Archive for the ‘Mickey Raphael’ Category

Mickey Raphael Interview, by Joe Nick Patoski

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Willie Nelson & Family at Whitewater Amphitheater (April 21, 2018)

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Thanks again to Janis Tillerson, for sharing photos from last night’s Willie Nelson & Family show at Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, TX.


Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Mickey Raphael

Friday, April 6th, 2018

Hand to Mouth

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

Don’t It Make You Wonder
Trude (with Willie Nelson)If I only had a brain/Somewhere Over the RainbowBlue Angel246 W 11th StAsia MinorMexicoThe SearchBreathlessAll My Love-parts 1 &2GypsyHand to Mouth

You can purchase Mickey Raphael’s cd from


Willie Nelson, Amos Lee, Mickey Raphael, “El Camino”

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Mickey Raphael with the Preservation Band, at the Luck Reunion (March 15, 2018)

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018

Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Photo by Rett Rogers.

Hanging out on the Porch at Luck Headquarters

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

Thanks, Janis from Texas, for sharing photos of the cool, so cool, folks at the Luck reunion.

“You find the cool kids hanging out on the porch at Luck Headquarters.”   — Janis

Mickey Raphael talks Willie Nelson, his career, and set lists

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Mickey Raphael. Photo by Jack Spencer

Mickey Raphael has played harmonica for just about everyone in the business over his 45-year career, from Snoop Dogg to Blue Oyster Cult to Wynton Marsalis to Neil Young. In fact, last year, he toured with red-hot country singer Chris Stapleton. At least he did until his friend, mentor, and longtime boss, Willie Nelson, said it was time to come back to the Family. Raphael left Stapleton and joined up with Nelson to go on the road again, if you will.

Raphael has been playing with Nelson since 1973, and he’ll be onstage with Nelson when the Red-Headed Stranger takes the Peace Center stage on Monday, digging into classic hits like “If You’ve Got the Money Honey,” “Whiskey River,” and “Shotgun Willie,” alongside newer songs like Nelson’s wry commentary on the constant death-rumors surrounding him, “Still Not Dead.”

We spoke with Raphael recently about Nelson’s health (he recently canceled a string of shows due to illness), his career, and the band’s opinion of set lists.

First of all, how is Willie feeling?
I think he’s doing good, because we start up in about 10 days. He had a bad cold, and with all of this flu going around, he did the right thing by just laying low.

You’ve built up quite a list of sessions and gigs beyond just Willie’s band. What keeps you with him after all these years?
Loyalty, for one thing. Both his loyalty to me and my loyalty to him. I started out with Willie when I was 20. I grew up under his tutelage. Because of him I’ve been able to make all these other musical connections and had the opportunity to play with a lot of other people on their records, and so my loyalty is really to him.

The band is called Willie and Family, and that’s what it is because we’ve been together for so long. I owe him for the opportunity to be able to work with all of these other artists.

Willie is famous for changing the way he sings and plays his songs; what do you like about that approach?
It’s all improv. We don’t ever rehearse. We know who starts the songs and how they end. Everything else is up for grabs. That means I can experiment with new stuff. In the studio, once you play it, it’s in stone. Onstage, I can change it every night. I can try something new, and if it doesn’t work I know it immediately and I don’t do it again. We have a lot of freedom to experiment; that’s how you grow and get better.

So you probably don’t use set lists much these days.
We’ve never had a set list at all. 

Never? In 45 years?
Nope. He starts the song, and once we hear the intro, we come right in and we know what’s going on. The set follows a certain template; he starts off with “Whiskey River,” and … I can’t remember what happens after that, but his intro is the only cue.

So how many songs does the band have ready to go?
I have no idea. With him, all you need is him and the guitar, so if we don’t know it, we lay out. We’re good musicians, so we can just kind of follow him. The song doesn’t have to be rehearsed for us to play it. In fact, that’s the way it is in the studio, too. I’m hearing the song for the first time and playing what I feel. We’re in the studio so much now I can’t remember what’s come out and what hasn’t. We’re actually working on an album of [Frank] Sinatra songs right now.

We know he’s a great songwriter, but what do you think makes Willie such a great interpreter?

I think he just loves the music and he’s a great musician. And he’s a unique singer. His phrasing is very unique. A lot of them are songs he grew up with. They’re part of his life, and he really enjoys doing it.

Willie Nelson & Family
When: Monday, March 5
Where: Peace Center, 300 S. Main St.
Tickets: SOLD OUT
Info: 864-467-3000,

Mickey Raphael, on harmonicas

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

Mickey Raphael, with Chris and Morgane Stapleton on SNL, “Nobody to Blame”

Saturday, December 30th, 2017

Mickey Raphael and Bee Spears (2011)

Saturday, December 16th, 2017


Thanks to Budrock “The Illuminator” Prewitt, lighting director for Willie Nelson and Family, for sharing this holiday photo of Mickey Raphael and Bee Spears.

Willie Nelson & Family at Red Rocks

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Thursday, December 7th, 2017


December Day, by Willie and Bobbie Nelson (liner notes by Mickey Raphael)

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

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)


Happy Birthday, John Selman

Sunday, November 12th, 2017


Happy happy birthday to John Selman, tour manager for Willie Nelson and Family.

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