Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

New Willie Nelson album, “First Rose of Spring”

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
by: Liz Thomson

Listening to Willie Nelson’s latest album is like pulling on a pair of beloved beat-up cowboy boots. The declarative vocal over simple guitar, a touch of Hammond, a plaintive harmonica and then one of those characteristic country music key changes… and of course a distinctive Nelson guitar solo on his battered old nylon-stringed Martin. The song which gives the album its title is the opener and immediately you’re swept away.

First Rose of Spring is Nelson’s seventieth solo studio album (there’s a score of others) and it was originally scheduled for release in April as he turned 87. Breathing problems forced him to cancel some tour dates last year and as a result he’s given up smoking. The album finds him very much on song.

His is a unique voice, instantly recognisable – the sonic equivalent of a face on Mount Rushmore. It’s remarkably secure for a man of his years, even on the melismata, and his clear diction means he’s always the perfect storyteller, whether singing his own classic songs or those of others. Rose features two new numbers co-written with producer Buddy Cannon, another of country music’s greats: “Blue Star” and “Love Just Laughed.”

Nelson is ever the outlaw, and two songs play to that image: “I’m the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised”, and “I’ll Break Out Again Tonight”, in which a man “in stripes” dreams of life on the outside in a classic slice of two-chord country.

As for “Just Bummin’ Around”, you half expect to hear Patsy Cline’s voice in this wonderfully retro soft-shoe shuffle. There’s a beguiling honky-tonk account of Toby Keith’s “Don’t Let the Old Man In”, with its homespun advice (“Try to love on your wife/ And stay close to your friends/ Toast each sundown with wine”) which Nelson has certainly heeded. Yet from the poignant title track on, there’s an inevitable sense of mortality about the album, emphasized by its closing track, a cover of the old Charles Aznavour & Herbert Kretzmer number.

But “Yesterday When I Was Young” is sung with defiance as well as resignation and the arrangement is gorgeous, Nelson’s guitar picking preceding the entry of lush strings, harmonica, and pedal steel.  

Nelson won’t “go gentle” anywhere, and hopefully not for a long time. In the last few long weeks, many of us have come a bit “unravelled”, as he sings in “Our Song”, and this is an album to help put us all back together. First Rose of Spring is an album that won’t ever lose its bloom.

Willie Nelson’s, “First Rose of Spring” (review by Mikal Gilmore)

Friday, May 29th, 2020
by: Mikal Gilmore

In 2019, with Ride Me Back Home [LISTEN], Willie Nelson seemed to be winding up a trilogy — begun in 2017 with God’s Problem Child [LISTEN], followed by 2018’s Last Man Standing [LISTEN]— that was largely about mortality. It doesn’t seem surprising that an 87-year-old singer should have the subject in mind, though it’s not something Nelson is necessarily solemn about. In God’s Problem Child’s “Still Not Dead Today,” he addressed the matter of death hoaxes that had alarmed fans and plagued his family with a life-affirming honky-tonk beat, targeting in particular a troubling website report that Nelson had been found dead on his property by a groundskeeper: “Well, I woke up still not dead again today/The gardener did not find me that a way…/I woke up still not dead again today.” In Last Man Standing’s title song — another rowdy-sounding contemplation of life’s bound-to-happen closure, he sang: “I don’t wanna be the last man standin’/Or, wait a minute, maybe I do…/Go on in front if you’re in such a hurry/Like heaven ain’t waitin’ for you.”

This isn’t to suggest Nelson didn’t take the matter seriously. In that same title, he sang: “It’s getting hard to watch my pals check out/It cuts like a wore out knife/One thing I’ve learned about running the road/Is forever don’t apply to life. /Waylon and Ray and Merle…/Lived just as fast as me/I’ve still got a lot of good friends left/And I wonder who the next will be.” He was referring to the deaths of his friends — Waylon Jennings, Ray Price and Merle Haggard. When I once remarked to him that his recent records — which, in addition to this trilogy, have included a duet volume with Merle Haggard and tributes to Ray Price, George Gershwin and Frank Sinatra) amount to an extraordinary period for him, his dark brown eyes flinched. “Considering the fact that we’ve lost a lot of good friends, ‘extraordinary’ is one word for it,” he said. ‘Unfortunate’ is another. You get mixed emotions about all those things.” Buddy Cannon, Nelson’s producer and co-writer of many years (they first worked together in 2008), noted at the time that it’s only in the songs that Willie is willing to address the subject. “I haven’t had any, like, ‘death conversations’ with Willie,” he says. “As far as our songs go, we don’t talk about them. We just write them. But it’s pretty obvious, you know? None of us are getting any younger. People are falling away too quickly anymore.”

First Rose of Spring [LISTEN]seems at first a departure from honky-tonk mortality tales. It’s more plaintive sounding, even rapturous at times, and love — in one way or another — is all over these songs. In the title track — by Randy Houser, Allen Shamblin and Mark Beeson — that opens the album, an acoustic guitar’s gentle lacework and the married tones of Mickey Raphael’s harmonica and Mike Johnson’s pedal steel (the “wistful instruments,” says Raphael) create a lulling bedding of sound, as Willie depicts a love-struck awakening: “The first time that he saw her/He knew everything had changed/Overnight love started blooming/Like the first rose of spring.” It’s a rendering of hope in a season of birth and renewal, and the music swells with a steady rhythmic accompaniment that works like a safeguard for hope. Over the next few verses a life of fulfillment unfolds for the narrator whose perspective guides the story. The woman “colored his life, opened his eyes/To things he’d never dream…/Gave him children like a garden/They gave ’em all the love they’d need.” In turn, the man is enduringly grateful: “every year he’d bring her/The first rose of spring.” That is, every year he bestowed upon her a symbolic renewal of their original promise.

Then, as the song nears its end, that safeguard rhythm — the pulse of hope — drops out and the steel wails faintly, like a dream’s vestige. “The last time he saw her,” sings Willie, “He knew everything had changed/He said goodbye and let the tears fall like rain/On the first rose of spring.” Days after hearing the track the first few times I told Cannon I found Willie’s delivery of those moments quietly devastating. The tale turned abruptly from an idyll to a heartbreak — a portrayal of a love that lived until it couldn’t live anymore, the dissolution of a marriage in a couple’s later years. The song doesn’t dwell on it — it’s just one concise verse about a marriage that seemed made for the ages but then lost its promise. Then again, the lyric didn’t need to expound: The rose that, at the beginning, was a symbol of hope ends up covered with tears. It’s now more a funeral flower than a blossoming.

“If I’m not mistaken,” Cannon replied, “this may be the song that was the trigger point to get this album started. I’d sent it to Willie a while back, then one day he e-mailed me and said, ‘I love this song — let’s go in and cut it.’ I guess he had been listening to it. That was before we had started recording the album.” But Cannon also told me that my reading of the song was off — there was a different sorrow at work than the one I’d heard. “It’s a true story, about Randy Houser’s in-laws.”

Houser is a Nashville singer-songwriter who has written for Trace Adkins and Jessie James, as well as recording several albums of his own, including 2019’s Magnolia. “’First Rose of Spring,’ he told me, “is about my wife’s grandmother and her grandfather. They lived on top of this building in Melbourne, Australia. The two of them were life partners — you know, soul mates. He grew roses up there and every year he would bring her the first rose out of the garden. He was a very strong man — a man of stature in business, used to running everything — but he knew he wouldn’t have gone anywhere in life if it hadn’t been for his wife. She got cancer — this was a couple of years ago — and when she was near the end, he walked in with a rose, the first rose of spring. He was saying his good-bye. My wife was present and sent a photo of the moment while he was standing there. I got the idea of wanting to write about this I had the melody and the first lines, and then I took it two master songwriters who I knew, Allen Shamblin and Mark Beeson. That way I knew it wouldn’t get screwed up.” Shamblin had written songs recorded by Randy Travis, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bonnie Raitt and Mark Wills; Beeson had written for Pat Green, Martina McBride, LeAnn Rhimes and Blake Shelton. “I wanted to honor what that couple went through but truth is, I never heard anybody singing the song other than Willie. I never pitched Willie a song before — never thought I had anything good enough to pitch him.”

What was it in Willie’s voice that made Houser write the song with him in mind?

“It wasn’t just Willie’s voice,” he replied, “but Willie’s life. This is a story that a person with experience should be telling — not a 44-year-old singer like myself. Willie asked me at one point, ‘You’re not going to put that song out yourself?’ I told him, ‘Willie, that’s your song. That song was started for you. I don’t believe me as much as I do you on this song.’”

Did I say that First Rose of Spring seemed a departure from the mortality cycle? Instead, mortality is there right at the start — but it sneaks up on us. What makes the moment so effective is how it weaves memory with tense. That is, it’s a past tense song that, in the intimacy Willie’s voice, feels like a present-tense story — like something the singer chooses, or more likely needs, to share with you directly. But he doesn’t tell you what he’s going to tell you until he tells you. It’s a simple but powerful story-telling technique, and Houser is right in thinking that Nelson imbues it with a distinctive believability. This is a trait that Willie has put to good use in his nearly sixty years of record making. He does it so well, in fact, that we sometimes receive a song that Willie didn’t write — for example, “Always on my Mind” — foremost as a Willie song. He share’s this skill with his favorite singer, Frank Sinatra, who is also closely identified with songs he sang but didn’t write, yet we reflexively identify them as Sinatra’s. (Nelson himself recorded a whole volume of then on 2018’s My Way [LISTEN].) Willie, of course, has written dozens of his own evergreens; Sinatra only helped pen one, “I’m a Fool to Want You.” But no matter: Sinatra owned a song when he performed it. “Whatever else has been said about me,” once told an interviewer, “is unimportant. When I sing, I believe.” Nelson employs that same approach — as colloquial as it is musical — in “First Rose of Spring” and elsewhere on this album. It’s as if he is sitting in some room, after midnight, talking to someone — to a friend, to you, to me — sharing a living thought or an enduring memory. That style was one of the reasons that, in the 1960s and early 1970s, Nashville producers didn’t figure out how to record Nelson. They thought his singing was too colloquial: It disregarded strict tempo — it would quicken or slacken — though without altering the overall pace. Nashville couldn’t accommodate that idiosyncrasy. Like Sinatra — or Billie Holiday, for that matter — Nelson was trying to tell a story as much as sing a song. Of course, this is now recognized as an essential quality of Willie’s greatness, and Buddy Cannon knows how to accommodate it to its best effect. “Willie’s a jazz singer,” he says, “and jazz player. He’s an improvisational musician. Why play and sing the parts over and over and over? It’s going to be different every time. Get a good one and go with it…. There’s no coaching Willie. It would take someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, at least where he’s concerned, to go out there and try to tell him how to sing.”

“Our Song” written by Chris Stapleton, the second single from First Rose Of Spring

Indeed, Willie always finds a matchless way with a song, and that includes the ones he hasn’t written himself, by others he admires. (Bob Dylan once noted that when Willie Nelson sings a song, then it has been sung.) One such songwriter is Chris Stapleton, whose “Our Song” Nelson premieres here. Willie’s longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael had also recorded and performed with Stapleton whose been seen by some as continuing the Outlaw tradition and whose music plumbs depths of loss and love. “Chris is just one of these great songwriters and great guys and great guitar players,” says Raphael. “Willie had heard me talk about him or play some of his music, then he became a fan of his too. It’s kind of a natural fit, the two of them. I was with Chris one time and he said, ‘I wrote this song for Willie.’ He played it for me and I said, ‘You’ve got to send it to him.’ Chris was kind of hemming and hawing, but then he just got out his iPhone and recut a demo right there in the dressing room. I pushed him to send it to Buddy.” The producer immediately liked it. “I sent it down to Willie and he liked it, too,” says Buddy. “I had Chris come in and sing the scratch vocal on it when we cut the track, so I could get it as close to the way I was feeling it as I could.” The result is something that’s brand new yet feels like a pledge of love and grace that’s already indelible in our memory: “In these miles that we have traveled/You’ve watched me come unraveled/And you’ve put me back together again,” Nelson sings in a voice that recognizes the song’s frame of heart. “And when darkness hung around/You kept my feet there on the ground/And you held me like a lover and a friend.” “It’s kind of Willie-esque,” says Cannon. Says Stapleton: “I can easily say Willie Nelson is one of my biggest musical influences. For me it just doesn’t get any better than hearing him sing a song I wrote.”

That intimate manner of Nelson’s — his ability to talk to us directly — and his attraction to telling stories in which the singer and the listener are living in the same moment, also interact with how memory works in two other songs here, including “I’ll Break Out Again Tonight.” The song — a different kind of prison tale — was written by Whitey Shafer and Doodle Owens for an underrated 1974 Merle Haggard album, If We Make It Through December, and it fit that late artist’s persona as a one-time convict. Haggard’s version played as a late-night barroom account, more honky-tonk than doleful, whereas Willie’s feels more chilling: It’s solitary. The song’s title alone seems to be setting us up for a jailbreak tale. Instead, a prisoner takes us inside his mind, where the only escape available to him, night after night, is in the form of dreams and imagination: “These walls and bars can’t hold a dreamin’ man,” intones Willie, “So I’ll be home to tuck the babies in/They can chain my body, but not my mind/And I’ll break out again tonight.” Cannon told me: “The guy’s a little bit out of his mind, but in being out of his mind he found a way to live. It’s how he stays close to the people he loves.”

Internal brooding also figures into “Stealing Home, a song by Buddy’s daughter, Marla Cannon-Goodman (with Casey Beathard and Don Sampson), an unwanted past becomes a haunting present. “Being young got old, I couldn’t wait to grow up,” the singer relates. “When I finally hit 18 I got out of this tired old town.” But on a return visit, the singer realizes that something inestimable got forsworn by fleeing, and can’t be found again: “Little sister’s not right down the hall/Rex ain’t around to fetch his ball/No need to ride to grandma’s down the road/Damn old Father Time for stealing home.” Marla, who also co-wrote “Unfair Weather Friend” on Nelson’s 2015 album with Merle Haggard, Django and Jimmy, wrote the song eighteen years ago and had long imagined Nelson recording it. “I knew he liked it because he told me he did,” she says. “I kept thinking, ‘Maybe one of these days, maybe one of these days.’ Then, finally…one of these days.” It proved worth the wait. Like Randy Houser, Marla knew the voice it was meant for. “It’s funny being a songwriter,” she says, “because you hear the song a certain way in your head. But the way it makes me feel in my head now is the way Willie sounds when he sings it.”

The other considerable theme on First Rose of Spring is age. “Blue Star,” which follows “First Rose of Spring” feels of a piece with the prior song, “First Rose of Spring.” Indeed, it could work as a sequel, if death can be said to have a sequel. The music fits the same tone of reverie of the title song, and the lyrics move in the same straits of undying love. “You know I’ll follow you to the end,” sings Nelson, “Whenever that is we both will know. /And I will follow you again/Anywhere that love can go.” The singer is implicitly older than the person he is singing to; he knows he’s the one who could go first: “And if I beat you to the end/I’ve had a big head start its true/We’re just riding on the wind/Still the same ol’ me and you/And when we reach the heaven’s bright/I’ll be the blue star on your right.” The singer is talking to the person he loves, and whom he doesn’t intend to leave forever when life ends. He’ll be out there, waiting.

Willie also mines the subject of age in other key songs here: neo-traditionalist country artist Toby Keith’s “Don’t Let the Old Man In,” and “French chanteur and songwriter Charles Aznavour “Yesterday When I Was Young.” Keith was 58 when he wrote “Don’t Let the Old Man In,” for Clint Eastwood’s 2018 film The Mule. Both the song and the film are about the same thing: an aged man who won’t let his age impede him. When Toby premiered the song, he related the tale of playing at Eastwood’s Carmel golf tournament in 2018 when he learned that the actor’s 88th birthday was coming up in two days. Toby asked the actor how he planned to celebrate the occasion and Eastwood said: “Funny you should ask. I am leaving tomorrow to shoot a movie for three months called The Mule.” Keith was surprised. At his age and stature, Eastwood could easily have retired. He didn’t have to make or appear in films anymore. Toby wondered where that sort of energy comes from. Eastwood replied: “I just get up every morning and go out. And I don’t let the old man in.” Keith thought, “I’m writing that.” What Toby came up with was a statement of understanding: He put himself in the shoes of somebody 30 years older than himself and envisioned the person’s mettle: “I knew all of my life, that someday it would end/Get up and go outside, don’t let the old man in.” After Eastwood heard it, he featured the song over the film’s closing credits. And when Buddy Cannon heard it, he wanted to bring Willie’s voice to it. “I think it’s the best song Toby Keith’s ever written,” says the producer. Though Keith wrote “Don’t Let the Old Man In” for Eastwood, it could have been tailor-made for Nelson as his credo. Sings Willie: “I knew all of my life/That someday it would end/Get up and go outside/Don’t let the old man in/Many moons I have lived/My body’s weathered and worn/Ask yourself how old you’d be/If you didn’t know the day you were born.” In Willie’s case, not letting the old man in has been a way of life for some time. Says Toby Keith about Nelson’s recording of the song: “Through the years I’ve always enjoyed the many times I’ve got to share a guitar or a stage or a song with Willie. It’s truly an honor anytime he records one of my songs. ‘Don’t Let the Old Man In’: He killed it.”

Though Charles Aznavour (once dubbed a “French pop deity” by the New York Times) was 94 when died in 2018, like Keith he wrote a masterpiece about old age while he was still relatively young — just 54, in 1964. “Yesterday When I Was Young” assumed the outlook of a man nearing the end of his life, looking back at his younger wastrel years, realizing he’d bypassed his better self and it was now too late to reclaim lost time. Buddy Cannon says he long had the idea of Nelson recording the song, but held off. “I guess I was thinking maybe he wouldn’t want to sing about not being young anymore, but eventually he sent it to me. I was excited about getting a chance to do that song because it is a great piece of material. Willie’s version is like a Sinatra song — a crooner song. The chord structure and melody are more pop than country. You could have plugged that song into the Stardust album. It’s just a classic saloon-vibe.”

“Yesterday When I Was Young” is certainly an interesting choice for Willie Nelson. Some lines fit him well: “Yesterday, when I was young/So many happy songs were waiting to be sung.” Others, though, don’t. When he sings, “There are so many songs in me that won’t be sung…/The time has come for me to pay for/Yesterday, when I was young,” it’s hard to envision Willie with that brand of contrition. After all, almost nobody has sung so many songs. and sung them so definitively. as Willie Nelson. What moves us about this version, though, is that like Sinatra, when Nelson sings, he believes. That’s more than method acting: It’s empathy — which is Willie’s single greatest facet as a singer. He understands the down-deep experience of his subjects because, matchless accomplishments or not, he also has felt such pain and yearning. Willie can commune with regret because he’s felt it — and just as important, he commiserates with those, young and old, who have felt also loss or remorse.

Just as important, Willie Nelson’s singing also signifies affinity for those who feel dispossessed. On last year’s Ride Me Back Home he covered Guy Clark and Roger Murrah’s “Immigrant Eyes. This time he covers something by another giant of Texas songwriting and poetry, Billy Joe Shaver. Billy Joe is the originator of country music’s 1970s Outlaws movement. Shaver’s larger-than-life and roughhewn, and widely revered — elegant in his words, and loving and compassionate to not just friends but to those in need of tolerance and mercy.

“We Are the Cowboys” is a surprisingly little-known song, first recorded by Shaver on I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal in 1981, and again on an album, Honky Tonk Heroes, by a collective of Shaver, Willie, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson in 1999 (produced by Shaver’s late son, Eddy, at Nelson’s studio in Pedernales, Texas). Willie wanted to record a new rendition because, as was the case with “Immigrant Eyes,” this is a statement whose time has come again. Like much of what’s on First Rose of Spring, the song begins in familiar territory then delivers you someplace surprising. “The cowboys are riding tall in the saddle/They shoot from the heart with the songs that they play/We are the cowboys, the true sons of freedom/We are the men who will get the job done.” This is familiar enough iconic imagery, but then the song proclaims the sort creed not heard before in cowboy anthems: “Cowboys are average American people/Texicans, Mexicans, black men and Jews/They love this old world and they don’t want to lose it/They’re counting on me and they’re counting on you.” When Mickey Raphael and I were discussing the song he said, “I don’t know that many Jewish cowboys, but the metaphor there is fabulous.” And brave. We come to think of a cowboy, as Cannon pointed out to me, as “the good guy — the guy in the white hat,” but we might not readily think of the cowboy as standing for equal racial rights and social goodwill. In spotlighting the song, Willie makes plain that that’s what the truly good guys should be doing, for the sake of us all: “The world will breathe easy when we stop the bleeding/The fighting will end when all hunger is gone/There are those who are blind so we’ll all have to lead them/It’s everyone’s job till we get the work done.” If “We Are the Cowboys” is a song overlooked for nearly forty years, Willie Nelson has brought it back alive at just the right time, and he infuses it with the sorrow and hope that our land today calls for.

First Rose of Spring, then, is another remarkable entry by Willie Nelson in a latter-day canon that began with God’s Problem Child in 2017, and has continued through Last Man Standing and Ride Me Back Home. I called those first three albums a trilogy, but with this work (as well as the 2018 Sinatra tribute, My Way) maybe it’s better to think of these as a cycle. At the same time, descriptors like trilogy and cycle are just a critic’s construction, imposed on a continuing series of some of the finest original albums that any artist has produced, in any genre, in his or her autumnal phase. As Buddy Cannon told me, they didn’t set out with the idea of creating a unified body of work. “When we’re making a record we’re just trying to find the best songs we can find and that I can get the singer to agree with me on. They don’t begin as cohesive albums on the front end. It’s more about me finding ten or twelve songs fit well together. If something doesn’t fit, you discard it and find something that does fit.”

Still, the themes are there: mortality, heartbreak, memory and courage and American ideals, with love and death as the great levelers. But then Willie Nelson has always sung about these things, with inimitable insight and grace. A while back, when I brought up the idea of these works as making for a collective whole, Cannon said, “Just think of each album as the page of a book. Willie never stops turning the pages.” Nelson himself acknowledged as much on last year’s Ride Me Back Home: “I’ve got one more song to write/I’ve got one more bridge to burn/I’ve got one more endless night/One more lesson to be learned…/ There ain’t no secrets left to hide/My life’s an open book/Turn the page and have a look.” It’s a testament to the man and his art that we so often find traces of ourselves and our land on those pages.

Read article here.

Willie Nelson, Long May You Run

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

Willie Nelson
by:  James Beaty

A few weeks ago I mentioned how Paul McCartney recently spoke about people sometimes asking him when he’s retiring.

McCartney, who is 76, said when he later ran into Willie Nelson — who McCartney said “is even older than I am” — he asked Willie when he expected to retire.

McCartney said Nelson, who is 85, replied by asking “Retire from what?” That’s all the encouragement McCartney needed.

During the past few weeks, both McCartney and Willie have released new albums — and they’ve both shot up the Billboard album charts.

McCartney’s new album “Egypt Station” debuted at the number one spot on the Billboard Top 200 upon its release.

Willie’s new album of Frank Sinatra’s songs titled “My Way” debuted at number 2 on Billboard’s Jazz Album charts when released two weeks ago and has since remained in locked in the number 2 position because another couple of artists have kept a lock on the number 1 spot for the past couple of weeks — 92-year-old Tony Bennett, whose new duet album with Diana Krall, titled “Love Is Here to Stay,” debuted at the top spot and so far hasn’t budged.

Not to worry though. Willie’s “My Way” debuted in the top 40 of Billboard Top 200 chart, which covers all genres, peaking at the number 36 position. “My Way” is not listed on Billboard’s Country Music Charts. Go figure.

Bennett and Willie are followed on the Billboard Jazz Album charts by Paul Simon, who is 76 and recently completed his Homeward Bound Farewell Tour.

Simon’s not the only musician of his era to say they’re ready to quit the road. Both Elton John, 71, and Joan Baez, 77, are currently in the midst of farewell tours. That’s not the case with Baez’s former companion, Bob Dylan, who at 77 keeps up a relentless touring schedule, with concert stops scheduled for Tulsa and Thackerville, Oklahoma, on Oct. 12 and 13.

Baez has said Dylan doesn’t have to worry about the condition of his throat like she does. How do you know, Joan? No telling how hard he’s worked to achieve that sandpaper and gravel sound. (I’ve never known of Dylan canceling a concert because of a raspy, sore throat, though. No problem— just keep singing).

Speaking of concerts, both McCartney and Willie are well-known road warriors — especially Willie, who is constantly on the road again.

Both are also in the midst of current tours — with McCartney performing last night, Oct. 5, during his Freshen Up Tour as headliner for the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas. He’s returning for what is billed as Weekend 2 for another concert next Friday, Oct. 12, before embarking for Japan at the end of the month and then playing selected European dates in December, including a homecoming date in his native Liverpool.

He’s set to return to the U.S. on May 23, 2019, with a kickoff concert in New Orleans. (Alas, no Oklahoma dates are included at this point).

Although Willie is strongly identified with Austin, he won’t be able to join his buddy McCartney onstage next weekend. That’s because Willie is kicking off another tour on Oct. 12 that includes a concert date in Nevada and a swing across California.

Willie’s fans in the Sooner State can rejoice, however, because his tour includes a Nov. 24 concert at WinStar World Casino Resort in Thackerville — the tour’s last stop before he winds it up with four dates in Texas — including a three-night stint in Austin performing with his son, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, a band which often includes another son, Micah Nelson.

So while some of their contemporaries are going into self-proclaimed retirements, I’ll congratulate and encourage Willie, McCartney, Bennett, Dylan and all those who keep on keepin’ on with the title of a Neil Young song.

“Long May You Run.”

Willie Nelson at the Houston Rodeo (2020)

Friday, May 15th, 2020

On March 4, exactly a week before the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo came screeching to a halt thanks to the coronavirus, 86-year-old Willie Nelson took to the rodeo stage for the ninth—or, if you count his two early-’90s stands with outlaw supergroup the Highwaymen—eleventh time.

Well before that night’s appearance, before COVID-19 became the biggest public-health threat in living memory, some fans had been wondering if this might be Willie’s last time to grace the rodeo stage. His December announcement that he’d quit smoking pot had seemed like a turning point. And then, a few weeks before the rodeo, Paul English, Willie’s best friend, fixer, and longtime drummer, passed away.

English, who joined Willie’s band in 1966, was known to pack heat in case a shady promoter wouldn’t pay up. One of Willie’s very best songs is “Me and Paul,” written about the duo’s late-’60s touring travails, but he didn’t play it at the rodeo— too soon, perhaps.

Willie’s show drew an announced attendance of 70,479, handily outdistancing significantly younger artists including Midland, Chance the Rapper, Maren Morris, and K-Pop group NCT 127. We were there in the crowd somewhere—something that would be unthinkable only days later, and should have been unthinkable even then— there to once again pay homage to the Red-Headed Stranger, and to take the crowd’s emotional temperature about the beloved Texas icon slowing down.

Haley Matejowsky, waiting in a T-shirt line with her grandmother, told us Willie represents “childhood with my grandpa, growing up dancing on my grandpa’s feet to his music.”

Jordan Michael, a young man from Tomball, echoed her memories. “When I was growing up, my grandfather used to listen to a lot of the old-school country music, Willie Nelson included, on the back porch,” he said. “So for me it’s just that memory of sitting out on the back porch with him and listening to the old songs. I like the old outlaw-country music style, and Willie’s kind of the last of that  generation.”

Jordan’s dad, Steve, joined him on the concourse of NRG Center. “It’s the end of an era, really, so it’s good to come see some of that before the new generation takes their spot, and just reminisce about some of the old days,” Steve said. “It’s all good, old and new, but it’s a genre whose time is coming to an end.”

 You think of the Hill Country, you think of Willie Nelson.

Summer Jackson, a fourth-year rodeo volunteer, was stationed near a merch booth on NRG Stadium’s lower level. “I like that he’s kind of a free spirit,” she said. “I like that he’s not into government control, and I like that he’s kind of like live-and-let-live. I think a lot of people can relate to that no matter your ethnicity or political background.”

An overwhelming number of people we talked to were seeing Willie for the first time. Houstonians MJ and Larry, who grew up northeast of the city in Dayton, were taking a smoke break before the singer went onstage. MJ had tickets to Willie’s last rodeo performance, in 2017, but had other obligations, so he’d passed them along to his parents.

“I’m here now,” he said. “My turn.”

“That’s a piece of Americana right there,” Larry added. “Texas history, Texas art, everything. You think of the Hill Country, you think of Willie Nelson.”

“That’s right,” MJ said.

“The guy’s amazing,” offered Larry. “It just gives me chills thinking about him.”

Dylan Wallace of Katy told us he’d missed the 2017 show as well. “Now that he’s getting really old,” Wallace said, “I wanted to come see him before it was too late.”

While Willie did appear to shed a tear halfway through “Always on My Mind,” he nevertheless gave precious little indication this would be his last rodeo. On loan from his own band Promise of the Real, his son Lukas Nelson made an invigorating addition, particularly on a stinging version of “Texas Flood.”

But the old man more than held his own. He gave faithful guitar Trigger a proper thrashing on “Whiskey River,” lit up sticky-icky odes “It’s All Going to Pot” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” and wryly grinned through 2017’s “Still Not Dead.” “Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play,” he sang. “And I woke up still not dead again today.”

Later in the set, Willie ripped into Johnny Paycheck’s outlaw anthem “I’m the Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised),” a sneer on his lips and impish gleam in his eye. Damned if he won’t outlive us all.

Willie Nelson gives back masks, autographed

Saturday, April 25th, 2020

HOUSTON, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – While making face masks to give out during the coronavirus pandemic, a Texas resident said she also wanted to send some to country music legend Willie Nelson and his wife.

However, as KTRK reports, Nelson decided to pay it forward by, instead, signing those face masks so that the resident could auction them off and use the money for materials to make more masks.

Houston resident Tanya Boike started making masks with the help of a local nurse, Monica Cabazos, as restrictions were being put into place by government officials to stop the spread of COVID-19. So far, they’ve made and given out over 500 masks.

“I remembered about us as a community during Harvey and the flooding we had. I said, everybody was helping each other,” Cabazos said.

Boike told KTRK she met Nelson’s granddaughter, Noelle Ward, several years ago and wanted to send some face masks to the 86-year-old singer and his wife. After sending them, Boike got quite the surprise.

“[Noelle] texted me a few minutes later and said ‘pops would rather sign these and have them auction them off. That way you can get more materials and keep making these masks for free.’ I just lost it. That’s not what I had made them for,” Boike said.

Ward said that’s just how her grandfather is.

Willie Nelson defines American Music

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

photo: Robert Mora/Getty Images
by: Edward Norris

Willie Nelson grew to greatness while country music was also maturing as a distinct art form. He was born in 1933, a month before Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music died, and the same year Bob Wills formed the Texas Playboys. Nelson’s arrival into the world came a decade before the Carter Family disbanded and Ernest Tubb joined the Grand Ole Opry.

Born in Abbott, Texas and raised by his paternal grandparents, Nelson was learning the guitar and writing songs before he reached his teens. He would go on to become one of the most recorded and recognizable figures in the history of American music, regardless of genre. Along the way he would record 70 studio albums, 33 live albums, 25 albums with other artists, and soundtracks for movies he appeared or starred in. The number of singles he’s done for and with other artists are beyond counting.

Between 1962, when he charted his first single, and 2000, by which time his chart appearances as a singles artist had become rare, Nelson charted 117 songs.

Here’s a quick look at the Old Master’s contributions, honors and impacts during eight decades.

The 1950s

Nelson plays in local bands, books artists, promotes shows, and works as a DJ at stations in Texas and Vancouver, Washington. In 1957, he releases “No Place for Me,” his first self-written, self-recorded and self-promoted single. It’s issued under the Willie Nelson Records label. Embedded from

The 1960s

In 1960, Nelson moves to Nashville and signs his first publishing deal. He begins getting major cuts from prominent country artists. Faron Young has a No. 1 in 1961 with “Hello Walls.” Billy Walker takes “Funny How Time Slips Away” to No. 23 the same year. Patsy Cline rings up a No. 2 with “Crazy,” also in 1961.

Nelson signs with Liberty Records in 1962 and proceeds to have a Top 10 that year with “Willingly,” a song recorded with his future wife, Shirley Collie. He does even better with his next single, “Touch Me,” his own composition, which rises to No. 7. That will be his biggest chart success as a recording act for the rest of the decade. But he has accumulated enough stature to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1964. Embedded from

The 1970s

This is the decade that Nelson develops into full bloom. Chastened by his lack of success as a recording artist in Nashville, Nelson moves back to Texas, where he gradually evolves from the clean-cut, turtle-neck wearing dandy into the hippie persona he will inhabit for the rest of his life.

He stages the first of his cross-cultural music festivals July 4, 1973, in Dripping Springs, Texas. In 1975, he releases his bare bones concept album, Red Headed Stranger (which producer Billy Sherrill described as sounding like “a bad demo”). It becomes a big hit and yields Nelson — by now 44 years old — his first No. 1 single, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” The landmark song also nets him his first Grammy. Embedded from
The next year, RCA, Nelson’s former label, assembles an album of formerly unreleased tracks by Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jennings’ wife Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser of the Glaser Brothers. It’s titled Wanted! The Outlaws and launches the “outlaw” movement.

With future classics like “Good Hearted Woman,” it not only romanticizes Waylon & Willie, but inspires other artists to exert more control over the music they record, including writing or choosing the songs and, often, recording with their own bands rather than with studio musicians. The project becomes country’s first platinum album. Embedded from
Nelson turns out six more No. 1s during the 1970s, two of them with Jennings. In 1978, with his recording success to give him leverage, Nelson records an entire album of pop songs he’d loved in his youth — Stardust. It, too, becomes a bestseller and stays on the country chart for 10 years!

Nelson becomes something of a movie star in 1979 via his supporting role in the Robert Redford-Jane Fonda film, The Electric Horseman. By the end of the decade, he has a total of three Grammys on his shelf, all for his vocal performances. Embedded from

The 1980s

This might be described as the “Willie & Me” decade because it’s bursting with duet efforts. During it, he records albums with Ray Price, Roger Miller, Webb Pierce, Waylon Jennings (2), Merle Haggard (2), Kris Kristofferson, Faron Young and Hank Snow.

Then there are his collaborative No. 1 hits: “Just to Satisfy You” (with Jennings), “Pancho and Lefty” (Haggard), “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” (Julio Iglesias), “Seven Spanish Angels” (Ray Charles), “Highwayman” (Jennings, Kristofferson, Johnny Cash) and “Mind Your Own Business” (Hank Williams Jr., Reba McEntire, Tom Petty, Reverend Ike). Embedded from
May of his own solo hits during this era are now considered classics: “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” “On the Road Again,” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” and “Always on My Mind,” to name a few.

Concerned about the number of American family farms going into bankruptcy, Nelson co-founds Farm Aid in 1985. Except for two years, it has been held annually ever since, always with Nelson co-headlining it. Nelson also acts in several movies during the 1980s, notably Honeysuckle Rose (1980), Barbarossa (1982), The Songwriter (1984) and Red Headed Stranger (1987). He adds three more Grammys to his collection, including the President’s Merit Award in 1986. Embedded from

The 1990s

Talk about emotional extremes! Discovering that his accountants have failed to pay his taxes, Nelson begins the ’90s deep in debt and stripped of most of his assets. With typical resourcefulness, he sits down with just his guitar and records the ironically titled 1991 album The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories? It doesn’t settle his debt, but it helps, and it nets him tons of useful publicity.

Then, only two years later, he’s inducted the Country Music Hall of Fame. Among the 14 studio albums he turns out during this decade are two with his piano-playing sister, Bobbie Nelson: the gospel collection How Great Thou Art and Hill Country Christmas. Embedded from
His choice of material ranges from Paul Simon’s “Graceland” on 1992’s Across the Borderline to his own self-written, self-produced tracks on 1996’s Spirit. In 1999, he turns to producer Daniel Lanois to create the more musically adventurous collection, Teatro, with Emmylou Harris guesting. It features several of Nelson’s earlier but less known compositions.

The 2000s

Nelson begins the new century receiving a lifetime achievement Grammy, then collects another Grammy for “Mendocino County Line,” a duet with Lee Ann Womack. In 2003, he and Ray Price release the album Run That By Me One More Time. The same year, he joins admirer Toby Keith for the single “Beer For My Horses,” which promptly gallops into No. 1. Embedded from
SiriusXM rebrands its classic country station in 2006 from Hank’s Place to Willie’s Place (and, in 2011, Willie’s Roadhouse). Nelson, Price and Merle Haggard return to the studio to record the poignant 2007 collection Last of the Breed, with its pensive track “Lost Highway” winning a Grammy.

In 2009, Nelson tips his hat to fellow Texan and Hall of Fame songwriter with the tribute album You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker. In a more lively turn, he teams up in 2009 with the western swing band Asleep at the Wheel to pump out Willie and the Wheel. As he periodically does, he returns to the Great American Songbook for his final album of the decade, American Classics. It features guest appearances by Norah Jones and Diana Krall. Embedded from
The 2010s

Nelson continues to try his hand with new producers and new backup musicians in 2010 when he pairs with T. Bone Burnett for the album Country Music. (Burnett had worked his career-revivalist wonders earlier in the decade with Ralph Stanley.) The album digs deep in the traditional country repertoire to spotlight such great perennials as “Dark as a Dungeon,” “Freight Train Boogie,” “House of Gold” and “I Am a Pilgrim.”

Nelson reunites with Merle Haggard in 2015 for Django & Jimmie, a loving tribute to Nelson’s idol, the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and Haggard’s chief inspiration, Jimmie Rodgers. Haggard dies the following year. Two albums earn Nelson best traditional pop vocal Grammys: Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (2016) and My Way (2018), his hat-doffing to the songs of Frank Sinatra. Embedded from

The 2020s

Earlier this year, Nelson won his 10th career Grammy Award for the title track of his 2019 album, Ride Me Back Home, in the category of best country solo performance. He promises his 70th studio album for July 2020, First Rose of Spring. It rings out with such eternals as “I’ll Break Out Again Tonight,” “Just Bummin’ Around,” “I’m the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised” and “Yesterday When I Was Young.”

Willie Nelson IS American music — and he’s got the records to prove it.

Willie Nelson & Family at the Houston Rodeo

Thursday, March 5th, 2020
by: Georgie Ferrell

From the moment the Houston Rodeo head honchos trotted in on a brigade of horses led by flags of each branch of the Armed Services and the American flag, Willie Nelson night flooded the the air with patriotism. Nelson’s RodeoHouston return coincided with Armed Forces Appreciation Night, drawing members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and Space Force to a packed NRG stadium.

The patriotic and lively crowd (70,479 strong for Willie) anxiously awaited the appropriately picked music giant to take the Lone Star Stage as barrel racers and bull riders contested their skills on the dirt. America’s Country Music legend was the perfect serenading star to celebrate a crowd of real American heroes.

Nelson hasn’t made an appearance at the Houston Rodeo since 2017 and before that it had been 13 years since he graced the grand Rodeo stage. Wednesday night’s show marked his 11th RodeoHouston appearance overall — and Nelson made sure it was a memorable one.

After a long standing ovation for those who serve, fireworks burst in the air and elite combat soldiers breathtakingly descended down from the NRG ceiling — and the real anticipation reached a crescendo.

A harmonica started to chime as the giant venue remained dark until finally the sound of a center stage Willie belting out “Whiskey River” ignited the stadium lights and roaring crowd. With his signature braids under a straw cowboy hat and his signature inflecting twang as authentic as ever, the 86-year-old Nelson went to work. His hands nimbly strummed his famously worn out guitar Trigger, his musical sidekick for more than 50 years.

It seemed like a classic night’s jam session for the Willie Nelson & Family crew.

Willie casually transitioned from hit song to hit song with a pause to thank the crowd and a “Do one for Waylon” to kick off “Good Hearted Woman” which turned the spotlight over to his piano playing sister. Bobbie Lee Nelson showed off her ivory tickling talent while her proud big brother strummed in the background and beamed to the crowd about “little sister” being inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame.

Nelson then introduced his son Lukas, the long haired guitarist to his left who took it away as he belted out a bluesy rendition of “Texas Flood.” With a tip of Lukas’ trucker hat, which read “American Agriculture,” dad took back over for “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys…”

A nod to Merle Haggard followed as Nelson sang “It’s All Going to Pot.” The long-toking troubadour (apparently, he gave it up in December due to breathing issues) continued his celebration of marijuana with “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

After another pause of appreciation to the cheering crowd, Nelson led his family band in more songs that paid homage to fellow music pioneer friends such as Hank Williams.

Willie Nelson performs at the Son of the Cosmic Cowboy concert at Hofheinz Pavillion in Houston, June 22, 1975. ©1975, 2020 F. Carter Smith

As Willie began his last songs, an Americana take on hymns “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away,” a Nobel Prize winning Houstonian, Dr. Jim Allison, popped up on stage to play harmonica with the set. Allison’s documentary Breakthrough, which details his pioneering immunotherapy research and his fight to cure cancer, boasts music by his now close friend Willie.

As Nelson raised Trigger to the crowd and shouted “Thank y’all very much!! Y’all have a great evening, we love you,” he winced a bit in exhaustion. Its only natural that a nearly 87-year-old legend would grow a bit weary after a heartfelt salute to Houston, but he ended strong as he sang out another powerful chorus before bowing to the crowd and casually sauntering off the stage into a shiny black SUV.

The showman who shows no signs of slowing down, shares the Rodeo’s passion for agriculture. Nelson is known for his longtime support of American farmland and the fruits of the amber waves of grain — and it’s clear he also was eager to champion America’s soldiers.

There is still only one Willie Nelson. Even after all these years.

Willie Nelson & Family at the Houston Rodeo (3/4/2020)

Thursday, March 5th, 2020
Photo: John Shapley
by: Joey Guerra

Willie Nelson makes every Rodeo Houston show feel like the first time

Willie Nelson could — and often does — play multiple shows a year in the Houston-area. And it’s a must-see performance every time.

The country legend turns 87 next month and could have long ago hung up his hat with his head held high. There’s nothing left to prove and no one near his stature.

photo: John Shapley See lots more photos here.

But Nelson, who performed Wednesday night for a crowd of 70,479 at RodeoHouston, isn’t done with us yet. His 11th spin on the rotating stage was (another) study in subtle, steady showmanship.

After a few seconds of tuning, Nelson and his band kicked off with a jangly take on “Whiskey River.” Many of the songs — “Still is Still Moving to Me,” “Beer for my Horses” — sat at the same tempo. And when you’re Willie, that’s perfectly OK.Rhe show was also a family affair. Sister Bobbie Nelson was on piano, and son Lukas Nelson took a solo turn on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood.”

“Let’s do one for Waylon!” Nelson shouted as he launched into “Good Hearted Woman.”

The setlist moved through his usual assortment of songs, all classics. And it’s to Nelson’s credit that he manages moments that are surprising. Even set closer “Will the Circle be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away” felt inspired.

He yelped “Mamma!” throughout “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.” And the wry, witty trio of “It’s all Going to Pot” (more timely than ever), “Roll Me Up” and “Still Not Dead” was a highlight.

Nelson kicked things up with “Hey Good Lookin’” and “Jambalaya,” creating a noticeable swell in crowd energy. Just as quickly, he went wistful with “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” inspired a singalong during “On the Road Again” and delivered “It’s Hard to be Humble” with a knowing wink.

When Nelson launched into “Always on My Mind,” it sent a hush over the crowd. He raised his arm into the air during the choruses as the crowd listened intently, respectfully. It earned him the biggest reaction of the night.

He paused for a minute and waved with both hands to the crowd before descending offstage, slipping on a jacket and shaking a few hands. A black SUV whisked him away. And you can bet he’ll be back soon.

Joey Guerra is the music critic for the Houston Chronicle. Follow him on Twitter. He will be covering every single RodeoHouston concert.

Willie Nelson & Family in Redding (January 11, 2020)

Monday, January 13th, 2020

Willie Nelson & Family at the Fillmore (Jan. 6th, 7th, 8th, 2020)

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020
photo: Nick Buckmaster
by: Alexander Baechle

SAN FRANCISCO — An eclectic audience turned up at the Fillmore Wednesday to witness country superstar Willie Nelson perform the second of three sold-out nights in the City.

Nelson took to the stage with an assured wave to the crowd and launched into a spirited “Whiskey River.” Nelson was fully engaged and his guitar fingers stayed true. The strings did the talking on second song “Still Is Still Moving To Me.” He raked crunchy, bristly post-structural blues out of his old beat-up acoustic guitar, Trigger, as the band charged along behind him. The guitar phrasing was so jarring it seemed almost disjointed; but Nelson led the band with aplomb, teasing chaos in a neat bit of instrumental navigation.

On hits like “Good-Hearted Woman” and “On The Road Again,” Nelson invited audience participation. For key lines of some choruses, he leaned back and put his right hand up to his ear, as if to say “I can’t hear you.” Sometimes the audience rewarded him by finishing the couplet in a shout-along. At other moments fans fumbled and mumbled – caught up, apparently, in the good-time romp of the rhythm section.

Nelson waved away such trifling miscues. His direct lyrics and conversational singing voice underpinned an arresting performance on “Good-Hearted Woman.” The 86-year-old alertly kept his eyes moving about the room, and the crowd was roused to sing along. Though he appeared tired during brief moments away from the mic, Nelson’s subtle, intricate guitar playing and inviting voice never dimmed.

Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson served as first mate at his dad’s right side. With the full focus of the band behind him, the younger Nelson reached deep for a showcase early on, taking lead vocal and guitar duties on a Stevie-Ray-Vaughan-tinged workout. The smoky, soul-scraping venture into lounge blues centered on a throaty vocal and overdriven guitar leads. Meanwhile the elder Nelson hung back in the groove.

Willie Nelson & Family, Amarillo, TX (January 5, 2012)

Sunday, January 5th, 2020

photo:  Michael Norris
by Chip Chandler

In today’s Get Out! column, I bemoan the lack of really big concerts coming to town in the first half of this year.

But if last night’s Willie Nelson concert is the last great one we get all year even, I can’t complain.

Nelson was in fantastic shape last night, flying down the highways and byways of his career, hitting most of the expected highlights and taking a couple of fascinating detours.

He brought with him a tight band — “the whole damn family,” he cracked at one point: Son Lukas on lead guitar, son Micah on snare drum, sister Bobbi on piano, longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael, and a guest appearance by longtime percussionist Paul English (who suffered a stroke a couple of years ago) on a couple of songs. Paul’s son Billy moved over from snare to bass, filling in, for now, for the late Bee Spears. Daughter Amy Lee Nelson even came out at the end of the show to sing harmony.

They all kept up phenomenally with Nelson, whose singing darted and slid and slipped around the words of his songs, stripping everything down to the bare essentials. Nelson’s guitar playing was, if anything, stronger than ever (or maybe I could just hear it better this time).

The highlights: A rolling jazz version of “Me and Bobby McGee,” tender and spare versions of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Always on My Mind” and a couple  crowdpleasing newer tunes, “I Ain’t Superman” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

Willie Country (December 1986)

Monday, December 2nd, 2019

Willie Country
By Don Holland

Howdy!  Willie Nelson came to Abbott on Wednesday, December 3, and it was not so long  before he was surrounded by a lot of friends and fans who turned out to greet him.  Willie was accompanied by his sister Bobbie who plays the piano when they perform with the band.  They had come to Abbott to shoot some publicity photos to be used on the cover of a gospel music album that will be released in the future.  The reason why they came to Abbott is to have the photos taken in front of the Methodist Church that Willie and Bobbie attended when growing up here in Abbott.

Willie and Bobbie were dressed in their Sunday-go-to-meeting finest.  You can see for yourself how sharp they looked in the photos that have been placed on various pagers of the paper.


Rev. Wayne Dunson, the present preacher at the Methodist Church, is the same one that preached there when Willie and Bobbie attended in their youth.  He was in the area when Willie and Bobbie showed up and asked me to take a photo of him and Willie.  “But, he whispered in my ear, I need to go over and change my coat before you take the picture.  I don’t think it would look right with Willie looking more like a preacher than I do.”


Yours truly really enjoyed seeing Willie in Abbott.  He had come through town several times during the past month or so and I was always out of town and missed him.  Again, true to form, I was out of town, but Jan got on the telephone and had me located in Waco.  My brother Ben found me as the screen printers where I was picking up some new T-shirts of Willie as the Red Headed Stranger, and got the message to me.  I returned to Abbott immediately and was able to get the photos that you see in this issue.


While chatting with Willie, I asked him whether the movie entitled “The Red Headed Stranger” would be released.  He said, “Plans are made to release it February 19, 1987.”  So all of you fans stay on the lookout for the movie and remember you can get tee shirts and pictures of Willie as the Red Headed Stranger right here through the Souvenir Shop, either in person or by mail order.

Some of you no doubt read about the Susie Nelson Show that we had booked at the VFW Club in Cameron, Texas, this past November 15th.  The show was very successful as the folks there enjoyed the music and singing of our stars Susie Nelson and her band and Chris Robbins with Stagecoach Symphony.

Several phoots that I took are included in thgis issue (page 7) for your eyeballs’ pleasure.  Enjoy!  Also, we appreciated a big fan of Willie’s coming to the show — Ann Willis of Temple.  Ann showed me a lot of photos that she has taken around the countryside and we will try to run some of them in future editions.

Other recent visitors to Willie Nelson Country have come from Robards, Kentucky, Prag, Oklahoma; St. Joseph, Missouri; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Battle Creek, Michigan; Judsonia Arkansas; Jacksonville, Illionois; and Dallas, Garland, Red Oak, Mesquite, Austin, San Antonio, Temple Branson, Corsicana, Crossroads and Springtown, TX.  Coming the longest distance was Lucas Wegmann from Newcastle, Main.  We really enjoy meeting and visiting with Willie’s fans from all over the country!


The business of Being Willie Nelson (Chicago Tribune, November 25, 1986)

Monday, November 25th, 2019

photo:  Ron McKeown.

November 25, 1986
By Wes Smith

After completing 115 holes of video golf in little more than 9 hours, executive W.H. Nelson put aside his toys and directed the driver of his mobile office to roll.

As chief executive officer of Red-headed Stranger Ltd., president of Farm Aid Inc., owner of the Pedernales Country Club, board member for the United Theological Seminary and honorary “Man of the Year“ for the United Jewish Appeal, it was time for Nelson to entertain a client or two, or three- or four-thousand

“My portfolio?” asked the boss with a toss of his auburn pony-tail. “I never wear one.”

There is no business like the business of being Willie Nelson. By no stretch of the headband is Nelson a baron of Wall Street. But with an annual income estimated conservatively at $15 million, Nelson himself is a big business deal.

Since “Williemania” struck in full force in the late 1970s, Nelson, 53, has become a one-man entertainment industry. He is a successful singer-songwriter-actor-author-record and movie-producer and Farm Aid fund-raiser. Look for his autobiography (“I wanted to do it before someone else did it”) and his own brand of soup to be introduced in coming months.

Although royalties from his songs pay Nelson enough for a comfortable life, record sales are now his main producer of revenue. His “Stardust”
album is still on the charts after seven years and climbing again as result of compact disc sales. Two of Nelson`s albums have sold more than 3 million copies, three albums sold more than a million and 10 albums sold more than 500,000. He now gets $1 million for recording an album with CBS records plus 35 percent of sales.

To promote the album sales, and because he easily gets stir crazy, Nelson tours about nine months of the year, bringing in another $12 million annually. From that he nets about $6 million before his personal expenses. Last August, he signed a $7 million, three-year contract that allowed Blue Bell Inc., the maker of Wrangler jeans, to promote 100 of Nelson`s concerts annually and hand out front-seat tickets to Wrangler denim dealers at the shows, said Paul English, Nelson`s business manager, longtime friend and drummer.

Willie & Family, as the band is known, travel in four or five customized buses with two truckloads of equipment trailing behind. The Willie Nelson road show is a family operation with a country store flavor. Nelson shares his bus, the mahogany-paneled “Honeysuckle Rose,“ with his older sister Connie, who plays keyboards. English`s son, Darnell, is assistant road manager on the tour, and Billy English, Paul`s brother, is a percussionist. Most members of the band and road crew–which total about 30 including the T-shirt hawkers –have been with Nelson at least 10 years.

While Nelson uses his computer keyboard to play video golf for hours on end while touring, his road manager, lanky, long-haired David Anderson, takes care of the payroll, day-to-day logistics and communications for the tour on his own personal computer.

Anderson is a native of Park Ridge, Ill. (“We moved when I was 28-days-old.“) The 30-year-old road manager must fold his 6-foot-4 frame into a cramped workspace not much larger than a doghouse. His mobile office, tucked in a space under a bunk bed, is packed with an IBM XT personal computer and printer, a check writer, a 3M Fax machine, a Cannon copier, a modular phone system and an Uzi submachine gun “for security reasons.”

Willie Nelson: The Pride of Texas

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

photo:  Christ Vest
by: Gladys Fuentes

God bless Willie Nelson. Anyone who can put as much gusto and authenticity as he does into anything deserves nothing but praise. Nelson is the patron saint of quality country music and good times, and has never been known to skimp on either. Monday night at Smart Financial Centre was no exception.

Throughout the evening, Nelson navigated his familiar fretboard on Trigger with an ease that can only come after so many years together. Though he has been come to be known for changing up his traditional solos for more jazzy, Django Reinhart-inspired incarnations, Nelson continues to produce his unmistakable sound, equally made up of the man and his acoustic guitar.

Nelson has no shortage of material either written by him or songs impossible to dissociate from the man himself. He never strays from opening with his old friend Johnny Bush’s. “Whiskey River,” pairing the opening chords with the release of the biggest Texas flag outside of highway adjacent car dealerships.

Throughout Nelson’s show, he managed to pay homage to old friends and fellow music legends, dedicating a portion of his set list to Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver and the heartbroken king of Country himself, Hank Williams.

Nelson and his band seemed to be communicating on a higher plane, through effortless glances and nods.  The band has been with him for an impressive amount of time; with his sister Bobbie Nelson always behind her grand piano and Mickey Raphael’s harmonica serving as the back up singer to Nelson’s vocals.

Nelson spends most of his time on tour and his set lists haven’t varied much in the past, despite releasing new material every year.  He managed to balance out tried and true sing alongs like “Beer For My Horses” with newer, instant classics, like “It’s All Going to Pot”; both songs with lyrics relevant to the times we live in.

He only played one song from this year’s release, Ride Me Back Home, the tongue-in-cheek cover, “Hard to Be Humble.” Nelson winked to the crowd as he sang “Something to do with the way that I fill out my skin tight jeans.”

A man of few words onstage, Nelson went from hit to hit, always encouraging audience participation. Nelson took everyone to church with his closing number, the medley “Circle Be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away”.

Set List:

Whiskey River
Still Is Still Moving to Me
Beer For My Horses
Good Hearted Woman
Down Yonder (Bobbie Nelson Instrumental)
If You’ve Got the Money
Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground
On the Road Again
Always on My Mind
Jambalaya (On the Bayou)
Hey, Good Lookin’
Guitar instrumental
It’s All Going to Pot
Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
Georgia On a Fast Train
It’s Hard to Be Humble
Circle Be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away

Willie Nelson & Loretta Lynn hang out at the CMA’s

Saturday, November 16th, 2019
lorettalynnofficial's profile picture
I had the best time at CMA Country Music Association Awards last night. It was so good to see so many of my friends. I loved catching up with my buddy Willie Nelson!”
by: Iesha Mae Thomas

The CMA Awards always brings the country music community together, and after the 2019 awards show on Wednesday Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson took some time to hang out and catch up. On his tour bus. No big deal.

Lynn posted the photo above to her Instagram, saying, “I had the best time at CMA Country Music Association Awards last night. It was so good to see so many of my friends. I loved catching up with my buddy Willie Nelson!”

Nelson, 86, performed “Rainbow Connection” during the 2019 CMA Awards broadcast with Kacey Musgraves, who took home the award for Female Vocalist and Music Video of the Year. It was his first performance on the show since 2012.

Lynn made a surprise appearance at the ceremony, which took place at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. The 87-year-old is a rare sighting these days, following a stroke in 2017, and a fall that broke her hip in 2018.

Although Lynn didn’t perform on an evening that highlighted the historical contributions women have made to country music, she was honored by a group of female artists who performed an opening medley that featured her song, “You’re Looking at Country.”

Lynn was the first female artist to win Entertainer of the Year, taking home the CMA’s top honor in 1972. Garth Brooks won Entertainer of the Year for the seventh time in 2019, marking the third time he has held the title in the last four years.