Willie Nelson Interview, “Country Music”, June 1977

Country Music
June 1977
The Mystic Willie Nelson
by Nelson Allen

I arrive at Willie’s gate, considerably altered since I’d seen it last — a huge stone fence topped with barbed wire graced the front with some kind of electronic gate and get some guy on the other end, and resisting an urge to order a Moby Jack, inquire after Willie.  “Willie’s sleeping,” the voice says.  “Well, he told me to come out today,” I say.  “Just a minute,’ the voice says.  That, I thought, is probably the lowest job in the country music business — answering Willie’s box.  Then Connie, Willie’s wife who looks like a country singing star herself, suggests over the box that I try and get back in touch with Willie later.  “He’s sleeping,” she says.  “He was out all night long last night and didn’t get home ’till seven this morning.”

I know that, since he was out with me, but it’s a few days later before we get together again.  This itme Willie and family are ensconced in the Ramada Inn while remodeling is done at the ranch. (I’d run into a man who operates a landscaping business a few days before and he told me Willie had called him up and said he wanted some landscaping.  “What exactly do you want planted?” he’d asked Willie.  “I don’t care,” Willie replied, ‘just put some stuff out there.”) It’s two o’clock but getting somewhat familiar with Willie’s schedule i first go to the bar and call the room.  “Willie’s taking a nap,” Connie says, “Could you come back around four?”

At four I knock on the door and am met by Willie himself and led into a large living room suite.  Willie has on a fresh pair of overalls, a t-shirt, tennis shoes, black shades, and his hair is tied back still wet from a shower.  “Sorry you had to wait,” Willie says shaking hands, and I notice as always the one incongruous element to his otherwise laid-back demeanor — the horseshoe diamond ring on his right hand pinkie.  Horseshoe diamond rings are the sole sing of achievement for successful car salesmen and all country and western stars.

Except for a coiled and stuffed rattlesnake sitting atop the refrigerator, there is nothing in the place that doesn’t belong to the Ramada Inn.  Willie has a couple of phone calls to take care of before we talk.  They have to do with his recent subpoena to appear before a Dallas court inquiring into illegal drugs (not a charge or accusation by any means), and Willie talks to lawyers and whoever else openly and totally unconcerned whether I overhear the conversations or not.  Connie informs hijm that he’s due to appear in San Antonio that night for an honorary award from a group of attorneys.  “I don’t want to go,” he says but adds, “But tell ’em something good like. . . like I don’t want to.”  Willie turns to me waiting for the questions, waiting to give me some “different answers.”  I had told him once that “the questions are always the same.’  “The answers are always different,” he’d said.

We had planned to visit a few places like the pool hall run by Willie’s folks and the local golf course, but with the recent success its been a while since Willie’s had the time to really hang around Austin much — pitching washers behind Bully’s, an east Austin bar, or playing golf with Darrell Royal, or just getting drunk with various Texas characters he’s met through the years.  Since the CMA Awards he’s only been in town six days and more and more time is spent on the road.  He purchased Porter Wagoner’s bus, and it’s been traveling from Atlanta to Jackson Hole to San Francisco and back again.  Not long ago in Fort Worth he collapsed on stage.  But no one has ever left a Willie Nelson performance disappointed, which is one of the reasons Willie scored so well when he first came to Austin.  it was obvious from the beginning that Willie came to play.  Lately he’s been saying that he expects his career to peak soon as all careers do.  He still gets nervous — the “only time” is right before he first climbs the stage.  I asked him it was true that he wasn’t writing the sad country songs anymore because things were going good.  “Yeah, to a certain point it is,” Willie said, “I don’t write the real sad tearjerking songs that I used to write because i’m not real sad anymore.”

Allen:  What happened to the movie you were going to do?

Nelson:  Well, originally this was Ty Hardin’s idea.  He went through three or four scripts before he found one that he really wanted to do and that he thought was the one that we ought to do. I told him I’d do it with him; I didn’t know anything about the movie but I was just going to get into it and try and learn, because I want to do the Red-Headed Stranger (as a movie).  I wanted to do that, so I was going to learn about movies and this was going to be my education.  But then Ty bailed out on it, he thought the script wasn’t strong enough.  And then the guy that wrote the script was down there trying to get the show on the road… talking about maybe hiring another actor to play opposite me.  It just got to be too big a hassle, too many things going wrong so I bailed out myself.

Allen:  Have you thoutght about how you would go about making the Red-Headed Stranger into a movie?

Nelson:  How I would make the film?  Well, Jay Milner and a couple movie people are writing the script and i’ve been getting copies of it for a while and it looks pretty good.

Allen.  That album always seemed like a movie to me anyway.

Nelson.  Yeah, that’s going to be the problem.  I can imagine it being such a good movie, but whether or not we can get that on the screen is another question.  it might not come out the way i think it’ll come out.

Allen.  If you can get the right director…

Nelson.  Yeah, we need to get somebody that really knows what they’re doing.  If we aren’t careful it could be like a bad fiddle player — if it aint good it’s terrible.

Allen.  You’re on the road more now. How is life on the road?

Nelson:  Well, I enjoy it.  I was on the road a lot before I moved back to Texas and I slowed down a lot when I first moved back to Texas, but before that for about 12 or 15 years in a row I went pretty heavy.  i started out with Ray Price and played bass with him, and he worked his ass off all the time.  We went all the way up into Canada with him and then flew over to Alaska.  We did a 90-day tour one time of one-nighters.  I’m used to living on the road and Holiday Inns are just … i feel more at home in a Holiday Inn than I really do at home because the home that I have now I haven’t been in as much as I’ve been in Holiday Inns.  They all look the same and you walk in one room and you say, yeah here we are again.

Allen.  Everything’s right where you left it.

Nelson.  Right.

Allen:  Have there been any disappointments along with all the success you had recently?

Nelson:  No.

Allen.  I guess the disapointments were when you couldn’t get them to promote your records?

Nelson.  Right.

Allen.  You were quoted recently as saying your career was about to peak.  Did you say that?

Nelson.  Did I say that?  It could be, it could be about to peak, but I don’t feel like it is and I don’t think that until I feel like it is that it is.  But in some people’s minds it may have already started a downward trend, it may be crashing.

Allen:  After you and Waylon won the CMA Awards…

Nelson:  No.  Waylon and I are not going to be involved in any of the awards this year.   Most of the awards that one of us is in, the other is in, and I don’t want that and he doesn’t either, so we’re just both taking our names out of the pot.  Because we don’t want to be in competition with each other — we never have been — especially on national television.  Just to sit there and look dumb while Waylon wins or I win, either way it’s not right.

Allen.  With all your success, has it made it easier on people coming up, has it brought about any changes in the industry?

Nelson;  They tell me that it has.  I don’t know.  I really don’t know because the people that I knew in Nashville, most of them are still there.  Now whether anybody who moves into town now has a better chance than he would have a year ago or five years ago, I don’t know.  I think.. that his appearance is not going to hurt him as much as it would have a year or five years ago.  People who walked into Nashville with long hair a few years ago, uh, i started to say they couldn’t get arrested but actually that’s the first thing they could get was arrested.

Allen:  Why all the new trappings, the voice box, etc., at the gate to your place?  Why did that become necessary?  Just too many unannounced visitors?

Nelson:  Yeah, really.  And I only get two or three days off at a time, and when I do, I like to have complete isolation and privacy in order to rest — sleep for 72 hours or something.

Allne:  Is it becoming more difficult to just hang out around Austin like you did a couple of years ago?

Nelson:  Yeah, it is.  it’s hard to go anywhere and really just sit down and enjoy the evening.

Allen:  That’s too bad in a way.

Nelson:  In a way it is but I know it’s not going to last forever.  Pretty soon I’ll be able to go drink a beer.

Allen:  Have you given any thoughts to building your own club to hang out in?

No.  I did that and wound up being… like I had an office to hang out in and everyone else hung out there, too.  I opened up a pool hall so I’d have a place to go play pool and dominoes and I can’t go over there.

Allen:  Why did you do that gospel album when you did?

Nelson:  I’ve been trying to get that album out for a long time.  They kept putitng me off form label to label.  RCA wouldn’t let me do one.  They thought I needed to be a more established country artist before I could do a gospel album. I’ve done 32 albums and only one gospel album.  I’d like to do several more and I probably will over the years.  But this is just something I wanted to do and they wouldnt’ let me. They said you can’t do that and I said yes I can.  Another one of these things.  But they didn’t think gospel songs were commercial themselves and I knew they were because i knew that we were singing every night Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Amazing Grace and everybody would sing along.  I knew that they would sell.

Allen:  There’s a rumor that you disappeared for a peirod of time in the late 60’s.  Is that true?

Nelson.  I do that occasionally (laughing). I’m planning on disappearing in the next few minutes.  How long a time did they say I disappeared for?

Allen:  About six months.

Nelson:  That’s probably true.  I haven’t got to do that lately, but I’m glad you brought that up.  it’s a good idea.  I can think about that again for awhile.

Allen:  You don’t want to say where you disappeared to?

Nelson:?  Oh, no.  I don’t remember where I was.  I really don’t know where I went.

Allen:  Have you ever read or studied much of Edgar Cayce?

Nelson:  Yeah.  I love Edgar Cayce.  I really do.  I think he was a smart man whenever he went to sleep.

Allen:  I read Many Mansions years ago.  Did you ever apply any of that to your own life?

Nelson:  Yeah, a lot of that.  In fact, I belong to that association there in Virginia Beach and they sent me all the literature and the books and everything that Edgar Cayce had… Well, not everything, I guess there’s 15,000 readings that he had all together and they’re all in the library there in Virginia Beach, and anybody that wants to see them can go over there and read them.  He had so much to say about so many things that you can pretty well make a whole life philosophy out of what the man said.  He went into reincarnation, he went into earthquakes, he went into pyramids, he went into the whole thing.

Allen:  Has it led you to fashion your own beliefs in a certain way?

Nelson:  Probably in a lot of ways it has.  Between Edgar Cayce and a lot of the mystery schools that I’ve gotten interested in over the years like the Rosicrucians.  There’s a lot of interesting things there, food for thought.  A lot of it makes sense.  It’s all based on reincarnation and karma and that’s logical to me.

Allen:  Do you believe in reincarnation?

Nelson:  Yeah.  It’s the only thing that makes sense.

Allen:  Have you ever given any thought to who or what you might have been in a previous life?

Nelson:  No, I’ve thought about it, but I’ve never really cared, never cared enough to go ask someone who’s supposed to be an expert on that kind of stuff.  I never really cared to go back into past lives.  I think people can… if a guy really wanted to be a singer and couldn’t, but if he just kept trying and trying I believe that if he didn’t make it this lifetime he might make it the next lifetime.

Allen:  It’s kind of encouraging.

Nelson:  It’s a positive way to look at life.  Everything moves in one direction, you either go up or back, you’re either progressing or regressing, one of the two; you never stay in one place.  I don’t believe that everything ends pow and its all over.  That just doesn’t make sense.  You can’t destroy matter, if you stop it here, it comes to life over here.  You can’t destroy energy.

Allen:  Do you have an interest in yoga, kung fu, martial arts.

Nelson:  Yeah.

Allen:  Is that something you were interested in or something you’re still into?

Nelson:  I never have really quit.  I still do yoga exercises practically every day.  i don’t do kung fu much, but i still practice a lot of stuff that I used to do.

Allen:  Where did you train for it?

Nelson:  In Nashville.  There’s a school there in Nashville.  We used to go out to colleges and high schools there and put on exhibitions and try to raise interest… go out and break a few boards.

Allen:  Do they have belts like in karate and judo?

Nelson:  No in kung fu you’re either a master or a student.  no in-betweens.  I’m still a student.

Allen:  What is the difference between kung fu and karate?

Nelson:  I can’t speak about karate because I don’t really … but kung fu is probably 75 percent mental and 25 percent physical.  It’s a lot of mind over matter more than brute strength.  And karate I think is more physical, building up callouses on your hands, and we didn’t do that in kung fu.  We didn’t go into that heavy a physical thing.  It’s just concentration and believing that you can do it.

Allen.  Are the picnics over for good?

Nelson:  As far as i’m concerned right now they are.  There are too many problems involved to try and put ’em on.

Allen:  There seemed to both good and bad things come out of them.  What did you like about them?

Nelson:  Well, it was good for me first of all.  A lot of people know the name Willie Nelson that didn’t know it then.  That was one of the reasons that I put them on — to draw attenton to myself.  It was a big hype for Willie is what it was.  But I think the shows were good.  I know we had some problems with crowds, not the audience.  I think we had more problems with the backstage people then we did the audience.   The people backstage were harder to please.  If they’d paid and walked in the front they would have had a lot better time.  Everybody wants backstage and that’s not really where it’s going on, it’s out front where the show is.

Allen:  It seems like you’ve been catching a lot of crap in your home state lately.  Are you getting tired of all that?

Nelson.  Aw, yeah, I’m tired of it.  A lot of that I don’t even read.  I look at the title an dif it doesn’t look too good I’ll just pass on over that and look for some good news.

Allen:  You did read the Texas Monthly story?

Nelson.  Yes, I read that.  Jan Reid’s story about the death of redneck rock.

Allen:  All he did was talk about a term he’d invented anyway.

Nelson:  That’s right.

Allen:  I don’t know what he’ll have to write about next time.

Nelson:  The reincarnation of redneck rock.

Allen:  That story was offensive.  It was so contrived.

Nelson:  It was.  It really was.  He pissed me off right at first when he started calling me cocaine Willie.  Now he could have called me anything else but, uh, I just don’t like cocaine and never have.  In Fort worth I was never known as Cocaine Willie.

Allen:  It kind of has a nice ring to it.

Nelson:  Oh, it sounded okay.  It wasn’t anything I wanted to sue him for but then when all that bullshit came up in Dallas those words came back to haunt me.  They brought it up, well they called you cocaine willie so you’re probably involved in some of that.

Allen:  I’ve heard that a lot of that came about because Gregg Allman released a lot of names when he was having trouble in Georgia.

Nelson:  I understand that happened but I don’t think that my name would have been involved in anything that he would have turned in.  The situation that I was in…there was a friend of mine that they were trying to get and they knew that I knew him and that I’d known him a long time and they knew we were good friends.  so they just figured that I had to be involved in business with him.

Allen:  A lot of people wrongly think that there were dope charges against you when you appeared before the grand jury even though that wasn’t the case.

Nelson:  Well, that was what I was talking about.  It was just one of those guilt by association things.  I’d known (this guy) for years and years and years when he was in the automobile business.  He and I played poker together.  He’s still a good friend.  I don’t know what he did other than sell cars and don’t want to know.  It’s none of my business.  I bought cars and trucks from him and have records to prove it and that’s the only business that I ever had with (him)…  If they wanted to bust me on marijuana they could have done that years ago because everyone knows that I smoke a joint every now and then.  Everybody also knows that I ain’t got any for sale.  I smoke it all.  But that was a bad thing really because they were trying to get (this guy) and they just knew that I was involved with it.  And there may have been some people who said I was, too, because a lot of people get arrested for one charge or another and they become a snitch in order to get better treatment.  They’ll say anything about anybody if it’ll to keep ’em from getting a long sentence.

Allen:  Do you think they called you up there because of who you are?

Nelson:  I think they probably did it to cause some publicity.  Ray Price also, they mentioned his name and Ray Price is no more involved in dope dealing than I am or you are.  He picks and sings.   He makes a lot of money doing that.  He makes $10,000.00 a night, so he’s not gonna go out and mess up the whole thing over something stupid like that.  He’s got everything in the world going for him and there would be no reason to do a thing like that.  Anybody with any intelligence at all should be able to see that.  If they’d had any narcs or snitches around me, and I’m sure they have had, all they found out was just exactly the truth because I haven’t got a thing to hide.

Allen:  Did you sever your connections with the nightclub Whiskey River over all that?

Nelson:  Well, that probably had something to do with it but i mainty just wanted to get out of the nightclub business.  it’s just a hassle.  But that’s a perfect name for a joint though.  When I was thinking about really going into the nightclub business I was going to do a chain of clubs, the Nightlife, and franchise them and all that.

Allen:  Tompall and Waylon are suing each other.  Are you mad at anybody or is anyone mad at you?

Nelson:  No.  I’m just laughing at both of ’em.

Allen:  Do you plan on building a recording studio now?

Nelson:  No, there’s enough good studios around without me building one.  If I put one up I’d have to use it all the time and I like to move around and use different studios.

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