Willie Nelson honored at pre-Grammy event

by Lyndsey Parker

It was a multigenerational affair at the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing’s annual Grammy Week Celebration on Wednesday night when this year’s P&E honoree, 85-year-old Willie Nelson, took the stage with his sons Lukas and Micah Nelson and Lukas’s band, Promise of the Real.

Also on hand were Grammy Album of the Year nominee Kacey Musgraves and veteran country songwriter and producer Buddy Cannon, who introduced the elder Nelson, and surprise guest Dave Matthews, who performed acoustic versions of Nelson’s 1961 classic “Funny How Time Slips Away” and his own “Gravedigger,” which Nelson covered in 2008.

There was a lot of love in the room at Village Studios in Los Angeles as Musgraves proclaimed, “[Nelson] has this really unique ability to unite. … It’s really unlike any other artist I can think of. Underdogs, outliers, Republicans, rappers, presidents — everyone loves Willie! Speaking of presidents, I asked Willie one time, ‘So, why don’t you just run for president?’ He was like, ‘Because I’d win.’ Touché.

‘He’s just a huge part of American culture. I mean, little kids are still dressing up like him for Halloween. … His songs are so iconic, so classic. They’re never gonna die,” Musgraves continued. “And let’s get real — he’s probably not either. He’s going to outlive us all.”

Matthews later echoed Musgraves’s sentiment, telling the Village crowd (which included “Weird Al” Yankovic, Diane Warren, Feist, Ziggy Marley and Lisa Loeb), “[Nelson is] just a great influence. If you need someone to make you think it’s better to be good and kind, you just have to look at that guy. And then you realize, ‘Oh, there’s no reason to be a d***, because look how far this guy’s gotten being a f***in’ great guy!’”

Matthews was later joined onstage by Lukas for a rendition of “Crazy,” the Patsy Cline classic that his father wrote in 1961, after which the Nelson sons jammed on an 11-minute medley of his hits. Finally, the man of the hour got up for “Living in the Promiseland” and “On the Road Again.”

Willie seemed to prefer to let his music do the talking, keeping his P&E acceptance speech short and sweet — though he acknowledged that being so universally likable had delivered a career advantage. “I want to thank the producers and engineers over the years for making me sound as good as I could,” he quipped. “And I’m glad they liked me, because they really could have screwed me up!”

Now in its 12th year, the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing Grammy Week Celebration also honored the contributions of the Producers & Engineers Wing’s 6,400-plus professional members, who work together to shape the future of music recording.
Nelson, who has eight Grammy wins and 200 hundred albums under his belt — and who planned to head back into the studio Thursday, according to Cannon — joins a list of P&E honorees that includes such illustrious names as T Bone Burnett, Jimmy Iovine, Quincy Jones, Neil Young, Nile Rodgers, Rick Rubin, Jack White and Alicia Keys.
“Willie is one of the icons, and he has been a standard-bearer for all of us,” said Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow.

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