman on the upcoming coming Country Music Association Awards show in October.

A movie project re-make of the John Ford classic Stagecoach that would star all four in leading roles has also been talked about.  “That’s a possibility,” says Cash.  Willie, Cash and Kris all have substantial movie acting experience, but Waylon’s film resume is practically bare. ”I don’t get very excited about doing movies,” explains Waylon.  “I’m a singer.”

In the meantime, Cash and Kristofferson are pegged to begin production in September on a CBS television movie called The Last Days of Jesse James. (Kris will be Jesse, Johnny will be his brother Frank.)

Individually , the four Highwaymen are currently wrapped up in their separate careers as well as the promotional hoopla surrounding their group LP.  Cash’s oslo album for Columbia is finishing production.  Willie’s “Half Nelson” LP, also for Columbia, of duets with various artists will be released soon.  Waylon’s new “Turn the Page” album on RCA is fresh in the stores this month.  Cash and Waylon have also completed a duet album for imminent release and are dicussing a possible Western movie pair-up.

Kristofferson, the only act of the four not currently affiliated with a record label, is staying very busy on the road with his Borlderlords band.  A movie called Trouble in Mind,  in which he will co-star with Keith Carradine, is scheduled for release around Christmas.

So the Highwaymen continue to ride, separately if not together.  And who knows?  There’s the prospect of another four-way album.  Cash says they’ve got almost enough material in the can from the previous sessions.

Nothing lasts forever, but it certainly seems as if these guys are planning, in some configuration, on being around, and around, and around and around…

Willie Nelson, the Decemberists Headline Inaugural Pilgrimage Festival

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

pilbrim2

www.rollingstone.com
by:  Stephen Betts

Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Will Hoge and newcomer Rainey Qualley are among the country-flavored artists set for the inaugural Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival, held this fall in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville.

But the music and arts event is far from just a country concert. Indie rock acts the Decemberists and Weezer, along with Americana darlings Neko Case and Iron & Wine, soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members Jimmy Cliff and Dr. John are also on the bill. Slated for September 26th and 27th, the festival will take place at the Park at Harlinsdale, a 230-acre, century-old horse farm that is now a city-owned park.

Better Than Ezra lead singer — and Franklin, Tennessee, resident — Kevin Griffin is one of the founders of the festival and a frequenter of the park’s jogging trails. According to a statement announcing the festival, Griffin had an epiphany on a trail one September morning a few years ago “surrounded by those rolling hills and natural amphitheaters: this is the perfect setting for an amazing, unique music festival.”

Griffin and festival co-founders W. Brandt Wood and Michael Whelan, all born and raised in Louisiana, were heavily influenced by the long-running New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In a nod to Jazz Fest, which celebrated its 45th anniversaary last year, the diverse lineup of acts represents a wide variety of the Southern musical landscape.

Pilgrimage will also take place during the day, with many of the acts performing acoustic sets. Another unique aspect of the two-day event, which includes a “Little Pilgrims” stage to spotlight young performers, will be the “Pilgri-mashups,” pairing artists together on stage for special one-time collaborations.

More performers are expected to be announced throughout May and June. See the current lineup and learn more about Pilgrimage here.

Willie Nelson launches new marijuana business, “Willie’s Reserve”

Monday, April 20th, 2015

www.rollingstone.com
by: Patrick Doyle

Smoking Willie Nelson’s weed is a lifelong ambition of stoners everywhere, enjoyed only by a few lucky fans and friends like Snoop Dogg and Merle Haggard. Not anymore, though. On Monday, Nelson announced his own cannabis company, Willie’s Reserve, which will bring “Willie Weed” to the masses. The product will be grown and sold by local businesses in Colorado and Washington and more as state regulation allows.

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Rolling Stone recently caught up with Nelson on his bus backstage near San Antonio, Texas, where he discussed the product. “I will make sure it’s good or it won’t be on sale,” the singer says. “There should be a menu just like in a restaurant because there’s so many different kinds of pot that do many different things. It’s a good idea to have everything labeled for what it does, what it don’t do [and] how powerful it is.”

Nelson says the business will also include stores with “menus of products” and edibles. “It fell together like evolution wants it to,” Nelson says. “It’s just a matter of time in this country before it’s legal. I feel like I bought so much, it’s time to start selling it back!”

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The singer said in a statement that Willie’s Reserve “is an extension of [my] passion and appreciation for the many varieties and range of the plant’s qualities. Some of the best master growers in America will collaborate…to define quality standards so that fans can expect clean and consistent products.”

Nelson has been an advocate for legalization and has been involved with National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) for decades. He was arrested as recently as 2010, when he memorably created “The Teapot Party.” “They mostly want autographs now,” Nelson says of police officers. “They don’t really bother me anymore for the weed, because you can bust me now and I’ll pay my fine or go to jail, get out and burn one on the way home. They know they’re not stopping me.”

Nelson says the company will emphasize environmental and social issues to “support the gradual end of marijuana prohibition across America.” “Seeing the power of legalization, regulation and taxation to impact how Americans view cannabis is a life’s work realized for Willie,” a rep for the singer said in a statement.

“I am looking forward to working with the best growers in Colorado and Washington to make sure our product is the best on the market,”  Nelson added.

The singer has also teamed with friend Merle Haggard for the pro-marijuana video “It’s All Going to Pot,” which premiered Monday on Conan O’Brien’s website.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/willie-nelson-why-you-should-buy-my-weed-20150420#ixzz3XtApDyab
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Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson at White Water Amphitheater.

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
Merle Haggard Willie Nelson
photo:  John Doyle 

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Chuck Eddy

Capping three evening pairings with Willie Nelson at WhiteWater Amphitheater on Saturday, 15 minutes outside the Central Texas river-tubing paradise of New Braunfels, Merle Haggard thought the audience wasn’t being responsive enough to his “we don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee” line, so he tried it again. A minute or so later, Nelson came out to finish “Okie From Muskogee” with him, for fans who by then were all in on the joke, and from there they both went into what Haggard called a new song “about the same subject”: “It’s All Going to Pot,” off their impending fourth duets album together, Django & Jimmie. After “Pancho and Lefty” and another new tune, they took a break while Nelson’s smaller combo set up. But the night served as a primer on what both great men share.

They both have birthdays coming up, for one thing. In April, Nelson turns 82 and Haggard turns 78. And Haggard’s earlier set was itself preceded by brief turns by two of the icons’ offspring: Paula Nelson opened, finishing her string of covers dueting with her dad on Creedence’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”; Noel Haggard’s somewhat stoic set was lengthened a little, since it took some time to lure his dad from the tour bus. Add much younger Ben Haggard backing Dad on guitar and Nelson’s sister Bobbie adding boogie-woogie piano bounce to his songs, and it was quite a family affair in general.

Hill Country trees behind them – WhiteWater’s the kind of venue where people with RVs can camp out – Haggard and Nelson both indulged blues and jazz sides, though Nelson both more blatantly and nonchalantly, and with fewer musicians. Haggard’s set allowed for several sax and harmonica breaks and a good fiddle hoedown, though. He opened with “Big City,” covered “Folsom Prison Blues,” dedicated “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” to “all the female drunks in the house,” and speeded up “The Fightin’ Side of Me” for “all the soldiers fightin’ for us.” But what most got his nine-person combo cooking was Sleepy John Estes’ “Milk Cow Blues.”

Nelson’s band – spiked by standup bass and two drummer-percussionists, one specializing in egg shakers, along with Bobbie tinkling ivories and a frequently gnarly tone from the frontman’s beat-up guitar – was almost all rhythm. “On the Road Again” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” most got a crowd marinated in light beer and other substances singing along, and a Toby Keith-less “Beer for My Horses” shocked the system. But between the “Whiskey River” kickoff and spiritual-choir wrap-up, the real highlights came when sister Bobbie supplied the most groove: an extended “Night Life” and a Hank Williams “Jambalaya”/”Hey Good Lookin’”/”Move It On Over” medley that led straight into “Georgia on My Mind” followed by Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia on a Fast Train.” Rock, jazz, blues, gospel, Hoagy Carmichael, it all fed into the same stream – like Haggard’s set, an object lesson for those who believe great country music is about purism, when really it can come from anywhere.

 

Still Willie

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Still Willie After all these years

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Still Willie After All These Years
by Steve Labate

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Lone Star is Born

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farm Aid and Dollars and Sense Collaboration (introduction by Willie Nelson)

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

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Farm Aid has collaborated with the magazine Dollars & Sense to create an issue that examines the current economic state of agriculture in America. Read Willie Nelson’s introduction and then browse and download the entire issue below.

The Wealth of the Land and the Power of the People

By Willie Nelson

Last year at the annual Farm Aid concert in Raleigh, N.C, I met Phillip and Dorathy Barker, Black farmers who, like many minority farmers, lost much of their farmland as a result of discriminatory lending practices by banks and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Today, Phillip and Dorathy farm the 20 acres they were able to hold on to in Oxford, N.C. They also operate a non-profit organization, Operation Spring Plant, which provides resources and training to minority and limited-resource farmers, including a program that introduces young people to farming and provides youth leadership training. Phillip said one of his goals is to provide tools for the next generation and to help young people “come back to the farm to understand the wealth of the land.”

“Wealth of the land.”

That’s a powerful phrase. Phillip believes the next generation must see a sustainable livelihood from the land, but the wealth he refers to can’t be measured only in dollars. It is measured in the experience of working on the land, tending the soil, and caring for the animals and crops that grow from it. It’s measured in the ability to be independent, to feed himself and his family. It’s measured in the way he and Dorathy sustain and strengthen their community. It’s measured in being rooted to a place, and passing something valuable to the next generation.

It seems to me that understanding the real wealth in the land is key to a sustainable future for all of us.

Our greatest challenge is in re-visioning how the majority see “wealth.” The wealth of the land cannot be boiled down to the investors’ return on investment. It cannot be gauged by the commodities it returns to us—in gallons of oil and bushels of corn.

The drive to extract as much value from the land as possible—to maximize production without regard to whether we’re exhausting the soil, to give over our farmland to Wall Street investors, to seize land held by families for generations for corporate profit— bankrupts the land, our food, our nation, and our future.

We need to redefine wealth as the ability to make a decent living from the land as well as to sustain it for the next generation. To grow crops for food and fuel while simultaneously enriching the soil upon which future crops depend. To support a family and a community. To work in partnership with nature to protect our health and the health of our planet. As caretakers of our soil and water, this has been and always should be the essential role of the family farmer.

Today, fewer than 2% of us live on farms. Clearly, we can’t all be family farmers, but we can all shift our priorities to ensure we’re doing our best to support them and encourage new farmers to get started on the land. Playing music to bring awareness is how I started Farm Aid in 1985, and it’s how I continue to support the people who best know how to care for the land: our family farmers. Each and every one of us has the power to do what we can to support and sustain family farmers.

Our common wealth depends on it.

— Willie Nelson
President, Farm Aid
www.FarmAid.org

DOWNLOAD DOLLARS & SCENTS:
http://www.farmaid.org/site/c.qlI5IhNVJsE/b.9265629/k.D90D/Farms_Today__A_Collaboration_with_Dollars__Sense.htm?msource=homepage

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard at Whitewater Amphitheater (March 26,27,28, 2015)

Monday, March 30th, 2015

johndoyle
photo: John Doyle

www.RollingStone.com
by: Chuck Eddy

Capping three evening pairings with Willie Nelson at WhiteWater Amphitheater on Saturday, 15 minutes outside the Central Texas river-tubing paradise of New Braunfels, Merle Haggard thought the audience wasn’t being responsive enough to his “we don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee” line, so he tried it again. A minute or so later, Nelson came out to finish “Okie From Muskogee” with him, for fans who by then were all in on the joke, and from there they both went into what Haggard called a new song “about the same subject”: “It’s All Going to Pot,” off their impending fourth duets album together, Django & Jimmie. After “Pancho and Lefty” and another new tune, they took a break while Nelson’s smaller combo set up. But the night served as a primer on what both great men share.

SIDEBAR
Willie Nelson and Jimmy Kimmel Watch Willie Nelson Ace Jimmy Kimmel’s ‘Pot Quiz’ »
They both have birthdays coming up, for one thing. In April, Nelson turns 82 and Haggard turns 78. And Haggard’s earlier set was itself preceded by brief turns by two of the icons’ offspring: Paula Nelson opened, finishing her string of covers dueting with her dad on Creedence’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”; Noel Haggard’s somewhat stoic set was lengthened a little, since it took some time to lure his dad from the tour bus. Add much younger Ben Haggard backing Dad on guitar and Nelson’s sister Bobbie adding boogie-woogie piano bounce to his songs, and it was quite a family affair in general.

Hill Country trees behind them – WhiteWater’s the kind of venue where people with RVs can camp out – Haggard and Nelson both indulged blues and jazz sides, though Nelson both more blatantly and nonchalantly, and with fewer musicians. Haggard’s set allowed for several sax and harmonica breaks and a good fiddle hoedown, though. He opened with “Big City,” covered “Folsom Prison Blues,” dedicated “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” to “all the female drunks in the house,” and speeded up “The Fightin’ Side of Me” for “all the soldiers fightin’ for us.” But what most got his nine-person combo cooking was Sleepy John Estes’ “Milk Cow Blues.”

Nelson’s band – spiked by standup bass and two drummer-percussionists, one specializing in egg shakers, along with Bobbie tinkling ivories and a frequently gnarly tone from the frontman’s beat-up guitar – was almost all rhythm. “On the Road Again” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” most got a crowd marinated in light beer and other substances singing along, and a Toby Keith-less “Beer for My Horses” shocked the system. But between the “Whiskey River” kickoff and spiritual-choir wrap-up, the real highlights came when sister Bobbie supplied the most groove: an extended “Night Life” and a Hank Williams “Jambalaya”/”Hey Good Lookin’”/”Move It On Over” medley that led straight into “Georgia on My Mind” followed by Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia on a Fast Train.” Rock, jazz, blues, gospel, Hoagy Carmichael, it all fed into the same stream – like Haggard’s set, an object lesson for those who believe great country music is about purism, when really it can come from anywhere.

Willie Nelson on the Jimmy Kimmel Show

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

www.RollingStone.com
by: Joseph Hudak

Jimmy Kimmel wrapped up his week of South by Southwest shows in Austin last night with a love song to the Texas capital: “To Austin, I Can’t Love You More.” But shortly into the performance, Kimmel, dressed in a cowboy hat and bolo tie, dramatically stopped and asked for a little help. Enter Willie Nelson, who walked onstage to a standing ovation.

Set to the tune of Nelson and Julio Iglesias’ Number One duet “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” the lyrics found the talk-show host paying homage to the city that is “beautiful and weird,” along with its breakfast tacos, ubiquitous pedicabs and Matthew McConaughey’s “alright, alright, alright.” Texas’s favorite son Nelson, meanwhile, saluted all the Congress Avenue bats he ate — “got high and put them on my plate” — and lamented being too stoned to feel his legs. In the end, Kimmel dedicated the song not only to Austin, but to “Willie Nelson’s bong,” as a Texas flag unfurled behind them. (Watch the performance, complete with lyric subtitles, above.)

Prior to the showstopping performance, Nelson joined Kimmel for an interview, in which he announced his new album: a record of duets with longtime friend and collaborator Merle Haggard. Titled Django & Jimmie, the album will be released later this spring, with first single “It’s All Going to Pot” out April 20th — the very pot-friendly date of 4/20. Django & Jimmie also includes the pair’s musical tribute to Johnny Cash.

Nelson sang a few lines of “It’s All Gone to Pot” during his couch time: “It’s all going to pot, whether we like it or not/as far as I can tell, the world’s gone to hell and we’re sure going to miss it a lot.” Kimmel also asked the famously longhaired singer about his braids, which sold at auction for $37,000 earlier last year. Quipped Nelson, “Plant them and they’ll grow.” (Watch the exchange below.)

Earlier this week, Nelson appeared in the show’s “Pot Quiz,” in which a reporter asked SXSW festivalgoers questions about history, geology and weed. Only Nelson answered all of them correctly.

Read more: www.rollingstone.com

The Highwaymen (Country Weekly, March 2015)

Friday, March 6th, 2015

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Thirty years ago, four musical giants–Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson–came together to form country’s first supergroup, The Highwaymen. In this special cover story, we take a look back at the group’s legacy and ongoing influence.

Another Willie Nelson Fan

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Willie Nelson, on Guitar (Frets Magazine, Dec. 1984)

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Frets Magazine
December 1984
by Jim Halo

Willie Nelson is a man of surprises. “Improbable” is the mildest word that describes the course of his career from sideman to superstar, a career marked by so many odd twists, turns and bumps that the story would be hard to pass off a convincing fiction. It isn’t out of character, then, that as an instrumentalist he plays a type of guitar that country bandleaders aren’t supposed to play, uses a technique usually reserved for another type of guitar altogether, and first chose to do so for one of the least likely reasons.

In place of the obligatory pear-monogrammed steel-string, Shotgun Wilie packs a Martin short-scale N-20 classical guitar, one of perhaps only 277 ever built. In country circles, let alone the string music world at large, Martin classicals are about as common as Porsche limosines. And while manicured fingers are considered de rigeur for the playing of classical guitars, Willie uses a flatpick — which accounts for one of his intrument’s trademarks. In the soundboard, a ragged gash extends from near the lower quadrant of the soundhole rosette down almost to the treble end of the bridge saddle. Classical guitars traditionally do not have pickguards. Wille’s instrument, after 15 years of flatpicking, provides an object lesson in while steel-string guitars usually do.

Even if the famous auxiliary soundhole, surrounded by pick-abraded bare wood, with skeletal brace ends and edges peeking through, never had formed on Willie’s N-20, there would have been no question of the guitar’s identity. Besides its battle scars, the soundboard bears the autographs of such artists as Roger Miller and Johnny Bush, along with other graffiti left — at the owner’s invitation — during Willie’s days as a Nashville songwriter who couldn’t quite go over the top as a performer.

Why did Willie Nelson start using a classical guitar in the first place? Test your musical intuition by choosing one of the following: Willie switched to a classical guitar because he wanted to (a) favor a weak left hand by changing to the lower tension of nylon strings; (b) inject an element of mariachi music into his Texas-based country stylings; (c) get a guitar that was strikingly different from those of his performing peers; (d) sound like France’s Gypsy jazz guitar virtuoso, Django Reinhardt.

The correct answer is (d).

Any similarities between the style of Nelson and the style of Reinhardt are purely intentional. “I wanted to look for a guitar that I could use to find that tone that Django was getting,” Willie says, referring to the sound of Django’s unusual Selmer-Maccaferri steel-string acoustics. “The guitar that I am using now is the closest that I could find to that.”

Most guitarists would figure that Willie was drawn to a nylon-string instrument because of it’s comparatively easygoing action. But he says that in fact, the opposite is true.

“The action is really a lot slower than what you’d get on a regular Fender electric or something, which I used to play all the time,” he explains. “I played a lot of Fenders and a lot of Gibsons — all electrics. I really didn’t play the acoustic guitar on stage then, for the simple reason that the fingering was more difficult. But finally I sort of settled for the harder action to get the tone I wanted.”

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As a performer, Willie also settled for harder action to get the kind of results he wanted. For years he channelled royalties from a successful songwriting career into a money-losing band, so that he could play his music the way he wanted with his “family” of loyal sidemen. He went against the Nashville grain in the early ’70s, switching to a non-country label, recording in New York, and moving his base of operations to Texas. That earned him the label “outlaw,” but it helped launch a new wave in country music that eventually overflowed into the rock and pop markets and carried Willie Nelson to megastar status. At present, his roll call of recording credits includes no less eight gold albums, six platinum albums, one double platinum album, and one triple platinum album.

Ironically — or perhaps, characteristically — the triple platinum album isn’t country at all. It is Stardust, Willie’s 1978 tribute to the standards (like “Stardust,” “Blue Skies,” “September Song,” and “All of Me”) that he heard and loved as a boy in the 1940s.

Born in the teeth of the Depression in April 1933, Willie grew up in Abbott, Texas, south of Fort Worth. His mother left home when eh was six months old, and he was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather, a blacksmith, gave Willie his first guitar lesson at age six. Willie’s grandmother, who wrote gospel songs, also played guitar. “I started out with a thumbpick,” Willie recalls, “Because that was what my grandparents used, so I was taught that way. But later on I began to hear players like Eldon Shamblin [of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys], and they used a straight pick. So I changed because that music was more what I wanted to play. When I was a kid I used to play the mandolin — fool with it a lot, and the banjo, and everything that had strings o it. I usually could get some sort of sound out of them. But I never really tried to get good on anything other than a guitar.”

His older sister, Bobbie (now the pianist in Willie’s band), was taking piano lessons, so the sheet music she brought home supplemented the songs he heard on the radio — World War II pop hits like “Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer” and “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me).” Through radio he also drank in Grand Ole Opry country music, western swing, and jazz. As he grew bigger, Willie earned $3 a day picking cotton with black field hands. What made the work bearable for him was the blues and work songs they sang.

At age 10 Willie made his professional debut, playing in a Bohemian polka band for $8 a night. He began working in a small group with Bobbie on piano, their father on fiddle, Bobbie’s husband on bass, and the local football coach on trumpet. Gradually he evolved a guitar style influenced by such players as Johnny Smith, Hank Garland, George Barnes, Barney Kessel and Django Reinhardt. “I liked those rhythms that Django’s band laid down, too,” says Willie, “the stuff his brother Joseph played on rhythm guitar.” Perennially electric, he also was drown to the music of flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya. “The Spanish flavor was something I always enjoyed anyway,” he says, “So Montoya was one of my favorites from the beginning.”

After high school he served a short stint in the Air Force during the Korean War, then spent the ’50s working as a door-to-door salesman (variously selling vacuum cleaners, Bibles, and encyclopedias), a plumber’s helper, a used-car salesman, a janitor, a Sunday School teacher, and a disc jockey, all the while playing in bars and honky tonks. And writing music. One of his first successful songs was “Family Bible.” He sold the rights to it for $50, so he could buy groceries for his family. In 1959 he wrote his classic “Light Life,” which would eventually be recorded by more than 70 different artists and sell over 30 million copies. But two years later he sold the rights to it for $150, which he used to buy a second-hand Buick. He used the Buick to move to Nashville.

Willie’s work won quick recognition in Music City. Songwriter Hank Cochran heard Willie one night in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the bar that served as the unofficial artists’ club room for the neighboring Grand Ole Opry, and signed him to a publishing contract. Singer Ray Price, who with Cochran was a part-owner in the publishing company, also was impressed. He made “Night Life’ his theme song, and hired its author as a bass player.

Soon vocalist Patsy Cline had a huge hit with Nelson’s “Crazy,” and Faron Young had another with Willie’s “Hello Walls.” Liberty signed Willie to a recording contract, and he scored his first Top Ten country hit in 1962 with the single “Touch Me.” He became a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1964, and the following year he signed with RCA. But though he recorded more than a dozen albums for RCA between 1965 and 1971, Willie didn’t enjoy the kind of usccess that other artists were having with his material.

One reason was his phrasing. Intrigued by crooner Frank Sinatra’s knack for singing off, or against, the beat, Willie had adopted the technique in his own music. (That kind of phrasing often turns up in Willie’s guitar solos). But his producers saw Willie’s use of rhythmical license as a liability, not an asset — and often remixed his studio tapes to get his voice back on the beat.

The results weren’t impressive, commercially; and artistically they were frustrating for Willie. His substantial songwriting income allowed him to hold his road band together, however, and they kept the faith in live performances. “The music I played on a bandstand was better than the music I played in the studio,” he once told Al Reinert of New York Times Magazine. “For one thing, I’d be using my own band, and we’d have a better feel for it — be more relaxed. We’d have an audience to play for, and it was just a whole lot more fun.”

In 1969, in the middle of his second divorce, Willie’s Nashville house burned down. His guitar was one of the few things eh was able to save from the flames. While Willie’s home was being rebuilt, he moved back to Texas — and stayed. He made the relocation official in 1972. Meanwhile, Willie and his band began hitting the Southwest tour circuit again; and with the expiration of his RCA contract, he left the Nashville studios behind as well. In 1971 he signed with Atlantic, which was venturing into the country market. It was a good move for both parties.

Given a free hand, Wilie took his own band to New York to record Shotgun Willie. Finished in less than to days, the LP brought their “outlaw” sound out into the open. Within six months, sales of Shotgun Willie had surpassed the sales of all his Nashville albums combined.

From there, the successes began to snowball. Phases And Stages, completed in 1974 as Atlantic wound down its country operations, sold 400,000 copies. Meanwhile, the Nashville songwriting fraternity saluted his earlier contributions to country music by inducting him into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973.

Willie formed his own record company, signed a distribution agreement with Columbia, and in 1975 released Red-Headed Stranger. From that came the single, “Blue Eyes Cryin’ In the Rain,” which gave him his first Top Ten country hit in 13 years and won him his first Grammy Awared. (It also documented a rare reversion to fingerstyle playing on the guitar solo. “I didn’t use a pick on that one,” Willie says. “Sometimes I use my thumb by itself, to get a softer sound. On ‘Blues yese,’ that was strictly thumb and fingers.”)

Red-Headed Stranger was certified gold in March 1976, and before the month was otu Willie shared in the plaudits as RCA’s The Outlaws — a compilation featuring the music of Willie, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser — also earned gold record status. Honors and hit records came almost predictably thereafter. Among his laurels to date are eight Country Music Association awards, including Best Album (twice), Best Single (twice), Best Vocal Duo (with Waylon Jennings in 1976, with Merle Haggard in 1983, and with Julio Iglesias in 1984), and Entertainer of the Year — a title conferred on him in 1979 by both the CMA and the Academy of Country Music.

Willie no longer has to worry about breaking even outside the studio. This summer, Willie Nelson & Family was No. 14 in Billboard Magazine’s list of top-grossing concert appearances (a roster on which the much-hyped Victory Tour by the Jacksons sewed up 6 of the top 12 spots). Willie also is listed as one of the top ten money-earners on the Las Vegas shworoom circuit (along with his old diol, Frank Sinatra).

But despite all the justifiable to-do about his gilt-edged performing status, Willie still prefers to think of himself first and foremost as a picker.

“What I always liked to do was be the guitar player,” he says. “Somewhere along the say, I started being the singer. I’m not sure how that happened. I think one night the front man didn’t show up, and I wound up fronting the band and doing the singing. And I don’t know if that was really the best day of my life! I really do like to be just the guitar player, sometimes. It’s very enjoyable when the only responsibility you have is playing the guitar.

Fret Magazine. When you are playing lead, what’s gong on in your mind? Are you thinking of right chord changes or melodic patterns on the fretboard, or modes related to the key of the tune, or positions you like to work from?

Willie Nelson. Not consciously. I think probably if somebody put a computer on me, they’d find I use a lot of things the same way. But consciously — I just play off the top of my head. On the songs that I do a lot, I guess I’m subconsciously aware of the chord structures and I just play whatever notes I hear that fall within those. I really don’t think about all that. I guess I’m playing from somewhere else.

Fret: Do you work out solos ahead of time? Often, when you’re fronting your band, your solos will restate the melody. But in some situations — on the Angel Eyes album, for example — you’ll take what sounds like a more spontaneous lead break.

WN: It’s all how I feel at the moment. I really am not confined to playing anything the same way. I don’t have any arrangements that I try to follow, other than the basic things that are always there in a tune — the stuff that you can’t get around. Whenever anyone in the band takes choruses, they just play what they want to play.

Fret: Back on 1976, when you were interviewed by our sister magazine Guitar Player, you said that in doing solos you didn’t get into a lot of minor scales, because you felt you were major-chord oriented. How that youre’ playing things closer to mainstream jazz, is that still true?

WN: I think so. I love minor chords, and I have written some songs with minors in them. But basically, the songs that I listened to and learned in the beginning were major-chord songs.

Fret: Is that when you developed yoru feeling for standares like “Stardust”? Would it be fair to say that your growing up with that kind of material helped you learn how to put together well-crafted melodies?

WN: I think it very well could have. I was always exposed to those songs through the radio and through music that came into the house — sheet music, and so forth. I love good melodies, so I’m sure that had a lot of influence on me.

Fret. Through albums like Stardust and Angel Eyes, you’ve probably influenced a lot of younger musicians yourself, giving them their first exposure to standards and jazz. Do you have any other styles of music up your sleeve — material you might record in the future?

WN: There are some of the older styles I still ahven’t done, like Stephen Foster songs and old Songs of the Pioneers things — the real cowboy songs like “Leaning On The Old Top Rail” and “Empty Cot In The Bunkhouse Tonight.” All of those classics are still tehre to do.

Fret: Often you’re functioning as a rhythm player. In your opinion, what goes into really playing rhythm as well as it can be played?

WN: I think you ahve to know the chord forms. I think guys like Paul Buskirk and Homer Haynes are two of my favorites because of their styles. [Ed note: Mandolinist Paul Buskirk and guitarist Henry “Homer” Haynes (half of the team of Homer & Jethro) had strong elements of swing in their music.] It’s 4/4 rhythm and it’s done without drums. Or it can be done with drums; but I really liket he sound of the kind of rhythm section where you just hvae an upright bass and the rhythm guitar.

Fret: Does a rhythm guitarist need a special sensitivity to where the lead player is going?

WN: Yes, I think that’s an innate thing that most good rhythm guitarists know, becasue most rhythm guitar players are also leadguitar players, to a certain degree. So you just have t have a feel of when to play and when not to play, or hwo loud to play.

Fret: When you’re chording, do you ever use your thumb to fret notes?

WN: Yeah, a lot of times. I do that especially in open-chord rhythms. For instance, on a first position D chord I’ll use the thumb on the low E string to play an F#.

Fret: You generally use Fender medium flatpicks on your nylon-string guitar, instead of fingerpicking it. How often do you change picks? Some steel-string players have told us they go through a half-dozen a night, because the picks get worn and start sounding scratchy. But it would seem that nylon strings would be easier on a flatpick.

WN: I guess a normal person probably would be able to make them last longer, but there’s one tune we do each night — “Bloody Mary Morning” — where I’ll go through a pick every time I play it.

Fret: You can hear the difference? The pick starts to sound rough?

WN: No — I just break it.

Fret: Do you play with the point of the pick, or do you turn it and use the rounded corner for a mellower sound, as some players do?

WN: I try to keep it on the point, but in the course of “Bloody Mary Morning” I play every side of it. I think! I use up a couple of picks a night, because “Bloody Mary Morning” will take care of one, and “Whiskey River” will eat up another, so I’ll go through at least two picks, maybe three, every show.

Fret: You used to use ball-end La Bella nylon strings. Are you still staying that that brand?

WN: As far as I know, I am. The strings are automatically changed on my guitar every few days by a guy in our crew, and I’n not sure if he is still using La Bellas or not. I can’t tell any difference.

Fret: Are the strings changed on a regular schedule, or does the frequency just depend on how often you are performing?

WN: I think probably every three or four days he’ll change the strings. And we keep another guitar handy, with the strings on it already stretched, so that we kind of rotate them. When you put new nylon strings on a guitar, you’re always retuning them as they stretch out. That happened to me a lot of times on stage. Boy, it was hard, especially under those hot lights. Finally, we got real brilliant here and figured out that if you stretch them a few days before you put them on, you wouldn’t have to do that. I don’t know why we didn’t think of it years before, but better late than never!

Fret: Are there certain strings you’re more likely to break than others? Some players find that the G string is the first to go, for example.

WN: I very rarely break strings. In fact, I don’t remember the last string I broke. The picks go before the strings do, because the nylon strings are more flexible.

Fret: The nylon strings are one of the things that set your sound apart; but the way you amplify your guitar has a lot to do with that, too, doesn’t it?

WN: I think so. It’s a Baldwin amp with a Martin classical guitar — which is kind of a bastard situation. I’ve tried other combinations, and I don’t get the same sound that I do with this one, which was really accidental.

Fret: Didn’t the pickup itself come from a Baldwin guitar that got broken?

WN: Yeah, I had it taken out of the Baldwin and put in this one years ago, by Shot Jackson’s place in Nashville [Ed note: In the late ’60s, after Baldwin acquired Gretsch and began marketing a line of guitar amplifiers, the company briefly offered a classical guitar model with a ceramic piezo-electric pick up, and a companion amplifier designed for a “natural” tone response.] I’ve never changed it. I’ve tried to keep everything exactly the same, and the amplifier is still the same one. They don’t make Baldwins any more, you know. Each time I come across a used Baldwin amp, I try to buy it so I can use the parts for replacements on this one. I’ve got a couple of them.

Fret: Youv’e had a lot of work done on your guitar to keep it in service through all yoru years of touring. Who handles the repairs?

WN: A guy named Newman, in Austin [Newman Guitars, 200 Academy, Austin, Texas]. He has a guitar shop in the Opera House in Austin, and he’s been fixing my guitar for years.

Fret: Does your road crew take special precautions with the guitar and amp, since those are really one-of-a-kind items?

WN: They have nice sturdy cases for both. Steel cases. They take real good care of them.

Fret: Do you carry any other acoustic guitars on the road with you, or keep some at home that you just use for recording?

WN: I have a couple of guitars around the house, and sometimes I have one on the bus just to fool around with, but my stage guitar is my main guitar. The others are a variety of things — just whatever is available. It varies from one day to the next, really.

Fret: How many days a year are you on the road?

WN: I think probably somewhere between 200 and 250. That’s this year. It’s been like that practically every year, and each year I say, “Next year I’m going to slow down.’ But I still like doing it. I just enjoy playing music a lot.