inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #0 of 163: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 9 Jun 08 14:35
We're very pleased to welcome Joe Nick Patoski to Inkwell.

Joe Nick introduces himself this way:

Howdy from the Hill Country of Texas just outside of Wimberley and not
too far from Austin (but far enough). I've been writing about music,
Texas and Texans for a living over the past 35 years or so, and am the
author of Willie Nelson: An Epic Life (Little, Brown), a book which
profiles the life of the most important musician to come out of Texas
and, I contend, the most important Texan of the past two centuries,
It's also a book about my life, and my relation to music, since I get
to write about Fort Worth, where I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and
Austin, where I landed in 1973, a year after Willie did. I had my first
interview with him shortly after I arrived, and have been visiting
with him on and off ever since.   

Leading the conversation with Joe Nick is our own Ed Ward.

Ed Ward discovered Texas after Joe Nick did, but it was Joe Nick who
tipped him to a job at the Austin American-Statesman while he was
suffering as a secretary at Levi-Strauss in San Francisco in 1979. He
got the job, and held onto it for five years, interviewing Willie
Nelson (whom he already knew from his Atlantic recording sessions and
several 4th of July festivals) several times and watching Joe Nick
manage Joe "King" Carrasco and the True Believers, as well as help
Timbuk3 make the transition from busking to breakout, all bands that
Ward also wrote about. Although he lives in Berlin (and is about to
move to France), he considers Texas a sort of spiritual home, and
agrees with the Texas Music Office's slogan that "You can't hear
American music without hearing Texas."

Welcome, Joe Nick and Ed!
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #1 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Tue 10 Jun 08 09:26

Joe Nick, before we start in on that most iconic Texan, Willie Nelson,
I'd like to talk generally about Texas and a bit more specifically
about Texas music. 

Back in the '80s, I remember putting together a book proposal with
Robert Draper to do a book on Texas music. We submitted it to a famous
New York literary agent, who disparaged the very idea. "Why not a book
about, say, Connecticut music?" was the response. 

But Texas music is as unique as the state itself, in my opinion. For
one thing, it's conservative in the positive sense of the word: it
saves, it conserves, it builds on the past instead of trying to
re-invent the wheel. One vivid memory I have is going to a Bobby "Blue"
Bland show in Austin in the '80s, when black kids in other urban areas
in America were getting into rap, and seeing teenage girls screaming
their lungs out at this somewhat elderly guy performing blues. Blues!
Music other kids' *grandparents* didn't even listen to! 

And while conserving older styles, it's also managed to keep them
fresh and put a new twist on them, in many cases. To some extent Willie
is very much a part of this project, but I'd like you to comment on
some of the other areas in which Texas music does this and  maybe also
to consider the question, why Texas? Why not some other state?
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #2 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Tue 10 Jun 08 10:49

Hidy Ed,

Why Texas? 

I like to cite the Doug Sahm composition, "At the Crossroads," a song
he wrote in the late 60s when he was in San Francisco, pining for
Texas. Texas really is at the literal crossroads - halfway across the
US if you're traveling the southern route, on the western edge of the
Old South, at the front door of the American west, sharing the longest
part of the border with Mexico, Latin America, and the Third World, 
sufficiently far enough from either coast to be provincial, and big
enough to have its own distinct culture, of which music is the finest
of the fine arts. More important, it's like Sir Doug said, "You just
can't live in Texas, if you don't got a lot of soul." 

Texas ain't for everybody.

As to the Why Texas Music? That book editor sounds like a real book
editor; clueless to whatever's going on in flyover country. There is no
such thing as a Conn. Sound, much less Iowa Music. The closest would
be California, but like all of Cali culture, it's a matter of which
California - northern or southern. Each is distinctively different from
the other. On the other hand, when you say Texas, an image usually
comes to mind, although often it's the wrong image, like the Greek who
after asking where I came from, replied, "Oh yes, Tex-azz: cowboys,
Kennedy, bang-bang." Point is, someone from Dalhart which is part of
the Great Plains, and from Brownsville, which is in the semi-tropics,
*think* they have much in common because they're Texans. 

The music aspect is hard to pin down. Most folks associate Texas Music
with Willie, Waylon and the boys. The funny thing was, when Willie
started blowing up in Austin in the early 70s, no one knew or used the
phrase "Texas Music." Since then, it's become a sound, a radio format
that's popular in these parts, and an all-purpose appellation that can
cover anything from Texas country like Willie through Pat Green and
Roger Creager, to the Texas tenor sound in jazz, jump blues as first
defined by T-Bone Walker, the sophisticated R n B of Bobby Bland, the
country blues of Mance Lipscomb and Blind Lemon Jefferson, the city
songster blues of Lightnin' Hopkins which can be directly linked to the
singer-songwriter tradition popularized by Townes Van Zandt, Guy
Clark, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, and Lyle Lovett. Texas Music
in the rock and roll realm is Buddy Holly, who invented his style in
the isolated vacuum that is Lubbock Texas, Roky Erickson and the 13th
Floor Elevators, who in the great Texas tradition went 'way overboard
in their interpretation of psychedelic music (understand, we're crazy
from the heat), ZZ Top, who took the boogie beat to the great unwashed,
and modernists from Joe Ely to At the Drive In to Future Clouds and
Radar. Then there's the Mexican influence on Tex-Mex, Tejano and
conjunto and even pop (think: "Tequila" by the Champs, "Talk to Me" by
Sunny and the Sunliners, or even Augie Meyer's "Hey Baby, Ke Pa So").
From Lydia Mendoza and Narciso Martinez who made records for Bluebird
back in the 1920s to Little Joe y La Familia, Selena, Flaco Jimenez,
and Esteban Jordan, the Jimi Hendrix of the Accordion, the Latin
element of Texas Music is as old as the tradition of the corrido, which
spread news through Spanish-speaking communities in song instead of in
print or on television. Corridodistas in San Antonio are still writing
topical songs today and having them played on KEDA AM, Radio Jalapeno,
the only conjunto station in the nation.

But even if a Texan can't speak a word of Spanish, it's in our blood,
on our plate (Number 2 Dinner, anyone?), and in our music. Our Mexican
food doesn't taste like Mexican food in Mexico; so it is with our
music. I love the fact that through the late 19th through the mid 20th
century, Mexican-Americans in Texas soaked up the traditional sounds of
German, Czech, and Polish immigrants in Texas at dances, then
appropriated the polka and pepped it up into a Nowhere But Texas sound
that endures today. It is unique among Latin sounds in the United
States and elsewhere. 

My contention is, Texas music can be traced to our storytelling skills
around the campfire back in the cowboy days and has been evolving ever
since. It's a personal, emotional part of our culture. Most musicians
still perform music live and direct for the audience it was intended
for, ie. real folk music. And we're far away enough from everywhere
else and so full of ourselves, we don't need the approval or acceptance
of audiences beyond our borders, although when that happens, it sure
is nice to be validated by others. 

The one quality that runs through all those sounds is that they're
soulful. You just can't live in Texas, or make Texas music, if you
don't got a lot of soul. Sir Doug was right. And Willie has proved that
some provincial music can resonate far beyond our borders. 

I forgot you and Draper pitched a book on Texas Music. You would
likely be better served by doing one yourself, although I contend
Draper's paperback on ZZ is a semi-classic. There was one Texas Music
book Rick Koster that tried to cover the subject but was pretty much a
mess and Gary Hartman, the director of the Institute of Texas Music
History at Texas State University in San Marcos, has just put out The
History of Texas Music through Texas A&M Press that makes at better
attempt at explaining the subject. Then there's Alan Governor's massive
book in the works for Texas A&M that tackle the history of Texas
Blues. Rather than quibble with any of those titles, I'd rather
reference my own work which attempts to address the Why Texas and Why
Texas Music questions through the life of Willie.  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #3 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Tue 10 Jun 08 11:35
Yeah, this pitch was made right after Robert's ZZ Top book. 

And rather than the campfire, I think that Texans have always been
social, whether telling stories outdoors or visiting each other's
farmhouses. This has led to a demand for live music, and that demand
still exists. Real estate for a club or a dance-hall has never been at
a premium, people have always had cars to drive out into the outer
reaches of the cities or into the country, and yet the very bigness of
Texas has fostered a kind of isolation which is where that conservation
comes in. 

One thing I noticed early in my visits, way before I moved there, was
that Texans would rather dance to a live band playing country hits not
so well than dance to the actual artist doing them perfectly on a
jukebox. This attitude has offered a lot of working musicians jobs, and
the opportunity to hone their skills. 

Which does, in fact, bring us to Willie. There's both polka and
western swing in his background, right?
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #4 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Tue 10 Jun 08 14:39

There's a little town up in the eastern Panhandle, less than 60 miles
from Kansas, called Lipscomb. It's the artist colony of the Panhandle
if there can be such a place despite the fact I counted more wild
turkey on the courthouse lawn than people. Annie Proulx did some
prairie research there a few years back. Every summer on the first
weekend of the month, the town recreates the old days with a platform
dance. A wooden platform  is constructed on the ground and there's an
instant dancefloor on the prairie. A Lubbock fiddler named Lanny Fiel
is responsible for reviving the tradition. You can read about him at

I think that speaks to the sense of community music brought to
isolated rural communities when the Anglo pioneers pushed west. But
Spanish colonists had already brought music instruments with them when
they migrated up from Mexico, and the Comanche, the Apache, and the
Caddo all had their own music and mythology. Even the ancient peoples
must have made some kind of rhythm to go with the psychotropics that
inspired the vividly wild cave paintings along the Rio Grande, Pecos,
and Devils rivers. 

So it's always been here. Modernists in the 20th century from Eck
Robertson, the first country music recording artist, to Bob Wills to 
Willie and Waylon were simply early adapters. 

You make me laugh with the edge of town reference. No matter what I
think, historians have typically delegated popular music, especially
country, to low art status, largely because that's how community
leaders viewed it, even if they themselves danced - "If y'all want to 
go dance and drink and who knows what all, then do it beyond the city
limits." Plus, rent's cheaper on the edge of town and music halls were
rarely considered successful business enterprises. And go 'way beyond
town if you're doing stuff against the law. While researching, I loved
the story Steve Bruton told about the Western Swing musicians mixing
with the black swing, jazz, and blues musicians back in the 30s and
40s. Some of that happened in black hotels and bars where whites could
cross the color lines. But lots happened in grave yards outside of town
because nobody went to those places after dark.

I like your observation about dances. I think you're right. Live bands
are better than the jukebox, although in some settings, the jukebox
was all you had. That kind of cover music remains the bread and butter
in many rural pockets of Texas, especially inside the San Antonio,
Houston, Dallas triangle. But someone the other day called into KOOP
radio asking if dancing was already on the way out when Willie played
the Armadillo. They were right in a way. That hard core honky tonk
scene that Ray Price ruled was fading. All that's really left in Austin
is the Broken Spoke, where couples of all ages are still dancing
country to a live band. Last few times there I've realized how 
wonderful and how precious it is. A reunion of Alvin Crow and the
Pleasant Valley Boys blew me away because I'd forgotten what great
swing players they were.

Western Swing is the essence of Texas Country. It was born in Fort
Worth but was extremely popular throughout Texas, especially San
Antonio and Houston. The scene in Waco, 25 miles from Abbott where
Willie grew up, was extremely hot. Hank Thompson had a radio show there
as a teenager while pickers like Johnny Gimble, Cotton Collins
(composer of "Westphalia Waltz" and once part of Kenneth Threadgill's
Velvet Cowpasture), Leon Rhodes, Clyde "Barefoot" Chesser, Billy
Walker, and Chester Odom were all over the place. 

Willie cited Bob Wills several times as his main influence for putting
on a live show; he really liked that Bob would go from one song to
another without stopping. Bobbie Nelson told me her father took her
several times to Fort Worth to see Bob Wills play. Bud Fletcher and the
Texans, the band that Willie joined as a 13 year old featuring his 16
year old sister and his 22 year old brother-in-law Bud Fletcher, was
the Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys of Hill County because they played
Western Swing and had fiddles and a sax in the band. So that was a
major influence. And understand, Western Swing was/is really nothing
more than guys and gals in cowboy hats playing songs where the
musicians get to play featured improvised leads. 

Polka was Willie's ticket out of the cotton fields. He was paid $8 to
perform with the John Rejcek Polka Orchestra at a very tender age. Mr.
Rejcek had given Willie's granddad a job at his blacksmith shop when
the Nelsons arrived from Arkansas four years before Willie was born.
Mr. Rejcek evidently liked young Willie because he let him play strum
acoustic guitar in a family band full of tubas, trumpets and
accordions. Once Willie made money playing music, he didn't look back
and soon gravitated to hang out in honky tonks despite his tender age.

Czech communities still dot central and south central Texas, inside
the Texas triangle, and West, six miles south of Abbott was a hotbed of
SPJST Halls, polkas, beer drinking and other Czech traditions that
were considered exotic and even evil by the temperance-inclined
Methodists and Baptists that Willie grew up with. Most Czechs stayed in
West and did not cross the line to live in Hill County and Abbott when
Willie was growing up. Two Czechs told me stories about being
discriminated against ("We were treated worse than the Spanish") and
how they fought back ("I called them biscuit eaters.") It was a true
culture clash that John Rejcek bridged by living in Abbott and by
giving a local kid the break that changed everything.

I really dug that Willie's never let his polka experience fade. Joe
Gracey told me about engineering lots of recordings for Willie in the
90s that he phoned in to Jimmy Sturr, probably the most popular polka
artist in the US, for his albums. Try hollering a request for "Beer
Barrel Polka" at a Willie show. If he hears you and you catch him at
the right time, he'll do it, I'll bet. 


inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #5 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 11 Jun 08 04:28
I was at a show at Soap Creek once where Willie asked them to vote
whether the band should do "Proud Mary" or "Wipeout" next. Sadly, they
went for the Creedence tune. I'm still not over that. 

As for black and white musicians mixing, I remember sitting up
straight a couple of years ago when I read an interview with Ornette
Coleman where he remembered loving to jam with some of Bob Wills'
musicians. "They played bebop, you know," he said. Not at all

And if Texans aren't doing the old dances, I hope they're not doing
line-dancing. Germans are big into line-dancing, and they never believe
me when I tell them it was invented by a Puerto Rican choreographer
from New York, Toni Basil. Yup, the "Mickey" gal. 

There's another Texas tradition Willie's tapped into, too: honky-tonk
songwriting. The influence of people like Lefty Frizell and Floyd
Tillman (speaking of Western Swing: that's where he started) is
integral to the songs that made Willie famous. Just for the sake of
clarity, since "honky tonk" has sort of become a broad term these days,
why not say something about this genre as it was originally conceived.
For one thing, the electric guitar, which another Texan, Ernest Tubb,
pioneered, is pretty integral to it. 
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #6 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Wed 11 Jun 08 07:29
I would've gone for "Wipeout" too but he was prolly reading the crowd
correctly. I think at one time, "Proud Mary" was the most performed
song in the world, or something like that.

The Ornette ref reminds me of Dewey Redman telling me back in the 70s
that he'd remembered Ornette walk the bar at the New Blue Bird Nite
Club in FW back in the day. When I heard him at Carnegie a few years
ago was hearing that Texas tenor tone in his playing, no matter how
futuristic it sounded.

The good news is, line dancing had it's moment back in the achy-breaky

As for honky tonk, yep, that is the other dominant root strain running
through Willie's music in addition to Western Swing. Willie emulated
some of Lefty's singing style but Floyd, who wrote country music's
first cheating songs, was a major influence. Go back and listen to
Floyd's "I Want My Baby Back" and you'll hear the inspiration for
Willie's "Crazy." Honky tonk was beer joint music and while you could
and did dance to honky tonk, the emphasis was more on sad songs than
danceable songs, and was more directly linked to jukeboxes than Western
Swing. Swing was all about live big bands. Honky tonk was played by
smaller combos and was appreciated on record and jukebox more than
Western Swing was. Plus, its reach was far greater, mainly because
everybody likes sad songs. Tubb, too, influenced Willie, first via his
daily radio show from Fort Worth, later in Nashville, where he really
took Willie under his wing and featured him in his television show. ET
was the complete showman (think the "Thanks A Lot" message on the back
of his guitar) and Willie paid attention.
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #7 of 163: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 11 Jun 08 08:43

(NOTE: Offsite readers with questions or comments may have them added to the
conversation by emailing <> -- please be sure to put
"Willie Nelson" in the subject line. thank you!)
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #8 of 163: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Wed 11 Jun 08 09:24
i just started the book and I think it is excellent.  I really love all the
info, context, and background about willie, texas music, texas, and arkansas
in the early chapters.  The singing schools, the shape note singing.
There's so much interesting stuff.

i have two somewhat random questions.  I was fascinated by the music
degree that Nancy Nelson earned through a correspondence course from the
Chicago School of Music.  The whole idea of a correspondence course in music
is interesting to me.  Given the location of nelson's residences and the
transportation and communications infrastructure available to them, i can
understand the value of these course and why people pursued them.  What I am
curious about is what the music correspondance courses consisted of--do you
have any additional information about what Nancy's coursework was like?
What nancy had to do to complete her degree?

The second question is regarding Jim Beck's studio.  I was completely
unfamiliar with this, but it seemed like a fascinating bit of history.  Can
you say anything more about Jim Beck and his studio?

(also i gotta say--the waco honky-tonk scene in the early 50s!  who knew?!)
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #9 of 163: John Ross (johnross) Wed 11 Jun 08 10:34
Not specifically related to Wiillie Nelson (or is it?), but how do the
"Texas-style" fiddlers who came after Eck Robertson fit into the larger
picture? I'm thinking of people like Herman Johnson, Benny Thomasson, Dick
Barrett and the others who define a particular type of fiddling that
dominated the contest fiddle music scene over many years.
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #10 of 163: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 11 Jun 08 13:20
I just finished the book two nights ago so it's very fresh in my mind.
I learned more about Texas music in a few nights then I knew there was
to learn. ;-)  A highly pleasurable read.  I really loved the road
stories having been part of the Elvin Bishop family for 10 years and
FOH mixer on our small crew. I'm sure there are many stories untold
(i've got plenty of my own I don't dare tell my wife, even though they
happened 18 years ago), though what did make it to your book was might
fun reading. 

The other unexpected pleasure I got from your book was the info I
gained about Waylen, long my favorite songwriter. Next book about
Waylen maybe??
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #11 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Wed 11 Jun 08 13:30
Thanks for the comments. Context is everything to me. My subject could
be static for all I care (thankfully, in this case, he is not) because
it's filling the void around the character that makes writing a
biography so much fun. Willie didn't spend too much time talking about
Arkansas or his grandparents' connection to music in his own
autobiography written with Bud Shrake 20 years ago, but it fascinated
me. The first traveling I did for the book was to go to Arkansas to see
where the Nelsons came from. I found the family homestead and the
foundation for the one-cylinder engine that powered his great
granddaddy's forge in his blacksmith shop. The land in north central
Arkansas looks a lot like the land where Willie's ranch is west of
Austin, and Ridgetop in Tennessee where Willie moved once the
songwriting royalties started rolling in during the early 60s.

Good question about the correspondence music school. Indeed in those
days, correspondence schools were critical, since places like Pindall
Ridge in Arkansas and even Abbott Texas were somewhat isolated. I don't
have specifics about what the courses conveyed, but they did inform
Nancy's ability to compose music, and to teach singing via the shaped
note method. Willie remembers little of this, but his older sister
Bobbie was pretty good recalling the correspondence course and their
grandparents' devotion to music. This is an educated guess, but  the
course lessons came by mail, Nancy did the lessons and returned her
papers and she was then graded. Eventually she successfully completed
the curriculum and received a mail order degree.

Jim Beck was a pioneering audio electronics geek who built his own
studio and got such a good sound, Don Law took his Columbia acts to
Dallas and Decca was sending acts to Beck before Bradley's Barn in
Nashville got going. Beck's rep was established by getting a good sound
on the earliest recordings of Ray Price and Lefty Frizzell in 1950 and
later, Billy Walker, Marty Robbins, and Carl Smith. He recorded live
shows at the Big D Jamboree and many of the headlining acts on the Big
D in his studio. He actually built two studios, one on Forest Ave. in
Dallas and one on Ross Ave. 

Beck died from carbontetrachloride poisoning - inhaling cleaning fluid
while cleaning his equipment in 1956. Billy Walker said that had Beck
lived, the recording industry that is in Nashville would instead be in
Dallas, he was that much on an innovator. Beck's sidekick, another
storied Dallas character named Leo Teel, is still alive and living in
Grand Prairie. He's got lots of Willie stories.

John Ross, I should actually ask a few of my son's friends who do
fiddle contests around the state before I place foot in mouth. But I
will say, my take on why Texas fiddle is very different from
Appalachian fiddle, is backed on it being of the key instruments in
Western Swing ensembles, suggesting Stephan Grapelli or Joe Venuti is
as much as an influence as anyone from Kentucky or Tennessee. Texas
fiddle is also less rooted in the Scottish, Irish, and British
traditions that defined country fiddlers from the east, mainly because
the farther you are from the original source, the less likely you're
going to try to play the old style as faithfully. Besides swinging
more, Texas fiddle is still tethered to dance music - I'm thinking
Darrell McCall telling me he moved to Texas because country dance
crowds were all about "fiddles and steel," although dancing is rare at
fiddling contests. Alvin Crow and Johnny Gimble are both great examples
of the contemporary Texas fiddle style.    
Hey Coach, thanks, especially coming from someone in the bidness.
(send a shoutout to E for me). Of course there are many stories still
untold. The one thing I came away from the round of book signings in
Texas is, everyone's got a Willie story. I'm hoping this book prompts
band and crew members to sit down and share some of their stories, and
I have personally tried to convey that to all who are around Willie.
This book lays down a marker. Others hopefully will follow. One of the 
 most fascinating aspects of Willie Nelson and Family in the here and
now is their rep as a road band and crew. They are a state-of-the-art
touring organization and I'd contend they are regarded among their
peers as the top of the line, rivaled only by the Grateful Dead's crew.
Drivers Gates Moore and Johnny Sizemore have been recognized for
breaking Hoot Shaw's record of driving more miles for a single act.
Hoot drove for Ernest Tubb.  

Remind me someday and I'll try to relate the story Poodie Locke told
me recently about promoter Larry Trader, one of Willie's "thieves"
having to be helicoptered out of the 1980 Fourth of July Picnic on
Willie's golf course, mumbling,"I've told too many lies, I've told too
many lies."

inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #12 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Wed 11 Jun 08 13:33

Time for a shameless self-promotional plug:

I'll be reading and signing books at Book Soup on Sunset Blvd in Los
Angeles this Saturday at 2pm

Earlier that Saturday, June 14, at 11 am, I'll also be on the Twang
With Cowboy Nick show on KSCN FM 88.5 in the LA area.

And at High Noon Weds I'll be signing books at Felix Chevrolet in
downtown LA. You get a free book if you test drive a Chevy. Honest. 
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #13 of 163: Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 11 Jun 08 13:42
One of my favorite music days was a Willie Nelson Fourth of July picnic, 
must have been July 1973. We pulled into Dripping Springs about 6am and 
Willie and Leon Russell were already jamming on stage.

Of course, at the time I was into rock 'n' roll, and couldn't believe I'd 
been forced to attend. Hah.
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #14 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Wed 11 Jun 08 14:59

That was the first picnic. The previous year, the Dripping Springs
Reunion was held on the same site in the spring, but it was largely an
attempt by outside promoters to do a country music Woodstock that
failed. Country fans weren't ready for a day in a field without shade
in July just to hear music. Rock fans were. The redneck/hippie
dichotomy was already in play. The idea of the Dripping Springs Reunion
was great, but the crowds were small, largely because the rock
audience, the hippies, were not targeted , although a good number of
longhairs showed up. 

The 1973 Fourth of July Picnic was a Willie deal, organized with
Willie's promoters and the Armadillo World Headquarters crew, who knew
all about staging and logistics, while most country bands were still
working without monitors. Your memory nails why '73 was so important
despite the fact it didn't break even, crowds tore down the fences, and
fights broke out on and off stage. The presence of Leon legitimized it
all. Texas rockers into Leon were willing to do the country thing even
if they'd balked at Willie, Waylon or the Byrds or Burritos. When I
was researching this book, I reassessed Leon's significance. Willie saw
what Leon was doing and he wanted to be like him more than he wanted
to be Waylon, Ray Price, or Johnny Cash. Leon was already bridging the
gap by selling a twangy, country sort of rock to kids in Texas and
everywhere. Leon knew Willie was the real deal and wanted some of that
mojo, which Willie obliged by introducing Leon to lots of Nashville
people. Willie got the better part of the bargain, glomming on to
Leon's self contained empire and eventually getting his own compounds
at the Austin Opry House complex and then the golf course/recording
studio/condo setup at Pedernales, his main headquarters. Once Red
Headed Stranger hit the charts, Willie zoomed past Leon in his audience
draw. Leon never saw it coming. 

Hey Watadoo,
Thanks for the comment on Waylon. That relationship was a tough one to
 write about, because they really did break out of the Nashville jail
together and built a brand together. But I didn't find them as tight as
the public perceived them to be. Waylon's autobiography written with
Lenny Kaye is a pretty great bio. I'm not sure I could top that,
although the back end and the earlier years could certain be delved
into with more depth. I don't know what the next is. There isn't
another Willie in my mind, and certainly not someone of his import
who's been right in front of my face for the past 35 years of my
writing. I'm keeping my eyes open and my ear to the ground. In the
meantime, I've got a cool writing project to profile ten families in
the American west noted for their exemplary land stewardship. 
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #15 of 163: sonically gorgeous with no real content (watadoo) Wed 11 Jun 08 20:34
I had an opportunity to party with the boys in the band once about 15
years ago. Elvin was playing Farrah's Tahoe and Willie was right across
the street at Caesars. Between our shows we strolled over to hang out.
While Willie and Elvin set up in a corner of the dressing room and
talked each other's ears off, the musicians and crews (It's really all
the same) hung out and drank and shot the shit. Funny, I'd seen the
movie Honeysuckle Rose a few years earlier and suddenly it dawned on
me. "Hey you guys are gawdawn movie stars!" "Damn right we are" was the
response.  A good time was had by all and Willie Shook my hand when
Elvin introduced me. I've never forgotten how gentle and gracious he
was with his time. I wasn't surprised one bit to read in your book how
he'd spend oodles of time signing everything there was to sign after a
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #16 of 163: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 11 Jun 08 20:34
That's Harrah's Tahoe, of course.
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #17 of 163: surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Wed 11 Jun 08 22:05
Hi - I'm diving iunto the book and am enjoying it.  A lot of my interest 
in Willie Nelson came about because I knew of him as a songwriter with a 
foot in Tin Pan Alley as well as country - western.  As a guy who is 
primarily a jazz musician but with an interest in country music 
(actually, I just plain like music and good songwriting), I find Willie 
Nelson an especially interesting figure.  

I appreciated the explanation of shape-note singing.  I often see older 
church hymns described as "shape-note hymns" and was glad to get some 
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #18 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Thu 12 Jun 08 05:22
Joe Nick's probably on his way to L.A. at the moment, but I think he
should expand just a bit on the Felix Chevrolet gig. That's a fine
piece of history there. 

And didn't Willie and...I'm trying to remember here...Roger Miller
once sell used cars together in Ft. Worth during one of their broker
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #19 of 163: Ari Davidow (ari) Thu 12 Jun 08 06:42
Interesting bit about Leon Russell. Leon =was= very big that year, and 
maybe the year following,and then kinda vanished. But I saw Willie just a 
year or so ago, and he was still great.
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #20 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Thu 12 Jun 08 07:14

Willie put his foot in Tin Pan Alley through the radio, once his
family could afford a Philco. Not only did it bring the daily country
and Western Swing radio programs into his home, but distant stations
such as WWL in New Orleans that brought exotic sounds into the house.
The cues from the radio were the same cues Booker T. Jones heard
growing up in Memphis which inform their collaboration on the album
I was also struck how he was already phrasing like a jazz singer in
the late 1950s while he was developing his performing style, and that
Joe Allison, who signed him to Liberty Records in 1961, recognized his
talent as a singer. His first album for Liberty is almost as much a pop
album as it is a country album, reflective of the Nashville Sound that
was trying to smooth over the rough edges of country music, and also
reflective of Willie's inclinations. Even his look then - cleancut,
wavy hair, sharp suits - was more pop than country. As he told me, "I
liked dressing up." His recordings throughout the 1960s for RCA show
his pop tendencies as well. 

I'm on the way to LA tomorrow. The Felix Chevrolet book signing is
really part of a continuum. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, Felix
sponsored Spade Cooley on the radio and  Cliffie Stone's country music 
TV show, as well as wrestling on television. Felix remains linked to
country music, sponsoring the classic country show Sundays on Country
105, the only commercial country radio station in LA. 
Willie's history is linked to car dealerships and car dealers. He
bought an old clunker from his drummer, Paul English, in 1955. Paul and
his older brother Oliver, who played guitar with Willie on the radio
in Fort Worth in 1955 and introduced Willie to Paul, ran the car lot
with Paul. Used car lots back in those days were convenient fronts for
underworld characters. (Willie played and ran with Roger Miller in Fort
Worth, but weren't involved with car lots or with hotels; I'd heard
they were bellhops together at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, but there
was no basis to that legend.)

The first time I saw Willie when I got to Austin was at McMorris Ford,
where his band played on a flatbed trailer surrounded by the new 1974
Fords in what was then the body shop. The Live Band come-on was part of
a promotion that included free hotdogs and free sodas. McMorris also
provided the first road vehicle for the band to haul their equipment
around and sold Willie a Mercedes. 

It's real strange how quickly Leon burned his candle at both ends. He
still plays, mostly in small clubs around Texas and Oklahoma, and uses
a teleprompter to sing his lyrics. But that period in the early 1970s
was very powerful. I think Willie was impressed with Leon's preaching
skills in a rock and roll context. He was really leading a revival
among the secular heathens.  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #21 of 163: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 12 Jun 08 07:18
This is a bit of a non-sequitor, from the more things change department, but
i loved this quote from Oliver English.  English is talking about their
experience in Fort Worth in 1955 where they would play for hours on end, "We
didn't make much money.  Nobody did.  A musician in it for
the money was in the wrong business."
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #22 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Thu 12 Jun 08 08:30

Oliver was a real jewel. I'm convinced he was one of the first to put
the ideas of Django Reinhardt into Willie's head and he was a deep link
to Fort Worth's music past through elders such as Sock Underwood,
Buddy Wallace, Buck Buchanan, and Johnny Strawn. Oliver was considered
a jazz player among his FW peers although he played mainly country
gigs. Oliver passed away last year and I was lucky to talk to him. 

Another Oliver observation about money that wasn't in the book. Sock
told him: ‘Hey boy, you play good. Someday you’re going to be sorry.’ I
figured that out when I put a real good band together and just
flopped,' Oliver said. 'They [meaning audiences] didn’t understand it.
They didn’t understand jazz.' In other words, he put together a great
band and they couldn't draw flies. That's a hard lesson to learn.
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #23 of 163: John Schwartz (jswatz) Thu 12 Jun 08 08:47

  Hey, Joe Nick! Will the book tour bring you to NYC?
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #24 of 163: David Julian Gray (djg) Thu 12 Jun 08 08:53
Yeah... or DC? If so, I'll try to come.

The book is my main recreational reading now and I'm finding it a
superior bio - very nice.
the story of Bobbie's divorce from Fletcher and resigning herself to
giving up music then serendipidously finding a music job at the state
employment agency actual brought tears to my eyes...

Loving reading about the organic growth of the Family band  - it does
seem all inexorable and of a piece ...
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #25 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Thu 12 Jun 08 10:18
jswatz and djg,

I'm ready but if I were y'all I wouldn't hold my breath. It belatedly
came to my attention that publishers don't really like signings at book
stores unless you're a superstar author, which I am not. The LA dates
were  set up on my own. NY and DC would have to be the same. Welcome to
book publishing in the middle of a paradigm shift. 

I'm hoping someone might ask me to speak or do something not in a book
store in NY and DC because both cities are solid Willie markets. Heck,
maybe I'll underwrite my own mini tour up east.

Sister Bobbie Nelson told wonderful stories and I got the sense she
hadn't been interviewed much. Of all the people around Willie, there is
no one closer. She had a heck of a time dealing with the breakup from
Bud. The strange thing is, as she told me about being the demo lady for
Hammond organs, I recalled to her my childhood memories of  seeing
organ players in cafeterias and restaurants around Fort Worth in the
late 1950s. I asked if she ever played Wyatt's Cafeteria on the west
side? She sure did. Then she mentioned being a regular at El Chico
Mexican restaurant on Camp Bowie Blvd. which was the only Mexican joint
that our family frequented. It was then I realized I'd heard her as a

As for the Family Band, maybe y'all can help me out. The last core
member to join the band (there have been others shuffling in and out)
was Billy English, who joined in 1984. What other acts in entertainment
have had pretty much the same lineup since 1984? Someone mentioned U2.
I'm trying to think of anyone else. Regardless, Willie has had
stability in his band like no one else in this business we call show.


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