Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

New Willie Nelson Album out today! “God’s Problem Child”

Friday, April 28th, 2017
Paste Review of the Day: Willie Nelson - <i>God's Problem Child</i>
by:  Holly Gleason

In a youth-obsessed world, God’s Problem Child flies in convention’s face. On the languishing title track, penned by Jamey Johnson and swamp rocker Tony Joe White, Willie Nelson enlists the song’s co-writers and Leon Russell to consider living on one’s own time and terms. Inhabiting the song as wizened elders who’ve stripped off false standards to find peace and redemption, they sound ragged and resolved as an acoustic blues guitar wrestles the melody on the bridge and Mickey Raphael’s harmonica rises like so much heat.

Turning 84 on April 29, Willie Nelson—like Tony Bennett—is one of pop culture’s few reining icons who remain creatively engaged. Beating Streisand for 2017’s Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album Grammy for Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, the red headed stranger returns to more familiar territory on GPC. A consideration of aging, loss and engaging the world from that lived in perspective, it feels like Nelson’s personal state of the union.

Sifting the seeds and stems of lost love, disappointment and mortality, Nelson’s slightly out of time, note-stretching voice is porous, yet strong on the somber “True Love.” Belying the saccharine title, the spare arrangement moves beneath his clear-eyed assessment of how hard, yet wonderful, love is.

That theme also permeates the Spanish-leaning “A Woman’s Love,” slightly noir and fairly erotic, and the more straightforward country lope “Your Memory Has A Mind of Its Own.” For Nelson, romantic love remains the most powerful and elusive aspect of life no matter the age.

That honesty gives God’s Problem Child heft. Writing seven of the 13 songs with producer Buddy Cannon, known for his work from Vern Gosdin’s seminal Chiseled in Stone to Alison Krauss’ brand new Windy City, and curating the rest from friends, the cohesion suggests Nelson is clear-eyed about his place along this mortal coil. The largely gut string guitar, accordion and steel-drenched “It Gets Easier” is sublime straight country that seems an almost perfect wedding song. Perfect, until a closer listen reveals the superstar telling people “but not today.”

Inspired partially by Merle Haggard’s death, memorialized through Gary Nicholson’s “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” which considers Hag’s workingman’s truth, these dead-eye assessments of life near its end cut to the quick. Kris Kristofferson vet Donnie Fritts and Lenny LeBlanc provide an over-the-shoulder assessment on the lean “Old Timer,” while the jaunty mid-80s’s retro country “Little House on the Hill” provides a white picket fence bit of nostalgia from Cannon’s 92-year old mother Lyndel Rhodes.

All is not dour. The man who’s teamed with Snoop Dogg for “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” takes on political science and post-election peace of mind with “Delete and Fast Forward.” But the train-boogie, harmonica blast riveted “Still Not Dead” lets Nelson’s wit run free. Flicking off his advanced age and specific death hoax stories, Nelson sings, “The internet said I had passed away/If I died, I wasn’t dead to stay,” admonishing “the gardener didn’t find me that-a way” and urging, “please don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play.”

Nelson lives to play. Until he’s called home, it’s a safe bet the music is going to keep coming. If it’s the quality of God’s Problem Child, it will be as vital as anything he’s done.

New Willie Nelson album, “God’s Problem Child” (Rolling Stone Review)

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017
by:  Jeff Gage

Country’s ultimate survivor addresses mortality, both humorously and poignantly, on introspective new LP.

Listening to a new Willie Nelson album with a set of fresh ears is almost impossible to do in 2017 – and Nelson knows it. Hovering over all news regarding the Red Headed Stranger are worries about the health of the country icon, who turns 84 on April 29th. So he decided to make the elephant in the room – his own mortality – the focal point of his new LP, God’s Problem Child.


Nelson’s first album since his 2015 collaboration with Merle Haggard, Django & Jimmie – the Hag’s final album before his own death – God’s Problem Child is a stark, honest, sometimes bleak, and often funny look at mortality and the specter of his own death. It may not be a concept album, but that grim reality is writ large on nearly every song.

That doesn’t mean God’s Problem Child makes for heavy listening. Nelson brings not only his distinctive sense of humor to the proceedings, but also an appreciation for the moments that he has left, and those individual glimpses of beauty leave a lasting impression. Here’s our track-by-track guide to the new album, which arrives April 28th.

“Little House On the Hill” (Lyndel Rhodes)
The opening track on God’s Problem Child is its jauntiest, and also its most heartwarming, written by Lyndel Rhodes, the 92-year-old mother of Buddy Cannon, the producer and songwriter who co-wrote half the songs on the album. A video of a joyous Rhodes hearing Nelson sing her song for the first time went viral last fall, and the comforting memories of “Little House on the Hill,” a reimagining of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” carry an end-of-days undercurrent that sets the tone for the album.

“Old Timer” (Donnie Fritz/Lenny LeBlanc)
Nelson confronts those end of days head on in “Old Timer,” a mournful, piano-driven ballad that ruminates on the ravages of time – and how time is leaving Nelson behind. “You’ve had your run / and it’s been a good one,” goes the opening line, as though to console the listener before the bad news to come about the “old timer” who thinks he’s “still a young bull rider.” Nelson’s vocal – quivering and frail, thoughtful and proud – is the first of many stellar ones on the record, conveying every ounce of that life well lived.

“True Love” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Even on the cusp of his 84th birthday, Nelson remains a hopeless romantic. The first writing credit for the Red Headed Stranger on God’s Problem Child, “True Love” is his fire-and-brimstone vision of never giving up hope. But love alone is no salvation: “I’ll go to hell believing true love is still my friend,” he sings, his optimism both a blessing and a curse, his memories – and even his mortal coil – a “prison.” Hopeless, indeed.

“Delete and Fast Forward” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Much of God’s Problem Child focuses on the personal, but “Delete and Fast Forward” is Nelson’s bemused look at the political world around him, a winner-take-nothing appraisal of today’s mess in the White House. “The truth is the truth, but believe what you choose,” he sings, shrugging at the alternative facts that could make a mushroom cloud feel like a sordid punchline. But even if he’d rather get a fresh start and skip to the next scene, Nelson sees history repeating itself: “We had a chance to be brilliant and we blew it again,” he laments.

“A Woman’s Love” (Mike Reid/Sam Hunter)
Once again, Nelson’s own weathered voice is his greatest, most expressive tool on “A Woman’s Love,” the flip side to the tortured romantic visions of “True Love.” His singing is deep and gruff, conjuring the darkest, most sensual of passions. Accented by fragmented Spanish guitar lines and a wailing harmonica solo, “A Woman’s Love” is a love letter to womankind, but also a cautionary tale – Nelson’s most profound bit of wisdom to impart to his younger self.

“Your Memory Has a Mind” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
If your memory had ears they’d be burning,” Nelson sings on the bridge of this playful tune, which breaks from the heavy tone of God’s Problem Child‘ss other love songs. Yes, he might not be able to control those memories of the one that got away (even smoking and drinking won’t help), but there’s a comic relief in the tortured fate that he finds himself in: “If your memory had a heart, it’d leave me alone,” Nelson sings, knowing full well that it won’t.

“Butterfly” (Sonny Throckmorton/Mark Sherrill)
Coming at the midpoint of the album, this tender ballad by Sonny Throckmorton and Mark Sherrill, underpinned by noodling electric guitar work, turns Nelson’s eye away from his own life and toward that of the natural world. Yet, not exactly: As he ponders the beautiful butterfly flitting in and out of his view, Nelson is contemplating several things at once, like the delicacy and impenetrability of love or the fleeting nature of life itself.

“Still Not Dead” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Nelson has never been as darkly funny as he is on “Still Not Dead,” a song that he co-wrote with Cannon. Even the self-referential humor of 2012’s “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” has nothing on the caustic black comedy of this song, in which the Red Headed Stranger pokes fun at the constant rumors about his impending death – some, even, that he’s already kicked the bucket. “I woke up still not dead again today,” he croons, all but apologizing for the fact that the rumors aren’t true. Nelson, however, insists that he’s just too busy to die: “I’ve got a show to play.”

“God’s Problem Child” (Jamey Johnson/Tony Joe White)
Death may be something that Nelson can poke fun at, but it’s still no laughing matter – and the title track to God’s Problem Child drives that point home. It’s the only song with guest vocalists, with one coming from beyond the grave: “God’s Problem Child” is believed to be the final song that Leon Russell ever recorded before his death last November. Russell’s passing only adds more heft to this soulful track, which also features Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White, and it marks a thematic turning point as the album heads into the closing stretch.

“It Gets Easier” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Several of the songs on God’s Problem Child have been premiered with black-and-white videos of Nelson performing them in the studio with his trusty guitar, Trigger. None, however, are as sweet, as plaintive, or defiant as “It Gets Easier,” the most simple and tender ballad on the album. “I don’t have to do one damn thing that I don’t want to do,” he insists, a man who’s learned to be completely comfortable in his own skin and live on his own terms. But there’s a catch: “Except for missing you / and that won’t go away.”

“Lady Luck” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Life is a fickle thing, and few people appreciate that more than Nelson. With each passing year, he becomes more of a last man standing as more of his friends and partners in crime pass away. Whatever the reason, Nelson is the outlaw who gets to ride off into the sunset. Waylon, Merle, Leon – their luck all ran out before his, and Nelson is pretty sure Lady Luck is on his side. “I’ll bet you a hundred, if you still got a hundred,” he sings, ready to lay his fortune on the line one more time. It’s all or nothing.

“I Made a Mistake” (Willie Nelson/Buddy Cannon)
Steel guitar dominates this benediction of a tune, in which Nelson looks back on a life of living by his own rules and admits he may not have done everything right. “I made a mistake: I thought I was wrong,” goes his repentance. He name-checks Jesus, Elvis and Ripley (of Believe It or Not! fame) in the chorus, trying to rationalize his behavior to each, but in the end, he knows his stumbles are all his own. “So if anyone’s praying, a request I would make / is to mention my name, cause I made a mistake.”

“He Won’t Ever Be Gone” (Gary Nicholson)
God’s Problem Child saves its most heartbreaking song for last: Nelson’s tribute to his best friend, Merle Haggard. “Got the news this morning / Knew it’d be a tough day,” goes the opening couplet, as Nelson recalls hearing word of Hag’s death on April 6th, 2016. “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” chronicles the pair’s friendship while mixing in references to Haggard’s best-known songs, but it’s really a shared story involving two giants. As with most of the album, the emotional core of the song, written by Gary Nicholson, lies in what isn’t said — that while Lady Luck may have smiled on Nelson, he misses his larger-than-life friends. After all, even giants are mortal.

The Grateful Dead with Special Guests Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson (Meadowlands) (September 2, 1978

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Willie Nelson confirms rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

The rumors of Willie Nelson’s imminent demise have been exaggerated, his publicist says, disputing reports the country music icon is on death’s door.

“He’s perfectly fine,” Elaine Schock told the Associated Press on Wednesday, attempting to finally shut down rumors sparked by a March 13 Radar Online story that described the 83-year-old as “deathly ill” and said his lungs weren’t strong enough to perform.

A “bad cold”  forced Nelson to cancel several shows in January and February, but he was back onstage by Feb. 16, when he played at a San Antonio rodeo. And last week he performed at a Houston stadiumfor 75,000 fans, where he appeared to be in good health and had no problems singing.

Wllie Nelson has played nearly a dozen shows in recent weeks and is not deathly ill, his publicist said, despite a series of reports claiming the country music legend is struggling to breathe.

A March 13 Radar Online report quoted an anonymous source saying Nelson was “deathly ill,” weak as a baby and unable to muster the breath to sing. The story is the basis for reports shared by other websites, including and

Elaine Schock, Nelson’s publicist, denied the reports and pointed to his performances at concerts in recent weeks as evidence of the singer’s health.

Nelson’s death has been erroneously reported so many times that he addresses the problem on his new album, God’s Problem Child, due in April.

A sample lyric from Still Not Dead: “The Internet said I had passed away, but you can’t believe a damn thing that they say.”

Luck Reunion 2017

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

story and photo:  Geoffrey Hines

For this series, we’ll be following Paste’s own Curmudgeon, Geoffrey Himes, as he sets out on a massive road trip across the South, exploring musical landmarks, traditions and history along the way. Tenth stop: Spicewood, Texas.

Willie Nelson  turns 84 next month. Having wrestled with pneumonia and emphysema in recent years, mortality seems to be on his mind. But in typical fashion, Nelson refuses to dodge the topic; instead he faces it down with two of the funniest songs he’s written in recent years.

He sang them both at the fifth annual Luck Reunion, a music festival held on Nelson’s ranch in Spicewood, Texas, 45 minutes northwest of Austin, near the Pedernales River. The event is always scheduled during South by Southwest to take advantage of all the talent that’s in Central Texas that week, and the ranch’s pastoral surroundings provide a welcome respite from SXSW and the mobs on Sixth Street.

Nelson bought the ranch with the money from his first few platinum albums, and when he decided to turn one of those records, 1975’s Red Headed Stranger, into the 1986 movie of the same name, he built the sets for an Old West town right there on his spread. Nelson left the buildings—a chapel, a town hall, a saloon/hotel and a barn—standing and called it Luck, Texas, a fictional 1880 town seemingly preserved in a time capsule.

The newer song Nelson played that day is called “I Woke Up Still Not Dead Again Today,” a jaunty response to “the internet” that “said I had passed away.” His profile shining in the overhead lights, he delivered the lines not with anger nor with a laugh, but in the same deadpan that he brings to every song: “Up and down the road / making music as I go / they say this pace would kill a normal man / I’ve never been accused of being normal anyway / and I woke up still not dead again today.”

If the pace should ever kill him, though, Nelson has already made his funeral arrangements, and he announced them in the form of another song. “Roll me up and smoke me when I die,” he sang, with his two sons, Lukas and Micah, close enough to memorize the instructions. “Call my friends and tell ‘em / ‘There’s a party, come on by.’ / Roll me up and smoke me when I die.”

These were two of the last four songs of a long day at the ranch; they bracketed a medley of two other end-of-life hymns: the more traditional “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.” As funny as the two original songs were, they also a brave declaration that the singer would not live his life any less fully than he ever had just because illnesses and advancing age were stalking him. He seemed to be heeding the poet Dylan Thomas’s advice: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Nelson’s phrasing is still superb and his willingness to climb out on a limb during a jazzy acoustic-guitar solo is still a wonder to behold.

And his continuing interest in new music was reflected in the smart programming for the four-stage festival. Rather than relying too heavily on his old peers, Nelson and his cohorts booked some of the brightest young talents in Americana: Valerie June, Margo Price, Parker Millsap, Conor Oberst and Aaron Lee Tasjan.

Read entire article here.

Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion 2017

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017
by:  Christian Wallace

To get to Willie Nelson’s ranch from Austin, you head west on Texas Highway 71, slowly leaving the glass-paneled skyscrapers and SXSW traffic behind for the limestone hills that give this part of the state its name. Just past Sweetwater, a “master planned community” of look-alike McMansions and sparkling pools, you veer north on a county road toward the Colorado River. Bluebonnets blanket the ground here in solid bands, and paint horses graze in grass pastures. Though it’s only thirty miles from the granite dome of the Capitol, by the time you hook a right on the dirt path that leads to Willie’s home, Austin seems like a distant memory.

The Luck Reunion is a one-day music festival held every year on the ranch as a companion to—or, perhaps, a reprieve from—SXSW. Although this year marked the sixth anniversary of the event, Thursday was my first visit to Willie’s legendary property. When I arrived in the early afternoon with my fiancée, Lauren, a security guard in the parking area pointed out a green tin roof one hill to the south. “That over yonder’s Willie’s place,” he informed us. Only then did I fully understand that I was standing in Willie’s backyard. I had the feeling that a long pilgrimage had just come to an end, one I hadn’t even realized I was undertaking.

We entered the little “town” of Luck where the music was already underway. Originally constructed for the 1986 film, Red Headed Stranger, the miniature village still feels like stepping onto the set of a western movie. Luck was buzzing with a diverse crowd of Willie devotees: tattooed hipsters in short brim Stetsons, crop-topped girls in long flowing skirts, retirees rocking faux pigtails. Mixed among the sea of denim and bolo ties were tweed blazers and dickie bows. Several women were dressed—for reasons unknown to me—as train conductors, complete with pinstripe cap.

I made my way to the Revival Tent to watch Paul Cauthen sing with the Texas Gentlemen, a revolving cast of Dallas-based musicians who were serving as the house band. Cauthen’s brand of outlaw-inspired, gospel-tinged country, anchored by his powerful baritone, was a good start to the day. I stuck around to hear Ray Benson, who had celebrated his sixty-sixth birthday a couple nights before at a big bash in Austin. Nelson had shown up as the special guest, and Benson praised his longtime running buddy. He ended with a blistering version of “Boogie Back to Texas” that nearly caught the canvas tent on fire.

“We are so blessed in this state,” Ryan Ake, one of the Gents, said as Benson exited the stage and Ray Wylie Hubbard came on to take his place. The Gentlemen moved effortlessly from Benson’s western swing to Hubbard’s lowdown talkin’ blues. During “Snake Farm” Hubbard was accompanied by his son Lucas, as well as three-fourths of the Trishas.

En route to procure a cup of complimentary booze, I met Wes Wammer, who had driven the Gibson Guitars charter bus down from Nashville. The bus driver told me he spent ten years on the road with Sabbath, and affectionately spoke of Ozzy and bassist Geezer Butler. Wammer also mentioned he’d known Waylon Jennings, and that he was himself a songwriter. I asked him which of Willie’s albums had been the most meaningful to him. “Red Headed Stranger changed country music,” he said. “I still play it. If I have a moment to myself, I’ll put it on the turntable. It’s relaxing, and yet it’s also energizing. That album had a huge influence on artists, especially songwriters.”

On the main World Headquarters stage, Valerie June sparkled in a red sequined dress as she worked through several tracks from her recently released second album, The Order of Time. June seemed more comfortable performing the new material than she had a few weeks earlier when she headlined at the Paramount Theatre in Austin. “I get the blues,” she said in her thick Tennessean twang between songs. “They visit me often. I had ’em last night. But the blues ain’t meant to be sad.” She flashed a grin and with a lilting vibrato launched into the first lines of “Astral Plane.” The ethereal lullaby was fitting for this gathering. The crowd swayed rhythmically, while further from the stage families sprawled on blankets in the grass. A couple of curly-haired kids read Shel Silverstein while their parents closed their eyes and listened.

In the VIP area, the scene was equally mellow, though slightly more surreal, as artists and special guests chatted under disco balls hanging from the branches of tall live oaks. Musician Charley Crockett strutted by in a tan suit, his hat cocked to one side and looking like Jett Rink after his well came in. One of the festival’s main acts, Aaron Lee Tasjan, played an acoustic porch session also sporting a glittering black and white ensemble he bedazzled himself.

Not dressed in formalwear, for once, was Bob Schieffer. The veteran CBS News contributor had ditched his anchorman outfit for Wranglers, cowboy boots, and a belt with his last name tattooed on the leather. He looked almost rugged with white whiskers smattered across his typically clean-shaven cheeks and tufts of hair peeking out from his TCU ball cap. “I’m not sure Willie’s not at the peak of his powers right now,” Schieffer told me. “He’s writing great songs. He’s touring. He’s selling a lot of records. He’s selling tickets. I think his sway is probably as great as it’s ever been.” When I asked Schieffer if he had a favorite Willie song, he cited two of Nelson’s earliest songwriting hits (“Hello Walls” and “Night Life”), then proceeded to quote a couplet verbatim from a song off God’s Problem Child, which doesn’t come out until April.

At 80, Schieffer was on the senior end of the festival attendees, though he pointed out that he was still three years younger than Willie. “There was a guy here last night who was 93 years old, and he’s a Willie groupie,” Schieffer said. “People of all ages are here today, and they all like Willie’s music.”

Another media stalwart lounging in this area was Jim Ferguson, the man who brought us the immortal slogan, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” He regaled folks with tales of life in seventies Lubbock, like when Terry Allen premiered Lubbock (On Everything) at the original Stubb’s barbecue shack, or that time the Clash went with Joe Ely to pay their respects to Buddy Holly. (Joe Strummer, the band’s late frontman, supposedly laid on Holly’s grave that night and begged the rock legend, “Enter my soul!”)

Ferguson was posted up next to media newcomer Weed and Whiskey TV. All day bands filed in and out of the fledgling channel’s Airstream trailer to give interviews or play a couple of songs for what will be released as four-minute, twenty-second videos. Besides the music-themed programming, other categories on Weed and Whiskey will include “Club Cannabis Comedy,”“History Written in Stoned,” and “Higher than Space” (the business card I was given features two aliens blowing lava lamp-green smoke).  The channel will make its debut on, you guessed it, April 20.

Jerry Joyner, Weed and Whiskey TV’s founder, refers to Nelson as “the Dalai Lama of Texas” and credits his first Luck Reunion as the motivation behind his foray into the entertainment industry. “I’ve been smoking cannabis for forty years,” Joyner said. “For thirty-eight of those years, I didn’t want anybody to know. Now I’m open about it. Willie was an inspiration in the sense that he said, ‘Look, I do a hundred fifty shows a year, and I enjoy this plant.’ He’s been instrumental in helping people understand that cannabis isn’t just for stoners. That it can be an alternative to things that aren’t as good for us. That’s what Willie means to me.”

Back on the main stage, country royalty Margo Price proved she’s more than one of Nashville’s finest lyricists. Her raucous set was a highlight of the day, electrified by ample doses of honky-tonk piano and steel guitar that had the blissed-out crowd boogying—or at least enthusiastically swaying—to the beat.

Shovels & Rope picked up where Price left off with their perfectly in-sync country rock and roll. The sky had been overcast most of the day, but by six when the husband and wife duo closed with the barnburner “Birmingham,” the heavy gray had cleared. The last few wisps of clouds glowed pink and gold as the sun sank behind the hills.

Exploring Luck further, I found that the festival offered more than the standard merch tables. Outside the post office a woman stitched Willie’s Reserve (Nelson’s pot company) patches on jackets and satchels. I overheard one guy waiting to have the Texas-shaped patch sewn onto his bag say, “I don’t smoke, but I love Willie and I love Texas.” In the tannery, Odin Clack of Odin’s Leather Goods tooled designs into scraps of tanned hide, while festival-goers imprinted their initials into give-away leather luggage tags. Vendors inside a round corral made from rough-hewn cedar posts hawked vinyl records and vintage threads.

No matter where I went, music was omnipresent. A line snaked out the door of the wood-paneled chapel where artists such as Lillie Mae and Langhorne Slim played to a few dozen fans. Festival attendees strummed mandolins, guitars, or ukuleles borrowed from the Pick N Play wall. When I ducked into the opry house/saloon, a denim-clad singer not listed on the official schedule was performing cowboy songs such as “The Old Chisholm Trail” in front of an American flag.

As someone who grew up fantasizing about the Willie Picnics of yore, I had the sense that this might be the closest I’d come to experiencing those fabled gathering of cosmic cowboys. It was certainly closer to what I had imagined than the dusty Fourth of July Picnic I attended a few years back at Billy Bob’s, where the vibe felt manufactured and David Allan Coe performed a set so bad that it sounded like he was playing from the deep end of a pool. Not so at Luck. Artists and fans alike seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves. A mother and her daughter played on a swing set together. When I passed by a half hour later, a young lady in a paisley halter top was rocking back and forth on the swing, a joint casually burning between her lips.


Willie Nelson & Family at the Houston Rodeo (Saturday, March 18, 2017)

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

photo:  Steve Gonzales
by: Joey Guerra

Willie Nelson, at this point in his storied career, only has to show up to earn a hero’s welcome.

The legendary performer met with mountainous cheers when he walked onstage and strapped on his guitar Saturday at Rodeo Houston. The crowd was ready to listen and love.

This was Nelson’s first Rodeo Houston appearance since 2004. He drew a crowd of 75,008, just 25 people shy of Luke Bryan’s Thursday night show.  Nelson first played the rodeo in 1985, logging nine total appearances, including two with super-group The Highwaymen.

There were (completely unfounded) rumors that he’d cancel the Rodeo Houston appearance. Nelson canceled shows in January and February due to illness.

It made “Still Not Dead Again Today,” a darkly humorous ode to internet death rumors, even funnier.

He looked and sounded healthy on the revolving stage. He sported his trademark braids, red bandana and a black T-shirt that read Paia, a small town in Maui, where he’s lived for years.

There were too many classics to count: “Angel Flying too Close to the Ground,” “On the Road Again,” Always on My Mind,” “Georgia on My Mind.”

And there were even more that he couldn’t get to in just an hour-long set.

“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” was a laugh-out-loud highlight. (“Take me out and twist me up/And point me toward the sky.”)

Minutes later, he took the crowd to cowboy church with “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “I Saw the Light.”

“I hear y’all,” he said amid the nonstop cheers. Thank you very much.”

Nelson got through a few seconds of “Me and Paul” before stopping the song and closing with a spirited “Shoeshine Man.” (Hey, he’s earned the right to change his mind.)

He lingered before stepping into the black SUV that whisked him out of the stadium. The crowd was still roaring as the lights came on.


Waylon Jennings will replace Poco and the Flying Burritos at tonight’s Willie Nelson Concert

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Thanks, Phil Weisman.

Why Fans Love This Man (What’s behind the Willie Nelson charisma?)

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

[Thanks, Phil Weisman, for sharing this clipping with us.]

Parade Magazine
December 5, 1982
by:  Ben Fong-Torres

Willie Nelson has lived most of his life in rough and tumble style.  It shows in his whiskered face and in the long, braided, hippie-style hair he wears underneath a cowboy hat or a bright red bandanna.  It’s obvious in the guitar he always plays, the one with the hole in it, a victim of Willie’s more rip-roaring tunes.  And it’s spoken in the songs he writes and sings.

That’s the Willie Nelson look; well-worn and down-home, a mix of good ol’ boy, romantic crooner, guru, out-law and pop star.  And this style is also one of the chief reasons why everybody – or so it seems – loves Willie Nelson:  He’s his own man and, at the same time, he’s all things to all people.

“My audiences are usually filled with a lot of old people and a lot of young people, and everybody’s lookin’ at each other a lot the first few minutes of the show, and that’s good,” says Nelson.  “But people are people, regardless of where they are, what nationality or whatever.  They basically have the same emotions, the same things make them laugh, make them cry, and they all fall in and out of love.  So most everyone can relate to the lyrics in the songs I do.”

The people who flock to hear Nelson include Hell’s Angels bikers in jeans, politicians in tuxedos — in 1980, Nelson performed at the White House as the guest of president and Mrs Jimmy Carter — and youngsters young and oldsters who like the way he blends rock n’ roll and country and western music.

Musically, Nelson ranges from good time honky-tonk stompers about drinking and fighting to classic American ballads that he sings in a simple, lean voice using a confident, jazzy phrasing.  The love songs he’s written, usually fueled by bad times at home and good times at the local saloon – such as “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” — are poetic, philosophical, confessional and bluesy, but they fall short of the country cliches of hopelessness and despair.

The worst now is over, I’ve stood the rest
It should be easier now.
They say everything happens for the best.
It should be easier now.

It is.  Another reason for Nelson’s popularity is that it took so long before things got easy for him, and be conveys this hard but true fact of life in his songs.  When he was unable to win acceptance as a performer in Nashville, Nelson returned home to Texas in 1972.  That revolt against the country music establishment sparked his “outlaw” image – which took hold when Nelson grew his hair long, stuck on an earring and developed his own sound.  And he hit it big.  In the last 10 years, he has attracted a following of loyal fans who regularly sell out the 250 concerts he does across the country each year.


Yes, Caroline, there is a Willie Nelson

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
by:  Charlie Scudder

Editor’s note: Dallas Morning News justice reporter Jennifer Emily recently posted on Facebook an unusual query from her 4-year-old daughter, Caroline: “Is Willie Nelson real?” It’s an important question for all young Texans to explore in their own time, and we humbly offer this response in the style of another editorial-page classic.

Yes, Caroline, there is a Willie Nelson. He exists as certainly as country music and Fourth of July picnics, neighborliness and freedom exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Boy! How boring Texas would be if there were no Willie Nelson. It would be as dreary as if there were no Waylons, or T-Bones, or Selenas, or Beyonces. There wouldn’t hardly be any country music then, at least not the way he does it: no “Whiskey River,” no “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” no “Good Hearted Woman,” no “Crazy” to make this life tolerable.

Not believe in Willie Nelson?! You might as well not believe in Luckenbach! You might get your father to hire men to sit in every dance hall in Texas to catch Willie Nelson, but even if they did not see the Red Headed Stranger take the stage, what would that prove? He’s ever on the road again, going places that he’s never been. The most real things in all of Texas are those that neither roughnecks nor cowpokes can see. Did you ever see the lights dancing on the desert in Marfa? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there.

You may tear apart a snake’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there’s a Stetson covering the unseen world that neither the toughest cowboy, nor even the strength of all the cowboys that ever rode through Texas, could lift. It takes faith, pride, love and a guitar named Trigger to reveal the world of sublime, beautiful things that come together to make a true Texan. Is it all real? Pshaw, Caroline, in all the Lone Star State there is nothing else quite as real.

No Willie Nelson?! B’God! He lives, and he lives forever in the hearts of his fans the world over. A few thousand years from now, Caroline, naw, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make every boot scoot deep in the heart of Texas.

Charlie Scudder is a reporter for The Dallas Morning News. Twitter: @cscudder

Willie Nelson Q & A: Willie the Hero

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

This interview ran in the Houston Chronicle on March 21, 1993
by:  Rick Mitchell

In western movies, there’s often a scene where the hero wakes up from a daze after being pistol-whipped or hit over the back of the head with a bottle. He shakes the cobwebs from his brain, checks to make sure his body parts still work and reaches for a hit of something stiff to kill the lingering pain.

Then he reloads, mounts up and rides off to finish the job he started, more resolute than ever.

If ever a hero had a right to feel dazed, it’s Willie Nelson.

Two and a half years ago, the Internal Revenue Service seized all of Nelson’s property and announced plans to auction it off to satisfy Nelson’s $16.7 million tax debt – most of it accrued in penalties and interest from a failed tax shelter in the early ’80s.

Nelson quickly worked out a deal with the IRS to release the album “Who’ll Buy My Memories: The IRS Tapes,” with proceeds going to his tax debt. The album received rave reviews, but the Austin telemarketing company handling mail-order sales went out of business a few months later, and fans were unable to find the album in stores.

“It was like Murphy’s Law, ” Nelson said.

On Christmas Day 1991 Nelson suffered a far crueler blow. His son, Billy, committed suicide at age 33. While Nelson managed to maintain his serenity in the face of his financial woes, the loss of his son brought him to his knees. He still can’t discuss the subject.

Nelson spent much of last year playing at a theater in Branson, Mo., where by most accounts he was miserable. It was beginning to look as if the old outlaw might live out his last days on an allowance from Uncle Sam, performing for busloads of retirees in Branson and dreaming restlessly of the good times gone by.

As his 60th birthday looms April 30, Shotgun Willie is back in the saddle and on the road again. After reviewing the financial figures, the IRS has agreed to a massive reduction of his debt.

Nelson still owes $5.4 million, to be paid off over the next few years.

On Tuesday, Columbia Records will release Nelson’s new album, “Across the Borderline.” Produced by Don Was and featuring guest appearances by Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Sinead O’Connor and others, the album is being hailed as his best work since “Stardust,” some 15 years ago.

CBS is planning a special on Nelson’s life, to be filmed in Austin and aired shortly after his birthday. Nelson also is involved in planning Farm Aid VI, to be held in Ames, Iowa, on April 24.

But even with everything else going on, Nelson has not forgotten where he came from.

On March 28, he will return to his old haunts of Hillsboro to perform a benefit concert for the restoration of the historic Hill County Courthouse, which was devastated by fire Jan. 1.

The concert is called “Blaze to Glory With Willie” and will be held on the town square in front of the burned building. The statewide advisory committee for the event includes such notable Hill County natives as Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and Houstonian Dr. Red Duke.

“There’s more people than I ever dreamed of that have connections to that courthouse,” Nelson said in an interview at his Pedernales Studio and Country Club in Spicewood. He’s in the process of re-acquiring the Spicewood property, which a friend bought at the IRS auction and held for him.

“A courthouse has a different meaning than other buildings, ” Nelson said. “It’s where all the family records are kept. It’s like a church, or a temple.”

Nelson was born and reared in Abbott, about 10 miles south of Hillsboro. Some of his earliest musical memories are of accompanying his grandparents to the Wednesday night gospel meetings at the Hill County Courthouse.

“My grandparents were gospel singers,” he said. “They would meet there with other gospel singers in the area. They had all their gospel hymn books. That’s where I really got turned on to that type of music. Country music I heard on the radio, along with all other types of music.”

While country music became his great love, his experience singing gospel left a lasting impression. He has never lost the ability to impart a spiritual dimension to secular lyrics, from “The Healing Hands of Time” to “Always on My Mind.”

When he grew a little older, Nelson would ride the Waco-Dallas trolley from Abbott up to Hillsboro every Saturday.

“Child’s fare was 20 cents round trip,” he recalled. “I’d take nine cents to get in the movie and another nickel for popcorn, and I had the weekend made. Ten-cent hamburgers, too.”

Most Saturday afternoons also included a visit to the courthouse. “That’s where the public restrooms were, ” he explained.

Nelson’s nonchalance about material possessions has been compared to that of a Zen monk. Even in the darkest times of the last two years, he never lost his sense of humor.

As his fellow songwriter and compadre Kris Kristofferson once put it, “He wears the world like a loose garment.”

But Nelson says his hang-loose attitude is more Texan than Buddhist.

“It comes from running into situations where you either had to laugh or cry,” he said. “I was raised around a lot of people who had a great sense of humor. Those people in Hill County, they didn’t worry about a lot of things. So I sort of grew up with that attitude. Money wasn’t a big deal because nobody had any, so what difference did it make?”

Nelson moved away from Hill County after graduating from high school, but he’s maintained close friendships there. He offered to do the courthouse benefit concert while visiting Zeke Varner, an old friend from Hillsboro, a few days after the fire.

“I knew that they were going to need some help, ” Nelson said. “I told Zeke that the best way to do it would be to close off downtown to do a concert right on the courthouse square. He said, “I doubt they’ll let us do that.’

“Sure enough, they felt it was a great idea.”


“Don’t Give Up’

Although he seems to have reached a peaceful accommodation with life’s travails, that “loose garment” hasn’t always fit Nelson so well. In his younger years, he did a lot of moving around Texas, living in Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio.

During the ’60s, he spent a frustrating decade in Nashville, Tenn. He gained respect as a songwriter for hits such as Ray Price’s “Night Life” and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” But the Nashville establishment never took him seriously as a singer because of his unique voice and idiosyncratic phrasing.

At one point, Nelson gave up on the music business. He bought a little spread outside Nashville and decided to try his hand at pig farming. When the farm burned down, Nelson came home to Texas.

It wasn’t long afterward, in 1975, that he had his career breakthrough with the album “Red Headed Stranger.”

“I did a lot of negative thinking in my earlier years, ”

Nelson said. “Like they say, ‘A hard head makes a sore ass.’

“Somewhere along the way, I turned the negative around to start thinking positive. But I drank a lot, too. That had a lot to do with my negative approach.”

Nelson agrees that “Across the Borderline” is among the best albums of his career – possibly his best. But he defends much of his work of the ’80s as critically and commercially overlooked.

“Honestly, I felt I reached a point where I was producing too much, ” he said. “I was recording more albums than the company could sell. I did duet albums with Faron Young, Ray Price, Webb Pierce, Hank Snow – all my heroes. It’s something I wanted to do, and the fact that I had a studio here made it easy to invite the guys down.”

Nelson said the rapid recording pace and constant touring took a toll on his songwriting.

“At some point, I saw a lot of good material going by the wayside, ” he said. “I saw a lot of albums that I was putting out that weren’t selling as much as I thought they should, and I was going through a lot of good material. That’s why this new album is as good as it is, because we did take a long time looking for new material.”

Nelson said producer Was was responsible for introducing him to many of the songs on “Across the Borderline” and encouraging him to stretch his artistic range. The hardest songs for him were Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” (done as a duet with O’Connor) and Simon’s “American Tune.”

“That’s a very classic melody there, ” he said of the latter. “It’s difficult for a hillbilly singer to sing.”

On the other hand, songs like Lyle Lovett’s “Farther Down the Line” and Willie Dixon’s “I Love the Life I Live” sound as though they might have been written by Nelson himself. He’s already introduced the Lovett tune into his regular concert repertoire.

“I love that song, ” he said. “I like to sing it every night.”

Of the three songs on the album that Nelson wrote, “She’s Not for You” is the only one that had previously been recorded (for a long-out-of-print RCA album in the ’60s).

“Valentine” was written for Nelson’s 2-year-old son, Luke, his seventh child, one of two by his fourth wife, the former Annie D’Angelo. “Still Is Still Moving to Me,” the album’s closer, is Nelson’s declaration of renewed purpose. He’s on his feet again and ready to ride.

There has been a nearly complete turnover on the country chart since Nelson’s last huge hit, “Always on My Mind,” 10 years ago. A new generation of country stars has emerged, making it difficult for old-timers such as Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Waylon Jennings to crack radio playlists.

But Nelson isn’t worried about conforming to commercial trends. His greatest work – from “Phases and Stages” and “Red Headed Stranger” to “Stardust” and “Across the Borderline” – has transcended marketing categories.

“There has to be an audience for something good,” he said simply. “There’s ‘supposed’ to be. I think this album is so good – it incorporates so much talent and so many good songs – everything points to a hit. I just think this album is a home run.”

If life imitates the movies one more time, it will be.

“Thank you, San Antonio” — Willie Nelson

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

Willie Nelson & Family at the San Antonio Rodeo (Feb. 16, 2017)

Saturday, February 18th, 2017
by:  Peter Blackstock

“I woke up still not dead again today,” Willie Nelson confirmed to a sold-out crowd at San Antonio’s AT&T Center on Thursday night. And like the best of what he has always offered in his life, he said it in song.

“Still Not Dead,” a song Nelson wrote recently to address the occasional “greatly exaggerated” reports of his demise that routinely surface on the internet, will be featured on his new album “God’s Problem Child, due out April 28.  On this night, it was the perfect song for the occasion, as some concerns had arisen after Nelson canceled several dates in the in the Southwest last week.

That came after some January shows were called off because Nelson reportedly had a cold. With Willie soon to turn 84, it’s natural for his fans to be a little concerned for his health.

Thus Thursday’s performance, on the eighth night of the 18-day San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, was a welcome affirmation that Nelson doesn’t sound like he’s going anywhere anytime soon. Quite the contrary, in fact: Between us, my guest last night and I have seen Nelson perform dozens of times, stretching back to the 1980s, and we concurred afterward that we’d rarely heard him do a better show.

Sure, some of it was the same comfortable Willie as always: The signature “Whiskey River” guitar-strum opening, the medleys of his most-covered classics and of gospel favorites, the callouts for the crowd to sing along on songs played for his departed compadre Waylon Jennings. If you needed to know that Willie is still his grand old self, everything was there — including his ever-reliable family band, with sister Bobbie Nelson on piano, the English brothers Paul and Billy on percussion and drums, relative newcomer Kevin Smith on upright bass, and harmonica ace Mickey Raphael at his side.


But there were special treats.  In addition to the aforementioned “Still Not Dead” providing a sneak peek at the upcoming record, Willie also dug way back to his earliest days for “Family Bible,” a song he doesn’t often pull out onstage. And while “Georgia on My Mind” is a staple of almost every Willie set, his sly “speaking of Georgia” segue into Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia on a Fast Train” was a less common detour.

Even when Willie had played for more than an hour to the delight of everyone in the full house, he seemed eager to keep going just a little longer. About this time, my trusty ballpoint ran out of ink, leaving empty indents on my notepad. Yes, Willie outlived my pen; I’ll take that as a good sign.

“Y’all got time for another one before we go?” Willie asked, to a chorus of enthusiastic cheers. He then rattled off not one but three more tunes, including the perfect closer for the locale: Bob Wills’ classic “Home in San Antone.” Austin will always be ground zero of Willie’s world, but on this night, as he sang out “I’ve still got my home in San Antone,” around 18,000 of his fans testified that indeed, he does.

On his bus before the concert, Nelson did an interview for NBC’s “The Today Show” with correspondent Jenna Bush, daughter of former President George W. Bush. No air date for the interview is set yet, according to Nelson’s publicist, Elaine Schock. Nelson’s next Austin-area appearance is his annual Luck Reunion at his ranch west of town on March 16, in the midst of South by Southwest.

Set list:

  • 1. Whiskey River
  • 2. Still Is Still Moving to Me
  • 3. Beer for My Horses
  • 4. Good Hearted Woman
  • 5. Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
  • 6. Funny How Time Slips Away/Crazy/Night Life medley
  • 7. Down Yonder
  • 8. Me & Paul
  • 9. If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time
  • 10. Georgia on My Mind
  • 11. Georgia on a Fast Train
  • 12. Shoeshine Man
  • 13. Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
  • 14. On the Road Again
  • 15. Always on My Mind
  • 16. It’s All Going to Pot
  • 17. Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
  • 18. Will the Circle Be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away medley
  • 19. Still Not Dead
  • 20. Family Bible
  • 21. The Party’s Over
  • 22. Home in San Antone

Willie Nelson Rocks the Rodeo (San Antonio, Feb. 16, 2017)

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

photo:  Jaime Monzon
by:  Chris Conde

The famous outlaw country singer and songwriter Willie Nelson, who won a Grammy over the weekend, was scheduled to play in less than 20 minutes. Before taking the stage, though, the audience got a taste of some good ‘ol fashion competitive rodeo events like calf roping, bull riding (basically, I’m trying to marry a bull rider now) and barrel racing. It’s certainly not the Texas I’m used to, but I wore some cowboy boots, so I wasn’t feeling too out of place.

After the events, (seriously bull riders, holla) all the animals were put away, a big stage was rolled out onto the dirt, and Willie Nelson stepped up.

The audience in the AT&T Center cheered loudly as Willie, donning his two waist-long braids, a cowboy hat and famous beat up guitar, dive right into his fan favorites. Several times through the night, he stopped to let the audience sing the lyrics, smile and say “I hear ya’ out there San Antonio”, before strumming back into the tune.

Suddenly, after finishing one song, Willie belted out the start to his classic hit “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” — which brought a healthy chunk of the AT&T Center crowd to their feet to cheer. Then a bunch in the rodeo crowd raised and waived their cowboy hats to the 83 year old legend — like a real cowboy “thank you.”


Epic Night with Willie Nelson & Family at San Antonio Rodeo (Feb. 16, 2017)

Friday, February 17th, 2017

EPIC night with Willie Nelson at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. The energy in the AT&T Center was through the roof!! #sarodeo