Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Why Willie Nelson Still Matters (July 3, 1997)

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

WAG THE DOG, Willie Nelson, 1997, (c)New Line Cinema/courtesy Everett Collection

Saint Willie: Why the cult of the redheaded stranger still matters
by:  John T. Davis

July 3, 1997

As inconceivable as it seemed in the late ’70s and ’80s, when he bestrode the musical world like a chicken-fried colossus, Willie Nelson has become something of a trivia question to many of the inhabitants of the world of ’90s country music. Not in Austin, mind you, where “In Willie We Trust” might as well be engraved on the municipal letterhead, and mystics occasionally report the mysterious appearance of his beatific visage on fresh-baked tortillas. Nor in Texas as a whole, a state with an enduring taste for eccentrics with a twinkle in their eye.

But there are younger country music fans in the hinterlands and not-so-young executives on Music Row in Nashville who are apt to shrug “Willie who?” when the outlaw patriarch’s name is brought up.

Willie Nelson through the years photo

Scott Newton

To the casual observer, the skeptics make a good case: Having lost his berth at Columbia Records in 1993, Nelsonhas seemingly drifted at whim, recording marginally selling albums for a variety of smaller labels. His latest (his third for Justice Records, the Houston-based indie label) is a re-release of his 1971 concept album, “Yesterday’s Wine.”

His songs are nowhere to be found on the mainstream “Hot Young Country” radio formats, and at 64 (he is old enough to recall the birth of Social Security; next year he will be eligible to collect it), Nelson is deemed hopelessly inaccessible to the demographic tail that wags the dog of the radio and record industries these days.

His Fourth of July Picnic, once a unique, Lone Star-waving gathering of the tribes, has shrunk to a vestigial ritual that keeps regenerating itself for no particularly compelling reason (the latest edition — the 25th anniversary Picnic, by rough count — will be held tomorrow in Luckenbach). The Picnic, featuring a graying cohort ofNelson familiars, pales in scope and charisma next to 100,000-strong bacchanaliasNelson used to assemble on Independence Day (a far cry from the bloated, corporate-sponsored mega-festivals, like last month’s CountryFest up near Dallas, which are the fashion today).

His concert set, as this listener of 20-plus years will attest, has not changed in essence in decades.

The skeptics will tell you there is less and less reason to pay attention toWillieNelson: Ain’t it funny, they’ll tell you (before moving on to anoint the next Flavor of the Month), how time slips away?

Well, the skeptics are full of sheep dip.

WillieNelsonstillmatters, in ways that Soundscan sales charts and radio Arbitron ratings can’t measure. (I would have been happy to address questions of his ongoing relevance to Willie his ownself, except that he was away in Hawaii and on the road; efforts to cross paths with him by phone proved unsuccessful).

If he doesn’t put hits in the Top 10 like he once did, he remains one of the last repositories of iconoclastic vision and unfettered imagination to which country music has access.

Texas has conjured up such prodigies in the past, in many musical disciplines — Scott Joplin, Ornette Coleman, Bob Wills, T-Bone Walker and Janis Joplin all achieved renown by breaking down barriers and forcing listeners to confront music on the artist’s terms.

This has been Willie’s particular genius as well. Listen to him for any length of time and his music — filtered as it is through the lenses of blues, country, jazz, American pop standards, folk and gospel — emerges as a clear and cogent creative vision informed by all these influences but constrained by none. Suddenly, the listener is viewing the musical landscape through Willie’s panoramic perspective.

Consider his last major-label album, 1993’s wonderful “Across the Borderline, ” an ostensibly “country” album which blends songs by Paul Simon, Willie Dixon, Ry Cooder, Lyle Lovett, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel and Nelson himself.

Coming from almost any other artist, this shotgun wedding of genres and tunesmiths would have come across as a mishmash born of unchecked egotism. But Willie weaves the disparate strands into a coherent tapestry, which engages the listener with a sort of organic inevitability that is immensely satisfying. “It’s always time to stretch, ” said Nelson modestly at the time of the album’s release, hardly needing to add that stretching has been a way of life with him.

“Spirit, ” his understated 1996 album on Island Records, achieved much the same effect in a more low-key fashion, folding flamenco and mariachi textures into a suite of songs that glow with luminous spirituality. We are told that Nelson has a blues album and even — Gawd! — a reggae album in the can awaiting the light of day. Well, why not?

It’s harder and harder to find anyone in Nashville (or even on the self-consciously left-of-center Americana chart) who will roll the creative dice with the same aplomb that Nelson has displayed for at least a couple of musical epochs.

But that effortless eclecticism is only half the story. At an age when many artists have entombed their work in CD box sets (funny how much those things look like coffins …) and content themselves with collecting royalty checks, Nelsonstilldisplays an energy, an imagination and a restless curiosity that is the envy of musicians half his age.

Hey, don’t take my word for it; let’s go to the tale of the tape, as the boxing writers used to say.

There are the classics he has authored — from “Crazy” to “Night Life, ” “Hello Walls, ” “Funny How Time Slips Away, ” “Three Days, ” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and a score of others — songs whose blues-inflected phrasing (aNelson signature) and dark and stately lyricism would enthrall singers from Patsy Cline to the Supersuckers over the course of the years.

The aforementioned “Yesterday’s Wine” was but the first of four concept albums that examined everything from a crumbling marriage to spiritual redemption and reincarnation. The most celebrated of that quartet, “Red Headed Stranger, ” boasts a permanent place in any Top 10 Country Albums of All Time list.

Almost as an afterthought, Nelson created an album of standards, 1978’s “Stardust, ” which has become a standard unto itself. He has recorded with everyone from Faron Young to U2’s Bono. His ongoing Farm Aid concert series endures as a populist-based Middle American landmark.

But the resume doesn’t tell the whole story.

Resumes are ossified, static; Willie is anything but. “I can be moving or can be still, ” he once sang, “But still is still movin’ to me.”

“The most challenging thing, ” he once said, “would be to come up with something entirely different that I haven’t thought of yet, and do it before I have a chance to think about it, and back out.”

Kris Kristofferson once said that Willie’s face belongs on stamps and money. His point, in part, is that Nelson embodies the best of everything that an artist should bring to the table: vision, chops, commitment, imagination, compassion, restless energy, fresh perspectives and a joie de vivre thatfinds its fullest expression in the creative process.

For those reasons, and for many others, Williestillmatters, and always will.

So even if you’re not at Luckenbach tomorrow, pour a tequila shot and hoist a toast to WillieNelson. They ain’t making any more of him.


Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss at Marymoor Park in Seattle (6/27/15)

Monday, June 29th, 2015

marymoorphoto:  Gary Miller

Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss Enchant Seattle Stage

Two very different bands form an enjoyably mismatched partnership on summer tour
by:  Mike Seely

While their frequent bluegrass jams leave plenty of room for musical imagination, Alison Krauss and Union Station are the portrait of technical precision live. Krauss is a virtuosic fiddle player who boasts a voice that flutters high above her band’s well-choreographed ballet of strings, with Jerry Douglas’ Dobro piercing through the pine.

Saturday night at tree-lined Marymoor Park in suburban Seattle, Krauss, dressed like a classical musician in a black dress shirt and slacks, relayed a remark that an anonymous observer made about Douglas’ connection to his lap guitar. “I always forget it’s an instrument,” said the onlooker. “I always think it’s his voice.”

As for Krauss’ voice, dry air had rendered it nearly inoperative in Utah a week ago. Fortunately for the Seattle crowd, which cooled itself with portable fans in the midst of 90-degree heat, her pipes had regained their strength by Saturday. Kicking off their set with the tender “Let Me Touch You for Awhile,” the band quickly showed its range by delving into “Who’s Your Uncle?”, a rip-roaring instrumental composition from Douglas that Krauss told the crowd she’d nicknamed “Ride the Donkey.”

“If you knew my uncle, you could call it that,” joked Douglas in reply.

Union Station doesn’t feature a drummer, with Krauss’ rhythmic violin-tapping the closest the band gets to percussion. On Saturday, they took a plodding ballad, “Ghost in This House,” and relaxed the tempo even more. After Krauss shared an anecdote about being starstruck while singing alongside Seattle native Ann Wilson during the taping of the Heart concert special Night at Sky Church, Dan Tyminski stepped in on lead vocals for the foot-stomping “Rain Please Go Away” and the tragicomic “Wild Bill Jones,” glowering at the crowd like a territorial bulldog, no matter how sweetly he sang.

Among the highlights of any Union Station show are Krauss’ quirky introductions of her longtime bandmates, most of whom she’s been playing with for upwards of 20 years. Introducing banjo player Ron Block, she revealed that he’s from Torrance, California, “where they like to make a lot of vegetarians, but not our Ronnie.” She later engaged in a hilariously nuanced conversation about fowl hunting with bassist Barry Bales, and remarked of Tyminski’s strange-bedfellow collaboration (“Hey Brother”) with the Swedish DJ Avicii, “We didn’t know who Avicii was. We though it was a mysterious skin growth or something.”

After Krauss and Union Station’s short encore that included a gorgeous, a cappella version of “Down to the River to Pray,” co-headliner Willie Nelson and his family band quickly got joints blazing and toes tapping on a more earthbound kind of grass. (Kenny Chesney was simultaneously playing at a football stadium a few miles away, but the amount of shoeless feet at Marymoor doubtless had No Shoes Nation licked.) A Lone Star flag was dramatically unfurled as Nelson and his disarmingly casual crew started their set with “Whiskey River.” In stark contrast to Krauss and her collaborators, fully half of Nelson’s band consists of percussionists, with a drumline fronted by Paul English, a real-life outlaw who doubles as the group’s enforcer. Whereas Krauss and Union Station present themselves as the best musicians that could possibly have been curated for inclusion in their band, Nelson’s sidemen, while perfectly competent, appear as though they’ve been enlisted simply because the braided legend likes having them around.

Most aging musicians who choose to stay on the road justifiably recruit younger players who compensate for whatever artistic shortcomings advanced maturation might wreak. Not Nelson. At 82, his guitar-playing remains nimble and adventurous, to the point where it could qualify as free jazz; he never plays the same solo twice, straying far from a tune’s rhythm before miraculously finding his way back to the beat.

While Nelson’s set featured most of his classic hits, including “Always on My Mind” and “On the Road Again,” he played nearly as many covers as originals, with Mickey Raphael’s harmonica buoying Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time.” Like most of his bandmates, Raphael, a tall, striking presence clad in black denim, meanders around the stage as though he’s oblivious to the thousands of faces staring back at him.

Toward the end of the set, after Nelson introduced “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” as a “new gospel song” he’d written, two of his offspring, Micah and Amy, stepped to a microphone near their dad, slung their arms around one another and sang call-and-response backing vocals while Amy recorded the proceedings on a smartphone. At that point, attendees must have felt as though they’d crashed a raucous family party, with the coolest granddad ever leading sing-alongs on a resin-stained guitar.

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“Heat? Willie Nelson’s going to be right there in a few minutes — so that’s worth it.”

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

(this photo from last year’s Willie Nelson show in Troutdale, Oregon)

TROUTDALE, Ore. — Friday’s blazing heat in the Willamette Valley did not stop people from having fun. Our star could never compete with the one all these people are waiting for.

“Willie Nelson’s going to be like right there in a few minutes, so that’s worth it,” said one fan at McMenamins’ Edgefield amphitheater. Most of its lawn seats were in the sun’s line of fire in the heat of the day.

“Yeah, I like the heat; though my wife hates it, but I love it,” said Matt Berson of Portland.

How hot? Constant-sunscreen-application, never-ending-water-or-beer-intake, too-hot-for-sandals kind of hot. Folks bought the tickets for Willie Nelson months ago, just hoping it would not rain. They needed an umbrella all right, but to shade themselves from the sun’s rays.

Monica Richards, also from Portland said, “It’s awesome, great being out in the sun. It’s hot, but it’s still nice.”

A couple from Canada didn’t know the Portland area even reached the mid-90s.

“It’s sweltering. Is this normal for here?” asked Erik Craulsca, from Canada. “It’s really hot.”

Barb Reigert sat in the sun since 9 a.m.

“He loves Willie, so I’m here for him.”

Thanks to Barb, her husband, Dwight, was positioned perfectly at the top of the knoll.

“She would have rather had me in the shade, but we’ll be in the shade in a little bit. I always try to get over there or right here – straight on,” said Dwight Reigert.

“It’s a little bit warm,” Gary Buckler said. “But nothing out of the ordinary.”

In Portland, skyscraper-assisted shade helped people stay cool outside Providence Park. The Timbers Army set up camp Thursday night. They will get wristbands Saturday morning that will give them prime seating for Sunday’s Cascadia Cup showdown.

“Rose City till I die,” one longtime fan told us. “We’ll be here every game rain or shine. It could be snowing, you’ll still see people camped out. It’s a passion.”

In this heat, it would have to be.

Willie at 70: The Phases and Stages of Willie Nelson

Thursday, June 25th, 2015


By Michael Corcoran

Willie understood. When Frank Sinatra kept touring well into his 70s, reading the words of his classic songs off giant TelePrompTers, critics and fans wondered why he didn’t retire. How much money did he need? But Willie Nelson knew that concert receipts had nothing to do with his friend and idol’s busy schedule. “When you sing for people and they throw back all that love and energy,” he says, “it’s just the best medicine in the world.”

With Nelson’s 70th birthday coming Wednesday, the eternal red-headed rascal has been inundated with tributes, including a celebrity-heavy affair in New York earlier this month that will be shown on the USA Network on May 26, Memorial Day.

The phases and stages of Willie’s career have found him evolving from the honkytonk sideman to the hit Nashville songwriter, from progressive country pioneer to crooner of standards. And now the iconoclast has become the icon, with Willie achieving American folk hero status.

This pot-smoking Zen redneck in pigtails, who sings Gershwin through his nose and plays a guitar that looks like he picked it up at a garage sale, transcends music and has come to personify the individual, the rectangular peg to the round hole of corporatization.

Willie’s the one producers called to sing “America the Beautiful” at the moving finale of the televised “A Tribute To Heroes” show after the Sept. 11 attacks. He’s played for worldwide audiences at former President Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. And he can have his bacon and eggs at any greasy spoon in the country and feel right at home.

Meanwhile, the journalists keep leading with the same questions about what keeps him going at the pace of a much younger man. Willie and the band he calls the Family are scheduled to play almost 180 dates this year, and the shows are two-and-a-half-hour affairs.

“I’ve been trying to take it easy for years, but this is what I love to do,” he says. “When I go home to rest, I get a little stir-crazy after a few days.”

Here’s a man whose office in Luck, the Western town he built near his “Willie World” complex of golf courses, condos and recording studios on Lake Travis, carries a plaque that reads, “He who lives by the song, dies by the road.” True to that motto, one of Roger Miller’s favorite sayings, Willie’s been home in the Hill Country a total of only two weeks this year.

It’s no wonder that “On the Road Again” is the easiest song Willie’s ever written. The producers of the 1980 film “Honeysuckle Rose” were looking for a theme song about vagabond musicians, and their star wrote the first words that popped into his mind: “The life I love is making music with my friends/ I can’t wait to get on the road again.” It’s a simple existence made all the more comfortable because Willie is surrounded by people who’ve been with him for decades. Bassist Bee Spears has lived 35 of his 53 years in Willie’s band, which also features the barrelhouse piano of Willie’s 72-year-old sister, Bobbie, and Willie’s legendary running buddy, 71-year-old Paul English, on drums. Percussionist Billy English, Paul’s brother, is the new guy, having joined just 19 years ago. Harmonica player Mickey Raphael and guitarist Jody Payne are also relative newcomers, both joining the ragtag caravan 30 years ago.

“You can’t get out of this band even if you die,” Willie says with a laugh. “I’ve told the guys that we’ll just have ‘em stuffed and put back up on that stage.”

Willie’s circle of fiercely loyal lifers include roadies (78-year-old Ben Dorcy has been with Willie since the early ’60s), sound engineers and managers. Meanwhile, his oldest daughter, Lana, travels with Willie and keeps up the Web site. “We all act like we can’t wait to get off the road and catch a break from each other,” says stage manager Randall “Poodie” Locke, who joined up in 1975. “But after three or four days, we’re looking for excuses to call each other. Everybody’s wives or girlfriends are going, ‘Uh, Honey, don’t you got any gigs comin’ up?’ ” Where’s Willie?

On the road again, they just couldn’t wait to get on the road that takes them to the Lone Star Park horse racing track near Dallas on a crisp recent evening. Some of the fans come early, looking for Willie’s bus, the one that has “Honeysuckle Rose” and an American Indian figure painted on the side.

A group of giddy grandmas stand outside the band’s business bus before the one with the “Ladies Love Outlaws” T-shirt gets up the courage to knock on the door. “Where’s Willie?” she asks the driver, who answers that he won’t arrive until showtime. When the women leave, Poodie says, “Willie makes every fan feel like they’re his friend. Because they are.”

With piercing brown eyes that seem to have the ability to make eye contact with thousands simultaneously and a world class smile that’s both frisky and comforting, Nelson turns concerts into lovefests and makes fans feel like they grew up next door to him.

To gaze at the social makeup of the line waiting outside the horse race track is to marvel at the range of Nelson’s appeal. There are older couples dressed in tight, rounded jeans and multicolored western shirts, who look like they used to see a pre-bearded Willie at the old Big G’s dance hall in Round Rock or the Broken Spoke. There are tons of college kids in ballcaps and straw Resistol hats, plus truck-driver types, budding socialites, bikers and hipsters with their neck tattoos.

But there are also many who just came to play the ponies and don’t even know Willie’s booked to sing after the night’s final race. When a young man with gold front teeth and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers hat worn sideways approaches the turnstile, the ticket taker jokes, “Are you here to see Willie Nelson?” A few Willie fans giggle as the man shakes his head and says, nah, he’s here to bet on horses. Then, as he passes, he leans back and says, “But I do like Willie Nelson.”

As long as he’s healthy and the people keep coming out. That’s how long Willie says he’ll keep this carnival, which commands upwards of $50,000 per show (and $100,000 for private parties), out on the road. Meanwhile, the 70th birthday peg has led to renewed interest in Nelson’s recorded legacy, with Sony reissuing an “Essential Willie Nelson” double disc and the Sugar Hill label getting critical raves for the recently unearthed “Crazy: the Demo Sessions” from the early ’60s. A recently remastered version of the 6 million-selling “Stardust,” Willie’s best-selling album, is turning a whole new audience onto the songs of Hoagie Carmichael and Irving Berlin, just as it did in 1978.

Although last year’s “The Great Divide,” an attempt to duplicate the “Supernatural” success of Carlos Santana by dueting with such hitmakers as Sheryl Crow and Rob Thomas, sold a relatively disappointing 361,000 copies, Willie and the Family are playing to some of their biggest crowds since the mid-’70s glory days of “Good Hearted Woman” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” Now that Waylon, the Butch Cassidy to Willie’s Sundance Kid, has passed away, it’s up to Nelson to keep the outlaw country bus a-churnin’ down the highway. And with his role as the vortex of Texas singer-songwriting assured, Willie has picked up the younger high school and college crowd that goes batty for the likes of Pat Green and Robert Earl Keen.

Informed that a band member said, “It’s like 1975 all over again,” Willie lets out a laugh. “If he can remember 1975, he wasn’t in my band. But it does seem that the girls are getting younger and prettier. And they know all the words! I hear a thousands kids singing along to ‘Bloody Mary Morning’ and I think, ‘Y’all weren’t even born when that one was written.’ It just makes me feel great to know that these old songs are clicking with a whole new crowd.”

As with the Grateful Dead, Nelson’s spike in popularity so late in his career comes partly because he and the band promote a free-spirited lifestyle. But where the Dead (whose surviving members will join Willie at this year’s Fourth of July Picnic at the new Two River Canyon venue, just down the highway from Willie World) became synonymous with extended jams and mind-expanding drugs, the Willie way is built around short songs and long drives, a cowboy/ Indian fashion mix and tear-in-your-beer roadhouses. Above all, the band’s escapist bent is intensified with instinctive musicianship, a play-it-as-we-feel-it attitude that extends beyond the stage. “Playing with Willie is tricky business,” bassist Spears says of the frontman who never met a beat he couldn’t tease. “If you try to follow him too close, he’ll lead you down to the river and drown you. You have to keep one eye on him and one eye on your part. Just play your part and trust that he’s going to come back and meet you at some point.”

Willie says the musical kinship between him and sister Bobbie, who ride the bus together, is almost telepathic. “Sometimes, she seems to know what I’m going to play before I do. I’ve played music with my sister almost every night of my life. There’s just this intense connection that really gets the whole ball rolling.” Raphael says that if someone should die, the members of the Family have decided to carry on in missing man formation, as fighter pilots do after a comrade crashes. “But if anything happens to Trigger,” he says of the acoustic guitar that Willie’s picked a hole through, “that could be the show.”

The Martin classical guitar, which he bought sight-unseen for $750 in 1969, is Nelson’s most precious possession. That he lets friends, about 40 so far, carve their names into the guitar says as much about Willie Nelson, the unmaterialistic scamp, as the way he plays it with gypsy fingers and a jazzman’s curiosity.

“God bless ‘em,” singer Marty Robbins once said of country music fans. “They’ll do anything for you but leave you alone.”

But no country star has ever handled the demand from fans to touch, to talk to, to have a picture made better than Willie. He spent the first part of his career trying to become successful and the rest proving that success hasn’t changed him a whit. He’s got a bunch of burly guys, including a former Hell’s Angel named L.G., working for him, but Willie doesn’t allow them to lead him through crowds, even when about 3,000 people stand between him and the stage, as they did at the Lone Star Park show.

When the crowd lets out a roar because they’ve seen Willie in their midst, Mickey Raphael walks up to the window of the band bus, peers out at his boss signing autographs in the sea of hats and says, “Looks like we’ve got about 45 minutes,” then goes back to telling a reporter how he came to run away with this circus.

“My first exposure to the group was the cover of that (1971) ‘Willie Nelson and Family’ record. They were the freakiest looking country band I’d ever seen. Paul looked like the devil and was wearing a cape; Bee had on some furry diapers. I said, ‘Now, what do these guys sound like?’ ” After sitting in with Willie and the Family at a firefighter’s benefit in Waxahachie, Raphael starting playing at all the band’s dates in the Dallas area.

“Willie asked me one night, ‘Hey, Paul, what are we paying that kid?’ ” says English, the infamous raconteur immortalized in Willie’s song “Me and Paul.” The pistol-toting English has handled band biz on the road since 1966, when Willie enticed him to leave his business supplying call girls to Houston businessmen. “I said we weren’t paying Mickey anything, and Willie said, ‘Then double his salary.’ “

Bee Spears, who joined the Family in 1968 when original bassist David Zettner was drafted into the Army, talks about his first Christmas out on the road with Willie: “We tried to make a snowman out of shaving cream, and we drew pictures of the presents we would give each other when we made it big. Willie had us believing that it wouldn’t be ‘if’ we made it, but ‘when.’ He knew that eventually someone was going to figure him out.”

Austin understood. It was here in the early ’70s that Willie Nelson found a kindred musical attitude. Even though he spends more of his time off the road these days in Maui, where his fourth and current wife, Annie, and their boys Luke, 14, and Micah, 13, live, he remains Austin’s spiritual adviser and greatest musical ambassador. “Willie loves it in Maui, but he considers Austin his home,” says Lisa Fletcher, who’s married to Bobbie’s son Freddy Fletcher. “He’s got six children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and they almost all live around Austin, so he gets down here every chance he can.”

Austin and Willie go together in the minds of the masses, like Elvis in Memphis, but where Presley lived a fortressed life, Willie doesn’t think anything about jamming for hours at Poodie’s Hilltop Grill near his Lake Travis compound or popping in at Momo’s on Sixth Street to see his favorite local band, Los Lonely Boys. “The town’s grown so much,” Nelson says, “but I still like the vibe there. It’s still a music town.” Watch the movies he made here in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and you’ll see that so many old landmarks are gone, including the Armadillo World Headquarters, where Willie mapped out the common ground between hippies and the rednecks. Also torn down was the Villa Capri motel, the scene for so many guitar-picking parties hosted by Willie’s buddy Texas Coach Darrell Royal. But Willie’s still Willie, and his set starts out the same way it has since 1971.

There’s the four or five guitar strums and Mickey’s snaky harp lines and then the unmistabkable nasal twang: “Whiskey river, take my mind/ Don’t let her memory torture me.” It’s a holistic hoedown as “Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)” follows, and then come patchwork versions of the early ’60s hits “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and “Night Life.”

Ain’t it funny how much time hasn’t seemed to slip away?

There’s a scene in “Honeysuckle Rose” when Amy Irving asks Willie if he ever gets tired of being everybody’s hero. His silence makes the question rhetorical, but after watching Willie hold court on his bus a few months ago outside Gruene Hall, with person after person telling him how much his music has meant to them and their recently deceased mother, it’s a question worth re-asking. Does Willie ever get tired of being everybody’s hero?

“I think when that line came up in the movie, the reason I didn’t say anything was because I was probably thinking, ‘That’s about the dumbest question I’ve ever been asked,’ ” he says with a huge Willie laugh.

What a stupid question. Who wouldn’t want to be loved by millions simply by being themselves? Who wouldn’t want to be paid handsomely to do the thing they’d do for free? He’s on the road again and again, playing, in the words of Mickey Raphael, “Carnegie Hall one night and some dump in Odessa the next.”

And so when Willie hits the big 7-0, it won’t be a star-studded affair at a huge Texas amphitheater, complete with fireworks. That would make too much sense. Instead, his bus, his home, is rolling towards Wednesday’s gig at the Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, La.

That’s so Willie.

On the road, he’s Willie Nelson, an American treasure and hero of the common folk. Now, who wouldn’t want to be that as often as possible?

Willie Nelson wants to make sure fan has good experience

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015
by:  Kelda J. L. Pharris

After Brown County commissioners declined to refund Reed Dornbush’s ticket cost, Nelson’s management team reached out to the American News in an attempt to contact the Aberdeen insurance agent. In an e-mail, Nelson’s team said it wanted to make things right with Dornbush.

Willie Nelson: “It’s a Long Story: My Life” (review)

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

by:  Larry Thornberry

Behind Willie’s remarkable music is a remarkable life, well rendered in It’s a Long Story,” Willie’s recently released memoir, told with the help of David Ritz. Ritz’s talent is telling the story of public figures in their own voices. He has done this with such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Don Rickles. (I can’t imagine what this last one would be like — does he call the reader a hockey puck?) Willie and Ritz tell a great story without the rampant lily-gilding and score-settling that mar so many such memoirs.

It certainly has been a long story. Willie first played beer joints in West and Waco, Texas, at age 12 with a fifteen-person family outfit called the Rejeck Band. So it has been 70 years of writing songs and performing – with some time off in there to act in a few movies. (Perhaps “act” isn’t the precise word. In The Electric Horseman, Honeysuckle Rose, and a few horse operas, Willie is just Willie. No acting required.) Willie turned 82 in April, and played 150 one-nighters over the past year. An alternative name to the memoir could have been “On the Road Again,” because Willie and his band have spent a remarkable amount of their performing lives on a tour bus.

Willie’s story begins in April of 1933 when he was born in Abbott, Texas, in the hill country near Waco. It would seem a bad stroke of luck to be born into a poor farm family in a poor part of the country during the Great Depression. More bad luck when Willie’s parents, both free spirits, deserted the family before Willie was in grade school, leaving him and his sister to be raised by their paternal grandparents. But Willie remembers these formative years as being happy ones, filled with music and love. Love from the grandparents, and music at Willie’s church, from the Philco radio at home, and from the other farm hands, including blacks and Mexicans, who worked the same fields the Nelsons did. Willie from the earliest saw music as something that lightened people’s load. Made them happy. And he’s been causing lots of happy ever since.

Willie was musically ecumnical from early on. As many a poor white son of the South, he loved to listen to Earnest Tubb and Roy Acuff on the radio. Another favorite in the Nelson household and across the region was Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, who played something called Texas swing. But in addition to country music, Willie also tuned in Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Louie Armstrong, and others, always able to recognize the value in the best in all musical forms.

Willie knew as a youngster that his career would be music. It’s all he ever wanted to do. He had the inclination and the talent. But while Willie may have been destined for greatness from the beginning, greatness took its sweet old time catching up with him. Along the way young Willie tried to advance his career in places like Waco, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Vancouver, Washington, Nashville (where he never fit in), and finally, and most simpatico, Austin.

Along with recording and performing, and music-related jobs like being a country music Deejay, Willie also kept body and soul together with such gigs as dishwasher, grain warehouse worker, tree trimmer, carpet removal worker, and gas station monkey. He even sold encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners. Until he was in his thirties, the wolf was not only often at Willie’s door, but was often biting his bum. Readers will cringe, as I did, when they read about how a money-desperate Willie almost sold all rights to “Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Funny How Times Slips Away,” and “Hello Walls” for $10 each in Houston one night.

While Willie struggled mightily to get his musical life together and profitable, there were plenty of struggles in his private life as well. Never Mr. Discipline or, in his early adult life, Mr. Fidelity, there are three ex-wives who put up with Willie’s philandering for a long time before finally giving him his unconditional release. Willie says the fourth time is the charm, and that he and his current wife Annie are in it for the duration. We can hope so.

As most TAS readers already know, if there were a Conservative Life Hall of Fame, Willie would not be a first-ballot inductee. His left-populist politics vary from naïve to daft. He seems to have no left-delusion immune system, and his cultural analysis never rises above the level of the little guy is always noble and the banker is always a crook. His religious views would bewilder a room full of theologians.

Willie has said he’s a believer in Christ’s moral message, sees His presence on earth, and accepts His message of healing love. But Willie has never applied the Abbott United Methodist Church’s “straight is the gate” rules of engagement to his own life. To the evangelical Christianity of his childhood, Willie has added Buddhist riffs, reincarnation, and other exotica. If he is a missionary for anything it is for the healing powers of music and marijuana. In religion, as in so many other areas of his life, Willie manages to be sincere without being coherent.

Willie is clearly right-brained. Not an acute analyst. Not a relate the evidence to the hypothesis kind of guy. He’s heart over head every time. And his heart has brought to life music that will live much longer than this old road warrior. For this treasure, and the pleasure it brings us, we can forgive much and give thanks.

Willie, with the help of David Ritz’s, has told his remarkable story in a breezy, easily accessible style. It reads like what you might hear if you were sitting on the front porch talking with Willie about his life and about music. And who wouldn’t want to do that?

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, “Django and Jimmie”

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

by:  Clint Rhodes

In 1983, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard combined talents and delivered an entertaining ride with “Pancho & Lefty.”

Over 30 years later, the country music legends partner to pay tribute to the musical influence of Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers. The title track serves as a savory salute to the inspiration Reinhardt and Rodgers provided the two country outlaws as they sing, “Might not have been a Merle or a Willie, if not for a Django and Jimmie.”

The 82-year-old Nelson and 78-year-old Haggard furnish their weathered and time-tested voices to an honest, reflective and witty cluster of heartfelt arrangements.

As a teenager, I was unexpectedly introduced to Nelson’s material after coming across my older brother’s copy of “Willie and Family Live.” The double album from 1978 featured spirited versions of memorable songs such as “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Good Hearted Woman,” “Whiskey River” and one of my personal favorite Nelson-penned tunes, “Hello Walls.”

I discovered Haggard’s gritty, honest style from listening to the country music my grandmother would continuously play during my regular weekend visits. Songs like “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” “Okie from Muskogee” and “Mama Tried” would spark my attraction to traditional country sounds.

Standout cuts include the touching “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” the humorous “It’s All Going to Pot” and a compelling cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”

The two artists swap songs as Haggard performs Nelson’s “Family Bible” and Nelson lends his signature style to Haggard’s “Somewhere Between.”

The moving ballads “Unfair Weather Friend” and “Where Dreams Come to Die” are as elegant as they are sentimental and charming.

The album comes to a suitable close with “The Only Man Wilder Than Me.” This captivating number about friendship, admiration and respect aptly describes the relationship between Nelson and Haggard.

The latest offering from these two country music icons is a comfortable collaboration that should motivate them to reunite on a more regular basis.

Clint Rhodes is the Herald-Standard music reviewer. He can be reached at

Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss in Bend Oregon

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

by: Brian McElhiney

Is there really anything left to say about Willie Nelson? Let’s give it a shot.

First of all, the outlaw country mainstay seems to be speeding up, not slowing down, in his 80s. He’s been averaging at least two albums per year since 2013, including his much-lauded return to writing with 2014’s “Band of Brothers.” Others include a collection of duets with all female singers, including one with Alison Krauss, who joins Nelson for his upcoming show at Les Schwab Amphitheater.

Nelson’s most recent record was released just this month: “Django & Jimmie” is a collaboration with longtime friend Merle Haggard — their sixth record together. The title song pays tribute to another couple of country legends, Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers.

Second, the singer is nurturing his family’s legacy, both on record and on the road. He’ll appear at Les Schwab billed as Willie Nelson & Family, with a band including his sister, Bobbie Nelson, on piano. Beyond that, Nelson’s kids are shaping up to be chips off the old block, with both Lukas Autry and Jacob Micah Nelson performing in musical groups — the former with Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, the latter with Insects Vs. Robots.

And Nelson himself has plenty to say about his eight-decade ride in the country music business. His autobiography, “It’s a Long Story: My Life,” was published in May.

Krauss, meanwhile, is touring with her longtime backing band Union Station on the heels of their 2011 album “Paper Airplane,” their first recording together since 2004. In between, Krauss scored a Grammy with Led Zeppelin belter Robert Plant for their 2007 collaboration album, “Raising Sand.”

Willie Nelson & Family, with Alison Krauss & Union Station; 6:30 p.m. Thursday, doors open at 5 p.m.; sold out; Les Schwab Amphitheatre, 322 SW Shevlin Hixon Drive, Bend; — Brian McElhiney

Willie Nelson Bobbleheads in Round Rock

Saturday, June 20th, 2015


ROUND ROCK, Texas – Thousands of fans lined up outside the Dell Diamond on Thursday to see the Express play and hopefully get a Willie Nelson bobblehead.

The first 2,500 fans took home the first officially sanctioned bobblehead of the Red Headed Stranger, complete with braids, a guitar and Express jersey.

“I looked online and saw that they were having the bobblehead that’s why I got here so early because I had to have it,” said Emma Curry.

“This is fantastic, this is Willie Nelson and baseball. This is a great combination,” said Mitch Fuller of Cedar Park.


 Thousands of fans lined up outside the Dell Diamond on Thursday to see the Express play and hopefully get their hands on a Willie Nelson bobblehead.

The Express have a “Christmas in July” promotion coming up July 24. Players will wear jerseys that resemble ugly Christmas sweaters that will be auctioned off for Any Baby Can.


Willie Nelson’s Picnics in Posters and Stories (by Dave Thomas)

Friday, June 19th, 2015


Okay, it’s officially time to get excited about Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic! The Austin Statesman has published Willie Nelson Picnicologist Dave Thomas’ stories about Willie Nelson’s annual musical celebrations.  Dave never lets us down, and this year it is a slideshow of posters and stories.   Dave’s been to   He’s been to 17 picnics and counting, even  even before he got paid to write about it, and he’s got a poster collection to support it.

The slide show is consolidated, with the posters, and very enjoyable.  They are also re-publishing Dave’s entire articles from years past, that are fun to read.

Thanks, Dave Thomas!

Picnic historian Dave Thomas brings you a year-by-year look at the details and evolution of the event, as well as a look at many of the Picnic’s posters


and more pics from the paper:  .Photo gallery: Picnics through the years.

Hey music fans, Dave is looking for the following posters to help complete his collection.    If you have one and want to trade or barter or sell, let me know:




Willie Nelson and Family on Tour in Missoula (6/17/15)

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

photo: Dennis Bragg
by: Dennis Bragg

MISSOULA – He’s probably been on more stages than any performer alive.

But when Willie Nelson emerged before the crowd of thousands of Montanans in Missoula night, ripping into his signature opener “Whiskey River”, he was still playing with the enthusiasm of someone in the early years of his career.

The veteran, who turned 82 years old this spring, shows no sign of slowing down, kicking off his summer tour at Ogren Park/Allegiance Field riding a new wave of interest and popularity.

Nelson has a new best-selling book chronicling a lifetime of performing, but also telling of the struggles to breakthrough and provide for his family, selling encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners before success came his way. And in a remarkable accomplishment, his new album with fellow legend Merle Haggard, “Django and Jimmie”, has topped the country music charts this week.

But even without the newfound publicity, the Missoula audience would have been thrilled.

Starting out in a black hat, Nelson ripped into a series of hits known from his “outlaw country” days. He quickly changed out to his signature bandannas, tossing them into the crowd and then replacing them, as he encouraged the audience to sing along to favorites like “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies (Grow up to be Cowboys)”, “On the Road Again” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”, the breakout 1974 hit that finally helped establish him as a mainstream star after years of writing hits for other artists. He also gave his sister Bobbie a chance to shine on several piano numbers.

Nelson wasn’t the only highlight of the night however.

Allison Krauss and Union Station opened the evening with a stellar set of their bluegrass and “traditional country” songs, showing why they’ve become one of the best groups in North America serving up “roots” music. Krauss’ smooth voice and top-notch fiddle work anchored the tremendous musicianship of the group, blending traditional bluegrass, gospel, folk and even new takes on pop lyrics done in a fresh style.

The entire stadium erupted in cheers and dancing as Union Station’s vocalist Dan Tyminski launched into the opening lyrics of “Man of Constant Sorrow”, the classic song he vocalized for “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” film, which has become a staple for Union Station shows.

Weather for the concert was absolutely perfect, with a light breeze cooling off concert goers from the early evening temperatures that started in the mid-80s. Traffic flow around the stadium was much smoother than when the venue hosted its first outdoor concerts five years ago, added by better parking and new streets and trails that access the site.

“Thank God for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard”

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015
by:  Liz Austin


First off, I’d just like to say: THANK GOD FOR WILLIE NELSON and MERLE HAGGARD! There, now that we have that out of the way, let’s continue. It was announced earlier this year that Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard were teaming up for another collaborative album, and the cheers were deafening. When you see Willie Nelson or Merle Haggard on a project, it’s guaranteed to be great, but when you see that they’re teaming up together for a project, you know it’s going to be legendary. Two of the founding fathers of Outlaw Country Music, Haggard and Nelson, cumulatively, have more than a century’s worth of musical experience. Django and Jimmie is the 6th collaboration for Willie and Merle, and comes 32 years after their critically acclaimed record, Pancho and Lefty. It reignites the musical chemistry the two legends share.
Both legends have had long, successful solo careers. Mr. Haggard first entered the country music scene in the early 1960s. Some of his best known songs are “Mama Tried”, “The Fightin’ Side of Me”, “The Bottle Let Me Down,” and “Okie From Muskogee.” Along with Buck Owens, Haggard is credited with creating the Bakersfield sound. Among his many accomplishments (besides being a beloved legend) are 19 ACM awards, 6 CMA awards, 3 Grammy awards, and inductions on both the Country Music and the Nashville Songwriters Halls of Fame.

Mr. Nelson has had an equally polarizing and successful career. He started out as a songwriter writing hits that include Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, but soon found fame as a singer himself. The critical success of the album Shotgun Willie (1973), combined with the critical and commercial success of Red Headed Stranger and Stardust, made Nelson one of the most recognized artists in country music. His relaxed, behind-the-beat singing style with his nasal voice has played a key role in making him an icon and one of the most easily recognized voices in music. Among his many achievements are 11 Grammy awards, 7 AMAs, 9 CMA awards, 5 ACM awards, and inductions into the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the National Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Django and Jimmie is named for Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers, and was recorded in just 3 days, which is a testament to Willie and Merle’s professionalism, experience, and talent. Helmed by Nelson’s long time producer, collaborator and friend Buddy Cannon, the album premieres 14 new studio recordings. Nelson and Haggard sound the same as they’ve always sounded, maybe even better, more seasoned. They’re both at the top of their game.

The album opens with the dual tribute to Jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and country music’s mythic Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers. The song reflects on both men’s musical legacies and lasting influence, set to the tune of a cowboy waltz. Willie and Merle explain, “There might not have been a Merle or a Willie, If not for Django and Jimmie.” The Mexican horn flavored “It’s All Going To Pot”, is a tongue-in-cheek number saluting the booming marijuana culture. The duo sings, “Well it’s all going to Pot/ Whether we like it or not/ Best I can tell/ The World’s gone to Hell/ And we’re all gonna miss it a lot,” on this Willie-worthy track. Written by rising songwriters Marla Cannon-Goodman (Buddy Cannon’s daughter) and Ward Davis, “Unfair Weather Friend” is a ready-made classic. The Pancho & Lefty-esque number is truly a beautiful song.

The Haggard penned “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash” is a fun tribute to the legendary Man in Black himself, which features Bobby Bare’s vocals. The talk and sing style makes you feel like you’re in the room with the three men, while they’re sharing stories. The song has a chicka boom classic sound to it that really makes it flow. They each sing a few verses on the Man in Black and swap choruses. Merle starts it off with his part of the tribute, “Well Johnny Cash was a friend of mine/ Knew him well for a mighty long time/ Shared the stage for many a show/ Broke my heart to see him go/ Cash had the fire of a thousand men/ Lovin’ life was his greatest sin/ Treated his fans like the next of kin/ Rappin’ a bit, talkin’ trash/ Missin’ Ol’ Johnny Cash.” Willie goes on to sing, “He wrote his songs from deep within/ And he hit the stage with a crooked grin/ He and I were both Highwaymen/ And that record became a smash/ Well I’m missing ol’ Johnny Cash.” Towards the end of the song, the men share some hilarious stories about the stunts Cash pulled. At one point when asked if he knew anything about Cash, Willie replies, “Well Yeah, I know a lot of things about Cash/ I’m not sure if I should talk about it/ But I checked with John to see if it was ok and he said he didn’t give a sh!t,” and proceeds to tell a funny story involving a casket. It’s a really enjoyable song.

The reflective “Live This Long”, finds the two legends looking back over the years and all the ups and downs. Willie reflects on living the night life, wild women, and being paid for having too much fun. Merle concludes, “But we’re in pretty good shape Will, for the shape we’re in.” They agree that they would “have taken much better care of ourselves if we’d have known we was gonna live this long.” Meanwhile, the duo’s reinterpretation of the Bob Dylan classic “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” is absolutely superb. They really made the song their own, proving that Willie and Merle can take on any material, while the beautifully melancholy “Where Dreams Come to Die”, is a stunning track guaranteed to be a classic.

Haggard pays homage to his partner in crime, with the Willie Nelson classic “Family Bible”. The piano and organ give the track a churchy sound, with the harmonica adding a touch of flavor. Merle sings this song like it’s his own. This is what country music is folks! Absolutely beautiful! It’s Willie’s turn to pay homage to best friend Merle, in the Haggard classic “Somewhere Between”. Nelson carries the song off so well, that you almost forget that it’s Merle’s original song and not Nelson’s. The track features beautiful guitar work and an excellent vocal performance by Nelson, as usual.

The harmonica-driven “Driving the Herd” is a modern day cowboy song, because no Willie/Merle record is complete without one! The album finally concludes with “The Only Man Wilder Than Me”. It’s a tribute song that hints around to the listener that each artist might be singing about the other. The chorus, “He’s the only man wilder than me/ Some call me a sinner/ I’d call him a winner”, finds one legend singing the “sinner” part and the other answering back with the “winner” part. The legends swap lines and the lead throughout the song. It’s the perfect way to end a perfect album!

There is no doubt in my mind that this album will do exceedingly well in sales. Will it get airplay on mainstream country radio? Definitely not, as they don’t play real country anymore. It’s a crying shame that legends such as Haggard and Nelson, the very same legends that paved the way for Country music today, can’t get radio airplay. When you examine the kind of material that mainstream artists like Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line are putting out and hold it up to the material Nelson and Haggard are putting out, there’s a whole chasm of difference! Bryan and Florida Georgia Line have only been in this business for a few short years, yet they seem to have run out of good material already (okay well FGL didn’t have good material to start with).

Meanwhile, Haggard and Nelson have been in this business, cumulatively, for over a century, yet they haven’t run out of excellent material yet. That just goes to show you what it takes to have long lasting success: real talent and artistry. But at least we still get to enjoy albums from these wonderful legends! And here’s hoping for at least a few more!

To sum it up: Just go get yourself a copy of this record, you’ll thank me later!

“Django and Jimmie” #1 on Billboard Top Country Albums

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
photo:  Danny Clinch

Two country legends arrive in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 chart (dated June 20)as Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard debut at No. 7 with their new collaborative album Django and Jimmie. It moved 31,000 units in the week ending June 7, according to Nielsen Music. While both artists have been charting for decades, this is first top 10 set for Haggard and the fourth for Nelson. The latter logged his first top 10 in 1982 with the No. 2-peaking Always on My Mind and more recently claimed his second and third top 10s with To All the Girls (No. 9, 2013) and Band of Brothers (No. 5, 2014).

The new album — named after late genre-spanning guitarist Django Reinhardt and country icon Jimmie Rodgers — was released through Legacy Recordings on June 2, and is the fifth collaborative set from Nelson and Haggard. They first teamed up on 1983’s Pancho & Lefty, and followed that with Walking the Line (with George Jones, 1987), Seashores of Old Mexico (1987) and Last of the Breed (with Ray Price, 2007).

On Top Country Albums, Django and Jimmie starts at No. 1, extending both artists’ illustrious legacies. With 30,000 sold in pure album sales, Haggard claims his 16th No. 1 — the second-most leaders in the chart’s history (behind only George Strait’s 25). Nelson now has 14 No. 1s.

Nelson also notches his second Top Country Albums No. 1 in less than a year, having debuted atop the list with Band of Brothers on July 5, 2014. He last reigned in 1986. Haggard crowns the chart for the first time since Sept. 22, 1984 (with It’s All in the Game). Haggard’s 30-year, nine-month break between No. 1s is second only to Johnny Cash’s nearly 35-year gap between leading sets (1971 to 2006) and passes Nelson’s 28-year, one-month interval that ended with Brothers.

The new album was led by the single “It’s All Going to Pot.” The track’s music video bowed the same day, via social networks run by TBS’ Conan show. (It has so far earned 1.1 million views on Vevo, and another 6.7 million in its Facebook player.) “It’s All Going to Pot” debuted and peaked at No. 48 on Hot Country Songs (dated May 9), marking Nelson’s first visit to the list since 2010, and Haggard’s first since 2006. Each legend has now made the ranking in six consecutive decades, dating to the ’60s.

To promote the album, Legacy filmed extensive behind-the-scenes footage of Nelson and Haggard recording the set, which was then later distributed to a number of different outlets, like Rolling Stone, Yahoo! Music, Country Weekly. Nelson did a bevy of TV appearances (including The Daily Show and CBS This Morning) to tout the album as well as his new memoir, It’s a Long Story: My Life. On the radio side of things, Legacy focused on Triple A formats (adult alternative) and public radio stations. Those efforts included a full stream of the album on National Public Radio’s (NPR) Web site, a week before its commercial release, as part of NPR’s First Listen program.

‘Country’ Song: In a final country note… On Hot Country Songs (dated June 20),Mo Pitney’s “Country” debuts at the chart’s No. 50 anchor position and makes history of sorts. Dating to the list’s 1958 launch as a multimetric ranking, it’s the first entry whose title simply doubles as the genre’s name.

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard do it again

Friday, June 12th, 2015

by: Chuck Yarborough

Six times, country legends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard have gotten together to record duet albums, and each time, the only one better than the last one has been the next one.

Of course, none have topped 1983’s “Pancho and Lefty” in terms of popularity, just for that song alone. But from the first cut to the last, this week’s “Django and Jimmie,” the superstars’ homage to Belgian-born two-finger guitarist Django Reinhardt and country great Jimmie Rodgers could be the winner.

Reinhardt, a Romani Gypsy who lost the use of his pinky and ring fingers on his left hand in a fire and died at the age of 43 in 1953, is credited with creating a style of fast-picking, syncopated guitar called “hot” jazz.

Though Nelson is hardly jazz, he employs a lot of that rapid-fire style of picking on his beloved Martin acoustic, Trigger.


Lyrics in the title cut note that without Django, there might not have been a Willie Nelson, and that Haggard learned to sing listening to Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel.”

It’s a sweet song that works because two longtime friends and legends clearly are having a blast doing it. But it’s rivaled by “It’s All Going to Pot,” which features co-writer and country traditionalist Jamey Johnson.

“Live This Long” contains a refrain to which all of us who’ve discovered more salt than pepper in our hair can relate: If we’d known we were gonna last this long, we’d have taken better care of ourselves.

Perhaps the sweetest tune is the Haggard-penned “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” featuring “500 Miles Away From Home” songwriter Bobby Bare on guest vocals.

“Alice in Hulaland,” co-written by Nelson and producer-frequent songwriting partner Buddy Cannon, is a nice little country ditty that makes fun – respectfully, of course – of groupies. And yes, guys who are in their late 70s (Hag is 78) and early 80s (Nelson is 82) can have groupies.

Haggard’s storied “Family Bible,” “Swinging Doors” and “Somewhere Between” resurface on the album, given new life by the presence of his longtime pal, Nelson.

But maybe that’s because, as the Hag wrote in the album’s walk-off tune, Nelson is “The Only Man Wilder Than Me.”

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard play country music

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

by:  Amy McCarthy

The universe of country music has always been made up of completely different planets. The music made in Nashville has always determined the prevailing sound, but artists across the country have always been doing their own thing. Nowhere is that more true than in Texas. The country music here has always been served with a shot of outlaw rebellion, thanks in large part to the industry’s refusal to bring the red dirt sound into the mainstream. Well, that and Willie Nelson.

As the most iconic Texan in country music, Willie Nelson’s sound has always been influenced with local twang. Throughout his seemingly eternal career, Nelson has been able to attract an audience far beyond the rest of country’s usual suspects. Everyone loves Nelson because he’s Willie-fucking-Nelson, and when he’s teamed up with his old buddy Merle Haggard, you know the results are always going to be impressive.

Yesterday, Django & Jimmie, Haggard and Nelson’s recently released album of new songs and covers, shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Country Album Charts on the day of its release, and No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 200. The first single, “It’s All Going to Pot,” an obvious ode to Nelson’s favorite plant, the current state of country music and the world at large, was a viral video success, racking up more than a million views on YouTube since its release in April. At this point, it’s pretty clear that Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard aren’t just country legends; they’re the definition of cross-over success.

And yet, unlike Taylor Swift and Shania Twain and all of the other artists who have had a great deal of success with pop audiences, Django & Jimmie sounds like actual country music. For the record executives that fear that too much twang and authenticity would drive younger fans away from the genre, the success of this album proves that country artists, especially those in Texas, don’t have to change their formula. They just need to make damn good country music.