Goldmine Magazine (1/6/95) – Willie Nelson (Phases and Stages)


Goldmine Magazine
January 6, 1995
Willie Nelson:  Phases and Stages
by Bill deYoung
(Part I)

Well hello there!
My, it’s been a long, long time

With his beatific smile and twinkling bright eyes, Willie Nelson looks like the most serene and centered man on the planet.  When he’s wearing a Stetson hat or a wide red bandanna (both trademarks of his for many years), he brings to mind a sort of Western Santa Claus, someone you’d trust to slide down your chimney and come into your house with a sackful of cap guns.  Singng a cowboy tune.

How’m I doing?
Oh, I guess that I’m doing’ fine

There has never been a singer like Willie Nelson.  He’s a genre-jumper.  The rich, mellow timbre of his voice, going tip-toe over the kind of casual jazz phrasing Frank Sinatra used to be able to do in his sleep, gives Nelson the opiton of singing virtually any style of music and giving it his distinctive stamp.  He transcends country music; he transcends music, period.

It’s no wonder Willie Nelson is considered an American folk hero. In the best American tradition, he is tireless and his talent is timeless.

It’s been so long now
and it seemsthat it was only yesterday.

For 30 years, Willie Nelson has flown in the face of convention.  He’s taken the notion of what a country singer should be and smashed it, time and again, against the sometimes brutal rocks of contemporary show business.

And even though he often found hiimself between those rocks and a veritable hard place.  Nelson never waivered in his belief that the individual should be alllowed to espress himself, wherever the arena, using the gifts he’s been given.  It took him a long time to hit because Nashville – and the world- was suspicious of him. He didn’t look or sound like he came out of any mold.

When he and success found themselves at last running neck-and-neck on the same horse track, Nelson made up for loot time.  To date, he has recorded country, swing jazz, Western swing and straight-ahead jazz; he’s made albums of pop standards and albums of gospel standards.  He’s sung duets with the biggest stars in the world, not just country vocalists but pop, jazz, rock and roll and rhythm and blues singers.   He’s made movies, hes made TV shows, he’s made news, he’s made history.  He made a lot of money.  And he lost a lot of money.

Gee, ain’t it funny how time slips away.

Nelson himself chuckles at a suggestion that he’s fearless.  “If I am, I’m probably stupid,” he said with a grin.  “I think fearlessness and stupidity go together.  It’s real corny, but the first line that comes to my mind are words that I’ve followed all my life.  There was a movie with Fess Parker playing Davy Crockett:  ‘Be sure you’re right, and then go ahead,’ that was his motto.  It’s corny, but goddamn, it makes sense.”

through four marriages, somewhere around 200 albums and a career with higher highs and lower lows than any stretch of Appalacian Mountains, Willie Nelson, 61, retains a zest for life and a passionately optimistic outlook that bespeaks a man who knows inner peace.  He’s a survivor.

Nelson is the original Zen Cowboy — no one who knows him can recall any show of temper, ever — and his religious beliefs, while rooted in the Christian church, lean toward Buddhist principles.  “I think people like Willie are forever, you know,” observed Waylon Jennings, one of Nelson’s oldest friends and a partner in success.  “He crossed all the boundaries in music.  He’s bigger than music, that’s what the whole thing is.”

Said Asleep at the Wheel frontman Ray Benson, another of Nelson’s buddies:  “Waylon at one time said to me, ‘Willie was laid back before people knew what laid-back was.’  I think Willie has always been that way.”

The trick, Nelson says, is to be ready for anything and learn to land on your feet.  “I think everything happens when it’s supposed to,” he said.  “And fortunately, we are not in control.”

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