Some 30 years ago in Nashville, singer-songwriter Paul Williams was the keynote speaker at the annual Nashville Songwriters Association International banquet.
He began his remarks by singing, “Worry? Why should I let myself worry? Wondering, what in the world I should do.”
It was interesting that he chose to open his speech by singing lines from Willie Nelson’s classic ballad Crazy (made famous by Patsy Cline) rather than lines from one of his own million-selling compositions such as You and Me Against The World, The Rainbow Connection (from The Muppet Movie), Close To You or Evergreen (from the Barbra Streisand movie A Star Is Born).
But then again, Williams respects other great songwriters, and they don’t come much better than Nelson.
For his song Night Life, made famous by Ray Price in 1963, Nelson wrote, “When the evening sun goes down. You will find me hanging round. Oh, the night life ain’t no good life, but it’s my life.”
And for Hello Walls, made famous by Faron Young, Nelson wrote, “Hello, walls. How’d things go for you today? Don’t you miss her since she upped and walked away? And I’ll bet you dread to spend another lonely night with me, but lonely walls I’ll keep you company.”
And for Funny How Time Slips Away, made famous by Billy Walker, Nelson wrote, “How’s your new love? I hope that he’s doin’ fine. I heard you told him that you’d love him till the end of time. Now that’s the same thing that you told me. Seems like just the other day. Gee, ain’t it funny how time slips away?”
Chances are that Nelson will sing all of those songs when he returns to Augusta for a concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Bell Auditorium just a few months before his 80th birthday. Tickets are $35, $45, $65 and $85 from the James Brown Arena box office, georgialinatix.com or (877) 428-4849.
Nelson is larger than life. He’s sold millions and millions of recordings. His songs have been covered by scores of famous singers.
And he has starred or co-starred in successful movies such as The Electric Horseman, Honeysuckle Rose and Barbarosa and acted in such TV series as The Rockford Files, Miami Vice, Nash Bridges, The Dukes of Hazzard and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
And yet he is remarkably laid-back and down to earth.
During a visit to Augusta in the 1980s, he checked into the Landmark (now Ramada Hotel) on Broad Street and immediately set out walking the length of the street for exercise with only one of his tour members. He nodded and said hello to all of those who recognized him along his walk.
He is known for saying kind things and doing kind things for many people, including the many American farmers he has helped through the Farm Aid concerts that Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young began in 1985.
Grand Ole Opry star Minnie Pearl told me about Nelson coming up to her in October 1976 at the Country Music Association’s awards show.
“I knew Willie years ago when he first came to Nashville,” the country comedy star said, “but I hadn’t talked with him in recent years. Willie looked at me, touched my arm and told me in a soft voice, ‘You have always been one of my favorites, Minnie.’ Then he added, ‘I just wanted you to know I love you,’ and he walked away.”
Besides his own lengthy list of solo hit recordings, Nelson also is known for his many hit duets and group recordings.
Those include The Highwaymen album with Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and Wanted: The Outlaws album with Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser, and the We Are The World video with Michael Jackson and lots of others.
His list of duet recordings include After the Fire Is Gone with Tracy Nelson (no relation), Heartbreak Hotel with Leon Russell, Faded Love with Ray Price, Old Friends with Roger Miller, Reason To Quit with Merle Haggard, To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before with Julio Iglesias, Seven Spanish Angels with Ray Charles, Outskirts of Town with Keb’ Mo, The Harder They Come with Ryan Adams, Beer for My Horses with Toby Keith, If I Were a Carpenter with Sheryl Crow, Baby, It’s Cold Outside with Norah Jones and This Train with Ziggy Marley.
Once, on his tour bus in 1980 after an Augusta concert, Nelson parted the curtains of a window near where I was interviewing him to look out at a large group of fans who were shouting, “We want Willie! We want Willie!”
Nelson turned back to me and said, “Those people out there like good music. They don’t stop and ask themselves, ‘Is it country or rock and roll.’ If they like it, they will tell you.”
Some things you may not know about Willie Nelson:
• He has performed at the White House several times and supposedly smoked marijuana on the White House roof. He is co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
• His latest book is Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From The Road.
• He played football, basketball and baseball for his high school in Abbott, Texas.
• He sold bibles, vaccuum cleaners and encylopedias door to door.
• He joined the Grand Ole Opry as a cast member in 1965.
• He holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
• His Martin N-20 classical guitar is called Trigger after Roy Rogers’ horse.
• He has been an advocate for better treatment for horses, has been campaigning for the passage of the America Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, has been against cruel living conditions of calves raised to produce milk for dairy products and has become co-owner of bio-diesel fuel plants in Oregon and Texas.
• He lives in a community in Maui, Hawaii, where the homes only use solar power.
• He has been married four times and has seven children.
• He was inducted into the Country Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and was honored by the Kennedy Center in 1998.