Willie Nelson and Family, in El Paso (1/7/2010)

by Mía R. Cortez

When a certain country great kicks off his “On the Road Again” tour at the Abraham Chavez Theatre on Thursday, thousands of El Pasoans of all ages will be cheering him on. Willie Nelson is a man of many talents and interests, but he is best known for his country backbone and his ability to cross generations and genres over five decades.

“From ‘Urban Cowboy’ to Garth Brooks, Willie has come right along with it,” said Bobcat Brown, program director and weekday morning co-host on Y96.3-FM KHEY. “He’s the epitome of country music because he transcends generations. He was part of what they called the outlaw country movement in the ’70s and part of the Highwaymen in the ’80s. And while he stayed true to country, he’s stayed true to everybody – there are many die-hard fans.”

With Nelson, what you see is what you get, Brown says. Since his debut in the ’50s, the 76-year-old singer/songwriter has remained true to the roots of country music while branching out into a vast library of styles and collaborators.

Early compositions like “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” became American hits in the hands of other performers, while “You Were Always On My Mind,” “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” and “On the Road Again” are a few of Nelson’s classics known and loved across the world.

“He’s a musical genius,” said Bobbie Welch, booking and marketing coordinator for the NMSU Pan American Center. “He has a knack for pulling other artists – and not just from country – into working with him and doing duets that become classics. He managed to repeatedly do that, and that’s a real understanding of genre and music.”

Liberal cowboy
Nelson’s no stranger to controversy. He’s been busted with pot, arrested for tax evasion and even wrote a song about gay cowboys (“Cowboys are Secretly, Frequently Fond of Each Other”) in 2006. He advocates the legalization of marijuana, owns a biodiesel company that distributes fuel made mostly of soybean oil, supports Farm Aid and has even taken the Texas Democratic Party to court.

Still, he’s an iconic Texan that nobody dislikes.

“At the end of the day, Willie Nelson is an outlaw cowboy, and the outlaw thing is somewhat of a respected position in Texas,” Welch said. “He’s done so much for farmers, and everything that ties together with the music and lifestyle of country music, but he always pushes the boundaries. Smoking pot isn’t exactly a redneck/cowboy lifestyle, but Texas is big enough to be home to him and many other artists who push the boundaries.”

In regards to marijuana, Nelson has been known to be as much a user as an advocate. Some even say there’s a figurative “blue haze” surrounding Nelson’s bus whenever he pulls into a town. In a 2007 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Nelson challenged anyone who criticizes the pot he’s been smoking for 50 years.

“I do a two-hour show every night and remember 40 or 50 songs,” the singer told Rolling Stone. “So I challenge anyone out there (to remember them as well as I do). You might tie it, but I doubt you can beat it.”

Issues aside, it’s his rebellious nature, candid personality and musical diversity that often rings true with fans.

“I love everything about him,” said fan Rose Garcia-Bremond. “I liked him when he was an outlaw and I liked when he did jazz with ‘American Classic’ and ‘Stardust’ – it was one of the best jazz renditions ever made. He sings in his own register, which I think gives him one of the clearest voices in show business.”

Willie Nelson
“On the Road Again” Tour
Abraham Chavez Theatre
Thursday, Jan. 7 – 7:30 p.m.
$43.11–$74.08 plus fees
Tickets available at Ticketmaster
outlets, Ticketmaster.com
or call (915) 544-8444

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