Friday, May 24, 2013

Willie Nelson--a Living Legend

I'm currently sitting here listening to an eclectic span of music as it shuffles randomly from song to song on my ipod.  Just now, when the song Old Friends (a duet with the legendary Willie Nelson, late Roger Miller and also legendary Ray Price) popped up, I was inspired to give a shout out to my old friend, Willie. 

Having grown up on the songs (both those written and sung) by the Red-Headed Stranger, I feel it's my duty as a fellow musician to pay homage to such a living legend in our time--especially since it's been mere weeks since Willie celebrated his 80th birthday.

I really have my dad to thank for introducing me to Willie's music at such an early age.  In fact, I still laugh about the time Dad took my brother to a soccer game on picture day, and they were asked to fill out Cody's player information on the back of his photo trading card.  They put his team name, number and player position, but neither Dad nor Cody knew of any famous soccer pros to list under the "favorite soccer hero" category.  To this day, every time I see that trading card with Cody's goofy grin and his favorite soccer pro, Willie Nelson, it makes me laugh out loud. While Willie may not be a soccer pro, he's certainly a hero to many musicians spanning all genres of music--and rightly so.

I think one of the reasons Willie is so well respected by his peers and adored by his fans is because of his realness.  With Willie, what you see is what you get.  When he started his early music career as a struggling young musician in Nashville with a clean-cut appearance, he wasn't getting to produce the kind of music he wanted.  So Willie decided the Nashville scene just wasn't for him, and he moved to Texas, grew out his famous braids and decided he just didn't give a shit about what others thought about him.  He wrote and played the kind of music that satisfied the true artist within--and perhaps by accident, started a whole new musical movement in the late 70s (alongside Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash) called the Outlaw movement.

Not only is Willie recognized for that unmistakably twangy voice, he's also known and nearly worshiped by songwriters everywhere. I know how difficult it is to write a song, and the fact that Willie has hundreds of songs--and amazing ones at that--under his belt, leads me to respect him even that much more.  If it weren't for Willie, Patsy Cline's rendition of Crazy would be nonexistent--as would the sentimental value that song still holds for me this very day.

I don't honestly know of a single country musician who would claim they hadn't been influenced by the famous twang, heartfelt lyrics and undying passion of Willie Nelson in one way or another.  The man is truly a living legend indeed, and I'm humbled that I received the chance to meet him and open a concert for him when I was only a 20-year-old college student with big dreams of making it in the music business.

Though I only got to meet Willie for a mere several minutes, it was a life-altering opportunity for me.  He seemed a tad bit quiet, but incredibly nice as his fans eagerly waited for a handshake and a photo opp.  I was absolutely flabbergasted when Willie even asked me for my autograph, and I thanked him profusely for the opportunity to open the show for him.  I got him to sign the first print ad I had written for Martin Guitars in college, which pictured Willie with his old pal, Trigger (his well-worn guitar), and it still hangs proudly on the wall as part of my ongoing autograph collection.

When I kissed Willie on the cheek and caught a slight taste of weed lingering on his beard, it made me smile a bit.  Willie is a genuine person to whom God has granted a boatload of talent and perhaps even more magnificent life experiences, which he effortlessly weaves into the lines of his songs.  If you ever get a chance to see Willie up close and personal--and witness the lines on his face, symbolic of a full, well-lived life, and see the gentleness in his knowing eyes--I hope you realize you're standing in the presence of greatness. 

So Willie, I wish you the happiest of birthdays and hope for many more years to come...and I look forward to seeing you somewhere on the road again.


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