Heartworn Memories


Heartworn Memories
a daughter’s personal biography of Willie Nelson
by Susie Nelson

“Dad’s touring schedule gradually increased until it was nothing for him to be gone for thirty days at a stretch.

The bus wore out, never to run again, so Dad bought a station wagon and a trailer to carry the band and all the equipment. There were five people, plus the instruments, amps, P.A. system, one microphone, and one microphone stand. They would set everything up themsleves.

The tours could be monumental.  Paul likes to describe the longest route they did during those years. It lasted eighteen days, they played nine dates, and they covered 15,000 miles.

That is not a typo. Fifteen thousand miles in eighteen days. They began in San Antonio, went to New Jersey, and then to Los Angeles. From L.A. they went to San Francisco, then San Diego and back to Los Angeles for the American Association of Country Music awards. The last stop was Stamford, Connecticut — 3,280 miles away. They had sixty-nine hours to make it.

That kind of schedule can wear you down in a hurry. Luckily, there were times when they could afford to fly. But flying wasn’t all that convenient either. Dad made one airplane incident famous in his song, “Me and Paul”.

And at the airport in Milwaukee
They refused to let us board the plane at all
They said we looked suspicious
But I believe they like to pick on me and Paul.

What happened was that they were late trying to catch a plane and Paul left his briefcase in the cab.  Dad went back to get it while Paul tried to buy the tickets.  An airline employee was talking on the phone while Paul waited impatiently, and in the meantime he became engrossed in looking at the employee’s twenty-year service pin on his lapel.

When he hung up, Paul told him, “You must have to take that pin on and off every day.”  That made the guy mad, for some reason or other.  He told Paul that it was impossible for the band to catch the plane because it was about to depart.

“Can’t you sabotage one of the engines for about four or five minutes?” Paul asked.

That did it.  The employee shouted for the security men, claiming that Paul had threatened to blow up the plane.

As soon as they heard the story, the security guards relaxed.  But Paul and Dad had missed the plane.

Not all of the hassles of the road came from the unpredictable actions of airline employees or screwed-up schedules.   Drug laws also posed a problem.   The incident in Laredo, when a maid found a roach in the motel room and called the cops, was part of “Me and Paul.”  Another close call hapened in El Paso during a local drug crackdown.  The police brought some trained dogs down to the bus to sniff around.  Luckily, the band had just gotten a bunch of hamburgers to fortify themselves before going on that night, and the dogs were more interested in grease than grass.

Getting to play could be a problem, to.  The verse in “Me and Paul” about the package show in Buffalo really happened.  Kitty Wells hogged the show, according to Paul.  They had driven a long way in the station wagon and wanted to perform.  But every time they looked up, there was Kitty Wells selling cookbooks, or introducing members of her family.

Dad had already found the bar downstairs and was holding court.  Paul finally gave up when he was told that their part was going to be cut down to eleven minutes.  He joined dad in the bar.

“You’re behind,” Dad told him.

So Paul ordered four doubles at one time and fixed that problem in a hurry.”

— Susie Nelson

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