As I write this, Willie Nelson is a few blocks away as citizens of Austin honor him and he watches his own statue unveiled. How many living people get to see their own statue unveiled, I wonder? The only other musician statue we have in Austin – as far as I know – is of Stevie Ray Vaughn and it was certainly, sadly, not witnessed by its model.
Willie has certainly earned his place of honor in this city; a city that can thank him for focusing the national spotlight on the musicians of Austin and making it a place that recognizes artists and welcomes diversity. Willie has the reputation of having brought together the rednecks and the hippies at the old Armadillo World Headquarters and receives lots of the credit for making Austin the “Live Music Capital of the World.”
It thrilled me to witness Willie being honored this way. Willie and I go way back. Not are far back as the fortunate few that saw him playing “Crazy” and “Hello Walls” in dives in Nashville and honky-tonks in Fort Worth, but further than many of the fans that flock to him now.
In 1975, I was listening to the top 40 station in Amarillo, Texas, and heard the song “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” I had no idea who it was, but every time it played it just spoke to me in a way that no other song of the time did.
I hadn’t had my driver’s license very long when I got to drive myself to the dentist for the very first time. As I waited for my appointment, I had my first exposure to a great magazine, Texas Monthly. Every page talked about Austin and Texas and the unique culture I was a part of because I was in Texas, but I was also apart, because I was young and so far from the center of this burgeoning music scene. I read an article by the great writer, Chet Flippo, called “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Willie,” about the album Redheaded Stranger. It filled me in on the details of the Willie Nelson I had never heard of and his part in this great Texas scene. It propelled me to the nearest record store to get the album as soon as I could. In that era in my hometown of Canyon, we bought our records at the Cooper’s Thriftway grocery store.
I got home that late summer afternoon and my dad was home on vacation and doing construction work in the attic. He was at ceiling level in my bedroom in the attic entrance doorway. I brought the record in and looked up and showed it to him and said, “Daddy, look, I got a great new album from a new guy named Willie Nelson.”
Daddy snorted and said, “New guy? He’s not new. He’s been around forever. Heck, he’s as old as me.”
I assured Daddy that THIS was a new guy. He, as usual, had no idea what he was talking about. It wasn’t more than a few months that I also bought a Willie Nelson piano songbook that included pictures of Willie through the years, wearing sweaters and with short hair. I was horrified to find out that Daddy was right!
I can’t say I’m Willie’s biggest fan (I never bought the reggae album, for instance), but, like so many others, I feel a bond to him that I don’t have with any other musician. In the 30+ years that have passed since I “discovered” him, I have been blessed to have met him on more than one occasion. I’ve stood right beside him and Trigger (his guitar) as he played “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” I’ve been on the stage to watch him perform. I’ve even had the honor of introducing (the man who really introduced) Willie. We aren’t friends, I haven’t been to his house, he hasn’t been to mine. But I like to assure people who haven’t been as lucky as I have, that Willie is exactly what you would think he would be. He isn’t boastful, he isn’t cocky. He doesn’t brag, but he has a killer wit and if he needs to bring someone else’s ego into check, he can do it. He is Zen, he is quotable. He is handsome and charming and has an aura of goodness. Some people don’t like his politics or his beliefs, but there are no surprises with Willie. He is who he is and that is something we could all emulate and be the better for it.
Congratulations Willie, and happy 79th birthday on April 29th. I look forward to our next meeting, even it is just between me and your new statue.
– Submitted by Janice Williams, Music Design