Director and producer Jim Brown talks about the making of The Highwaymen: Friends Til The End, his admiration for the musicians’ camaraderie, passion for music and having a clear purpose in their careers. American Masters — The Highwaymen: Friends Til The Endpremieres nationwide Friday, May 27, 2016, at 9/8c on PBS (check local schedule) as part of the 30th anniversary season of THIRTEEN’s American Masters series, exploring how these men came together and the fruits of their historic collaboration.
Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally to host 2016 ceremony honoring B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Kris Kristofferson
Willie Nelson and Mavis Staples lead the line-up of acts performing at the 2016 Austin City Limits Festival Hall of Fame Inductions and Celebration. The ceremony takes place on October 12th, immediately after the two consecutive weekends of ACL Fest, where Willie Nelson is headlining.
B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and Kris Kristofferson are this year’s inductees. Joining Nelson and Staples are Rodney Crowell, Gary Clark Jr. and Taj Mahal. Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally will co-host the evening at the ACL’s studio home at the Moody Theater.
Tickets for the event go on sale May 20th at 10am at Austin City Limits Live’s official site while the inductions from the ceremony will be broadcast as part of a special episode during Season 42, to air this fall on PBS.
The two prior weekends of ACL Fest will include over 130 acts to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the festival. Nelson will be joined by Chris Stapleton, Radiohead, Mumford & Sons, Kendrick Lamar and LCD Soundsystem.
To round out ACL’s massive year, the documentary A Song for You about the storied concert series will debut this year. Artists like Beck, Dave Grohl, Jenny Lewis, Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Tweedy, Alabama Shakes, Florence and the Machine and Sturgill Simpson participated in the documentary, offering their recollections of their experiences with the series over the years.
“It was more than just one song at the end of The Tonight Show,” Dave Grohl recalled in a recently premiered clip from the film. “It was an ensemble performance that went on for more than six minutes, and I really liked that a lot. It was that kind of thing that inspired me to want to play with other people.”
BRIARCLIFF, Texas – There was no giant party or outrageous celebration last weekend when county music legend Willie Nelson marked his 83rd birthday.
Nelson instead opted for doing what he enjoys most — driving around his sprawling 700-acre Hill Country ranch near Briarcliff in his pickup truck, checking on the 70 or so horses roaming the place, and a stubborn mule named Willamina that Nelson says keeps the snakes and coyotes away.
“I look forward to being here and going up and saddling up a horse and riding whenever I want to,” Nelson said. “To me, that’s all that I ask, that’s all I need.”
When Nelson is not performing at one of the nearly 200 shows annually, he’s at his ranch or at his home in Maui.
“I’ve got friends over there and here in Texas,” he said. “You’ll find me at one of those places or on the bus. That’s my life and it’s a good life.”
Sometimes Nelson is serious and reflecting. But often as not, he weaves a sense of humor through the conversation.
Asked how he wanted to be remembered, Nelson chuckled and replied, “Well, if you’ve got some real good weed, you don’t have to worry about it. You’ll forget anyway.”
Nelson is well known for advocating the legalization of marijuana.
As for his decades of entertaining, Nelson said he has just one wish.
“Seriously, I want my fans to feel that they got their money’s worth,” he said. “They paid for a ticket and they saw a good show, that’s all that I ask.”
Nelson said there will still be many opportunities for fans to catch one of his shows. He has no plans to slow down.
“I’m pretty healthy. My family is healthy, and I’m thankful for the way things are,” he said.
It’s Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson like you’ve never experienced them. That’s because this concert footage has never been seen before.
CMT has the video premiere of the super group’s performance of “Good Hearted Woman,” recorded live at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, on March 14, 1990.
It’s all part of the new collection The Highwaymen Live — American Outlaws, a CD/DVD package arriving May 20 with previously unreleased concert performances from the legends.
In addition to the complete concert from their 1990 tour, the Columbia/Legacy package includes various performances at Farm Aid and a previously unreleased version of Cash and Jennings’ take on Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings.”
American Masters — The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End, a new feature-length documentary on the supergroup, will premiere May 27 on PBS.
How The Willie Nelson Pilot Turned ‘Austin City Limits’ Into A Musical Institution
by: Andrew Husband
Whether you’re a flannel-wearing hipster who listens to The Avett Brothers on repeat during a daily bike commute, or a red-in-the-neck redneck who thinks Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” is second only to “The Star Spangled Banner,” you know at least two things about modern country music. First, that much of it owes its existence to the long-running public television music program, Austin City Limits, and the two-weekend festival it inspired. And second? Neither the show nor the festival would have happened without Willie Nelson.
Born in the small north Texas town of Abbott on April 29, 1933, Nelson made his first musical marks in Nashville throughout the ’60s and early ’70s. However, the singer-songwriter was never completely satisfied by the famous country music scene in Tennessee, so he semi-retired in 1972 and moved to Austin, Texas. That’s when the so-called “Outlaw Country” subgenre was born — a movement whose hippie influences and musical menageries were enticing enough to bring Nelson back on stage.
Nelson’s popularity soon began to skyrocket, especially when he and other progressive country music acts attended the 1972 Dripping Springs Reunion and the Fourth of July Picnics it inspired. As Nelson’s appeal grew, so too did other venues’ desires to feature him at their events or on their television programs. According to Tracey E. W. Laird, author of Austin City Limits: A History, this attraction “culminated in a late 1973 live production featuring Willie Nelson, Michael Murphey, and the [Armadillo Country Music Revue’s] house band, Greezy Wheels.” The performance was simulcast in Austin and San Antonio by the latter’s PBS affiliate KLRN. That’s when program director Bill Arhos, the man who would become the main driving force behind ACL, entered the picture.
Arhos, who joined KLRN (and then its Austin spinoff, KLRU) in 1961 and worked his way up the ladder, wanted to respond to PBS’ “push for KLRN to create programs of NOVA-size stature.” Public television in the Texas Hill Country didn’t have the budget that NOVA‘s home station in Boston did, so Arhos acquired $13,000 in grant funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and set out to create a new live music program.
Depending on what you read, a lot of people had a hand in inspiring and creating ACL. Laird notes that Arhos named local writers Jan Reid and Joe Gracey as the parties responsible for suggesting the idea. However, per the program’s official website, the program director “hatched the idea” for the show with director Bruce Scafe and producer Paul Bosner. Scafe brought his experiences from directing another public television music program, The Session, for WSIU in Carbondale, Illinois. As for Bosner, his fandom for the progressive country music scene in Austin is what turned Arhos onto the subgenre and determined ACL‘s focus. He also inspired the title, because he “saw the sign every week when he commuted from Dallas to Austin” for work.
Yes, all of this matters if you truly want to know who helped usher Outlaw Country onto the televised (and later nationally syndicated) stage, but there wouldn’t be a live music program if it weren’t for the music. Arhos and his team needed a pilot to show PBS, so on October 13, 1974, they filmed one with then-progressive country big shot B.W. Stevenson. Laird quotes a TIME magazine article that at the time named Stevenson “the most commercially successful of the young Austin musicians,” which was true, but it wasn’t enough to populate the studio with an audience big enough for the cameras. Arhos “scuttled the show” because of the poor turnout, though the ACL website suggests “the recording was deemed unusable.” Either way, they still needed a pilot.
So they booked Nelson the following night, October 14, and recorded a second pilot. Stevenson might have been more “commercially successful,” but Nelson’s appeal in Austin and the surrounding region was guaranteed to draw a large crowd to the venue for taping. According to the New York Times, Arhos had $7,000 left for the second round, but that was plenty of money for putting on a concert and filming the results. Besides, as Laird explains it, ACL only pays its artists “union scale.” That’s how a PBS affiliate was able to afford the likes of Stevenson and Nelson for two back-to-back concerts, as well as how the show is still able to afford the talent it attracts over 40 years later.
For a solid hour, Nelson and his band mates played 16 songs for a live studio audience that was almost too big for the venue — especially because stands were put behind the stage to accommodate the numbers. The then-41-year-old singer belted out older tunes like the 1970 hit “Bloody Mary Morning” and the more recent “Whiskey River,” which would go on to become a modern country classic. It was a lot of music for what seemed like such a small endeavor at the time, especially because the production wasn’t exactly equipped with the best video and audio equipment by the day’s standards, but that didn’t matter. The homemade quality was by design, and Nelson loved it.
So much so that he agreed to help Arhos raise money and awareness for the ACL pilot during his 1975 tour. According to Clint Richmond’s Willie Nelson: Behind the Music, which was based on the VH1 series, spent time at PBS affiliates throughout the country. He performed at station pledge drives, offered clips from the ACL pilot and spoke up about the show whenever he had the chance. Arhos did the same, albeit in a more direct manner with the top brass at PBS. He offered the pilot as part of the 1975 pledge drive, sent tapes to fellow program directors and general managers at other stations, and fought for as much exposure as possible.
The result? PBS picked up ACL in 1976 and provided the team with enough funding to invite more acts, big and small for 10, 60-minute episodes. Arhos was, as the Austin-American Statesman put it when he died in 2015, the “driving force” behind its initial and continued success. However, Nelson didn’t stop his association with Austin, the KLRU family and the television show that broadcast his music onto a much larger national stage. Quite the contrary, as he would return to perform on the program eight more times — including for the 40th anniversary special in 2014.
As Laird concludes her book’s section about Nelson’s relationship with ACL, “the pilot’s timing coincided with Nelson’s far-reaching critical buzz in 1975 and placed [the show] right there with him in his uniquely hip corner of the musical universe.” From the mid-’70s and on, both Nelson and the once-fledgling local music program exploded onto the national stage, where they both remain decades later.
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real Perform tonight on the Conan O’brien Show
by: Leslie Michele Derrough
Music is like color,” explained Lukas Nelson recently. “When I listen to the musicians who affected me when I was growing you, I take from the primary colors to find my foundation. Then I apply secondary colors and the music becomes more and more complex.” For Nelson, music is a whole palette of colors, each readily available to be dipped into, blended, experimented with and crazily contoured into vibrant new works of art. He may have been born into a country music household but that house was never a one trick pony.
One of Willie Nelson’s youngest offspring, Lukas took to music like it was the most natural thing to do. He had a love for guitar players like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix and started writing songs around the age of eleven. In fact, that earliest song, “You Were It,” impressed his father enough that he put it on one of his albums. “I always recognized what a good song was,” the younger Nelson said not long ago. “I’ve had a lot of inspiration in that regard, being the son of one of the greatest songwriters ever.”
For Nelson, the pursuit of his own path has kept him open to anything and everything. He can pen a mean country song but he usually sprinkles it with some of that rocky-blues he grew up on. His expansion continues with the March 11th release of Something Real by his band Promise Of The Real, where the incense of the San Francisco sound infiltrates through nine songs, culminating in a cover of Scott McKenzie’s “If You’re Going To San Francisco.” To Nelson, “San Francisco has always been home to incredible bursts of creativity and illumination followed by a complete overhaul of existing systems and subsequent revolution. It’s kind of like a rotating magnetic pole.” From the go-go boot, mini skirt shimmying of JJ Cale’s “I’ll Make Love To You Any Ol’ Time” to the frenetic title track to the hymnal-like “Set Me Down On A Cloud,” Nelson and his band have captured something very magical about a city that has given flight to such diverse bands as Jefferson Airplane, Journey, Faith No More and Night Ranger, and managed to put his own Austin, Texas-rooted spin on what came out.
“Sometimes I’ll walk into a room and a new song just pops into my head, like a thought,” Nelson explained about his songwriting. “That makes total sense to me because, really, songs are frequencies. Your brain is an antenna that picks up thoughts and energies. We receive this input from everywhere. Every place has its own sound imprint. If you’re a musician, it’s your job to write down what you hear when that happens.” And what he has heard, makes for some very interesting, thought-provoking and fun capsules of music, including the tracks on his latest album.
Although Promise Of The Real has been together less than ten years, the band has made an impression with a wide audience. Country music fans like them, rock music fans like them, Americana music fans like them. It’s clear that Nelson, bass player Corey McCormick, percussionist Tato Melgar and drummer Anthony LoGerfo have their fingers on the pulse of what music fans really want to hear and that’s not having their favorite artists doing the same song ten times on one album. “There’s an emotional complexity in simplicity,” Nelson explained. “Simplicity is never as simple as it seems. Sometimes, if you can hide the complexity inside the simplicity, you get a result that covers a lot of the spiritual spectrum.”
Neil Young certainly saw that in the band. A few years ago he invited them to play on his record The Monsanto Yearsand then join him on the tour supporting it. It was a perfect match that continues into 2016. “Playing with these guys was a gift,” Young praised through his social media following the tour. “Such positivity, pure energy and no fear.” Nelson’s youngest brother Micah, who was also part of the band, told Rolling Stone that playing with Young was “like apprenticing with a Jedi Master.”
Glide had the opportunity to speak with Nelson last week as he was headed from San Francisco down to LA to play some shows with Shooter Jennings. When I mentioned to him that I had spoken with Jennings about him only a few hours prior to our talk, Nelson joked, “Nothing is true!” After telling him that Jennings had said he was one of the nicest people you could ever meet, Nelson got quiet for a few seconds before deadpanning, “I don’t know why he’s giving me that endorsement. I wonder what he wants!” (laughs)
You’ve mentioned that the new album has a lot of the flavor of San Francisco.
It does. We recorded it in a Victorian mansion on Fulton and Scott. It’s got a lot of history there. I think the first radio signal [on the West coast] was actually created there. There’s a lot of interesting tidbits about the Westerfeld House if you want to look it up. But we shipped in some recording equipment from Austin, Texas, got our friend Steve Chadie to come out and engineer the record. But this was almost two years ago now so it’s an interesting snapshot. I’ve already got another record recorded and ready to release. That’s just the way the business goes, you know. It takes a while to get something together to put it out and sell it right.
Are you going to wait for this one to take off before you let loose on another one?
I’m hoping that we give this one a good run, and yeah, I’m going to promote the heck out of it and we’re going to have some fun. I know we’re doing Conan on March 9th. Then we’ve got Colbert in May and then we’re going to go out and sell it on the Neil Young tour. So we got a lot of push for it. I love the record. It’s got a lot of great songs on it and there’s definitely an actual San Francisco lyrical theme going on within the record. We even covered Scott McKenzie’s “If You Go To San Francisco,” which I think is a great version of that song and Neil Young is singing background on it.
Did you pick that specifically because of the theme or was that already in the works to be on there?
You know, I really wanted to record a cover of that song, even before we started recording the record, so I made it a plan to do that version and then Neil wanted to sing on it so that was good.
The song “I’ll Make Love To You Any Ol’ Time” has a fun, psychedelic feel to it.
Yeah, all the songs kind of have that vibe. That’s a JJ Cale song that we did a cover of and we just kind of made it a little more rocking. But we tried to keep like a psychedelic vibe through the album.
Which song on the record changed the most from it’s original composition to it’s final recorded version?
Oh, the first song on the record, “Surprise.” I wrote that acoustically and the band, when we got in there and worked through it, the music just evolved and became a kind of rock thing that took it’s own life. So that is probably the one that changed the most.
Which song would you say almost didn’t make it onto the record?
You know, we actually cut out a bunch so everything that is there was what we absolutely couldn’t lose, you know what I mean. We cut out like three or four songs that we had recorded. I think we recorded like fifteen or so and there’s only nine there.
I love how you describe a bad day as an ugly color
Well, that wasn’t me. That was a homeless guy that I heard screaming that out when I was walking down through the Tenderloin in San Francisco. He was saying, “Today is an ugly color,” and I thought that was kind of profound in a sad way and I had to write that into a song.
How long did it take for it to BE a song?
I wrote the song the night that I heard that phrase. I went back to my hotel room and wrote it down.
What about the song “Set Me Down On A Cloud.”
I wrote that song and it’s actually a really sad story. Somebody came to my show one time and wrote me a letter afterwards saying it was the first time they were able to really feel good after they’d had a terrible, horrible accident where they accidentally ran over and killed their child. She wrote me this very long letter, I kept the letter, and asked me to write a song for her situation, so to speak, and so I did. I sat and wrote it and “Set Me Down On A Cloud” was kind of inspired by that story. It was a lot more stripped down. There is a version on YouTube actually of that song that was recorded pretty much right when I wrote that song. That one’s changed a bit, production-wise, but hopefully it still carries a weight to it.
How do you get through a song like that, especially when you’re writing it?
You know, I try and honor the art of it. I try and do my best to channel that energy into something positive, which is art. What’s done is done, the situation is there, and she wanted it somewhat immortalized in music and in art so I try and hold my head high and perform it without breaking down. And nowadays I can. When it first happened it was a teary-eyed thing. But I’ve always been able to lose myself in the music, so to speak, when I’m playing or singing, to the point where whatever I’m singing about doesn’t really bring me down. It’s just a matter of performing it well and singing it well and bringing the emotion into it and having a balance there too.
There was the song that Dad and I did, “Just Breathe.” I was asked to play that at one of my friend’s funeral and I had to get up there. A lot of his friends and my friends were there and the guy who wrote it, Eddie Vedder, was sitting there too and I had to get through it up there on the podium, you know, to all his family and everybody and sing this song that Eddie had written that our friend was really enamored by and that I did with my dad. And it was just a moment where if I can do that and get through it without crying, I can really do anything. I felt like crying and I had to look away. I couldn’t look at anybody. I had to just close my eyes and sing the song and I guess that’s the way I do it all the time.
Have you always written personal songs?
No, sometimes I put myself in other people’s shoes. There’s a new song I wrote called “Running Shine” that’s about moonshining and there’s songs that I’ve written where I’ve put myself in somebody else’s position. In fact, that song “Ugly Color” that you mentioned earlier, is sung from the point of view of a homeless man on the streets of San Francisco. So if you look at the lyrics, put yourself in somebody like that, his shoes, then the lyrics will make even more sense to you.
Your passion really comes through in your guitar playing. When you first started learning to play guitar what was the most difficult thing to get the hang of?
I don’t remember learning the guitar. I spent so many hours just shredding and listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hendrix and all these people that I loved, that I don’t remember the period really that I wasn’t good at it. I remember the very beginning and I remember just flashes of just sitting up in my room for eight hours a day playing guitar. I don’t remember the transition, what was harder to learn or not. I just remember diving in head first and not looking back.
Do you remember your earliest composed songs?
I wrote a song when I was ten or eleven years old called “You Were It” and I thought it was a great song and Dad liked it so much he put it on his record It Always Will Be  and that was when I knew I kind of had a gift for songwriting. So I kept at it from then on out, in addition to learning the guitar which I think was my saving grace because to be able to play guitar and sing and write and play other instruments as well, I think, really lends a certain credibility to what I do, especially being, you know, Dad’s son.
I feel like I can play a guitar out there with some of the best of them, you know. Maybe some people might disagree and I’m not trying to toot my own horn necessarily but I know I can hold my own with a lot of musicians out there and it has nothing to do with who my dad is, not that I’m trying to escape that in any way. I’m proud of who my dad is. I love him very much and he’s been the best father anybody could ever hope for. He’s guided me, he’s given me my space to grow, so I never try and run away from that like maybe somebody else would who is in the same situation. I always feel very blessed that he’s my dad. But learning another instrument and learning how to sing really well and learning how to play, that just keeps growing. This record that is coming out is two years old so the next stuff that comes out, it just keeps getting better, I think, as time goes by.
What is the biggest difference between playing with your dad and playing with Neil Young?
There’s no comparison. I played “Texas Flood” up there with Dad every night and I played rhythm guitar and I sat next to Mickey Raphael [Willie’s longtime harmonica player], who has been a mentor to me musically for my whole life. He’s great and I got the best learning there is and I got to be with my father onstage. With Neil, it’s rock & roll so I get to do what I’ve grown up loving as well besides country music. I love rock & roll so there is a little more energy freedom to get loud and do that, with Neil. They’re both two sides of the same coin, which is the most amazing experience of my life to be able to play with my father, who is my hero, with Neil, who is my hero, and with my band as well and keep my band at the same time. I don’t know how I got so lucky.
Yeah, your bass player kicks ass
I will tell him you said that (laughs). I’m glad to hear it.
You are playing Jazz Fest in New Orleans on May 1st with Neil. Are you going to do more shows with him or more headlining with your band?
We’ve got a full-on tour for the release of our record starting in May. We’ve got a show March 12th in LA to release the record and then we go out to Australia to Byron Bay playing the Blues Fest to help promote our record. Then we’re going with Neil in April. I think we’ve got two Promise Of The Real shows in April, then we go out with Neil and do San Antonio and a few shows down there and then we do Jazz Fest and then we go out in May with Promise Of The Real and do LA and San Francisco, Denver, San Diego and then we go to the East Coast. Then we get ready with Neil and go out to Europe. We’re doing a two month tour in Europe with Neil starting in June, going through July and into August. After that, hopefully this fall, maybe we can look at getting another record out at the end of the year, which would be really nice.