I talked some friends into going with me when he sang at a Longview club at least 40 years ago. (He’s now 79.)
So I happily bought his recent book, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road.
TO ADD to the illusion that you’re in the bus with Willie, “’on the road again, making music with my friends,” Willie’s words are in normal black-on-white but his family members and friends have their comments in boxes with grey halftone backgrounds. It’s an interesting typographical device.
Wanting to know more than this 168-page book offers, I did a web search and learned that Willie’s unique sound comes from a hybrid of jazz, pop, blues, rock and folk music. His nasal voice and jazzy, off-center phrasing accompanied by a gut-string guitar have been given credit for his wide appeal. And he’s written some 2,500 songs.
THAT GUITAR is a story in itself. It seems that the Baldwin company gave Willie an electric guitar and amplifier in 1969, but at a show in Helotes, near San Antonio, he left it on the stage and a drunk man stepped on it.
Shot Jackson in Nashville told Willie the damage was too great to repair and offered him a Martin N-20 Classical guitar for $750, with amplifier added.
Willie has written that the guitar has the greatest tone he has ever heard. He named it Trigger after Roy Rogers’ horse The next year he rescued the guitar from his burning ranch.
CONSTANT strumming with a guitar pick over the decades has worn a large sweeping hole into the guitar’s body near the sound hole. The N-20 has no pick-guard since classical guitars are meant to be played fingerstyle instead of with picks.
Some years ago Willie got into well-publicized trouble with the IRS, which claimed he owed a bunch of back taxes. He reportedly was worried that the IRS would auction Trigger off, in which case he would quit picking and singing. Willie hid the guitar at his manager’s house until he settled with the IRS in 1993.
Active in a number of issues, Willie joined Neil Young and John Mellencamp in setting up Farm Aid in 1985 to assist and increase awareness of the importance of family farms. The first concert included Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, and Neil Young among many others and raised more than $9 million for America’s family farmers.
In 2004, Willie and his wife Annie became partners with Bob and Kelly King in the building of two Pacific Bio-diesel plants, one in Salem, Oregon, and the other at Carl’s Corner, Texas. In 2005, Willie and several other partners formed Willie Nelson Biodiesel to market bio-diesel bio-fuel to truck stops.
WHEN NOT on his Texas ranch Willie lives on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
I have a favorite Nelson CD, titled San Antonio Rose. It pairs Willie with Perryville native Ray Price.
The liner notes recount that Willie and Ray go way beck to the early 1960s, when Willie was a bass player, guitarist and singer with Price’s band, the Cherokee Cowboys. In 1963 Price and Nelson co-wrote Night Life, which became a big hit.
The two went their separate ways, “sometimes divergent, but sometimes oddly parallel.” Their first San Antonio Rose album had come out in 1961.
In the same Nashville studio they recorded a second one in 1980, and it was reissued on Willie’s 70th birthday in 2003.
Nelson and Price are still going strong, and it seems hard to believe that some day it will come down to this:
Turn out the lights
The party’s over . . .
But what a party it will have been for these two Texas original troubadours.