put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Thu 12 Jun 08 12:42
That's because he kept working and provide gigs for his band. A lot of times sidemen don't make squat and if the leader can't or won't supply them with 200-250 a year they gotta go elsewhere for work.
surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Thu 12 Jun 08 15:45
HEck, I"ve learned hat can be true for leaders too! One of the things that has struck about Willie - and one of the resaons I wanted to read the book - is the number of people who extended themselves for him - like the sotry about Faron Young loaning Willie $500 rather than buying the song for $500, or Hank Cochran (I think it was) who split part of his salary with Willie so he'd have a job. What is it that WIllie had or has that makes people willign to do that for him? HE must be a heck of a salesman, but when I heard him interviewed a couple of years ago on Fresh Air I was struck how quiet, modest and thoughtful he seemed.
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Thu 12 Jun 08 16:26
Willie developed his door-to-door sales skills in the 1950s when he was just starting out in music, as a means of supporting his family. He sold Kirby vacuum cleaners (a good product, he said) and Encyclopedia Americanas (not Britanicas)among other items. But he couldn't sell anything, he said, unless he sold himself to the lady of the house, so she'd let him in. That, to me, speaks to his ability to make friends of strangers effortlessly. He's invested in a water cooler that makes water out of humidity called Wat Air and showed it to me back in April, when I took books to him. He really believes in the product but when he showed me a model, he went into salesman mode. "I bet I could put this in my trunk, take it to a house and tell the lady of the house that I was going to leave it with her overnight and if she didn't want it, I'd take it back, but I bet she'll want to buy it, she's going to like it so much." At that moment, I was convinced he could have sold pink air and I'd of bought it. That's the power of persuasion. Many Texans have a talent for selling, just like Southerners who used to sell Bibles and cigarettes before they started selling NASCAR. The poverty that Willie grew up around left an imprint. Mind you, he's a child of the Great Depression ("we was all poor," a neighbor friend said, "but the Nelsons were real poor"). But when people have done favors for him, like Faron did by loaning him money rather than buying his song, Willie has never forgotten. He pays everybody back and then some. He can't do it enough. I can't explain it, but it's there. There's a real altruistic streak. He loves helping people and has embraced cause after cause once he became wealthy and famous enough to make a difference. Lately, it's taking in abused horses, championing the family family fighting industrial dairies ("As a cowboy, I want to speak up for the cows"), lobbying Congress to ban horse slaughterhouses in the US, playing benefits for his friend Freddy Powers' Parkinson foundation. David Anderson, his road manager, says it's his job to screen people because if someone gets to Willie asking for something, nine tens out of ten he'll say Yes, which means band and crew only get half pay. He is quiet, modest, and thoughtful when he's not onstage, about as regular a fellow as you'd encounter if you didn't know who he was. Yeah he's a celebrity, but he ain't et up with himself. He still likes signing autographs even after carpal tunnel surgery. I really think he enjoys being Willie and remembers the old days well enough to appreciate where he's at now.
david gault (dgault) Thu 12 Jun 08 18:51
Hi Mr. Patoski. I just got back from my 2nd ever trip to Austin and am still blown away by the quality of the music I caught. My first trip was in late April and I missed you at Waterloo by 10 minutes, but I read a bit of the book and loved what I read. So I guess I better buy it. Are you coming to San Francisco for a reading? I've met Willie once, which realized a dream I had ever since I heard BB King do Night Life on Live at the Regal, in the late 60s. I figured he was the baddest man in Southside Chicago to write that song. When I met him I was with a friend of his, Mimi Farina, and he cut across the room to say hi when he saw her. But he introduced himself to me first! I was floored by that. What a gentleman. I better read the book before I ask why you think Willie Nelson is the most important Texan of 2 centuries. I can think of some reasons for and against that assertion, so I'm not disputing it. I'm looking forward to reading it, and thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Thu 12 Jun 08 19:13
San Francisco is on my To Do list, although it likely won't be until August. The book begins to come full circle with a week at the Fillmore in 2007. "Night Life" really marked a sea change in Willie's writing and performing. He wrote it over long drives between southeast Houston and north Houston while working in clubs, teaching guitar, and doing a DJ gig on the radio. I didn't know he knew Mimi Farina but only during those Fillmore dates did I realize he knows Ramblin' Jack and Sandy Bull's daughter. As for the Most Important Texan, no one has come close to defining Texas culture to Texans and to the world and endure like he has. His life is the Story of Texas from the Great Depression to the high tech here and now.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Thu 12 Jun 08 19:44
Mimi Fariña. Small world. Joan Baez's little sister. Also a folkie and softer activist who founded Bread and Roses to bring music and musicians into hospitals. 1945-2001.
david gault (dgault) Thu 12 Jun 08 21:37
All I hear is a very weird guitar tempo when I think of Ramblin Jack and Sandy Bull's daughter.
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 13 Jun 08 01:04
Okay, you said it, so you should explain it. I agree that "no one has come close to defining Texas culture to Texans and to the world ... like he has," as you said, but what do you mean by it? The term "Texas culture" seems very broad, because there are so many cultures *within* Texas. But there is also, I think, an overall entity which could be called "Texas culture," and, on a parallel track, I quoted our mutual friend Casey Monahan above to the effect that "You can't hear American music without hearing Texas," which I also agree with. What, to you, is Texas culture, musically and, more especially, non-musically?
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Fri 13 Jun 08 06:32
Texas culture is broad based because there are so many cultures within, but the essence is defined by the three traditional cultures - African-American, Anglo-American, and Mexican-American. The voice of each has been loud enough and distinctive enough to be heard, regardless of segregation laws and other social pressures, and an essential element of each has been music, the one art immigrants could bring with them and keep with him. Musically, Texas culture is based on stringed instruments and storytelling - the songster - with an openness to adapt to technology and outside trends (thus, the accordion embraced by Mexican conjuntos and Steve Jordan interpreting Vanilla Fudge's "You Keep Me Hanging On" back in the late 60s as accordeon psicodelico; or Willie doing Stardust). That crossroads thing is important since there's so many musical crosscurrents at work, so is the willingness to try something new and completely different. Non-musically that culture best translates into openness (visitors always remark we're so friendly; wait til you get to know us), being loud and obnoxious, which I believe is partly due to our tendency to go crazy from the heat, being iconoclastic (read the passage on the original Iconoclast, William Cowper Brann of Waco), individualistic, ambitious, persuasive (there's that salesman thing again), and willing to take risks, which goes back to being on the frontier; back then, you'd have to have been crazy to settle anywhere west of the 98th parallel, and yet people did. Loyalty plays a huge role, too, but good royalty, like Willie's devotion to his band and crew and vice versa, rather than blind royalty that fake Texans like Bush exhibit. In a way, this book is trying to undo the damage done by Bush to the Texan brand. He ain't one, he never was one, and if he passes, it's in fake places like Washington DC or Dallas (I can say that because I'm from Fort Worth). (off to the airport, I'll be checking in this afternoon)
David Julian Gray (djg) Fri 13 Jun 08 08:30
... I haven't been to Texas in decades - back in my own traveling musician days I always enjoyed Austin tremendously... and reading the Willie bio is making me want to go to Texas! this discussion also just inspired me to find Faron Young lip synching to his hit of "Hello Walls" on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMSWAUAKJn0) ... love the story of his loaning Willie $$ rather than buy the song - that's rare, that's far sighted relationship building rather than opportunism that is not the typical music biz story - but seems to be so much closer to the norm in the history of country music than rock and "pop" (and here's a great line about the non-existent boundary of country and pop from legendary producer Tony Brown "There's no such thing as 'cross-over' - 'pop' means popular, when a record sells a million copies, it's popular!" of course Mr. Brown is quite familiar with charts, market segmentation and market potential - but I take his point and love how he made it!) to get back on track ... never realized how much Mr. Young copped Willie's phrasing ... I knew his recording as a tot long before I knew who Willie Nelson was ... for "Hello Walls" was played on New York City top 40 radio (not a lot, but enough) in 1961 ...
david gault (dgault) Fri 13 Jun 08 08:55
That's a wonderful description of why I liked Texas right off the bat after avoiding the place all my life. I lived in rural New Mexico in the early 70s and all the locals put Texas down, so I went along with that. The pictures in your book from Willie's early days in Austin looked more like a slide show of low rent hipster New Mexico than anything I've seen.
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 13 Jun 08 09:44
Well. <djg>, just imagine how I felt when I discovered that Don Gibson, whose records were played a lot on the rock and roll stations in New York in the late '50s/early '60s when I was a kid was a *country* artist. Nor was he the only one, but someone at WINS had a soft spot for him. (Or RCA's promo man knew the right payola to drop off...) (And Joe Nick, I'm confused in your post above between "royalty" and "loyalty.")
surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Fri 13 Jun 08 14:17
I loved the story about the guy coming to see Willie at his home, to see him outrunning an iron pot his then wife threw at him. Willie running, out the door, busting a fast turn to avoid the pot, and then turning to the man and saying "She loves me." Sounds like something W>C> Fields would come up with. Martha really sounds like a handful, and like the kind of person you needed to avoid when she got mad, judging by the other folks who got banged up when Willie ducked her wrath.
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Fri 13 Jun 08 18:03
Many considered Faron to be an asshole, and he might have been full of himself as much entertainers and front men were/are. But he did do right by Willie when he could have bought "Hello Walls" outright. I remember vividly hearing "Hello Walls" on KFJZ and KXOL, the Top 40 stations in Fort Worth. No matter I think of the Nashville Sound, I gotta admit that it was the smooth, mellow "hello, hello" response of the choral singers that grabbed me. It was indeed a "crossover" hit, no matter what Tony Brown says. 'Course, Tommy Tucker's "High Heel Sneakers" and anything by Jimmy Reed were on the Top 40 in Fort Worth too. Kinda makes me miss the idea that because there were so few radio channels, we all listened to stations that tried to play something for everybody. I understand why it's easy for outsiders to dislike Texas. I really dislike most Texas politicians, obnoxious fatcat Texans and dumbasses, of which we've got more than a few. But I love the place and the people - I know it's not for everybody, which is fine - but it really does get into your soul. Doug Sahm used to go on extended exiles before he passed, one of the longest in Vancouver Island, B.C. But no matter how beautiful he found a place to be, he always ended up saying, "I miss my enchiladas." All of us have a place we call home. Mine is just this place that's as much a state of mind as a physical boundary. It sounds different, acts different, and is different. At a time like the here and now, where everywhere looks like everywhere else, and the people seem to be from somewhere else, I find that something to embrace and celebrate, assholes and rednecks included. Captain: royalty should have been loyalty. I was trying to make the point there's good loyalty, like Willie's family, and blind loyalty, like Bush's minions. You reward loyalty, but if your people are really screwing up, you cut em loose. Your comment about payola reminds me of Bo Powell's influence in hyping up Panther Hall crowds for Willie. He could play whatever he wanted to play on KCUL, so he played a lot of Willie. And it worked. Willie told me when he was disc jockeying, there was never any discussion about what to play. You just played good music. Of course, if someone slipped you some bucks, you played their record whether it was good or not. But if it was bad music and you played it a lot, you'd lose your audience. Maybe in NY or LA it was big business. But in small cities and towns, payola was a nickel and dime thing, although it meant a lot to the disc jockey who got the payoff. As for Martha, she was a handful. Her hot temper may have been what attracted Willie as much as her raven hair and good looks. Both Johnny Bush and Dave Isbell had very vivid memories of the first time they met her, which was when she was on a tear with Willie. She was not to be trifled with. But daughter Lana really humanized her, saying she just wanted her husband to make enough so the family would have a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Ed Ward (captward) Sat 14 Jun 08 00:40
And yet, one of the most famous stories about Martha, you told me in an e-mail, turned out not to be true: that to keep her straying husband home, she once sewed him into the bed while he slept one of his post-drunken sleeps. Being lousy at sewing myself (fans of slasher movies are welcome to videotape me sewing a button back on a shirt), I always wondered how she did it, and one time when I was interviewing Willie myself I alluded to it, and his response was the same as yours: "She sure was a handful." He blamed her Indian blood, and everyone knows about cowboys and Indians. Of course, true or not, it works as a metaphor: needle or not, Willie has always been catnip to women, unsurprisingly enough, and I was impressed at how dispassionately -- the only way to do it, really -- you laid this out in the book, with serial marriages and serial infidelities. Although this current one seems to be working out okay, to hear you tell it.
surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Sat 14 Jun 08 01:25
So what was it like for Willie to start doing tunes like "Yesterday" as part of his set in the mid-60s? Was the response as negative as when Dylan went electric, or generally positive, or what? I would think doing such songs would seem mighty strange to a country music audience at the time.
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Sat 14 Jun 08 08:54
One of the myths busted was Martha sewing up Willie in a bedsheet. Lana had told me that, and the interview done with Martha by Lana for the autobiography that I found in Bud Shrake's papers, she confirmed it. She did say she did use a jumprope to tie him down so she could beat him with a broom. Capt, my friend Kirby Warnock, a good Baptist and Baylor grad who covered Willie for Buddy magazine in the 70s, told me when he was finished with the book, how disturbed he was about the multiple marriages. I tried not to judge his martial fidelity (nor, analyze songs, like Hilburn criticized me for) but lay it out. It's easy to be dispassionate in passing judgment because he's a musician and entertainer, and admiring women go with the territory. It's hard to avoid that when you're in that line of work. And yes, this marriage has worked best, because Willie was established and secure, and Annie was smart enough to take their boys to Maui to raise them. Plus, Annie really keeps him up to date, politically. Kurtr, I think it was pretty brave for Willie to do "Yesterday" on his live album in 1965. One teenager who worked at Panther Hall and saw the shows, says hearing him do "Yesterday" really opened his eyes to Willie being more than the run of the mill country star. I think it was strange enough that the featured attraction asked the audience to stop dance and step forward and listen. He was already ahead of his time then. That explains as much as anything why he couldn't get a Nashville hit record.
david gault (dgault) Sat 14 Jun 08 09:09
I picked up the book last night and have made it to the San Antonio chapter. Thank you for the work you put into this, sir. It's dynamite. I thought the sentence in the Waco chapter where we change direction from mainstream Waco to eccentric Waco with the guy who invented Dr. Pepper and Big Red was beautiful, but I've got half southern roots of the very church going type so Dr Pepper is known as vaguely sinful stuff in my cultural background. e
surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Sat 14 Jun 08 09:23
This is a little off topic, but speaking of Waco, is Baylor University as heavily Baptist as it once was? I play weekly at a Presbyterian church and a couple of the congregation members graduated high school and are now at Baylor studying religious music.
surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Sat 14 Jun 08 09:24
Oh, and I love the stories about Willie taking Charlie Pride out on as part of the touring package. What's PRide been doing in recent years?
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Sat 14 Jun 08 13:40
dgault, so much of Willie's story, and Texas' and the South's is reconciling the sacred and the profane. Willie Nelson is as comfortable with the conflict as anyone I've ever known. I appreciate you spelling Dr Pepper correctly. Waco is the most Southern of Texas' larger cities. Between cotton and the Baptists, the culture was established long ago, and seems almost an anachronism now. Baylor remains very much the nation's premier Baptist institution but folks don't realize that it's always had a slight eccentric, liberal streak, being a college and all. Jim Dickinson, the Memphis/Mississippi producer, songwriter and performer went to Baylor and studied acting under Paul Baker who was quite the radical and a friend of mine went to Baylor and became an acid head. There are no mealymouth liberals at Baylor. By virtue of being left and in the minority, you're cast as a radical, sorta like the pundit Molly Ivins. When you think like her, like Willie, or like folks in Austin, you're gonna be outnumbered, so why not just tell the truth and not pull punches? Just heard yesterday here in LA that the Charley Pride Story is in preproduction in Nashville. I met his son, Carleton, who hangs around San Marcos and leads a reggae band. Charley financed the recording of Carleton's band doing "Kiss An Angel Good Morning" in Kingston and sang with him on the record.
surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Sat 14 Jun 08 17:15
Around 1980 I had a rhttoric class at UC Berkeley. One of myt class mates was an older guy (by my standards) who had a quiet, serious demeanor. He turned out to be Jim Griffin, who apparently was or had been a high-ranking guy in the Oakland chapter of the Hell's Angels. His girlfriend was also taking the class. He told me he was pursuing an MA in anthropology. As I understood it, he ran a music booking business called Fu Magoo (Sp?) Productions that booked Willie and Waylon into the Oakland Coliseum. Security was Hell's Angels members and I gather the biz was basically run and staffed by HA members althoguh it was not formally associated with the Angels. I lost touch with Griffin after the class - I was disappointed because I was curious about the guy and he was one of the few people in the class that I got along with. He died in a car crash a couple of years later, according to a newspaper article I saw. Maybe this is mentioned further along in the book, but how did Willie and Waylon get involved with the Hell's Angels? How much were they involved with the HA? How well did that work out business-wise? I was surprised to think of anybody in the Bay Area choosing to have Hell's Angels as event security, as Altamont was just over a decade earlier.
Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Sat 14 Jun 08 18:13
I didn't specify the promotion arrangement Willie and Waylon had with the Angels or with Rick specifically but did note the duo playing the Coliseum and other gigs for the Angels. Waylon had several Angels working for him including Deacon and BooBoo while Peter Sheriden, an associate of the Angels and a freelance of sorts, hooked up with Willie after showing up on the front lawn of Willie and Waylon's manager, Neil Reshen, in Connecticut. Neil welcomed the Angels because Waylon especially was playing arenas and stadiums and needed protection, which they provided. Larry Gorham, LG, who works for Willie and protects him whenever necessary, is an Angel, or was at least. He used to follow Willie in California and then elsewhere and became full time more than 20 yeas ago. The business arrangement for the concert promotions in the Bay Area was sorta dicey. Money was split evenly between the two acts and the promoters but it was limited to shows around the Bay Area. There are a room between the airport and SF called the Celebrity Star Theatre, or something like that - one of y'all must remember the name and location - and I heard a story about Willie playing there, and a rep from the Angels showing up to talk to the venue promoter to let him know the Angels controlled the territory for Willie shows, and leaning until the promoter gave them a cut. But like I said, it's a story I heard and I couldn't substantiate it to print it. Reshen reasoned the Angels were good security, and in this case, they might have been. But I don't think it got much deeper than that and the No Cal promotion arrangement. It's worth noting that in Texas, there was never an arrangement like that with the regional biker organization, the Bandidos. This one was clearly special and regionally specific. Willie knew Sonny Barger well and appeared with him in the film Hells Angels Forever. Given that both Willie and Waylon cultivated the outlaw music label and that both their organizations had gypsy and pirate tendencies, the association with the Angels makes sense.
Andrew Alden (alden) Sat 14 Jun 08 19:27
Circle Star Theater, Redwood City.
Ed Ward (captward) Sun 15 Jun 08 00:54
That was Charlie Magoo Productions, and yes, they did a number of Willie and Waylon shows in the Bay Area, specifically in Oakland, that I attended in the '70s. I'd met a bunch of those country-loving Angels through Asleep at the Wheel's Tuesday nights at the Longbranch Saloon in Berkeley, and was backstage at all the Magoo shows I went to. Which brings me to a little story and another question. At one of those shows, there was an awful lot of stimulating white powder around, and at one point, I was in a room where two Angels got into a shoving match that was clearly going to escalate into something else. One of them had already pulled a knife, which he was keeping out of sight of the other one, when Willie walked into the room. Instant peace. "What are you boys up to?" Willie asked, almost parentally. "Aw, just a little spat, Will." The guy who'd drawn the knife was sneaking it back into his pocket as quietly as he'd drawn it. "Well, I don't want any bloodshed backstage at my gigs." They started laughing as if that was the most ridiculous thing they'd ever heard, and by the time Willie left, they had their arms around each others' shoulders and were grinning. Granted, drugs may have had a part in their behavior, but the minute Willie walked into the room, I felt the temperature change. I've noticed this numerous times, as have friends who've been around him with me -- a girlfriend, sort of a hippie chick type, who accompanied me to an interview in Austin back in the '70s picked it up right away and made some comment about aura afterwards. It got to the point where I'd joke about going to have satsang -- a Hindu term meaning hanging out with the guru and absorbing his holiness, whether or not you actually interacted with him -- with Willie. But, at the risk of sounding like a hippie, chick or not, there *is* an aura about him, he *does* exude peacefulness. It ain't just the dope. Have you had this experience around him?
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