Archive for the ‘Mickey Raphael’ Category

The Red Headed Stranger and the Strangers @Whitewater Amphitheater

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

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Willie Nelson joined Merle Haggard and the Strangers and rehearsed some new songs in the afternoon before the show last night.

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Willie Nelson & Family at the Mercer Theater, in Savannah, Georgia (March 1, 2015)

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

by: Linda Sickler

What: Willie Nelson & Family
When: 7 p.m. March 1
Where: Johnny Mercer Theatre, Savannah Civic Center, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.
Cost: $35-$77.50

For the past 40 years, Mickey Raphael has had a dream job as Willie Nelson’s harmonica player.  When Nelson comes to Savannah on March 1, Raphael will be there to back him up.  “I’ve worked with Willie since 1973,” he says. “I always wanted to be a musician.”

A native of Texas, Raphael was a teenager when he discovered the Dallas folk music scene. His mentor was legendary harmonica great Don Brooks, whom Raphael found playing in a Dallas coffeehouse.

“I first heard Don Brooks when I was 15,” he says. “He went on to play with Waylon.”

After a show one night, Brooks showed Raphael a little lick that went all the way up and down the harmonica. That little pattern changed Raphael’s life on the spot.

Eventually, he joined singer B.W. Stevenson’s band. In 1973, the band was playing a University of Texas post-game party that was hosted by football coach Darrell Royal in a Dallas hotel room.


“It was after a bowl game,” Raphael says. “The coach was a big country music fan, He was a close friend of Willie Nelson and asked him to bring his band.”

Also in attendance was up-and-coming country singer Charley Pride, who took turns with Nelson to play the guitar and sing. Raphael played harmonica with Nelson, who invited him to come sit in with him at a gig sometime.

“I didn’t know who he was,” Raphael says. “I wasn’t a country player.”

A folk blues player, Raphael just wanted to join a country band so he could ride around in a bus.

But when Nelson played a fireman’s benefit in a high school gym, Raphael took him up on the offer. That led to another offer, this time to go with Nelson’s band to a gig in New York.

Soon Raphael had moved from Dallas to Austin, which was Nelson’s home base. Never a country fan himself, he began learning all he could about country music.

“I really became a fan instantly,” Raphael says. “Willie would say, ‘Come sit in with us,’ and I’d go. He would play these redneck places.”

Nelson is one of the nicest people alive, Raphael says.

“He is the best. He’s the same now as when I first met him.”

As the years have gone by, the hole in Nelson’s guitar has gotten bigger, Raphael says.

“When I first went in the band, that hole might have been as big as a dime,” Raphael says. “Now it’s big enough for a semi to drive through it.”

Among Raphael’s musical influences are blues great Paul Butterfield and rhythm and blues saxophonist King Curtis. Charlie McCoy was the first country music harmonica player Raphael listened to.

Joining the Willie Nelson Family required Raphael to improve his playing.

“We’ve all grown as musicians,” he says. “Willie has stayed true to himself. He keeps writing songs and doing songs of other entertainers he likes. He does exactly what he wants to do.”

In addition to Nelson, Raphael has also played with the likes of Elton John, U2, Motley Crue, Vince Gill, Emmy Lou Harris, The Mavericks, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Neil Young over the years.

In 1988, Raphael released his first solo album, “Hand to Mouth.” It proved so popular, it was re-released in 2000.

“We have the most beautiful audiences in the world,” Raphael says. “I do enjoy performing. I enjoy recording, but you have to do it right because it’s always out there.”

The Willie Nelson Family has played the White House several times, Raphael says. On Feb. 6, the band played a benefit gala for Bob Dylan, who was honored as the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year.

“It raised $7 million,” Raphael says. “Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, Neil Young and lots of others all played the benefit.”

When told Dylan also was coming to play Savannah, Raphael remembered the time Nelson and Dylan performed together in Savannah in 2005 at Grayson Stadium.

“Dylan is great,” he says. “I love Bob Dylan.”

Raphael also loves Savannah.

“I’m looking forward to coming back,” he says. “We always have a great time in Savannah.”

The audience will have a great time, too, Raphael says.

“It’s Willie’s show,” he says. “We do all the hits.

“We don’t have a set play list,” Raphael says. “We just play what he’s playing.”

Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Merle Haggard, Freddy Powers, “Last of the Breed”

Monday, February 16th, 2015


Mickey Raphael Interview

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

photo:  Jack Spencer

by:  Dan Taylor

The band’s harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, joined up while still in his early 20s. Now he’s 63, and still on tour with Willie Nelson and Family, which returns Feb. 2 to play the Wells Fargo Center for the 10th time since 1989.

A Texas native who now lives in Nashville and works steadily as a recording session musician when not touring with Nelson, Raphael is a harmonica master with a long list of credits. Raphael took a few minutes recently to talk by phone about Willie, the road, harmonicas and music.

Q: Exactly how long have you been with the Willie Nelson band?

A: I started in ’73, so I’ve been with ’em more than 41 years.

Q: But you’ve done a lot of other work, too?

A: Well, I do recording sessions, so I play on other people’s records. When you play an instrument, you have to play in all genres. Hopefully, I wouldn’t be limited to where I would just play with Willie. My vocabulary is a lot wider, but Willie is my first love, so to speak.

Q: How hard is it to shift gears and play with somebody else who’s very different from Willie?

A: Well, that’s kinda what I do. I try to be good at fitting in with other genres and working with other kinds of music. I played with Motley Crue, and that’s not something I do every day. They wanted a particular sound that I did and they used it on “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.”

Q: How did your collaboration with Elton John come about?

A: I think he had heard me play on “Stardust,” and he wanted that particular sound. People hear me play with Willie, and they want to adapt that sound to their music.

Q: Harmonica is often stereotyped as a blues instrument, but obviously you’re doing a lot more than that.

A: I never was a blues player. That’s the least amount of work that I get. There are some great players out there, like Charlie Musselwhite.

Q: Charlie lives in Sonoma County.

A: Yeah, I see him when I come out there.

Q: When you play harmonica, how do you balance blending in as accompaniment and then taking your solo moments?

A: A lot of it’s spontaneous. It depends on who you’re playing with. The deal is, you don’t play all the time with the harmonica. It’s another voice, so you wouldn’t be talking all the time, when somebody else is talking. You have to pick and choose your spots to play, and that’s 60 percent of it, right there – knowing when to play and when not to play, which is just as important as knowing what notes to play.

Q: You make that sound simple and logical, but it probably takes a lifetime of experience.

A: It really does. It takes a lifetime time of playing too much — well, hopefully not a lifetime. Once you get that level of confidence, you don’t need to show off. Very early on, people hipped me to the fact that less is more.

Q: Who were those people?

A: Well, Willie always said less is more. I spent a little time with Miles Davis, and he would say the same thing. He said, “What’s important is the space between the notes.”

Q: Are there other people who influenced you along the way?

A: I’ve been able to play a little bit with Paul Simon, and he’s been very influential. Wynton Marsalis was one of the biggest influences. I didn’t have a jazz background, but we did a couple of projects with him and Willie that were Ray Charles songs and some blues numbers. Playing with Marsalis’ band was exciting.

Q: Are there songs you look forward to playing at every show? You mentioned “Stardust.”

A: I do a solo on “Georgia” with Willie. That’s fun.

Q: Are there new things you want to try that you haven’t done so far?

A: I’m producing a boxed set of Highwaymen songs for Sony. It’s the audio for a live show that was filmed in 1990. The Highwaymen are Willie, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. I remixed the music for the DVD and three CDs. It sounds so good with today’s technology.

Q: Anything else?

A: I’ve been writing and recording with (early rock and roll guitarist) Duane Eddy. We’re working on a soundtrack sort of feel. We don’t have a movie for it yet. It comes from our imaginations.

Q: How much time do you spend on the road with Willie and his band?

A: We did 99 cities last year, which is pretty light for us. We used to average about 130. We’re slowing down a little bit. This is only a 10-day trip this time around.

Q: What’s your outlook for the future?

A: We just wish Willie the best of health. He’s pretty healthy. He’s 81 and still going strong. He is very mellow. I wish I could have that kind of attitude about life.

Willie Nelson and Mickey Raphael

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

woodland3 by you.

Thank you, Janis Tillerson, for her photo of Willie Nelson and Mickey Raphael, at the Woodlands, in Texas.

Mickey Raphael on harmonicas

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015


Thanks to Phil Weisman for sharing this picture of Mickey that he found. Mickey is hard to photograph, because when there is enough light on him, he is working and has that harmonica in his mouth (covering up his handsome face). I have pretty much given up trying and just enjoy his solos. He is so talented.

Mickey’s album is available, if you don’t have one yet:

Mickey Raphael: Hand to Mouth

The Artists:

Mickey Raphael — Harmonica
Gene Rabbai, Jr. — Keyboards
Lee Michaels — Accordion
Ben Keith — Pedal Steel
Joe Lalo — Percussion
Billy Ray Austin — Guitar
Scott Page — Flute, Recorder
Willie Nelson — Guitar on Trude
Paul Butterfield—Harmonica Duet on Hand To Mouth

Track List

  1. Don’t It Make You Wonder
  2. Trude (with Willie Nelson)
  3. If I only had a brain/Somewhere Over the Rainbow
  4. Blue Angel
  5. 246 W 11th St
  6. Asia Minor
  7. Mexico
  8. The Search
  9. Breathless
  10. All My Love-parts 1 &2
  11. Gypsy
  12. Hand to Mouth

You can purchase Mickey Raphael’s cd from cdbaby and also on Amazon.

Willie Nelson and Paul English

Monday, January 5th, 2015

12-31-2014  NYE at  ACL Austin. TX -82


Willie Nelson, Paul English, Billy English, Mickey Raphael
photo:  Janis Tillerson

I love that Janis captured Willie and Paul shaking hands, after the band plays, “Me and Paul”.  Always a special moment at a WN&F show.

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Willie Nelson and Family, NYE (Austin City Limits) 2014

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

12-31-2014  NYE at  ACL Austin. TX -33
photo: Janis Tillerson

I know you are as happy as I am when you hear Janis Tillerson is going to a Willie Nelson & Family show. We fans get photos like this. Thanks, again, Janis. She took all these photos.

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Bobbie Nelson

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Paul English

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Mickey Raphael and Billy Gibbons.

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Billy English

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Kevin Smith

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Mickey Raphael

Willie Nelson & Family, Austin City live (Dec 31, 2014)

Thursday, January 1st, 2015



The talented and handsome Billy Gibbons sat in with Willie Nelson & Family last night.

Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, “It’s Hard to be an Outlaw” (David Letterman Show 12/18/14)

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Willie Nelson and Mickey Raphael, Floores Country Store (10/18/14)

Monday, October 20th, 2014


Willie Nelson and Mickey Raphael rock out at Floores Country Store, (Saturday, Oct. 18th).




Neil Young, Mickey Raphael (Farm Aid 2014) (Raleigh, NC) (9/13/14)

Thursday, September 18th, 2014


Willie Nelson and Friends

Friday, September 12th, 2014


Mickey Raphael

Monday, September 8th, 2014

photo: Karl Kuenning

Mickey Raphael Interview in The Weekender

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

by: Brad Patton


Who: Willie Nelson & Family with Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
When: 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 11
Where: F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Tickets: $47 to $97 plus fees
Available: From the Kirby Center box office at 570-826-1100 or from

Legendary singer-songwriter Willie Nelson, now 81 and showing no signs of slowing down, is about to go “on the road again.”

Flush with the success of his 69th studio album, “Band of Brothers,” which debuted at number one on the Country Albums chart and number five on the all genre Billboard 200 in June (his best showing in more than 30 years), Nelson is just about to fire up his “Honeysuckle Rose” tour bus for another round of concerts with his family, which includes his sister Bobbie on piano, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, drummers Paul and Billy English and bassist Kevin Smith.

On Thursday, Sept. 11, Nelson and his cohorts will make their seventh stop at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts. Nelson, who earned his Fifth Degree Black Belt in the art of Gong Kwon Yu Sul (a modern Korean martial arts system) in April, first appeared at the Wilkes-Barre theater in August 1988. His latest performance in May 2012 completely sold out, and the Sept. 11 show looks likely to do the same.

Expanding the Family even further, Nelson’s 24-year-old son Lukas and his band Promise of the Real will open the show.

For nearly 40 years, each time Nelson goes back on the road, harmonica virtuoso Raphael has been along for the ride.

“I’ve been doing some sessions and producing a Highwaymen boxed set,” said Raphael, 62, in a recent call from Nashville. “They’ll swing through and pick me up (soon).”

Raphael, who was originally from Dallas, Texas, played on the first two albums by B.W. Stevenson (best known for the original version of “My Maria”) and met Nelson in 1972 at a party thrown by University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal.

“He called me and said he was having a picking party after one of the ballgames, and that some of his friends would be there,” Raphael recalled. “His friends turned out to be people like Charley Pride and Willie Nelson – I didn’t really know who he was because I never really listened to country music. But he started singing like ‘Night Life’ and stuff like that, and then I kind of figured it out.”

Raphael said Nelson liked his playing and told him to come and sit in with him sometime. After a few gigs, Raphael moved from Dallas to Austin, then Nelson’s home base, and became a fixture at shows and in the studio, first appearing on Nelson’s classic 1975 album “Red Headed Stranger.”

Raphael said the band now plays about 120 to 130 shows a year, usually with a two-weeks on and two-weeks off schedule. The next tour begins on Sunday at the Lockn’ Music Festival in Arlington, Va., then on to two more shows before hitting the Kirby Center. The annual Farm Aid show follows on Sept. 13, this time at the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh, N.C.

Asked if there was any discussion about either playing or not playing on 9/11, Raphael responded: “Oh God no. You can’t just stop or they win. We played a benefit show right after it happened, so we were on a plane almost immediately afterwards. It will be an honor to play on that day in their memory.”

Raphael said the new album was kind of different from Nelson’s most recent ones in that nine of the 14 songs are new compositions and none of the tunes had been previously recorded by Nelson.

“He co-wrote a bunch of new songs with our producer Buddy Cannon, and it was the first time in many years that there were so many new tunes.”

Raphael said there are some tunes featuring Nelson and his sister Bobbie already in the can, and Nelson has been writing again. Besides the new material, the next release may be the boxed set Raphael is producing that features a 1990 concert by the Highwaymen supergroup (Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, the late Waylon Jennings and the late Johnny Cash).

“They were at the peak of their game when this show at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island was filmed,” he said. “Twenty-five songs came out on a DVD in the ‘90s, but there were 35 recorded and we have brought those other 10 up to speed and it is sounding great. The film will be transferred to HD and the music will come out on three CDs, including a new song we uncovered that has never been out before.”

As for the Kirby show, Raphael said there will probably be two or three songs from the new album mixed in with the classics. Asked if it is hard to put a setlist together since Nelson has so many iconic songs, Raphael just laughed.

“I wouldn’t know because there is no setlist,” he said. “There’s a certain pattern, like we always start with ‘Whiskey River,’ but after that, it’s whatever comes to the top of his head.

“Luckily I don’t play at the beginning of many songs, so I just wait and listen. We’ve been playing together so long, I don’t have to listen for long, and then we’re off and running.