texasmonthly.com: How did the idea for this cover come about? Why Willie Nelson and Kinky Friedman?
Scott Dadich: Evan Smith and I were talking about a way to illustrate our first-ever humor issue. Normally we run the Bum Steer Awards in our January issue, but this year we wanted to devote an entire issue to humor—in the form of stories, jokes, art, and photography. So naturally we needed an excellent photograph to illustrate the very broad concept (and inherently, the broad scope of the issue). I had initially wanted to put our back page columnist, writer-at-large Kinky Friedman, in some humorous situation for the cover. Then Evan mentioned to me that Willie Nelson’s autobiography was going to come out in January, and we had always thought we’d like to do a Willie Nelson cover when that book came out. So the idea kind of fell into place that we would like to have the two of them on the cover together, especially since they are longtime friends and both have a great sense of humor. So we started to think about how we should photograph these guys: a visual gag? stage some sort of comic scene? replicate a famous image? something that was in everyone’s (Texan or not) visual vocabulary? Every American has some experience with or basic recognition level with Grant Wood’s most famous painting, American Gothic. So it was a natural. We would stage Kinky and Willie in a photograph replicating the famous painting.
texasmonthly.com: How did you approach Willie and Kinky about the cover?
SD: It was simple. Kinky writes for us every month, so it was just a matter of a phone call. He agreed to go anywhere and do anything we needed to be in a funny photograph with his friend. And once Kinky was on board, Willie was fine with the idea (as long as Kinky played the part of the woman).
texasmonthly.com: Why did you choose Dan Winters to take the cover photo?
SD: Our last major cover story about Willie was in 1998. Dan shot that photo and did a beautiful job. His portraits have a painterly quality. I thought it would be a good idea to collaborate with him to utilize his vision again. He is detail-oriented and a true perfectionist—a quality which would be essential for pulling off this gag. We had to nail the painting: every detail had to be as close as possible—color, placement, mood, lighting. And Dan was a perfect fit.
texasmonthly.com: How did you single out this particular photograph from among all the others taken at the shoot?
SD: This one was it. Willie was stoic and very much in character for a good many of the frames. The variation came in Kinky’s expressions and cigar placements. This photo was the funniest combination of the two.
texasmonthly.com: Did you try any variations, or were all of the images pretty much modeled directly after the painting?
SD: We didn’t vary the shot for the cover. We shot enough film to be sure we had it nailed, but we pretty much knew what we wanted and when we had gotten it. We did shoot some individual portraits of Willie and Kinky, though. Those shots were taken immediately after we finished the cover shoot. Everyone had relaxed a bit. Kinky was entertaining Willie and the crew with stories and jokes while Dan shot some looser black and white portraits. They appear on pages 90 and 176.
texasmonthly.com: What did you use as a background?
SD: Dan found a photograph of the real house Wood painted in American Gothic. Amazingly, the house looks the same as it did when it was painted (even down to the tree line on the horizon). The photo was enlarged to about twelve feet high and printed on white vinyl. We used it as a backdrop while Willie and Kinky stood in front of it.