Willie Nelson Art Guitar

by:  Joe Nichol

HAMILTON – Tim Joyner has already proven he can croon a mighty fine imitation of Willie Nelson’s pinched, plaintive voice – a talent that once earned him tickets to a concert.

“I’ve always been a pretty big country music fan and I’ve had a thing for Willie Nelson’s music in particular,” said Joyner, a Hamilton-based professional artist and occasional musician. “So to be able to express that in my artwork, I figured it’d be a pretty neat deal to have that, and I thought it might get me a chance to meet (Nelson) besides.”

As the guitar shows, Joyner is neither a take-it-or-leave-it nor a Johnny-come-lately fan of Nelson. He can still remember going to a concert with his family, decades ago, when Nelson was still touring with fellow “outlaw country” musicians Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash. (For Tuesday night’s gig in Missoula, Nelson shares the bill with Lyle Lovett.)

Back in those days, Nelson was already becoming famous for toting around an old and battered Martin guitar, which he nicknamed “Trigger.”

“Those were just some awesome childhood memories, and I guess that’s why I’ve always remained a country music fan,” recalled Joyner.

Since then, Nelson has continued to play Trigger, and Joyner has built a career as a professional wildlife and Western art painter. His realistic work has earned him some choice jobs through the University of Montana Grizzly Scholarship Association, for whom he has produced several official posters – among them the commemorative poster for the 2001 national I-AA championship football team.

Joyner has also become something of an amateur musician. A few years ago, prior to a concert by Nelson in Big Sky, Joyner won two tickets to the show through a radio contest in which he did the best imitation of Nelson’s voice.

“We went to that, camped in our van, sat through the concert in pouring rain,” he said, “but it was still awesome because it was Willie.”

Earlier this summer, when Joyner heard that Nelson was coming to Missoula, he decided to transform his own father’s old Conn guitar into a replica of Trigger, complete with a painted “hole” where the original guitar has been worn through by Nelson’s aggressive picking.

Where the original Trigger is scrawled over with signatures from Nelson’s friends, Joyner instead wrote song titles and lyrical phrases from some of his personal favorite Nelson tunes: “Red Headed Stranger,” “I never cared for you” and “Whiskey River.” He finished it out with a portrait of Nelson, sketched in ballpoint pen; and then painted a remarkably accurate replica of Nelson’s trademark red, white and blue guitar strap draped across the bottom of the guitar.

It wasn’t the first time Joyner had painted a guitar in honor of a musical hero. Several years ago, he painted a guitar with a portrait of Merle Haggard alongside a railroad scene and sheet music for some of his most famous songs.

Joyner took it to a concert by Haggard, hoping to get it signed. But after showing it around, he got more than that.

“I just showed the right people, and eventually someone took the guitar onto his bus,” recalls Joyner. “A few seconds later, this guy leans off and says, ‘Merle wants to meet you.’ It was like, no way. So that was pretty great.”

Joyner’s artistic odes to his musical heroes aren’t limited to painted guitars. Earlier this year, he produced a “country versus rock” chess set, with pieces sculpted to look like famous musicians.

“Elvis is the king on one side, and Hank (Williams) Senior on the other, and Willie (Nelson) is one of the pieces,” said Joyner, who sells the cast set of pieces through his website, JoynerArt.com. “All the pieces have either something about their music or their life. So Willie’s got a road map, and he’s carrying a W-2 form in one hand – in reference to his past tax troubles, you know.”

So at Tuesday’s concert, Joyner hopes to present Nelson with the chess piece in his likeness, and get the guitar signed.

If he can meet Nelson in the process, all the better. But, he acknowledges, it’s probably best if he doesn’t try to serenade Nelson on the instrument.
“I do love to play and sing, but I’m not near as good at it as I am at the other things I do,” he said. “I’m best at getting out around a campfire and making everyone else leave after a while with my singing.”

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