"This is probably, as we are on the cusp of Willis's initial successes and setbacks in the 1960s and his full on commitment to some kind of career in country music, a good time to talk about the man's resilience, drive and also his Teflon properties. Nothing has ever stuck to Willie. If he is a Billy Graham-type houseguest for Presidents. 'Door's always open Willie! C'mon in and set yourself down!' he is also, like Ronald Reagan, a master at avoiding consequence. Consider: He has this thoroughly pockmarked and potholed personal profile with three 'additional' wives to the one at home; he's an avowed and proud transgressor of our nation's drug laws; he's a tax cheat (whether you blame him or, as he does, his handlers) with a multi-million-dollar judgment against him by the Internal Revenue ServiceAnd yet everyone loves him, everyone from the family farmer in the back field to the illegal immigrant working on the acreage down the road all the way to the so-called leader of the free world, whomever he might be in the current term. It's too easy to say that this is because Willie is a senior citizen or an 'institution' or 'venerable.' They've loved him forever. We all have.
Why? Sell, because Willie is easy to like, or even love. He is so many things that so many people are not today: polite, decorous, forthright in his opinions and discourse, genuinely humorous, generous to colleagues, a joke-teller and yarn-spinner. It's true that these things bolstered him only so much when he first hit Nashville, but they have put him in increasingly good stead through the years.
"Seldom have outlaws found a road out of the wilderness so well paved for them, or a welcoming committee so properly primed. Willie and Waylon appeared to some like they were emerging from the country music tradition, but there was a lot at play. Willie, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and others joined country and rock at the hip."The point is: All of this had been in play, and there was an enormous, coalescing audience ready, willing and waiting for what the Outlaws had to offer. When Willie was asked what brought Music City around? He replied, 'The bottom line is always money. Waylon and I had the Outlaw image going, and when it caught on at colleges and we started selling records, we were OK.' 'Stardust' received rave reviews and sold in quantity (it would linger on the country charts for a decade); it reached No. 30 on the Billboard 40, eventually went five times platinum in the U.S. and was a hit throughout the world (seven times platinum on the other side of the globe, in Australia). Willie was awarded the Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for his version of Hoagy Carmichael's 'Georgia on My Mind.' Star dusted, Willie Nelson was no longer a country music personality but an American icon - one of those transcendent celebrities whose appearance or voice or mannerism immediately translate: signifying something to one and all, old and young. "
The second Willie Nelson concert I attended was in the early 1990s in Minneapolis, where one of my daughters lived and thought I would enjoy another of his concerts, since I was such a fan of the Outlaw singer. This one was held in a concert hall and also included some of Willie's friends: Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings. Another fantastic live show.
So far Willie has been in 30 films and TV shows and written nine books besides numerous songs he has written and performed.
"With his success in the 1970s and the entreaties it afforded, the coast-to-coast road became Willie's home. He and 'the family' a band named the Family, plus an entourage of a couple dozen extra musicians, rowdies and whatnot, some with nicknames like Fast Eddie, the Beast or T. Snake - were traveling to as many as 250 gigs a year, playing everywhere from college campuses to Vegas casinos to gigantic football stadium, where they might be on bills and with such as the Grateful Dead."
Then in the late 1990s Willie actually came to southwest Minnesota to perform at Jackpot Junction near Redwood Falls. Here was a smaller crowd and I got to sit up close to the front where I could smell marijuana. I wondered - what would bring him all the way out into the flat prairie that was so far from a major metropolis? Well, money I guess.
(Continued next week)