Country Weekly (7/18/95)


Willie Nelson
20 years after ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’
July 18, 1995

“I think the country sound has changed a lot,” Willie told Country Weekely, exactly 20 years after “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” became his first chart-topping success.  “The country music I hear today on the raido sounds alot like a mixture of rock n’ roll, and that’s fine; it’s got a good beat.

“OF course, there’s some traditional-sounding country music – Alan Jackson does some great country things.  There’s a lot of great things happening out there (but) there’s a lot of music that sounds a lot alike.  I”m waiting for another Merle Haggard to come along; I’m wiating for another Patsy Cline.

“Or even Faron Young,” he said with a hearty laugh, poking fun at his longtime friend.  “Or Carl Smith.  I’m ready for somebody with that kind of character to come into country music who brings great songs that live forever.  I think we’re lacking in that department.” 

Country music was also lacking something until July 19, 1975, when a little-known singer-songwriter named Willie Nelson released a cover of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and 11weeks later found himself and his song on the top of the charts.

“When I did it, the song was already more than 20 years old,” he said.  “I used to do it back in the ’40’s when it first came out; Elton Britt and Roy Acuff both had it out.

“When I was writing the Red Headed Stranger album, that song fit the story that I was putting togethre.  It ws my first album for CBS  (now Sony Music), and I was allowed to do it the way I wanted to.  they weren’t too knocked out over it in the beginning.”

Many believe Red Headed Stranger, country music’s first concept album, was the best of the beloved Outlaw’s nearly 200 releases.  Willie agrees, but rates his multiplatinum Stradust, which stayed on the charts for 10 years just as highly. 

It’s ironic that the writer of such classics as Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” Ray Price’s “Night Life” and Faron Young’s “Hello Walls” would break through as a recording artist with someone else’s song, in this case Fred Rose.  In the 13 years before Willie struck pay dirt with his first No. 1, he had charted with 27 singles.  Yet the Top 10 promised land remained unfamiliar terrain.  Only Wille’s first two singles, released in 1962, “Willingly” and “Touch Me,” made the Top 10.

“I’ve thought about that a lot, that it took one of those old standards to really get the attention of everybody,” he acknowledged.   Willie’s distinctive voice, profile songwriting prowess and eclectic tastes have landed him in the prestigious Country Music Hall of Fame.  “Who do i think should be next in the Hall of Fame?” he responded to our question.  “They don’t have Ray Price in there yet.  They don’t have Carl Smith in there.  There’s a bunch of them that aren’t in there.  They’ll get them in there eventually’. 

He cited Magnatone artist Shelby Lynn as the one contemporary country singer who best mirrors the Outlaw spirt of WIllie, Waylon and the boys.  But he added, “I think anybody that’s trying to do what they want to do, the why the want to do it qualifies.”

The 62-year-old, who’s record 17 No. 1 songs, is still a busy outlaw.  He recently made a one-hour video with his daughter Lana and is having fun recording western novelist Louis L’Amour’s books on tape.  His Highwayment Tour with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson just ended.  His latest albums are Healing Hands of TIme and The Road Goes on Forever, the latter his third with The Highwaymen.

In the 20 years since “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rian” put him on the road to becoming a cultural icon, Willie has hit a few potholes.

“I have no regrets,” he asserted.  His philosphy has alwyas been to live and let live, and what goes around, comes around.  A busload of success and acclaim have come around for Willie Nelson.

“One of the things I”m proudest of is Farm Aid.  [that’s because] the music is much more personal, and Farm Aid is something that has to do with the welfare of everybody.  Buddy Lee is the guy who really got Farm Aid started and made the first [Farm Aid concert] possible.”

Buddy, Wille’s longtime booking agent, heads one of country music’s largest talent agencies.  They thank each other for their success.

“Willie’s the greatest I’ve ever worked with,” said Buddy, himself a standout figure in the entertainment world

“In September the singer-songwriter plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Farm Aid, whose fundraising organization he chairs, with a concert tentatively slated for Louisville, Ky.  Public service spots for Farm Aid, and its ongoing mission of helping family farmers, are running until the end of the year on TNN, the Nashville Network.  They feature Willie, Waylon, Reba McEntire, Lorri Morgan, Marty Stuart and Ricky Van Shelton.

Apart from Farm Aid, music, videos, films, television and his other public endeavors, Willie does have a private side.

“Willie lives the life that he lives and it has never changed.  Playing music is what enables him to do that,” publicist Evelyn Shriver told us.  “Even when Willie was at the height of his success, he lived exactly as he does today.”

He always eats in the same kinds of restaurant, usually home cooking or Mexiacn.  He stays in great hotels and always hires limos in New York and L.A.  He still goes to Abbott, Texas, to play poker with hometown friends. 

“He owns a big golf course, a country club, a recording studio and homes in Texas and Maui.  His life on the bus has been the same for the last 20 years, surrounded by most of the same people,” Shriver pointed out.  “The newest member of his band, [harmonica player] Mickey Raphael, has been with Willie for 22 years.”

“I don’t think he has ‘best friends,’ but he has an awful lot of good friends.”  Highwaymen Waylon, Kris and Johnny may be the most celebrated of those friends, but they aren’t in constant contact.

Willie’s always in contact with his musical side, and after more than three decades, the Red Headed Straner believes he still has unfinished business.

“I still have a couple of albums I wnat do do with a few people that I haven’t done albums with,” he said.  “I want to do a blues album with B.B. King.  I’d still like to maybe get with Quincy Jones or somebody like that and do a big-band album.  I’m still thinking about dong music.”

Bruce Honick

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