Country Line Magazine
PoodieLocke: Country Music’s Backstage Legend
by Sheryl Bucsanyi
Poodie Locke, Willie Nelson’s stage manager for almost 30 years has heard and seen it all. And, he doesn’t mind telling it the way it is or the way it was.
Poodie is a nickname he ws branded with since he was a kid. “I guess, because I was a mess. I don’t know,” Poodie says.
I ask Poodie to describe himself in three words. “Pretty f#%*@ lucky.” He stops laughing, thinks, and decides to say, “A gifted life.”
In his spare time he likes to play golf, drink tequila, and chase women, but not necessarily in that order. His motto for life is “a fartin’ horse never tires.” He also claims that a rolling stone gathers neither moss nor dirt.
His proudest accomplishment is getting a job with Willie andstill being alive. “We’re still here. We’re the oldest band and crew alive who still travels. “We’ve outlived outlived the Beatles. We got underwear older than most of those kids who are playing right now,” Poodie confesses.
Poodie was 12 years old when he met Willie in Waco. ” Who is Willie Nelson?”, Poodie says, “The king of the common man.”
I asked him if he could tell me something about Willie that no one else knows. “Yes, but I can’t put it in print.” Poodie tells me how Willie is a national treasure, but that he’s definitely had his lower moments. “He’s had five wives, hell what do you think?”
Riding on the road for about 275 days a year, Poodie says keeps him young. When Poodie first started out on the road he says that every day was a story. Their first bus was previously owned by Porter Wagner and Dolly Parton. It had 6 bunks in the back and three private cabins. “We were in hog heaven. We were bullet proof. We were young.”
Poodieexplains, “Willie got real hot real fast. We did eight shows in eight days. Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain went from member 70 to number one in two weeks. And then, we didn’t come back for eight months. We had to buy new underwear in Arizona.
In the words of Willie according to Poodie, ‘Indecision may or may not be our biggest problem. Strive to be mediocre and those who contribute must leave.’ We are like the most unorganized bunch andpeople try to organize us. One guy from the Rolling Stones lasted only one gig because he couldn’t findthe gig or the band.”
Poodiesays that the band wasn’t hired. “It was conceived. The people in this organization stay.”
Willie is 69 years old. He jogs five miles a day, plays 18 holes of golf, does 2 1/2 hour shows, and then signs autographs for 2 hours. “The man is an animal,” Poodie says. I ask him what was Willie’s secret. Poodie insists that it’s the road. It keeps you alive and it keeps you going. I go home and see people my age, ones I went to school with ahd they’re old.” They look old.” Born in 1952 in Waco, Poodie’s birthday is the same day as Stevie Ray Vaughan – October 3.
Surrounded by gifted women in show business, Poodie has had flings or relationps with legendary Emmy Lou Harris, Tanya Tucker and Bonnie Raitt. “I was married to Bonnie Rait once, until we got sober,” Poodie admits. He has also shopped with Dolly once when she was wearing a t-shirt and no wig or makeup.
Austin area country western singer Kevin Fowler walks up, “I’m trying to find something good to say about you, Poodie,” Kevin jokes. “Nah, he’s a true friend to Texas musicians.”
Poodie comments, “He (Kevin) used to have hair on his ass, now there ain’t none at all.”
Kevin says that Poodie gave him a gig at the Hilltop when no one else would. First Kevin would play for tips and$50.Â Then he got a band and was paid $100. “Then,” Poodie says, “He started selling thongs and it was all downhill from there.” Kevin offers me an onion ring. “Sample this.” This is what it’s all about, Kevin insists.
There are two memorable moments that stick out in Poodie’s mind. The first one was when they played for the 92nd Airborne in North Carolina for 25,000 soldiers. “It was during the IRS ordeal.” According to Poodie, the general placed his hand on Willie’s shoulder and said, “Let me tell you something Willie Nelson. We know you’ve had a little trouble with the government, and I know it wasn’t your fault. Everyone here at the 82ndAirborne will defend you and build a perimeter aound you to protect you anytime, anywhere. You are what America is all about.”
Poodie says that they paid their taxes to a guy in Connecticut who didn’t pay their taxes nor filed them causing Willie a two and half million-dollar debt. Poodie says that they ended up filing suit.
The second unforgettble experience was playing at the Olympics. Willie wore his cowboy hat and black jacket. “Willie’s presence was not advertised before hand. He sang Bridge Over Troubled Waterstalking through the chorus saying, “That will ease our mind.” Poodie says that Willie signed about 2,000 autographs to Russians, Chinese, everybody. “He’s like the grandfather of the world.” Somebody told Poodie, “Ya know they’re taking medals away from these athletes for doing drugs, but they bring Willie Nelson to close the damn Olympics. What’s up with that?”
Poodie believes that marijuana should be legalized. “Nobody is going to smoke a joint and go kill 10 kids at McDonald’s”, Poodie preaches. “I never smoked any pot like that. And I’ve smoked a lot of pot in many different places all over the world.”
Flashing back to the fairgrounds in Baton Rouge, Poodie remembers when Wille’s crew played with Jimmy Buffet, Jerry Jeff Walker and Asleep at the Wheel. Willie’s time to perform was supposed to be at 9 p.m. They didn’t go on until 1 a.m. “We did everything we could waiting ” drank five cases of beer. We were toast. And Bee Spears, the bass player, walked over to Willie and goes, tell ya what Willie boy, you don’t have a hair on your ass if you don’t play until the sun comes up. Willie goes (Poodie playing an imaginary guitar) dair, dair and dair for 7 1/2 hours. It started out 50 to 60,000 people. When the sun came up, there was still about 20,000 people there,” Poodie tells. “Willie never peed. I couldn’t believe it. Bee just went over and peed off the side of the stage and never stopped playing.
The Caesar’s Palace in Vegas is not known for entertainers wearing blue jeans. However, Willie played two shows a day for two weeks. Bee and Poodie met a couple of riggers at 4.a.m. in a bar. “Bee is the craziest human being next to Dennis Hopper who is dangerously crazy,” Poodie claims. “The worst thing Bee can say to you is hey, I got this great idea.” Bee asked one of the riggers, whose father used to rig for Mary Martin on Broadway’s Peter Pan, if he could fly.
Willie had written this song, Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground, for his wife at the time named Connie. “We’ve been up for about a week. Bee’s hair looked like a firecracker hit it. He took off his boots andhad a mouth full of water Bee was flying up and around behind Wilie. The crowd started going crazy. Willie thought it was cause he was rockin. Bee is hilarious. Then Willie saw Bee and Bee spit water on him. The whole place cracks up. Willie thought it was funny and then made Bee sing a song in his socked feet because Bee hates to sing. You could do a whole book on Bee.”
The most interesting person Poodie has ever met is Dennis Hopper because “He was the 60s, 70s,80s, and the 90s,” Poodie claims. “Dennis is a time bomb fixin to go off. He would eat five pounds of mushrooms, get naked and scale the Golden Gate Bridge. One time in Peru in the 70s, he ate a bunch of mushrooms and climbed a high line pole naked. Every one of his wives would catch him doing something always when he was naked, and he never could defend himself.”
Poodie’s favorite famous person whom he has met is Walter Cronkite. “The only autographs that I’ve ever got was him and John Wayne,” Poodie says.
Poodie grew up with people like Johnny Cash, Kris Krisstofferson, and Waylon Jennings. According to Poodie, Waylon was a wild and crazy guy who did a lot of drugs and chased a lot of women. Back in the older days, most of the musicians Poodie was around popped pills. Until one day when the crew stopped at a honky tonk and somebody gave Waylon some cocaine.
“Waylon called his road manager over and said, “hey Johnny, that was some good stuff. How much is it?” Johnny said about $2,000 an ounce. Waylon goes, cool get me a pound. Johnny said, I can’t get that for you. I’m not carrying a pound of blow around with me!” Poodie informs.
Poodie describes Waylon as the macho man. “I loved Waylon. He loved to play. He would play for 1/2 horus and if you didn’t like him, he’d play for another hour.”
Kris was very ‘military-oriented and very opinioned.” Poodie remembers how Kris and Waylon used to argue all the time about politics.
I asked Poodie if the story was true about the day Kris andWillie ran out of gas somewhere around Austin and nobody would pick them up. Poodie says, “Yea, they looked to scraggily.”
One time Poodie played golf with Kris in Australia. “Kris hates to lose,” Poodie says. “And he lost $2. He cussed at me for about a week.”
Kris is the “black experience” In the 1984 movie Songwriter, Kris’ character’s name was Blacky Buck. According to Poodie he could get along with Kris’ military-style personality, so he was Kris’ driver. “We would have a 4:30 a.m. call for a 7:30 a.m. shoot. Kris is outside standing on the curb. I get there at 4:45. Now Kris, I say, how many movies have you’ve been in? Ah, 30 or 40 why? What time you actually think we’re gong to do anythinhg? He goes, ah, 5:30 or 7. Then why are we going anywhere at 4:30 a.m.? I just got home!”
Every day, about 200 girls would line up outside of Kris’ trailer. “They wren’t getting autographs or photos.” Poodie announces.
Poodie’s favorite song Kris has written is Sunday Morning Coming Down. Poodie begins singing, “Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt. And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for dessert.” Johnny Cash leased this song.
The man in balck, Johnny Cash, is real “Stoic, humble, big and strong.” Poodie demonstrates how Cash could be sitting down andfrom his lap, throws a pill andcatches it in his mouth. “He would take a Percadan from right here and throw it andcatch it in his mouth like a frog. Never missed,” Poodie says.
The Cowboys flew Willie down to play after the Superbowl in Miami in 1976. “I was in the Cowboys’ dressing room with Billy Graham watching Pittsburgh beat their ass when it was like the Lord walked in. Johnny Cash is a huge man. His hands are big like Dennis Rodman big,” Poodie describes.
Dallas lost the game (21-17) but they still had a party. I ask why Billy Graham was there. Poodie answers, “Because he was a big Cowboys fan and Tom Landry was one of his disciples.”
Being raised in a religous family, Poodie believes in a supreme being. “I believe that everybody should have something to believe in. Everybody can have their own God as long as you are on the same track. I was taught to read the Bible. I can even recite the books of the Bible.”
Poodie’s advice to new country artists is to have your own identity, and don’t sound like everybody else.
During this interview Poodie’sfriends surroundhim. One friend, Stiffy Williams decides to demonstrate his talent by singing his song he wrote when they all were in Amsterdam. He sings, “Hey, hey Willie, what’s going on? We’re out on the road and a long ways from home. Smokin lots of week, the girls are fine. I need $20 so I get back in line. Hot damn I’m in Amsterdam. Hot damn I’m in Amsterdam. Ain’t no body knows who I am. Kept my zipper zipped up, ani’t done nothing wrong….” The circle laughs and applauds.
His mother, Gloria Lock, comes down to Austin to visit her son whenever he’s off the road. She describes him as outspoken, well loved, helpful, and busy. She says that she has met many famous people including James Gardner and that they all call her Momma Locke.
“When I’m here I cook the boys five pounds of butter beans, five pounds of fried okra, smothered pork chops, a special relish, hot water corn bread, and peach cobbler. Sometimes it’s meat loaf, another liver.” I loved the butter beans myself.”
“In 1952, Poodie was voted Most Beautiful Baby in Waco,” Momma Locke proudly boasts. “I never had any problems raising him. When I would go shopping, he would squat down right beside me.”
Poodie has owned the Hilltop Bar and Grill for four years. It is known for the best cheesburgers in the world and great music. You never know who might walk in the door like Tracy Byrd did the other day. Also, Merle Haggard played there once for 3 1/2 hours for free.
Besides Willie, his favorite all time musician he laughs is Stiffy Williams. Then he says no, it has to be the Eagles.
If he weren’t working for WIllie, he says that he would probably be dead. You would lthink it would be the opposite.
Towards the end of May, Willie’s crew will fly overseas to do 28 shows in 34 days all over Europe. Willie says he plans to stop touring in 15 years, according to Poodie.
There is not going to be a Willie Nelson 4th of July picnic this year, however, Pat Green will be having one at Waterloo Park in Austin. Nice trade off. Bet Poodies there.