Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie Nelson: It’s a Long Story: My Life (Wall Street Journal review)

Monday, May 25th, 2015

by:  Dave Shiflett

Music can be a hard life, as exemplified by the early departures of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Corbain and Amy Winehouse, all at age 27. Yet not every icon is doomed to a quick exit. Willie Nelson, at 82, is still playing 150 nights a year while occasionally denying Internet hoaxes that he too has gone toes-up. It’s enough to make you wonder what his secret is.

Willie—with whom the world is on a first-name basis—provides several hints in his candid, heartfelt memoir. “It’s a Long Story” will probably not be endorsed by the surgeon general, Sunday-school teachers or marriage counselors, but those of a traditional bent will be happy to learn that Jesus and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale are definitely in his backup band.

His enduring glory, we learn, did not originate in a stable relationship with his parents, who married when they were 16 and were divorced when he was 6 months old. Willie and his sister, Bobbie, ended up being raised in Abbott, Texas, by their grandparents Mama and Daddy Nelson. The Nelsons didn’t have much money but were rich with love—for each other, their grandchildren and the Baby Jesus. Willie got right with the Lord early on.



By Willie Nelson
Little, Brown, 392 pages, $30

“I was a believer as a kid,” he writes, “just as I am a believer as a man. I’ve never doubted the genius of Christ’s moral message or the truth of the miracles he performed. I see his presence on earth and resurrection as perfect man as a moment that altered human history, guiding us in the direction of healing love.” He also took to heart Norman Vincent Peale’s gospel of “positive thinking.”

His faith, however, didn’t inspire exceptionally close adherence to the rule book. He mentions that his Methodist church preached that “straight is the gate” but that he “can’t remember being afraid of venturing beyond that straight gate.” His walk on the wild side was under way by the time he hit double digits. He was using his musical talents to charm the local ladies by age 10 and discovered another keen interest. “As a kid I’d sneak off and smoke anything that burned. Loved to smoke. Would even smoke strips of cedar bark.”

Willie (with able assistance from veteran music journalist David Ritz) presents his story in a plainspoken, conversational tone reminiscent of his singing voice. He makes it clear that his lasting success cannot be attributed to matrimony, unless you mean the serial kind. He first married at 19 (his firecracker wife was three years younger), with two other stormy marriages to follow (his current marriage is holding strong). He admits that he didn’t practice monogamy nearly as much as guitar and could be prodigiously careless in covering his tracks. In one case he made the mistake of having the hospital where a love child was delivered mail the bill to his home. His wife was not amused.

But there is no doubting his devotion to music. By 14 he was playing in a polka band and had worked up enough confidence to book idol Bob Wills for a gig that provided him with his lifelong work ethic. Watching Wills perform that night, Willie is “transfixed” and feels as if Wills is telling him: “The job is to play like your life depends on it. . . . The job is to give the people what the people want and what the people need.”

While he would eventually get rich—he now divides his time between Maui, a spread in Austin, Texas, and his tour bus—things were desperately tight early on. He made ends meet by operating a tree chipper, selling encyclopedias and tapping the resources of working wives. Money was so scarce that he once offered to sell the rights to several of his early songs, including “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away,” for $10 each. Fortunately his offer was refused, and those songs have since deeply feathered his nest.

Readers hoping to pick up songwriting tips may be dismayed to learn that Willie’s songs came to him “prepackaged.” Composition has been so easy that he sometimes wonders: “Did I really write these songs, or am I just a channel chosen by the Holy Spirit to express these feelings?” He later acknowledges less celestial assistance, including borrowing the opening note to “Crazy” from “I Gotta Have My Baby Back” by Floyd Tillman. “Good songwriters,” he explains, “realize that a little borrowing now and then is part of the process.” Attorneys take note.

Country-music fans will enjoy recollections of the times he spent with Bob Dylan, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Price and Johnny Cash. Willie’s relationship with Waylon was especially close and sometimes illuminated the mystical nature of popular music. As they prepared to sing a duet of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Willie asked whether his friend knew “what these lyrics are about.” Jennings responded, “No f—in’ idea, hoss.” They sang it anyway, as have over 1,000 other acts who have covered the deeply obscure if not flat-out incoherent megahit. His own hits, he adds, have sometimes confounded music-industry “suits,” who predicted that such triumphs as “Stardust” wouldn’t sell. “Last time I looked,” Willie says of the latter, “it had sold five million copies.”

He revisits other glories, and setbacks, including six claustrophobic months playing Branson, Mo., and a serious tangle with the IRS, which informed him, in his late 50s, that he owed $32 million in back taxes. He also lost a long-troubled son. Yet his positive attitude has never deserted him, thanks in part to the Good Lord, Norman Vincent Peale and a herbal supplement that is to his public persona what booze was to Dean Martin’s.

Willie’s long-standing relationship with marijuana has been no casual affair. When one of his houses caught fire he rushed inside to rescue his stash. He has toked high and low, near and far, and even on the White House roof during the Carter administration with a friend in high places, leaving one to wonder if the peanut was the only plant dear to the president’s heart. “I owe marijuana a lot. As I write these words on the verge of age eighty-two, I think I can fairly make the claim that marijuana—in the place of booze, cocaine, and tobacco—has contributed to my longevity.” It may be worth mentioning that Willie is also an avid golfer.

He ends the book in church, where he waxes somewhat humble about his long success. “I sing okay, I play okay, and I know that I can write a good song, but I still feel like I’ve been given a whole lot more than I deserve.” His many adoring fans would likely add that he gave as good as he got.

—Mr. Shiflett posts his writing and original music at

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, “Django and Jimmie” — First Listen, NPR

Monday, May 25th, 2015

photo: Danny Clinch

Luckily, music still has a few old uncles, chief among them Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. The country titans share a long history. Its landmark was the 1983 albumPancho & Lefty, which set the standard for top artists collaborating with and beyond their home genre. Nelson and Haggard could have stopped there, but they’ve continued to work together on numerous recordings and tours, including the recent cross-country jaunt that anticipated this new release. I caught one of their shows in 2013 and was dazzled by the intact artistry of these two men, one on either side of 80; their laid-back, wide-ranging sets touched upon jazz and R&B as well as country and showed their authority as virtuoso raconteurs and masters of the most advanced level of IDGAF.

They bring that utter assurance into Django And Jimmie, Nelson’s sixth studio release for the Legacy label since 2012. (He’s rivaling Betty White for the title of hardest-working senior in show business.) The title track connects it with the inimitablePancho & Lefty by celebrating a pair of musical iconoclasts: the guitarist Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers, the singing brakeman whose stardom defined early country music. The song puts eclecticism upfront as a value, and the rest of the album fulfills that mandate. There’s plenty of humor in songs like the smoke-out anthem “It’s All Gone To Pot” and the shaggy-god reminiscence “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” which also features the great Bobby Bare. There are tender odes like the Beatles-esque “Where Dreams Come To Die,” co-written by Nelson and album producer Buddy Cannon. And there’s some lightning-sparked Bakersfield spirit in a 50th-anniversary rendition of Haggard’s signature song “Swinging Doors.”

There’s so much affection running between these two lifelong compatriots and the seasoned musicians who share their space in the studio that nearly any track onDjango And Jimmie will likely lift the spirits of even the gloomiest listener. Nelson and Haggard cover each other’s classics, rib each other about the girls they’ve loved before, and wrap it all up with the gentle mutual-admiration fest “The Only Man Wilder Than Me.” In a promotional video for that song, someone asks if the buddies wrote that song. “Merle did,” Nelson says. “I told him to.” And they laugh, knowing that this will be another great story to add to their old-uncle treasure chest.


Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, ‘Django And Jimmie’

Cover for Django and Jimmie

“It’s a Long Story: My Life”, by Willie Nelson

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

By James Courtney

It’s a Long Story: My Life
Willie Nelson with David Ritz |
Little, Brown and Company

Willie Hugh Nelson, known by the whole world simply as Willie (or The Red- Headed Stranger, if you have a flair for the dramatic), was born in the tiny north Texas town of Abbott. At 7, he started writing poems and shortly thereafter, as he learned to play guitar, he started setting poems to music.

Long before he penned classic country radio hits like “Crazy,” or helped define the outlaw country movement of the ’70s, or created the Farm Aid benefit concert, or championed marijuana legalization, or wore a hole in his trusty guitar Trigger, or got screwed by the IRS, or received the Lifetime Achievement Grammy, Nelson was instinctually writing songs as a way of expressing himself and of telling stories he deemed important.

His latest book, It’s a Long Story: My Life, is really just a natural extension of these instincts towards self-expression and storytelling. Billed as the definitive Willie Nelson autobiography — perhaps to distinguish it from earlier, less complete attempts — Long Story thrives on the basis of two factors: Nelson’s short sentences, chalk-full of his deadpan wit and the larger-than-life tales he shares.

Nelson, 82, spins humorous yarns and tales of palling around with famous buddies like Waylon Jennings, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and even President Jimmy Carter. Also here, however, are heartbreaking stories of familial strife, addiction and remorse — though rarely ever regret.

Nelson’s story, as he delivers it in Long Story, is wrapped up in the progression of American culture in the 20th century. He quotes Whitman on contradiction, advocates for gay rights, remembers helping Charley Pride break down color barriers in country music, details “bitch slapping” his daughter’s abusive boyfriend and tells about how it could easily have been him instead of The Big Bopper in that plane the day the music died. Through these stories and liberal plugs of quotations from his songs, Nelson unravels himself, but he also tells a story about all of us.

Nelson’s sage and easy-going spin on these various yarns, and the morals he offers up in his summations, are endearing and entertaining. The true Williehead will likely find no particularly new factual information here, but fans and initiates alike, as well as those with an interest in popular music history, will nevertheless find it essential reading.

Willie Nelson Still Rocks @MysticLakes

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

photo: Tom Wallace
by: Chris Riemenschneider

If Saturday’s sold-out Mystic Showroom audience needed any reassurance Willie Nelson is still worth the $60-$70 ticket, it came just a few songs into the rudimentary concert when Texas’ Gandalf-like lord of the smoke rings lit into “Night Life.”

Yes, “Night Life” is a song ol’ Willie has played so often he could do it with one hand tied behind his ponytails. But it’s one of many Willie Nelson classics famously rerecorded by other American music icons, in this case B.B. King, who died two days earlier.

“Night Life” thus served as a reminder to see these giants while they still walk among us — although, if his New Balance shoes were any indicator, Willie still jogs among us at 82.

Unlike B.B., Willie hasn’t resorted to personality-driven shtick and canned humor to prop up his shows. He still lets the music do the talking. And boy oh boy, did it scream at times on Saturday.

Look no further than “Night Life,” during which he ripped out a lengthy, bluesy solo on his haggard-looking acoustic guitar Trigger that would have bedazzled King himself.

Not only were his picking skills exemplary — they’ve never slipped, actually — but his singing stood strong, too. Only a few shows into his latest tour leg, he was able to deliver a heartbreaking version of “Always on My Mind” and an elegant “Georgia on My Mind,” standards he famously reinterpreted on record. It still means something when Willie sings the songs that meant a lot to him. He also threw in his usual spirited batch of Hank Williams tunes (“Jambalaya,” “Move It on Over” and “I Saw the Light”), and paid tribute to a couple of his favorite songwriters, Tom T. Hall (“Shoeshine Man”) and Kris Kristofferson (“Help Me Make It Through the Night”).

As always, Nelson improvised vocally like a more bloodshot-eyed Frank Sinatra to give his own tunes a special, sometimes mystical flavor, including “Crazy,” “On the Road Again,” “Funny How Time Slips Away” and an especially slow-stirring take on “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” He even put a playful rhythmic twist on his newest song, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” which he introduced after “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” as “another gospel tune.”

Willie’s Family band hasn’t been as resilient as its leader, but the mere presence of its surviving members added sentimental value Saturday.

His older sister, Bobbie Nelson, was back on piano and able to strut her stuff in “Down Yonder.” Drummer Paul English mostly left the timekeeping to his brother Billy but did return to the snare during “Me and Paul.” And harmonica player Mickey Raphael — who literally grew up in the Family — was integral throughout, with the same kind of uniquely identifiable sound as Willie’s guitar.

“Leave me if you need to / I will still remember,” Willie sang beside his bandmates in “Angel Flying,” still doing justice to their unforgettable legacy.

Read entire article:

“It’s a Long Story: My Life”, by WIllie Nelson, with David Ruiz

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

by:  Chris Loudon

“Troubadour.” Willie Nelson was just a kid when he discovered the word and learned what it meant. He savoured it, accurately sensing that the concept of a travelling minstrel would define his entire life. His fervent wanderlust was inherited from his mom—a woman, he says, “who sought adventure and the open road.” She and Willie’s dad divorced when he was six months old and remained caring but distant parents. His paternal grandparents, taking responsibility for raising Willie and sister Bobbie in the tiny Texas burg of Abbott, nurtured his love of, and appreciation for, a wide spectrum of music. But as Nelson tells it—in precisely the sort of colourfully plainspoken way you’d expect—his musical journey didn’t truly began until, in his teens, he discovered jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Frank Sinatra was near as influential.

Major success didn’t happen until he was into his forties. Nelson devotes nearly half of his “long story” to two preceding decades as he bounced from Texas to California to Oregon to Nashville, working as a radio deejay and sideman for hire, finally breaking through as a songwriter with hits like Crazy (for Patsy Cline) and Funny How Times Slips Away. His inherent restlessness extended to his love life. He’s been married four times, with more than a few flings and flirtations.

It wasn’t until the mid-’70s that his career as a performer took flight. It was the dawn of “outlaw country” and Nelson emerged as the movement’s beloved, grizzled icon. Still, he refused to be pigeonholed, scoring with everything from classic honkytonk to gospel and Stardust, his landmark collection of vintage standards that remained on the charts for over a decade.

Though the book’s final third touches on such professional highlights as his establishment of Farm Aid, his ignition of the vibrant Austin music scene and his role, alongside Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson in the country supergroup the Highwaymen, two personal themes dominate. First are his long-standing troubles with the IRS that, with demands for $32 million in back taxes, nearly crushed him. More predominantly, there’s his outspoken affection for, and advocacy of, marijuana. He delights in telling of a clandestine climb to the roof of the White House during the Carter administration for a quick joint. “I couldn’t betray marijuana any more than I could betray a family member or a lifetime friend,” he says, “That’s because marijuana has never betrayed me.”

Across eight decades, Nelson’s serpentine road has often been a bumpy one. Along the way, he’s drawn inspiration from such disparate gurus as Khalil Gibran, Norman Vincent Peale and Edgar Cayce. All these years later, toting “Trigger,” the timeworn Martin N-20 guitar that’s been his trusty sidekick since 1969, he remains, quite simply, “a picker from Hill Country, Texas, who got more good breaks than bad and managed to keep from going crazy by staying close to the music of his heart.”

Willie Nelson’s Memoir: “It’s a Long Story: My Life.”

Monday, May 11th, 2015

by: James Reed

Rolling Stone magazine’s long profile of Willie Nelson last year made a startling observation. It suggested that for all the ways the country star is legendary — as a songwriter, road warrior, guitarist, tax dodger, pot smoker, co-founder of Farm Aid, wearer of pigtails — he’s essentially a private person.

“You never get to know him like you should, but you know there’s more there than what you’re seeing,” Loretta Lynn is quoted as saying.

Maybe that’s why Nelson’s new memoir, “It’s a Long Story: My Life,” is so invaluable. He’s as mythic as any American musical icon, yet we feel, incorrectly, as if we know him. His songs, from “Crazy” (made famous by Patsy Cline) to “On the Road Again,” are part of our collective soundtrack, but who, really, is the man behind those words?

Befitting a renegade who turned 82 last week, “It’s a Long Story” lives up to its title. Nelson starts at the beginning, in the tiny Texas town of Abbott out in the Hill Country. His mother and father were free spirits who weren’t always in the picture, a trait Nelson inherited, but he credits his grandparents with raising him and his older sister, Bobbie, in a household full of the love and unshakable faith that have stayed with him ever since.

Assisted by David Ritz, the celebrated co-author to various music stars, Nelson writes the way he sings and plays guitar — with conversational ease and grace.

This is not the only time Nelson has turned a gimlet eye on his past. His first autobiography appeared in 1988, and over the years he has peddled a series of books devoted to his philosophy, including 2012’s “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From the Road.”

His tall tales are as surreal as you might expect. He remembers getting thrown in jail for pot possession in the Bahamas and, a few nights later, staying at the White House at President Jimmy Carter’s invitation. (Yes, Nelson got stoned on the White House roof.) Then there was that time Ray Charles invited him to play chess in total darkness with pieces marked in braille: “I got my ass kicked.”

The book’s central notion is that Nelson has always been a wild child, even from the very beginning. “Mama Nelson [his grandmother] had to tether toddler Willie to a pole in the yard to keep him from wandering off,” he writes. “Don’t know where I’d have gone if I could have, but I had the itch early on — the itch to look beyond the bend in the road.”

His passages about his childhood help explain his career’s freewheeling arc. When you realize he grew up surrounded by music — at church, in the fields where his family picked cotton, from the Philco radio that channeled everything from gospel to mariachi — the scope, volume, and unruly variety of his catalog suddenly make sense.

Happily, he devotes lengthy stretches of “It’s a Long Story” to some of his classic songs and albums, including 1978’s “Stardust,” on which he threw his disapproving record label a curveball by recording pop standards. To this day, Nelson is in awe of why songwriting has always been second nature. “[Songs] are mysterious gifts,” he muses. “I know they are born out of experience and genuine grief . . . The deepest songs expose vulnerability. They strip me bare and leave me amazed.”

There’s a lot to unpack in his personal life, too, especially when it comes to women. “My relationship to the female sex is a major theme,” he announces at the start of the second chapter, before expounding on his tumultuous first three marriages until he finally found the love of his life, Annie, who’s still by his side. His second marriage crashed and burned when his wife opened a hospital bill for the birth of a daughter — by another woman.

Nelson is not prone to kiss and tell about his contemporaries, though, and he’s not settling any scores here. There are heroes to salute, from Texas fiddler and bandleader Bob Wills to French jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, both major influences. One of the last of his breed, Nelson also pays respects to his fellow outlaws, describing Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash as “rugged individualists and great American heroes” and Merle Haggard as “my forever friend.”

If there are any antagonists lurking in these pages, it’s the evildoers at the Internal Revenue Service, who nearly dismantled Nelson’s life’s work when they busted him for tax evasion in the early 1990s. He still looks back on those turbulent years with raw disgust.

He partly blames his missteps on a cutthroat manager, but when the IRS finally relented and settled on a reduced payment, it was as if the dark clouds had parted. His reflection on that moment gives the book, and his life, its defining statement: “When it’s on us, seems like the storm will never pass. But it always does.”

Developers can learn from Willie Nelson

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

by:  Rikki Endsly

I cringe when I see job listings searching for “rock star developers.” What does that even mean? Developers who take all the credit, while the band, agent, road crew, and sound engineers do the heavy lifting?

My friend Jacob Kaplan-Moss got me thinking about this concept of the “rock star” developer when I watched his PyCon 2015 keynote. In his talk (which I highly recommend you watch if you haven’t seen it yet), he explains that tech doesn’t need rock star developers. Instead, we need more average developers, a category in which he includes himself. On one hand, I agree with him. But in the other hand, I’d like to hold tickets to see Willie Nelson in concert, because that’s what we need. We need more Willie Nelsons.

Willie Nelson is no rock star, but he did make number 88 on Rolling Stone’s list of100 Greatest Singers. The article quotes Wynton Marsalis, who says that Willie’s “… phrasing is very unpredictable, but it comes out poetic and very logical… .”

Unpredictable, poetic, and very logical also could describe innovative code, don’t you think?

And on that musical-yet-code-related note, I’ve taken the initiative to round up a list of eight ways developers can be more like Willie Nelson:

  1. Help others succeed: Willie didn’t start his career with a hit record. Among other jobs he’s had, Willie was a disc jockey, playing and promoting music other people wrote and recorded. He played bass for Ray Price. And he has written huge hits that other artists, including Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline, recorded and made famous. Crazy, right?
  2. Pick up new skills: Willie is known as being a great country singer and songwriter, but when it comes to knowledge and experiences, Willie has range. He’s acted in a variety of movie and television roles, written books, is a fifth degree black belt, and has dabbled in different musical genres, including reggae. Yes, reggae.
    And Willie offers a great reminder that we’re never too old or experienced to learn and share new tricks.
  3. Be accessible: I’ve seen Willie play from the comfort of a cushioned seat in a small, spendy theater; standing on the floor in front of a stage in a historic theater with mid-range ticket prices; and from a folding chair at a county fair. Each event attracted a different group of fans, but they all had one thing in common: They wanted to see and hear Willie. And in each case, attendees were treated to a great experience, regardless of their backgrounds and budgets. In open source, instead of rock star developers who are admired—yet inaccessible—to most of their community, we can all benefit from Willie Nelsons. We need developers willing to share their skills and experience at the pricey for-profit technical events, as well as at the affordable, community-organized non-profit conferences.
  4. Recognize and acknowledge influences: Willie says that Django Rheinhart, Johnny Gimble, Bob Wills, Ray Charles, and Louis Armstrong areamong his biggest influences. He continues to be influenced by peers as well as new and young musicians. For example, Willie often covers songs other people wrote, so I was delighted when he spoke highly of Billy Joe Shaver at a concert I attended and then dove into one of Billy Joe’s songs. Billy Joe hasn’t had the commercial success or the level of attention Willie has received over the years, but he’s a highly respected singer and songwriter who deserves the acknowledgment. Willie has played songs by many other musicians, including Bob Dylan, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.
    In open source, developers publicly recognizing their influences, especially lesser-known people and projects, is like having a “you might also like” button on a shopping site. They are saying, “If you like what I’m doing, be sure to check out this other person/project I like.”Willie even makes a Coldplay song sound good, which makes me wonder whether I’ve been too hard on them. I mean, if a developer you admire says she likes VisualBasic, you’d give it another look, wouldn’t you?

  5. Use the best tool for the job: In Willie’s case, that tool is Trigger, a $50 Martin classical guitar he’s played since 1969. “I think this guitar has the best sound of any guitar I’ve ever played,” he says.
    But you don’t have to use the tool as it was intended. The giant hole in Trigger tells the story of a classical guitar that’s been played with a pick instead of fingers.
  6. Surround yourself with a diverse mix of people: In 1972, not long after getting Trigger, Willie “retired” and moved back to Texas. “The Austin scene always was a little bit different. It always was an eclectic mix,” Jerry Jeff Walker says, explaining the Austin music scene, which was full of musicians who were outside of the norm. “And that’s what Willie was tapping into,” he says. Mixing with a diverse group of people worked. Willie’s style evolved, and success followed.
  7. Collaborate: I love Willie’s solo albums, but his collaborations are brilliant, too. In fact, his first top 10 hit was a duet with Shirley Collie. You’ve probably heard some of his popular duets, including songs with Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Ray Charles, and Merle Haggard. But have you heard his work with Asleep at the Wheel?
    Or with Snoop Dogg?
  8. Go ahead and be average, or even “not that bad”: In the one hand, I hold concert tickets and a tale of why I think the world needs more Willie Nelson developers. But on that other hand, I do agree with Jacob Kaplan-Moss, who was right in his PyCon keynote when he said that we need more average developers. Willie didn’t get famous over night, and his premature retirement in the 1970s didn’t last. He kept playing, learning, picking on Trigger, and collaborating with a range of people and groups. Now he’s got a giant body of work, full of hits, misses, average, and not that bad songs to show for it.If you’re not a rock star developer, good for you. Shoot for being average, or try to be more like Willie, who said, “I never gave up on country music because I knew what I was doing was not that bad.”


Read article here:

Willie Nelson, Longhorn

Thursday, April 30th, 2015
by: Andrew Roush

by: Andrew Roush

It took me a long time to get to know Willie Nelson. My first introduction to him was not as the suit-wearing Nashville upstart, nor as Shotgun Willie, the outlaw, nor as the post-legendary collaborator and wise old sage. It wasn’t even as a country musician. My introduction to the red-headed stranger was as Willie Nelson, crooner.

Growing up, my parents had a certain affinity for Stardust, the 1978 album in which Willie covered the jazz-pop standards of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. It’s a blissful record, and it remains on my desert-island list to this day. It also planted the seed of an idea that would come into full bloom as I absorbed Willie’s full catalog: Like Stardust’s star-spangled record sleeve painted by Susanna Clark, Willie contains multitudes.

It’s worth reflecting on the many faces of Willie, as today marks his 82nd birthday. We know many of them. The soft-fingered Spanish guitar picker, the thundering bandito, the friend of the family farm, the marijuana aficionado. And many know him as Willie Nelson, friend of UT.

Yes, he never went to UT. He served a brief stint at that private detention facility on the Brazos known as Baylor University. But a school which famously banned dancing until 1996 was never a good fit for an outlaw like Willie. Austin, where the Armadillo Club brought together the rednecks and the hippies, and dancing was like walking, was much more his speed.

In Austin he struck up a surprising and deep friendship with Darrell K Royal. They golfed regularly and Willie dragged the coach to concerts. Together, like Sonny and Cher and Crockett and Tubbs, they were the perfect embodiment of a special place and time. The hard-nosed football coach, full of folksy adages, and the country rebel, full of rolicking songs and, well, pot smoke. Royal appreciated talent and craft, and encouraged, in his own coach-ish way, others to do the same.

After Willie’s first show at the Armadillo Club in 1972, the duo attended a party at the Crest Hotel hosted by Edwin “Bud” Shrake and Gary Cartwright. Willie began picking his guitar, and Royal, it’s reported, nearly kicked Cartwright out of the room for talking during the performance. “Leave or listen,” Royal commanded. Cartwright chose to listen. As should we all.

When Royal died in 2012, the Alcalde asked fans and alumni to share their memories of Coach. Unsurprisingly, memories of Willie were intertwined. Geralyn Blanda Vine, BJ ’73, remembered seeing Willie perform for the first time at a honky tonk in Round Rock. Royal sat in a metal folding chair, front row center.

“He was there for the whole show and sang and laughed and drank beer with everyone else while Willie entertained,” she recalled. “It was quite a night for me.”

Last year, Willie’s friend-of-UT status was cemented when he donated a huge collection of memorabilia and papers—documents, not those papers—to UT’s Briscoe Center for American History. And UT gave the love right back, putting some of the items on semi-permanent display in the north end zone area of the stadium named after his friend.

So the next time you reflect on Willie the beer-drinking balladeer, or Willie the outlaw, or even Willie the crooner—and I hope you do—think also of Willie the Longhorn.

Happy birthday, Willie. And hook ’em.

Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Decemberists to play 2015 Pilgrimage Festival

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015


The 2015 Pilgrimage Festival has released the first round of bands set to perform at the festival. The Mastermind behind the festival, Kevin Griffin, who is also the lead singer in Better Than Ezra, came up with the idea after jogging through the park at Harlinsdale Farm.

“I had this kind of epiphany surrounded by those rolling hills and natural amphitheaters: This is the perfect setting for an amazing, unique music festival,” Griffin said.

The impressive lineup features artists such as Willie Nelson, The Decemberists and Weezer. Additional bands will be added to the list at a later date. Early-bird tickets are now on sale on the festival’s site.

The Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival is scheduled to take place September 26th and 27th at The Park at Harlinsdale in Franklin, Tennessee.

The first wave of bands to perform announced are:

Willie Nelson
The Decemberists
Sheryl Crow
Jimmy Cliff
Neko Case
Iron & Wine
Dr. John
Punch Brothers
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
The Lone Bellow
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Will Hoge
Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires
Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear
Saint Motel
John & Jacob
Big Sam’s Funky Nation
Rainey Qualley

Willie Nelson and Jimmy Sturr record new album, “Forget Me Never.”

Saturday, April 25th, 2015
  • Willie Nelson, right and Jimmy Sturr
    photo:  Tim Larsen.

FLORIDA — Willie Nelson and Jimmy Sturr and his orchestra have just released a brand new CD called “Forget Me Never” on The Starr Record Label.

The CD features 15 “Sturr-style” songs. Nelson sings several tunes, including his smash hit, “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” polka-style. He Also sings a Bob Wills tune called “Stay All Night.”

This is the fifth CD Nelson has recorded with Sturr and his band, who will be performing at Farm Aid, the concert organized by Nelson, Neil Young and other musicians to benefit farmers.

Sturr grew up in the Village of Florida, where he still lives.


Get your copy at:

Track Listing:

1. Let the Bells Keep Ringing Polka
2. Forget Me Never Polka
3. Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain Polka
4. Crystal Inn Polka
5. Onions Polka
6. Polish Traditions Waltz
7. I Don’t Love You Anymore Polka
8. Soldiers Oberek
9. Polish Fiddler Polka
10. In My Garden Polka
11. Hasta La Vista Polka
12. Stay All Night Polka
13. When I Stop Dreaming Waltz
14. Suliko Polka
15. Tzena Tzena Polka

Willie Nelson’s next gig: Willie’s Reserve

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015


by: Ben Rooney

Willie Nelson has been singing the virtues of smoking pot for decades.

Now, the country music icon has his own personal brand of marijuana that will be grown and sold wherever it’s legal to get stoned without a doctor’s note.

The brand will be called “Willie’s Reserve” and will feature “high quality strains of marijuana,” according to a news release Monday. It will be grown and sold in Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana is legal. Nelson will work with “master growers” and local retailers in both states to establish a set of “quality standards” for his special reserve.

“I am looking forward to working with the best growers in Colorado and Washington to make sure our product is the best on the market,” Nelson said.

There are plans to expand the brand in other U.S. states that have legalized recreational marijuana.

Nelson, 81, has been an outspoken supporter of marijuana legalization and an advocate for industrial hemp production.

He founded the company out of a desire to get involved in the growing market for legal pot, according to a spokeswoman for “Willie’s Reserve.”

“He will serve as more than a figurehead,” the spokeswoman, Elaine Schock, told CNNMoney. “His values and vision set the bar for everything the company does.”

Specifically, she said Nelson will focus on the quality of the products, encouraging responsible use and pushing for legalization.

The announcement comes on April 20, or 4/20, unofficially declared as National Weed Day. It also coincides with the release of a new song by Nelson and fellow country star Merle Haggard entitled, “It’s All Going to Pot.”

Nelson is not the first musician to lend his name to a marijuana brand. Last year, the estate of Jamaican reggae icon Bob Marley struck a deal with a private equity firm to market and sell marijuana and other products under the name “Marley Natural.”

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson at White Water Amphitheater.

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
Merle Haggard Willie Nelson
photo:  John Doyle
by:  Chuck Eddy

Capping three evening pairings with Willie Nelson at WhiteWater Amphitheater on Saturday, 15 minutes outside the Central Texas river-tubing paradise of New Braunfels, Merle Haggard thought the audience wasn’t being responsive enough to his “we don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee” line, so he tried it again. A minute or so later, Nelson came out to finish “Okie From Muskogee” with him, for fans who by then were all in on the joke, and from there they both went into what Haggard called a new song “about the same subject”: “It’s All Going to Pot,” off their impending fourth duets album together, Django & Jimmie. After “Pancho and Lefty” and another new tune, they took a break while Nelson’s smaller combo set up. But the night served as a primer on what both great men share.

They both have birthdays coming up, for one thing. In April, Nelson turns 82 and Haggard turns 78. And Haggard’s earlier set was itself preceded by brief turns by two of the icons’ offspring: Paula Nelson opened, finishing her string of covers dueting with her dad on Creedence’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”; Noel Haggard’s somewhat stoic set was lengthened a little, since it took some time to lure his dad from the tour bus. Add much younger Ben Haggard backing Dad on guitar and Nelson’s sister Bobbie adding boogie-woogie piano bounce to his songs, and it was quite a family affair in general.

Hill Country trees behind them – WhiteWater’s the kind of venue where people with RVs can camp out – Haggard and Nelson both indulged blues and jazz sides, though Nelson both more blatantly and nonchalantly, and with fewer musicians. Haggard’s set allowed for several sax and harmonica breaks and a good fiddle hoedown, though. He opened with “Big City,” covered “Folsom Prison Blues,” dedicated “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” to “all the female drunks in the house,” and speeded up “The Fightin’ Side of Me” for “all the soldiers fightin’ for us.” But what most got his nine-person combo cooking was Sleepy John Estes’ “Milk Cow Blues.”

Nelson’s band – spiked by standup bass and two drummer-percussionists, one specializing in egg shakers, along with Bobbie tinkling ivories and a frequently gnarly tone from the frontman’s beat-up guitar – was almost all rhythm. “On the Road Again” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” most got a crowd marinated in light beer and other substances singing along, and a Toby Keith-less “Beer for My Horses” shocked the system. But between the “Whiskey River” kickoff and spiritual-choir wrap-up, the real highlights came when sister Bobbie supplied the most groove: an extended “Night Life” and a Hank Williams “Jambalaya”/”Hey Good Lookin’”/”Move It On Over” medley that led straight into “Georgia on My Mind” followed by Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia on a Fast Train.” Rock, jazz, blues, gospel, Hoagy Carmichael, it all fed into the same stream – like Haggard’s set, an object lesson for those who believe great country music is about purism, when really it can come from anywhere.


Bill Arhos, creator of Austin City Limits, passes (1934 – 2015)

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

photo:  Todd V. Wolfson
by: Kevin Curtin

Bill Arhos, the man who built the stage television viewers have experienced Austin music on for over 40 years, died on Saturday afternoon following a long illness. He was 80.

Arhos, a longtime executive at KLRU (formerly KLRN), worked at the public broadcasting station beginning with its local launch in 1961. In the fall of 1974, he created Austin City Limits, whose pilot episode starred Willie Nelson. At the time, a live music show starring hippie musicians from Texas was a left-field concept.

“Back then, stations were education focused and the idea of doing a music show didn’t fit into what public broadcasting could be,” said Terry Lickona, who succeeded Arhos as Austin City Limitsexecutive producer in 1999. “KLRU thought he was crazy.”

Arhos ensured the show’s sustainability by convincing PBS affiliates nationwide to pick up the program and thus fund it year after year. Four decades after the fact, it’s the longest running music show on television. More than simply Arhos’ legacy, it’s Austin’s.

“Bill was a great friend to Austin Music. He loved the music of Texas and created Austin City Limits to showcase it,” says Ray Benson, whose Asleep at the Wheel became ACL’s second taping. “When we met in 1975, I was a young 24-year-old living in South Austin with dozens of other aspiring musicians. Bill recognized the great potential in all of us and created a show that gave us worldwide exposure.”

Lickona describes Arhos, who was from the tiny East Texas town of Teague, as a classic Texan who chewed tobacco, fished, told great stories, and loved country music.

“Bill couldn’t be a guitar-playing country singer, so he lived vicariously through them,” he states.

Arhos’ affinity for Lone Star singer-songwriters like Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt forged Austin City Limits’ identity and remained a guiding creative force throughout his career.

“I couldn’t book a show until he approved,” admits Lickona.

His sense of humor also livened up the workplace. When Austin City Limits archivist (and Chroniclemusic scribe) Michael Toland began working at KLRU 20 years ago in shipping and receiving, Arhos liked to assist with the morning mail call.

“Though he was GM of the station, Bill used to help me put everybody’s mail in the mailboxes,” recalls Toland. “His running joke – and he had a lot of them – was to pick up the envelopes addressed to our development department and say, ‘That’s not a million-dollar check. That’s not a million-dollar check, either.’

“This went on for a couple of years, until I moved up in the organization. I imagine he assisted my successor as well until his retirement.”

That playfulness remained vibrant after his retirement in 1999. When he was inducted into Austin City Limits’ first Hall of Fame class last April alongside Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Darrell Royal, he quipped, “It’s a little intimidating to be in a class of the first inductees [since] three of the four have bronze statues around town!”

“That was a very emotional evening,” Lickona remembers of the April ceremony at Studio 6A, the show’s home before moving downtown to the Moody Theater in 2011. “His health was deteriorating by then and we honestly didn’t know if he would show.”

Two months later, Arhos came to ACL’s new digs for a star-studded 40th anniversary of epic proportions and sat in the front row, no doubt amazed at the cultural phenomenon his creation has become. When Lickona pointed him out, he received a standing ovation.

Bill Arhos will be laid to rest at Texas State Cemetery in a private ceremony. A celebration of his life and influential career is currently being planned. Maybe he’ll even get a bronze statue.

There’s Just No Stopping Willie Nelson

Friday, April 3rd, 2015


Willie Nelson Dazzles at Lindenwood
by: Daniel Durchholz

There’s just no stopping Willie Nelson.

At age 81, the legendary country singer and songwriter is still “On the Road Again” seemingly as much as he is off.

But Nelson is human, after all, and his October concert at Lindenwood’s J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts had to be postponed due to illness. His sold-out show Thursday night was the make-up date and more than made up for the inconvenience.

His 90-minute set touched all the bases. Backed by his Family band, including stalwarts Bobbie Nelson on piano, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, and percussionist Paul English, Nelson played his classic hits, songs made famous by his friends and country music heroes, plus some gospel favorites and one quick mention of his status as a guru of ganja.

But while his performance was a definite crowd-pleaser, it also served as a showcase for Nelson’s inimitable guitar stylings. With no backup guitarist, Nelson forged ahead on his own and turned in one dazzling solo after another, each of them containing a crazy logic that had far more to do with jazz than with country music.

The show started in familiar Nelson fashion, with “Whiskey River,” “Still Is Still Moving to Me” and “Beer for My Horses.” “Let’s do one for Waylon,” Nelson said, charging into Jennings’ hit, “Good Hearted Woman.”

He also played his usual medley of the country standards he penned for others — “Funny How Time Slips Away”/”Crazy”/Night Life” and turned the spotlight over to his sister Bobbie for the instrumental “Down Yonder.”

As the show unfolded, Nelson included songs by friends Kris Kristofferson (“Help Me Make It Through the Night”) and Billy Joe Shaver (“I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train”) and a medley of Hank Williams tunes.

There were plenty of Nelson’s own fan favorites, too, including “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “On the Road Again.”

But the show’s true standout moments found Nelson soloing on Trigger, his famous worn and weathered guitar, which looks like it could collapse at any moment. Nelson performed a gorgeous, romantic take on Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” and added a flashy, Flamenco-style “Ou Es-Tu, Mon Amour” onto the front of “I Never Cared for You.” He and the band also romped through a high-stepping version of “Under the Double Eagle.”

The set closed with a gospel segment that included “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Saw the Light” and what Nelson called a “new gospel song,” “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

That particular spliff, one hopes, is a long way away. At this point, Willie Nelson is still smokin’ and is nowhere near being smoked.

Willie Nelson set list

Whiskey River

Still Is Still Moving to Me

Beer for My Horses

Good Hearted Woman

Funny How Times Slips Away/Crazy/Night Life

Down Yonder

Me and Paul

If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time

Shoeshine Man

Help Me Make It Through the Night

I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train


Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground

On the Road Again

Always on My Mind

Jambalaya (On the Bayou)/Hey Good Lookin’/Move It on Over

Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain

Under the Double Eagle

Ou-Es Tu, Mon Amour/I Never Cared for You


Will the Circle Be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away

Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die

I Saw the Light

Read article here:

Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard at Whitewater Amphitheater (New Braunfels, TX)

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015
Willie Nelson at his three-day residency at Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels - JEFFREY BURTON

  • photo:  Jeffrey Burton
by:  D. T. Buffkin

We were late, stuck on 306 behind everybody else heading out to WhiteWater to see Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in the first of a 3-night sold out event. I was anxious as hell to get there, but a nip of Buffalo Trace, given to me by my sister-in-law, and a couple tokes, given to us all from the Great Spirit, and I was getting into a Willie mindset. That is to say, “fuck it, shit happens. If I don’t get there in time, I’ll make it up.”

[Slideshow: 38 Photos Of Willie Nelson And Merle Haggard At WhiteWater Amphitheater]

I felt like a badass picking up my ticket at Will Call with the other VIPs, then told myself not to. Most of them were older, white folks who can spend what amounts to a small fortune on tickets to get right up close to these craggy-faced beacons of a bygone era. Me, my old man, and a buddy of mine got our drinks and made our way to the middle of the crowd.

The Strangers kicked into Merle’s theme and slowly, out walks Mr. Haggard, stopping to wave and shake hands with folks in the first row. With two quick draws of his bow, fiddle player Scott Joss sends The Strangers into “Big City.” Merle sounds older and rougher than when I’ve seen him before; he’s 77 and the temperature was in the 50s. He still has unbelievable vocal control and you can hear his falsetto color some of the stuff that his natural register used to be able to bridle and hold. It doesn’t sound bad, just older. He has acclimated his secondary instrument, his voice, to get the most out of it at his age. He growls at times and his higher notes come out as a smoky whisper.


I have always subscribed to the gate-crashing credo that if you act like you belong, you do. With this in mind I lowered my head and made my way through the roped off VIP line behind a large iron gate back to where Honeysuckle Rose was idling. It stank like bud. An octogenarian in an ankle-length duster and battered cowboy hat was pulling from a pipe and blowing smoke just a couple of feet away from the cop on duty corralling folks way from Willie’s bus. It was beautiful. It seems in the presence of Willie, even cops turn into good-humored pussycats. Out comes Merle with Theresa and a minute later, Willie. I see Jim Christie, Merle’s drummer, and ask if he’d like to say anything on the record.

We settle down into the green room for him to eat and me to try to contain my schoolgirl giddiness of being backstage surrounded by such total fucking legends. Jim tells me what Scott Joss and later Willie’s harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, echo throughout the evening: these two men are “the end of an era.” When I asked Mickey what he would do if just starting out now as a 20-year old harmonica player — the age he joined The Family — he states, simply, “Learn to weld. It’s the end of an era. Learn to weld.”

If Willie and Merle came along today, they would never make it. Our times don’t appreciate their kind. That is to say, the music industry would not be beating down their door to sign them to million dollar record deals. Music, of course, wouldn’t be what it is today without these two, so it’s a paradox to even bother with the quandary of “Would Willie and Merle make it in today’s marketplace.”

Nevertheless, all three of their trusted sidemen spoke with humility, humor and awe at their places in the band with these living legends. I didn’t get to see but the last twenty minutes or so of Willie’s set but I watched it from the stage about thirty feet behind Sister Bobbie’s piano. He sounded great, even spent time with his phrases, relishing their musicality. He looked old as hell, but distinguished. His pale, Indian profile clearly distinguishable as he turned to wipe the sweat from his face.

I don’t want to be too sentimental or just gush all over ‘em, but these two men came up in a different time. They are a gateway to the past. To a time when each city limit they entered greeted them with a custom sign, tailored to and for that community. Where the restaurants, bars and night spots spelled out where its inhabitants were from, where they were and where they might be going. Before every town looked the same, before McDonald’s and Starbucks and KFC/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut homogenized the stripped landscape, washing the country in an emblematic fog of where the capital exponentially goes. Just like that landscape, torn from the American Indians and shaved to make way for the Manifest Destiny of the modern American marketplace, these two are still just trying to be true to Jimmie, Django, Ray, Hank, the Playboys, themselves and the music.