Archive for the ‘Trigger’ Category

Trigger and Shakey Graves

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016


photo:  Gary Miller
by: Andy Langer

Screech. Scratch.

Screech. Scratch.

This is not the chorus Alejandro Rose-Garcia, a.k.a. Shakey Graves, expected to fill the room the first time he met Willie Nelson. And he never dreamed those sounds would come from carving his name into Trigger, Willie’s famously battered and autographed Martin N-20 classical guitar. But, indeed, earlier this month, at Willie’s recording studio in Pedernales, Willie handed Rose-Garcia to Trigger and told him, “Go ahead. Take that ballpoint and scratch your name in there.” And so he did.

“Obviously, I’m not worthy,” says Rose-Garcia, a born-and-raised Austinite who supported his critically acclaimed 2014 album, And The War Came, with an almost non-stop two-year run of high-profile festival gigs and sold-out headlining shows in mid-size clubs and theaters across the country. “I’m still trying to process it.”

Rose-Garcia met Willie October 3 as a guest host of Other Voices, an Irish television show often compared to Austin City Limits that recorded a series of episodes last week in Austin at Arlyn Studios and utilized a swath of acts playing the Austin City Limits Music Festival, including Mumford And Sons, Cage The Elephant, and Margo Price. The show’s session with Willie was the only one taped outside of Aryln.

Rose-Garcia says that for as many times as he’d seen pictures of Trigger, he’d never noticed the autographs until Willie handed him the guitar to inspect. But indeed, the signatures carved into the wood are a storied part of a storied guitar. Willie’s been collecting autographs on Trigger for the better part of four decades, ever since Leon Russell asked Willie to sign his guitar. Flattered Russell had asked him, Willie figured a swap was in order and had Russell sign Trigger at the same time. From there the collection grew. As Texas Monthly’s own Michael Hall wrote in a December 2012 profile of Willie’s guitar:

Some were famous musicians—Roger Miller, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson—and others were members of Willie’s band or crew: Paul English, Poodie, Budrock Prewitt, and Tune’n Tom, a.k.a. Tom Hawkins, who had become the guitar’s caretaker on the road, changing strings every three or four gigs and tuning it up. Some signed the guitar in Magic Marker or Sharpie, and their names were soon lost in the blood, sweat, and beers of the nightlife. Others scratched them in with a ballpoint pen but didn’t push deep enough, and their names too slowly faded. Soon Willie lost track of exactly who had signed his guitar.

“I know how it felt when Leon asked,” Willie said backstage last Thursday night at Austin City Limits’ Hall of Fame event. “So I try to pass that feeling along when I meet someone who I think would appreciate it. And Trigger knows I’m not going to hand him to nobody that’s gonna hurt him.”

John Selmen, Willie’s road manager, says prior to Rose-Garcia, the last time somebody signed Trigger was at a April 2013 celebration of Willie’s eightieth birthday. Just before taping CMT Crossroads: Willie Nelson & Friends From Third Man Records at Jack White’s record shop in Nashville, Willie asked both White and singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson to etch their names into the guitar. White’s signature is clearly visible at the very bottom of Trigger’s front side. Rose-Garcia’s now sits above and a few inches to the right—a place Willie chose for him.

Last week, we spoke to Rose-Garcia about the autograph he’d never dreamed of signing:

When did you know you’d be interviewing Willie?

I was in Los Angeles closing a round of shows with Gary Clark Jr. The Greek Theater was our last gig with Gary and my last night of touring for a while. I was supposed to go home after and get back to the drawing board. So it was kind of an emotional night, to end things at the Greek Theater playing with a dude I went to high school with in Austin [both Rose-Garcia and Clark went to Austin High School, a few grades apart]. Meanwhile my manager is there and says the Other Voices people hit us up and someone else was supposed to interview Willie Nelson but had some travel problems and got stuck in Europe. “Can you fly back early?” he asked. I said yes without hesitation.

So I land back in Austin at 1 p.m. the next day, and I’m supposed to start working for Other Voices at 2 p.m. I talked to the director and he said Willie is recording an album right now out at his home studio and we’re not even sure if he’ll talk to us. Nobody likes being busted in on when they’re recording. That’s sacred time. So there was a lot of doubt it would happen. But if it did, I figured I’d ask some questions about Ireland [where Other Voices is broadcast] and get out of there. I was down to fly by the seat of my pants.

Once you’re at Willie’s, he indeed agrees to stop the session and play some songs for the show?

Exactly. And it’s beautiful. Willie is just sitting there, smoking and playing music. His band are all in isolation booths. From our vantage point, the only person you can see in the room and hear is Willie- we’re only hearing his side of the songs. I’ve seen him play live only once—at Luck, on his property—and this time I’m in his space. And from ten feet away I watched him play “Always on My Mind.” It really shook me up. It was a really surreal experience. I love Willie. But I’m not a Willie Nelson historian. I have some albums I really love. But I’ve never gone down the well too far.

Is that because you grew up in Austin? Is it almost a rejection because it’s so expected that Willie would be the soundtrack of your life?

It’s not that at all. It’s that I don’t have to work too hard to listen to Willie Nelson. I feel like if you were from a different place and sought it out, you’d be more encyclopedic. But I have a good grasp on it. I love what he does and what he represents. But then he played “Always On My Mind” and my brain started turning. That song was written before I was born. And Willie’s version is from 1982. To me, it’s always just sort of existed. And it’s never been humanized in that way for me. And here, I’m watching him as an 83-year-old man working in a studio—something I also do for a living—sitting with headphones, a vape pen and a cup of coffee. And people are freaking out around him and he’s completely unphased by it. And here is this song I’ve heard so often in my life, but I’m really listening to it for the first time because he’s right here and I was only hearing his track. It freaked me out. I welled up. And while I’m still dealing with that, my mind and emotions reeling, they pull out a folding chair and put me in a seat next time him. I’ve never interviewed anyone in my life and didn’t know where to start.

He’s good with small talk. And jokes.

He was so easygoing. And so funny. We talked a little about Ireland. The show is taped in Dingle, and we laughed about it being where the berries come from. I think he might have sensed my nervousness, and he asked, “Do you pick?” I said, “Um. I do. A little bit?” With no hesitation he hands me Trigger. I genuinely didn’t feel the urge to touch it. At all. That’s his. But recently, I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan’s classic guitar, the SRV1, on display at the Texas State History Museum. Initially, I thought I wouldn’t care about it. But it’s similar to Trigger in that people have carved their initials in it—it’s a gnarly guitar. A guitar like that at some point stops being a guitar and becomes an artifact. This is that person’s life in a guitar. SRV1 took my breath away. And Trigger was obviously the same thing. I thought to myself, I’m not going to play a song. I don’t even want to handle it. I played really tentatively. And he asked, “What did you say your name was?” I said, “I’m Alejandro. But I play music as Shakey Graves. It’s a little confusing. I played your Fourth of July picnic.” Maybe it rang a bell. Maybe it didn’t. Right about then, I flipped Trigger up and took a minute to look at it. I saw the signatures all over it. So I pointed it out and said,”This is crazy. It feels like a lover’s lane—like Jesse + Francine = Love Forever.” And without hesitation he asks, “Does anyone have a ball point pen.” The room got real quiet real quick.

What’s going on in your head?

Part of me is thinking, ‘please let this go down. Do I have anything in my pocket? Am I maybe carrying a knife?’ I kind of see where this going, but it’s also not really believable A gentleman in the back—a photographer—threw out a ball point pen, Willie caught it, and he turns to me and says, “Scratch your name on in.” And in my head, I’m saying ‘What? No.’ I hesitated and he said, “Find yourself a good spot.” And then he pointed out a piece of real estate. I tried to be ginger and he said, “No. Really get in there. Your really have to scratch at it.” So I drew this little signature I’ve been doing before I was really a musician—a skull with an arrow through it with heart on the end of the arrow. And drew a little S and a G by its side. I said, “You like making people nervous, don’t you?” He laughed.

And yet your name is on Trigger. Forever.

Right after it happened I felt like I was in a car accident—my ears kind of popped. I went outside and couldn’t really fathom what just happened. Freddy, Willie’s nephew and one of the reasons Other Voices was in Austin, told me that kind of thing simply does not happen. He said over and over, “Did you just sign Trigger?”

And you know that at some point Trigger is headed to the Smithsonian. With your name etched in it.

What’s beautiful about the whole things is how illustrative it is of Willie’s generous spirit. And in my own personal sense, I’d really love to have a reason that my name is on that guitar. It makes me want to write something or create something that’s as lasting and enduring as my signature on Trigger. I’d like to be more than a local scratch-mark. But even if I am, I’ve made it, baby. I’d be fine with that.


Willie Nelson on Trigger

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016


[from the Program for ‘Celebrating the Music of Willie Nelson” concert event, when Willie Nelson received Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.   Nov. 2015]

Trigger, at rest

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016


Willie Nelson’s guitar

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016


Willie Nelson, on Guitar

Saturday, June 11th, 2016


A Willie Nelson fan and Trigger

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

I Touched Trigger

Growing up in the little town of Reidsville, North Carolina, the only Trigger I knew was the trusty steed of Roy Rogers, which I discovered while watching westerns after school at my grandfather’s house. But that all changed one Saturday night in the late nineties, when I stayed up to watch an Austin City Limitsrerun on PBS.

My father was a huge Willie Nelson fan, so I knew the hits—”Whiskey River,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “On the Road Again.” Those songs guided me toward a lifelong love affair with country music, helped along by the times my father would let us go into his office and listen to his records. I knew what Willie looked like from those album covers and commercials, but I never paid any attention to the guitar that made those songs come to life until that Saturday night two decades ago.

To many, it’s just a beat-up guitar. To gear nuts, it’s a 1969 Martin N-20. But to Willie fans, it’s a weathered extension of the wrinkled man himself—it’s Trigger, perhaps the most famous guitar in all of music. It’s a veritable piece of American history, and, last Sunday night, I got to hold it.

My band, American Aquarium, was opening for Willie in LaGrange, Georgia. Before the show, Willie’s drummer, Billy English, texted to ask if I’d like to come to the bus and meet the band. I introduced myself and took a seat, joining the standard “band guy” banter: Where you from? How long you guys been doing this? Where y’all heading next?

Everything changed when Billy asked, “Do you wanna meet Trigger?”

When they brought out that guitar case, I turned into a child on Christmas morning. They popped the latches, and there it was—the guitar I have associated with country music for most of my life. “Well, don’t just look at it, kid,” someone said. “Play it.” I lifted it from the case and stared at names like Leon Russell, Roger Miller, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, just a few of those who had played the guitar before me and offered their signature in black marker or by etching it into the wood itself. One instrument held almost fifty years of blood, sweat, and musical royalty. I played a John Prine tune and one of my own, then gently placed Trigger back in the case. I watched it disappear into the belly of the bus.

One day, I will take my children to the Smithsonian, introduce them to Trigger, and tell them the story of one of the coolest opportunities my career has afforded me. That guitar has been held by country music legends, presidents, and professional athletes—and now, a kid from Reidsville, too.

Willie Nelson, on guitar

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016


Willie Nelson’s guitar: It left the factory perfect, and then it got better

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016


Trigger’s Day Off

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Willie took Trigger for a ride on his day off. What do you do on your day off?

A photo posted by Willie Nelson (@willienelsonofficial) on

Willie Nelson and Trigger

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016


Special Guest added to Neil Young, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Lucinda Williams concert tonight Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016


Probably the biggest concert ever held at Whitewater is TONIGHT!

NEIL YOUNG w/ Promise of the Real & Special guest LUCINDA WILLIAMS –

Gates open at 6:00 and it appears one more HUGE special guest just got added to the show. ( Hint, hint below)

We still have some tickets .

Willie Nelson & Family (New Braunfels, TX) (April 15, 2016)

Monday, April 25th, 2016


Thanks so much to Janis Tillerson, for sharing her great photos from the Whitewater Amphitheater Willie Nelson & Family Show.
newbraun5 newbraun4 newbraun3 newbraun2 newbraun1

Trigger is in the house (Red Neck Country Club)

Friday, March 11th, 2016


Thanks Cherie, from Texas, for your photo from tonight’s show.

Willie Nelson and Trigger in the studio

Monday, March 7th, 2016


Texas Monthly

Willie Nelson’s Trigger: The Story of a Guitar (Texas Monthly)

Monday, March 7th, 2016


photo:  Andrew Shaptner
by: Michael Hall
Dec 2012

The guitar—a Martin N-20 classical, serial number 242830—was a gorgeous instrument, with a warm, sweet tone and a pretty “mellow yellow” coloring. The top was made of Sitka spruce, which came from the Pacific Northwest; the back and sides were Brazilian rosewood. The fretboard and bridge were ebony from Africa, and the neck was mahogany from the Amazon basin. The brass tuning pegs came from Germany. All of these components had been gathered in the Martin guitar factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and cut, bent, and glued together, then lacquered, buffed, and polished. If the guitar had been shipped to New York or Chicago, it might have been purchased by a budding flamenco guitarist or a Segovia wannabe. Instead it was sent to a guitarist in Nashville named Shot Jackson, who repaired and sold guitars out of a shop near the Grand Ole Opry. In 1969 it was bought by a struggling country singer, a guy who had a pig farm, a failing marriage, and a crappy record deal.

Willie Nelson had a new guitar.

Forty-three years later—after some 10,000 shows, recording sessions, jam sessions, songwriting sessions, and guitar pulls, most taking place amid a haze of tobacco and reefer smoke and carried out with a particular brand of string-pounding, neck-throttling violence—the guitar looks like hell. The frets are so worn it’s a wonder any tone emerges at all. The face is covered in scars, cuts, and autographs scraped into the wood. Next to the bridge is a giant maw, a gaping hole that looks like it was created by someone swinging a hammer.

Most guitars don’t have names. This one, of course, does. Trigger has a voice and a personality, and he bears a striking resemblance to his owner. Willie’s face is lined with age and his body is bent with experience. He’s been battered by divorce, the IRS, his son Billy’s suicide, and the loss of close friends like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and his longtime bass player Bee Spears. In the past decade, Willie has had carpal tunnel surgery on his left hand, torn a rotator cuff, and ruptured a bicep. The man of flesh and bone has a lot in common with the guitar of wire and wood.

“Trigger’s like me,” Willie said with a laugh on a cool morning last April at his ranch by the Pedernales River. “Old and beat-up.”

He cradled the guitar in his lap, pulled out a pick, and began to play. The song was one of his favorites, Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” a melancholy instrumental that was popular in France during the Nazi occupation. Willie knows every square centimeter of Trigger, and the fingers on his left hand ascended the rough fretboard and played the high yearning riff that begins each verse, then descended, gently following the melody as the fingers on his right hand picked single notes and plucked chords. He played the riff again, this time descending quickly, bending a string and shaking the guitar’s battered neck. He started to play the melody again, then bounced a chord off it—da da!—and started to play some other notes, but they slammed into each other—blonk!—and he went back to the main theme. He played the verse again, rushing it slightly and throwing in a succession of loud, falling notes that changed the tune. At the end he paused and finished with a cascade of sounds, like a leaf falling from a tree.

After a sip of coffee, Willie bent his head and played another Django song, fingering a melody at the top of Trigger’s fretboard and playing a descending riff based around a jazz chord. Willie’s hands are large and veined, and his fingers moved quickly over the strings. They sped to the top again for the second verse, and this time the middle finger on his right hand strummed the strings Spanish-style so quickly it looked like a hummingbird. The song came to the bridge, and Willie played loud, clashing chords, then went back to the verse. He ended with a final clanging descent and a soft chord.

Willie Nelson, the country songwriter, pop crooner, outlaw hero, marijuana scofflaw, and farmer’s friend, is also a jazz musician. A really good jazz musician. He improvises, plays what he feels, makes mistakes, and plays some more, always coming back to the melody, buzzing around it like a bee. Some guitarists are careful about every note; they handle their instruments as carefully as a landscape artist handles a brush. Willie treats Trigger like a horse, and he rides him hard.

Willie became the guitarist he is by playing this instrument, which he has worn and shaped with his own hands, working his very personality into the wood until it sounds like no other guitar on earth. Most nylon-stringed guitars have a rich, round tone, and they are difficult to tell apart. Trigger is so distinctive—low tones that thump like they have mud on them, high ones that chime like glass—that you can hear one or two notes on the radio and know immediately whom you’re listening to.

No guitar is as beloved—or as famed. On Trigger’s face you can see the topography of modern music, the countless hours Willie has spent playing country, blues, jazz, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, swing, folk, reggae, thirties pop, forties pop, and eighties pop. Trigger was there at the very beginning of outlaw country. He was there at the first Farm Aid. And he was there when Willie serenaded President Jimmy Carter. He has shared stage and studio with Ray Charles and Bob Dylan. He has hung from Willie’s neck as tens of thousands of fans sang along to “Whiskey River.” And he has sat in Willie’s lap as Willie comforted friends, such as the time the two of them played “Healing Hands of Time” to Darrell and Edith Royal in their home after their daughter’s death, and then again nine years later after their son’s death.

Without Willie, there would be no Trigger. And it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that without Trigger, there would be no Willie. Willie likes to say that his guitar will probably wear out just about the same time he does. But instead of slowing down, as most people do when they approach their ninth decade, Willie keeps doing the things he’s been doing for years, and so does Trigger. The pair did more than 150 shows this year, and they’ll likely do about that many in 2013. They’ll make some more albums and write some more songs. They’ll play as if they’re going to play forever.

It All Began With a Drunk

According to legend, Roy Rogers stumbled across his famous horse back in 1938 when he was preparing to shoot a movie. The horse was a palomino named Golden Cloud. Rogers rode him, fell in love with how he handled, bought him, and then changed his name. A singing cowboy with a guitar and a gun needed a horse with a name like Trigger.