Country Weekly Magazine
September 6, 1994
by Bruce Honick
Willie Nelson is the King of Kindness
Willie Nelson is no “Redheaded Stranger’ to charitable causes, especially farmers in need.Â
“When you start working on other people’s problems, the first thing you realize is you don’t have very many problems,” Willie told Country weekly before he started another benefit concert — this time at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, on behalf of the reunion of Professional Entertainers, an organization that assists retired performers.Â “Other than that, there’s just a lot of other people out there who need help.”
In recent months, his unflagging urge to help has touched a down-on-his-luck Nebraska hog farmer, the people trying to restore a fire-gutted county courthouse, and a Louisiana couple fighting for their dairy.
His own financial troubles — a recently settled 416.7 million debt to the Internal Revenue Service — never caused him to pull back the hand he extends to others.
Willie, 61, is best known for the Farm Aid benefits he began in 1985, the latest of which he co-hosts September 18 at New Orleans’ Louisiana Superdome and which Country Weekly is one of the proud sponsors.Â Six previous megaconcerts have raised $11.5 million distributed to 100 organizations in 44 states.Â Willie is president of Farm Aid, inc., and signs the organization’s checks.
The money goes to help organizations that aid people such as H. D. and Hattie Lockwood.Â The couple has operated a 300-acre dairy farm in Greensburg, La., 115 miles north of New Orleans, for more than 40 years.
Farm Aid helped the Lockwoods via volunteer Betty Puckett of the Farm Crises Coalition, part of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference.Â The Coalition volunteer convinced the Farm Home Administration to allow the Lockwoods to delay payments on the loan they took out to keep up their farm.
“I think his Farm Aid is the most heartwarming effort simply because the people he helps don’t have to fill out millions of forms for humanitarian aid,” Hattie said.Â “They get assistance to the people who really need it.”
An affinity for farms comes naturally to Willie.Â “Willie grew up in a rural community,” said Mark Rothbaum, Nelson’s manager for 22 years.Â “He picked cotton, he shucked corn, he wasÂ a rancher working with cattle.Â He’s all too familiar with how hard the work is and how rewarding.’
“All the country artists, because they travel so much, see the farmers out in the fields.Â As a matter of fact, there’s a Johnny Cash song called, ‘Country Boy’ in which he expresses his longing for the life that the country boy is living and how beautiful it is and how he’s stuck in a bus wishing he could do that.”
“There’s a respect for the farmers from country artists that is profound,” continued Rothbaum, ‘and to think that they’re going to be displaced from their homes… is enough to incite these great artists to riot on their behalf.Â There’s something essentially noble about the American farmer.”
Willie’s generosity is older than his fame, said some of his friends from the 1960s, when Willie was a young songwriter living in Nahsville.
“I knew Willie when he was in the Air Force and when he played bass for Ray Price,” said veteran Nashville talent agent Billy Deaton.Â “He’s always been one of those giving-type persons.Â He’d give you the shirt off is back.”