Archive for the ‘Mickey Raphael’ Category

Willie Nelson and Family On Tour

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

woodland3 by you.

Janis took this picture from backstage at the Woodlands, in Texas.

The band is having a little down time.  They need it, with the schedule that’s waiting for them.  Oh, those guys (and gal) work hard.

Willie Nelson & Family

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015


Willie Nelson and Family on the 4th of July in Austin

Monday, July 13th, 2015

photo: Janis Tillerson
Willie and Paul

Bobbie Nelson

IMG_2990IMG_2861 Billy English



Mickey Raphael IMG_2955

Kevin Smith

Red Headed Stranger

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger

We revisit Nelson’s 1975 concept album Red Headed Stranger – his first release on Columbia Records, a record giving Nelson total creative control, and one that tells the story of a fugitive on the run after killing his wife and her lover, told with brief song-poems and minimal backing.

Read the entire interview with Mickey Raphael here.

Willie Nelson, “Naked Willie”

Sunday, June 14th, 2015


Naked Willie is yet another of these compilations, but this one has a unique twist. In much the same manner that the “naked” version of the Beatles Let It Be deconstructed Phil Spector’s over-production of that album, Naked Willie strips away the more overdone aspects of some of the best songs from Nelson’s years in the sixties and early seventies on the RCA label.

The result is an album where Nelson’s often overlooked work during those years is able to be viewed in a new, far more refreshing light. Whereas the results of the Beatles Let It Be…Naked experiment are somewhat debatable — a judgment no doubt influenced by decades of growing up with those songs as we already knew and loved them — there is no such room for debate with Naked Willie. Nelson and longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael have simply done one hell of a job “de-producing” these songs.

And by “de-producing,” we mean stripping away all of the strings, horns, and generally overproduced nonsense that constituted what was then known as the “Nashville Sound.”

1. Bring Me Sunshine
2. Following Me Around
3. Ghost, The
4. Happiness Lives Next Door
5. I Just Dropped By
6. Jimmy’s Road
7. I Let My Mind Wander
8. If You Could See What’s Going Through My Mind
9. Johnny One Time
10. Local Memory, The
11. Party’s Over, The
12. Where Do You Stand?
13. When We Live Again?
14. What Can You Do To Me Now?
15. I’m A Memory
16. Sunday Morning Coming Down
17. Laying My Burdens Down

Willie Nelson and Mickey Raphael

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

By Jeremy Martin

New to Willie Nelson?   Don’t cop to that shit around these parts, partner, unless you do it in a Martian accent.  In his 76 years, Abbott, Texas’s native son has done so many phenomenal things a list of them would amount to a religious text, but let’s put it this way: He wrote a hit song for Patsy Cline (“Crazy”) and appeared in a Snoop Dogg video (“My Medicine”). The words “living legend” aren’t really adequate; that should’ve opened up a wormhole in space-time. We’re still waiting for him to bring his Fourth of July Picnic back to San Antonio, but you’ve got a chance to verify his actual existence Sunday at the Majestic Theater, 224 E. Houston Street, on  February 28, 2010,

Mickey Raphael has played harmonica with Willie Nelson since 1973. He produced 2009’s Naked Willie, featuring Nelson recordings from 1966-1970 stripped of their Nashville studio flourishes. Raphael is currently working with Salvador Duran and Calexico’s John Convertino and Joey Burns to record a follow-up to his 1987 solo album Hand to Mouth.

How is Willie Nelson’s hand recovering? [He canceled a concert last month due to hand pain.]

It’s good. I mean he plays. He had that carpal-tunnel-syndrome operation — it’s been awhile back [2004]. … We’re out on the road now, but we just had a day off yesterday, and we’ve got a day off Monday, so he’s giving it some rest. … He’s the only guitar player we got, though.

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had playing with Willie Nelson?

[Performing in Amsterdam with] Snoop Dogg was pretty unique. We’ve gotten to play with U2.  Willie and I went to see Bono in Ireland, and they were working on a record and they asked us to come down and record a song that they released in Europe [“Slow Dancing”].  I don’t think it was a U.S. release. Willie and I played in Georgia at Ray Charles’s funeral. We just did this thing with Wynton Marsalis [2008’sTwo Men With the Blues].

How did you begin playing with him?

I met Willie through [former University of Texas football coach] Darrell Royal, at a jam session at the coach’s hotel room after a ball game. He had about 30 people in there … a bunch of musicians and just his buddies and stuff. They just sat around passing the guitar around. Willie sang some. I think Charlie Pride sang some; I can’t remember who else was there. And Willie just said, “Hey, if you ever hear we’re playing anywhere, come sit in.” I started checking his schedule and seeing where he was playing in Texas. … It just kind of segued into playing with him more often.

How did the idea for Naked Willie come about?

I just pitched the idea to the record label. I said, “We’ve got all these great songs from the ’60s, and I wonder what they would sound like without all these strings and background vocals. What would it sound like if Willie had been the producer?

So this was your idea?

Yeah, totally my idea.  Willie really heard it when it was finished.

The impression I’d had was it was similar to the way that Let It Be Naked had arisen— something that had been eating away at him for a long time.

No, no. It was something that had been eating away at me for a long time. •

Willie Nelson and Family, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (1974)

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Mickey Raphael on David Letterman Show, with Jason Isbell

Monday, April 27th, 2015



Thank you, Brad Wheeler, for finding video of the show!

Willie Nelson on guitar, Mickey Raphael on harmonicas

Thursday, April 9th, 2015


Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie, “December Day” (with liner notes by Mickey Raphael)

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie
“December Day”

Liner Notes by Mickey Raphael:

Peering through the control room glass into the studio, a cloud of smoke rises from Sister Bobbie Nelson’s Bosendorfer grand piano. After four hours of non-stop recording with baby brother Willie, perhaps she has ignited the keys during this marathon session???

Listening back to “I Never Cared for You,” the interplay between Bobbie and Will on the instrumental intro “Ou-es tu, mon amour” sets the mood perfectly for the darkness the song portrays.

“Nuages,” a song written by French Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, showcases Willie’s dexterity and guitar genius.  Whenever we are just sitting around the bus, Willie will pick up a guitar and start playing.  Like the horse heading to the barn, he always gets around to “Nuages.”  It’s good mendicine for him.  And on this take, Bobbie’s piano provides the support that makes their performances seem effortless.

In the beautiful hill country near Austin, Texas you’ll find Willie’s Pedernales studio.  Willie and Bobbie are set up in the main room which is L-shaped and doesn’t allow direct eye contact during recording.  Without much discussion of an arrangement, Bobbie started playing and Willie began singing “Mona Lisa.”  That was the beginning of another magical session.

Recording engineer Steve Chadie and Willie’s friend and producer, Buddy Cannon were at the controls as it all happened. It’s kind of like photographing a ghost; you don’t really see it till the picture is fully developed.  Throughout these sessions Bobbie and Willie played continuously and seemed to never run out of song ideas — which is a producer’s dream (or nightmare).  Eventually songs had to be picked for the final selections.  With so many outstanding performances to choose from.  I’m glad I wasn’t a part of that process.

As long as I can remember.  Willie and Bobbie, who ride together on Willie’s bus, spend some of their traveling time jamming on their favorite songs.  Bobbie has a travels size keyboard on the bus and Willie’s guitar, Trigger, is always by his side.  This is where the idea for DECEMBER DAY was born.  “Why not record our favorite songs like we play them for ourselves?”  Bobbie asked.

In 2010 after ending a tour in Austin, Texas, the band, made up of Paul and Billy English, Bee Spears and myself, went in the studio to record with Bobbie and Willie.  The song “What’ll I do” is especially bittersweet because of the passing of Bee Speers.  Bee was Willie’s bass player for more than four decades and this was the last recording session he played with us.  He is missed by us all.

In 2012 while recording songs for the record LET’S FACE THE MUSIC AND DANCE, we would stray from the song list every once in a while.  Willie might call out a song title or Bobbie might have a suggestion and this was the fun part of recording with these guys.  You didn’t know where the music was going next.  “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was born from such a diversion.  We are all fans of the Irving Berlin songbook and of the Ray Charles version, so this was a perfect tribute to both.

In 2004, another impromptu visit to the studio resulted in three songs penned by Willie.  “Walkin'” is truly a classic.  Originally heard in the concept album PHASES AND STAGES, this version goes right to the heart.  Willie’s guitar solo hits you like a gunshot at the O.K. Corral.  If through is the question, then Bobbie is the answer as nothing rings more true than her piano.

“Laws of Nature” is an “a-ha” moment.  Willie writes like he’s talking to you face-to-face.  Bobbie provides the soundtrack for that conversation.  It’s easy to make records with these guys.  You just have to listen… and then  react from the heart.  It’s pretty primal.

The song “Amnesia” rounded out those sessions but honestly, I can’t remember anything about it.

Raised by their grandparents in Abbott, a small farming community north of Waco, Texas, Willie and Bobbie began a musical odyssey that has continued for over 70 years.  Daddy Nelson taught Willie how to play guitar when he was seven, and momma Nelson taught sister Bobbie the piano when she was nine.  Sundays were spent playing at the Abbott Methodist church and gave Bobbie and Willie the spiritual foundation that still can be found in their music.

When it comes to a brother-sister collaboration with the longevity of Willie and Bobbie, there is beauty in keeping things simple, “Less is more” is the underlying theme.  We’ve heard these songs before but not like this.  The spontaneity born out of familiarity is what this record, DECEMBER DAY is all about.

It’s not rocket science.  It’s alchemy.

Mickey Raphael
Nashville, TN


Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie
December Day
(Willie’s Stash, Vol. 1)

1. Alexander’s Ragtime Band (Irving Berlin)
2. Permanently Lonely (Willie Nelson)
3. What’ll I Do (Irving Berlin)
4. Summer of Roses / December Day (Willie Nelson)
5. Nuages (Django Reinhardt)
6. Mona Lisa (Ray Evans & Jay Livingston)
7. I Don’t Know Where I Am Today (Willie Nelson)
8. Amnesia (Willie Nelson)
9. Who’ll Buy My Memories (Willie Nelson)
10. The Anniversary Song (Al Jolson & Saul Chaplin)
11. Laws of Nature (Willie Nelson)
12. Walkin’ (Willie Nelson)
13. Always (Irving Berlin)
14. I Let My Mind Wander (Willie Nelson)
15. Is the Better Part Over (Willie Nelson)
16. My Own Peculiar Way (Willie Nelson)
17. Sad Songs and Waltzes (Willie Nelson)

The Red Headed Stranger and the Strangers @Whitewater Amphitheater

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

2015-03-27 16.27.18

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

2015-03-27 16.30.18

2015-03-27 16.30.04

2015-03-27 16.09.39


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.