Willie Nelson: Once an outlaw, always an outlaw

by:  Jordan Runtagh

Once an outlaw — always an outlaw.

Few artists can hope to have a music career as long and as storied as the great Willie Nelson, the self-proclaimed “last man standing” in the pantheon of country blues greats. Still performing regularly, and with a new studio album — his 67th — under his belt, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

In a wide-ranging cover story for the upcoming issue of AARP The Magazine, Nelson opened up about what keeps him heading out on the road at 85 years old. “You’ve gotta want it,” he says in an “On Topic” video segment that accompanies the feature, shared exclusively by PEOPLE. “And when you get it you got to still want it.”

When it comes to his longevity, the “On the Road Again” singer credits the power of positive thinking. “A negative thought will kill you. So if you’re even thinking negative you’ve got to change that first.”

In the intimate clip, Nelson recalls his early days learning to play an old Sears & Roebuck guitar at the age of 6. Once he got the finger-pickin’ down, he was on his way — and it truly was his way.

“It wouldn’t do any good to tell me anything because I was too stubborn to listen,” he reflects about his youthful days. “And I knew that. We all go through periods when we feel like we have to follow our gut and do what we feel is right at the time when everybody else might think it’s dumb.”

In some ways, he feels as though his headstrong manner hasn’t changed much in the ensuing decades. “I don’t do what I don’t want to do, but if I want to do it, get out of the goddamn way because I’m going to do it! And I suggest everyone have an attitude similar.”

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