Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

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.

Willie Nelson in Las Vegas (interview)

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Stavros Damos
art by: Stavros Damos
by:  Chris Richards

AS VEGAS — Another Saturday night on Earth. How is this one different?

“Honestly, nothing is distinct after a while,” Willie Nelson confesses. He’s talking about life on the road at 81, when wisdom makes the totality of life feel intensely connected to the present — but also when age makes the details feel slippery.

He’s come to Las Vegas for his seventh gig of the new year. After tonight, roughly a hundred more to go. And if they all blend together, that’s okay, as long as he’s learning more than he’s forgetting, which he thinks he is, which is all that really matters.

When most veteran musicians tour this hard toward the sunset, they’re usually fattening their fortunes, paying down their debts, polishing their legacies, nourishing their egos or simply keeping their loyal employees employed. For Nelson, the road seems more like a spiritual path — an asphalt Mobius strip, the long way to enlightenment or both.

His buddy Kinky Friedman proudly calls him “the Hillbilly Dalai Lama.” His most devout fans think of him as a messenger, or even a manifestation, of God. Sitting on his tour bus before the show, salt-and-cinnamon braids dangling to his belly, Nelson radiates a serene warmth when he says that he embraces these responsibilities without much fuss.

“It’s not a responsibility that’s just mine,” he says. “It’s everybody’s out there. They have the obligation to set an example. ‘Do unto others.’ The old Golden Rule. It’s an easy one to follow. Sometimes.”

There were times when he didn’t, of course. He was once a hot-tempered songwriting ace prone to burning bridges before learning that burning marijuana could calm his screeching mind. But the road from turbulence to tranquility was long and formidable. As a kid, he couldn’t see past 21. At 21, he swore he’d be dead by 40. “Here I am at 81, and everything is cool,” Nelson says.

And here he is in Vegas, for a gig like any other, only maybe not. In many ways, Las Vegas is a luminescent fantasyland designed to provide its visitors with an opportunity to escape their own heads. A Willie Nelson concert won’t allow that. Even when they’re light, Nelson’s songs pull us deeper into ourselves, with Nelson singing about the weight of yesterday and the uncertainty of tomorrow with the easiness of right now. His songs are essentially about time, which makes them about life, which makes them about everything. Older listeners remember. Younger listeners imagine. There’s a lot going on.
“It’s been that way as long as I can remember,” Nelson says of his multi-generational flock. “When you go to church, it’s young and old. The audience, for me, is very similar to a congregation. It’s all ages out there.”

Tonight, plenty of congregants bought their tickets simply to genuflect, get drunk and shout out the words to “On the Road Again.” But many younger fans in the room quietly acknowledge that they’ve made this pilgrimage with bittersweet intentions. They’re here to see Nelson before he leaves this plane, seemingly unaware that their presence is exactly what keeps that from happening.

Born and raised in a peaceful fleck of Texas called Abbott, Nelson learned from his grandmother that, in addition to keeping us alive, the human breath is what carries a song. So he started singing from his diaphragm and picked up the rest from the voices wafting out of his radio. Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams. He especially loved listening to the way Frank Sinatra breathed.

As with Sinatra, so much of Nelson’s magnetism originates in the intimacy of his vocal phrasing. Vocally, he can saunter ahead of the beat, then stumble behind it, somersaulting through his lines, always landing on his feet. And all of this magic still reveals itself in the length of a breath.

To keep fit, Nelson currently rides a bicycle and plays a little golf, but he vows that exhaling music from a stage is the ultimate form of exercise. And while he says he doesn’t meditate, his explanation of why he doesn’t certainly sounds like meditation: “To think about my breathing would defeat the purpose. The object is not to think.”

The other pillars of his spirituality remain simple and sturdy. The Lord’s Prayer still comes in handy when he needs his brain to go blank. And his long-standing belief in reincarnation grows stronger each year. “I think everything that’s happened [in my life] enhances the idea,” he says. “Once you invite that idea in and start kicking it around, you see that that’s the only way it could be.”
Ask Nelson heftier questions about life, death and the great beyond, and he begins speaking in Zen zingers. At first, it seems like he’s dodging. But catch up to him, and you’ll realize he’s telling big truths through little jokes.

What goes through his mind when he walks onstage? “Try not to trip over a wire.”

Do his fans truly know him? “I think they think they do.”

Does he have a relationship with God today? “Well, how you doin’?”

That last reply seems to materialize in a moment of octogenarian fog, but in actuality, Nelson is 10 steps ahead: He believes that God speaks through all of us. His sense of humor and his spirituality are inextricable. Life is a joke. The funniest one we’ll ever know.

And while his cosmic wit explains Nelson’s eminence as a troubadour-guru, it says even more about his skill as a country songwriter. Every lyricist on Music Row aspires to think this elegantly, finding ways to pack the universe into pithy, coherent, pleasingly rhythmic bundles that report on the finer details of the human condition in plain English. The words also have to rhyme, and it helps if they’re hilarious or devastating.

In Vegas, Nelson’s set list is teeming with evergreen punch lines, hang-ups and jabs: the misadventures of “Me and Paul,” the delirious regret of “Crazy,” the dagger-twist at the end of “Funny How Time Slips Away.” But the most rousing singalong comes during “Roll Me Up,” a newer ditty that confronts the imminence of death with a weed joke.

Chopping away at his instrument — a famously loyal guitar named Trigger whose soundboard bears a gaping second hole, as if it took a shotgun slug for its owner — Nelson looks pleased as he sings the hook: “I didn’t come here and I ain’t leavin’?/ So don’t sit around and cry?/ Just roll me up and smoke me when I die.”

Visualizing the aftermath of Nelson’s death (breathing him in, breathing him out) should not be this fun, this funny, this comforting or this weirdly poetic — which is the upside-down brilliance of it all. It’s by far his most generous and perverse gesture of the night.
But singing backup is Nelson’s daughter Amy, whose eyes flash with discomfort each time the refrain comes around. Backstage, she admits that it’s hard for her to sing those words. “I don’t want to affirm anything like that,” she says. “So when we sing that song, in my head, I’ll look at him and think, ‘Nope!’?”

Willie Nelson performs at Radio City Music Hall in New York on May 24, 1984. It was the first in a series of six concerts at Radio City, all of which sold out, the first time for a country-western act. (Richard Drew/AP)
Nelson speaks about the need to revive family farming at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Oct. 6, 2004. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
Sure, he thinks there are more songs for him to write. Nelson describes the creative moment as a vibration he catches in the breeze, a friendly signal from someplace else. Being on the road might expose him to more transmissions. Sometimes, they come in clear. Other times, he just hears static.

“It either happens or it doesn’t,” Nelson says of the process. “You can’t push it or rush it. I don’t really think about what it takes to write a song. I really don’t. But if I get a good idea, I try to write it down as quickly as possible. And I have an iPhone now, and it’s easier to get in there and leave some notes for myself.”

He’s always written his lyrics first, confident that good melodies are more plentiful than good words and easier to locate, too. As for cutting his songs, he’s quick. He released two fine albums last year, and when he presses a button on the tour-bus stereo, out jumps a zesty new duet he recorded with Merle Haggard a few weeks ago.

It’s from a forthcoming double-tribute album honoring proto-country star Jimmie Rodgers and Django Reinhardt, the French jazz maestro whose guitar-playing has mesmerized Nelson for decades. In fact, Nelson has been taking guitar lessons of late, trying to decode how Reinhardt’s fingertips once dashed across the fretboard. “You can never learn it all,” he says.

Haggard, 77, might be Nelson’s closest peer in that he’s a legendary country-music agitator who continues to tour relentlessly, even after an excruciating lung surgery in 2008. Haggard has characterized life on the road as a compulsion, an addiction, a disease, maybe even a 50-year mistake.

But for Nelson, touring into his 80s is something else entirely. Somehow, his journey generates more energy than it siphons away.
“The music, and the love of playing, and the love of having the music enjoyed by a lot of people,” Nelson says, “there’s a lot of power in that.”

So this great honky-tonk slog, this never-ending odyssey that requires an increasingly fragile body to breathe melody 100 nights a year — this is actually the thing that keeps him alive?

“Oh yeah,” he says with a firm nod. Then he smiles. The idea makes him feel either deeply contented, a little frightened or nothing at all.

They love Willie Nelson in Palm Desert

Monday, January 19th, 2015

From left: Joan Dale and R.D. Hubbard, Willie Nelson, Jackie Autry and McCallum Theatre Chairman Harold Matzner.
photo: Marc Glassman

by: Betty Francis

The sold-out-with-a-waiting list crowd that filled the McCallum Theatre for last week’s Willie Nelson concert knew exactly what they wanted: The same thing that iconic philanthropists Jackie Autry and R.D. Hubbard wanted … to hear Willie Nelson sing — no more, no less. Both Autry and Hubbard have given millions of dollars to Eisenhower Medical Center, just one of the many nonprofits that they support. Both are big fans of western art and culture and have known Nelson for many years.

When it got close to the 8 p.m. curtain time and Willie wasn’t backstage, both Jackie and R.D. headed to Willie’s bus to remind him about the starting time. The three have been good friends for many years.

Another Hubbard and Autry friend, philanthropist and McCallum Board Chairman Harold Matzner, fully underwrote the performance.

At four minutes past 8 p.m., without fanfare or introduction, four guys in black jeans and T-shirts quietly ambled on stage. Three of them slipped into some seats at the back of the stage, near some drums. One of them remained standing and picked up a microphone. It was Willie Nelson — singing “Whiskey Junction.”

He looked good. For age 82, he looked great! He stood straight and trim, shoulders back, his long, blonde braids hanging below his waist.

His singing slid seamlessly from one famous hit into another, accompanied by a drummer and an electric harmonica. A few songs later, they were joined by a superb pianist, Bobbie Nelson, whom Willie referred to as “my little sister,” and a fifth versatile musician playing a variety of instruments.

From “Good Hearted Woman” to “Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” Nelson just stood there singing. He never sat down, changed clothes nor left the stage. He sang, non-stop for 90 minutes.

Occasionally Nelson would briefly introduce a song, mentioning a few words as to where, or why it was written. “On The Road Again”… “Always On My Mind” … “Crazy For Loving You.”

The audience was mesmerized and, except for bursts of applause, you could hear a pin drop. Several of the arrangements allowed Nelson to show off his superb skills as a guitarist, generating additional cheers.

Little sister Bobbie also showcased the family talent with a rousing piano solo.

At one point, Nelson removed his black Stetson and exchanged it for his familiar red print bandana headband. Then he unexpectedly tossed the headband into the second row of the audience where it was caught and triumphantly waved by a joyous young man. Three more bandanas were tossed as the show progressed.

There was only one exception to the program of Willie Nelson singing his hits. Near the end of the show he introduced a number from his latest CD — “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” which showed off the clear intensity of his voice. He’s still got it.

Near the end of the show a pretty young lady slipped on stage without introduction, and joined in on “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and a hilarious arrangement of “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” Nelson referred to her only as “my daughter.”

The show closed in the same simple, direct, no-nonsense way it opened. After “Roll Me Up” and “I Saw The Light” Nelson stepped forward to shake some front-row hands and blow kisses to the audience.

With that, he left the stage with the same stealth as he entered. The curtain dropped. The show was over — right on time.

Virtually every member of the audience was beaming as they left the McCallum. They loved Willie.

2015 Grammy Hall of Fame

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

by: David Beckett
By Kurt Wolff

Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Willie Nelson and the groups Kraftwerk and ABBA are among the artists who will have their songs or albums inducted into the 2015 GRAMMY Hall of Fame.

The 2015 list consists of 14 songs and 13 albums, including Williams’ 1947 single “Honky Tonkin’,” Otis Redding‘s classic “Try a Little Tenderness,” western swing maestro Bob Wills‘ “San Antonio Rose,” Chic‘s “Le Freak” and Aaron Neville‘s “Tell It Like It Is” as well as albums by Nelson (Stardust), Dylan (Blood on the Tracks), Neil Young (Harvest), Leonard Cohen (Songs of Leonard Cohen) and the Sex Pistols (Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols).

Willie Nelson Fun Facts

Monday, January 12th, 2015

photo:  Frederick Breedon

Here’s a look at the life of seven time Grammy Award winning musician Willie Nelson.

Birth date: April 30, 1933

Birth place: Abbott, Texas

Birth name: Willie Hugh Nelson

Father: Ira Nelson

Mother: Myrle (Greenhaw) Harvey

Marriages: Ann Marie D’Angelo (1991-present); Connie Koepke (1971-1988, divorced); Shirley Collie (1963-1971, divorced); Martha Matthews (1952-1962, divorced)

Children: with Ann Marie D’Angelo: Micah and Lukas; with Connie Koepke: Amy and Paula; with Martha Matthews: Billy (died in 1991), Susie, Lana; with Mary Haney: Renee

Education: Attended Baylor University, 1954

Military: U.S. Air Force, 1950, medical discharge

Other Facts:
Raised by his grandparents.

Sold encyclopedias door-to-door and taught Sunday school.

Has collaborated with Johnny Cash, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Lee Ann Womack, Rob Thomas and Snoop Dogg, among others.

Has a fifth-degree black belt in GongKwon YuSul.

1973 – Holds the first annual Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic in Texas.

1975 – Wins a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, for “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.”

1978 – Wins a Grammy, with Waylon Jennings, for Best Country Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group for “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”

1978 – Wins a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, for “Georgia On My Mind.”

1979 – Makes his acting debut, alongside Robert Redford, in the film, “The Electric Horseman.”

1980 – Wins a Grammy for Best Country Song for writing “On The Road Again.”

1980 – Stars in the film “Honeysuckle Rose.”

1982 – Wins a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, for “Always On My Mind.”

1982 – Stars in the film “Barbarosa.”

1985 – Releases the album “Highwayman” with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.

1985 – Organizes Farm Aid, a concert to benefit family farmers.

1988 – Releases his memoir, “Willie: An Autobiography.”

1990 – The IRS seizes Nelson’s property and possessions to settle a $16.7 million tax debt.

1991 – Nelson releases the album, “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?” Sales from the album are given to the IRS.

1993 – Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

1994 – Is arrested for possession of marijuana. The case is later thrown out.

2000 – The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presents Nelson with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

2002 – Wins a Grammy, with Lee Ann Womack, for Best Country Collaboration With Vocals for “Mendocino County Line.”

2002 – Releases the book, “The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes.”

2006 – Releases the book, “The Tao of Willie.”

2006 – Is issued a citation in Louisiana for possession of marijuana and illegal mushrooms. Nelson is fined and receives six months’ probation.

2007 – Wins a Grammy, with Ray Price, for Best Country Collaboration With Vocals for “Lost Highway.”

2010 – Is charged with marijuana possession after U.S. Border Patrol agents search his tour bus in Texas near the U.S.-Mexico border.

2012 – Releases the book, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road.”

2013 – Nelson donates his collection of awards and personal items to the University of Texas at Austin’s Briscoe Center.