More albums, more movies, by Willie Nelson

by Daniel Bayer
by John Goodspeed
February 15, 2001

Fans of country music icon Willie Nelson won’t be surprised to learn he is releasing two new albums this year.

They even may shrug off the fact that he is covering a song by Kermit the Frog and tunes by the writer of Elton John’s pop hits.

After all, the prolific Nelson has recorded more than 100 albums since the first in 1961, and some of his later work can be eclectic.

Fans also are used to seeing Nelson, who takes the stage at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo on Thursday, on the big screen.  He’s been in close to 50 movies, and he just completing another staring role.

But this might knock their socks off — it’s a martial arts movie.

No, the title isn’t “The Red Headed Stranger Meets Jackie Chan” or the “Tae Kwon Do Cowboy.”  It’s called “Evidence”.

But what’s intriguing is that Nelson really knows his moves.

He studied kung fu, the Chinese self-defense style, when he was a Nashville songwriter early in his career.

His interest was rekindled several years ago when his wife, Ann, and his pre-teen sons Lukas and Micah started studying tae kwon do, the karate-like Korean self-defense system.

“When they started coming along pretty good, I decided I’d better get back into it,” Nelson said with a laugh.

In the Texas-set film, Nelson portrays a tae kwon do teacher.

“I own the school, my daughter is a student and there’s some bad guys,” Nelson said in a phone interview.  “It was written, produced, directed and filmed by Master Um, who owns the studio in Austin where all go to school — Master Martial Arts.”

Um, is doing the final edit. 

“Tae kwon do is a series of kicking combinations and forms you learn and apply when you’re sparring,” Nelson said.  “It’s good for you physically, mentally and in every way.”

“It’s really good training for kids.  It teaches them respect and gives them a sense of confidence.  And for older people, it’s even better because they need it more — the more discipline and confidence especially,” Nelson 67, added.

It’s not like he needs a boost in discipline, though — or confidence.  The celebrated outlaw country singer and songwriter keeps adding to his accomplishments.  He is up for two Grammys on February 21 — best long form video for “Teatro” and best traditional blues album for “Milk Cow Blues.”  Bot albums were recorded for Island Records, primarily a rock label.

The latter, Nelson’s first blues album, rounded up guest stars including B.B. King and Lyle Lovett and was met with critical acclaim.

“Milk Cow Blues” immediately was followed by “Me and the Drummer,” a praised blend of classics from Nelson and others along with a couple of new tunes on an interactive CD.

Next up are two more on Island — “Rainbow Connection,” due for release in April and “The Great Divide,” a fall release.

Nelson is not afraid of saturating the market with his work — four albums in less than 12 months — because all are very different.

“Rainbow Connection” is the song made famous by Kermit the Frog, who sang it at the opening of “The Muppet Movie.”

“My daughter Amy had been trying to get me to do this song since she was a little girl 20 years ago,” Nelson said.  “And finally, during the Christmas holidays, she was in Austin along with my daughter Paula, so we went to the studio and recorded it.  It started out as a children’s album, but the further we got into it we decided to go for a family album — songs like “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” a little blues, and a new song I wrote.

“It’s such a different thing than the blues album that Island thought it was a good idea.”

The recording has a more acoustic feel with minimal instrumentation, he said.

Not so for “The Great Divide.”  It’s an entirely different animal,” Nelson said.

The album was recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Matt Serletic, who has worked on projects by such diverse artists as alt-rock group Matchbox Twenty and pop singer Celine Dion.

The title track is the only one written by Nelson.  Others are by Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas and Bernie Taupin, who wrote many of Elton John’s pop hits.

“It’s different music than I normally do,” Nelson said.  “Of coures, the ‘Teatro’ album was different, but this is a stretch in another direciton.  I’m not sure what to call it — maybe a way-out-there production.”

Nelson has not heard the final version because Serletic is still working on the album.  The approach sounds similar to Santana’s guest-laden “Supernatural.”

“He wants to get folks like Kid Rock, ‘N Sync, Sheryl Crow and Rob Thomas to come in and do harmony and background vocals.  I don’t know what all theyr’e going to put on there — strings, horns… I’ll have to wait and see like everyone else.,” Nelson said.

For the rodeo performance, Nelson plans to include cuts form “Milk Cow Blues,” “Rainbow Connection” and “The Great Divide” along with songs from his vault of hits.

But Nelson loves playing in San Antonio, and you never know what to expect when he gets wound up at a show — he might even try out a few tae kwon do moves.

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