inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #101 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Fri 20 Jun 08 13:09
    

Chesley Millikin would make a fascinating story, knowing what I
learned through his work with Stevie Ray Vaughan. His history with Ash
Grove in LA and Epic Records in the UK is peppered with great
characters. That's worth thinking about, now that Chesley's gone, I
wonder if such a book can be done. I turned down participation in a
Freddy Fender book for the same reason, although I knew him reasonably
well. Both Freddy and Chesley were such wonderful storytellers, without
their voice driving the story (or reflecting upon it), it's not the
same book. I got lucky with Willie, in that he'd written his own book
20 years ago and really tells it in his voice, but that there was so
much else to say, I got to use his voice, as well as the voices of
others.

Jon, Austin *is* the minor leagues and I'm not real happy to see its
leadership aspire to the Big Leagues. There's a certain comfort level
in being minor league, say, like the Portland Beavers of the Pacific
Coast League, the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League before
the Dodgers moved in, or even the Round Rock Express. Nolan Ryan and
his son cleared so much more money with the minor league franchise that
the Texas Rangers recruited him to be team president and the Ryans are
being wooed to own a major league team. I just got back from LA and it
is a major league city. Had a great time, was really energized, and
came away impressed how it has decentralized into neighborhoods where
people are walking more and driving less. But Austin looked better
coming back, because it's actually manageable given its scale, despite
the horrid congestion. And yet, Austin now seems sufficiently validated
by LA people in the entertainment industry that it's deemed livable
and somewhat desirable, as in 'I could live there.' I prefer hanging
with the talent, even if the cheese is nowhere as rewarding and unlike
LA, it's really hard to sleep with the windows open this time of year,
ie. the heat is on.

I'd like to think that's why Willie's headquarters aren't in Los
Angeles, Nashville, or New York, although he has a presence in all
three cities. 

 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #102 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Fri 20 Jun 08 13:32
    
Commissioner Monahan puts the public relations push behind the music
into context. His reflection on grunge reminded me of going through the
stack of old newspaper and magazine articles that attempted to cover
the subject (up to this point, there is very little written about
Willie Nelson anywhere). In one tabloid, Paul and Willie were telling
the interviewer anything, obviously playing to type in being like
outlaws. So much so, I asked Paul about the quotes where he was telling
the reporter that he and Willie used to play rough joints with names
like the Bloody Bucket and County Dump. "You were jacking with him,
right?" I asked. "No, no," Paul protested. He proceeded to locate the
County Dump and clarify that the Bloody Bucket was the commonly used
nickname for the joint. I guess that explains why this clubowner on
Jacksboro Highway got so pissed off when John Morthland wrote an
article about the strip in the late 1980s as described one place as a
"gutbucket."

Anyhow, truth and fiction sorta ran together once the Outlaw thing
blew up. We called it progressive country around Austin. A few folks
embraced "Redneck Rock" lifted from the title of Jan Reid's book and I
heard Cosmic Cowboy music used alot. But no one around Austin called it
Outlaw until the Nashville people hyped it as such.

Great point about leadership too, Commissioner. A real leader doesn't
have to force their hand. They inspire people to want to help them and
work together without having to hound them to do it. There are precious
few leaders like that out there, in music, in politics, and in the
world.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #103 of 163: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Sat 21 Jun 08 08:53
    
joe, back when you decided to take a leap and manage Joe King Carrasco, was
there anything about the business that you learned that you had not
anticipated?   You went into it with a lot of knowledge about the business
and what to expect, but was there anything that suprised you about the whole
shebang?  How does your experience in managing bands inform your writing
about people in that business today?  I guess a better way of asking that
is, did anything about your experience with managing bands inform your
subsequent writing about music?
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #104 of 163: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sat 21 Jun 08 08:55
    
Excellent questions, Patrick.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #105 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Sat 21 Jun 08 14:33
    

Patrick

There was lots I didn't know going into the music business. I was in
it for the art, and to see what could be pulled off. 

The hardest lessons learned, I think, were specific to the business,
such as the cost of radio promotion where tens of thousands of dollars
could mysteriously be spent in the course of six weeks, the
effectiveness of tour support (when the label didn't provide what was
promised, the only option I had was to sue, and that cost half of what
was owed in tour support), and the wide gap between live music, ie.
music from the street, and the mega bands on the big labels, who were
hardly in it for the music anymore. The hardest lesson was, if I was
going to be a band manager, I had to have more acts. One or even two
didn't cut it. Everyone on the business side wanted to know what I had
up next. And there was no next. Finally I concluded I really didn't
like the people I was supposed to aspire to be like. It took me awhile,
but I learned to love music for music's sake again, and have used my
personal experiences to talk about the business aspect of music and
musicians.

I think I'm pretty articulate in discussing deal points and what's a
good contract and what is not. The experience offered enough insight
that I could determine that Stevie Ray Vaughan's initial contract with
Columbia was no great shakes, that Selena was selling more albums as an
indie than any Anglo-American or African-American act in Texas at the
time, and that Wexler's deal with Willie was pretty much a standard
deal, although Wexler gave Willie a gift when he returned rights to him
after Atlantic folded, that Lundvall's Columbia contract was pretty
standard too, with the exception of Willie getting creative rights to
put out whatever he damn well pleased.

Even if I wasn't very good as a businessman, I think it's made me a
far better writer because I can discuss the art and also discuss the
business end of music articulately. That's been the best payoff of all.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #106 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Sun 22 Jun 08 10:13
    
I think anyone writing about commercial music for a general audience
should understand as much of the business end as possible. It's not
just groovy art we're writing about, it's art produced for the sake of
being distributed and sold by a multi-faceted business. The reason you
favorite band's new album didn't sell may have nothing whatever to do
with how "good" it was. And unless you write pure criticism, you owe it
to your readers to lay all of that out. 

Which reminds me: what's Willie's status vis a vis record labels? Does
he just cut one-shot deals, or is he supposedly signed to someone?
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #107 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Sun 22 Jun 08 10:56
    
Captain,
That's where I think my "lost" years working in the music business
rather than writing about music has been invaluable. I leave the pure
artistic analysis to the Robert Hilburns of the world. I'm all about
context and how commerce as well as music fits into that context. In
that respect, how the band and crew relate to the main character is
really more important than how family and friends exert influence, at
least in my definition of a music biography. Similarly, the business
aspect ends up influencing the art as much as the music itself. 

Commercial success defines "good" more than the lyrics or melody of a
song do. If the artist isn't commercially successful, listeners and
readers really do not give much of a shit. 

As for Willie's label status: while in LA I heard he was without a
label, meaning his deal with Lost Highway was wrapping up. I haven't
confirmed that, though. 

The new Wynton Marsalis collaboration culled from a series of live
recordings made early in 2007 at Lincoln Center, is on Blue Note, which
reunited Willie with Bruce Lundvall who signed him to Columbia and
greenlighted Red Headed Stranger. The album he's finishing with Johnny
Bush is Johnny's deal. I kinda feel for Luke Lewis, the Lost Highway
chief, knowing his act (Willie) is inclined to record for and with
whoever happens by without paying much mind to contracts or any kind of
exclusivity with Lost Highway.

On the other hand, as an artist, I love Willie's willingness to do
long term deals like he did with Lost Highway, and before that with
Sony and Columbia, Atlantic and RCA; then turn around and do a one-off
just because he wants to do it. He must drive lawyers as crazy as he
does label chiefs. But he makes it pretty clear he's going to do it his
way no matter what anyone tells him. 

In that respect, he's an Old School Opportunist. He'll be loyal as
long as it serves him well, but won't let contracts get in the way of
making music for whatever reason.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #108 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Sun 22 Jun 08 11:45
    
>>Commercial success defines "good" more than the lyrics or melody of
a
song do. If the artist isn't commercially successful, listeners and
readers really do not give much of a shit. 

Gotta disagree with you there -- and I bet there'll be a bit more
disagreement from the readers. There's a hell of a lot of good music in
all genres that wasn't commercially successful but is very worthwhile.
Hell, one of my favorite soul records wasn't even released until a
British reissue label found it in some vault somewhere. And the
existence of radio stations with devoted listenerships playing some of
this commercially marginal but artistically successful music also
speaks to this. 

*Mass* success is one thing, and it occasionally comes to an artist
with deep artistic value. But nowadays that's rarer than ever. 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #109 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Sun 22 Jun 08 12:35
    

I'm saying commercial success defines "good" to more people than the
lyrics or melody do. I've always been irritated that on Monday morning,
TV and radio talent all cite the weekend's box office earnings for
film, implying how much they made defines how good the movies are. No
one ever talks about artistically-satisfying films that no one's seen. 

There's great music being made in a backyard within ten miles of where
I am at the moment. But if the masses don't hear it, ain't gonna be
many people talking about how "good" it is.

You talking about Arthur Alexander there?
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #110 of 163: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 23 Jun 08 06:39
    
Yeah, what soul record would that be, Capt?

And sure, to most people, commercial success is it -- and coverage of
entertainment of all types has been slanted in that direction in the
last generation.  Back in the day, nobody cared about box office
figures unless they were in the industry or they were so freakishly
large or small that it became a news story (huge flops like
"Cleopatra," or big hits like "Jaws."

I think part of it is that who's up, who's down, and who's making or
losing money is a type of coverage that makes many fewer demands both
on the author and the reader.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #111 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Mon 23 Jun 08 06:54
    
But there's loads of marginal artists there who have their followings,
and I'd bet the aggregate number of fans they have outnumber the fans
the "big" artists have. 

Such as Kimmie Rhodes. Ever heard of her? Thought not. Yet she's made
a whole duet album with Willie -- under her name, not his -- and he's
guested on a number of tracks on one of her other albums. 

(And you thought this was gonna drift, eh? As for the soul record,
it's called "Everything's Gonna Be All Right" -- generic enough title?
-- and the equally generically-named group is the Magictones. Backup
musicians I think I've spotted are Robert Ward on guitar and Tiki
Fullwood from Funkadelic on drums.
<http://acerecords.co.uk/content.php?page_id=59&release=1188>)
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #112 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Mon 23 Jun 08 07:03
    

Pegging goodness to monetary worth may be a lazy way of ranking, but
that's how most of our society judges goodness unfortunately. Platinum
and gold status reflect sales, not goodness, but most of us figure it a
record sold 500,000 or 1,000,000 copies, it must be good. Willie fans
cite Red Headed Stranger and Stardust as watersheds but I prefer Here's
Willie Nelson, Live Country Music Concert, Yesterday's Wine and Night
and Day, none of which sold worth a hoot.
 
Kimmie Rhodes is an excellent example. One reason I chose to focus on
her recordings with Willie in the 1990s was to show where he was
heading in his post-classic period and what his priorities were. He was
likelier to go in the studio with Kimmie because she was around than
he was to seek out Waylon or Julio Iglesias. That's why I consider
Willie more of an artist than a pop star. 

Magictones, huh? No way would I have gotten that one. Arthur Alexander
is indeed another example of an artist who had to be discovered
belatedly by someone far away (The Beatles covering his "Anna")so he
could have a career, albeit briefly. Then there's Eddie Hinton......
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #113 of 163: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 23 Jun 08 07:06
    
I'm generally with the Captain on this issue.  Many of my favorite
musicians fall into the "long forgotten" or "never known about in the
first place" categories. Or have achieved commercial success only
spottily and not necessarily for their best work.  I continue to think
that Commander Cody and the LPA's were one of the best bands working in
the early to mid 70s, even though they were a complete commercial
failure (they sold some records, but they probably could have made more
money working in a box factory).

On the other hand, some absolutely superlative musicians have become
huge commercial successes.  Benny Goodman, for example.  Or closer to
my era, Jimi Hendrix.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #114 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Mon 23 Jun 08 08:18
    
Mark,
I beg to differ about Commander Cody. They did have a hit single with
their remake of "Hot Rod Lincoln" (look it up) and in Austin at least,
they were royalty at the Armadillo before Willie was. I loved the
detail that the crowd was so boisterous and loud during the recording
of Live at the Armadillo, that the sound they made was sampled and used
on other live recordings.

But yeah, as a critic, I would rather embrace the obscure for the pure
artistry of it all, than have to review whatever's on the Hot 100.
Good music doesn't need validation through sales beyond providing the
artist a means to live on. Finding cool music that simply sounds good
is one of my greatest rewards.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #115 of 163: "The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Mon 23 Jun 08 08:29
    
I'd put Cody in the same bin as NRBQ, which is to say that they were a hell
of a bar band.   And I'm glad Billy Kirchen left DC for Austin.   DC
Telebenders seem to come to tragic ends.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #116 of 163: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 23 Jun 08 09:06
    
The problem they had, as chronicled in that great sad book
"Star-Making Machinery" (which takes them as a case study) is that the
music business in the 1970s did not know what to do with a what in the
book trade would be called "a mid-list author."  It was all the way or
no way.  

Cody had a decent following, that one hit, and their audience was very
enthusiastic.  But I forget -- they were collectively pulling in about
$20K a year each while touring 180 nights a year (ugh!).

I kinda gave up on following commercial music closely in the 1980s,
but I know in publishing this phenomenon has only gotten worse, for all
the philosophizing about the "long tail." 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #117 of 163: Gary Lambert (almanac) Mon 23 Jun 08 09:42
    

>I'm glad Billy Kirchen left DC for Austin

Actually, he moved back about a year ago. He lives in a fairly rustic
part of Southern Maryland, and gigs a lot in the DC area. I was lucky
enough to see him sit in with RatDog on a couple of tunes at the Rams
Head in Baltimore a few months back.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #118 of 163: "The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Mon 23 Jun 08 09:46
    
Damn.  He'd been planning to move out here, but did Austin instead.   I
wonder why the return.
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #119 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Mon 23 Jun 08 10:09
    
Aw, <rik> just wanted to jam with him on a regular basis. As, like,
what right-thinking guitarist wouldn't?

I was *at* that Cody recording session. Molly Ivins came on stage and
interviewed Jim Franklin, who was dressed as an armadillo, and Big
Rikki the Guacamole Queen picked Cody by his, um, testicles in response
to some wise remark. One journalistic colleague enjoyed himself so
much that he was found the next morning holding onto the key to his
room at the Terrace Court Motel, key inserted in keyhole, but that was
as far as the guy got, passed out cold on the doorstep. 

The Terrace Court, once the world's largest motel, actually plays a
part in the Willie Nelson legend. Willie's, how shall we say, not been
the most successful real estate promotor in history. Even Austin
history. 
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #120 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Mon 23 Jun 08 10:18
    

I thought Kirchen was still around Austin. Goes to show what I know. 

As for the Terrace Motor Hotel, its convention center did indeed
become the Texas Opry House and then the Austin Opry, under Willie's
ownership. He also owned all the cabana rooms at one time, then sold
them off, piece by piece. Actually, he did pretty good flip on that
real estate deal since the purchase price was next to nothing. Same
goes for the golf course/condos/land around Briarcliff that comprises
Willie World. He bought it all out of bankruptcy and has just sold off
a sliver to be developed into high dollar homes near Highway 71,
getting more for that sale than what he paid for the whole spread.



  
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #121 of 163: David Julian Gray (djg) Mon 23 Jun 08 14:03
    
RE: Kirchin - he used to play a lot around dc, then I heard he was moving to
austin - but he sure still plays a lot around dc... now I know why...

just about done with the book, Mr. Patoski, it is nicely shaped by the
dramatic arc with "Red Headed Stranger" as the Nexus... everything leads
up to it, everything comes after ... and I anticipated it the way I
would the murder of Julius Ceasar in Shakespeare's play, or that wildly
dissonant chord which precededs the quiet stacato statement of the secondary
theme in the last movement of Beethovan's 9th ... anyway ...
Reading at the community pool on Sunday afternoon a neighbor i only vaguely
know by site at the pool asked how the book was - said it was right up
his alley - I said it was a great story and good read and was just about
to offer to loan my copy when I checked myself and said "You have to get
it."
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #122 of 163: David Julian Gray (djg) Mon 23 Jun 08 14:10
    
RE: marketplace success as a measure of worth ...

It certainly is, almost by definition... of a certain kind ...

marketplace success as a measure of quality ...

I don't think this is accepted by either the public or the critical
community -
I hear complaints all the time about both popular art which should not
be and great art which should be more widely appreciated by both
non-afficiando type and professional critics...

There was an interesting discussion in the local rag (the once estimable
Washington Post) about how the villified Mike Myer's "Love Guru" might
do when the weekend box office is released Monday ...
I think the local critics view it kinda like the Stock Market, where we
all got burned in 2001 ...
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #123 of 163: Joe Nick Patoski (joenickpatoski) Mon 23 Jun 08 15:28
    

DJG,
Thanks for the comments on the book and the recommendation. I'm glad
to see you peg the nexus of the creative arc on Red Headed Stranger. I
thought I was dealing with several creative arches, which made the book
so much fun to write. But as I sit here looking back, you're right:
RHS was the turning point of turning points, and perhaps the biggest
risk Willie took in a life punctuated by risks. 

I'm not endorsing the marketplace as a measure of quality. I'm just
saying most people do judge quality by how popular it is. If it's not
popular, so that reasoning goes, then why is it so good? If it's good,
then why isn't everyone buying it. The movie grosses are the worst, but
the Top Ten charts for music is just as nefarious. I think it's more a
reflection of our culture. We judge worth by the amount of money
generated. So Coke is the best drink, Wal-Mart is the best store, and
Toyota Camrys are the only vehicles worth buying (actually, there's
some truth in that last one). 

I'd love to see Willie have a Number One hit again, but I think his
work with Snoop Dog, Wynton Marsalis and Johnny Bush blows away his
song with Toby Keith that returned him to the top of the charts. 

But if not for Red Headed Stranger, would we even be having  this
discussion? Just saying...
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #124 of 163: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 25 Jun 08 05:22
    
I'm still enjoying this, and although they'll be putting up another
conversation later today, there's no reason to stop here. 

Of course, this conversation didn't get as many responses as the last
one, but that was Alec Lobrano talking about food in France, which is
definitely speaking to a lot of the Well community. But Texas is a food
destination, too, in my opinion. And there's even a Willie Nelson
connection: Poodie Locke, Willie's road manager for years, now owns a
restaurant. I've never been there. What's the food like? And how on
earth did Poodie become a chef, anyway?
  
inkwell.vue.329 : Joe Nick Patoski: Willie Nelson, an Epic Life
permalink #125 of 163: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Wed 25 Jun 08 07:10
    
joe--i really enjoyed the book and this conversation.  Thanks for taking the
time to participate in this forum.
  

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