THE SINGER AND THE PREZ

Country superstar Willie Nelson goes back to President Jimmy Carter's hometown to reconnect the common threads that have drawn them together for years.

Country living legend Willie Nelson and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter have been friends for over three decades.

So when CMT decided to pay tribute to the ex-prez in their special CMT Homecoming: President Carter in Plains, airing Dec. 4, Willie joined in by giving a free concert in Carter's Georgia hometown of Plains.

"We have a long friendship that binds us together - I can't think of anything that separates us," declares Carter, seated beside Willie in the tiny Plains City Hall building. "He and I grew up in the cotton fields. We shoed horses and mules. And we both come from a very small town."

Willie smiles. "I've always admired and respected President Carter, even before I knew him." Willie first met the former chief executive after performing at a political fund-raising event. "I immediately saw a lot of ways where President Carter and I thought pretty much the same on so many different things.

"When we did meet again, I respected what he had done at that point. He had become president, which is a hard job. So far, he's my favorite president of the United States."

"That makes me almost want to run again," jokes Carter.

"You still can," encourages Willie.

"Not quite," says Jimmy with a grin.

Both men have had ups and downs in their careers - but their friendship helped them through the tough times.

Jimmy says Willie's The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories? CD, which the superstar released to help satisfy his back-taxes debt to the Internal Revenue Service, was inspirational to him.

"When I lost the election in 1980, I had everything I owned, a very prosperous business, down here in Plains, in a blind trust," says Jimmy. "And about two weeks after the election, I was told I was a million dollars in debt. So I knew how Willie felt when he was in debt to the IRS. That's another thing we've had in common."

But there's at least one difference between the two men - one can sing, and the other ... well, he can joke about his singing abilities!

"I've attended probably five of Willie's concerts just as a guest," reveals Carter. "Most of the time, Willie has invited me up on the stage - and then very deftly moved the microphone away from my voice."

- Wendy Newcomer

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