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Catching Up with Willie Nelson


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From the 1995-2003 archive: This article first appeared at All About Jazz in October 1999.

Willie Nelson is a man of the people. In a single night (the night of this interview), I witnessed Willie sign more autographs and shake more hands (genuinely) than Al Gore has through his entire two terms as Vice President. Willie's legions of fans are very loyal to him and he strives to honor each and every one of them. Warren Beatty? Donald Trump? The Body? Who needs them? Let me be the first to proclaim, "Willie Nelson in 2000." After all, who else would be more inclined to eliminate the IRS? On a serious note, Willie champions the plight of the American farmers, whom have been dreadfully ignored by the past three administrations. But Willie is still first and foremost a musician and we spoke briefly about his new album, Night and Day (Free Falls Entertainment, 1999). As a postscript to this short-lived, yet memorable encounter with the singer/songwriter, Willie was entertaining a special guest (an actor on an NBC sitcom "where everybody knows your name" that played a character with the same first name as his own) and my mother taught me to never poop a party. So this is it. Granted it ain't much, but if I only could begin to chronicle what I had to endure (a drive to Long Island) to get one on one with the country music legend, you would have pity on me. Again, as always, I present to you Willie Nelson, an American icon, unedited and in his own words.

All About Jazz: Let's touch on your new album, Night and Day, your first instrumental recording.

Willie Nelson: I've written a couple of instrumentals before, but I never did a whole album and I've had some. There was an instrumental or two in Spirit and Teatro, but this is the first time that I've done a whole album.

AAJ: What is it about Django Reinhardt?

WN: He's just the best. I mean, there's a lot of guitar players that are great. There's a whole, great, a lot of guitar players, but Django Reinhardt was, to me, the best one. All of us have tried to learn from him all these years, and I think all the violinists are trying to learn from Stephane Grappelli. So I think our jazz goes all the way back into France with Django and the boys.

AAJ: You been a longtime friend of the American farmer, participating in this year's Farm Aid benefit. Exactly how long have you been associated with that noble and pitifully under-publicized cause?

WN: We've been doing it a long time. The first one was back in '84. We have done one about every year. We've done about thirteen or fourteen.

AAJ: Considering there are less than a million farmers in the United States and with the recent flooding in North Carolina bound to shrink those diminishing numbers, how is the American farmer doing?

WN: It's pretty bad. And now they've got the bad weather. There's a lot of things that are keeping them from really making a living. They're having it tough.

AAJ: Do you feel government subsidies are working?

WN: I'm not sure subsidies is the right thing. I think they should give them more money for their product, for their work. Give them a fair price and come up with a bill that will guarantee them a fair price, guarantee parody, which means fair. They had one a long time ago. They had one back during the war. There was an amendment called the Stegall Amendment, back in 1942 and it guaranteed one hundred percent parody for all raw producers in this country. They kind of geared up for the war against Germany back in those days and they wanted everybody in the country to be strong, so the way they did it is they gave all the raw producers a hundred percent parody, which means that whatever their production and labor costs was, that the government would pick it up. And that's what we need again.

AAJ: I noticed that you signed every autograph for every fan and shook every hand tonight. That kind of down home fan appreciation is very rare these days. I gather that interacting with your fans is important to you.

WN: Oh, it's important to me. I mean, everybody needs to make their own decisions on how they want to, you know. I don't criticize anybody that doesn't hang around and sign autographs. Once you do it, it takes a lot of time, but I enjoy doing it so that's the difference, I think.

AAJ: I know that you enjoy hitting the links, when was the last time you played a round?

WN: Played golf? Yesterday. I played in New York with some friends of mine from Island Records.

AAJ: What is it about the game of golf?

WN: I think because it's such an accident every time I hit the ball (laughing).

AAJ: Which of your songs best describes Willie Nelson?

WN: Well, I think "On the Road Again" would definitely be it. I wrote that one so that's got to be more closer to the house.

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