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Willie Nelson in Mother Earth News (May/June 1987)

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Mother Earth News
May/June 1987
Farm Aid’s Founder:  Willie Nelson
Patrick Carr

It’s midwinter in Tampa, Florida, and as usual the weather is warm going on stifling.  Willie Nelson really needs the air conditioner humming peacefully in his mobile home away from home, the Silver Eagle Honeysuckle Rose.

In his own, quiet, careful way, Willie’s all business today.  Waiting in the cool, dark comfort of the bus for the horde of people his presence will draw to town tonight, he’s working hard:  poring over snapshots of himself and his sister Bobbie outside the Abbott, Texas, church in which they learned to sing, for the cover of a genuine hard-core Christian mail-order gospel album; making little decisions about the set he and his band of honky-tonk gypsies will play tonight; ordering up a carefully nutritious chicken dinner from the kitchen bus that travels with his five-vehicle caravan, then forgetting to eat it; talking business with little haste or waste of words or energy, on the radio telephone at his elbow.

The business concerns the usual megastar matters — movie promotion, investment opportunities, the touring schedule, a $1.5 million book contract — but also something seemingly out of place in this context:  the Farm Aid cause, Mr. Nelson’s foray into public service.  Cocooned amid Tampa’s concrete consumerism, the former Bible salesman, and latter-day multimillionaire is taking time to help the family farmers of his country fight back against government policy, big business and the economics of scale.

There is something rather special about Willie Nelson.  It was he, after all, who united the rednecks and the hippies and the surburbanites of the 1970s in appreciation of a style of country music considered both archaic and impossibly uncommercial by the Nashville powers-that-were.  Likewise his image — a lovely blend of longhair, cowboy, rebel, hardcore party legend and wise old man — is suggestive.

It’s no wonder he’s such an institution.  You can look up to some entertainers (Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Paul McCartney), but Willie invites involvement, not distance.  The dominant element of his stare — a thoroughly savvy serenity — is mighty trustworthy.

That invitation to trust must have been part of his image all along.  Certainly it was during his late teenage years, when he was already trying to get ahead in the world by promoting dance concerts throughout east Texas, earning his percentage from acts like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Milton Brown and the Brownies, Spade Cooley, and the legendary Ernest Tubb while he watched from the wings and learned the ropes.  It also impressed the folks in the Nashville big leagues after Willie had decided to forgo his studies for the Baptist ministry in favor of a full-time career in the hillbilly highway nightlife; you need a lot more than even the kind of devastating song-writing talent Willie possesses to become a primary source for the Music Row hit machine the way he did in pretty short order.  And when eventually his ambitions outstripped what Nashville was willing to offer and he made his legendary end-run around Music Row, his aura so impressed the college hippies of Austin, texas, that not too long after he’d been among them they began to buy posters proclaiming, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and Willie,” and to enshrine them in their places of fun and meditation.

A Nashville executive describes his experience:  “It was amazing, just wonderful,” says the Nashville executive.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.  Neil Reshen (Willie’s manager) was so bad — I mean, you really wanted to have the man arrested; the secretaries used to run for the bathroom when he showed up.  But when you talked to Willie, it was like negotiating with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and you were so relieved you didn’t have to deal with Neil that you gave Willie whatever he wanted.  But, of course, what Neil wanted and what Willie wanted were the same things.  They were working the good cop, bad cop routine, the oldest con in the world, but they did it so well you didn’t realize what was going on till it was all over.  And by then you’d done a deal you’d never have even dreamed of otherwise.  Willie just outplayed me, and he ended up getting what he really deserved.  And all that means is he’s smarter than I am.  He just has to turn that smile on you, and you’re hooked.  But now I take him seriously.  He may be beautiful, but he’s not dumb.”

Such a man — with his hard-earned combination of country compassion, common sense and carefully honed business skills – would have been the perfect choice if American farmers had gone looking for a leader in their hour of need.  That’s not how it happened, though.  It was Willie who went unbidden to the farmers.

September 1985 was when it began, in Champagne, Illinois, as a notion kicked around between Willie and his crew in the wake of Bob Geldof’s Life Aid marathon.  As Willie recalls, in the low-to-vanishing key for which he is renowned, “I have no idea how it got started.  I was just sitting in the bus….”

Like a large proportion of the projects Willie judges worthy, the 14-hour Farm Aid benefit moved from the idea to action with little further ado.  It was set up with minimum fuss and executed with slightly less toll and craziness than usually attends a mammoth outdoor music festival featuring multiple major entertainers.  (Which figures.  After more than a decade of organizing and hosting his legendary Fourth of July picnics, Willie is perhaps the world’s premier mastermind of such events.)   When it was all over — when Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Alabama, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson, Bon Jovi, Joni Mitchell, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, Neil Young, Merle Haggard, John Cougar Mellencamp and some 45 other acts had done their thing and the TV viewers who watched them had sent in their donations — Willie and his crew suddenly found themselves in temporary possession of a great deal of donated money.

That came as something of a shock.  “I figured people would respond,” says Willie, “but not nearly as well as they did, and as all that money started rollin’ in, I had to rethink my position.  I realized I had to do a lot more than make some calls and go out and sing.  My name was attached to that money, so by necessity I had to take responsibility and decide that I would be the one who writes the checks.  So that’s what happens, nothing goes out without my signature on it.  And so far, I know that every quarter of that money has gone to benefit the family farmer in some way.”

After Farm Aid One in Illinois and Farm Aid Two, held in Austin on the Fourth of July, 1986, the approximate total for which Willie has taken responsibility is $14 million.

And Willie doesn’t just sign the checks, he approves them.

“He makes the final decision,” says Caroline Mugar, the director of Farm Aid (Willie is Chairman of the Board).  “We just do the research on what’s going on, who’s doing what where, what they hope to do and how they’ve used the money they’ve already gotten, and we make recommendations.  Then Willie decides.”

“My dad is fine” — Paula Nelson

Monday, May 7th, 2018

“Okay, peoples here we go again.  My dad is not sick.  He is fine and enjoying his time off in Maui.  Thank you for your concerns.

I don’t know all the people that are starting these rumors.  But I know of one.  For some time now a man named Eddie Lee has been claiming to be my dad’s oldest son.  Not true.  The guy is a total fruitcake who has been threatening my real brothers for years.  And he has been posting on social media that my dad is sick.  Total BS!!

My message board is filled up with messages asking about my dad’s health.  Like I said, he is just fine and about to go on tour May 16th.  Please do not accept requests from Eddie Lee and by all means do not believe a word he says.”

— Paula Nelson

Happy Shoeshine Friday!

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Willie Nelson, Cowboys and Indians (July 2017)

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Photography: Rodney Bursi

www.cowboysandindians.com
by:  Jon Leydon

Willie Nelson arguably is the most energetic octogenarian in country music. But even he admits that aging into the role of gray eminence has its downside. Indeed, the celebrated Red Headed Stranger repeatedly addresses the subject throughout God’s Problem Child, his most recent album, which Rolling Stone writer Jeff Gage aptly and admiringly described as Nelson’s “stark, honest, sometimes bleak, and often funny look at mortality and the specter of his own death.”

In “Old Timer,” one of the album’s most poignantly melancholy cuts, Nelson sings: “One by one, your friends have crossed over. You pray for mercy and a few more days. Still got dreams inside your head. Some days it’s a struggle just to get out of bed.”

On the other hand: Don’t assume he’s looking to quit cheating the reaper anytime soon. Another album cut, “Still Not Dead,” which Nelson co-wrote with Buddy Cannon, comically insists that reports of his impending demise are way too premature. “The internet said I had passed away,” but pay that no mind. “I run up and down the road, making music as I go. They say my pace would kill a normal man. But I’ve never been accused of being normal anyway. And I woke up still not dead again today.”

So there.

Listening to those lyrics, I was reminded of the day in April 2015 when I got to hang out in Luck, Texas?—?the faux Old West town Nelson maintains on his ranch near Austin?—?and watch while the Country Music Hall of Famer and occasional actor filmed Waiting for the Miracle to Come, a still-unreleased indie feature co-starring Charlotte Rampling. Even then, mortality was on Nelson’s mind. But not so seriously that he couldn’t shrug it off.

“Honestly, and I mean this sincerely, I do 150 shows a year or whatever, and we do some recording in there, and we do a movie here and there, or a video,” Nelson told me after wrapping up the day’s shooting. “And I’m always amazed that I wake up the next day feeling good and ready to go do it again. I’m 82 years old, so that’s kind of a miracle in itself.”

Nelson is now 84. And judging from a recent TV interview he did in Luck with veteran CBS newsman (and, not incidentally, longtime country music aficionado) Bob Schieffer, he continues to feel pretty dang miraculous.

“Everything’s going good,” Nelson told Schieffer. “I think age is just a number. It’s the way I’ve heard it all my life: It’s not how old you are, it’s how you feel. And I’ve been lucky with [everything], health-wise and career-wise.” Laughing, he added: “I haven’t really got anything to bitch about!”

In other words, life is good. And as anyone who knows anything about Willie Nelson can tell you?—?go ahead, cue the “On the Road Again” lyrics?—?the life he loves is making music with his friends. He’ll be doing just that, again, this summer as the headliner of the Outlaw Music Festival Tour, a multi-genre traveling concert that kicks off July 1 in New Orleans, and continues on to Dallas (July 2); Rogers, Arkansas (July 6); Detroit (July 8); Milwaukee (July 9); and Syracuse, New York (July 16). Among the rotating array of artists who’ll be joining Nelson: Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, The Avett Brothers, My Morning Jacket?—?and Nelson’s son, Lukas Nelson, who’ll be performing with his father and his own band, Promise of the Real.

Lukas, whose group has also toured with Neil Young, says that he has learned from his father some invaluable lessons about sustaining his enthusiasm, and his sanity, while on the road for lengthy stretches. “Exercise is important,” he says. (Willie Nelson, it should be noted, celebrated his 81st birthday by earning his fifth-degree black belt in Gong Kwon Yusul, a Korean martial arts discipline.) “And having a routine that you stick to really helps you keep your head on straight. When you’re on the road, all your surroundings are changing all the time, and it can feel chaotic. You can lose your sense of balance. So you need to have a set routine: You wake up, you work out a little bit, you go to sound check, you kind of do the same thing every day. And that really helps.”

 

These days, Willie Nelson’s sons Micah (pictured in black) and Lukas (in plaid) often tour with their dad and play with him onstage. Photography: Ebet Roberts/Getty Images

Also?—?and don’t try this at home, kids?—?there is an occasional indulgence that has famously worked for Willie Nelson.

“You try and keep it pretty mellow,” Lukas concedes. “And weed is pretty mellow. … But that’s pretty much the only thing he does. He doesn’t drink. And he also keeps his family around him. He makes sure he’s got good folks around him that don’t sap his energy too much. They give him inspiration.”

Another musically inclined Nelson offspring, Micah Nelson, also tours with Dad when he isn’t busy with his own endeavors. (In addition to sometimes playing with Promise of the Real, he divides his time between the group Insects vs Robots and, more recently, his “experimental musical identity,” Particle Kid.) Last year, when he recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side,” he updated the classic protest song with slightly altered lyrics to make it more relevant to contemporary events. It’s an approach, he says, partially inspired by his father’s willingness to keeps things fresh by mixing things up while on tour.

“For the most part,” Micah says, “it’s been kind of the same show for decades now. But at the same time, he never plays the same show twice. It’s always like he’s playing it for the first time. He’ll throw in new songs. He’ll kind of skip verses. He’ll extend things. He keeps it fresh every night.” If you’re performing with him, “You’re never allowed to just be phoning it in. He’s never going through the motions?—?even though he’s basically doing the same show.

“That spontaneity, that energy, that sense of anything can happen at any minute is not only what keeps an audience captivated, and keeps them coming to the shows night after night. It also keeps you engaged, and keeps the band engaged. It keeps every show fresh and different and unique.”

Echoing his brother Lukas, Micah says that, while on the road, his father “finds his routines. He likes to play chess and poker. He likes to smoke cannabis, and he likes to watch western films. He keeps the news on most of the time. He has his bike out on the road, so he’ll ride his bike around if he can and try to stay fit.

“I think there’s something that seems to be in our blood, where if we’re home long enough, we’re antsy and restless, and we need to get back on the road. Then, if you’re on the road long enough, it’s really great to come home and just chill and not think about playing shows for a minute. It’s kind of this symbiotic relationship between the road and being at home. They bleed into one another.”

Photography: Jason Janik

Willie Nelson has told me that, yes, he truly does appreciate downtime on his ranch. On a typical day there, “I go look at my horses. I can look at the weather. There’s a lot of beautiful things out here to see.” But after a while, he can’t resist the siren call of the road because, well, he’s still not dead.

“There’s a certain kind of energy exchange that takes place in a concert no matter who it is, me or whoever,” Nelson believes. “People pay money to come see it, and for some reason, they usually all are clapping their hands, and they’re singing. And for some reason, I enjoy it too. When we can all get together and exchange that good positive energy, it makes for a good show.

“Yeah, you know, you look around and you don’t see too many guys out here as old as I am still doing one-nighters and still enjoying it. Still having good crowds. So, yeah, I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”

And he remains thankful to the folks who have made it all possible.

“Willie reminds me of Walter Cronkite,” Schieffer says. “When people used to ask me what Walter was really like, I always said, ‘He’s just the way you want him to be.’ He was without question the most famous and recognized man in America?—?but he always had time for the folks who wanted an autograph or a handshake. That’s Willie.”

Schieffer recalls that after wrapping up their Luck conversation, Nelson “didn’t know we were following him, but we wanted a picture of him leaving. So we went down to the place where the bus was waiting to take him to the next show. Now keep in mind: He had been up past midnight doing a show the night before, he was dead tired and had a six-hour bus ride ahead of him. But as he was getting on the bus, a guy appeared out of nowhere with three or four items to sign. And then he asked Nelson for a selfie. Most celebrities would have brushed the guy off. But as tired as he was, and as anxious as he was to get going, Willie stood there, talked to the guy, signed all the stuff, and took three or four pictures. Finally his wife made him get on the bus.

“I love the guy. When I asked him when he was going to retire, he said, ‘All I do is play golf and music. Why would I want to quit either of those things?’ Pretty good philosophy.”


From the July 2017 issue

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

Willie Nelson performs at Peabody Opera House in St. Louis on Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

Photo by Jon Gitchoff

Monday, April 16th, 2018

Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic at Austin360 Amphitheater on July 4, 2016 in Austin, Texas.
Erika Rich for American-Statesman

“For the Good Times” — Willie Nelson honors Ray Price

Friday, April 13th, 2018

willieforthegoodtimes

1. “Heartaches by the Number (featuring the Time Jumpers)”
2. “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me) (featuring the Time Jumpers)”
3. “Faded Love”
4. “It Always Will Be”
5. “City Lights (featuring the Time Jumpers)”
6. “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me(featuring the Time Jumpers)”
7. “Make the World Go Away”
8. “I’m Still Not Over You”
9. “Night Life”
10. “Crazy Arms (featuring the Time Jumpers)”
11. “Invitation to the Blues (featuring the Time Jumpers)”
12. “For The Good Times”

Willie Nelson was a former member of Price’s Cherokee Cowboy and close life-long friend. Willie recorded the twelve-track album at Ocean Way Studios, where Price also recorded. Engineered by Fred Foster and Bergen White, the album features Vince Gill on six tracks.

Working closely with two longtime friends — producer Fred Foster and conductor-arranger Bergen White — Nelson recorded the album at Nashville’s Ocean Way Studios.

Willie Nelson art by Mark Marturello

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

by:  Mark Marturello

See more of his Willie Nelson art here.

Alison Krauss announces shows with Willie Nelson

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

www,979kickfm.com

Alison Krauss is hitting the road for a massive 50-stop tour that will see her paired with Willie Nelson on many of the dates.

Krauss’ 2018 tour is set to launch on May 16 in Tulsa, Okla. Quite a few of the shows on the tour are co-headlining dates with Nelson and his Family Band, and the schedule also features several festival dates.

Krauss has released 14 albums over the course of her career, and she has earned an astounding 16 Grammy Awards over the decades. Her most recent project is Windy City, an album of covers she released in 2017. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums and Top Bluegrass Albums charts and scored Krauss two additional Grammy nominations. She worked with producer Buddy Cannon on the project, who has worked extensively with Nelson over the years.

Tickets for most of Krauss’ upcoming tour dates will go on sale on April 6. Tickets for her show in Pittsburgh will go on sale on April 13 at 10AM local time, and tickets for her concert in Selbyville will go on sale April 16 at 10 AM local time. Krauss’ South Bend concert goes on sale on April 20 at 10 AM local time, and tickets for her Milwaukee tour date are set to go on sale April 6, at 12 PM local time. Visit Krauss’ website for tickets and more information about the tour.

Alison Krauss’ 2018 Tour Dates and shows with Willie Nelson: (more…)

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

rymanchrisparton5

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

river2

Paula Nelson and Margo Price (Luck, Texas)

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

Willie Nelson Music

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings GershwinWillie Nelson & Merle Haggard

  • Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie - Willie’s Stash, Vol. 1: December Day
  • To All the Girls
  • Let's Face the Music and Dance
  • Heroes
  • Remember Me, Vol. 1
  • Willie Nelson - Icon
  • Run That By Me One More Time
  • Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Genius of Ray Charles
  • In Defense: Vol 1 The Civil Liberties Defense Center
  • Country Music
  • American Classic
  • Lost Highway
  • Naked Willie
  • Willie And The Wheel
  • One Hell Of A Ride
  • Moment Of Forever
  • Two Men With The Blues
  • 16 Biggest Hits, Volume 2
  • Songbird
  • You Don't Know Me: The Songs Of Cindy Walker
  • Countryman
  • Songs For Tsunami Relief: Austin To South Asia
  • Songs
  • It Always Will Be
  • Outlaws And Angels
  • Live At Billy Bob's Texas
  • Nacogdoches
  • Live And Kickin'
  • The Essential Willie Nelson
  • Crazy: The Demo Sessions
  • Willie Nelson & Friends Stars & Guitars
  • All Of Me- Live In Concert
  • The Great Divide
  • Rainbow Connection
  • Good Ol' Country Singin'
  • Milk Cow Blues
  • Tales Out Of Luck (Me And The Drummer)
  • Night And Day
  • Teatro
  • 16 Biggest Hits
  • How Great Thou Art
  • Spirit
  • Willie Standard Time
  • Augusta
  • Revolution Of Time...The Journey 1975/1993
  • Just One Love
  • Super Hits, Volume 2
  • Moonlight Becomes You
  • Six Hours At Pedernales
  • Healing Hands Of Time
  • Super Hits
  • Across The Borderline
  • Any Old Arms Won't Do
  • The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories?
  • Yours Always
  • Born For Trouble
  • A Horse Called Music
  • What A Wonderful World
  • Island In The Sea
  • Partners
  • The Promiseland
  • Me And Paul
  • Half Nelson
  • City Of New Orleans
  • Angel Eyes
  • Take It To The Limit
  • Tougher Than Leather
  • Without A Song
  • Always On My Mind
  • The Best Of Willie Nelson
  • 20 Of The Best
  • Minstrel Man
  • Somewhere Over The Rainbow
  • Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be)
  • The Electric Horseman
  • Honeysuckle Rose
  • Family Bible
  • Sings Kristofferson
  • Pretty Paper
  • Sweet Memories
  • One For The Road
  • There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight
  • Stardust
  • Willie And Family Live
  • Face Of A Fighter
  • To Lefty From Willie
  • Willie- Before His Time
  • The Sound In Your Mind
  • The Longhorn Jamboree Presents: Willie Nelson & His Friends
  • The Troublemaker
  • Willie Nelson Live
  • Red Headed Stranger
  • Spotlight On Willie Nelson
  • Phases And Stages
  • Country Winners
  • Shotgun Willie
  • The Words Don't Fit The Picture
  • The Willie Way
  • Willie Nelson and Family
  • Yesterday's Wine
  • Both Sides Now
  • Laying My Burdens Down
  • Columbus Stockade Blues
  • Good Times
  • My Own Peculiar Way
  • Texas In My Soul
  • Make Way For Willie Nelson
  • The Party's Over and Other Great Willie Nelson Songs
  • Country Favorites - Willie Nelson Style
  • Country Music Concert
  • Country Willie - His Own Songs
  • Here's Willie Nelson
  • And Then I Wrote

Willie Nelson Music in the Movies and tv

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

www.tvovermind.com

Just a few of the movies that have benefited from his songs.

5. The Scientist – The Judge

Robert Downey Jr. plays a successful lawyer whose father has just been convicted of running down a man with his truck. Upon heading home however he’s greeted with a very surly and unfriendly attitude as the tensions between him and his father heat up after years of not speaking to one another. Their issues are eventually put on the table but not completely resolved as he seeks to defend his father no matter how they feel about one another.

4. Midnight Run – Lawless

Lawless is essentially the story of three brothers that run a fairly successful alcohol distribution business in the back woods, far away from where the law sees fit to touch them. When problems begin to arise and their business starts to suffer however they eventually find the need to fight back. The only problem is that their enemies are bringing the big guns, as in hired lawmen and ruthless criminals that will stop at nothing to see them ruined.

3. Hello Walls – Legion

I couldn’t find the clip but I know that this song is used in the scifi film Legion in which God has finally tired of mankind’s wickedness and has sent the hounds of heaven to possess anyone and everyone they can in an attempt to cleanse the world and stop the birth of a young child that can bring humanity back to its senses. The only help that humanity will have until then is the archangel Michael, who has forsaken his place in heaven to protect the child from his heavenly brethren.

2. Good ol Boys – Dukes of Hazzard

What’s so great about this is that Willie actually starred in the remake of The Dukes of Hazzard along with Sean William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Jessica Simpson, and Burt Reynolds. He took the role of Uncle Jessie and made it a tad bit funnier than it had been in the past, which is to say that I don’t recall Uncle Jessie getting high in the barn using an apple as a bong.

1. On The Road Again – Shrek

Okay this one isn’t performed by Willie Nelson but it is his song. Shrek just seemed like a nice way to end this list, funny and touching but not too sappy.

Willie Nelson is going to be remembered throughout history as one of the greats.