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Willie Nelson: a productive senior citizen

By Tom Netherland, September 1998

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So, what gives? When will eager fans get to buy them? Nelson says that the blues album "was supposed to have come out back with the reggae album with Island (Records). That sort of got side-tracked when the business end changed around up there (in Island's New York office)."

"I don't know when it's coming out," he says.

Recorded in Jamaica over the past several years, the reggae album, which Nelson says he wants to call "One In A Row" (after his 1966 song that, along with several other originals, got the reggae treatment), was recorded mostly with Jamaican musicians. The singer's long-time harmonica player Mickey Raphael and Nashville steel guitar player Robbie Turner appear also. Don Was produced the as-yet-to-be-released album.

The blues album was recorded nearly two years ago. Nelson says that a bunch of Austin, Texas' blues players backed him on the recording. Like the reggae album, it sits, collecting dust awaiting release.

Last summer Nelson and Johnny Cash appeared on VH-1's hit series Storytellers. The format for the show is similar to MTV's Unplugged series in that music is presented acoustically. The exception lies in the manner of presentation. Interspersed between songs, the musicians tell of the song's origins. Indeed, stories are also told, as one may rightly assume, through the songs themselves.

And so, for one televised half hour the two legends sang solo, duets, and supported one another on guitar. Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" featured an improvised, jazzy guitar solo by Nelson. "On The Road Again" sounded like a campfire sing-a-long from two old reveling buddies.

The set list was made up on the spot as the cameras rolled. "We didn't rehearse anything," Nelson says. "We had played '(Ghost) Riders In The Sky' on The Highwaymen thing (Cash and Nelson's several tours with Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson as country's reigning supergroup, The Highwaymen), and most of those songs John did I'd heard and played along behind him. I enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun."

American 5(Cash's producer and label) in conjunction with Columbia (oddly, Cash and Nelson's label of yore) and VH-1, issued the show on CD. Complete with several songs not aired on television, Nelson says he "thought it was a great idea" to release it. "It wasn't perfect, but it sounded great."

Life's busy for Nelson whether with recordings or at concerts. The night of our final interview, fans gathered outside his bus waiting for autographs. Nelson obliged, signing for each who wanted one. After two hours and hundreds of signatures, he slowly climbed back aboard his bus. With a wave, he said "I'll see ya down the road somewhere."

And so it goes in the ever-changing life of Willie Nelson.

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