Willie Nelson on the Road Again (Sunday Extra 5/9/1993)

Fans are Getting a Full Nelson
Extra Entertainment
May 9, 1993
by Bill Ben

Willie Nelson’s on the road again, and more to the point, back on track again.

“I just don’t like staying in one place,” he was saying the other day, fidgeting on a sofa in his Manhattan hotel suite.

“For a while there, I was laying low, but I wasn’t putting down roots.”

Willie just turned 60, and here he is, careening all over North America, performing with his own band and as part of the historic association that is billed as The Highwaymen (himself, Johny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings).

Taco Bell ..  “Saturday Night Life.”  A prime-time birthday bash on CBS.  Farm Aid VII.  Two big “Country Takes Manhattan” gigs — at Radio City Music Hall and the very next day, a Central Park benefit with the Highwaymen.

Now compare this with his schedule last year when he spent all of May through October in Branson, Mo., an Ozarks country music resort where many performers have moved to wind down their careers.

“If you’re looking to retire Branson is the place to do it,” Nelson says, “but I’m not looking to do it.”

Not yet?  “Not ever,” he says.

Even in Branson, though, he worked.  He did 144 shows, which covered his various costs of living — golf, alimony, headbandsand all — but Willie is a restless troubadour, and his idea of getting sick is coming down with diesel poisoning from the fumes emitted by his touring bus.

First things first.

He looks good.  The mustache and beard are white, and the long hair that Willie keeps under the trademark rolled headband is red-brown, about the same color as his oh-so-long ago ‘Red Headed Starnger’ days.

Hes as laconic and easy going as ever, slim, wearing sneakers — he isn’t big on cowboy boots — and somewhere on the scene is his fourth wife and the youngest of his six children.  They are aged 3 and 4.

“I’m kind of like Ray-O-Vac,” he says.  “I just keep going and going.”

Musically, he keeps rolling right along, too.

The new album, “Across the Borderline,” his 35th on Columbia, is a gem, selling like crazy, with Paul Simon, Bonnie aitt, Sinead O’Connor, Bob Dylan and Kristofferson joining his long long list of singing partners.

Incidentally, is there anybody anywhere he has not sung with?

“Well, there’ s you,” he says, “But since you ain’t left the room yet, there’s still a chance we’ll do a little something.”

The tax thing is straightening itself out, too.  He is still working off that Texas sized claim from the Internal Revenue Service — it once hit $32 million, counting interest and penalties.

Nelson even cut a special Uncle Sam album called “The IRS Tapes,” just him and his guitar, which was heavily promoted through late-night TV ads, with 75 cents fo each $1 going directly to the IRS.

“I was down to where going platinum wouldn’t help,” he says.  “After a whle, you just laugh and turn it all over to the lawyers.”

The lawyers whittled the amount down to a manageable $million, an half of that has been paid, largely from the sale of property the IRS seized.  The kicker is that most of it was bought by friends hwo promised to hold it until he was solvent.

His troubles stemmed from tax shelters that the IRS later disallowed, and he’s now suing his accounting firm, which set up the shelters.

Nelson is living in a cabin on a 700-acre ranch in Spicewood, Tex., where he plays golf – “I worry more about my game than anything else right now” – and gets away from all the silly questions.

Sample question:  Which young singer out there most reminds you of you?  Answer:  I don’t hear anybody who sounds like me, which is probably a good thing.”

He doesn’t write as any songs as he once did.  “I’m not as desperate for money, that’s why,” he says.

Still, there’s plenty more where “Crazy,” “Funny How Time Slips Away.”  “Good-Hearted Woman,” “On the Road Again” and so many other big hits came from.  They are on tape in boxes stored in boxes around the place.

“I’ve outlived everybody,” he says.  “Hell, even Jones is younger than me.  That’s something, ain’t it?”

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