Archive for the ‘Magazines’ Category

Willie Nelson and family in Life Magazine (August 1983)

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

Life Magazine (8/83)
Photography: Harry Benson
Text: Cheryl McCall

“I’ve about forgotten what a private life is,” says Willie Nelson, padding around his kitchen with a mug of tea. “But when I really want to get away, this is the santuary.”

Here, 40 miles outside Denver, a contented Nelson is secluded with his wife, Connie, and their daughters, Paula and Amy. In the largest of four houses on a 122-acre spread. (One house is an office, the others for rare guests.) The Nelsons’ family life is anchored here; it’s where the girls go to school (public).

But they have another big house near Austin, Texas., site of the country superstar’s personal recording studio. During the summer, Connie and the kids adopt a gypsy lifestyle to keep up with the perapathetic. Willie., who, at 50, shows no sign of setting a more sensible pace. He logs over 200 days a year on the road for as much as $500,000 per concert, and often takes his family along in a customized bus.

“The kids don’t mind the traveling because it’s all they’ve ever known,” says Connie. When she married Willie in 1971, she recalls, “We had to search for pennies before we could go to the grocery store.” In the years since, the royalties form a dozen gold and six platinum albums have made them land barons.

Besides their two “hideouts,” they own a 400-acre ranch in Utah, a 200-acre farm near Nashville and two houses in Hawaii. Their holdings in the Austin area include a 44-acre ranch, an 80-unit town-house complex, the 1, 700-seat Austin Opry House, a motel and a small catfish restaurant called Mona’s.

“That’s a lot of doorknobs,” Nelson says with some satisfaction. What’s it all worth? “It would take a week of inventorying to figure that out,” says his business manager. Recently the Nelsons’s gave LIFE a first-ever look at their homes in Colorado and Texas.

“The most important thing I do for Willie is make sure he gets rest. He doesn’t even realize when he’s running himself into the ground,” says Connie, soaking with her old man in their king-size tub. “I keep the people to a minimum, or before we know it, our time together is gone.”

“When I have time off the road, I try to split it between Colorado and Texas,” says Nelson. To shuttle back and forth, he bought a $1.7 million, seven-passenger Learjet this winter. “The plane makes a difference,” says Paula. “Dad gets home more, and we go to Texas a lot when we’re not in school.”

West of Austin, the family as an eight-room house overlooking the 775 acre Pedernales Country Club, which Nelson owns outright and permits his band, staff and friends to use. His clubhouse office, filled with tapes, awards and a six-foot feathered headdress given him by an Oklahoma Indian tribe, is next to his state-of-the-art recording studio. “I like being able to go in there in the middle of the night,” he says. When fellow muscicians drop by, the beer and tequila flow.

“It can be a continuous party,” Connie sighs. “When one set of people gets worn out, there’s another set ready to go. But there’s only one Willie.” In Austin, Nelson also does some fatherly fence-mending with his children by his first marriage. (Lana, 29, Susie, 27, and Billy, 26, live nearby.) “I was too busy trying to pay the rent when they were small,” he says. “I spend more time with them and my six grandkids now than I ever did before. I like being a father.”

Willie Nelson Interview (Modern Screen’s Country Music July 1997)

Thursday, July 19th, 2018

One-on-one With America’s Greatest Singer/Songwriter… Willie Nelson
by Elianne Halbersberg
Modern Screen Country Magazine
July 1997

It’s raining in Mississippi, which means “too wet to play golf” for Willie Nelson.  Instead, he’s enjoying, as he says, “great food,” which, in this case, is organically grown spinach, turnip greens and potatoes. This is significant for the man in charge of Farm Aid, and he has decided to spend this day granting interviews…although in Nelson’s case, they’re mostly conversations — relaxed and open to any subject.  Asked if he always schedules interview based on the weather, he chuckles, “I hadn’t really planned on golfing today. I was sitting here and Evelyn [his publicist] sent me a list of phone numbers.  I thought today would be a good day to start talking.  It’s nice to have people who want to talk to you — that makes my day!

Elianne Halbersberg:  Your publicist told me you usually schedule only 15-minute interviews.  How much can you accomplish in such brief soundbites?

Willie Nelson:  I don’t know. It depends how good I am at using a few words to say a lot.  It also depends on the particular writer who puts it down on paper making it sound better than I said it.  I may need your help on this!

EH:  Do you ever lose patience with interviewers?

WN:  Oh no.  I get asked the same questions over and over, three or four times today, even.  I usually just answer it differently, try to make it colorful.

EH:  Does the press really understand, in your opinion, what fans want to know?

WN:  I doubt it, unless they’re fans too. You have an opinion and it’s more powerful because you’re the press.  It’s like me and a song — we have an edge on the rest of the people.  A fan can only get his message across by reading your articles and buying my records.  Hopefully, they do both.

EH:  What DO fans want to know?

WN:  Everything you don’t want them to — they want to know that first!

EH:  In order to succeed, you must have self-confidence.  What’s the difference between that and conceit?

WN:  Not much!  It’s a thin line.  That’s a good question.  Neither one, in and of itself, is totally negative.  Or positive.  I think confidence is good, but it is very similar to conceit.

EH:  How do you know when you’ve crossed that line?

WN:  Your best friends may tell you.  But better to have that than the alternative.  It’s kind of like halitosis — bad breath is better than no breath at all.

DH:  A couple of days ago Marty Stuart told me, “I believe in friends like Johnny Cash and Willie.  They make the trends look ridiculous, thin, and vain.”  Aside from knowing Marty’s in your corner, how does such a comment make you feel?

WN:  I knew I was in trouble when I heard someone say, “I wish they’d play the old guys like George Strait and Randy Travis.”  You know, music changes, fads come along.  Remember when Ray Charles released ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ and brought millions of new fans?  Every time country goes through changes, it brings a lot of new people.  But it’s all phases and stages.  I never had that much radio airplay, never depended on it to make a living.  I depended on having a good band, doing a good show, and when you work clubs — which I still do because I enjoy them — you have the advantage of them being open every night, so with a poster, they can advertise who’s coming.  That gives a guy a chance to go to town without a record being played every day on the radio.  Word of mouth is stll the best advertising and if you do a good job, you’ll have a better crowd next time, then next year you play theaters, and so on.  The system fights the hell out of it and tries to tell you that getting played on their radio station is the only way.  There are several stations in any town, and if a guy really works and wants it enough, you can make your own record, sell it out of the trunk of your car, find a station who’ll play it, work a club, and work each town individually.  A lot of people I know have put their futures in the hands of a record company and that’s not very wise, because you’re only as good a major label as your next record and they’ll drop you like a hot potato and then what do you do?

EH:  Sell your records out of the trunk of your car?

WN:  Right!

EH:  You’ve written so many classic country songs.  Do you appreciate your own compositions as much as country fans do?

WN:  Probably not.  I’m sure I take a lot of them for granted.  There’s a lot of my own songs I do every night, on stage that have the same special meaning to my audiences as certain songs (by other artists) that have touched me.

EH:  You’ve recorded approximately 100 albums!  Do you even remember all those songs.

WN:  I normally do. Some nights I forget “Whiskey River,” but we do 40 or so a night and they’re not always the same.  When I worked with Waylon, Kris and Johnny, I felt like I retired!  I was only working one-fourth of the time with my corner of the stage, my monitor, with the words — I felt like Frank Sinatra!

EH:  Do you ever play a song, the crowd goes notes, and wonder, “Why are they screaming for THAT one?”

WN:  No, because the ones they really like every night, I like, too, like “On the Road Again.”  Or “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” — I didn’t write it, but it’s still a great song.  “Always On My Mind” — I didn’t write that one, either, but I really enjoy singing it.  The audience knows that, and they like seeing somebody enjoying what they do.

EH:  Are you still in touch with President Jimmy Carter and his family?

WN:  Occasionally.  I talk to him about one thing or another, usually his Habitat for Humanity program.  We’ve done things together.  He’s a great man. He’d still have my vote.

EH:  Were you invited to Amy Carter’s wedding?

WN:  No, I wasn’t.  But, I move around so much, I’m sure [the invitation] is lying around somewhere!

EH:  I hear you’re cutting a reggae album.

WN:  I’ve already recorded it.  It probably won’t be out until the first of the year.  Island is using this year to still work Spirit.  It surprised me when Don Was brought up the reggae idea. I wasn’t sure how it would sound until we went to the studio and cut one of my obscure ’60s songs that i think only he remembered, with a reggae band.  It sounded so good, we thought maybe we should try to put out an album. So we went to Jamaica, talked to Island, I had Spirit with me, and we just did it.

EH:  Nashville still doesn’t get it, do they?

WN:  Not really, but Island does and that’s the big difference.  Label Chairman Chris Blackwell got it immediately, never hesitated.  It was completely produced, finished product.  All he had to do was put it out and advertise.  They’ve-done a great job.  I had been presented with problems with “Just One Love” and “Moonlight Becomes You” and fortunately there’s Justice Records.  If Island hadn’t gotten it, I’d have probably gone to Justice (in Texas) or kept looking.

EH:  Is it difficult coming to terms with people thinking you’re great?

WN:  No, but I used to think so. Now, thought, I can completely understand it.  Leon Russell — remember him? — once had people at a fevered pitch as only he can do.  It was right after he put together the “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour for Joe Cocker.  The first time I saw him, playing to tens of thousands every night, he stopped and said, “Be careful of who you let get to you.”  It’s a responsibility, a highly electrical period with everyone’s emotions out there.

EH:  Farm Aid has a website.  Are you into the computer onling thing?

WN:  No, that’s beyond me.  There’s one on the bus, the house, the office and, fortunately, someone knows all about it. You can’t do that and golf! It’s like fishing — there’s no time to fish AND golf.  Computers?  That’s completely out of the question.  I’m not going for it.

EH:  You recently won the Living Legend Award.  What does that mean to you?

WN:  [laughs] After the show, I asked them, “How do you find someone every year?”  Do they go through a list and ask, “Who’s living?  Give me the legend list?”  I dont’ know.  I guess it means, “We’re glad you’re still alive.”

EH:  Will we see another Highwayman tour?

WN:  Probably not.  It’s not likely we’ll tour… this week.  We may all tour individually, the four of us, but not this year.  “Ever” is a long time, putting out the word that it’s over forever, but Waylon wants it that way.

EH:  Maybe Sinatra could stand in.

WN:  He’d be a good one.  Or Billy Joe Shaver.  Or Merle Haggard.  Or none of the above.  Give me that legends list!

EH:  Does it really matter to you what critics think?

WN:  Not really. For most of ’em, their daddy’s got ’em there jobs anyway.  Otherwise, they’d be out on the streets selling drugs.  Critics are like the Bitch Box we had in the Air Force.  Any complaints, you wrote them down, you put them in the box.  It wouldn’t help at all, but you could bitch freely.  That’s a critic.

Willie Nelson interview, with Chet Filippo (Rolling Stone July 13, 1978)

Friday, July 13th, 2018

www.RollingStone.com
by: Chet Filippo
July 13, 1978

The saga of the king of Texas, from the night life to the good life

The desk man at the Greensboro, North Carolina, Holiday Inn shook his head when I asked for Willie Nelson. “Got no Willie Nelsons today.” He turned away officiously and resumed cleaning his fingernails with a Holiday Inn matchbook.

He was about as encouraging as my cab driver had been: “You goin’ to see Willie Nelson? Man, he was a no-show last week. They had to haul that Wet Willie in; he play instead. You see Willie Nelson, you tell him for me, ‘Man, you die fast in this town.’

I went back to the Holiday Inn desk man: “See here, I was really looking for the party of Fast Eddie and the Electric Japs.”

“Well, goddamnit, why dincha say so.” He started thumbing through registration forms: “Lemme see, Mr. Eddie ain’t here yet, but Mr. Snake is, Mr. Poodie is, Mr. Beast is . . . ”

“Okay, gimme Snake’s room number.”

Poodie, who is Willie’s road manager, and Beast, his cook and caterer, would, I knew, be over at the coliseum setting up for the night’s concert. But Snake would be here, taking care of business. I would be hard pressed to say what Snake’s duties are exactly. He’s a lean, rangy ex-paratrooper who, if you ask him point-blank what he does, will reply with a slight smile: “What do you want done?” He is one of about twenty persons whom Willie Nelson has handpicked over the years to help him in his calling. The Electric Japs, a.k.a. Willie Nelson’s Family, a.k.a. the Rolling Smoke Revue, are a devoted crew, all loyal to the point of being ready to jump forward and take the bullet – if, that is, Fast Eddie weren’t so proficient with kung fu that he himself would have already wiped out the gunman. If, that is, there were a gunman. Because everybody, it seems, loves Willie Nelson these days.

It wasn’t always thus, I reflected as I went off in search of Snake. Ten years ago, Fast Eddie couldn’t even get himself arrested in Nashville, despite the fact that he was the best songwriter to hit Music Row since Hank Williams, the king of them all. Everybody else was having hits with Willie’s songs – Rusty Draper with “Night Life,” Jimmy Elledge and Johnny Tillotson with “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Patsy Cline with “Crazy,” Faron Young with “Hello Walls,” Andy Williams with “Wake Me When It’s Over” and Roy Orbison with “Pretty Paper,” to name a few – but Willie’s own records went nowhere. Good writer, no singer, said Nashville’s establishment.

Now he rules country music. Oddly, the album that brought him the wide audience he now enjoys was not composed entirely by him. He wrote only five of the fifteen cuts on Red Headed Stranger, the brilliant allegorical album that forever changed Nashville’s idea of what is and is not country music. He wrote none of the songs on his current album, Stardust, a collection of “my favorite ten songs.” His record company, CBS, was not real hot about either album. Willie was supposed to be a country singer, so what the hell, they wondered, was he doing with these off-the-wall albums? But then, I remembered as I knocked on Snake’s door, Fast Eddie got his nickname by doing the unpredictable. Rules don’t mean a lot to him.

Snake opened his door: “Damn, I didn’t know you were coming. I guess it’s okay if you didn’t bring too many women. C’mon, Eddie’s just down the hall.”

Fast Eddie Nelson was in room 326, sitting barefoot, in jeans and a blue T-shirt, reading the trade magazines. “Shit, Eddie,” said Snake. “Stardust is seventy-six on the pop charts. We’re gonna sell 24 million.” Willie laughed softly, as he always does.

I told him about the cabdriver: “And not only do you die fast, the driver said: ‘Shoot, I ain’t gonna pay no $8.95 for Stardust. Those old songs, I heard them before.’” Willie fell over laughing. “Why, hell yes,” he finally said. “Why buy old songs?”

“What happened to your beard, Willie?” I asked. He fingered his chin gingerly. “Aw, I shaved it for the summer. Gets too hot. How you doin’? Ready to go ride the bus with me, son?”

With the beard, Willie had always reminded me of a benign patriarch. Without it, the forty-five-year-old singer resembles a proud Indian chief: stark, chiseled profile, flowing red hair, deeply lined face and piercing brown eyes.

Eyes that don’t miss much. He is not the most talkative person around – lending credence to the theory that the best writers are watchers, not doers. Willie Hugh Nelson, a.k.a. Fast Eddie, is an intense watcher. I always get the feeling around him that he’s sizing me up: am I a potential song or just another disciple? He gets plenty of both.

Disciples are many and fanatical now that he positively exudes spirituality. I have heard first-person tales of marriages saved, of nervous breakdowns averted, of illnesses healed by the power of Willie’s music.

He was a Sunday school teacher in a Baptist church in Fort Worth when he had to decide about his career. Fort Worth in the 1950s was a shining jewel on the Bible belt, and some of the Baptists there felt that Willie’s singing in honky-tonks on Saturday night and then teaching God’s word on Sunday morning were incompatible callings. The Baptists suggested that he make a choice. He chose music. “I had considered preaching,” he now laughed, “but preachers don’t make a lot and they have to work hard.”

Still, he didn’t protest strongly when I suggested that he is pop music’s only preacher. “I have met people,” I said, “who have driven hundreds of miles just to touch the hem of your garment. Literally.”

He looked a little uncomfortable at the thought. “Maybe you’re exaggerating. I am religious, even though I don’t go to church. I believe in reincarnation. We’re taught to believe that all men are created equal and yet we know that one guy is born without eyes and one guy is born with eyes. So that’s not equal. They had to be born together in the beginning. At one time, we were all born at the same time. God imagines everyone, so we’re all images of him – in the beginning. He made us all in the beginning and since then we’ve been coming back and forth. First time we came in we knew a lot and we’ve lost it along the way. Being down here is kinda like goin’ through the university: you go through one grade at a time and if you fail, you gotta go back and take those tests again.”

He laughed at the analogy and fell silent for a moment. “But I know what you mean about fans,” he continued. “And I know what they’re doing. In their minds, they’re relating the music to something else, and I appreciate that. There are answers in music. Poems and music about our problems and situations are good for us to hear – how other people react to the same problems and live through them and survive. This is all put in songs; I guess the history of the whole world is in songs and poems.”

Willie has compressed a fair amount of history in what I think is his best work – his three “concept” or storytelling albums. The first, the early – Seventies Yesterday’s Wine, is an obscure masterpiece. Wine was so far beyond anything out of Nashville that RCA was befuddled by it. At the time, Willie’s house in Nashville had burned – there’s an oft-quoted story that he rushed back into the flames to save his guitar case, which contained an impressive quantity of marijuana – and he moved to Bandera, Texas. RCA called him on a Friday and said his contract called for him to be in Nashville on Monday to cut a new album. He had no new songs whatsoever, but flew into town, took an upper and stayed up writing songs nonstop. The result was a moving collection of songs that Willie describes as “before life and after life.”

Phases and Stages, released by Altantic in 1974, was a compassionate account of a failing marriage, told from both the man’s and woman’s points of view. Atlantic was phasing out its country line at the time and didn’t promote the album. Exit Phases and Stages.

Willie moved on to CBS and hit gold with Red Headed Stranger, a deeply moving, very moral tale of sin and redemption. Columbia Records President Bruce Lundvall, along with other CBS executives, thought it underproduced and weird, but it, and the single off the album, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” broke the C&W crossover market wide open. (It also recently brought Willie a movie deal with Universal for a filmed version of Stranger and a movie based on Willie’s life.)

After the success of Stranger, RCA brought out The Outlaws, a compendium of material by Willie and Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser. It sold a million copies right out of the chute, and Nashville, which was accustomed to patting itself on the back for selling 200,000 copies of a C&W album, found its system obsolete. Willie and Waylon, after being outcasts for years, were suddenly Nashville royalty. And Willie started telling CBS what he wanted done, rather than vice versa, which had been the Nashville way of doing business.

But Willie’s success really goes back further, back to a dusty pasture in central Texas in the summer of ’72.

When I met Willie Nelson then, backstage at the Dripping Springs Picnic on July 4th, 1972, I didn’t even know it was him. That picnic was a real oddity: a bunch of Dallas promoters booking Nashville singers into a cow pasture in Dripping Springs under an unmerciful Texas sun. The crowd was a hostile mix of young longhairs looking for their own Woodstock and traditional country fans who just wanted to get drunk. The truce was an uneasy one, broken by beatings of the longhairs by both the drunks and the security goons. I was standing backstage, talking about all this to a shorthaired guy who was wearing a golf cap and oversized shades. I didn’t know who he was until Tex Ritter walked over and introduced him to me as Willie Nelson. I was properly embarrassed, but Willie just laughed about it. We retired to the shelter of an air-conditioned Winnebago to have a beer and to talk. He said he was tired of Nashville and had moved back to Texas for a while. He told me his history: born in Abbott, a wide spot in the road south of Dallas, April 30th, 1933; parents separated; raised by his grandparents. As a boy, he worked in the cotton fields for three dollars a day. At age ten, he started playing guitar with polka bands in the Bohemian towns of central Texas, where German and Czech immigrants had settled. He tried for a baseball scholarship at Weatherford Junior College, failed. Did a stint in the air force. Tried being a business major at Baylor University, but preferred playing dominoes and music. Dropped out. Sold Bibles door-to-door. Sold encyclopedias door-to-door. Became a disc jockey, kept playing music on the side. Taught Sunday school till that became a conflict with playing honky-tonks. Disc jockeyed all around the country. Played every beer joint there was. Taught guitar lessons. Finally sold a song in Houston for fifty dollars – Family Bible” – and decided to take the money and head for Nashville, “the big time.” Traveled there in a ’51 Buick that sank to the ground and died once he got there. Hung out drinking in Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge behind the Grand Ole Opry, where he met songwriter Hank Cochran, who liked his stuff and got him a publishing contract. Other people had hits with his songs but his own recording career languished. “I’m not worried, though,” he laughed as we emerged from the Winnebago just before his set. “I’ll do all right.”

Indeed he did. That picnic was pretty much a disaster, but Willie was carefully watching everything that was going on. Half a year later, he had long hair and an earring and was a cult figure in Austin rock clubs.

The next July 4th, we were all back at Dripping Springs for “Willie Nelson’s First Annual Fourth of July Picnic,” with performers like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm. This time, the longhairs weren’t beat up. It was the watershed in the progressive country movement. Prominent state politicians mingled with longhaired kids. University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal had his arm around Leon Russell. Peaceful coexistence had come to Texas, thanks to Willie’s pontifical presence. Two years later, for his 1975 picnic, the Texas Senate declared July 4th “Willie Nelson Day.”

From that first 1973 picnic, he had to take out a bank loan to cover his losses – too many gate-crashers – but he was established. Texas was his.

That picnic was also the first time that I had witnessed the uncanny ability of Fast Eddie to appear – or disappear – at exactly the right time. When the picnic ended at about four in the morning and the 50,000 or so people there were jamming the two-lane highway that led back to Austin, I decided to find a back way out. I took off driving across flat ranchland and, finally, miles away, found an alternate highway. But between me and that highway was a locked cattle gate. I was just revving up my Chevy to ram the gate when, from out of the ghostly blackness, a Mercedes came roaring up beside me. Willie got out, nodded hello and held up a key. He unlocked the gate, smiled goodbye and drove off.

I still don’t know how the hell he pulled that one off, but timing has been the key to his career. Right place at the right time. Seemingly, everything he has done has been wrong. His vocal phrasing is off the beat, the songs he writes are unconventional, his albums are unpredictable, his guitar playing is a startling mixture of Charlie Christian and Mexican blues picking (“Maybe I am half-Mexican,” he says, half-jokingly), he does not hang out with the right people, and he has never compromised himself, so far as I can tell, in his entire life. “I don’t think he ever has a bad thought,” his harp player, Mickey Raphael, told me.

Such people aren’t supposed to be successes in the opportunistic world of popular music. But, though it took years, Willie Nelson managed to do it.

Viewed in retrospect, his body of songs is remarkable, a unified world of transgression and redemption, human suffering and compassion and joy, all told by an anonymous Everyman. “Willie understands,” is the most-heard quote from his fans.

There is really no one to compare him to, for his songs and his style are bafflingly unique. Take a fairly obscure one: “I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye,” written in 1965, is the only song I know about strangling one’s lover. No wonder Nashville didn’t know what to do with him. Some of the lyrics:

The flesh around your throat is pale
Indented by my fingernails
Please don’t scream, please don’t cry
I just can’t let you say goodbye.

Willie’s explanations of his songs sound almost too simple: “I’d been to bed and I got up about three or four o’clock in the morning and started readin’ the paper. There was a story where some guy killed his old lady and I thought, well, that would be a far-out thing to do.” He laughed. “To write this song where you’re killin’ this chick, so I started there. ‘I had not planned on seeing you’ was the start, and I brought it up to where she was really pissin’ him off, she was sayin’ bad things to him and so he was tryin’ to shut her up and started chokin’ her.” All very matter-of-fact. Did he consider alternate forms of murder? “Ah, well, chokin’ seemed to be the way to do it at the time.”

Much of his earlier work is equally bleak: “Opportunity to Cry” is about suicide, “Darkness on the Face of the Earth” is a stark and frightening song about absolute loneliness, “I’ve Got a Wonderful Future behind Me” means just what it says. Some of Willie’s best misery songs, written during his drinking days of the Fifties and Sixties, were inspired by his past marriages. “What Can You Do to Me Now?” and “Half a Man” resulted from incidents like the time Willie, the story goes, came home drunk and was sewed up in bed sheets and whipped by his wife. Most Nashville songwriters were content with simple crying-in-my-beer songs, while Nelson was crafting his two-and-a-half-minute psychological dramas. His characters were buffeted by forces beyond their control, but they accepted their fates with stolid resignation, as in “One Day at a Time”:

I live one day at a time
I dream one dream at a time
Yesterday’s dead and tomorrow is blind
And I live one day at a time.

“I don’t know whether I’ve ever written any just hopeless songs,” he said. “Maybe I have, maybe I’m not thinking back far enough. I’m sure I have. Songs I’m writing now are less hopeless. I started thinking positive somewhere along the way. Started writing songs that, whether it sounded like it or not, had a happy ending. You might have to look for it. Even though the story I’m trying to tell in a song might not necessarily be a happy story to some people. Like ‘Walking’: ‘After carefully considering the whole situation, here I stand with my back to the wall/I found that walking is better than running away and crawling ain’t no good at all/If guilt is the question then truth is the answer/And I’ve been lying to thee all along/There ain’t nothing worth saving except one another/Before you wake up I’ll be gone’ – to me that’s a happy song. This person has resolved himself to the fact that this is the way things are and this is what ought to be done about it. Rather than sitting somewhere in a beer joint listening to the jukebox and crying. I used to do that too.”

Is writing his form of therapy?

“Yeah, it’s like taking a shit.” He laughed his soft laugh. “I guess a lotta people who can’t write songs, instead of writing songs they’ll get drunk and kick out a window. What I was doing was kinda recording what was happening to me at the time. I was going through a rough period when I wrote a lot of those songs, some traumatic experiences. I was going through a divorce, split-up, kids involved and everything. Fortunately now I don’t have those problems. But I went through thirty negative years. Wallowing in all kind of misery and pain and self-pity and guilt and all of that shit. But out of it came some good songs. And out of it came the knowledge that everybody wallows in that same old shit – guilt and self-pity – and I just happened to write about it. There’d be no way to write a sad song unless you had really been sad.”

Fast Eddie got up from his Holiday Inn bed and put on his blue Nike jogging shoes. “Gonna go out and run three miles,” he said. “Wanta come along?”

“I can’t do 300 yards,” I replied. He laughed.

Three miles later, Willie and entourage boarded his Silver Eagle bus for the drive to the coliseum. Willie, reading The Voice of the Master by Gibran, assumed his usual seat, beneath the bus’ only poster, an illustration of Frank Fools Crow, the chief and medicine man of the Lakota Indian Nation. Underneath Crow is the Four Winds Prayer, which Crow once recited onstage at a Willie concert. The prayer, which is addressed to grandfather God, asks for mercy and help from the outsiders encroaching on his people’s land. Without even asking Willie, I know why that poster is there. He and Chief Fools Crow are both throwbacks, remnants of the American West, honest men who try to tell the truth and who believe in justice.

I thought of a Willie Nelson song, “Slow Movin’ Outlaw,” that talked about that:

The land where I traveled once fashioned with beauty,
Now stands with scars on her face;
And the wide open spaces are closing in quickly,
From the weight of the whole human race;
And it’s not that I blame them for claiming her beauty,
I just wish they’d taken it slow;
‘Cause where has a slow-movin’, once quick-draw outlaw got to go?

Symbolism with Willie is too tempting, I reminded myself, as the Silver Eagle threaded its way through Greensboro’s evening traffic. Still, I couldn’t avoid thinking of another song as we arrived at the coliseum and Willie plunged into a backstage crowd that was one – third Hell’s Angels, one-third young people and one-third middle-aged folks in leisure suits. All of them said the same thing: “Wil-lie! Wil-lie!” Some wanted autographs, some wanted to touch him, some just wanted to bask in his presence.

The song I was thinking of was “The Troublemaker:”

I could tell the moment that I saw him
He was nothing but the troublemaking kind
His hair was much too long
And his motley group of friends
Had nothing but rebellion on their minds
He’s rejected the establishment completely
And I know for sure he’s never held a job
He just goes from town to town
Stirring up the young ones
Till they’re nothing but a disrespectful mob.2

The song’s about Jesus, in case you didn’t guess.

The Hell’s Angels, working as volunteer security, parted a way for Willie and his band to pass through: Bobbie, his sister, who plays piano; guitarist Jody Payne, another ex-paratrooper; Chris Ethridge, who played bass with the Flying Burrito Brothers; harmonica player Mickey Raphael; and drummer Paul English, who’s been with Willie since 1954. English was once what used to be called “a police character” in Texas, and not too long ago the FBI is said to have tailed Willie Nelson and band for a year because they were after a notorious police character that English once knew and they thought he might show up on the tour. Leon Russell once wrote a song about English, called “You Look like the Devil.” He does, too, and he’s still the only country drummer to appear onstage all in black with a flowing black-and-red cape, goat’s-head rings and a five-inch-wide black leather belt embedded with silver dollars. Used to really freak out the country fans, but he’s as kind a man as you could hope to meet. He could be Keith Richard’s father.

Although the 17,000-seat coliseum was not full, it was a splendid evening of music: Billy Joe Shaver opened, followed by Emmylou Harris and then Willie. The bulk of his set was material from Red Headed Stranger, and when he started “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” in his powerful baritone, I heard actual gasps of awe from the front rows. Been a long time since I heard that.

When Emmylou came out to join him for the encores, it turned into a gospel-camp meeting with their voices soaring in “Amazing Grace” and Willie pointing his right hand heavenward.

One of Willie’s friends, for a joke, once showed up at a concert in a wheelchair in the front row. During “Amazing Grace” he began shouting, “I’m healed. I’m healed.” He dragged himself up out of the wheelchair and tottered a dozen steps before collapsing. There were “amens” from the folks around him.

Another of Willie’s friends, a famous Houston attorney, once introduced one of Willie’s songs as evidence in a trial. He was representing a construction worker who had been maimed in an accident on the job. The lawyer recited Willie’s “Half a Man” and soon had the jury weeping: “If I only had one arm to hold you . . . ”

Over the years I have known him, Willie Nelson has not been known as an extremely talkative interviewee. I am not the most garrulous person in the world, either, so a lot of our taped conversations amount to lengthy, very profound silences, punctuated by the wheeze of long tokes.

One such exchange that seemed to take an hour:

1. Willie sang “Whiskey River.”
2. We both nodded affirmatively. No words needed. A toke.
3. Willie: “Went over to Peckinpah’s house.”
4. Me: “You talk to Dylan?”
5. Willie: “No. Dylan don’t talk a lot.”
6. Me: “I know.”
7. Willie: “He introduced himself to me and talked just a little bit. I saw him again the next night at a party over at Peckinpah’s house. He was a little shy, scared to death. They had him jumpin’ and runnin’on them horses down there and he ain’t no cowboy.”
8. Willie sang “Shotgun Willie.”
9. Me: “You write that?”
10. Willie: “Yeah.”
11. Me: “Good.”
12. Silence.
13. His daughter Paula Carlene came in.
14. Willie: “Go away. I’m busy.”
15. Paula: “Why can’t I stay?”
16. Willie: ‘Cause you’re a little ole girl.”
17. Paula: “Help me carry something.”
18. Willie: “I can’t. My legs are broke.”
19. A toke.
20. Silence.

He does talk, of course, if you ask the right questions. After Greensboro, when we landed in Roanoke, Virginia, Willie sat down before his evening jog to talk a bit.

“Wasn’t Stardust a real gamble for you, a big risk?” I asked.

Willie settled himself in his Holiday Inn armchair. “Yeah, it was,” he said. “It’s too early to tell how it’ll do, but so far it’s outlived a few expectations. But it was a big gamble. I felt it’d either do real good or real bad. I had had the idea for some time but until I met Booker [T. Jones, who produced Stardust], I wasn’t really sure in my mind how well I could do these songs because of my limited musical ability, as far as writing down songs of this caliber. These are complicated songs; they have a lot of chords in them. I needed someone like Booker to write and arrange. Once I got with him it was easy to do the album.”

After so many years of trying, has success changed Willie Nelson? Are you still writing songs?

“Well, a lot of people think my writing career is over, that I’ll never write another song. But I do have one or two left in me.” He chuckled. “I do have some new ones, ‘She’s Gone,’ ‘Is the Better Part Over,’ ‘Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.’ I don’t think success has hurt or helped me. I still write when I get a good idea. I don’t write as much depressive music now because I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Do you feel any vindication now that you’ve succeeded when the Nashville establishment said for so long that you couldn’t be a singer?

“I feel a lot of self-satisfaction. I don’t know if vindication is the right word. Just knowing that I had been on the right track.”

During all those years of trying, did you ever have self-doubts, think of quitting, think you were wrong?

“Not really. I never had any doubts about what I was trying to do, my songs or my music. I just felt it was good. I had some discouraging moments as far as record labels were concerned, and I thought about droppin’ out and quittin’ and never doin’ it again. In fact, I did quit several times. But it wasn’t because I didn’t think the music wasn’t good. I just thought it was the wrong time for me.”

When you first got to Nashville, was there any kind of group of young songwriters?

“Yeah, there was a bunch of us. Roger Miller, Mel Tillis, Hank Cochran, Harlan Howard, myself. We were pretty close all the time. Stayed at each other’s houses and partied a lot. This was before Kris came to town. By then I had already left Nashville, really. I had gone to the country and vowed not to return. Everything was goin’ wrong, and I just said fuck it all, I’ll never write again, never sing again, don’t wanta see nobody again, don’t call me. I stayed out in the country a year and didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t work any dates. I let my beard grow. Raised some hogs. I lost more money in hogs than anybody. I had some fat hogs, too. I fed ’em that high-priced feed. All they could eat of it. Feed prices kept goin’ up and hog prices kept goin’ down. I lost about $5000 in three months there. On one load of hogs.”

Do you think what happened is that the public finally caught up to what you were doing?

“Yeah, I do. I’ve been told that my songs and me were ahead of my time for so many years, but if the times are catchin’ up to me – and it seems like they are – and if I don’t progress, they could very well pass me too.

“But I wasn’t considered commercial in Nashville because my songs had too many chords in ’em to be country. And they said my ideas, the songs were too deep. I don’t know what they meant by that. You have to listen to the lyric, I think, to appreciate the song. If you can hear one line of a song and have captured the whole of it and you can hum along for the rest of it, then those are more commercial. But mine usually tell a story. And in order to get the whole thought, you have to listen to the whole song. And that requires listening, which people didn’t do till recently. I really believe that the young people, that rock & roll music, all of it has been good because if nothing else it cleaned out the cobwebs in people’s ears to where you would listen to lyrics. The day of the writer and of the poet came. The Kristoffersons finally had a chance.”

But, I pointed out, you paved the way for Kristofferson.

“Well, Kris has agreed with that. He’d been listenin’ to me before he came to Nashville. Just as I’d listened to Floyd Tillman before I went to Nashville.”

I’ll bet, I said, that you had thought for years about doing an album like Stardust. Didn’t you listen to Sinatra and Crosby?

“Sure I did. Radio was the only thing I had growin’ up. We didn’t have TV. So I stayed with a radio in my ear all the time I was home. I turned the dial constantly, so I’d hear pop, country, jazz, blues, so I was accustomed to all types of music. My sister read music and took piano lessons and bought sheet music so I could learn the songs that way.”

Was growing up in Texas a big influence on your music?

“I think there’s a big freedom in Texas that gives a person a right to move around and think and do what he wants to do. And I was taught this way: anybody from Texas could do whatever they fucking wanted to do. And that confidence, shit, if you got that going for you, you can do almost anything. I believe that has a lot to do with it.”

Besides Texas, what were your biggest influences? I know you heard Ernest Tubb and Floyd Tillman and you liked them. But what else?

“Well, I used to work in the fields a lot, pick cotton alongside of niggers, and there would be a whole field full of niggers singing the blues. And I’d pick along and listen to that all day long. I loved to hear them sing.”

(Author’s Note: If you find that offensive, you should be advised that Willie Nelson personally risked his career and reputation by starting the career of Charlie Pride, the only prominent black country singer, at a time when C&W fans were not favorably disposed toward black singers. Nelson personally escorted him through the South and occasionally kissed him on the cheek onstage. Doing that in Southern honky-tonks was a brave, brave move.)

There is still argument in Nashville, I told Willie, over whether he beat the system or whether he made it work for him. What does he think?

He answered seriously. “I think I made it work for me. There’s no secrets about it. I think I kinda let it work for me. I waited till the time was right. Fortunately, all those years of waiting, I had some songs that I’d written that I could live off of and that let me keep my band together and keep my show on the road. Or else I’da had to have folded long ago. Gone back to selling encyclopedias door-to-door.”

He got up and we started walking down the corridor to the bus: time for another one-nighter. “Willie,” I asked, “do you think that what you have done has permanently altered the Nashville system?”

He thought about that one for a long time: “The big change – now that we proved that country albums can sell a million units, naturally they’re gonna try to figure out how that’s done. No one had any idea there was that kind of market out there. Now they know that, and they’re firing at that market. Those guys just didn’t know that audience was there. That’s what happens when you sit behind a desk a lot. You don’t get out there and see what people are paying money to go see. I been playin’ beer joints all my life; I know what those people like to hear.”

Two days later, I got a chance to see exactly what he was talking about. We arrived at Columbia’s Studio A in Nashville to find producer Billy Sherrill (one of the CBS executives who reportedly didn’t particularly like Stranger) sitting behind the board. He and George Jones had been waiting for two hours for Willie. George Jones used to be the undisputed king of country, the staunch defender of the traditional country sound. Now, he’s decided to cut an album of duets with such people as Willie, Waylon, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. He and Sherrill finally saw the writing on the wall. Jones and Nelson, those two giants of country, greeted each other warmly.

After one run-through of “I Gotta Get Drunk,” it was obvious who was king now. Jones was nervous and holding back on his vocals. Willie tried to put him at ease: “You know something George? I wrote that song for you back in the Fifties but I didn’t have the nerve to pitch it to you.”

“Hell, Willie,” said Jones, “I tried to find you once because I wanted to cut ‘Crazy’ but I couldn’t find you.”

Even after a couple more run-throughs, Jones was still having trouble harmonizing with Willie, and Sherrill called from the control room: “Okay, Willie’s stuff is good and we can overdub George later.”

They moved on to “Half a Man,” and Jones was still having trouble. “How the hell does Waylon sing with you,” he asked. “I’m used to singin’ right on the note. I could do two lines during one of your pauses.” Willie laughed.

Jones left for home, Sherrill left for his houseboat and Willie drove over to Municipal Auditorium and walked onstage to thunderous applause: his triumphant conquest of a city that had long spurned him.

Growing Old at Willie Nelson’s Picnic

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

Willie Nelson, Country Song Roundup (July 1978)

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

Country Song Roundup
July 1978
by Stacy Harris

The summer of 1977 has come and gone without Willie Nelson’s traditional 4th of July picnic.  Looking toward July 1978, Willie maintains that the picnics have been scuttled indefinitely.  “I’ll have to wait and see,” Willie says with regard to future picnics.  “I’m not planning on doing one again because of all the problems involved.  It’s too big of a hassle, plus you lose a lot of support form the local folks who don’t want 100,000 people in their back yards.”

Nelson attributes the word-of-mouth success of his picnics with their demise, conceding that “You always lose a little bit more control each time you put one of ’em on, because they’re a little big larger each time.  Plus you’ve got experienced picnickers now.  They’ve been going every year for four years and they know how to do it.  And they come and they bring their awning and they camp out.  And they get in free, because they know they didn’t have to pay last year.  So they come expecting to get in free.

Willie stresses that “99 percent come, and if there’d be somebody there for ’em to pay their money to, they’ give it to ’em and  go in.  If there’s not anyone there, they walk in.  I don’t blame ’em.  I’d do the same thing.  Most of the people are all right.  There’s just one or two that cause a problem — and too big a problem.”

Perhaps the largest simple factor which convinced Nelson to drop his plans for any future picnics was the bad rap the ’76 gig got from disgruntled press people.  “How can you give press accommodations out there in the middle of a pasture anyway, when there’s 100,000 people coming?  I know there were a lot of things promised that shouldn’t have been promised because there’s just no way.  There’s no way.  You have far more people backstage who expect special treatment than you can handle.  If everyone would just come and not expect any special treatment and just sit out front and watch the show and then let the people who are backstage put on the show, then I think it would be a lot better.

“If the press people were promised things and didn’t get them,” adds Nelson, “then I apologize for whoever’s action that was, but you know how these things get out of hand.  But anyone who’s ever been to a picnic or an outside festival before should know it’s going to be hot, it’s going to be uncomfortable, and air conditioned buildings — you’re going to sweat in those, too.  So there’s really no way to give anybody protection from the heat or comfort during a picnic.”

Surveying the aftermath, Nelson says, “The last thing in the world that I wanted to do was upset the press.  I don’t know whether we started not living up to what we were promising the press, or if the press asked for something that was impossible to give.  One of the two happened, and a couple at the people down there were unhappy because they thought they had been mistreated.  A lot of people wanted on stage.  There’s a rule that if you don’t pick, you don’t go on stage.  I don’t care who you are.”

Appropriately enough then, the death knell seems to have been sounded for the Dripping  Springs, Texas, festivities.  Nelson, looking relaxed in his jeans, Emmy Lou Harris warmup jacket, and tennis shoes, says, “I’m enjoying not doing it.”  And Bee Spears says it better, “I am, too — and I’m just the bass player.”

At 85, Willie Nelson Knows the Secret to a Life Well Lived (AARP, June 2018)

Friday, June 29th, 2018

For 60 years, country music outlaw has set the bar for being true to yourself

Willie Nelson turned 85 in April, and though he still tours, drinks, vapes, writes and golfs, he’s smart enough to know where he is — on the flip side, the back nine. It gives him freedom; he’s down to essential things now, with time for only what he truly loves. Like his wife and children. Like his famous guitar, Trigger, the one with the hole worn through the top from strumming. Like Frank Sinatra and country music.

Willie’s taught us so much — how to be an honest outlaw, how to properly wear a bandanna, how to listen and how to be cool. Now just one lesson remains: how to remain yourself while getting old. “I don’t think that my attitude has changed,” he told me. “I’m still doing what I want to do, and I suggest everybody do the same thing.”

I could try to sell you on the importance of Willie Nelson, but why? He notched his first hit as a songwriter in 1960 with a tune called “Family Bible.” In the decades that have followed, he’s performed on 24 platinum or gold albums and composed dozens of pop and country hits, including iconic, timeless numbers such as “On the Road Again,” “Always on My Mind” and “Me and Paul,” about wild times on tour with his drummer, Paul English. He’s appeared in more than 40 movies and headlined thousands of sold-out concerts. He smoked a joint on the White House roof during the Carter administration in 1977; organized Farm Aid, the annual benefit for American family farmers, in 1985; and made more than a few men reconsider the practicability of braids. He has his own satellite radio station, Willie’s Roadhouse, which is partly programmed by his daughter Paula. He has his own brand of weed, Willie’s Reserve, a bespoke variety that’s been well funded by venture capitalists. Some of the labels in that line carry Willie’s sleepy-eyed countenance, making him a kind of Captain Morgan for the bloodshot set. He was at the center of a group of run-around country music pals — with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson — who played together as the Highwaymen. As one of two survivors of that crew, Willie stands as a last living link between Hank Williams, the Babe Ruth of honky-tonk, and Blake Shelton, a country star of the moment.

Of course, there have been hard times, for this is country music: drug busts and failed marriages. The first marriage, which lasted 10 years, gave Willie a lot of the heartbreak material that still turns up in his sad songs. And in 1990, after Willie followed some disastrous financial advice, the IRS seized about everything he had — saying he owed $32 million in back taxes — with the exception of his guitar and his voice, which he used to climb back out of the hole.

photo:  David McClister

These days, he seems more joyful than ever, as satisfied as any country singer who’s lived past 30. His album count is well over 100, and his latest, Last Man Standing, features all new, original songs. He’s at work on a collection of Sinatra tunes, including “My Way.” But Willie does not like to talk about his achievements or place in history or how it will all be tallied when he’s gone. Sing about it, write about it, sure — his current live show includes “Still Not Dead” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” — but discussing his legacy with a reporter is the worst kind of bad luck. He wants to talk about his life instead. He grew up in Abbott, Texas, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot 70 miles outside Dallas. “They say the population never changes,” he told me. “Every time a baby’s born, a man leaves town.” His parents divorced when he was an infant, leaving Willie and his older sister, Bobbie, who gives his band its piano distinction — her instrument sounds as rickety as a piano in a saloon in Deadwood, S.D., circa 1885 — to be raised by their devoted grandparents. Comfort came via radio, old-time music wending through a Texas night. It suggested another kind of existence.

At some point, Willie picked up a guitar. “I started when I was 5 or 6,” he told me. “I had one of those old Sears & Roebuck guitars with the strings high off the neck — your fingers literally would bleed. When they healed up, though, they were pretty tough.” He was soon singing and playing at churches and in town halls, his sister hammering away at his side. Other things happened: He joined the Air Force, worked as a door-to-door vacuum and encyclopedia salesman, and as a disc jockey. And wrote. Those first songs came under the influence of country legends. “Bob Wills era,” he said. “Spade Cooley. Tex Williams. All those great Western swing bands.”

Flat broke, Willie headed to Nashville, Tenn., the mecca of country music. That was 1960. He worked his way into the late-night lineup at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, which was across the alley from the Grand Ole Opry. Singers and songwriters partied at Tootsie’s from can till can’t. It’s where Willie debuted the songs — many now considered classics — that would become career-defining hits for other artists: “Hello Walls,” “Night Life,” “Funny How Time Slips Away.” One night he played a demo for Charlie Dick, a manager who happened to be married to Patsy Cline. Dick took Willie home, woke Cline and made Willie play her the demo tape. It was called “Crazy,” and it went Top 10 for Cline in 1961. Released before she died, it’s forever associated with the sadly beautiful mood of that short life.

Willie had a record contract of his own, but his voice was different from what you usually heard on the country charts. It had that old Western thing, the twang, but it was sophisticated, too, all about emphasizing certain words and drawing out certain syllables. It was only when he moved back to Texas that he found his audience and became not just a star, but the biggest star in country music. The rest followed as in a dream — surprising yet inevitable. Records and movies, sold-out stadiums, tours. He let his hair grow, braids thrown back, took up marijuana as a way to settle his mood. Before dope, he’s said, he was angry a lot of the time. His face became famous in the way of a few other faces: John Wayne, Dolly Parton, Louis Armstrong. It represented not just a catalog of songs but a way of being in the world.

By the mid-1970s, he’d become that rarest of stars — an icon admired by even bigger icons. Bob Dylan recalls meeting Willie and his sidekick, English, at film director Sam Peckinpah’s house in Mexico in 1972. Willie and English “had driven down there in an old blue Mercedes 300 from Texas,” Dylan said. “We were sitting around in the living room, and Willie played some of his songs: ‘Night Life,’ ‘Hello Walls,’ ‘Crazy’ — all the great ones. I thought these were the most perfect songs that ever had a right to be written. I thought he was a genius then, and I think the same thing now.”


photo:  Janis Tillerson

I’ve listened to Willie Nelson all my life but fell in love with him in 1992. It happened in a bar in New York City called the Lion’s Head. One night, I happened to play his version of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” on the jukebox. It’s a Fred Rose song, unspeakably sad, the story of a man mourning his wife and looking forward to meeting her in the next world. It carries echoes of the oldest American music. It’s an intimate hillbilly whine. Willie recorded it in 1975 for Red Headed Stranger, one of his first million-selling albums. It was among the breakthrough songs that took Willie from Nashville 1960 into the 1970s and beyond. He found his mature style on that song, realized that he could sing anything and make it new. I’d get drunk on the sort of drinks I figured Willie would order — tequila, beer — line up my quarters and play the song till the men at the rail begged me to stop. When you are 22 and lonely and far from home, you feel sorry for yourself in a way that is the essence of country music. His voice was humorous and sad and full of wisdom; I knew he’d understand everything. If I ever did get to meet Willie Nelson, I promised myself I’d ask him the secret of life.

I caught up with Willie on his tour bus 26 years later; it was in March, just before he went onstage at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C. He was sitting at a small table in back. Looking over his shoulder was Annie, his fourth wife. A makeup artist who met her husband in 1986 on the set of his made-for-TV movie Stagecoach, Ann Marie D’Angelo has been by Willie’s side through his health scares, pot busts, tax problems — “through thick and thin,” he’s said. “You can’t ask for anything more than that!” She travels with him and looks after his health — got him into bicycling, organic foods and living as if he intends to last. “Annie and I have been married since 1991 and found a way to make it work,” Willie has said. They have two adult children, Lukas and Micah, good musicians who often perform with Willie and their Aunt Bobbie. Willie was married three times before and had five other kids. In 1991, his oldest son, Billy, died at age 33. It’s something Willie never talks about, but it can be heard between every note of his most wrenching songs.

When we met, Willie was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans. He’s always looked like Willie — it’s one of those rare things you can count on — but looks the most like Willie now, in the middle of his ninth decade. His eyes are mischievous. One braid hangs down his chest; the other, down his back. His smile is wry, amused. When he laughs, he tilts back his head and stares at the ceiling. In short, Willie Nelson looks exactly like you want Willie Nelson to look.

I’d heard he does not like to talk, that he lets silence fill the gap between him and his interrogator, but I did not find that. Then again, I didn’t ask him dicey questions about politics or marriages. Instead, we talked about what he has loved: Hank Williams and Django Reinhardt, the highway when you are sober and the highway when you are drunk, the last bit of beer in the bottle, the last hour of night in the day.

Like Elvis, for example: “Did you know him?”

“Yeah, I met him a couple of times,” Willie said. “He did ‘Always on My Mind’ and ‘Night Life.’ ”

“Why did he have such a hard time?” I asked, meaning the isolation and the jumpsuits, the Memphis Mafia, pill addiction and early death.

“Well, it ain’t easy,” Willie said. “Once you think it’s easy, you’re in trouble.” To achieve fame, he added, “you’ve got to want it. And then, when you get it, you’ve got to still want it. A lot of people, when they get it, say: ‘Wait a minute, this is too much.’ ”

Willie once said that singing the same sad songs night after night had, in the past, driven him to the bottle. Why, though? I’ve always found that listening to sad music made me feel better.

“Whenever me or George Jones or whoever is singing those sad songs, there’s people out there that can relate to it, and that’s good,” he told me. “The problem can be that getting in that emotional state to sing that sad song to make all those people happy, you’re really putting yourself in a negative situation where you want to drink more.”

Whenever I asked about influences, the conversation turned to Hank Williams. Willie looked over my head when talking about Hank, as if he could see him out there, in his sequined Nudie (Cohn) suit. “He was an incredible writer, sang with so much feeling,” Willie said. “He was a sick man from the time he was born till he died, a sick man. He had a bad back and was always on some kind of pain medications or alcohol or whatever it took to get him up to the show. And he had a hard life. Died at 29. But nobody wrote better songs than Hank. It was the simplicity, melody and a line anybody could understand.”

photo:  LeAnn Muller

This led to talk of the old days, when the highway turned to dirt as soon as you left town.

“What was Nashville like in the ’60s?” I asked.

“Nashville’s always Nashville,” he said. “It’s where you take your goods to sell, and if you’ve got anything good, cool. If you don’t, they’ll let you know pretty quick. One thing about having a country hit is you can live on it forever. There are people who always like Hank Snow’s ‘I’m Moving On,’ and every time he toured, they’d want to hear that.”

In the ’80s, Frank Sinatra once opened for Willie at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, and they appeared together in a TV spot for NASA. Willie considered Sinatra a close friend. These two icons could not seem more different, and yet both were utterly unique vocalists who reinvented their genres.

“Do you feel like you learned anything from Sinatra?”

“I learned a lot about phrasing listening to Frank,” Willie said. “He didn’t worry about behind the beat or in front of the beat, or whatever — he could sing it either way, and that’s the feel you have to have.”

I asked about Frank’s work in the ’70s, when he turned out all those weak pop songs. I wondered if, after you get to the top, it’s easy to lose your way.

“You’ve got these guys over here saying you ought to do this and those guys over there saying you ought to do that,” Willie responded. “Next thing, you don’t know what to do.”

Willie was almost out of time. In a few minutes he’d have to head out onstage, where he’d summon all the ghosts, play all the hits. The audience would be older than it had been once, but you could tell the fans did not feel that age when Willie ran through “Whiskey River” and “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time.” It’s the sort of music that makes you wish you were back at the beginning, when the road seemed like it would go on forever.

I stood and he stood, and we shook hands. I felt warmth pass from him to me. I told him what “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” had meant to me when I was 22. He nodded like he already knew. Then, before he could slip away, I asked him the secret of life.

“It’s simple,” Willie said. Do what you want to do. “If I don’t want to do it, forget it. But if I do want to do it, get out of my goddamn way.”

Rich Cohen is the author of 13 books, the most recent of which is The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse.

 

Willie Nelson talks about Texas, Touring and Taxes (Country Weekly) (June 2000)

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

killed

Country Weekly
June 13, 2000

“This is your cotton pickin’, snuff dippin’, tobacco chewin’, stump jumpin’, gravy soppin’, coffee pot dodgin’, dumplin’ eating, frog giggin’ hillbilly from Hill County, Willie Nelson. Stay tuned.”

Brown eyes crinkling with laughter, Willie is reciting his 1954 radio mantra as he unwinds on his famous Honeysuckle Rose tour bus.

”When I was a Texas deejay, that on-air intro made it hard for listeners to mix me up with anyone else,” he tacks on with a chuckle. Talk about your understatement. As Willie has rolled down life’s highway doing things his way and no one else’s, not one soul has ever mistaken his distinctive nasal-tinged Texas twang for anyone else’s. Not even the ones who, early on, loved his songwriting and hated his voice, declaring he’d never make it as singer.

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In a recording career spanning five decades and more than 100 albums, Wille made history with Red Headed Stranger, the ground-breaking Old Westconcept album his record company originally “didn’t get”—but the rest of the world did—andWanted: The Outlaws, the first country album to sell a million copies. His collection of pop standards, Stardust, was on the Billboard charts for an incredible 11 years!

Willie’s sang with just about everybody: Frank Sinatra, Luciano Pavarotti, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles, Julio Iglesias, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, George Jones, Leon Russell and Lefty Frizzell. And, as part of the Highwaymen, he recorded and toured with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.

Whether you know him as a singer, songwriter, actor, champion of American farmers, the fella who elevated Fourth of July picnics to an art form, or the industrious chap who recorded The IRS Tapes/Who’ll Buy My Memories album to pay off back taxes, Willie has always been as unique as a fingerprint.

So how does it feel to be a musical icon? ”I have to go look it up,” he says, deflecting the compliment with whimsey. “I forget what it means every time.”

Even though his face reflects the chiseled character usually embossed on a nickel, Willie is completely unassuming. He’s just plain ol’ Willie, still the kid from Abbott, Texas, who made it out of the cotton fields. It’s clear he’s as comfortable hanging out with cowboys as with kings. He’s certainly done it all.

Along the way, Willie’s kept grounded by creating two worlds. One is the bus adorned with the “Comanche At Sunset” mural that’s parked this steamy night outside Fort Worth’s famous mega-honky tonk Billy Bob’s Texas, where the bandana-wearing songman has just slap-dab wore out a wall-to-wall crowd with a rollicking two-hour concert. The bus lets him live out every word of “On The Road Again,” the anthem he wrote on the back of an airline barf bag.

The other carefully-crafted universe is Willie World, his ranch house, golf course, studio and replica of a 1880s western town outside Austin. He’s dubbed the replica as Luck, Texas. It’s been the backdrop for numerous films and videos. “Either you’re in Luck,” Willie drawls, “or you’re out of Luck.”

Willie feels equally comfortable in both worlds, where he and his extended family of road warriors can live and play. “I’ve been fortunate to find people who are easy to travel with and easy live with,” he explains, adding, “and who can also play great music.”

Willie’s loyalty is legendary. He has employees who’ve been with him for more than 40 years. Until a few months ago, the “newest” member of his Family Band was a 27-year veteran. When the crew’s bus recently wracked up 1 million miles on the road, it did so with the same driver for every mile.

And Trigger, the Martin guitar in which he’s worn a hole with his pick, has been his faithful sidekick for 35 years. When his home outside Nashville caught fire in 1970, Willie rushed passed firefighters to rescue a guitar case from the blaze. The case contained his beloved Trigger and a load of marijuana. “Stress medicine,” Willie clarifies.

Though the multiple-Grammy winner will perform more than 200 dates this year in every corner of the United States and Europe, he keeps coming back to the state he loves. “I can be on the bus sound asleep in the middle of the night and I know when we cross into Texas,” he confides. “I wake up with the incredibly good feeling of ’Well, we’re back.’

”And I still love Abbott. I head back as often as I can to play poker with the guys there. ”Then when the bus pulls onto the road leading up to my Austin ranch, a peace floods over me. My house there, like the ones I have in Hawaii and Abbott, are my ’hospital zones.’ That’s where I go to heal and get ready for life’s next battle.”

As Willie pours another cup of coffee, the conversation shifts to country music’s current battle.

”It always goes through phases,” he declares. “Right now it’s going through a slow period where everyone sounds a lot alike and the music is watered down. But somebody different will come along and wake ’em up.” Is there anyone out there giving country its wake-up call?

”There are a few stepping out,” ventures Willie. “Pat Green is a tremendous Texas singer-songwriter who’s been overlooked. There are others out there being overlooked. Pretty soon you’ll start hearing about them. Then—boom!—they’ll be the traditional stars of tomorrow. They’ll be the Kris Kristoffersons and Billy Joe Shavers.”

Willie says new songs will also rise to the top, but not as many as before. This October marks 25 years since “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” soared to No. 1. “If you look at all the No. 1 songs through the years, there are some that last and others that don’t. The percentage of really good songs was better in past years.

”Don’t get me wrong,” he adds. “Songwriters today are good, but I don’t think you could come up with a group to match Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Floyd Tillman, Leon Payne—those guys turned out songs that’ll last forever.” And though he doesn’t admit it, so did Willie. Besides his own hits, he penned “Crazy” for Patsy Cline, “Night Life” for Ray Price and “Hello Walls” for Faron Young.

Later this year, Willie hits another milestone. On September 16, he and his fourth wife, Annie, will celebrate their 9th anniversary. “We’re going to have one—I hope we celebrate,” he quips. “Just kiddin’, Annie,” he deadpans. He’s candid about what’s kept the marriage together.

”The fact I’m gone a lot, probably,” he offers. “We’re always glad to see each other, and that helps. I always hate to leave, and that helps. We have two great boys, Lukas, 11, and Micah, 10, we’re raising, and they keep me comin’ back home.”

Stroking his beard, he admits, “It’s a day-to-day challenge to always try to do the right thing. I’m not talking about adultery—it’s a little late in my life to worry about that. I’m talking about being there for Annie and the boys when they need me and being there when I need them.” He pulls a drawing from the front of the refrigerator and proudly holds it up. It’s the sketch of a cow. “Micah did the artwork for the cover of the new Milk Cow Blues album that comes out in August. He’s very artistic.”

Willie just crossed another milestone, his 67th birthday, on April 30.

”I feel great—everything’s working,” he declares with a boisterous laugh. “I still do yoga, runing and breathing exercises. And I’ve done tai kwon do for a long time. Now my whole family’s doing it. Annie and the boys are black belt candidates. So I have to keep up—out of self defense!”

”I’m mellower and more moderate now. I’ve learned to savor things. I haven’t quit a lot of things, but I’ve sure slowed down.”

Maybe so, but not in his music. To reach new audiences, he’s agreed to be one of the opening acts on the red-hot Dixie Chicks’ just-launched Fly tour. And he recently released a trio of CDs: Night & Day is his first instrumental album; Honky Tonk Heroes showcases himself, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver; and It Could Have Been Tonight, a double-CD live album recorded during last year’s tour.

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In addition to this summer’s Milk Cow Blues, featuring Willie and such blues greats as B.B. King, there’s Willie’s tribute to Hank Williams, Memories Of Hank, coming later in the year. Along with Bob Wills and Ernest Tubb, Hank had been one of the country crooners flowing out of the Nelson family radio when Willie was a scrawny kid working the cotton fields. One day, he recalls, his fingers were aching and bloody from jabs by the razor-edged cotton bolls. His shirt was drowning in sweat as the thermometer pumped past 100 degrees.

Suddenly, a flash of light from the nearby highway caught his eyes. It was sunlight glancing off a Cadillac barreling down the asphalt. Squinting, he watched it disappear over a hill. His dreams were hitched to the Caddy’s bumper. ”Seeing those fancy cars,” he says, “I knew there had to be a better deal than picking cotton.” Willie says these words with the same certainty that even a broken clock proclaims the time correctly twice a day. “And I hoped that deal involved music.”

Hallelujah for country music, it did.

Willie Nelson in Parade Magazine (6/27/10)

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Parade Magazine
Sunday, June 27, 2010
By Dotson Rader

‘Since I was a kid, music was what I wanted to do,” Willie Nelson says. “I thought I could make it by my own talents. That’s what I wanted to prove.”
It is a hot, sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, and Willie sits at a table in his tour bus, the Honey-suckle Rose IV. Fitted out like a two-bedroom yacht on wheels, the vehicle is powered by biodiesel from his own alternative-fuel company, Biowillie.

“When I was about 12,” he says, “I had my first paying gig—$8 to play rhythm guitar in a polka band. Pretty soon, I ended up playing in all the bars within driving distance of Abbott, Tex.”

Abbott is the rural town in east–central Texas where Willie grew up dirt-poor during the Depression. By 6, he was writing songs and playing the guitar. Now 77, he’s still at it, touring on his fancy bus 200 days a year, playing to sold-out clubs and stadiums. This month, he and wife Annie, 50, will travel to Austin, Tex., for the annual Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic. The picnic is his Woodstock, with a hillbilly twang.

“I started it in 1973 to bring together different kinds of people, and that’s still what we do,” Willie says. It’s gotten bigger over the years, attracting rock bands, folk singers, rappers, and country stars who perform before as many as 20,000 music lovers of all ages, beliefs, and races. The event, just like the man himself, is a uniquely, magnificently American phenomenon. “It’s people drinking beer, smoking pot, and finding out that they have things in common and don’t really hate each other,” Willie says. “Music gives people a chance to enjoy something together.”
He sits with his elbows on the table, mellow and relaxed. He smiles a lot, and his deeply lined face is dominated by serene brown eyes. “A lot of country music is sad,” he notes softly. “I think most art comes out of poverty and hard times. It applies to music. Three chords and the truth—that’s what a country song is. There is a lot of heartache in the world.”

Willie has known his share of it. Three failed marriages, a son who committed suicide, troubles with the IRS, drug busts. “Anybody can be unhappy,” he says. “We can all be hurt. You don’t have to be poor to need something or somebody. Rednecks, hippies, misfits—we’re all the same. Gay or straight? So what? It doesn’t matter to me. We have to be concerned about other people, regardless.”
He is famously dedicated to helping others, giving away his own time and money, raising millions of dollars for small farmers and victims of natural disasters, war, and AIDS. Among his efforts are Farm Aid and the Willie Nelson Peace Research Institute. He is known as a soft touch. “I don’t like seeing anybody treated unfairly,” he says. “It sticks in my craw. I hold on to the values from my childhood.”
His was a tough and unpromising childhood. “I was 6 months old and my sister Bobbie was 3 years old when my parents divorced and gave us to my grandparents,” he recalls. (Bobbie, 79, his only sibling, plays piano in his band.) “I have no anger about my parents. They did us a favor. My grandparents were very reliable Christian people who gave us a good raising.”

At 2, Willie began going into the hot, unforgiving cotton fields with his grandmother. “I was too young to pick, so I’d ride on her sack,” he says. “She’d pull me on it, picking cotton, filling it up, making me a soft bed to ride on. The sack would start out empty, and before the morning was out, there would be 60, 70 pounds of cotton in it. Then, still just a little bitty kid, I got old enough to pull my own sack. As I got older, the sacks got bigger.”
When he was 6, his granddad died, and the family’s financial situation worsened. His grandmother took a job for $18 a week as a cook at the school cafeteria. “I worked there, too, carrying out the garbage to pay for me and Bobbie’s lunches.” Still, he recalls, “It wasn’t humiliating. Nobody else had anything to speak of in Abbott. I don’t remember ever going hungry.”

Willie was a good student and athlete, a popular kid, but he felt the pull of music and the tug of faraway places. “I saw Gene Autry and Roy Rogers movies every weekend,” he says. “They were my heroes. Riding my horse, shooting my gun, singing my songs, playing my guitar—that’s what I wanted to do.”

Following high school graduation, Willie joined the Air Force. The Korean War was on, and he was broke. “I joined because I knew that for four years, I wouldn’t starve to death,” he explains. “A lot of people joined up for that reason. I don’t think things have changed much in the world since.”
Willie served nine months before receiving a medical discharge due to back injuries. At 19, he married Martha Matthews, a beautiful 16-year-old. “I was always a sucker for long-black-haired women,” he admits. They quarreled, brawled, drank heavily, and had two daughters, Lana and Susie, and a son, Billy. Willie tried college but left after a year. He kept writing songs and playing music and also worked as a radio DJ, a door-to-door salesman, and a plumber. After 10 contentious years, his marriage collapsed.

In 1960, Willie went to Nashville and experienced his first big success—as a songwriter. He wrote “Crazy,” “Pretty Paper,” “Hello Walls,” and hundreds more, becoming one of America’s best composers of popular song. Overall, he has recorded over 300 albums that have sold more than 50 million copies and performed with the full range of the nation’s musical talent, from Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles, and Merle Haggard to Frank Sinatra, Bob Dyla-n, Dolly Parton, Norah Jones, and Snoop Dogg. His newest CD, Country Music, is hauntingly beautiful.

Willie married singer Shirley Collie in 1963, but the next year he began an affair with Connie Koepke, who was just two years out of high school. He and Collie divorced, and he wed Koepke in 1971. Their 16-year marriage produced daughters Amy and Paula and brought him and his family back to his home state. “I really felt like I needed to be in Texas,” he says, “playing to the people that were and still are my base.”

His fourth wife, Annie D’Angelo, entered his life as the make-up artist on the set of the 1986 film Stagecoach, co-starring Johnny Cash. (Willie has made 31 movies, few of them memorable.) He and Annie wed in 1991. Their marriage works, because, “well, I now understand a lot more than I did,” Willie says. “I’m not easy to live with. I’m pretty temperamental, you know. I’ve been used to doing things my own way for so long that I’m not interested in any suggestions. There was friction with my other wives. But it seems like Annie and I did okay with each other. It takes a special person to live with me.

“I’ve got great wives, great kids, great grandkids,” he boasts. “Both my sons, Micah and Lukas, are doing well.” (Jacob Micah, 20, and Lukas Autry, 21, are his children with Annie.) “Micah’s at college and has a band, The Reflectables. Lukas has a band, too, The Promise of Real.” Willie chuckles at those names. “Lukas has opened for Bob Dylan and B.B. King, so he’s doing really well.  He’s also opened for me a few times, and he will again.”
Beyond aging, the reason Willie offers for his being easier to live with is his cutting down on liquor while increasing his intake of cannabis. He is an outspoken proponent of marijuana and strongly opposes hard drugs like meth and cocaine.
“Legalize weed,” he declares. “It’s 50% of what’s causing the problems along the border with the drug cartels. A lot of people who sell it want to keep it illegal because that’s where the money is. The cartels are now in hundreds of our cities, growing and selling weed. Legalize it, and it would stop all that immediately.

“There are many bands that are not here anymore because of the drugs and alcohol,” he adds. “I know a lot of singers who have ruined their careers drinking and drugging.”

Willie and his family have also suffered through the devastating consequences of drug addiction. His son Billy hanged himself on Christmas Day, 1991, at 33. He had been in and out of rehab for substance abuse, and his death was the worst event of Willie’s life. I ask about Billy.
“Death is not the ending of anything,” Willie says quietly. “I believe all of us are only energy that becomes matter. When the matter goes away, the energy still exists. You can’t destroy it.It never dies. It manifests itself somewhere else.” He pauses. “We are never alone. Even by ourselves, we are not alone. Death is just a door opening to somewhere else. Someday we’ll know what that door opens to.”

Willie smiles at me, looking impossibly tranquil, even beatific. “I believe that,” he affirms. “I really do.”

Willie Nelson’s 33rd Annual Farm Aid Concert in Hartford

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

www.Billboard.com

The annual benefit takes place Sept. 22 amid a new family farm crisis. Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price and Nathaniel Rateliff also join Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews.

With farmers in New England and other regions facing a deepening financial crisis, Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid organization announced Monday (June 25) that the annual benefit for family farmers will play Connecticut for the first time on Sept. 22 at the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford — and Chris Stapleton will join Farm Aid’s all-star lineup for the first time.

Chris Stapleton — who won Grammy Awards in February for best country album (From a Room: Volume 1), best country solo performance (“Either Way”) and best country song (“Broken Halos”) — will share the Hartford bill with returning Farm Aid performers Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. Particle Kid will also perform and other acts will be announced.

This year’s performers will join Farm Aid’s guiding foursome of Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews, who will perform an acoustic set with Tim Reynolds. Matthews has been on tour this summer with the Dave Matthews Band behind the group’s latest album, Come Tomorrow, which debuted at No. 1 this month on the Billboard 200.

Neil Young performs during  2017 Farm Aid on Sept. 16, 2017 in Burgettstown, Penn.

Read More

Neil Young at Farm Aid: ‘America is Already Great’

Tickets for Farm Aid 2018 will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. ET through Live Nation and by phone at at (800) 745-3000. A limited number of pre-sale tickets will be sold beginning at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday at farmaid.org/festival.

Now in its 33rd year, Farm Aid is the longest-running concert for a cause in pop music history. Mellencamp was once challenged by someone who asked: “Are you guys still doing that?” He retorted: “Are you still eating?”

Farm Aid, through its annual concerts, has raised more than $53 million for grants to help family farmers and to advocate on their behalf. Across more than three decades, led by Nelson, Farm Aid has sought to to fight corporate control of America’s farmland, shape national farming policy, and promote the Good Food Movement.

FarmAid-30-Willie-Nelson-Neil-Young-Dave-Matthews-John-Mellencamp-Billboard-650.jpg” alt=”Farm Aid, headlined by Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Dave Matthews and john Mellencamp, is the music industry’s longest-running concert for a cause.  ” />

How Willie Nelson Created Music’s Longest Running Concert For A Cause

But as Farm Aid 2018 approaches, the economic circumstances for family farmers are similar to the conditions that led Nelson to stage the first benefit in 1985. Net farm income has dropped 53 percent since 2013 and median farm income is likely to run $1,316 in the red in 2018, according to studies cited by Farm Aid.

“Family farmers are the backbone of our country,” said Nelson in a statement. “But today, they are endangered. Whether we live in cities like Hartford or the rural areas of New England, each of us has the power to create positive, lasting change in our farm and food system and strengthen farm families to help them stay on the land for generations to come.”

Farm Aid co-founder Neil Young adds: “Good food and good farms.  That’s why we’re here.  We really do care.”

Connecticut is home to 6,000 farms and agriculture contributes up to $4 billion to the state’s economy, while farming and food production generate 21,000 jobs in the state annually. Hartford County, where this year’s concert will take place, represents a rare bright spot in the country, gaining more than 100 farms since 2007.

But dairy farmers in Connecticut, like their counterparts elsewhere, are suffering the economic impact of four years of dropping milk prices. (Margo Price, whose 2016 debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter was inspired by the loss of her family’s farm, expertly weighed in on milk pricing during a Farm Aid workshop at the 2017 concert.)

After a dairy farmer in New York State took his life in January, The New York Times reported, “Agri-Mark, a large cooperative that bought milk from the farmer, sent its 550 members in the state a list of suicide and mental health hotlines — along with the news that milk prices would drop even lower this year.”

Farm Aid supporters tour Braddock Farms

In the face of ongoing struggle for family farmers, Farm Aid each year serves as an annual gathering of activists focused on food issues, environmentalism and social-justice battles. Many farmers and activists travel to the event to network, share strategies, listen to the music and eat family farm food on a menu that Farm Aid has trademarked “Homegrown Concessions.” With composting practiced backstage and promoted to the audience, the concert aims for zero waste.

To expand its fundraising reach, Farm Aid has again partnered with IfOnly to offer one-of-a-kind fan experiences at Farm Aid 2018. Among the items offered this year are: a behind-the-scenes backstage tour, plus deluxe amenities and tickets within the first eight rows; photo pit packages for Nelson, Young, Mellencamp, Matthews, Simpson and Rateliff & the Nightsweats, along with VIP amenities and tickets; premium seats in the first two rows for the pre-show press event attended by Farm Aid’s four board members; a custom Epiphone guitar signed by Nelson; and retro Farm Aid T-shirts, signed by Nelson and Matthews. People can purchase and bid on these special offerings starting June 25 at ifonly.com/FarmAid.

Farm Aid’s support of family farmers extends to its policy of accepting sponsorship only from companies that share its mission. It is supported by partnerships with Bonterra Organic Vineyards, Patagonia Workwear, New Belgium Brewery, Horizon Organic and Pete and Gerry’s Organic.

Farm Aid will be posting updates on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and festivalgoers are encouraged to use the hashtags #FarmAid2018 and #Road2FarmAid to post festival discussions on social media.

Willie Nelson” Mellowest Man Alive (Rolling Stone, Dec. 25, 2008)

Monday, June 25th, 2018

www.rollingstone.com
by: Vanessa Grigoriadis
December 25, 2008

In the 100-degree heat of a Texas afternoon, hundreds of Willie Nelson fans make a pilgrimage to see their prophet, priest and king, in a particularly unassuming spot — Carl’s Corner, an interstate truck stop on a dusty plateau between Austin and Dallas. The stop, and the town to which it belongs (pop. 134), is presided over by Carl himself, a wheezy, unkempt Santa Claus with nine fingers — a rattlesnake has the 10th — and a knack for schemes to separate truckers from dollars. He tried a swimming pool, 24-hour restaurant, wedding chapel and strip club before turning to his good friend Willie Nelson, who had a notion that might work — and also help save the planet: a biodiesel station. Two years and several million dollars later, a large stainless-steel plant run by Pacif­ic Biodiesel rises mightily behind a new wood-paneled juke joint, to supply the 14 gleaming pumps in front with 8,000 gal­lons of biodiesel per day. The stop is now named Willie’s Place.

In the typical Willie way, the scene is chaotic at today’s 10 hours of concerts by Willie and friends — including Ray Price, Johnny Bush and David Allan Coe — with cowboys patting pockets for drink tickets and bum-rushing a bullet supper. Yel­low caution tape has been run around all the pumps, which, it turns out, aren’t yet hooked up to biodiesel. “Oh, they’ll get around to putting it in those pumps for folks eventually,” says Willie, grinning a bit. Though his face is deeply creased, his brown eyes a little cloudy and his beard and eyebrows completely white, the cos­mic cowboy-Buddhist is dressed today like a kid at play: black T-shirt with the sleeves cut oil, worn black slacks and gray New Balance sneakers. Age has made him even mellower than he used to be, say bandmates. He’s become almost pathologically attached to surrounding himself with pos­itive vibes, but there’s a hitch: Willie likes to stir up trouble. In fact, the more things that go wrong, the happier he is.

“A lot of Willie’s life operates on the chaos theory, which doesn’t often happen in entertainment — or happen artfully in entertainment,” says Joe Nick Patoski, au­thor of Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, a biog­raphy of Willie. “He’s a lot more complex a person than people give him credit for, and it’s a complex world around him. But he’s been very good about sailing above it all by sticking to what he does.”

What he does, first and foremost, is work. Willie, who has sold more than 50 million albums in his lifetime, has been busy with many projects this year: In ad­dition to lending his support to causes like Myanmar relief, he has kept up his long-term work with Farm Aid and equine-rescue outfit Habitat for Hors­es; a collaboration with Wynton Marsalis; a co-authored Western novel; as well as an appearance in the 2008 Toby Keith film Beer for My Horses, a cameo in Snoop Dogg’s song “My Medicine” and a new song for an upcoming film, Tennessee, with Mariah Carey. In February, he is releasing an album of Western swing songs with Asleep at the Wheel. In fact, he’d like to rerecord a lot of his own work. “There’s songs that I’ve had, good songs, that never got their due,” he says, nodding his head firmly. In March, Naked Willie, an album of Willie’s recordings on RCA from 1966 to 1970, without the strings and schmaltz, produced by his harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, will be released. “For the album cover,” says Raphael, “Willie took a picture of himself with his iPhone while he was in the bubble bath, and sent it to me.”

Yes, Willie has an iPhone.

The hardest work of all — or the most fun — is touring. At 75, Willie travels about 200 days a year with the “Family Band,” a group that includes his 77-year-old sis­ter, Bobbie, a pianist. Though he gets the occasional bout of heatstroke, he tries to stay in shape on the road: He bikes, prac­tices yoga and bowls on his Wii with his teenage sons, Lukas and Micah, a guitar­ist and a percussionist who tour with him in the summer.

“I’ve heard that lots of senior-citizens centers are getting Wiis, because it really does work,” Willie says, eyes glittering with excitement. He leans in. “You know, most 75-year-olds already decided to hang it up a long time ago. I would never be in that mind-set, because I enjoy what I’m doing. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll never leave the road — well, if people stopped showing up, that might be a reason to quit it. But I’m watching people like B.B. King, or Ernest Tubb, who toured until he died. I’m not ready to quit.” He juts his chin for­ward. “I’m not ready to die, either.”

We’re talking on Willie’s bus. Where else would we be? He rarely leaves it, unless he needs to go onstage: It’s his “submarine,” as he has called it, a darkly tinted bubble from which he watches the world drift by or invites it in. When he’s at home on his ranch in Austin and his wife, Annie, isn’t in town — she has made their other home, in Maui, Hawaii, her primary residence, an arrangement that suits both of them fine — he prefers to sleep on the bus, the rear end of which has a psychedelic portrait of his face morphing into an eagle. The bus is spick-and-span throughout, with black leather seats and mahogany built-ins, and a few personal touches: photos of his grandkids tacked on a corkboard, bum­per stickers like “Make Levees, Not War” on the fridge. His daughter Lana, 55, makes eggs for her father at midnight as they roll into a new town, and he takes naps a cou­ple of times a day back in his bunk.

Willie Nelson, who has sold more than 50 million albums in his lifetime, has been busy with many projects this year: In addition to lending his support to causes like Myanmar relief, he has kept up his long-term work with Farm Aid and equine-rescue outfit Habitat for Horses; a collaboration with Wynton Marsalis; a co-authored Western novel; as well as an appearance in the 2008 Toby Keith film Beer for My Horses, a cameo in Snoop Dogg’s song “My Medicine” and a new song for an upcoming film, Tennessee, with Mariah Carey. In February, he is releasing an album of Western swing songs with Asleep at the Wheel. In fact, he’d like to rerecord a lot of his own work.

“There’s songs that I’ve had, good songs, that never got their due,” he says, nodding his head firmly. In March, Naked Willie, an album of Willie’s recordings on RCA from 1966 to 1970, without the strings and schmaltz, produced by his harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, will be released. “For the album cover,” says Raphael, “Willie took a picture of himself with his iPhone while he was in the bubble bath, and sent it to me.”

“These days, I don’t have many dreams,” Willie says. “That’s a side effect of smoking pot — a bad one, or a good one, depending on what your dreams are.” Another side ef­fect: saying yes to almost everything. “He’s high, so everything sounds good to him,” says Raphael. If something sounds bad, he tries to forget that he heard it. “Willie never lies,” adds drummer Paul English, whose first job was playing with Willie in 1956 (he swears it will be his last one, too). “If I ask him something and he doesn’t answer, I never bring it up again. That’s his way of saying no.”

The kitchen nook is where Willie re­ceives friends, with XM classic country on the dial and his favorite things on the countertop. Not only does he have an iPhone, but he’s brought along two Mac PowerBooks, to check e-mail and surf the Net for left-leaning conspiracy theories (he is not sure that 9/11 wasn’t an inside job). Each of the computers has long, heavy scratch­es in the titanium, because fellow travelers have been known to throw them when ex­periencing technical difficulties. The real test of a star musician’s character is the cohesiveness of his band, and Willie has kept them close — he’s fired only two members in 30 years. He’s become more involved with his biological family as well, committed to maintaining a tight unit with his cur­rent wife and teenage sons. “Every morn­ing, Willie looks in the mirror and says, ‘Open your heart and give love a chance,’” says Turk Pipkin, an old friend and co­author of The Tao of Willie. “It’s nothing that he’s shy about, and it’s served him well.” In return, those around him give him fealty and protection on the road — they know the best medicine for his advancing age is music. “Willie has so much creativity, and it hurts to hold it in,” says Raphael.

This may be the case, but Willie can also be difficult. His Texan instinct to trust the most outlandish huckster in the room is problematic: The original biodiesel com­pany that Willie backed is flailing, its stock price trailing for less than a penny these days; at today’s concert, he’s promoting a Wataire machine, a kind of glorified de-humidifier that creates purified drinking water and has a price tag of $1,600. And he himself is covering up many scars — no-account parents who split quickly after his birth, leaving him to be raised by his grandparents in Depression-era Texas; the years he spent in Nashville as a strug­gling songwriter in the Sixties, until he fi­nally broke through in the mid-1970s; a debt of $16.7 million to the IRS in the early Nineties, which he paid off partially by auctioning his homes and possessions; three divorces, not always amicable; and the suicide of a son in 1991. “This is a guy who has really seen the dark side, and peo­ple don’t think that about Willie so much,” says Billy Bob Thornton, who is beginning work on a documentary about Willie, and whose band, the Boxmasters, toured with him this fall. “Willie doesn’t talk about the torture he’s been through. It only shows on his face.”

It’s a heady mix for guys looking for a fa­ther figure and hoping to hang with one of the world’s last pot-smoking icons. Woody Harrelson, Luke and Owen Wilson, and Johnny Knoxville have all become very close to Willie in recent years. When Knoxville appears at a concert the next day, he grabs crew members in big bear hugs. “I thought your granddaugh­ter was a beauty, and then I saw your daughter!” he tells the stage manager. Later, he be­comes choked up while talking about Willie. “I’m from Ten­nessee, and just to meet Wil­lie was an honor for me, but to call him my friend …” he says, then trails off. “It’s an under­statement to say it’s a special friendship for me.”

Harrelson has become a kind of Boswell for Willie’s funniest lines, which he types into his BlackBerry — “If you’re going to have sex with an animal, make sure it’s a horse, because then at least you’ll have a ride home,” for example — and is a regular at his poker games on Maui. “One time, my wife gave me some money to play poker,” says Har­relson. “I said to Willie, ‘Ah, she gave me this money, and I know I should triple it, but instead I’ll come home tonight smell­ing of whiskey, slobbering and broke.’ Willie said, ‘You have that right! As the breadwinner, it’s not only your right — it’s your responsibility! You have the responsibility to be irresponsi­ble!’ That was one of the most freeing things I ever heard in my life. I really needed to hear that.”

Today Willie takes the stage twice in the sweltering heat, sticking to his most popu­lar songs, like “Good Heart­ed Woman” and “Crazy,” rare­ly cracking a smile until the end, when he lifts his Stetson hat in farewell. As the chaos of mixed-up tickets, high school security guards and a mob of fans rages outside the bus, one of Willie’s roadies, Ben Dorcy, climbs on with Ray Price, who has come to sing a few tunes. Neither man is moving par­ticularly quickly: Price is 83, and Dorcy, a former valet for John Wayne who smokes Lon­don Fog in his pipe, is 81. Price gives a kiss to Willie’s wife, a curly-haired hippie chick who is about half as old as anyone in the room, then turns to “Sis­ter Bobbie,” who is drinking coffee out of a china teacup. “Every night, we get our energy from our audiences,” she says. “Maybe it’s what we put out, but they give it back, and that’s the fuel we need to get through the next day.”

Price and Willie sit down at the kitchen nook in front of a big glass ashtray filled with marijuana, for use in Wil­lie’s vaporizer, which was gift­ed to him by a dude Harrelson met on the beach in Maui. “I’ll smoke anything that comes around,” says Willie. “It doesn’t matter to me what type it is. People like to give me it. They feel that I shouldn’t be with­out it. The vaporizer makes it easier on my lungs, because I was coughing and wheezing a lot.” Is he worried about getting busted for possession again? “You think I won’t?” he says, grinning.

Willie tells Price a few jokes — “I’ve got a new song called ‘I Called Her a Bitch, She Called Me a Son of a Bitch, I Think We Might Make It Work This Time,’” he says, laughing — and starts talking politics. He’s excited about President-­elect Obama, who he thinks is a “good guy, with good ideas, and a good change,” he says. “I never did know if we’d be sharp enough to let the right guy in no matter what color he was,” he adds, then cocks his head. “I was talking to my friend Gatewood Gailbraith the other day, and I asked him what he felt about Obama. He goes, ‘It’s like a turtle on a post. You see it, and you think, How’d that get there?’”

Everyone dies laughing, and Price tells Dorcy to grab a bag of peaches that he bought at a nearby farm stand. Dorcy starts toward the door, inch by inch. “Hey, Ben-Ben,” Willie hol­lers. “If you can’t find those peaches, just bring us some doughnuts.”

Then he takes a puff on the vaporizer.

“I’m working on levitating,” he says, letting out a stream of smoke. “You’ll know when I pass by.”

The Mystic Willie

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

country music

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, “Django and Jimmie” (Rolling Stone Interview June 2015)

Friday, June 15th, 2018

blackhats

www.RollingStone.com
by:  Patrick Doyle

“Hello, I know you!” Merle Haggard says as he emerges from the bedroom of his tour bus. He’s talking to Willie Nelson, who’s sitting in the bus’s cramped front quarters. Standing nearby, Nelson’s wife, Annie, asks the pair if they’ll sign a couple of acoustic guitars for a charity run by Matthew McConaughey, a friend of the family. “Absolutely not,” Haggard says with a smile. Later, when Annie takes a photo of the two signing the guitars, Nelson grins and gives the camera the finger.

It’s a perfect Saturday night in South Texas, where Haggard, 78, and Nelson, 82, are playing the last of three sold-out shows together at New Braunfels’ Whitewater Amphitheater. Haggard is about to play a set, during which Nelson will join him on “Okie From Muskogee,” “Pancho and Lefty” and a handful of other songs. Backstage, Nelson family members catch up; his rail-thin 90-year-old roadie Ben Dorcy (who was once John Wayne’s assistant) ambles around, smoking a pipe. Directly behind the stage, locals ride down the Guadalupe River in inner tubes, stopping on the bank to listen to the show. “We’ll get somebody out there to sell them tickets,” Nelson jokes.

Sitting side by side on the bus, Nelson and Haggard look like they could be a grizzled Mount Rushmore of country music. “It’s a mutual-admiration society with us,” says Nelson. “Merle’s one of the best. There’s not anyone out there that can beat him. Maybe Kris Kristofferson. But then you start running out of names.”

Haggard and Nelson are about to release a new LP, Django and Jimmie. (The title is a tribute to Nelson’s and Haggard’s respective heroes, Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers.)

One of the best songs is “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” an ode to their late friend and a meditation on mortality. “There’s a thousand good stories about John,” says Nelson. Haggard tells one, about the time Cash thought it would be hilarious to dynamite a broken-down car he encountered on the side of the road. “He hooks it all up, hits the plunger and blows it up. And he said, ‘Now, when that guy goes to tell his old lady his car blew up, he won’t be lying!’?” Nelson cackles, adding, “John used to say, ‘I always get my best thinking done when June is talking.’?”

“I didn’t know anything about marijuana,” Haggard says. “It’s fantastic.”

Nelson and Haggard met at a poker game at Nelson’s Nashville house in 1964, when both were struggling songwriters. (Neither would have major success until they left Nashville behind; Nelson for Austin, Haggard for Bakersfield, California.) They didn’t become close until the late Seventies, when they were playing casinos in Reno. “We’d play a couple of long shows a day, then spend all night long jamming,” says Haggard.

In 1982, they recorded Pancho & Lefty together at Nelson’s ranch near Austin, where they’d stay awake for days — “We were living pretty hard in that time period,” Nelson has said — playing golf and then recording all night (Haggard barely remembers singing his famous verse on “Pancho and Lefty”). At the time, they were fasting on a master-cleanse regimen of cayenne pepper and lemon juice. “I think Willie went 10 days,” says Haggard. “I went seven.”

“I still ain’t got over it,” says Nelson. “Still hungry.” Adds Haggard, “You’re still high!”

These days, they share a love of conspiracy theories (both are devoted fans of paranormal-obsessed radio host Art Bell) and making music with their children (Haggard’s son Ben plays guitar in his band; Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah frequently join their father onstage). “It’s as good as it gets, to have your kids up there playing,” says Nelson. “And they’re good!”

On the new album, the two cover Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright).” The track was recorded before Dylan criticized Haggard and other artists in a widely publicized MusicCares speech in February: “Merle Haggard didn’t think much of my songs, but Buck Owens did,” Dylan said. “Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody’s blessing — you figure it out.” Dylan later apologized.

Haggard (who toured with Dylan in 2005) thinks Dylan was talking about the Merle Haggard of the Sixties — the guy who took shots at hippies, weed and premarital sex in 1969’s “Okie From Muskogee.”

“I didn’t misunderstand Bob,” says Haggard. “I know what he meant. He figured I was lumping him in with hippies [in the Sixties]. The lack of respect for the American military hurt my feelings at the time. But I never lumped Bob Dylan in with the hippies. What made him great was the fact that every body liked him. And I’ll tell you one thing, the goddamn hippies have got no exclusive on Bob Dylan!” He pauses. “Bob likes to box — I’d like to get in the ring with his ass, and give him somebody to hit.”

In fact, these days Merle Haggard is far more liberal than the man in his classic songs. For one thing, he loves pot. “I didn’t know anything about marijuana back then,” he says. “It’s one of the most fantastic things in the world.” Did he and Nelson smoke in the studio? “Are you kidding me?” Haggard says with a laugh.

Soon, the conversation devolves to jokes. “You know what you call a guitar player without a girlfriend?” Nelson asks. “Homeless.”

Next, they talk current events, Nelson explaining the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit to Haggard. (“They stole more than they were supposed to,” he says. Haggard nods.) Asked if either has any thoughts about communicating with fans through social media, they shake their heads. “Just so long as somebody else can do it,” says Nelson. “That’s why I didn’t learn to play steel guitar.”

“What was that little girl that played steel in Asleep at the Wheel?” says Haggard. “Cindy Cashdollar. Everybody was trying to look up her dress.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” deadpans Nelson. “I think I had the wrong angle.”

By now, Haggard is supposed to be onstage; his son has been extending his three-song warm-up set for several minutes, telling the crowd his father will be out soon. These co-headline dates sold so well that Nelson says there will be more: “In fact, I was talking to some folks today — I was gonna see what they thought of making us do a tour of it when it comes out.”

He turns to Haggard. “We ought to do whatever we can get — as many days as we need to,” Nelson says with a smile. “Because I know it’s a good record. I think it might sell a couple.”

Willie Nelson, Cowboy Grace (No Depression, June 2012)

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

breathe

www.nodepression.com
by: Doug Heselgrave

It’s the middle of the afternoon and for the past few hours Willie Nelson has been talking to reporters about his new album, ‘Heroes.’ For a writer, it’s not the ideal situation, and as I bided my time in the middle of the queue, I worried that by the time it was my turn to speak to Willie, he’d be burned out and his answers would be perfunctory and clichéd. But, I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I went away from our conversation realizing how little I really understood about this singer and songwriter that I’d been listening to for most of my life.

Over the years, the red headed stranger has slowly metamorphosized into a grey haired icon who has become as synonymous with American culture as Mickey Mouse or the Titanic. He’s been called one of the most recognizable people on the world, and millions of folks who never listen to country music know about his stance on marijuana, biofuel and the dangers of factory farming. For many, Willie Nelson represents a way of life that has all but disappeared, so it’s not surprising that for the last four decades or so, his fans have created myths, images and expectations around him that have all but obscured the man behind them.

If any of this bothers Willie in any way, it’s certainly wasn’t evident when we spoke. Serene and imperturbable, open and empty of expectations, it was almost unnerving how utterly present Willie is in conversation. At this stage in his life, he certainly doesn’t need to talk to anyone if he doesn’t want to, but from the beginning to the end of our chat, he exhibited a Bodhisattva-like calm that goes beyond any explanation that all the pot he’s smoked could account for. So, when I asked him about his new album, ‘Heroes’, not surprisingly his first comments deflected attention away from himself and onto everyone else who contributed to the record.

“You know Doug, there were really a lot of great moments in putting this album together. Buddy Cannon, the producer, got such great talent together. There were such wonderful musicians who worked on this album, and that’s really the key to every good record. All those musicians on there were just incredible. They played each song with exactly the right amount of feeling and emotion. A lot of the success of this album goes to those musicians. I can’t thank them enough for what they did.”

He paused a moment, obviously lost in a private reverie before resurfacing with “so many great memories. So many great songs.” Picking up the thread, he continued, “A lot of the songs on this one came from Buddy and Luke, so I can’t really take credit except for the songs I wrote myself I guess. ‘Heroes’ was one of those songs. I wrote it for and about Billy Joe Shaver. He’s one of my favorites and just a beautiful singer still”

Like Slim, the cowboy Buddha in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men, the quality of silence between Willie’s sentences resonated as deeply as anything he says, and like that character he is secure in his own ego and reluctant, even after repeated attempts, to aggrandize himself, preferring to see himself as a conduit or a catalyst for the music rather than ‘anything special.’ In a culture defined by celebrity worship, where fragile egos live and die by what is written and said about them, Willie Nelson is a survivor who reminds us that of all the paths through stardom, the road less travelled is the one that leads to humility.

As we began to talk about the songs on ‘Heroes’, I remarked that the most interesting aspect of the record for me was just how good his son, Lukas’ songs have become. Willie’s voice became warmer as I’d obviously brought up a subject close to his heart. “Oh yeah, I’m proud of Lukas. I’m so proud of all of my children. He and Micah – both of my sons – are on the album in different places. As for Lukas, ‘Sound of Your Memory’ is a good song. I really like that one and ‘No Place To Fly.’ I think they’re some of his best compositions”

‘Sound Of Your Memory’, especially, sounds like a great, lost Willie Nelson song, and I wondered aloud if he had ever taken any part in writing any of his son’s music. “ No, but when he writes something he sings it to me and I’ve always liked everything he’s written. He’s never written anything bad, but of course some of them are better than others. He’s just naturally a good writer. The song, ‘Just Breathe’ by Eddie Vedder is one that Luke brought in. It might be my favorite on the album. I think it’s a great song that just builds a great story. Now, you know, I’ve noticed over the past few years that Luke’s band, Promise Of The Real, is just full of a lot of young guys that are just incredible musicians. You could put them in with any band out there – Dylan or any of those guys – and they could hold their own. There are a lot of great young musicians out there that really know what they’re doing and I wanted some of them to play on this album. It makes me feel good.”

When I remarked that there were a lot of older players of his generation like Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Ray Price singing on the album, too, and wondered if that was a conscious choice, Willie may have thought I was over-analyzing his process and preferred instead to reminisce about his time with Ray Price. “ Well, I do know that Ray Price and I go way back. Those are some good memories. I played bass with him in the early sixties. We were on the road for a while. He and I were good buddies and we enjoyed being on the road together riding on the bus. He’s still the best country singer out there. He really is.”

We spent a few minutes discussing some of his song choices for ‘Heroes’, and I admitted to being baffled by why he had chosen to record ‘The Scientist’ a pop song originally sung by ColdPlay. I told Willie that it was a song that I couldn’t stand when it was on the radio, and I was interested in what he heard in it, and how he was able to unearth the beautiful melody that was so deeply embedded in the original. He laughed for several seconds before saying, “Well, you know I always rewrite every song I sing so that it suits me!” “But,” he continued, “I liked the idea of a commercial first of all which was for the small family farmers against the big corporate farmers. I’m just glad that there was a song and a video and a commercial that talked about that, and I was glad to sing the song because I thought it fit the whole thing perfectly.”

As our conversation began to naturally wind down, I realized that I hadn’t asked him about ‘Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die’, his duet with Snoop Dog that celebrates everyone’s favorite weed. Willie laughed and offered, “I thought I’d written it, but just the other day I came to find out that there was another song with the same idea around. There were I don’t know how many writers on it and I just don’t know. You can have part of it if you want!” Once we’d stopped laughing, he continued, “But, it’s a song that was a natural I thought and the timing was right.”

Still, I remembered how Walmart refused to sell his ‘Country Man’ album in its original format because of the marijuana leaves on the cover, and I wondered if he felt a song like that would alienate a portion of his audience.

“No, in fact I close my show with the song every night and it’s a great sing along. It was funny to see, but we had an 84 year-old lady celebrating her birthday in the house last night. She was right down on the front row and she was standing up and singing right along with ‘Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die’”

With visions of Keith Richards snorting up his father’s ashes mixed with cocaine, I asked him what kind of high he think I’d get if I had the chance to roll him up and smoke him when he died, and Willie didn’t skip a beat before answering, “Oh, I don’t know, but I’d go and get a shot real quick. There’s no telling what you’d catch! Don’t take any chances out there!”

We shot the breeze for a few minutes as our time together drew to a close, but just before moving on, Willie offered, “Doug, I am a lucky man and I have to tell you, thinking about this record, and the time I spent making it, it was just as good as it gets to have my kids in there with me. What more could you want?”

Amen.

But no one can be

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Willie Nelson Fans

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Janis from Texas drove me all over Austin after a show, in the middle of the night, to get our hands on the Life Magazine with Willie Nelson’s photo.   It was worth it.  Janis is the best.