Willie’s World

The octogenarian outlaw and his band of gypsies still love making music and memories.

Willie’s World

Willie Nelson is on the road again. But that’s not really news, since the 84-year-old legend has been on the road almost constantly for more than six decades.

For much of that time, he has been accompanied by his famously battered guitar, known as “Trigger,” and a cadre of kin and kindred spirits who have become integral to Nelson’s briskly paced live show.

Willie Nelson & Family wafts its way through the Walt Disney Theater on October 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $59.50. The weathered icon is touring in support of his new album, God’s Problem Child, which primarily showcases tunes that he wrote or co-wrote.

The return of Nelson’s muse is a big deal. Although he enjoyed early success as a songwriter, some of his biggest mainstream successes have been beguilingly quirky takes on pop standards, such as Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind” from his multiplatinum 1978 album, Stardust.

That album established Nelson as one of the greatest song stylists of any musical genre, and led to explorations of pop, jazz, gospel, reggae, folk and even a compilation of Gershwin songs in 2016. Even if he had never become a successful recording artist, Nelson would likely be a Country Music Hall of Famer on the strength of hits he wrote for others, including “Crazy” (Patsy Cline), “Night Life” (Ray Price), “Hello Walls” (Faron Young) and “Funny How Times Slips Away” (Billy Walker).

Nelson, though, wanted to record his own music, his own way. But no one was interested in Nashville, where unconventionality was frowned upon and Nelson’s odd phrasing and nasal vocals were considered hopelessly uncommercial. Discouraged, Nelson moved from Nashville to uber-hip Austin. He was revitalized by the city’s thriving music scene, and heartened by the way in which his offbeat style resonated among “hippies” who otherwise gravitated toward rock.

In 1975, Nelson released a stunningly spare concept album called The Red Headed Stranger, which yielded his first No. 1 hit, Fred Rose’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” The same year, he recorded Wanted! The Outlaws, with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser. That collaboration — which Nelson admits was haphazard — resulted in country music’s first platinum album, and launched the genre’s so-called “outlaw movement.”

Since then — well-publicized IRS issues notwithstanding — it’s been Willie’s way or the highway. Or, more accurately, given his love of touring, Willie’s way and the highway. He has won 12 Grammys, founded Farm Aid, appeared in 30 films, penned a best-selling autobiography and launched cannabis and biodiesel businesses. In 2015, the Library of Congress presented him with its Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

Nelson’s sharp yet poignant songwriting is one reason why God’s Problem Child — his 61st studio album — is creating such critical buzz. Rolling Stone called it Nelson’s “most moving album in decades,” and noted that “old age has sharpened his focus as a songwriter, providing him with renewed purpose as a lyricist and heightened vulnerability as a vocalist.”

Asked by Bob Schieffer of CBS Sunday Morning if he had considered retirement, Nelson replied that he was still having too much fun: "What do you want me to quit? I just play music and a little golf, and I don't want to give up either one of those!"

-- excerpted from artsLife