CNN Interview “On the Bus With Willie Nelson” (1/25/2002)

By Jodi Ross                                                                          
CNN Entertainment Correspondent 

January 25, 2002 Posted: 1:16 p.m. EST (1816 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) — Country legend, songwriting luminary, American icon — call him what you like, Willie Nelson always has and always will think of himself as a “singing cowboy.” With more than 150 albums under his hat and 68 years under his belt, Nelson shows no signs of slowing down. Currently on tour, with a new album in stores and his first book on shelves, he’s busier than ever.

But the music, he says, always comes first.

His latest record, “The Great Divide,” is mostly made up of duets pairing Nelson with his famous friends including Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Lee Ann Womack and Brian McKnight. And Nelson recently tried writing of a different sort, putting his pen to paper and writing a book titled “The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes.”

CNN met up with Nelson a few hours before his show at Irving Plaza in New York City. On his tour bus — the Honeysuckle Rose — he was relaxed and comfortable, with his cowboy hat firmly in place. Sitting in his home away from home, he talked about being “On The Road Again,” his duets, and why he doesn’t even consider retirement.

CNN: You are currently on the road as we speak to you. Are you still playing 200 days a year?

Willie Nelson: Yeah, it’s around 200, give or take a few. We’ve been doing that for a long time.

CNN: Do you still love it?

Nelson: Yeah, we like to play the music, first of all, and people are still coming to see us and everyone’s still healthy so as long as those things keep happening, we’ll be here.

CNN: Is this [the tour bus] like home for you?

Nelson: Yeah. I spend more time here than I do in my home.

CNN: How do you make it feel comfortable?

Nelson: Well, I have pretty much everything I need. Coffee machine, ice box, stove and shower and radio and TV, record player — whatever you want, we got it.

CNN: We just saw you out there talking to the fans. Do you always take the time to greet them?

Nelson: Sure … it means a lot to them. It means a lot to me that they want to do that. They remember that sometimes more than the concert itself.

CNN: Your latest album is called “The Great Divide.” Is your only writing credit the title track?

Nelson: Yeah and I had a co-writer on that. Jackie King and I wrote that together.

CNN: That’s not normal for you. You usually do a lot more writing.

Nelson: Well, on this particular album, [Grammy-winning producer] Matt Serletic, who produced it, is also a great writer and I wanted to see how many songs he could come up with on his own and he came up with a lot.

CNN: I want to ask you about the artists you collaborated with on this album and why you chose who you chose. Rob Thomas?

Nelson: Rob Thomas and I are friends and I’ve known him for a few years. He’s a fan first of all and he’s a great writer. … We were wanting to do something together and he had done a lot of work with Matt Serletic, so we decided we’d try and I decided to let Matt do everything. He brought the songs together, he called the artists, he checked with me every time he had an idea to see if I liked it or not and I like everything he tried to do.

CNN: What about Kid Rock?

Nelson: Well, Kid Rock and I had done Woodstock together a couple of years ago so I had a chance to meet him. Again, I’d met him a few times on the bus — we’d hung out some together. When Matt asked me what I thought about getting him to do “Last Stand in Open Country,” I said he’s perfect for it.

CNN: And Sheryl Crow?

Nelson: Sheryl Crow — we’ve done some things together. We did the Johnny Cash tribute a few years ago and we just did the CMA [Country Music Award] show a few weeks ago in Nashville and I love to sing with her. Same with Bonnie Raitt and Lee Ann Womack.

CNN: Did they approach you to the do the 9/11 telethon [“America: A Tribute to Heroes”]?

Nelson: That was their idea to do that — to do the song [“America the Beautiful”] — and it was their idea to put it in that place in the show.

CNN: Was that a hard performance?

Nelson: Very hard to do. There was a lot of emotion there on all our parts. I was there the whole day. I got to see everyone do what they did and yeah, I was moved by it. By the time it was my turn to go out there — I was out of it, you know.

CNN: Have things changed for you musically since [September 11]?

Nelson: I think we were all affected in one way or another whether we realize it or not. And it will probably have an effect on everything we think or do from here on.

CNN: You have a book out called “The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes.” Is it an autobiography?

Nelson: It’s a 30-day tour that we did and each day I’d sit right here and write on a legal pad. I’d write a little bit and look out the window. Wake up in the morning and try to remember where I was last night and try to figure out where I was today and talk about that and maybe tell a joke or something. And then we threw in some lyrics, some pictures and that’s about all it is.

CNN: You’re 68 now. You’re coming up on 70. I know you’re not there yet.

Nelson: I can see it (laughs).

CNN: Any talk of retiring? Do you ever think about it? Maybe taking it easy and doing something more relaxing?

Nelson: Well, you know I think about it in the middle of a tour somewhere when I’ve been out for a month and I’m still looking at another month, and I say “When this is over, I’m gonna do something” or “Next year is gonna be different,” but after I’m home awhile, I want to come back.

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