Willie Nelson Interview, Australian Television (1/28/2000)

KERRY O’BRIEN: Not even Willie Nelson can remember how many times he’s been to Australia. It’s either five or six. But then, given the thousands of days he’s spent on the road, somewhere in the world, and the amount of marijuana he’s consumed, that’s understandable. Nelson on is one of the icons of country music, but his music is much more than that and so is he.  The music also combines soul, blues, rock and gospel, and over 40 years he’s recorded 18 platinum or gold albums, won five Grammies and been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.   Willie Nelson is in Australia for a concert tour and the Tamworth Country Music Festival, and I spoke with him earlier today.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Willie Nelson, you’re 66. You’ve been on the road since you were a kid — thousands of gigs, thousands of songs, thousands of hotel rooms. Why do you keep doing it?WILLIE NELSON: I like it. I enjoy it.KERRY O’BRIEN: You haven’t just forgotten how to stop?

WILLIE NELSON: Well, that may be true, too.  I take a few days off every now and then and I’m ready to go to work.

KERRY O’BRIEN: It struck me that virtually every time you do a concert, it’s like a review of your life, in a way. I mean, you’re singing new songs, of course, you’re singing songs you might have written or recorded 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 40 years ago, and all of those things are like memories of your life, aren’t they?


KERRY O’BRIEN: Not many people have a job like that, where the memories are there permanently with you of most of the things you’ve done in your life.

WILLIE NELSON: This is true. That’s why it’s important to do the right songs every night.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You mean, you leave out the ones with the bad connections?

WILLIE NELSON: Leave out the negatives.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You’ve famously described yourself as a “pot-smoking, redneck hippie”.  I understand the pot-smoking hippie.  Why the redneck?  What’s your identification with redneck?

WILLIE NELSON: Oh, somewhere along the way, somewhere along the way, a guy that I grew up and was — I always had my hair cut short and my neck was always sunburned, and I was always going around maybe acting a little dumber than I was. So I think that’s where the term ‘redneck’ came in. I never did really rebel against that term any more that I did at the term ‘outlaw’, because I figured somewhere in between was the truth.

KERRY O’BRIEN: I mean, ‘outlaw’ I understand in terms of the way you’ve lived your life, too. 

WILLIE NELSON: I came from there. I came from an area where this was very obvious all around me, and the fact that I didn’t become that way didn’t mean that I didn’t grow up seeing it all around me.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You’ve worked a lot with Emmylou Harris, who is quoted as saying, “If America has a voice, it’s Willie Nelson.”  If that’s true, what does it say about America?

WILLIE NELSON: We’re a little hoarse at the moment. Emmylou loves me and I love her. I love the sound of her voice. She has the voice of an angel and we sing good together. She makes my gruff voice sound kind of smooth. She’s just a lot of fun to sing with.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You say, “Remember the good times, there aren’t many of them,” but you’ve had some great times.

Nominate what, for you, have been the great highs? Do they come easily to mind, the great highs?

WILLIE NELSON: Well, the birth of your children, you can’t beat that. The first time that I was accepted as a performer and knew that I was going to be able to do that — that was a great high. Being recognised by your peers in whatever category, as a songwriter, entertainer or whatever — that’s a great high. To go out and do a show. And probably the greatest high is nightly when you go to a show and your energy meets with the other and there’s a great explosion and everybody goes home happy. You can’t beat that high.

KERRY O’BRIEN: And lows, you’ve obviously had some real lows in your life.  You mentioned the birth of your children. You lost one of your children and I would think any parent would feel that there would be few things sadder or tougher than the loss of a child?

WILLIE NELSON: That’s true. I can’t think of anything. You’re not supposed to, you know. Your children are supposed to outlive you.  So, yeah, that’s a tough one, the toughest.

KERRY O’BRIEN: What did you do to deal with that?

WILLIE NELSON: I worked a lot. For the first six months, worked two shows a day and would have worked three if I could have, and just working your way out of it.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Of course, you’ve been married four times. What have you learnt from those four marriages?

WILLIE NELSON: I’ve had four great wives.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You’ve still got one of them.

WILLIE NELSON: There’s no such thing as an ex-wife, you know. They’re always around somewhere. So you better marry somebody you’re going to like a long time.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Well, I’ve read one description of how your first wife left you. Care to share that with us?

WILLIE NELSON: Well, we both had tempers, so, naturally, we were going to clash a lot. She was almost full-blood Indian and I had a lot of that, too.  So, we loved to fight, and we fought Custer’s last stand every day for about 10 years, and I lost every day.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But, on that last day, I think you were still drunk as she sewed you into a sheet, beat the living daylights out of you and left.

WILLIE NELSON: Yeah, that was one of the most interesting nights for me.

KERRY O’BRIEN: And Willie Nelson was also the architect of the FarmAid concerts in America that have raised up to $14 million for battling farmers. He’s offered to do the same for Australia’s battling farmers.



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