Willie Nelson and Anne Murray (Oct. 1983)

T.V. Guide
October 8 – 14, 1983
Willie Nelson: ‘If there is a hatchet; let’s bury it.’

Neon lit carnival rides brighten the night sky and a pungency of livestock hangs in the still hot air of the Indiana State Fair. Willie Nelson” with pigtails, red headband, beard, earring, black T-shirt, jeans and running shoes s ambles on stage before 21,000 screaming fans. They overflow the grandstand of the fairgrounds race course and press toward the platform bathed in magenta light.

“Whiskey River don’t run dry!” Nelson begins, and slams an electrified chord form his scarred old Martin Guitar as a huge Texas flag unfurls behind him. “You’re all I’ve got; take care of me.”   The crowd roars, rises, claps hands overhead and commences a seismic foot-stomping that sets the grandstand trembling.

Then without pause, he breakss into Good Hearted Woman; ‘It’s a Bloody Mary Morning’ ‘Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.’On the Road Again,’ ‘Always on My Mind.’ The crowd knows them all and responds wildly to the first few notes of each. Suddenly he is crooning pop standards” ‘Blue Skies.’ ‘Stardust.’’All of Me’ bending and syncopating and teasing them into new shapes. Willie Nelson’s voice pierces the darkness and then descends effortlessly to a cello richness. Between songs, he and the six-piece band perform long, driving, daring instrumental breaks that wash over the nearby livestock exhibitions.

Standing there at center stage, feet planted smiling, almost shily, into the waves of applause Willie Nelson is busy at the central ritual of his life: playing music at the fairs and concert halls and stadiums of America, a job he does more than 200 times a year. Of all the country performers active today, Willie Nelson inspires the most passionate loyalty among his followers. He has, in fact, redefined country music by wrenching it single-handedly out of the Nashville mold and enriching it with other strains of American popular music. In so doing, he has become a superstar on his own terms:

Nine platinum albums, including ‘Stardust,’ which has been on the country charts for more than five yesrs.

An output of more than 900 songs, many of which have been recorded by Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Andy Williams, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Linda Ronstadt, Leon Russell and other singers.

More than 45 albums in release, with five of them currently on the country charts.

A thriving career as a movie star, with several films under his belt, including ‘The Electric Horseman,’ ‘Honeysuckle Rosek,’ ‘Barbarosa’ and another (‘Songwriter’) about to go before the cameras.

On Monday night in Nashville, and on national televisions via CBS (Octo. 10, 9:30 P.M.) a sublter minidrama will be played out when Willie Nelson appears on the Grand Ole Opry stage for the first time as co-host, with Anne Murray, of the country-music industry’s cherished annual awards program. He’ll be burying an old hatchet that’s been lying there ever since he abandoned Nashville in 1970, went home to Texas, grew a beard and pigtails, started playing so-called out-law music (tinged with rock n’ roll) and thus affronted the more conservative (and entrenched) elements of the Nashville Establishment who didn’t like his looks or his music.

His towering success as a maverick music maker and folk hero has changed their minds. On Monday, besides being co-host, he is nominated for awards in no fewer than five categories, includng Entertainer of the Year.

Meanwhile, back in Indiana, it is two hours before Willie Nelson is to walk onstage at the fairgrounds and he is reclining in an armchair in his motel suite bare feet on a coffee table, utterly nerveless and in repose, musing about his rasons for agreeing to be a host for the Country Music Association Awards. The powers that be in Nashville have relaxed their attitudes a great deal in the last few years toward people like me,’ he says, pointing out that tuxedos were once the norm at the awards. ‘What do tuxes have to do with country music?’

He left Nashville way back then because his career was dead in the water “because ‘I was just a little ahead of my time. They weren’t ready for somebody like me, and besides they were doing OK without me.” His music just wasn’t as conservative as folks in Nashville were used to. But they are business people. Willie points out, and when he began selling records by the millions; well, that was a language they understood.

They even swalllowed hard and tried to accept his raffish, vagabond style of dress once they justified in their own minds that it was a kind of uniform just like the sequin-suited and rhinestoned country stars of yore. Willie wasn’t rhine-stoned, they complained. Just stoned.

‘But there are no hard feelings now,’ says Nelson. Success has been the great equalizer. ‘If there is a hatchet, let’s bury it.’

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