Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

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

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

photo:  Steve Gonzales
by: Joey Guerra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Thanks, Phil Weisman.

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

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Yes, Caroline, there is a Willie Nelson

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
by:  Charlie Scudder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie Nelson Q & A: Willie the Hero

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Don’t Give Up’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, San Antonio” — Willie Nelson

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

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

Saturday, February 18th, 2017
by:  Peter Blackstock

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Set list:

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

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

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

photo:  Jaime Monzon
by:  Chris Conde

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, February 17th, 2017

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

Snoop Dogg Tweets about Willie Nelson

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017
by: Dave Thomas

Even as he prepares to release a new album, wins awards for his last one, and continues to tour, Austin legend Willie Nelson hasn’t been feeling well this year, canceling shows because of health issues.

Willie, who extols the power of positivity, hasn’t said anything publicly about his health, but even the most optimistic people could always use a kind word from a friend.

Good thing Snoop Dogg has Willie’s back.

In a tweet on Saturday, the West Coast rapper showed his respect for the Texas icon’s continued mastery of dominoes and, you guessed it, herbal pursuits …

It’s good having friends. Let’s hope Willie is feeling like his old self again soon.

friends. Let’s hope Willie is feeling like his old self again soon.


U got a problem wit Willie then u got a problem wit me  —  Snoop Dogg

Willie Nelson back in action

Monday, February 13th, 2017
by: Cloe Melas

The country singer’s publicist told CNN on Monday that Nelson will be performing as scheduled at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo on February 16, after several canceled concerts.

The “Always On My Mind” singer called off shows in Las Vegas and California in late January and last week due to undisclosed health issues.

Nelson’s publicist said it was “just a cold.”

Though he did not attend the Grammy Awards on Sunday night, Nelson won the award for best traditional pop vocal album for “Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin.”

The 83-year-old’s concert on Thursday will kick off “Willie Nelson & Family Tour,” which includes 27 upcoming dates.

Willie Nelson & Family Shows at Crystal Palace postponed

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017
Gary Miller/Getty Images
Willie Nelson has postponed three California shows because of illness.

Publicist Elaine Schock tells The Associated Press that Nelson will have to miss his three-night stint that had been scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield.

Schock gave no details on Nelson’s sickness, but she says he plans to be back on the road again for a Feb. 16 concert at a San Antonio rodeo.


Willie: A memoir as straight forward as his songs

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

[Thanks again to Phil Weisman, for sending me this newspaper clipping/review.  The Chicago Sun-Times gave over 1/2 page to the photo and review.]

Chicago Sun Times
Sunday, November 6, 1988
by: Don McLeese

An Autobiography
Willie Nelson and Bud Shrake

With his autobiography, Willie Nelson not only gets the chance to set the record straight, he offers the same opportunity to his ex-wives.  Take, for example, the fabled incident from his first marriage in which his wife was so upset at finding him drunk again that she sewed him up between two bed sheets and proceeded to whack him out of his stupor with a broom handle.

Ridiculous, says Martha Jewel Mathews, who became Willie’s first wife when she was just 16.  “How dumb could I have to be to try to sew Willie into a bed sheet?” she asks in one of the book’s “Chorus” sections, which allow many of those who share Nelson’s life to give their side of the story.  “You know how long that would take to sit there and take stitch after stitch?”

“The truth is, I tied him up with the kids’ jumping ropes before I beat the hell out of him.”

Written with Bud Shrake (a former writer with Sports Illustrated and Nelson’s collaborator on the “Songwriter” film), Willie is not one of those show-biz sagas that is designed to reinforce an image, to celebrate the myth while sanitizing the man.  Neither is it a titilatting “tell-all” account, using scandal to boost sales.  As straightforward in its honesty as the best of Nelsons songs, the book offers a matter-of-fact, refreshingly frank account of how Willie Nelson came to be what he is, and how he feels about what he has become.

What he is, although he’s too modest in Willie to make the claim himself, is the greatest artist that country music has known since the late Hank Williams.  He’s also something of a sagebrush mystic, a believer in “reincarnation and the laws of Karma,” an environmentalist, an avid golfer, a long-distance jogger, a guy who gets along great with women until he marries them, and a firm believer in the medicinal powers of marijuana.

As an account of this life (Nelson apparently doesn’t remember much from previous incarnations), Willie doesn’t adhere to strict chronology, but most of the pertinent facts are here.  It relates his musical beginnings as a cotton-picking, mud-eating child who played guitar at 6, considered himself a “serious songwriter” at 8 and was a veteran at 11 of the polka-band circuit in small town Texas.

It shows his emergency as a hit songwriter, though his early efforts often proved more lucrative for others than they were for Nelson himself.  He sold all rights to “Night Life,” which has since been recorded by more than 70 artists, for $150.  “At the time he needed the money,” he explains, and the fact that the song was a hit “encouraged me to think I could write a lot more songs that were just as good.”

The country music establishment in Nashville never came to terms with Nelson’s artistry.  Though his “Crazy” was a smash for Patsy Cline, and “Hello Walls” did as well for Faron Young.  Nelson’s music had a sophistication beyond three chords, and his singing was too down-home conversational.  Eventually, Nelson returned to Texas, where he was branded an “outlaw” for following his own best instincts.

He has since progressed from barroom stages to stadium concerts, and now travels on his own Learjet, as well as by bus, while continuing to follow his own instincts.  The mythic “Red Headed Stranger”, a musical fable about frontier justice, was an unlikely candidate for mainstream acceptance, but it gave Nelson his popular breakthrough.  His record company advised against his “Stardust” collection of standards, and it won him a larger audience than ever.

In addition to offering plenty of advice beyond the usual bromides for those bent on a musical career, the autobiography documents the spiritual development of the man known to much of Texas as “Saint Willie.”  An inspiring as his progression from honky-tonk hotheadedness to metaphysical bliss may be there’s no question that Nelson’s contentment has cost him some musical creativity.

He admits that he writes from need, from hunger, and he maintains that for him to return to writing a “sad, negative song” would be bad karma.  Leaving songs of whiskey-drenched heartbreak behind, he finds it easier to record duets with the likes of Julio Iglesias.

The “Chorus” sections provide a more rounded portrait of the artist than most autobiographies offer, but the book would be even better balanced if it featured someone who isn’t just wild about Willie.  (His third wife, from whom Nelson is estranged, isn’t included within the interviews.  However as furious they might once have been at him, his ex-wives remain fond of Nelson; his friends from the scuffling days are still his friends; his band and business associates are unwaveringly loyal.

Even a man whose wife ran away with Nelson (to become the second Mrs. Nelson) proclaims that “IF there’s any man I’d like to run off with my wife, it would be WIllie Nelson.”



“Seven Spanish Angels” — new Austin beer, with nod to Willie Nelson

Friday, January 27th, 2017

photo:  Bob Tilden
by:  Brad Jackson

If there is one person who embodies Texas as a spirit, a people, a nation, it’s Willie Nelson. The man is literally a living legend. It doesn’t matter who you are, politician, celebrity, average Joe—when you’re in the presence of Willie, when you get a chance to see him perform, it’s amazing.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Willie Nelson perform many times, most recently with The Federalist’s own Ben Domenech at last year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival. That day Willie was joined on stage by a dozen people, including other musicians who were performing at the festival, his family, and the man who serves as his unofficial sidekick, the man who introduced him to the tens of thousands of people in the crowd, Matthew McConaughey.

The musicians who joined Willie on stage, including Margo Price and Nathaniel Rateliff, sang along on several songs. He went well past his allotted time singing encore after encore, but no one stopped him, because he’s Willie. It was an incredible show!

One of Willie’s best songs is a duet with another music legend, the one and only Ray Charles. “Seven Spanish Angels” is a classic the duo first recorded in the 1980s. An old-school country ballad, the song tells the story of bandits trying to evade the law. The couple is on the run in Mexico and in a last-stand gunfight they know they can’t win. Instead of being taken back to Texas, they go down in a blaze of glory. As Willie and Ray Charles tell it:

There were seven Spanish angels
At the altar of the sun
They were prayin’ for the lovers
In the valley of the gun
When the battle stopped and the smoke cleared
There was thunder from the throne
And seven Spanish angels
Took another angel home

It’s one of the saddest country songs you’ve ever heard, and the two music legends sing it so well. It’s a song that deserves a toast to the lovers brave enough to go down guns blazing, to be together forever “at the altar of the sun,” and thanks to Brazos Valley Brewing Company, there is the perfect beer to do that: Seven Spanish Angels Coffee Ale.

I’ve talked about coffee beers before, but what makes this one different is the base it is built upon. Most coffee beers are porters or stouts, but this one is a brown ale. The brewery worked with Independence Coffee Company to combine their cold-brewed pecan coffee with this “bitchin’ brown ale” to create a coffee ale that is lighter, brighter, and easier to drink than most coffee beers. It’s cold-brew coffee and beer, not a heavy beer with coffee, and I like it a lot. Shiner also has a beer out right now that incorporates cold-brew coffee, but this one is better.

Brazos Valley Brewing Company is from Brenham, Texas. You may know Brenham as the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream. If you don’t have Blue Bell in your local grocery store, I weep for you. It is some of the best ice cream on God’s green earth, and that comes from someone who used to manage an ice cream store (of another brand) in high school.

I made ice cream every day, and I never made any as good as Blue Bell’s. Their cookie dough ice cream is the best you’ll find, and Brenham is their home. It’s a little town between College Station and Houston, in Southeast Texas. A small but growing community of salt of the earth people, they know their ice cream and their beer.

Brazos Valley Brewing doesn’t only make good beer, they make beautiful beer cans. The artwork on the Seven Spanish Angels beer is amazing. It depicts a woman with long hair, feather earrings, and a green checked shirt holding a rifle, ready for a showdown. It’s easy to phone it in with some boring Bud- or Coors-style artwork on a beer can or bottle label these days, but with Seven Spanish Angels, Brazos Valley Brewing doesn’t just give you a beer you can enjoy drinking, it also gives you a can that is so pretty it’s a shame to put it in a koozie.

As you listen to Nelson sing the sad tale of lovers who rose to “the altar of the sun,” raise a can of Seven Spanish Angels to salute one of America’s greatest musicians with a sip of some great Texas beer. Cheers!

Does Willie Have a Dream?

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017