Joe Nick Patoski
by Charles G. Anderson, Jr.
Joe Nick Patoski kicked off the Texas Author Series at the Abilene Public Library on Monday talking about a Texas legend — Willie Nelson.
The country music icon is the subject of Patoski’s new book, “Willie Nelson: An Epic Life.” He said Willie Nelson was chosen for his book, because he is the most important music person in Texas in the last two centuries.
“Nelson represents the qualities that define Texas,” Patoski said. ”Nelson is Texas.”
Patoski is a veteran Texas Monthly magazine writer and has written six books and numerous other publications. His biography of Nelson won him the TCU Book Award as the best Texas book of the year in 2009. Patoski said he sold his first story to a little music magazine called Buddy for $25.
Patoski said he had other jobs while breaking into full-time writing.
“I have been a taxi driver, salesman, and radio announcer,” he said in an interview. “I have been very lucky and fortunate.”
Patoski said he had always loved to write.
“My English teachers in high school encouraged me,” he said.
About 30 people attended the talk, most of them staunch Nelson fans, coming from as far as Coleman and Sweetwater for the first fall brown-bag event sponsored by the Friends of Library.
Patoski told how Nelson started performing at the age of 5 near the family’s farm outside Waco.
“I talked to some of the old farm neighbors,” he said. “They said everybody was poor, but the Nelsons were dirt poor.” Patoski said Nelson picked cotton and plowed in the fields.
“That’s why he has concerts to aid farmers,” he said.
He said that Nelson arrived in Austin about the time that he came.
“Austin was a place in the 1970s that you could go there and have long hair without too much attention,” he said. “Nelson moved there in 1973.” Patoski said they had the scruffy appearance and could act different without getting whipped.
“Every now and then we would hear someone say, ‘get out the sheep shearer’,” he said.
He also told of a strange group of fans that Nelson had in Austin.
“Darrell Royal, the University of Texas football coach, was one of Nelson’s fans. Patoski said it was not unusual to find Royal where Nelson was singing in Austin.
When the old Methodist building near Nelson’s family home was up for sale, a friend called Nelson about it, Patoski said.
“How much do they want for it?” Nelson asked.
“They want $72.000,” the friend replied.
“Offer them $75.000 “ Nelson said.
“He never could manage money,” Patoski said. “That’s why he got into trouble with the IRS.”
He said when the IRS told him he owed millions that Royal and others offered to help him out. Some friends bought property and eventually he got things straight with the IRS.
“I had some interviews with Nelson, but this book is not authorized by him,” Patoski said. “I gave a copy of the book to him,” he said. “I don’t think he ever read it and I don’t think he is mad at me.”
“How long will he keep performing?” Shirley Alexander from Abilene asked.
“As long as he can,” Patoski answered.
Other programs are scheduled for Nov. 2 with Sherrie McLeroy discussing her book, “Bragging on Texas,” and Nov. 16 will feature author Gerald Saxon and photographer Jack Graves with their coffee-table book “Historic Texas from the Air.” The public is invited. Friends provide sandwiches for $4, or anyone can bring their own lunch.