Meet the Author: Joe Nick Patoski, author of, ‘Willie Nelson: An Epic Life”

Meet the Author, Joe Nick Patoski Saturday, January 24 from 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. at the Twin Oaks Branch of the Austin Public Library, 2301 S. Congress #7 for a lively discussion of his new book, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. A book signing will follow the discussion. Meet the Author, Joe Nick Patoski is free and open to the public. For more information please call 512- 442-4664 or visit

Brian Berger

Patsy Cline, Faron Young and Ray Price turned his songs into standards; Miles Davis named one of his Jack Johnson-era jams after him; he bailed Dennis Hopper out of jail after one of The Last Movie auteur’s notorious mid-‘70s acid benders; your mom may have sang along with Julio Iglesias and him; the great Carla Bozulich covered his pop-star making Red Headed Stranger en toto: this is the world Willie Nelson made, and that’s just scratching the surface.

Getting deeper in is a job long overdue for a serious cultural historian and, thankfully, long-time Texas music writer Joe Nick Patoski is up to the task. While Patoski’s biography, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life (Little, Brown) isn’t the final word on his achievements as a brilliant songwriter, musician, celebrity, icon and activist, it’s by far the best Willie book yet and and an inspiring eclogue to Joe Nick’s and Willie’s native Lone Star State, the importance of which to nearly all the musics we love can’t be overstated. Writing this on a 18 degree night in South Brooklyn, I realize I forgot to ask Joe Nick about Texas’ other unimpeachable contribution to the American experience, barbecue (mea culpa), but drop him a line at and I bet he can hook ya’ll up.

Brian Berger: Seventy-five years, 500 plus pages— An Epic Life indeed. Another word that comes to mind thinking about Willie is “persistence.” When did Willie really get you in a way that you went wow, this guy is something else, both musically and personally?

Joe Nick Patoski: The first time I took Willie seriously was seeing him play on a flatbed trailer in the body shop of McMorris Ford, a typical country band until the middle of “Bloody Mary Morning” when the whole ensemble took off on a spacey jam

The first time I realized this was more than a music thing was The Fourth of July Picnic at Liberty Hill in 1975, which drew 75,000 and validated Willie as Something Bigger in my eyes. He’s been doing it to me pretty much ever since, up to the spontaneous kick boxing demonstration at the end of his interview with me for No Depression in 2004, and the Wat-Air water cooler sales demo he did when I brought him his copy of the book. He was so into his sales routine, he could’ve been selling me anything. And I would’ve bought it.

Brian: As a Fort Worth kid in the 1950s and 1960s, were you raised amid country music fans? I’m in awe just typing the names: Milton Brown, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Cliff Bruner, Floyd Tillman, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price— even Tex Ritter could be great and that’s not getting into jazz, blues or Tejano, Buddy Holly and Bobby Fuller, etc.

Joe Nick: We weren’t country music fans per se growing up in Fort Worth, but my stepmother, who I lived with after the age of 10, had worked at KCUL before she met my dad, and I was a total radio nut as a kid, so I was always dialing between the Top 40 stations, the soul station KNOK, and KCUL and later KBUY, the country stations for Fort Worth. Country music is part of the fabric of Fort Worth, so even if you didn’t like it (and I did like it), you couldn’t escape it. The Fat Stock Show was the social event of the year in Fort Worth, everyone wore jeans and boots, and we got let out of school to go to the rodeo.

I first heard Willie’s music when Faron Young’s “Hello Walls” crossed over to Top 40 radio. I used to see him on television, hosting Cowtown Jamboree, the live show from Panther Hall that aired every Saturday on Channel 11 to hype that evening’s show at Panther Hall, where Willie was a semi-regular. But even when Willie was known primarily as a Nashville songwriter, country radio in Fort Worth played his records a lot. So “The Party’s Over” was a hit in my mind long before I heard Don Meredith sing it on Monday Night Football.

Brian: I’d read quite a bit about Willie before but much of what you wrote about Willie’s roustabout Texas career was new to me. Was there anything that surprised you, as a researcher? With sides on D Records and Sarg, Willie could have ended up another Country Johnny Mathis, say— a talented guy in a fertile regional scene.

Joe Nick: So much of Willie’s musical life before hitting it big as a country music songwriter was a revelation. Maybe it’s because when Willie told the story, he kinda skimmed over that early period. To me, it was the most fascinating period: he wanted to be a performer but had to struggle to get heard. That’s the real critical period. Yeah, if ol’ Charlie Fitch responded to Willie’s demo tape, no doubt he’d be holding forth in some country club, playing the hits of the day for the local audience’s listening and dancing pleasure. The D sides were really revealing because over the course of two years, they show how much he matured as a recording artist. You can hear the change in the first versions of “Night Life” aka “Nite Life” which Pappy Daily refused to release it was so bluesy and soulful.

To read the rest of interview with Joe Nick Patoski, visit: 

Leave a Reply