"What else do we have?" Asks Willie Nelson. He's sitting in his recording studio on Cut & # 39; N Putt, which he owns in Spicewood, Texas, with his famous, battered guitar trigger. He's deep in a session of Frank Sinatra covers a future tribute album, Nelson's producer Buddy Cannon has given him many chances to make it a day (especially because the singer played poker until 4am), but Nelson asks the control room to record more tracks. At one point, last night's poker guests – Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey – appear, but even they can not distract Nelson. "We'll let you concentrate, Willie," says Harrelson with a smile and leaves the room. [1
" I'd like to re-release this album before the Sinatra album to give me a chance to finish," he says. Nelson also maintains a tour plan that shames younger acts to play about 100 dates a year, two weeks, two weeks to play. The reason for the workload is simple. "I just like playing," he explains, "whether on stage, here in the studio or wherever."
The new song "Last Man Standing" is a winking rocker about Nelson's conflicting feelings about his status as senior statesman of the country: "I do not want to be the last to stand / Wait a moment, maybe I'll / If it's you I do not mind, I'll start a new line and decide after I think about it. " "I was thinking about Merle, Leon Russell, Ray Price, Johnny Cash – all these guys went further," he explains. I've been here for a long time. "
Nelson's influence is often overlooked because he poses as a cowboy cartoon in the grass – the guy who pops up in Austin Powers or Larry King admits he is stoned in the air. But he is much more than that. He is the most unique and versatile country artist of all time – a cowboy singer with jazz phrasing playing Django Reinhardt guitar licks on a battered classical guitar. Just as Miles Davis is considered the quintessential jazz artist for exploring every iteration of the genre for almost 50 years, Nelson has seen through every chapter of country music – first as a radio host and honky-tonk bandleader in the forties and fifties. as an arrogant crooner in Sixties country politician Nashville, then as the face of the outlaw land movement, something that happened after Nelson returned home to Texas, his hair grew and stopped taking care of the charts. Nelson shook his career again by recording the first standard album Stardust against the wishes of his label. It was about five-fold platinum.
None of this is in Nelson's head as he sits down to start recording, his cowboy hat resting on his guitar stand, a vape pen and his iPhone on the table next to him. After the room clears, Nelson's cursing in the control room can be heard. "Goddamnit," he says, "I spilled my damned coffee."
Nelson's tempo is surprising only because a few months ago he once again asked if he would ever play in public again. In January, he left the stage in California and canceled two months on dates to retire to his place in Maui. Fans feared the worst. "I had the flu for, like, three weeks," he says. I was a bit unsure if I could come back and see if I could do another show – it was so long ago. "
The first show was on February 27th in St. Augustine, Florida , The band did not know what to expect. "Willie just came out smoking," says his harmonica player Mickey Raphael. "We were all a bit nervous when we came out after so much free time, but the first night felt like we never stopped playing, I could not have been happier, I think to myself: & # 39; you "He blew us all away and we just had to keep going." When asked what went through his mind, Nelson is less sentimental: "I was just trying to connect with & # 39; Whiskey River & # 39; to remember, "he says with a smile. "We did it then, we showed three or four more good shows in a row" So I regained my confidence. "
The tour ended at Luck Reunion, a mini-festival in Nelson's house, an old western town After a day of Kurt Vile and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Nelson's pickup strolled across his long, dirty driveway, past horse fields, the "The Red Headed Stranger" next to the stage, audiences stopped singing songs like "Crazy", "Mom Do not Let Your Babies Turn into Cowboys" and "On the Road Again" (I wondered if Nelson had reservations about 3000 fans) and he laughed. "Nah, that It's cool, "he says," It's a good place to play because it's near the house. ") Ne Lson noticed that many young faces had probably never seen him before he from his children Luke and Micah was accompanied. "There is no better feeling," he says, "than when children work with you and do a good job."
Nelson's sons had to reckon with what it means to follow in the footsteps of a country legend. Lukas does what he calls "cowboy hippie surf rock" full twang and occasionally even a Willie cover. Micah moves into a foreign territory and makes albums ranging from lo-fi freak folk to prog metal with his various projects. I once saw him numb a New Jersey crowd as he popped up with insane volumes for his dad and a guitarist who made dislocations between arpeggios, but Micah says it all makes sense listening to his dad, "He did things That really is not considered mainstream Like me, Red Headed Stranger [from 1975] is a punk record in the context of what country music should be then: very overproduced and shiny and rhinestones and strings he came out with Red Headed Stranger the label thought it was a demo, he just broke down those barriers and did his thing fearlessly, for me it someday became clear to me that I would not try to adapt what people expect of me, because I'm in my lineage, that would dishonor me, to fearlessly do my thing and just be myself – I can not imagine another way to respect and honor his legacy. Because he did he . "
With his own quick math Mickey Raphael has played more than 5,400 shows with Nelson since joining 45 years ago, and the harmonica player is essentially the bandleader and the greatest advice he gives to the musicians : "You have to watch out for him." Nelson does not have a fixed list technically – though he always starts with "Whiskey River" and ends up with a gospel medley – and he'll routinely cut songs, lengthen solos, or even repeat songs, though Nelson says, "Every night is a game of chance, like a high-wire without a net." Raphael adds, "If you're reading a table or singing or memorizing – you're crazy."
Kevin Smith, the newest member of the band, this lesson was learned when he was mid-tour following the death of longtime bassist Bee Spears in 2011. Smith was an experienced Austin bassist and "just worked in the city" when Raphael ei him He called at 8 o'clock that day and asked him to play the show that night. "They were not so nice to me – they just did their normal thing," says Smith. "And it went well and Willie walked past me and slapped me on the shoulder and said" way to go. "And that was pretty great."
Smith spent the days on the road learning songs just to turn his lessons upside down. "Willie would break something just to throw me sometimes, I think," he says. "Sometimes I think he tests me, there are times when we play and he will throw a curveball." Smith fought especially with an intro, with Nelson and his sister Bobbie on the piano solo at the same time. For Smith it was hard to find the pace. So he boarded Nelson's bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, and asked for advice. I said, where should I come in? Should I hear or hear the piano? Smith says, "He just looked for a second and said, 'Just come in, when you're comfortable.' And that's the best advice or input I've ever gotten in my time with the band."
Smith laughs. "One day I talked to Willie about looking ahead when you play and he said: & # 39; I know I'm fine when I can not remember what I'm doing. & # 39; ; I think that's a big part of his shows and who he is, when he comes out, he really lets go of everything, I think he's really going to that other room, which is fed by the music and the energy and the This is where the really nice crazy accidents and withdrawals and accidents come from. "
Other variables may influence Nelson's achievements: He recently founded his own cannabis company, Willie's Reserve. Nelson has tried several varieties before a show, calling himself "CTO" (Chief Tasting Officer). Maybe that's the reason, says Raphael, Nelson unknowingly, "We were three-quarters on the show, and he's doing 'Stay All Night', which may have been the second song," says Raphael. "He just lost his place, then he does it." He memorized that, so he did the first 15 minutes of the show again. I did not tell him until he asked me. He said, "Have we done it," Good, kind woman? "I say nothing unless he asks me."
"He's also 85," says Raphael. "I'm surprised that he remembers what he does without the drug. "
Mortality has always been one of Nelson's least favorite subjects. "He does not talk about it at all," says Raphael. "He did not go to Roger Miller's funeral, he did not go to Waylon, we just do not talk about death around him, especially because many of his friends are getting off."
So it was surprising when Nelson was in session for Last Man Standing introduced a new song, "Something You Get Through." Nelson had jokingly sung about death on recent albums – about the great "Still Not Dead" from last year ("I still did not wake up dead today / the internet said I died") or another Another song "Bad Breath" "Bad Breath" caused critic Steven Hyden to observe, "Apparently someone has dared Willie to write a perfect, heartbreaking lyric on halitosis.") Raphael was but unprepared for "something you go through" that starts:
"When you lose the lost / you think your world is at an end / you think that your world will be a waste of life / without it in it / You feel there's no way to keep going / Life is just a sad, sad song / But love is bigger than all of us / The end is not the end / It's not something you override / But it's something that you go through st. "
" I'm shivering, "says Raphael. "I thought," Okay, this is going to be a classic. The others do not interest me. "Raphael left the studio to give room to Nelson, and because Raphael from the loss of his longtime girlfriend to cancer raw. The lyrics – "It's not something you override / But it's something you go through" – was just the latest example of what Raphael sees as Nelson's gift: "That's his genius, so he can & # 39; ; Night Life & # 39; write and I can not, I knew: "Nightlife is not a good life, but it's my life." But I did not write it, it only sees things that are there not see the forest for the trees – sometimes things are so obvious and you miss them. "He only knows how to see looks things."
A few years ago, Raphael won Nelson's late sixties RCA Catalog – Full of Great Songs Nelson wrote as his personal life fell apart – to produce Naked Willie who dismantled the bold orchestration and background vocals of the era. " I use Willie's writings as a psychiatrist," says Raphael. "He's a good place to comfort or to see how he handles a situation, so I can tell him," I needed a tutorial, and I got it from your song. "He's just raising his eyebrows But he has been through so much – what, four marriages? I'm learning his experiences and that he came out well. "
Before hanging up in the studio with Sinatra songs, Nelson sits down with him Producer Buddy Cannon is said to be with Nelson's daughter Paula Last Man Standing speaks for a special aired on Sirius XM's Willie's Roadhouse. An interview with Cannon makes sense; They have made 12 albums together. Cannon helped Nelson write new songs again. The two write almost exclusively by SMS. Nelson will send Cannon an idea of his bus, and Cannon will answer and help shape it. "We never talk – we just send sections back and forth," says Cannon. "Whatever he sends me, I think it's good, we never discuss changing things, it's just fun."
Paula asks how they wrote "Something You Get Through." Cannon says that one day he was in Nelson's bus and saw Nelson consoling a friend who had lost someone. "She was crying," says Cannon. "I remember she said," I do not know how I'll ever survive this. & # 39; And Willie said, "That's not something you get over. It's something you go through. "I remembered that, and I carried it around for a couple of years, thinking, 'This must be a song. Nelson, who was otherwise reserved during the interview, interrupted, "Let me tell you about the song and how it came about. "He had heard the refrain when he was having an emotional conversation with Dr. Gerald Mann, a pastor of the Riverbend Baptist Church in Austin, who had married several of his children." We talked about death and divorces and things, and he said, "It's not something you get over, it's something you go through." So I tore it off immediately. I ripped off the Baptist preacher. "
Paula calls the entire new album" a middle finger to lose. "This leads Nelson to tell an old joke about how he's going to go out a bit like the story that said," If I die, I want to leave like my grandfather, "he says." I fainted in my sleep. Not like the other screaming passengers in the car. "He lets off a huge cackle Paula has no more questions, so the studio clears up, except for Nelson, who takes his guitar and goes to work.