Mickey Raphel, on the Road with Willie Nelson

by Jake Grove

Willie Nelson knows when he finds a band member he likes to keep them around as long as possible. Mickey Raphael, Nelson’s longtime harmonica player and producer of “Naked Willie,” a series of old tunes that are stripped down, fits that bill.

Raphael has toured with Nelson for years, including the upcoming summer tour with Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp that comes to the Heritage Park Amphitheater in Simpsonville at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

After a show in Indiana, Raphael took some time to talk about his run with Willie, his excitement at the current tour and what’s next for one of the perennial musicians of all time.

Jake Grove:   I want to get a little insight on this current tour with Bob and John. How does a tour like this get started?

Mickey Raphael:   Well, we did it a couple years ago with Bob. They are friends and we are fans of them and them of us. It worked so well the first time, playing the ballparks and between management and everything, that it just fit they would do it again.

JG:  does this tour differ from anything else you guys do?

MR:  I get to watch Bob Dylan every night. Honestly, it’s just a great way to spend the summer. Everyone gets to have a great hang, you get to see friends you haven’t seen in years and you get to play some great music.

JG:  What’s it like putting three legends of music on the stage in one tour? What are the audiences like?

MR:  The audiences are awesome and it’s a real wide cross of ages. I fall in middle of the demo (at 57) and I’m a Dylan fan and a Mellencamp fan. What makes this different is our sets are cut down to an hour. But Willie still plays the core of the hits. We might not be able to play three Kristopherson tunes, but the whole list and flow is stream of consciousness. He goes Whiskey River and Beer for Horse, but it’s a free for all after the medley.

JG:  What kind of feel does Willie and rest of the band like to put on this particular tour?

MR:  He treats this like playing in the club for 50 people. He just sees the guys on the front row hungry for the music and the vastness of a place doesn’t change that. Whether its three or 30,000 he still connects with the audiences.

JG:  Willie and Bob have done this tour together, but John has not been a part of it before. What was the reasoning behind bringing him into the fold?

MR:  I can’t really say. I don’t know. But it’s an American tour and he is grass roots Americana. Willie relates to the everyman and John is the same way. But Willie with the Outlaws, he is that everyday guy. We can all identify with him and with that.

JG:  What’s the pace of a tour like this?

MR:  Well, we all open or close or go middle from place to place. The show is paced well when we open because ours is quiet and Mellencamp is big guitar and Bob is Bob. But we can close, too, and everyone has a great time with it. The pace works no matter who is out there first, second or third.

JG:  What was the inspiration behind “Naked Wille”? Why did you guys feel like you need to “unproduce” those classic songs?

MR:  These were the first songs that I ever heard of Willie and something like this was always in the back of my mind. When the Beatles did “Let it Be Naked” and I saw how cool it was stripped down to the bear form, I wondered what Willie’s songs would have sounded like if Willie produced it. But I didn’t want him to rerecord those. And I mentioned it to Willie and got his blessing. And then we went with the “less is more” approach. I think it worked and so does Willie.

JG:  What was it like playing the first few shows of this tour?

MR:  It has been daunting to play with them. I am such a fan of Bob and he is so intimidating. But last time he called me over and had a bunch of blues DVDs he wanted me to watch. They were filled with great performances by great harmonica players. After that, it was easy.


4 Responses to “Mickey Raphel, on the Road with Willie Nelson”

  1. LindaLee says:

    Wake up, Monique, this photos for you. And you too, Laney.

  2. Monique says:

    Oh, thank you so much Linda. I really appreciate it. It’s a wonderful picture and a great interview. This is the best way to start my day 🙂

  3. laney says:

    Thanks Linda…..Mick is really one of a kind…Soooo talented and yet so humble….and such a sweetheart of a man, how can anyone not love him?

  4. Monique says:

    You said the right thing, Laney. I completely agree with you.

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