Mickey Raphael Interview

Photo:  Jen Bronenkant

by:  Eric Schelkopf

Harmonica player Mickey Raphael has been playing alongside Willie Nelson since 1973, when he was invited to participate in an informal jam session with Nelson and Charley Pride.

Raphael will take the stage again with Nelson when the legendary musician and his band perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora.

Tickets are $69 and $79, and available by calling the Paramount box office at 630-896-6666.

The following is a Kane County Chronicle interview with Raphael about his longtime association with Nelson.

Kane County Chronicle: What should people expect from the two shows?

Mickey Raphael: We don’t do a set list. We never know what Willie’s going to do. He plays his most popular songs. The core of the show will stay the same. The shows are pretty similar. He plays whatever comes to mind. You have to read the crowd.

What was it like first playing with Nelson back in 1973?

I really wasn’t a fan until that point. He was mostly known as a songwriter at that time. Some of what he performed that night was spoken word, some of it was almost like poetry. He left the door open for me to come play with him. He’s a great guy to work for and a great friend. He’s a musician’s musician and a writer’s writer.

You’ve worked with a number of musicians over the years, including Elton John, U2 and Motley Crue, Vince Gill, Emmy Lou Harris, The Mavericks, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Neil Young, to name just a few. Have you ever been surprised when a certain musician wants to work with you?

I was surprised when I got calls from Elton John and Motley Crue. They called me out of the blue. They were both very gracious in the studio. When I work with an artist, I’d rather be in the studio with the artist.

Do you have any dream collaborations?

I recently was working with a band called Calexico, as well as Paul Simon. I’d like to get to work with him some more. He is such a musical genius. I grew up listening to him, and he is a fan of the harmonica.

Before you started playing with Nelson, you were a folk-blues player. Was it hard making the transition to country music?

It was easy to make the transition. Music is music. I’m a jack-of-all-trades, and a master of none.

Adam Sandler references you in “The Chanukah Song” with the lyric, “The guy in Willie Nelson’s band who plays harmonica celebrates Hanukkah!” What did you think of the song?

I thought it was cute. I thought it was an honor.

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