Honolulu Star-Bulletin 1996 Interview with Willie Nelson

Tim Ryan had the great opportunity to sit with Willie following a 1996 concert in Honolulu.  Here is that interview:

star-Bulletin:  How old were you when you got interested in playing music?

Willie Nelson:  I started writing poems at 4 or 5 years old, learned to play guitar at 6, then started putting melodies to those poems.

SB:  Was radio an influence at that early age?

WN:  I’d listen to the radio at night and hear everything that was there, like the Grand Ole opry out of Nashville.  I listened to all kinds of music. 

SB:  How did you go from writing poetry and an interest in performing to forming a band?

WN:  My sister (Bobbie) and I played together when we were growing up.  She played piano and organ.  I played guitar.  I’d sit on the piano stool and play along with her — did that for years.  then we got in school and we played during study hall periods.  I put together my first band in high school.

SB:  Weren’t you a disc jockey in the late ’50’s?

WN:  At Vancouver, Washington, KVAN.  I lived in Portland Oregon, then Eugene, where my mother lived.

SB:  Was it about this time you started recording music?

WN:  Yeah.  One of the first things I did was in a guy’s basement in Vancouver — “No Place for Me” and “Lumberjack.”

SB:  The first famous song you recorded was “Family Bible.”

WN:  It was really sort of autobiographical, wasn’t difficlut to write at all — sold it for $50.00

SB:  So you moved to Nashville and said, “I’m going to be a songwriter”?

WN:  I thought I was one before I got there.  I thought I could do ok as a songwriter, especially after “Family Bible” did well.  If I could write one, I could write two.

SB:  In Nashville, you put out some all-time classics.

WN:  I was working in Houston, in fact, living in Pasadena (Texas) — driving all the way from Hempstead Highway back over to Pasadena every night.  I wrote songs on the way back and forth.   In one week over there, I wrote ‘Crazy,” “Funny How Time Slips Away”, and “Night Life.”  So, when I went to Nashville, I had those ready to go.  it was a good week.

SB:  What’s your songwriting process like?

WN:  There’s no process.  Some days I write, some days I don’t…. most days I don’t.

SB:  In 1978, you put out “Stardust,” a collection of pop standards that spent 10 years on the country charts.  What inspired you to put the album together?

WN:  I was living in L.A., in an apartment, right underneath the apartment of Booker T. Jones.  He was married to Rita Coolidge’s sister at the time.  He and I hung out a lot, and the more I got to know him, the more I realized that this was the time to do the ‘Stardust’ album.  I’d wanted to do all those songs for a long time, but I just didn’t find the right producer and arranger.  I knew that in order to do songs like that, I would need to have someone in there, who knew everything there was to know about writing and arranging.  Booker T. was the guy that I felt could do it.

SB:  What advice would you give to a young muscian just starting out?

WN:  One of my ex-fathers-in-law, people would ask him for advice, and d say, “Take my advice and do want you wnat to.”  I think it’s pretty serious advice if you look at it from that angle.  Do what you want to do.  Just follow your heart.  Listen to me and then do what you want to do.

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