As it turns out, Billy Bob Thornton and Mickey Raphael have a lot more in common than both looking good in black suits and 50’s sleeked back greaser hairstyles.
They both love music, they are very knowledgeable about music, and they are both are big Willie Nelson fans.
Billy Bob and his band the Box Masters spent a month on the road with Willie Nelson & Family this spring, and Mickey would join the band on stage and play with them, before getting back to his regular job of playing harmonica with Willie Nelson and Family. It was always fun to see him join WN&F after his set with the BoxMasters, all dressed up with his big hair.
In between shows, on the bus or in restaurants, Billy Bob and Mickey would get together and talk about music, mutual friends and life on the road. Fortunately, someone had the good sense to record these conversations, and now thanks to Legacy Recordings, we can listen to them as podcasts.
The interviews on the bus are appropiately set against the soundtrack of the road, with traffic sounds and honking horns. Billy Bob interviews Mickey about how he got started in music, his first musical performance (he played the triangle — who knew?), and how he became part of the Willie Nelson and Family band. Mickey says that Willie never officially hired him, but that he never told him to leave, either. And there’s the story of Willie asking Paul, “What are we paying Mickey?” “Nothing,” Paul said. “Well, then double his salary!” Willie said.
As a music lover and Willie Nelson fan, Billy Bob does a great job asking Mickey questions we’d like to ask him and we get to learn more about Willie Nelson and Family and their music.
Billy Bob asks Mickey about how the ‘Naked Willie’ album came about. Mickey talks about buying his first Willie Nelson & Family album, and how much he enjoyed Willie’s guitar playing and his singing, long before he got to meet Willie through their mutual friend, Darrel Royal, coach of the U of Texas Longhorns.
Mickey’s been standing to Willie’s left playing harmonica for over thirty years and his appreciation for the simplicity of Willie’s approach to playing and recording music has continued to grow. “Less is more,” is Willie’s philosophy, Mickey says. “Keep it Simple.”
There was nothing simple about Chet Atkins’ production techniques, and the ‘Nashville Sound’ in vogue when he produced Willie in Nashville in the ’60’s. The recordings were heavy with layered strings and back-up vocals, which was what the public was loving and what they were buying. Mickey said he always wondered what the songs would sound like if Willie had been allowed to produce the songs himself. They were such great songs, he thought maybe they should be recorded again, but recognized that so much would be lost if they did that, because Willie’s original tracks were so beautiful.
So, with Willie’s blessing, Mickey contacted Sony/Legacy who had acquired the RCA catalogue, and pitched the idea of re-producing some of Willie’s music from the 60’s and ’70’s, and removing the choral backup vocals, strings and “Nashville Sound” from Willie’s original tracks.
“At that time in Nashville, artists weren’t allowed to produce themselves. I thought it would be like a gift to Willie, giving him control of the sound of those early recordings,” Mickey said.
Mickey went to New York and got the original master multi-track tapes, had them transferred to digital and worked with another producer, Tony Castle, to remove the layers of stringed instruments vocals, and uncovered Willie’s guitar work and Willie’s voice that had been buried on the originals.
So here are the podcasts. Thanks to Mickey Raphael, Joseph Vella, and Sony/Legacy for letting me share them here. Click on the link, and it will download to your computer, and you can listen to the recordings on your computer, or upload them to your ipod. Enjoy!
They are divided into three separate recordings:
Part 1 – Starting the project:
Part 2 – Willie’s artistry:
Part 3 Selecting the Songs
1. Bring Me Sunshine
2. Following Me Around
3. The Ghost
4. Happiness Lives Next Door
5. I Just Dropped By
6. Jimmy’s Road
7. I Let My Mind Wander
8. If You Could See What’s Going Through My Mind
9. Johnny One Time
10. The Local Memory
11. The Party’s Over
12. Where Do You Stand?
13. When We Live Again
14. What Can You Do To Me Now?
15. I’m A Memory
16. Sunday Morning Coming Down
17. Laying My Burdens Down