by: Dan Merica
Washington (CNN) – Former President Jimmy Carter once told Rolling Stone magazine that “all the good things I did as president, all the mistakes I made – you can blame half of that on Willie.”
The Willie that Carter is referring to is none other than Willie Nelson, the famed “outlaw” country singer known for his unique sound and his affinity for marijuana. Although Carter was known as a buttoned-up president – during the 1976 campaign, he regularly highlighted his Southern Baptist roots and his role as a Sunday school teacher – the former governor of Georgia was also known to escape the pressures of the presidency by listening to Willie Nelson.
And on September 13, 1980, the president’s love for the music of the “redheaded stranger” was fulfilled when Nelson played for Carter at the White House. The night was certainly a unique one. Not only did first lady Rosalynn Carter sing a cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” with Nelson, but the country star claims that after the concert he smoked marijuana on the White House roof.
In a joint interview with Entertainment Weekly, Nelson and Carter laughed about the subject: Carter: I would guess that Willie and my sons knew a lot more about that than I did. That was one of the things that Willie and I never did discuss much. But I don’t think there’s much doubt that there was—
Nelson: Actually, short-term memory — I don’t remember a lot that happened then.
Carter: Yeah, my memory’s kind of short on that subject, too.
The Carter-Nelson relationship was not just a passing one. Nelson joined Carter on the campaign trail in 1976 – even though during that campaign Carter had called for tough penalties on marijuana usage. In the same Entertainment Weekly interview, Carter credited Nelson with helping him win the election. “I think that was one of the reasons I won, because I did align myself with characters like these, who were admired by hundreds of millions around the world,” Carter said. “I think as much as any performer who has ever lived, Willie has had an intimate and natural relationship with working people.”
It seems Nelson appreciated thoughts like that. In the Country Music Channel documentary “Jimmy Carter in Plains,” Nelson says that Carter is “my favorite president.” Close friends to this day, Carter has joined Nelson on stage a number of times since the White House performance in 1980.
When Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, Willie Nelson was there to serenade him with “Georgia on My Mind.” Most recently, on June 16, 2012, Carter joined Nelson on stage at a concert in Atlanta, where the duo sang “Amazing Grace” for the crowd. According to reporting by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and video from the performance, Carter even put on an iconic red bandana like Nelson’s.