By Carol Anne Szel
Willie Nelson is rolling into town tonight to play Radio City Music Hall here in NYC. I bet the one most surprised at this legendary powerhouse of laid-back-country-singer-songwriter’s staying power is Willie himself. Seemingly happy whether fate had brought him to playing his music in a local gin joint or in front of a stadium filled with his fans, Willie Nelson is a musician who remains relatively unscathed by the all-too-real distractions that the spotlight often blinds musicians of his caliber.
The 70-year-old Nelson’s biggest commercial success was garnered in the 1980s, although this prophetic musician has put out an astonishing 81 albums containing 30 #1 hit singles in the course of his 54 year career. He’s won 10 Grammys, a bunch of CMAs and AMAs and all that stuff too.
Okay, statistics out-of-the-way, will we ever forget driving around singing to the lyrics of “On The Road Again” from his 1980 “Honeysuckle Rose” album? It was the beginning of Nelson’s country-gone-crossover appeal and new fans getting an ear load of this thoughtful songwriter’s spirit. Sort of gave all of us in that era a tiny bit of his rebellious feel, relishing the thought of strapping ourselves into our cars, living out our simple sense of wreckless abandon, even if it was driving down the short road across town lines with our radio blasting.
He recently cut off his long braided locks that were his trademark for years, draping around his neck as if they were his second guitar strap. People were agasp speculating about the reason, event, situation, mind-set of the sudden stripping of his salt and pepper tails. “I just wanted to,” he answered. Understated as always. Yes, he owed a few million dollars in back taxes several years ago that he unceremoniously made good on. And he’s never hidden his pleasure of smoking some marijuana as a favorite past time. He’s Willie Nelson for heaven’s sake. On his fourth marriage with a half-dozen or so kids, he’s acted in television and film, done ads, sung songs, had a chunk of state highway named after him in Texas, and most notably over the last twenty-five years, been an admirable and vocal spokesman for good causes.
Whether it was founding “Farm Aid” back in 1985 with John Mellencamp and Neil Young to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land, or his great passion and support for the use of biodiesel fuel in America, it’s obvious that Willie Nelson is a man who puts his money and time where his home-grown humanity musical voice is. Most recently Wilie has passionately lent his support as an advocate for horses and their treatment, campaigning for passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act on the Board of Directors with the Animal Welfare Institute, and has adopted a number of horses from Habitat for Horses.
And musically, I doubt that even the most bad-ass southern biker can even remain unscathed every time his “Red Headed Stranger” album hit “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” plays on the jukebox or, these days I suppose, satellite radio! “When we kissed goodbye and parted. I knew we’d never meet again. Love is like a dyin’ ember. Only memories remain, “ Willie strums on his Martin N-20 nylon-string acoustic guitar named Trigger each night on the road, and tugs at the fiber of our hearts every time we hear it play.
Hell, if you haven’t seen him live, go see him on this tour. If you haven’t picked up his new CD called “Country Music,” run out to the nearest store or over to one of those new fangled download apps. And if you have never heard a Willie Nelson song, go back a few decades in time and listen to real music. For Willie Nelson’s songs truly and definitively stand the test of time.
For related items that you may enjoy in our Goldmine store:
• A great resource for record collecting is Goldmine’s “Standard Catalog of American Records, 1950-1975, 6th Edition,” in large paperback and DVD
• Check out an informative read in “The Everything® Rock & Blues Piano Book with CD, Master riffs, licks, and blues styles from New Orleans to New York City”