willie nelson moves to texas -- 2/18/22

Today's selection -- from It's a Long Story by Willie Nelson. Well into his career, Willie Nelson moved from Tennessee back to his home state of Texas:
“'When I decided to move back to Texas, I had Houston in mind. But [the] Dripping Springs [Reunion, a three-day outdoor country music festival] changed my attitude. Dripping Springs was linked to the music-loving fans of Austin. Austin had the great state university. Austin had the most progressive politics of anyplace in the state. Austin had the most kicked­-back vibe of any urban area in Texas. Austin was also a friendly home to the hippies. Austin was deep Texas, but Austin was also different Texas. Austin had natural beauty: Barton Springs, Lake Travis, hidden lagoons, and the nearby hill country. Back then Austin was still small -- no more than 250,000 citizens. Austin had a live-and-let-live attitude about lifestyles. Austin had funky ol' houses and coffee shops where you might hear bluesmen like Mance Lipscomb picking up a storm. Austin had San Francisco-styled venues like the Armadillo World Head­quarters, a big ol' armory converted to a funky show palace, where you could hear Ravi Shankar one night and Frank Zappa the next. Austin had Marcia Ball's Freda and the Fire­dogs; Michael Martin Murphey, the Cosmic Cowboy; and Jerry Jeff Walker, a former folk singer from New York who set a musical tone that appealed to rednecks and hippies alike. It was Jerry Jeff who wrote the heartbreaking 'Mr. Bojangles.'

"Austin also had my close buddy Darrell Royal, coach of the national champions the University of Texas Longhorns foot­ball team, and America's biggest music fan.

"'You gonna be loved anywhere you live, Willie,' Coach told me, 'but you'll be more loved in Austin than anywhere. Whether you know it or not, Austin is your city.' 

"Above all, Austin had my sister, Bobbie. As always, Bobbie was my heart and the strongest link to my past. She had come back from Tennessee to Texas, where she had played piano for shopping center openings, in hotel lounges, at country clubs, and for diners at El Chico, the area's biggest chain of Mexican restaurants. Bobbie had moved down to Austin with her boys and, in usual fashion, earned a living through her resourceful musical skills.

"'Come to Austin,' Bobbie was saying to me. 'Things are changing around here. Things are opening up. I do believe that you'll take over in no time.'

"'If I did come down, what would you think about playing with my band, sis?'

"'I wouldn't be thinking, Willie. I'd be crying with joy.'
"Before I moved there, I started out slow in Austin, just playing a few benefits for antiwar candidates and progressive politi­cians like Sissy Farenthold, who was running for governor. Didn't matter to me that they didn't have much chance of win­ning. I admired their progressive politics and was happy to help anyone committed to stopping our tragically misguided meddling in Vietnam.

"On the same bill were Greezy Wheels, the Conqueroo, and other psychedelic-styled bands. Wasn't sure how our music would be received. So when the reception was positive -- lots of flowers thrown onstage -- I felt even better about Austin.

"I also played west of town in the Soap Creek Saloon with my friend Doug Sahm, a killer musician who walked a perfect tightrope between hard-core San Antone Mex-Tex country and the Age of Aquarius rock. Doug was comfortable with all the generations.

"'Hell, Willie,' said Doug, 'so are you. You just don't know it yet.' 
"Wasn't until late summer of '72 that I played the 'Dillo.

Willie Nelson Boulevard in Austin, Texas

"Before the show I still wasn't sure whether we were the right match for this venue. The Soap Creek Saloon was one thing, but the Armadillo World Headquarters was something else entirely. Would I be ushered through the pearly gates of Hip­pie Heaven or laughed off as some weird country music act? For the first time I'd be facing the Woodstock Nation full on. The Grateful Dead played the 'Dillo, as did the Flying Burrito Brothers and Dr. John, the Night Tripper. What the hell was I doing here?

"I was doing what I always do. I was singing my songs. I sang 'Crazy' and 'Night Life' and 'Hello Walls' and 'Funny How Time Slips Away.' Without talking in between numbers, I sang my usual fast-moving set and saw, much to my delight, that the kids went for it in a big way.

"We sure didn't have a flashy presentation. Except for Paul English and his black velvet cape, we dressed plain. So it couldn't have been our stage presence that got them. It was the music. I saw these kids react to the music in the same way kids reacted to Bob Wills in the dance halls of my youth. They got high on our music. They let the music take them away -- far, far away from a world of anger and strife.

"I liked this new world. It fit me to a T. I never did like put­ting on stage costumes, never did like trim haircuts, never did like worrying about whether I was satisfying the requirements of a showman.

"It felt good to let my hair grow. Felt good to get onstage wearing the same jeans I'd been wearing all damn day. Felt good to tie a red bandanna around my forehead to keep the sweat from getting in my eyes. Felt good to no longer give a flying fuck about making a proper appearance.

"I liked being improper.

"Don't get me wrong. As a performer always interested in making a living, I understood the upside of changing my image. I knew I was appealing to a big new tribe of music fans. And I also knew that I'd be more acceptable if I didn't dress like an uptight leftover from the early sixties. At the same time, while I was conscious of the fact that I was chang­ing my look to change with the times, that change felt com­pletely natural. It was organic. As I look at it, I was turning exactly into the person I was."

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Willie Nelson


It's a Long Story


Back Bay Books / Little Brown and Company


Copyright 2015 by Willie Nelson


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