inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #76 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 18 Jun 08 00:04
    
It should also be remembered that the Nashville Sound, unlike some
twangy thing with a moaning steel guitar, had a shot at pop crossover.
What this meant, in stark black and white, is this: you could get a top
ten country album with sales of 25,000 in the mid-70s, when I first
started paying attention to country music. That doesn't bring a lot of
bucks into the company. 

<mcdee> mentioned Tom T. Hall up there, and I should mention that he
was produced by Jerry Kennedy, who was something of a rebel when
compared to Atkins and Sherrill. He could, and did, deliver great hard
country when he wanted to, and was also responsible for Jerry Lee
Lewis' output during that time. Great stuff. 

From my memories of Austin during the Willie period, though, one thing
it lacked -- still does, to some extent -- was a music business
infrastructure, which is one thing I remember all the "progressive
country" folks complaining about. There wasn't a decent studio, there
was one music biz lawyer (and nobody really liked him), and there was
no hope of a country label setting up a branch office there with all of
that going on. Joe Nick, can you talk a little bit about this era,
KOKE-FM, and all the songwriters who were encouraged by Willie's move
to town? Why didn't the KOKE idea spread more than it did? (Although
this is where our Bay Area nostalgics will chime in on one of the few
KOKE clones that popped up outside of Austin, KPIG.)
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #77 of 163: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 18 Jun 08 05:27
    
> one thing it lacked -- still does, to some extent -- was a music 
> business infrastructure

It's even broader, not just an issue with the music industry. Though
Austin thinks it's a media town (music, film, games, etc.), it's always
been a farm community. The real business is elsewhere. 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #78 of 163: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 18 Jun 08 05:53
    
<76> Ah right.  Jerry Kennedy.  Yeah, I've got a lot of Jerry Lee's
Kennedy-produced stuff, and it's great, and some of it's about as weird
as country gets (of course, that's Jerry Lee for you).

Farm town, eh?  ;-)  Seems more like a smallish state capitol city to
me.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #79 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 18 Jun 08 06:37
    
Plus, of course, Kennedy was an early adaptor of that essential
Nashville instrument, the electric sitar. Believe it's him on "Games
People Play," for instance. 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #80 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Wed 18 Jun 08 10:46
    
Ah yes, Jerry Kennedy who produced Doug Sahm's "Be Real" a killer
fiddle tune, releasing the single under the name of Wayne Douglas. It
wasn't a hit but it still sounds great.

Sitars were no weirder than the vibes and the Spanish flamenco guitar
that decorated Willie's "I Never Cared for You," his sole record for
Fred Foster and Monument Records in 1964.

Jon, in the Nashville context, Austin was the farm team compared to
the major league was Nashville. The pickers preferred to think of it as
sort of a Mesabi Iron Range to Nashville's Pittsburgh, the place where
all the raw material came from before it was processed into a shiny
record. Oddly, until the 1970s, Austin was nowhere the music town that
Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, or even Waco were. Since then, Austin has
become the Nashville of Texas music, the place to go to get your music
validated by audiences. Since then, it has developed the
infrastructure that wasn't there in the 70s or 80s, with management
companies, small labels, studios, session players, etc. Lloyd Maines,
the producer who defines contemporary Texas country, moved to Austin
from Lubbock because that's where the business was and is. 

Interestingly, there's more awareness of Austin and its place in
music, interactive and movies voiced by people in LA than I've ever
heard before. That's kinda scary since there's a lot of migration from
the west coast to central Texas. More and more people in the business
seem to think there's enough critical mass in Austin to justify a
physical move.

As for KOKE FM, I was on the air with Bob Cole, morning drive host of
KVET FM in Austin and an award winning country jock. He remembered
something I'd written back in the 70s to the effect that KOKE was
influential as a format and really did introduce the progressive
country idea to radio nationally, but it never had an audience that
made an impact locally. It was a commercial station for hipsters, and
really, the first piece of infrastructure to formalize a "scene." But
just as KOKE had no audience, Jerry Wexler couldn't make a hit out of
Willie or Doug or any of the local hero musicians. I realize now that
until Red Headed Stranger, this progressive country thing was purely
local with some outposts popping up in Houston, Dallas, and Gilroy. I
kinda miss that period and the innocence that went along with it.
People were making music for all the "wrong" reasons - mainly for the
benefit of a couple hundred people gathered in a room. Hit records were
something to aspire to, but rarely achieved. Besides, Willie, the best
selling Austin artist was a cover band dude named Christopher Cross.
Austin's music scene matured in the 80s and 90s to what it is now, a
real destination to make or hear music. But those early days, when no
one was rich but everybody knew each other, were more fun.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #81 of 163: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 18 Jun 08 11:01
    
Yeah, I remember coming back north to college after a summer spent in
Texas in the mid-70s and trying to tell all the people at the campus
radio station about this progressive country stuff that was so huge and
they should listen to this guy named Willie Nelson.  They thought I
was nuts.  Jerry Jeff was the only Texas musician even vaguely on their
radar screen, and they thought he was way too much of a shitkicker to
play on the air.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #82 of 163: david gault (dgault) Wed 18 Jun 08 11:37
    

>Though
>Austin thinks it's a media town (music, film, games, etc.), it's always
>been a farm community.


You mean agricultural, not minor league right?  The powers that be, the
old boys and girls, are the land owners in the surrounding region?


I'm curious about Austin, having just spent 2 weeks there since the end
of April.  
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #83 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 18 Jun 08 14:25
    
Mention of Jerry Jeff puts me in mind of him and Robert Earl Keen, who
attract an audience not unlike that of Jimmy Buffet's, the kind of
people the Brits call Hooray Henrys. They drink, whoop, holler, and
basically celebrat music that's empty at its core. It's to Willie's
eternal credit that he's avoided this, when a lot of the elements are
there in some of his stuff to exploit such an audience, seems to me. 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #84 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Wed 18 Jun 08 15:03
    

The Hooray Henrys are of a kind. Willie gets some of those, but not
too many anymore. Even Robert Earl bends over backwards to play
"listening" gigs so folks can hear the words to his music. Willie does
get some of that audience, especially at the picnics.

Odd you mention Jerry Jeff and Buffet because JJW is responsible for
getting Buffet an opening gig at Castle Creek in Austin in 73 where he
observed a new drink called a margarita, which is actually an old
border  drink. Wasting Away in Margaritaville was an Austin creation,
not an island one.

There's even a third generation of Hooray Henrys such as Kevin Fowler
and Roger Creager, although Creager is now mature enough he wants
people listening to his songs, rather than just drinking to them.

Austin is not a farm town like San Antonio is, because there's not a
whole lot of rural ag around Austin like there is elsewhere in the
eastern half of Texas. Remember, the Hill Country is mighty purty but
the soil is hell on making a crop, which is why until the early 1950s
the Hill Country was known as Texas' Appalachia.

 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #85 of 163: surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Wed 18 Jun 08 18:42
    
Is there any winemaking in the Hill Country these days or does it get too 
cold?  A lot of the land that gives meager yields turns out the best 
wines, I've been told.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #86 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Wed 18 Jun 08 23:10
    
Vineyards are popping up all over the Hill Country. Think Napa in the
60s and that's what's going on. There are some fine reds in particular.
Do know that a Texas vintner came up with a hybrid that would resist
the killer mold that threatened to ruin the French wine industry in the
1890s.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #87 of 163: surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Thu 19 Jun 08 00:19
    
soundsgreat.

Is there anybody you see as a successor to Willie?

Just finished the book.  I'd heard about some of the ups and downs in his 
life but did not know about his son's suicide.  How awful.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #88 of 163: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 19 Jun 08 04:02
    
>>>Do know that a Texas vintner came up with a hybrid that would
resist
the killer mold that threatened to ruin the French wine industry in
the
1890s.<<<

Do you mean phylloxera? Not a mold. It's caused by a louse. The
solution turned out to be grafting the French vines on to American
rootstock. That worked for quite a while, until the lice figured out
how to infect American rootstock, too -- many vineyards in California
had to be ripped out and replanted in the 1990s due to phylloxera. 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #89 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Thu 19 Jun 08 07:19
    
Steve,
Thank you for the correction on wine. 

Kurt,

The suicide was difficult to write about, knowing the circumstances
and having known Billy a little bit. It really is the most difficult
thing Willie has had to deal with.

I'm comfortable in saying there is no successor, given the
circumstances of his life, the times he lived in, and the music he's
made. 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #90 of 163: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 19 Jun 08 07:45
    
I didn't mean to be pedantic about the wine thing. It's just that
drink and music, especially in Texas, have such an, uh, intimate
relationship, shall we call it, that accuracy is important, heh. 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #91 of 163: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 19 Jun 08 08:16
    
i'm only up to the red-headed stranger period, but i love your evocations of
austin in the early 70s.  I grew up in houston, but spent some time in
austin around 70-76, visiting my uncle who had been a UT student from 70-74
(he'd take me rock-climbing at enchanted rock, this was before it was state
park).  Also, my mom helped to campaign for sissy farenthold back in 72 and
74.

One thing about willie nelson--by about 1976, when i was 14 and living
in houston, the whole outlaw country music stuff had become a bit
insufferable to me.  This was music that my parents and their friends were
listening to, and in houston at this point, and probably other parts of the
state, the whole thing had become a bit ridiculous.  It was all wildly
popular but it was at a stage where there was a fair amount of hookum
associated with the whole thing.  To me, there seemed to be a whole lot of
people dressing up and playing cowboy (among the many fans).  Punk was just
making its way to my vicinity and i was trying to track down that music, i
was also beginning to listen to classical music,  jazz, lute music, going
through periods of insufferable musical snobbism--even during all this and
my teenage rejection of my parent's peers, the album Red-Headed Stranger
still had a hold on me--i have always loved that album.  it is incredible.
It was my dad's record, he loved it.  One time i was playing some classical
guitar piece for my grandparents, later that evening, my grandfather took me
aside to play some music that he thought i should be playing and it
was...Whiskey River.  I don't think there was every any other music that
united the three of us: my grandfather, who had fled piedras negras as a
child to enter the US illegally; my dad, a commercial illustrator who had
studied architecture; and me, a teenage smartass.

Whatever happened to the Texas/Austin Opry house?  I went to a few shows
there in the early 1990s, but i don't think i've read anything about it in
ages.  Is it just studios and practice rooms?  Does it even exist any more?

Also, what is townsend miller been up to since his days as a reporter for
the statesman?
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #92 of 163: surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Thu 19 Jun 08 08:51
    
It strikes that Johnny Cash has an appeal that, like Willie, is 
remarkably wide.  Johnny is popular with both left and right-wingers, 
punkrockers and rednecks, and so on.

I am going to fess up here - the first Willie I heard a lot of was from 
one of his LPs singing Tin Pan Alley standards - it was the one with "Over 
The Rainbow," "Mona Lisa," "I"m COnfessin' That I Love You" and so on.  I 
thought Willie sounded hilarious singing "Mona Lisa."  I thought his voice 
sounded homely - and that tackling a song popularized by Nat King Cole
was the height of chutzpah. Likewise "Over The Rainbow."

I found his take on a a lot of the other songs really appealed to me, and 
over time the whole album was one I enjoyed.

I haven't heard his collaborations with Wynton Marsalis.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #93 of 163: surly guy in a tux (kurtr) Thu 19 Jun 08 12:31
    
How does Willie feel about himself as a parent?  HE sounds like a great 
guy but like an absent dad - one of the risks of being a touring 
musician.  And as you note, the kids had the hazards of celebrity parents.
Dunno a way around that other than being a struggling musician ... :/

Sounds like the kids are fond of him, though.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #94 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Thu 19 Jun 08 15:29
    
Steve: I really do appreciate the clarification. My knowledge of wine
is limited, but it's a big deal in Texas that a native scientist helped
save French wine, for whatever that's worth. Facts rule, far as I'm
concerned. 

PDL: Thanks for the observation about Austin in the early 70s, because
it's my story too, not just Willie's. That was a great time of
innocence and excitement.

I had pretty much the same reaction as you to the "outlaw" thing.
Calling the music "Outlaw" has been attributed to Hazel Smith, a
Nashville publicist and Waylonphile, and as I wrote, the album "Wanted:
The Outlaws" was largely an image whipped up for an album of random
tracks RCA had on Willie and Waylon. The stereotype was largely
embraced by all the wrong people. To insiders, it was a joke. Its
logical extension was the Urban Cowboy craze, which really killed
progressive country (even Willie abandoned it for the Stardust path of 
pop standards). I drifted into the blues scene that launched Jimmie
Vaughan and his Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Vaughan and Double
Trouble, then into the punk and New Wave scene but always kept coming
back to Willie. 

The Texas Opry/Austin Opry was sold to sound and light technician
Clark Lyda who sold it to the University YWCA who sold it to a high
tech startup. Arlyn Studios, Freddy Fletcher's other studio in the old
Opry building, is still  going. 

Townsend Miller who was a stockbroker by day and hit more clubs at
night than any other human could possibly hit, died a sad death, burned
alive in his car, divorced, drunk and lonely. He wasn't really a
writer but did a great job of listing what was going on in clubs. But
at a time when there wasn't any music journalism in Austin, he was the
Go-To guy on the scene. Always carried a flask in his back pocket and
loved dancing with the girls. 

Kutr, I still get cracked up when I hear someone say Willie can't
sing. He's a stylist and as such, makes a point of singing different.
Some people don't like how Texans talk either, but I cain't hep mahsef.
You describe him as a having chutzpah for singing standards with that
kind of voice; I prefer thinking of it more like, 'He'll try anything.'
And he will. The Marsalis album mines similar territory as "Over the
Rainbow" and "Mona Lisa," only with a New Orleans blues twist. I've
always thought one of the few artists you can compare Willie to is
Louis Armstrong. He really brings that home on this new recording.
Plus, Marsalis' band and Mickey Raphael are a joy hearing behind that
voice.

Willie  has tried really hard to be a good parent. I think his two
boys, Lukas and Micah, speak to that. Willie attended Micah's high
school graduation recently and when I was interviewing him last year,
Willie was on the phone with Annie talking about Lukas getting a new
drivers license. He takes his boys out on the road with him in the
summer, has his eldest daughter Lana traveling on his bus to cook
breakfast for him and his sister Bobbie after shows, sits in with
daughter Paula when she plays, composed some songs with daughter Amy
recently, and talks with daughter Susie regularly. When I've seen the
siblings together, they're usually hugging on each other.

The music life Willie chose did make it hard to be there for his kids
because work took him on the road or into the studio. Touring and
recording make parenting difficult for anyone, much less someone with
Willie's drive and determination. 

I've managed bands and done roadwork and maintaining  any kind of
family life is really hard. I got lucky and married the girlfriend
playing in Joe "King" Carrasco and the Crowns, the band I managed back
in the first half of the 1980s (I thought I knew so much about the
business I was writing about, I took a leap and worked in it - it's
really not all that, trust me). Our marriage is still going strong
after 28 years, but it was in spite of music, not because of it.

 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #95 of 163: david gault (dgault) Thu 19 Jun 08 18:07
    

Thanks for writing this book Joe Nick. 

I think your next book should be about Chesley Milligan.  
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #96 of 163: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 20 Jun 08 06:11
    
>>Though
>>Austin thinks it's a media town (music, film, games, etc.), it's
>>always been a farm community.

> You mean agricultural, not minor league right?

Late clarification: definitely not agricultural. I meant that big
media elsewhere uses talent grown in Austin, but the actual business is
located elsewhere, and that's where the money goes. I.e. we've had
great music and musicians, but as Joe Nick said, we didn't always have
great production facilities, and we still don't have any major media
companies that are based here. So I guess you could say that relegates
us to the minor league even though we have star talent.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #97 of 163: The Commissioner (captward) Fri 20 Jun 08 07:54
    
Casey Monahan, the Texas Music Commissioner, writes:

PDL and Joe Nick mentioned the "Outlaw" movement that Waylon, Willie, 
etc., are so often pigeonholed as being part of. Terms such as 
"Outlaw", like the later "Grunge", are almost always the product of a 
publicist attempting to simplify and "brand" a "product" for  
mainstream consumption. Ever seen the documentary "Hype" on Seattle's
music scene called? Best as I remember this 12-year-old movie,
<http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116589/> the office manager of Sub Pop
Records is being interviewed, and relates the story of the lazy,
arm-chair journalists from outlets such as the NYTimes who called her
office and asked silly questions. She and her punk cohorts would
deliberately make up stories to fool these highly paid daily scribes,
such as, "Everyone wears flannel in our movement", and my favorite,
"Everyone calls this new music 'grunge'." Few, if any in Seattle called
it that, but the Times fact-checker never figured that out.

Ever heard of "The Willie Nelson Definition of Leadership"? Willie  
was being interviewed by a journalist who asked (and I'm  
paraphrasing), "Are you the leader of the Outlaw Country movement?",  
and he replied, "I don't know if I'm the leader; I just saw a bunch  
of folks going in one direction so I jumped in front of 'em." The  
brilliance of this off-the-cuff comment is that it says great leaders
don't pull (or force, persuade, cajole, whatever) people in one
direction; rather, they recognize where people want to go and they help
them to get there quicker. Remember that, you managers out  
there, the next time you're trying to get your staff to do something  
they don't want to do.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #98 of 163: "The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Fri 20 Jun 08 08:00
    
Texas Music Commissioner?     What all else does he have in the way of job
resposibilities?
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #99 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 20 Jun 08 08:05
    
The state decided long ago -- during Ann Richards' administration --
to have a division in the Governor's Office to promote Texas music
worldwide. Casey was made for the job (and may have helped set it up,
although I'm not sure about that) and has done amazing things. Their
website is at <http://www.governor.state.tx.us/music> (ooh! and check
out the Blind Lemon Jefferson license plate!), and it's worth a visit. 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #100 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 20 Jun 08 08:08
    
And we're way overdue reminding folks that offsite readers with
questions or comments may have them added to the conversation by
emailing <inkwell@well.com> -- please be sure to put
"Willie Nelson" in the subject line. 
  

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