Willie Nelson interview in Healthy Wealth -nWise Magazine


Janet Attwood

Willie is in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  He’s the only guy ever who has done over 100,000 concerts live. That’s one of many records he holds. 

JANET ATTWOOD:  Hi Willie.  It’s wonderful to have you with us.

WILLIE NELSON:   Thank you very much, nice to be with ya’all.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN:  We have bragged about you, Willie, and said all kinds of nice things.  We’re ready to go with questions, if that’s okay with you, sir.

WILLIE NELSON:  Fine, thank you, yes.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN:   Willie, what role have your passions and the things that you care about the most played in your life?

WILLIE NELSON:   My passions have always been music in one way or another. I’ve sort of followed wherever the music took me.  In proof of music, I’ve run into a whole lot of other passions. Music was the first  I felt like I was really hooked by the music bug. That’s the one that took me everywhere.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: Will you tell them the story of how your music began as a young kid back in Abbott?

WILLIE NELSON: I was born in Abbott, Texas, a small town in central Texas with a population around 300 or so. There’s an old saying that the population never changes, because every time a baby is born a man leaves town.

I got into music through my grandparents who were music teachers, voice teachers, also they taught piano. My grandmother taught my sister how to play piano. My granddad showed me some chords on the guitar. It was just a natural for me to get into music from the beginning.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: How did you make your first money in music? And let’s do a sidebar and say you just bought the church that you grew up making that music in. Tell them what’s happening with that too, if you would.

WILLIE NELSON:   The first time I made any money playing music was with a bohemian polka band there in a town called West Texas, which is six miles south of Abbott. It paid me about $8 for a full hour dance job. I was about 9 or 10 years old, and I’d only been making a dollar or two a day out in the cotton fields. So I felt like I hit the big time.

And what was the second part of your question?

MARK VICTOR HANSEN:   The second part was you and I talked about the fact that you just bought the church. You’re installing a minister, and just went in there and did the first service. I wasn’t able to join you at your invitation. Do you want to talk about that, and how much fun it is to have a church in the city right next to a city that you’re also building, which we’ll talk about next.

WILLIE NELSON: It’s the church where my sister and I attended Sunday school all of our lives. The church has been there over 100 years, and is an historical marker. It came up for sale, and a friend of mine told me about it a friend named Donald Reeve. He and I graduated from high school there. He was married in that church, so he was concerned about it being sold. They were planning on tearing it down, moving it to the edge of town, and making a marriage chapel out of it.

My sister and I decided we didn’t want that to happen if we could help it. We made the realtor an offer, and we wound up buying the church. We had our first church service in there a few weeks ago. I went in with my band, my sister Bobbie, and Leon Russell. We just invited all the friends around there. The church only holds about 100 people, and we had about 200 outside. We had some food, and everybody just had a big day celebrating the church being open again.

Since then, every other Sunday we have services in there. Last Sunday we had the Tales of Joy, and I guess this Sunday we’ll have some more folks in there just to say hello, motivational talkers. I tell everybody that once they walk into the building they become an immediate Methodist, so they’ve got to accept that.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: You’ve got so many great passions. You invited me down to Texas to participate in this thing a couple times. Tell us what’s happening with Biodiesel, how you got into it, and why you’re building the whole city with Carl Cornelius.

WILLIE NELSON: It all started about three years ago when my wife came to me and said, “Honey, I want to buy this Volkswagen Jetta. It’s a Biodiesel car, they run on vegetable oil.” I was a little leery of that, but she went ahead and bought the car.

It runs good, and she gets great gas mileage. I was so impressed I bought a Mercedes diesel. I filled it up with vegetable oil from the grease traps on Maui from the restaurants. They recycled it, took out all the detergents, and converted it back to 100% pure vegetable oil. This goes right into your diesel engine and runs. I’ve been working with the farmers for a few years. When I saw this was working and happening, and was a possibility, I could see a light at the end of the tunnel for the farmers who were having a bad time. I could see the farmers growing fuel and making us less dependent on foreign energies around the world. It could also help save the family farmer, which I’ve been trying to do for twenty-some years with the Farm Aids we have each year.

It all kind of came together. And since then I’ve found out that I knew less than I really thought I did about Biodiesel. I found out it had been around about 100 years or more and that Rudolph Diesel had invented it. He had first designed the original diesel motor to run on peanut oil. I thought I had discovered something, but I really hadn’t. It’s just been hidden pretty good, for whatever reason.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN:   Tell us about the new Biodiesel plant that you, Carl, and others have invested in which is opening up in Carlâ’s Corners, which is about an hour and one-half south of Dallas.

WILLIE NELSON: On Maui, there’s a company called Pacific Biodiesels. Robert King, who fuels Biodiesel plants all over the world, was the one who had convinced my wife to buy this car and run it on Biodiesel. He has a plant on Maui. Since then he and I have invested in plants around the country. We have one in Salem, Oregon, and the one we just built down at Carl’s Corner, Texas. It’s up and going now, and we’re all real proud of that.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: We think it’s the future. If you don’t mind me waxing poetically a bit here, we’d like to have 500 Biodiesel. If you grow soybeans, it’s going to get rid of the pollution and save the environment.

If you go to my website (I’m going to do one little merciless thing), I did a video with Willie. We’ve got three crises, and there may be four in one solution. We’ve got the environmental crisis, which it solves. We’re going to put the farmers back to work. Willie and I want to see every one of the 300 to 500 farmers going bankrupt per week put back to work with their 500 or 600 acre farms growing soybean and turn into organic.

Am I speaking the truth as far as you’re concerned, Willie?

WILLIE NELSON:   Soybean is not the only thing we can do. There are other things like cottonseed. There’s a plant in Carl’s Corner, Texas that’s running on cottonseed oil right now. Texas grows as much cotton as anybody, so it’s a natural. Corn in Texas is now being used for ethanol. So there are so many different things.

You can also get a lot of Biodiesel oil from sunflowers. There are so many different ways. One of the greatest seeds for oil is peanuts.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN:   That’s what George Washington Carver said, and what Rudolph Diesel back in Germany thought too.

Because we’re talking about passions here, and all of the changes and all the excitement, do you mind talking about your friend Kinky Friedman just for a moment as the potential next governor for the great state of Texas, and why you think we should have a musician be a governor?

WILLIE NELSON:  Kinky and I have been buddies for a long time. When Kinky first brought up wanting to be governor, I really didn’t know how serious he was, and I really didn’t think he had a chance because of the way politics are these days, and how much money it takes to get in office.

I knew that Kinky didn’t have a lot of money. But he was persistent about it. And now in the polls he is doing very well, and it looks like he could have a good shot. I’m trying to help him in any way I can, mainly because he knows the importance of alternative energy. Texas should be leading the country in alternative energies of all kinds. Texas has always been the leader. Texas was first with oil, and I think I mentioned to you Texas is also first in wind. So I knew we had a lot of hot air down there, but I didn’t know we had enough to turn it into energy.

There are a lot of things we can do down there in Texas to show the rest of the world what can be done. Brazil has already become independent. They are exporting energy, because of the fact that they’re using sugar cane down there to make their alcohol and their gasoline.

There are so many people around the world who are ahead of us on this thing. We just have to kick it into high gear and start figuring out ways. If Kinky were to get elected, that would be a good shot in the arm for Texas. I know he has talked to some good people about an energy policy I’ve looked at. I think it has a good chance. He wants to go 20% Biodiesel and ethanol by 2020, twenty by twenty. He wants a 20% blend. All the energy in Texas, all the diesel equipment, all the school buses and all the cars and trucks running as much as we can put them on Biodiesel and ethanol.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: And it’s the same with trains also. Ladies and gentlemen, for some of you who have not watched Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth, Willie and I would like you to see it. What he said about Brazil is that they are energy self-sufficient. Willie and I talked earlier this morning, and we want to make Texas energy self-sufficient and the net exporter of clean, what’s it called “GoGreen”.   Is that correct, Willie?

WILLIE NELSON: That’s exactly right.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: So you all are hearing something first before the rest of Americans did it. Just to make sure you know who Kinky is, I’ll ask you, when we’re done with this call, to Google Kinky Friedman and read his outlandish, wonderful statements. It will show him on 60 Minutes where, if you haven’t seen him, you’ll get it.

We’re saying, let’s have a politician without politics in his soul. That’s what I’m saying, I won’t talk for Willie on that one.  Anything else you want to add to that before we go forward here?

WILLIE NELSON:   Kinky has said a couple things that I think make a lot of sense. One of them was, he thinks musicians can run the state better than the politicians. I think he could be right about that, because it seems to be headed the wrong direction. Texas has made a lot of bad decisions.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: Talk about your passion for creating songs. You’ve written more than almost anyone on the planet. They are great songs! Where does all that passion and that creativity well up from?

WILLIE NELSON: I really don’t know the answer to that, except I just do a lot of writing. I write in spurts; I’ll go for a while and not write, then all of a sudden I’ll start writing again. I’ve had a good year, and I’ve written a lot of good songs this year. But, I really don’t know. I think it’s just a matter of keeping your mind open and clear, thinking a lot, and listening a lot. I get a lot from what I hear other people say and do.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: You sure travel with an entourage. Every time I’ve ever been with you, you have 10 to 20 people traveling with you. You’ve got a lot of people talking to you and pulling on you. I’m amazed you can write so much! How many songs did you write this year?

WILLIE NELSON: I’ve probably written 10 or 12 this year, which is pretty good for me. I don’t know why all of a sudden I wrote a bunch of songs. Ten or 12 is pretty good. Hopefully I can do that again next year. But if I don’t, it doesn’t bother me that much.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: Why are you willing to do so many concerts every year? I think the last number I heard was 248 a year, and you’re 73 years old, I think.

WILLIE NELSON: I enjoy playing, and I enjoy traveling, so it’s a natural thing for me. It’s not a problem for me to travel. I enjoy waking up in a new place every morning, and I enjoy singing to a new crowd every night. As long as the crowds are there and the people are enjoying it, and as long as we’re all healthy and can do it, I want to stay out here. Of course, I’m smart enough to know that eventually everything will have to stop. But hopefully we can stay out here a few more years.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN:  As you know, Art Linkletter and I wrote the book, How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. We’re saying “Don’t retire. We all want to retire in time. Back to you, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your life, and how did you overcome them?

WILLIE NELSON: At some point in my life, I decided I did a little writing and began to think about the power of positive thinking. It turned my life completely around. I was continually into alcohol and cigarettes, and my health wasn’t that good. I really needed to do something. My career was bad, and I wrote some of the saddest songs in the world, because I was going through a lot of unhappy times, most of it my own fault. A lot of it was because of the drinking and carousing and such.

I decided at that point that I would start thinking more positive. From that day on, things have turned around. I started living more in the moment. I look around and see if everything is okay right now. I plan to keep it that way! And that’s pretty much my philosophy.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: It sure seems to me that you’ve done it, and had fun doing it. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from those challenges? Let’s just pick one – how about the IRS lesson, which everybody hasn’t heard that you ended up being the winner.

WILLIE NELSON: I knew I was going to be the winner eventually because they had said I was doing things in a way that would look like I was trying to avoid taxes. I knew that once they got into it, and once their accounting geniuses got into my business, they would see, “Wait a minute – this is not this guy’s fault. He received some bad advice, and therefore he’s where he is/

That’s exactly what happened. Once they saw what I was doing and how I got there, we started figuring out ways to get out of it. They were good enough to help me figure ways to get out. I wound up where I don’t owe them anything right now. I owed them $32 million dollars, and now we’re even.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: From $32 million to zero is a pretty good advance!

WILLIE NELSON: It’s not bad for a guitar player!

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: I think you’ve been damn bright, my friend. What advice would you give to somebody who wants to be passionate about their music like you’ve been about yours?

WILLIE NELSON: I just don’t take no for an answer. If you believe you’re good and have something to say”  Who was it who said,  “If you build a house of quality in the woods, the world beat a path to your door? I still believe that’s a truth we all can look to, and it works.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: That’s Ralph Waldo Emerson. Don’t you also see a lot of breakthrough distribution points for your music? Every time I turn around, because people know you and I are friends, they’re telling me, “Willie’s going to do this, and Willie’s going to do that.” There are more music outlets, including all the movies that you’ve done that I’d like to have you speak to real quick.

WILLIE NELSON: I did three movies this year. I did a movie called Beerfest, and I worked on a martial arts movie. Then we did another Dukes of Hazzard movie, Dukes of Hazzard II. I did that combined with all the dates I’ve been working on. It’s been a full year, Mark! I’ll be ready for some days off.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: You take rest at both Hawaii and your other place in Austin. Do you really chill out when you go to those places?

WILLIE NELSON: I have a great time! When I go to Texas, I’ve got horses there that I ride. I have a golf course so I can play golf, and my friends are there. When I go to Maui, it’s the same thing, there’s a golf course there, and my friends. We play poker and chess. I’m just a kid having a good time. As soon as school is out, we’ll have a recess.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: How long a recess do you take, because everyone knows how hard you’re working? How much recess to you take per year?

WILLIE NELSON: I think our last day this year is October 8th, and then I’m off until January. We go to Ireland in January.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: Good for you, you’re still doing world touring.

WILLIE NELSON: We’re going back over there to work in Ireland and England. We’re also doing some things in New York.  I’m doing an album with Winton Marsalis. On Halloween, I’m going to New York to get the Bette Midler “Wind beneath My Wings”award that she gives out every year at the Waldorf Astoria. It’s a big Halloween party there and Bette Midler is giving me an award that night, so that will be nice. Other than that, the rest of the year I won’t be doing that much, hopefully.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: Do you ever try to pick one of your favorite songs or your favorite three songs of all that you’ve written?

WILLIE NELSON: That’s really hard to do. The most popular ones are probably not the ones I would pick. Usually it’s the newest things I’ve written that I’m most sold on. I’ve got a new one called “It’s Always Now.”

Nothing ever goes away, everything is here to stay, and it’s always now. It’s always now, there never was a used to be, everything is still with me, and “It’s always now.”

And the bridge goes, “So brace your heart, save yourself some sanity. It’s more than just a memory, and it’s always now. And here’s your part, Singing like a melody, it’s really only you and me, and it’s always now.”

I recorded that a couple months ago when I was out here in Los Angeles. Remember, I was going in the studio out there with Shelby Mann. I did that song out there. I’ll have to play it for you when I see you.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: I look forward to it.

WILLIE NELSON: There’s another one I wrote called “Superman”. I don’t know if you’ve heard that one.


WILLIE NELSON:   I’ll  have to play you that one. It’ll do it on the show. You’re coming to in L.A. there, so I’ll do those songs for you.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: By the way, ladies and gentlemen, he’s doing three dates which are sold out at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend. For the people reading, this it will have been past tense. I don’t know if there are any tickets yet available or not. It’s close to sold out if it’s not sold out. You might want to consider seeing Willie.

Two things, Willie, just so everyone gets a chance; do you have a website that tells all your touring dates? Is itwww.willienelson.com? 

WILLIE NELSON:   It’s www.WillieNelson.com  and it has all of my tour dates in there, plus a lot of information. More than you ever wanted to know!

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: Let’s just hit two more licks on it.  One is, if they want to buy one of these records, like  “Superman”, or “It’s Always Now”, is it best if they go to a Tower Records, or should they go online and download it? What would you recommend?

WILLIE NELSON: I think you can get “Superman” on Itunes.  “It’s Always Now” is not out for the market yet. I haven’t even started playing it in shows yet. I’m doing  “Superman” in my shows, and I’m doing another new song in the show.

The record business is a little different than it used to be. In the old days, we could write a song today, record it tomorrow, put it out the next day and get it to all the radio stations. But, it’s just not done that way these days. It takes a lot longer.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: Is there any way that everyone can listen to it or a sample of it, so we can get this to be number one as all these people who are listening or reading can get to it?

WILLIE NELSON: We’ll be doing it on all our shows, if any body comes out and sees all our concerts we do. I’ll be recording them all eventually, and they’ll eventually all come out.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: What do you say to people who have been beaten down by life, or they don’t feel passionate about anything? What would you recommend to them?

WILLIE NELSON: First of all, I think I would start writing down the good things. Make a list of all the things you have to be thankful for, all the positive things about your life. You’re healthy, there’s a huge one. Start out with that one.

On the other side of the page, write down the things that are bothering you. Just calling attention to all those things I think is good for you. It’s good therapy. It’s a good start on figuring out ways to solve your problems.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: I agree. In what direction would you tell somebody how to get meaning back in their life if they felt they’d lost everything, because somebody died, they lost their job, their love, or whatever?

WILLIE NELSON: I know there are a lot of individual instances and individual lives out there. You wish you could say the magic words and make them all happy. I’m not going to do that. But I do know what works for me. Again, I have to take inventory every day. If I get worried about something, I start figuring out “How is everything? Am I healthy? How’s my family?” Those are the important things. If those are all good, then everything else will work out. You figure out ways to make everything else work.

If those are not bad, you’ve got a big problem. If you’re screwed up mentally, plus your family is screwed up, you might need some professional help. Those guys you pay know how to tell you things that I can’t tell you. I would just think positive and start with that one, because it worked for me.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: If you don’t mind, I’ll mention Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking, which is sort of the granddaddy of books I used in my ministry years ago in New York. Are there any other books you’d recommend?

WILLIE NELSON: I would recommend that book by Norman Vincent Peale to everybody, The Power of Positive Thinking. It really got me started. Once you start, once you realize that what you are doing is good, you’re instinctively going to try to get back to it. If you know what you’re doing is bad, you’re going to instinctively try to stay away from it.

If you’re real negative but you start thinking a lot of positive thoughts to stack them up, and think more positive than negative, you can eventually overcome it. You have to act like you’re happy before you can be happy I think. You have to start pretending, and if you do it enough, and believe it enough, then you can become that way. But if you start and say,  “Well I’m happy, but everything is bad”; and if everything you think and say is negative, you’re not going to be able to get away from it. So, you have to start thinking your first positive thought.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: Let me just hitchhike on that “ all the conversations you and I have had as we’ve been casual friends and getting a little bit better this last year to do a lot of good things like we’ve been doing together. Every call we’ve ever had we’ve told jokes and made sure that each other was happy, is that true?

WILLIE NELSON: You’ve got to laugh. You have to laugh about everything. Remember the old Reader’s Digest thing, “Laughter is the Best Medicine”? I believe that 100%.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: “It’s the elixir of life. You’ve championed the cause for small farmers. Will you talk to us about why you’re so passionate about farming and farmers?

WILLIE NELSON:   It’s really a personal thing. I started out working on farms, and I know how hard it was. I knew a lot of farmers. Through the years I knew the farmer wasn’t making a lot of money, but they were still a lot of my friends. They were doing okay. They seem to be getting a new car every other year or so.

I started hearing some rumors about how bad things were getting in the farm belt. I chatted with a good friend of mine, Big Jim Thompson, who was the Governor of Illinois. Every year I play a show in St. Louis. We do the State Fair, and he’d come out. He would come on the bus and we’d drink a beer, or have a bowl of chili and talk about things.

That particular year I was asking him about the farmers. He said, “It’s bad, and it’s getting worse.” To make a long story short, he and I that day decided we wanted to do a Farm Aid. We talked to Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and a couple more guys. Twenty-one days later we had done the first Farm Aid, and it sold out.

We’ve done several of them now. I was just looking at a list of the artists who have done them over the years, who have worked for nothing. They pay their own transportation, their own room, and their own plane fare. There are hundreds, literally hundreds, of artists over the years who have worked Farm Aid.

The purpose of it was to raise the consciousness of the folks in this country about who makes their food, and how important it is to take care of the small family farmer. I’ve always believed, growing up in Abbott in a farm and ranch community down there, that agriculture is the bottom rung on the economic ladder. You have to keep that bottom rung strong. Once that bottom rung breaks, which is where it’s at now, everything above it collapses.

That’s why our economy is so shaky. We’ve gone to big corporate things instead of back the way it was when the small family farm was not only a farm, it was a family, and it was a home. The new farm policies have broken up all those small family units around the country.

Where one time we had 8 million small family farmers, now we’re down to less than 2 million and still losing. That’s why I wanted to do something, not only for the farmers, but for agriculture, the country, and everything.

Through the years I was really discouraged, because the politicians seem to like it the way it is. They seem to like the fact that the big corporations are controlling all the food in the world. We starve our farmers over here in order to starve out all the farmers around the world. That’s exactly what’s happening. This is why we need new farm bills, and we need to get new thinking up there in the places where they make the farm bills, to start trying to take better care of the land, and better care of the small family farm and the family unit.

MARK VICTOR HANSEN: By the way, I vote with you. I think everybody listening would give you a collective cheer if they could for standing for something rather than falling for nothing. Most people don’t know that the farmers have a plight. They’re a little disentangled. That’s why at my estate we grow our own fresh fruit and vegetables.

What you and I have been talking about, soybean, is one of the 200 possible biomass products that we can turn into Willie’s Biodiesel. We need to do it, and we need everyone to know that farming does exist and you can grow your own stuff.

Let’s go on to Biodiesel. Why were you willing to put your name on Biodiesel, how did that all come to be, and why is the project so important?

WILLIE NELSON: When I first realized that I wanted to try to promote Biodiesel and put the word out that there is an alternative, and that you don’t have to go around starting wars over oil. Then the truck stop Carl’s Corner came up. Carl was getting ready to close it down, and I said,  “Wait a minute.  So we kept it open and we started selling Biodiesel there.”

We started selling our own brand of BioWillie, just to call attention to it. I haven’t made a quarter yet on the name BioWillie, and I really don’t care if I ever did. But the fact that people are talking about it means they’re talking about Biodiesel, and that was the main purpose to begin with. If it turns out that BioWillie sells 20 billion gallons, that would be fine. But if it doesn’t, the fact that you knew about it and asked about it, other people have asked about it, when they ask about BioWillie, then I get to tell them about Biodiesel,

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