Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

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.


Heartbreaker Banquet at Willie Nelson’s Luck, Texas (3/19/15)

Monday, March 23rd, 2015


photos and story by: J. James Joiner

Okay, so you’ve spent almost a solid week beating the streets at SXSW. You’re on taco overload, the thought of another high-five-heavy bro-down makes even free booze sound bad, and to top it all off the mounds of complimentary brisket are starting to weigh on your gall bladder. What’s to be done? How about a shindig at OG Austin musical luminary / straight up legend Willie Nelson’s private ghost town?

Read the article and see more great photos:

Austin and it’s country roots, by Robert Ward

Monday, March 16th, 2015

by:  Robert Ward

This is a portion of Mr. Ward’s article; you can read the entire article here:

All of this good news on the Austin scene started in the late ’60s when a number of singer/songwriters, mostly Texans who had moved to the big urban music centers like LA and Nashville, decided that they needed to get off of the commercial songwriting treadmill and go back to their own roots. So around 1968, many of these folks found their way back to Austin. And back to country.

In the early ’60s, these same musicians had scorned country music as ignorant and silly and hideous. If you were a young hip Texan, country was music for rednecks, something you wanted to get away from. It took the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo and a little-known album by former Kingston Trio member John Stewart (California Bloodlines) to give ideas to the prodigal sons of Austin. Soon, musicians like Michael Murphey (best known for his songs “Geronimo’s Cadillac” and “Backslider’s Wine”), wild folkie Jerry Jeff Walker, esoteric mountain musician Bobby Bridger, talking jive artist Steve Fromholz, and a host of others were experimenting with traditional country music tunes, but writing lyrics that expressed their own visions of things. The visions were more complex, ironic and articulate than those of the older, uneducated country musicians. These talented singer/songwriters then joined forces with local rock ‘n’ roll musicians, fiddlers, and banjo pickers to start a new hybrid form. It was at once lyrical, topical, and personal, while retaining the hard-thumping, hard edge of rock ‘n’ roll. During a typical performance of the Lost Gonzos, Jerry Jeff Walker’s current backup band, you could expect to hear a country beat, a jazz break, a tasty rock lick or two, some down-home fiddling, and all of it played faster and harder than mere country.

For several years Austin became a place where musicians could gather, learn, and cooperate. The scene was one in which, according to Austin musician Bobby Bridger, “personal growth and the music always took precedence over cash and success.”

Perhaps the best example of a musician who found himself in Austin is that of middle-aged Nashville songwriter Willie Nelson. Nelson had been pumping out songs for other people for 15 years and had made a pile of loot. Everyone from Johnny Cash to Perry Como had cut Nelson’s songs. Yet Nelson was a frustrated man. His own singing career had never progressed beyond a cult following, and he was sick to death of the business parties, the back-stabbing, and the hypocrisy of Nashville. So in the late ’60s, Nelson moved to Austin. That may not sound like much, but in Nashville music circles it was considered tantamount to slitting your wrists and locking the bathroom door. Nelson’s friends besieged him. He was making money. He was popular. Why had he grown his hair long? Why did he hang around with hippies and Commies? What would happen to him in Austin? Nelson, as uncertain as anyone, simply knew he could stand no more. “Nashville almost broke me,” he says now. “I had to go. No matter what.”

To his surprise, Nelson met scads of talented musicians in Austin who felt as he did. It wasn’t long before he had given up his Nashville-Bible salesman look for good and was seen smoking joints, wearing a red bandana around his forehead, drinking Lone Star beer, and eating nachos with the local crazies. Instead of fading away, his career boomed. He came out with new songs, new records. This past year he had his greatest hit ever, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and when Bob Dylan brought his Rolling Thunder Revue to Houston recently, Nelson played with them for a night. His subsequent album, Red Headed Stranger, has won all sorts of awards, including Best Country Album of the Year.

‘It’s a bunch of crap, this cosmic cowboy bullshit,’ says ex-Austinite country music singer/critic Dave Hickey. ‘They get up on the stage and come on like bad-asses. Most of these guys like Jerry Jeff Walker have never been near any real violence.’

Nelson and the other Austin singers have become so popular that their very success has threatened the purity they sought. Music leader and Austin idol Michael Murphey recently left town, complaining that the scene had been taken over, like Nashville before it, by business freaks, record wheeler-dealers and hustling managers. Sure enough, calls flood into Moonhill Productions, Austin’s top booking agency, every day. But even though Moonhill handles some of Austin’s most popular artists (Rusty Wier, B. W. Stevenson, Denim, Asleep At The Wheel), there is a great deal of bitterness between the company and some of the Austin musicians who haven’t forgotten why they came back to Austin in the first place. “I don’t want to live in Music City, U.S.A.,” says Bobby Bridger. Moonhill is certainly not the only business enterprise to see dollar signs. Nashville singer Waylon Jennings, whose career was finally launched by picking up on the cowboy, Rough Rider image, wants to open a recording studio in Austin, and there are a dozen other people with similar ideas. (Right now, Austin has only one recording studio, Odyssey Studios.) And, of course, the media have not been slow to pick up on Austin either. Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy have been paying close attention, and just last month Oui magazine featured a rave article about the town.

Read entire article:


“A Poem is a Naked Person” Leon Russell documentary, featuring Willie Nelson, George Jones, friends

Thursday, March 12th, 2015


by:  Michael Corcoran

In 1972, when he was one of the biggest rock stars on the planet, Leon Russell hired up-and-coming filmmaker Les Blank to shadow him at home in Oklahoma and on the road for a full-length documentary. Russell had loved Blank films on bluesmen- The Gospel According To Lightnin’ Hopkins (1969) and A Life Well Spent Life (1971) about Mance Lipscomb- and envisioned the same cinema verite used to portray his own life.

But maybe Blank’s camera unveiled more truth than Russell was comfortable with. Blank’s Leon doc A Poem Is a Naked Person (1974) has never been officially released, though there have been rare and random screenings in hotel rooms and arthouses where the marquee said 400 Blows. On Monday at 9:30 p.m. at the ZACH Theater, A Poem Is a Naked Person (whose title comes from a Bob Dylan quote) will have its official world premiere as part of SXSW.

“Leon is the only person who knows for sure why the film didn’t come out,” says Harrod Blank, whose father Les died in 2013. “And he doesn’t like to talk about it. I think it could have been mutual thing. Les didn’t always communicate well. And he did not compromise. He considered (the Leon doc) one of his best films and so he took it personal.”

When his father was in the hospital, dying of bladder cancer, Harrod Blank tried to reach Leon, but couldn’t find a contact. Then he messaged Russell on Facebook and was surprised to get a reply. Four decades had passed and Leon was ready to talk about A Poem being released. Sadly, Les Blank succumbed just 11 months after being diagnosed, before the deal was finalized. Janus Films bought distribution rights and will give the doc (which also features Austin artist Jim Franklin) a limited release in the summer. Next year, Criterion will put out A Poem on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Besides lotsa Leon, the film includes musical appearances by George Jones, Willie Nelson (singing “Good Hearted Woman” at Floores Country Store) and Sweet Mary Egan fiddling on “Orange Blossum Special.” Willie has acknowledged Russell as a major influence in his decision to go outlaw. They’re still very close.

Read Michael Corcoran’s entire article here:

Willie Nelson and other Houston Rodeo concerts on tape

Saturday, March 7th, 2015


Willie Nelson performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 1984-1986, ’88, ’94, 2000, ’02, ’04.

He also performed with The Highwaymen in 1990 and 1992.
by: Craig Hlavaty

Inside NRG Center, a 5,500-square-foot studio handles all the video operations for RodeoHouston. And it contains two astounding video vaults.

The massive video library dates back to the late ’70s, said James Davidson, the managing director of the Rodeo’s audiovisual presentations and broadcasts. It contains not just the Rodeo’s musical performances, but also the auctions, livestock shows, rodeo competitions.

But it’s the concerts that are most tantalizing. They’re like time capsules for their decades: Mega-stars, one-hit wonders, comedians, you name it. Pop. Rock. Country. Tejano.

Consider just some of the names that would make classic-country music fans fall to their knees:

Donna Fargo. Merle Haggard. Emmylou Harris. Loretta Lynn. Barbara Mandrell. Charley Pride. George Strait. Willie Nelson.

But those performances lie archived and dormant, the concerts unseen by fans, because the Rodeo doesn’t own full intellectual property rights to the performances. RodeoHouston can use 30-second clips to promote itself, but without the artists’s permission, it can’t release, say, Reba’s full concert performance from 1987.

Will those performances ever be available? Davidson says that the rodeo’s video collection could lend itself to a “Wolfgang’s Vault”-type operation — but only if someone did the legwork to obtain the copyright and permissions.

Rex, a red Brahman bull that was 2014’s Inter-national Reserve Grand Champion, can supply breeders with his semen to sire offspring. Rodeo Houston is a marketplace for decades-old practice Guests pose for a photo before the John Legend concert at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Friday, March 6, 2015, in Houston. Oscar winner Legend back for another rodeo ride Rex’s photo, from Buford Cattle Company’s Facebook page.

Looking for Mr. Goodbull Cowboy Yance Day rides a bucking bronco in the championship round of super series I at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on March 5, 2015. Bucking broncs get primal on RodeoHouston riders Newly hatched baby chickens at the Agventure center at RodeoHouston 2015. Is this RodeoHouston baby chicken giving you the stink eye?

To date, no attempt to do so has gotten far. “When they start digging into it,” says Davidson, “it proves to be such a monumental task to obtain all the rights. Management has changed, the artist is no longer alive, or its owned by someone else and rights are hard to pin down.”

But the vaults aren’t the only fascinating thing about the Rodeo’s video operation. Video professionals are often surprised that the studio is in NRG Center, not right inside NRG Stadium. But with fiber optics the distance doesn’t matter, Davidson says. Operations are immediate

Davidson been with the show since 1998, when the Rodeo still took place in the Astrodome. In 2002, when the Rodeo moved to NRG Center, video operations moved from analog to digital. By 2010, everything was converted to full high-definition.

A team of 85 people handles video at RodeoHouston. When shows start at 6:45 p.m., crew call is at 3 p.m. Some sort of video production goes on every day at RodeoHouston, with livestock or horse shows starting at 8 a.m. During concerts, Mission Control buzzes with activity, just a few feet from Davidson’s office.

For George Strait’s final show in March 2013, Davidson says, the entire stadium had to be turned around, changing its usual configuration to add seating to the floor. That involves pulling all the dirt from the stadium and power-washing dust from the seats before putting in cameras and wiring.

The crew likes a challenge, he says. When acts like ZZ Top, Kid Rock, and KISS bring in pyro, it’s fun.

Acts such as Keith Urban and Tim McGraw who want to interact with fans need a team ready to follow them through the crowd. “The first time Tim McGraw played our stadium he didn’t sound check, and he got on the dirt during his show and was able to walk, sing, and shake hands during his set,” Davidson says. “That was impressive.”

Who are the easiest acts to work with?

“Martina McBride is very down-to-earth,” he says. “Keith Urban is great to work with.”

He says he can tell, though, that some artists won’t last long: They don’t behave well to the crew.

Willie Nelson and Buddy Cannon

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

photo by: Glen Rose
by: Peter Cooper

Buddy Cannon, esteemed Nashville songwriter, musician and producer, got up one morning in 2011 and noticed he’d received a text message while slumbering.

The text said “Roll me up and smoke me when I die.”

Its sender was a fellow named Willie Nelson.

“I got out of bed, picked my phone up and that text was there, and I laughed my (posterior) off,” Cannon says. “Since then, we’ve written probably 25 songs together by texting back and forth.”

How do you write a song with 81-year-old Country Music Hall of Famer Willie Nelson? It helps to have a good mobile plan. Cannon has never been in the same room with Nelson to write a song, but the two co-wrote nine of the 14 songs on the new, Cannon-produced “Band of Brothers” album. That album just made its debut atop the “Billboard” country albums chart.

“I’ll get up, look at my phone and there’ll be a text from him, with a verse or some lines,” Cannon says. “I’ll start tweaking and adding, and we’ll pass it back and forth. When it looks like it’s where we ought to be, we hum a melody to teach each other over the phone. Then he has me go in and cut a track, and he comes in and sings it and plays guitar.”

Easy enough, then. At least for Cannon. For the rest of us, it’s tougher to get Willie’s cell phone number than it would be to get a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your point-of-view) inhalation of Willie’s favorite herb. But Willie trusts Buddy, and has since 2007, when Nelson added a vocal to Kenny Chesney’s version of the Cannon-produced classic “Lucky Old Sun.”

“He came in and did his vocal, and I made a rough mix and sent it to him,” Cannon says. “A couple of days later, he called my cell and said, ‘Hey, Buddy, this is Willie. That’s the best version I’ve ever heard on that song. Let’s find some songs and go make a record.’ ”

And so Cannon and Chesney produced Nelson’s 2008 album “Moment of Forever,” which included gems from the pens of Kris Kristofferson, Randy Newman, Guy Clark, Gary Nicholson, Bob Dylan and Paul Craft, among others.

Cannon has been working with Nelson ever since, blending Nelson’s acoustic guitar and longtime Nelson cohort Mickey Raphael’s harmonica with session honchos including drummer Eddie Bayers, bass man Kevin “Swine” Grantt and steel guitarists Mike Johnson and Tommy White.

“Every time he sings a song, he does something spectacular,” Cannon says. “The magic of Willie is his phrasing and his choice of notes. Nobody else on the planet does what he does. But you have to let him do it. I’ve seen people start trying to give him direction, and he’s apt to walk out the door, get on his bus and leave.”

Nelson doesn’t skip out on Cannon-produced sessions. They’ve done five albums together, and Cannon recently accompanied Nelson on a northeast trip to do television appearances in support of “Band of Brothers.” Cannon has grown comfortable around his text-happy friend, but Nelson is also a hero to Cannon, who has worked with industry honchos including Chesney, Vern Gosdin, Mel Tillis and Jamey Johnson.

“Recording with him is the ultimate,” Cannon says. “The first memory I have of him was driving around in Chicago in the 1960s and hearing his versions of ‘Columbus Stockade Blues’ and ‘Home in San Antone’ on the radio. The phrasing was so out there that it hooked me.”

These days, Cannon doesn’t have to check the radio to hear from Nelson. He can usually just check his text messages, and find lines such as “Bring it on,” “Wives and girlfriends” and “I thought I left you.” Lately, the texts are coming fast.

“We’ve got a record that just came out, and Willie’s head is already in the next album,” Cannon says. “Sometimes, he’ll send me a lyric where I can’t figure out what he’s talking about. One, he sent me a year ago, and I’m still trying to figure out what he’s saying. I dig it out and look at it a lot because I know there’s something there.”

Another Willie Nelson Fan: Mike Riley (Nebraska’s new head football coach)

Sunday, March 1st, 2015


by: Brian Christopherson

The night’s outcome has already been decided, so make yourself comfortable. And if you might honor requests, put on some of that old Willie Nelson. “The red headed stranger from Blue Rock, Montana, rode into town one day …”

Mike Riley hears those lyrics and thinks of a house full of football coaches after a game. This is a beautiful memory. He was more “Mike” than “Coach Riley” at the time, growing into the profession, saturating himself with any bit of knowledge about the game he could obtain.

This was when his father, the late Bud Riley, was a head coach. Bud led high school football teams in Idaho, eventually was an assistant at Oregon State, then a head coach in the CFL at Toronto, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Calgary.

Mike watched it all with a keen eye, learning, learning about football. Learning that, win or lose, Willie Nelson is always there.

“Some of my favorite times later on in life, as we got a little bit older, and when (my dad) became a head coach, were after the games when the coaches and their wives and their families would come to the house,” says Nebraska’s head football coach. “All I liked to be then is in the room and be a fly on the wall listening to the coaches talk about the game. Loved that. Loved being around all that.

“Part of it was football. Part of it was fun. There was one coach, he was always putting on Willie Nelson records. I remember this was a long time ago. He introduced me to the ‘Red Headed Stranger’ way back then. So I haven’t forgotten that, right? It’s memorable times. All these people at the house after the game. Sad after you lose, everybody’s mad. Happy when you’ve won. Life. Just life. It was an awesome way to grow up.”

“Don’t cross him, don’t boss him
He’s wild in his sorrow
He’s ridin’ an’ hidin’ his pain
Don’t fight him, don’t spite him
Just wait till tomorrow
Maybe he’ll ride on again.”

Maybe the song wasn’t specifically talking about how to move on from a lost football game, but it might as well have been.

Yet with all respect to the “Red Headed Stranger,” Riley’s greatest lessons about coaching were learned when the music was turned down, when he was asking questions about the game, watching how others taught it and commanded a team.

Whether he was watching Dad, The Bear, a John Robinson locker room speech or the technical brilliance of a coach you maybe don’t know from a town you maybe don’t recognize, all those lessons have traveled with him to Lincoln, ready to be put to use in the pursuit of a championship.


Farm Aid, Live Aid, True Colors honored by Grammy Foundation Legacy Concert

Monday, February 9th, 2015


The Grammy Foundation Legacy Concert featured performances by Aloe Blacc, Melissa Etheridge, John Mellencamp, Walk the Moon, Robin Thicke, Deborah Cox, Willie Nelson, and more. The concert recognized organizations for their philanthropic work, and the event celebrates a different theme each year – this year’s theme was “Lean On Me.” The foundation paid tribute to the best-known benefit shows and music charities of the last five decades.

Farm Aid, True Colors (pro-LGBT charity), and Live Aid were some of the charities that were recognized. Although Cyndi Lauper‘s charity True Colors was recognized, she was unable to attend the event due to a last minute family emergency. The Plain White T‘s were asked to replace Lauper at the last minute, and they performed her hit song, “True Colors.” The Concert of Bangladesh was also honored, and Aloe Blacc and Melissa Etheridge paid tribute to the concert by performing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Farm Aid is a non-profit organization whose mission is to keep farmers on their land. The board members of Farm Aid include Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews (who joined the charity in 2001). Nelson, Young, and Mellencamp have been organizing Farm Aid concerts since 1985, and it has featured over 400 recording artists. To date, Farm Aid has raised over $45 million dollars for farm families.

Live Aid raises money for extreme poverty in Africa. The founders of the charity, Midge Ure and Bob Geldof, started the Live Aid concerts in 1985. Live Aid concerts have been viewed by more than billions of people, and featured performances by U2, Elton John, Run DMC, Madonna, Queen, Patti LaBelle, and countless other musicians. “We Are the World” was a charitable song written by Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, and it was performed at a Live Aid concert in 1985; the song raised over $63 million dollars for aid in Africa and the US, and he record sold over ten million copies in the US. All of the proceeds went towards poverty relief. Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, and other recording artists were featured on “We Are the World.” Live 8 was a part of the Live Aid charity. It conducted eight benefit concerts all around the world. Live Aid and Live 8 concerts have raised over $150 million dollars for famine relief in Africa.

Willie Nelson Wows Fans in Santa Rosa (Feb. 2, 2014) (SOLD OUT)

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

by:  Dan Taylor

After six decades on the road, at 81, Willie Nelson has learned how to work with his loyal and vast audience, and his fans know how to play their part.

All Nelson had to do is shout “Mama!” when he returned Monday night for his 10th sold-out show at Santa Rosa’s Wells Fargo Center for the Arts since 1989.

And the capacity crowd of 1,600 sang back, “Don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.”

When Nelson sang, “She’s a good-hearted woman” and paused, the fans sang “in love with a good-timin’ man.”

Pacing the show perfectly, he eased through his hit song list without stopping — for a little less than an hour and a half — singing and sometimes half-speaking the familiar lyrics with feeling and meaning.

“I love his music and his funny, funky voice, and he’s even older than we are. I love that,” said Pat Senner, 70, of Sonoma who came to the show with her husband, David, 71, both of them silver-haired and dressed in black.

Enok Lohne, 61, of Dos Rios, near Willits, wore a white cowboy hat and his wife Linda, 62, wore Willie Nelson-style braids.

“Willie just pulls at your heartstrings, wraps you around his finger and makes you want to ride off into the desert with him on his horse, or his bus,” Linda Lohne said.

All Nelson had to do to get his first standing ovation of the evening was amble out onto the stage at the start of the show in his black cowboy hat, T-shirt and jeans.

Nelson opened with “Whiskey River,” and moved easily through one favorite after another: “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “On the Road Again,” “Always on My Mind,” “Crazy,” “Georgia on My Mind” and more.

He worked sweet guitar solos into every song, with a particularly bluesy break on “My Life.”

Nelson’s sister Bobbie on piano and Mickey Raphael on harmonica slipped some saucy sounds into the band’s take on Tom T. Hall’s “Shoeshine Man.”

The audience ranged in age from kids to grandparents and sported a wide variety of hats — black felt fedoras, baseball caps, and cowboy hats made of straw, felt and leather.

The crowd stamped, clapped, cheered and bought Willie Nelson posters and CDs in the lobby, then went home happy.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or

See more photos here

Willie Nelson at the Bob Hope Theater (Feb. 3, 2014)

Friday, January 30th, 2015

photo: Hans Pennink
by:  Tony Sauro

Willie Nelson quite probably is the only musician whose image ever will appear “on the cover of the Rolling Stone” at age 81.

Not too many country musicians — with Nelson’s long-haired hippie/cowboy look and vibe — have established that level of cultural universality.

It might be ironic. “Cover of the Rolling Stone,” a sardonic 1972 song recorded by Dr. Hook (Dennis Locorriere) & the Medicine Show — from Union City, N.J. — was written by Shel Silverstein (1930-99), who supplied country singers with hit songs and children with timeless books (“The Giving Tree,” “A Light in the Attic,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends”).

Nelson, from Abbott, Texas, has developed the same kind of multi-tiered, permanently faithful audience and mainstream familiarity.“At Home With America’s Most Beloved Outlaw” and “All Roads Lead to Willie” is how Rolling Stone’s editors expressed it in the Aug. 28, 2014, edition. That destination is Luck (Willie World), Texas, a tiny town west of Austin that Nelson had built for a movie version of “Red-Headed Stranger.”

A 1975 concept album, it swept him to a rarefied level of artistry — and new, younger audience  — rarely conceded to “country-western” singer-songwriters.

He’ll join Ed Sheeran, Usher, Janelle Monáe and Coldplay’s Chris Martin for a Feb. 10 concert dedicated to Stevie Wonder. It’ll be televised Feb. 16 on CBS. Nothing “country” about that.

Of course, Nelson’s infamous bus keeps rolling him down those roads — where he’s developed a familial following of loyalists with The Family Band.

He returns to Stockton on Tuesday, bringing his equally loyal band to the Bob Hope Theatre. In recent years, he’s performed there as well as Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium, the San Joaquin County Fair and Stockton Ballpark. Ironstone Amphitheatre in Murphys, too.

When Nelson plays his two-hole acoustic guitar — with signature headband or hat — in front of a huge Texas state flag, his followers always get to hear Mickey Raphael, 64, one of the world’s primo harmonica players. Genuine outlaw Paul English — profiled in the Oxford American’s winter 2014 issue devoted to “Texas Music” (“The Man Behind Willie Nelson”) — Billy English, Kevin Smith and sister Bobbie Nelson have stayed with him, too. Jody Payne (1936-2013) and Bee Spears (1951-2011) were there until the end.

Nelson is one of the most prolific artists in any genre — 17 albums in the past 10 years — has released 117 albums and 110 singles, 25 of which reached No. 1, during a 59-year career.

That includes “Band of Brothers” and “December Day,” the first volume from his “Stash” — a sly reference to his marijuana diet and IRS issues — of material he recorded with Bobbie Nelson, The Family Band keyboard player.

In recent years, The Family Band ethic has spawned recording careers for son Lukas Autry, 26, who leads his own L.A.-based group (Promise of the Real). They’re opening for Neil Young on his 2015 tour. Daughter Paula Nelson, 44, has her own band and a new album (“Under the Influence”).

Nelson’s shows are laid-back, generous, almost informal — covering major songs (“Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Always on My Mind,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground” and, naturally, “On the Road Again.”

He’s received almost every available award and is widely respected for helping found Farm Aid, which supports American family farms nearing extinction.

Once “Homeless and Broke” in the estimation of a 1991 National Enquirer headline, Nelson told Rolling Stone’s Patrick Doyle in a 10-page story:

“I just like to keep moving. I could lie down and go to sleep and not go anywhere or do anything real easy. I’m lazy. I have to make myself do it. But once I do, I’m happy.”

Willie Nelson: Texas Icon (Briscoe Center for American History)

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015


Washington Post Podcast with Willie Nelson

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Welcome to our second Washington Post Pop-Up Pop Podcast in which we discuss the great Willie Nelson and his legacy as a songwriter, a spiritual leader and a very funny dude.

The discussion centers around an interview with Nelson that took place aboard his tour bus in Las Vegas earlier this month. You can read the profile that came from that interview right here and you can listen to our podcast below.