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When Willie Nelson invites you onto his bus, you don’t hesitate to say yes! In this fun chat, the country legend talks to Country Weekly about his new album, Let’s Face the Music and Dance , his love of Irving Berlin and why music is one big melting pot. Plus, he even shares a (clean) joke.
To get more from Willie, pick up the June 24 issue of Country Weekly , on stands now!
Country’s legendary outlaw sits for a CW Q&A.
Getting the green light to step on to Willie Nelson’s bus, parked outside Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, is like being granted an audience with a king. It’s an undeniable honor, not that Willie, despite being country royalty, exudes any sort of ruler aura—though there is a pervasive pungent scent. Instead, he is a most gracious host, giving his blessing for Country Weekly to film the interview (go to countryweekly.com to check it out) and maintaining near constant eye contact as he answers questions prior to his performance at the We’re All for the Hall benefit concert last April. Here is Willie, holding court about his new album, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, the genius of Irving Berlin and his addiction—to golf.
Congratulations on the new album, Let’s Face the Music and Dance.
WILLIE NELSON: Thank you. You’ve heard it, huh?
I have. It reminds me a lot of your albums Stardust and Teatro.
Stardust is in there, yeah.
Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
Very fair. I think you’re right. I hear a little more Stardust than Teatro, but I know what you’re talking about.
Why the Irving Berlin song as the title track?
I could have done a whole album of his songs. There are so many. “Face the Music and Dance” is one of the classics. He wrote “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade,” “God Bless America,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”…. It’d be really easy to do an Irving Berlin album.
Maybe one day?
Yeah. I’m thinking about it. I got sister Bobbie working on it.
You only included one of your own songs, “Is the Better Part Over,” from 1989’s A Horse Called Music, on the album. Why?
That’s one of those songs that I did so many years ago, and I love the song, so I just keep doing it every 30 years or so. [Laughs] But I did a lot of the same type of music. Sister Bobbie and I would just sit in the studio with the band and we’d just kind of play what we felt like playing. We didn’t have a set list. I went in the studio and we started out on one, which led me to think about another one. We’d get a couple of Django [Reinhardt] songs in there.
I knew you’d include your guitar-playing hero.
He’s the guy. He’s the guy.
We were just standing outside your dressing room and it had a sign that indicated Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver were in there with you.
That’s cool. That’s great. Sorry I didn’t get to the dressing room. [Laughs]
But you have the best one on wheels.
This is pretty cool, yeah.
You played a show on your 80th birthday, in Florida. Did you ever give any thought to taking the night off?
No, why? Why retire? Why quit doing something you like? We enjoy playing, and I hope I can play on every birthday.
Looking back, are there three milestones that stand out from those 80 years?
It’d be hard to pick three.
What’s the most recent?
I think this album, Face the Music. I’m really proud of the album, because it features me and the band and that’s the way we sound every night, so I’m always glad when we can reproduce on the stage what we did in the studio. And that’s not always easy to do. We did [last year’s] Heroes with Buddy Cannon’s Nashville guys, who are incredible musicians, but it’d be impossible to reproduce that on the shows. But with this album and the band, we do it every night.
You recorded with the Beach Boys one time.
Yes, “The Warmth of the Sun.”
How on earth did that come about?
I don’t know. Somebody asked me if I’d love to, and I said, “Yeah, come on.” It was one of those deals.
Did you watch the Masters this year?
Yes, I did. Yes, I did.
Did you enjoy it?
I did. I felt it was a fantastic playoff and I’m a Tiger [Woods] fan, so I wanted him to [go] all the way, but he’ll be back.
What’s your favorite course to play?
I have a course right outside of Austin and it’s got a lot of rocks [laughs] and a lot of deer. If you can play golf there, you can play anywhere I’d say. But I enjoy it; it’s home.
As you cross 80, will you still continue touring?
I intend to. As long as the folks show up. And if it’s still fun, we’ll do it.
Do you marvel at the age difference in your crowds?
I’ve been marveling at that a long time. [Laughs] You see people young and old, but I remember seeing that when I was very young. I’d see a lot of older folks in there.
Your shows are the ultimate melting pot.
I think music does that. I was just smart enough to know that. Music brings people together.
You’re famous for your jokes. Can you indulge us?
Let me see if I can think of a clean one [laughs]… A guy come out of an antique store carrying a big grandfather clock and he stumbled and hit a drunk and fell down. The guy jumped up and said, “Man, why don’t you watch where you’re going?” And the drunk said, “Why don’t you wear a wristwatch like everybody else!”
Willie Nelson may be known for his support of a certain green plant, but that’s not the only kind of farming he champions. Since 1985, Willie has been spearheading the regular Farm Aid concerts, which benefit the American family farmer. This year’s concert will be held in September in Saratoga, N.Y. Check farmaid.org for more info, including the all-star lineup. But as in year’s past, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews will all be participating, along with singer-songwriter Jack Johnson.
From rock’s Willy Wonka, Jack White, to the iconic Neil Young, Willie Nelson can sure count some cool friends. And many of them came together in April in Nashville for a special episode of CMT Crossroads. The concert, taped at Jack White’s quirky Third Man Records studio and record shop, was held in honor of the Red Headed Stranger’s 80th birthday and featured performances from Willie alone and with his pals, including Ashley Monroe, Jamey Johnson, Norah Jones, and Sheryl Crow, who had the honor of singing “Crazy” with Willie. But it was the one-of-a-kind Neil Young who stole the show, singing his poignant ballad “Long May You Run” directly to Willie, who, may, just may, have teared up. See for yourself when CMT Crossraods airs June 23 at 9 p.m. ET on CMT.