Talking to Willie Nelson is, on one hand, a straightforward experience. He speaks calmly and in small bites, with a gentle laugh and friendly smile always on hand to put you at ease. He’s quick with an answer but also patient, thoughtful and willing to go deep when it comes to speaking about his long life experience, the varied terrain of American music, and where the two have (frequently) intersected.
A Willie Nelson conversation can also go in any number of directions. When Radio.com sat down with Nelson for a chat on his bus last month, the conversation started on topic with his latest album Band of Brothers. Soon, though, it moved into text messaging, concept albums, the enduring influence of the Grand Ole Opry, old friends of his like Billy Joe Shaver and Chet Atkins, and why he loves performing and touring so much (six decades down the road and “it’s still fun”). It’s a meandering path, but it’s a hell of a fun journey — and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Two key building blocks of Nelson’s long career came up repeatedly: songwriting and performing. The latter has always been at the heart of Nelson’s musical world. Even now performing is his chief occupation; he spends more nights on his tour bus than he does at his ranch in Texas.
As for songwriting, that’s what jump-started his commercial career, thanks to songs he wrote like “Crazy,” “Family Bible” and “Night Life.” By his own estimation Nelson has written thousands, and this year he added even more to the roster. His latest album Band of Brothers, released this past June, includes nine newly written compositions that have no problem standing on their own as part of Nelson’s extensive catalog.
“It’s been a while since I wrote that much,” Nelson told Radio.com. We were speaking on his bus before a July 12 show with his band, the Family, at Ravinia, a lovely outdoor amphitheater just north of Chicago.
Curiously, Band of Brothers is the first Nelson album to focus on newly written material since his 1996 album Spirit. What took him so long?
“Oh, I don’t know,” Nelson said. “Roger Miller said it pretty good, he said, ‘Sometimes the well runs dry. And you’ve got to wait till you live a while to let it fill up again.’ And I think there’s a lot of truth in that.”