Willie Nelson, the Colombia Record interview (12/10/1982)

Willie Nelson Interview (12/10/1982)

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The Columbia Record
Columbia, SC
December 10, 1982
by Tom Connelly

Willie Nelson repeatedly waved aside my apologies.  “Don’t go.  We have plenty of itme.  I am not giving any other interviews.”

Interviews with Willie Nelson are hard to obtain, because of his obvious shyness, the pressing schedule and other matters. Bob Horning of Carolina Coliseum had intervened with bearded, burly Alex Cooley, promoter of the concert.  Nelson was told the facts — I was researching a book on the Southern mind and wanted his ideas.

He agreed even though the timing seemed very tight.  A limo brought him to the Coliseum only 40 minutes before is appearance efore a 12,000 plus sell-out crowd.

The automobile had scarcely halted before big Alex Cooley escorted me to a bus.  “He is waiting or you inside,” he said.  It is one thing to talk with a Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette or even an old waylon. Willie Nelson was something else entirely.

Willie Nelson sat quietly at the front of the bus, talking with some friends.  A pair of steely eyes searched me out as he rose, shook hands and suggested we move to the back of the bus.

The back of the bus was something like a railroad observation car where padded sofas surrounded a glass-topped coffee table.

“You go on in 30 minutes,” I said.  “I only want to take up a little time.”

“I have nothing else to do,” he said.  “So we have a half-hour.”

So we talked for almost a half-hour and ended scarcely 5 minutes before he went onstage.  In the process I learned more about Willie Nelson than I had intended.  First, it was obvious that Nelson himself did not understand why he had become such a superstar.  here was a guy who arrived in Nashville over 20 years ago, scrounged while living in Dunn’s Trailer Park on Gallatin Road, ate at Linebaugh’s Cafe, peddled his songs and now is a national idol.  Later, when he came onstage and broke into “Whiskey River,” the audience stood and screamed.

Arrogance can accompany great success but arrogant Willie Nelson is not.  He is far more humble, relaxed and direct than many other lesser artists I have interviewed.  Nelson obviously does not grasp why a Columbia audience turns out in sell-out fashion for a guy with a bandanna, trousers and jogging shoes.

Or maybe he does know.  Ninety percent of our conversation was about Southern religion, one of Willie Nelson’s favorite subjects.  “Don’t leave,” he said.  “I don’t get many chances to talk about this.”  We found some common friends like songwriter Bob McDill and Singer Tom T. Hall.  “I’d sure like for all of us to sit up some night and talk about religion,” Nelson mused.

“Back in the ’50’s, when I was playing some clubs in Fort Worth, I was teaching Sunday school and playing clubs at night.  The church leaders told me I could not do both.  So I quit Sunday School.”

Obviously he never really left.  No Southern boy ever does.  On the surface he has moved far from the wooden church upbringing in a dusty Texashamlet.  Now he is a firm believer in reincarnation and claims membership in a faith which ascribes to this.

“So what is the South to you, in one sentence,” I asked.

Nelson looked off in the distance for a moment.  “It is the music and the religion of course.  And it is also the land.  The land in Texas where I grew up had such scarcity and vastness .  It taught me not to be afraid, to know you can do anything you want to do.”

Not to be afraid to do anything you want to do.  Not even to be afraid to be a superstar after yars of hard times.  He walked onstage amid the vast roar…

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