So much has been written about him in the past 75 years (a good chunk of it in Texas Monthly) that we wondered if there was anything left to say. Which is why we called the people who know him best: the friends and admirers and collaborators who’ve been with him through every phase and stage of his life. Taken together, their stories amount to the very best biography of Willie Nelson you could ask for—a loving, funny, insightful portrait of the most important musician ever to come from Texas.


Bobbie Nelson, 77, is Willie’s older sister. She lives in Spicewood. We went to a very small Methodist church. My grandmother was there every time the doors opened. Willie and I were practically born in that church. The first music we learned was from the hymnbooks. Willie had such a beautiful voice. I’d play piano, and he would sing. Then he learned to play guitar, and my grandmother taught us to play together, showing Willie the chords on the guitar and me on the piano and telling us when to change chords. That’s the way we learned to play together. “Great Speckled Bird” was the first one she ever taught us. We also played in schools. We were the sole entertainers in our town.

Jack Clements, 75, was a childhood friend of Willie’s. He lives in West. He was just an ordinary kid growing up. He was a good student. Back then, it probably wasn’t more than one hundred students in high school, so all the boys played all the sports: basketball, baseball, football, track. Willie was a good basketball player. He was really kind of quiet, not very talkative. I lived on a farm and had horses, so when we were at my house, we’d ride and talk and play. At night he would make up songs, and he would sing about horses. The only one I really remember is “The Great White Stallion.”

Morris Russell, 77, was a childhood friend of Willie’s. He lives in Abbott. Willie and I would go to town on Saturday and see some of them shoot-’em-ups, you know? Roy Rogers and all of that. He always liked cowboy movies. We used to go to a swimming hole, and we did a lot of hunting and fishing. We did a lot of mischievous things too. We used to play the pocketbook trick. There was an old corn cellar on the main highway, and we used to put a purse out there close to the road. When the cars stopped, we’d pull it back in. And we used to fight bumblebees on Sundays. The farmers would have a bumblebee’s nest they would want out of there, so a bunch of us kids would go and fight the bumblebees. Willie got stung a few times. It was hilarious when about four or five of those bumblebees would get after one person. We’d laugh at him, but when they got after me, I wouldn’t laugh.

Faye Dell Brown Clements, 75, was Willie’s first girlfriend. She is married to Jack Clements. Willie was just a supernice teenage boy. We had a crush on each other, and we dated some. He had a great personality, and he and I sang together when we went out. It was a lot of pop music back then. I really liked him, but my mother didn’t like for me to date him because my daddy was a musician and she knew that if I fell in love with him, I would have a hard life. So about that same time, I started dating Jack. We fell in love and graduated from high school in ’50 and got married in 1951.



Bobbie Nelson We played together in Bud Fletcher’s band when he was fourteen and I was sixteen and had just married Bud. Our first job was a club in Waco, and one of our schoolteachers played trombone. We played a lot of the same things that we’re playing right now. “Beer Barrel Polka,” Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell.

Johnny Bush 73, wrote “Whiskey River” and played drums for Willie from 1954 to 1968. He lives in San Antonio. I met Willie in late 1953, when I was working with the Mission City Playboys, in San Antonio. We worked a Sunday matinee, and it was customary to ask musicians who passed through to sit in. We had been looking for a fiddle player, and this fiddle player named Cosett Holland and a little redheaded guitar player sat in one afternoon. The group wanted to hire Cosett, but he and Willie had come down from Waco as a pair. So they hired them both. Willie was married to Martha [Matthews] then, and [their daughter] Lana was about eighteen months old. He and I became fast friends. They lived in a rent house over off Labor Street, with the steel player and the fiddle player. We worked six nights a week and made five or six dollars a night in tips. His singing wasn’t bad, but he hadn’t found it then. We used to sit around and say, “To make it in this business, you have to find your own style—you can’t sound like anybody else.” I happened to make the remark that I liked his guitar playing better than his singing. Well, for some reason, he never forgot that, and he’s never let me live it down.

Paul English, 75, first began playing drums for Willie in 1956. He lives in Fort Worth. The way Willie plays, he was hard to work with. He told me one time, “Don’t worry about the song—don’t count it, just feel it.” That told me a lot of what I needed to know.

Lana Nelson, 54, is Willie’s oldest daughter. She runs and lives in Spicewood. My earliest memory of my father is him trying to teach me how to whistle in the baby bed. Music was always a big part of our life.

Bobbie Nelson I moved to Fort Worth in the mid-fifties, and I went to work for Hammond Organ. I was real emotional at that time. My marriage had broken up, I had to take care of my three small children, and I didn’t think I could play music anymore. Willie came to Fort Worth to be with me while I was having those problems. Then he went to Houston and worked as a guitar teacher and played in clubs. That’s when he wrote “Crazy,” “Nightlife,” and all those beautiful things.



Billy Joe Shaver, 68, is a singer, songwriter, and actor. He lives in Waco. He’s probably the best songwriter that ever lived. “Crazy” is about the best song ever written. I can’t imagine a better song. You know, I don’t care how low or what part of the world you come from, you understand that song. Everybody’s been that way.

Johnny Bush He said all those songs are out there. They are being transmitted from somewhere, like a radio signal. All you’ve got to do is tune your mind and let those thoughts come in. They are being transmitted, and you’re a receiver. That’s what he believes.

Merle Haggard, 71, is a singer and songwriter. He lives near Redding, California. There’s not anything in Willie’s life, I’m sure, that’s as important as writing a song. He plays golf and he plays poker and he plays pool and he does them good, but his mind’s not on them. His mind is on songs. Even when he’s not playing, he’s thinking about the guitar, and everything else is bullshit.

Ray Benson, 57, is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and founder of the band Asleep at the Wheel. He lives in Austin. What’s so amazing about his songs is that they’re so different, yet they all have that common thread of his incredibly twisted little point of view. Do you know what “Pretty Paper” is about? It’s about a guy Willie saw once who had no legs and was nailed to a board with roller skates, scooting along the ground selling pencils. It was a huge hit for Roy Orbison. It’s a very pretty Christmas song, but it’s not: It’s this incredibly weird, wonderful perspective of a crippled guy nailed to a board.

Norah Jones, 29, is a singer, songwriter, and actress. She lives in New York City. Lately I’ve been getting into some of the old demos that he did. Some of the songs are kind of sick, like “Permanently Lonely” and “Opportunity to Cry.” They’re dark and twisted, yet there’s a little bit of humor in them. And musically, the chords are supercomplex. I love some of his more popular songs too. On “Funny How Time Slips Away,” I love the twist of the knife at the end: “In time you’re going to pay.”

Kinky Friedman, 63, is a singer, songwriter, and author. He lives near Medina. To write those lyrics, which are poetry with great music, it requires real tragedy. You can’t sit in a room and do it. Even if you worked 24 hours a day with a committee of men, you couldn’t do it. As a country singer, he’s never happy. That’s not the goal of being a country singer. If you’re not miserable, you’re not going to be very good.

Bruce Robison, 41, is a singer and songwriter who has written several hit country songs, including “Angry All the Time.” He lives in Austin. Willie doesn’t try to write between the lines the way Dylan does. Willie’s words are right there for you, and what’s there for you is what you bring to the story he’s telling. And to me that’s the best thing about country music. It’s not that you expand your consciousness. It’s this thing that everybody goes through, that shared experience. You hope that there’s something that resonates, that comes out of your experience that other people can relate to as well. That’s the way that I relate to Willie’s stuff. The ambition of it is not the things that he was talking about. It was just how he set it out.



Ray Price, 82, is a singer and songwriter. He lives in Mount Pleasant. I hired him to play bass for me in 1961. And when we came off the tour the first time, he said, “I bet you didn’t know I couldn’t play bass.” And I looked at him and said, “The first night.” But I liked him. I knew he was a good musician.

Paul English We toured mostly in station wagons or trucks or a Bronco, with Willie’s Mercedes pulling a trailer. That was pretty hard traveling. In 1968 we were in this beer joint—Doyle [Willie’s half brother], Jimmy Day, me, and Willie—and there were three guys at the bar. Doyle was playing pool and said that this one guy wouldn’t give up his money. So I butted in and said, “Why don’t you pay the money?” He said, “We weren’t playing for that money. We were playing for a nickel.” “Well,” I said, “give him the nickel.” And he said, “What if I said no?” And I said, “Then you’re a sorry rotten motherf—er.” He said, “What are you going to do about it?” And I jerked him off the stool, had the pool cue across his chest, and this other guy pulled me around the neck. But when he brought me up, Willie came over and said, “Hold the phone, there’s enough for everybody. You whip him, Paul, and I’ll whip the other two.” But I come up with a pistol and hit that guy right up under his chin. He backed straight up. I told Willie years later, “I must’ve been crazy. I’m glad we had that pistol.” He’s a good character; he’s not hardly afraid of anything. If he thinks he’s right, yeah, he’s not afraid of anything.

Johnny Bush He thought that those Nashville guys like Chet Atkins and Grady Martin knew everything, so he let them handle things their way. He said, “Chet and Grady play guitar better than I do, so I let them play.” But Chet Atkins and Grady Martin couldn’t play Willie’s guitar like he could. They tried every way in the world to sell him and couldn’t.

Kris Kristofferson, 71, is a singer, songwriter, and actor. He lives in Maui. In Nashville they didn’t understand that he didn’t sound like every other country singer. We thought he was like a jazz singer, someone who never did sing on the beat like most people did. And I remember trying to explain to people who Willie was, and they just didn’t appreciate him yet. I can remember even my publisher said, “Willie can’t sing.” Fortunately, Willie never felt that way.



Ray Benson He’s always been inventive in his phrasing. I asked him once why he phrased the way he did, and he said, “Well, it started out when I was drunk and I couldn’t remember the words.”

Kinky Friedman I once asked him where his style came from, and without missing a beat he said, “Frank Sinatra.” And he said, “You know, Frank got his style from Billie Holiday, who claims she got her style from Louis Armstrong’s horn.” So I think that’s where it started.

Jerry Wexler, 91, produced albums for Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Dylan. He also co-produced Shotgun Willie (1973) and produced Phases and Stages (1974). He lives in Sarasota, Florida. The three masters of rubato in our age are Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Willie Nelson, in my opinion. The art of gliding over the meter and extending it until you think they’re going to miss the next actual musical demarcation, the next bar—but they always arrive there, at bar one. It’s some kind of musical miracle.

Jimmy Carter, 83, was the president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. He lives in Plains, Georgia. His voice is one that penetrates your mind and your soul without being a disturbing factor. Whether he’s talking about lost loves or drinking too much or not having a job or being in prison, you feel that Willie’s singing about something that comes from his heart.

Kenny Chesney, 40, is a singer and songwriter. He co-produced Willie’s 2008 album, Moment of Forever. He lives in Nashville. He has a unique phrasing style. I don’t know if he ever sings the same line the same way twice. To sing harmony with him is tough.

Patty Griffin, 44, is a singer and songwriter. She lives in Austin. He’s got this restrained simplicity about the way he approaches things as a singer. He doesn’t seem to be pushing really hard, but he can bring you to your knees. It’s not a particularly spectacular voice—he’s not filled with a million chops. But he’s just got soul, period.

Kinky Friedman I would say he’s not one of those people that has a good voice. I mean, a good voice is like Larry Gatlin. Willie has what I call a great voice. And a great voice is like Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash.

Alejandro Escovedo, 57, is a singer and songwriter. He lives in Austin. He really knows how to interpret a lyric. He sang on a song of mine, “Nickel and a Spoon.” He came down to the studio in Austin, played a solo, and then we asked, “Could you sing a chorus?” He was standing in the vocal booth looking at the lyrics sheet, and he said, “I’d like to sing this verse.” Sure, whatever you want to do—Willie Nelson wants to sing on my song. The lyrics went, “When I turn 21, I’m gonna make a change . . . ” It’s about my family, how I’d never really become what my parents had hoped I’d be. So when he sang it, I became this older man, the voice of experience. I felt he understood what I had been going through. It was a revelation.

Jimmy Carter I remember when I was nominated to be president, Willie sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and missed a few words. In “The Star-Spangled Banner”! But his rhythm and his heart and his voice are so perfect that lyrics, if slightly modified by him, don’t make anybody uncomfortable.



Lana Nelson I flew to Austin in 1972, and he picked me up at the airport. He had on sandals and shorts and his hair was longer. Austin had changed him. It was just the whole Austin movement of young people who didn’t care about slicked-back hair and shaved faces. That was not important; they just wanted to hear good music. He was still the same guy. He had just come into where he should be. He was very, very happy.

Billy Joe Shaver At the Dripping Springs Reunion [in 1972], there were all kinds of mixtures of things and that was back when the hippies and the cowboys were kinda lookin’ at each other, wondering what the hell was going on. And they got out there and mingled and nobody got in no trouble or nothing. I mean, it was just kind of like everything melted into one.

Bill Bentley, 57, played drums for Lea Ann and the Bizarros in 1972. He is now the publisher of the Sonic Boomers music Web site and lives in Los Angeles. We played a George McGovern for President benefit in the summer of ’72 at Austin’s Zilker Park. Willie came on in the late afternoon, and it was still really hot, and he had [bassist] Bee Spears and Paul English, and Mary Egan from Greezy Wheels on fiddle. It was real quiet and informal. There were probably four thousand people in the audience, most of them hippies, and most didn’t know who he was. He had on a black cowboy hat, and he played his first song, and it was like, “Whoa, who’s that?” His charisma was so instantaneous. Those longhairs in the audience were just completely pulled in. My feeling on that day was, that’s when he saw that hippies dug him. It was ground zero for redneck rock.

James BigBoy Medlin, 63, organized the music for the McGovern benefit. He is a screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles. Everybody in the crowd felt like Willie was looking them right in the eye. It was like everything that was good about your old Texas heritage was suddenly coming out from this one guy’s mouth and guitar, and people were just blown away. At the end he says, “All right, we’ve got to go to John T. Floore’s place in Helotes, so anybody that wants to go, come on down and join us.” And I swear it seemed like half the crowd was leaving. Just this parade up there following Willie.

Gary Cartwright, 73, is a senior editor at Texas Monthly. He lives in Austin. Eddie Wilson had started the Armadillo World Headquarters, and he gave Bud Shrake and me an office, which we never used. And Willie was playing a lot there, and he was hanging out in our office, smoking dope, and all these things were evolving at once: the early days of Austin, the Armadillo, Willie starting to get famous. We were kind of aware of the hippies and rednecks coming together, but without really thinking about it. We were living it and not really realizing it. There was just this evolution around music and dope, hanging out, and kind of the no-goodness in all of us, and Willie was part of that world as he got famous. I remember a party one night after the bars closed. Willie, me, Bud, and several other people were out in the front yard in the warm spring weather, and we started writing an opera. Somebody would do a line and somebody else would do a line and just make it up as you go. We called it “The Queer of Madrid,” which was sort of The Barber of Seville taken two or three notches further. I remember what a sense of humor Willie had, and we were all just falling out laughing, stoned out of our gourds. Years later I interviewed him, and Willie said, “Do you remember that night that we wrote that opera?” I said, “‘The Queer of Madrid.’” And he said, “Yeah, that’s it! Do you remember the words?”

Willie Nelson in 2008.
Willie Nelson in 2008. Photograph by Platon


James Randall “Poodie” Locke, 59, has been Willie’s stage manager since 1975. He lives in Spicewood. When I started in 1975, I was driving an old green Blazer, and I carried all the gear, plus about twenty cases of Lone Star Beer, me, Paul’s son, Willie’s son, and Connie’s little brother. Back then bands didn’t have road people; most bands just carried their own stuff and set it up. Then, when “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” became a hit, we flew out for eight days and came back nine months later.

Ray Benson “Blue Eyes” blew it all out of the water. I was in Nashville when that was a hit, and I remember people saying, “This is ridiculous. You can’t have a hit with just a guitar and a harmonica.” It was just Willie, Mickey [Raphael], and Bee. It’s one of those important lessons. We called him the Pied Piper. We’d always follow Willie wherever he’d go.

Emmylou Harris, 61, is a singer and songwriter. She lives in Nashville. He didn’t write “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” but he made that song his own. That’s his song. There’s something so beautiful and transcendent about what he brings to those lyrics and the melody.

Mickey Raphael, 56, has been Willie’s harmonica player since 1973. He lives in Nashville. The album Red Headed Stranger was recorded live. Willie said, “I wrote this album, this concept record.” And we hadn’t heard it till we went in there and he started playing it for us. I mean, the tape machine’s rolling the whole time. That’s really why it’s so sparse, because we’re just kind of listening and learning the songs. I don’t think we played them but a couple of times, and we did it in two days. We were all just mesmerized by what he was doing.

Dan “Bee” Spears, 59, has been playing bass with Willie since 1968. He lives in Kingfield, Tennessee. On “Blue Eyes” we just sat around in a circle. I don’t know if we did two takes.

Bobby Earl Smith, 64, is a singer, songwriter, and attorney. He lives in Austin. I had never heard an album like Red Headed Stranger. I’d listen to it and think, “What the hell is all this about?” It’s got that mysterious quality that you kind of feel the meaning of more than you can say what it’s all about.

Norah Jones My grandpa’s favorite album was Red Headed Stranger. My mom had a cassette of it, and I listened to that over and over and over and over. And that’s still probably one of my favorite albums of his. Growing up, I didn’t really know how weird of a record it was. I just knew I loved it.


Turk Pipkin, 54, is an actor, magician, author, and filmmaker. He co-wrote The Tao of Willie (2006) and lives in Austin. We forget now that he’s become this icon, but back in the late seventies, before Michael Jackson, he was the biggest-grossing concert act in America.

Jimmy Carter He used to come to the White House when he was on tour and spend the night. He and I were avid runners then, so he used to jog with me in the late afternoons. We would talk about music but also about general philosophy, and at night we would sit up and our children and grandchildren would gather round, because he was admired by all of us. When I had my most difficult times, I would go in my private study and tie flies for fly-fishing and listen to Willie’s music.

Emmylou Harris I spent a lot of my career, especially in the late seventies and eighties, opening for Willie. So I became part of Willie’s family, because that’s the way Willie is. I would do my show, and then I would watch Willie’s show and be on standby to come out and sing “Till I Gain Control Again” and other things. It was an amazing experience; you almost felt like you were at church. You felt like people were being nourished in their souls and in their spirits. The people there have one thing in common: They love Willie. And it makes them better and it makes them feel better about themselves.

Turk Pipkin When he goes onstage, he looks for one person he can connect to. And he smiles at them and they say, “Willie smiled at me.” And he winks at somebody else and he sings a song to somebody else and he gives his hat to somebody else. By the end of the show everybody in the room is caught up in this energy.

Kinky Friedman Larry Trader [Willie’s late longtime friend and golf pro at Pedernales Country Club] told me that Willie is a healer through music. And I’ve seen it. I’m not talking about people in wheelchairs. I’m talking about people with broken hearts.

Carolyn Mugar, 65, is the executive director of Farm Aid. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I think that people go back to Willie’s concerts over and over and over again much like you go to church. You get rejuvenated. You get something that you are looking for. It’s almost like touching the rock.

Bud Shrake, 76, is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He co-wrote Willie: An Autobiography (1988) and lives in Austin. He’s been playing the same set for thirty years. People don’t want him to change.

Mickey Raphael Once, we got him to change the set, but the crowd turned on us. They wanted to hear the hits. So what he would do, he would just kind of change the sequence of songs.

Kinky Friedman When Willie’s onstage, you can’t tell what his politics are. He leaves them behind and goes to a higher place, and that’s part of his charm. I mean, you can be a real right-winger, fly your American flags on your pickup, and love Willie Nelson. The reason that Willie has lasted as long as he has is that his window has stayed open to the energy from the crowd—it’s still coming to Willie every show. It’s very cornball to say this, but you can feel the love, feel the energy, and for a lot of entertainers, that stops.


Lyle Lovett, 50, is a singer, songwriter, and actor. He lives in Klein. Every time I see Willie Nelson play, I’m just overwhelmed. He’s such a strong, strong character. Personally, he’s so meek and gracious, yet when he hangs that guitar around his neck, he’s just a tower of strength. He leads that band with his guitar. The feel, it all comes from his guitar playing. Every bit of the musicality follows what he’s doing on the guitar.

Ray Price That guitar of his looks like it’s been through the back side of hell, and it has. But he whips that thing out there and he plays it, and that’s the main thing.

Mickey Raphael It’s Willie—it’s his voice and his guitar. That’s all you need onstage. All of us are expendable.

Kris Kristofferson I think his voice and his guitar playing—I can’t separate ’em. They’re both so uniquely his own. He brings to mind Django Reinhardt, because he was so good on a guitar, but his own personality absolutely came through.

Norah Jones He plays like no one else. A guitar-player friend of mine described it really funny once. He said, “It’s as if Django Reinhardt only had one finger.”

Lyle Lovett Before I started playing my own songs, I used to play with my buddy Bruce Lyon around Houston. And we played all those Willie songs. My favorite accomplishment was learning the solo in “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” It was my moment of terror every night when I had to play that. In 1993 Willie did a live radio show at the Roxy, in L.A., and I got to go down and sing with him. I was with him for the final number, and we were getting to the end of the last song, and they started flashing up on the teleprompter “10 more minutes.” I saw him look over at me, and I thought, “No, no, no, no.” And he looked over again, and I thought, “No, no, no, no.” At the end of the song, he took off his guitar, and he put it around my neck. And I thought, “Oh, my God.” I mean, just to have that classical guitar hanging around my neck was an incredible feeling. And, of course, my first thought was “I don’t have a capo. I have no capo. What can I possibly play without a capo?” And so we did my song “Church,” and the band grooved along for the final ten minutes, and Willie sang with me, and I just kept thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I’m playing Willie Nelson’s guitar.”


Robert Redford, 70, is an actor and director. He lives in Sundance, Utah. In 1978 Sydney Pollack and I were talking about Electric Horseman. I said, “Look, when we get around to it, I’d like to offer this part to Willie Nelson.” He hadn’t acted, but I said, “I know the guy, and I just think he’s perfect. He’s not gonna freak out or get bugged. He just is who he is, and I think he’d be perfect.” And Sydney said fine, and I called Willie and asked, “You wanna be in a movie?” And he said, “Oh, yeah, why not?”

Dennis Hopper, 71, is an actor and filmmaker. He lives in Venice, California. He basically plays himself, and that’s the hardest thing to do. It’s what Gary Cooper did pretty successfully.

Robert Redford He’s a natural, because he just has an ability to be himself. I don’t think you’re going to ask him to play King Lear, but that’s not what you expect him to do. When they call for somebody to represent a certain kind of texture as a character, he can just slip right into it. He also doesn’t put a whole lot of emphasis on it. He’s fortunate because it’s not his endgame; his music is his endgame. So he can afford to say, “Yeah, I’ll go do this.”


Paul English Willie comes from the farm, and he associates with the plight of the farmer.

Carolyn Mugar Willie decided to have Farm Aid, and he put it together in a matter of weeks. And then we got money out very quickly after the first concert. I think Willie decided to do something because he laces the country with his bus, and he stops at truck stops and he talks to farmers. Willie has tremendous empathy having grown up on a farm and picking cotton. He said, “This is not acceptable. We’ve got to do something.” So he did.

Evelyn Shriver, 55, was Willie’s publicist for The IRS Tapes. She is a director of Farm Aid and lives in Nashville. When I first got involved in Farm Aid, I sat with Willie in a room and watched these farmers come in and talk to him, and I was just weeping. I couldn’t contain myself because these stories were so sad. It was all these different kinds of farmers—old black guys, old white guys, old rednecks, young aggressive farmers. And they would come and talk to Willie like he was going to change the world for them. Farm Aid never makes enough money to really fund a lot of anything, but it’s a place where they can go and find a sympathetic ear. His loyalty to that whole feeling and his whole approach about the importance of the farm and how it affects the community is all so true. And these are things that he sees as he drives around America. He knows this country better than most of us.

Carolyn Mugar Willie is very hands-on. He still signs all of the checks and goes over the grants. And he still meets with the farmers.


Annie Nelson, 51, is Willie’s fourth wife. I met Willie in 1986 on the set of Stagecoach. We have been married since ’91. People say about his ex-wives, “Doesn’t that drive you nuts?” No, that doesn’t drive me nuts. I don’t think I’d have the same love for him if he didn’t treat the people he loved with kindness. You know, they’re the mothers of his children, and he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t treat them kindly. Everybody also asks me, “Doesn’t it make you jealous that women in the front row throw bras onstage or come on to him?” No. I know where he lives, and I know he knows where he lives. It doesn’t bother me at all. They feel so connected to him. And if they didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to be out here doing what we’re doing.

Kinky Friedman Part of the reason women love Willie is he’s a man women want to help. I think they want to change him, help him, comfort him, nurture him. He’s very stubborn, and if a wife gets jealous or something, he moves on to the next and he marries her. The best thing he ever told me was when he said, “I’ve outlived my dick.” Later he claimed he was misquoted. He was actually talking about my dick.

Bud Shrake I’ve heard a number of women say that Willie has bedroom eyes. The first woman I heard say that was my ex-wife, the night we met Willie.

Ray Price I’ll tell you something about them four marriages. I’ve had four myself. It’s hard for a woman to love a man that ain’t never there.

Faye Dell Brown Clements I was the one who broke up with him back in 1947. I don’t think I’m the reason he wrote all those songs, but I might have contributed to it. When I saw him at one of his concerts when “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” was popular, he saw me and said, “I sang you a song tonight.” Sometimes he calls Jack and me, and I’ll answer the phone and he’ll say, “Hello, beautiful.” Not many 75-year-old women get that said to them much anymore, you know.

Willies God1 - 0003
1. With Ray Benson at a taping for a PBS special in 1981. 2. Onstage at Floore’s Country Store, in Helotes, in 1971. 3. On the bus with crew members David “Bubba” Anderson, Gates “Gator” Moore, and Larry Gorham in 1985. 4. Performing with Dolly Parton at a benefit for children in Corpus Christi in the mid-seventies. 5. A high school photo from 1948. 6. With Kris Kristofferson and Faye Dell Brown Clements in 1984. 7. Drummer Paul English showing off his cape in the early seventies. 8. With Johnny Bush at Fort Worth’s Panther Hall in 1968. 9. With Bud Shrake in the mid-eighties. 10. Onstage with President Jimmy Carter in 1980. 11. With Kimmie Rhodes in 1996. 12. With Carolyn Mugarand and Neil Young in 1996. 13. On the set of the film A Pair of Aces with Gary Cartwright (in yellow jacket) and Kristofferson (with hand in pocket).


Bud Shrake I was out at the golf course the day that the IRS raided him. Several of us were getting ready to play, and all of these cars came streaming into the parking lot. Several agents jumped out, and we thought John Dillinger or some serial killer was in there. They were very rude. One woman came over to me and said, “What are you doing here?” And I said, “I’m getting ready to play golf on Willie’s golf course.” And she said, “This is no longer Willie’s golf course. It’s the United States government’s golf course. Get off.”

Poodie Locke People say, “Willie didn’t pay his taxes.” That’s bullshit—we paid our taxes.

Evelyn Shriver He wasn’t a tax cheat. He had big powerful accounting people that put him into those situations. As Willie has said a thousand times, he’s a guitar picker from Abbott. He wasn’t bitter, but I’m sure he was pissed off, as anybody would be, that he got in this position. But he saw the humor in it and the absurdity of it—this guy who came from such humble beginnings to have ended up in a situation like this. And I think that there were a lot of wonderful people that stepped up for Willie.

Turk Pipkin Willie thought the IRS stuff was hilarious. He said, “How in the world could they let a picker from Abbott get sixteen million dollars in debt?”

Johnny Bush Can you imagine having the IRS come in and take everything that wasn’t nailed down and then have his son’s death [Billy committed suicide in 1991]? A normal person couldn’t handle that. And what did he do? He took horse turds and turned them into lemonade. He picked up his guitar and made The IRS Tapes. He can turn anything negative into a positive.

Bud Shrake After the raid, he said, “As long as I’ve got my songs and my guitar, I can get on I-35 and play every honky-tonk on the east side of the road going to Canada and every honky-tonk on the west side of the road coming back. What do I have to worry about?” Benny Binion pointed out to me that the reason buffaloes have so much hair around their head is because they always face into the storm. Willie’s got that hair all over his face, so he’s always facing into the storm and going right through it.

Kris Kristofferson Oh, man, nobody’s had more bad things happen to him. I’ve never seen Willie depressed, though I’m sure he has been there. You know, there are dark things inside, because he couldn’t write like he does if he was just a sunny person. I’ve seen him in sad places, but I think he deals with life very well. Better than most. And the Christmas season’s got to be one of the hardest times for him, ’cause that’s when his son died. And I think his intelligence, his natural sense of humor—I mean, he can find humor in places where most people wouldn’t. He’s one of the funniest people on the planet and the funniest friend I’ve got.


Merle Haggard He’d rather tell you a joke than write a song.

Kinky Friedman He’s one of the funniest people I know. Once, during my campaign for governor, he called me at the ranch. I couldn’t hear who was calling, and I was trying to do an interview and I was irritated and said, “Who is it?” And I heard this small voice that I couldn’t understand. “Who’s calling? Who is this?” Finally I heard, “Willie Nelson.” And I started laughing and Willie said, “You remember me? On the road again . . . ”

Kimmie Rhodes, 54, is a singer and songwriter. She lives in Spicewood. Willie and I were recording a song that my husband, Joe Gracey, and Bobby Earl Smith had written called “Contrabandistas,” but Willie couldn’t pronounce it. Joe, who can’t talk because he had throat cancer, kept writing it on a Magic Slate, but Willie couldn’t get it right. Joe had always hoped that someday Willie would record the song, and he was afraid it wasn’t going to happen because Willie couldn’t say the title. Finally Willie laughed and said to Joe in that devilish way of his, “Why don’t you sing it? ‘Contraband Adidas.’ What does it mean, anyway? Stolen tennis shoes?” The next time he got it right, and the song was perfect.

Woody Harrelson, 47, is an actor and activist. He lives in Maui. He’s full of mischief and wisdom. I got a whole bunch of his Willie-isms written down. Once, I asked him, “What time are we playing poker?” Willie says, “Half past dark.” Here’s another: “I didn’t know whether to shit or go blind, so I closed one eye and farted.” He has a million of them. “‘Shit,’ cried the queen, and a thousand braves dropped their pants and strained to their utmost because in those days the queen’s word was law.”

Kinky Friedman I had this girlfriend who was about six feet tall, and I brought her on the bus. We stood back-to-back to see who was taller, me or my girlfriend, and I said her ass is higher than mine. Willie said, “My ass is higher than both your asses.”


Kris Kristofferson Right after he got busted recently in Louisiana, there was that thing about spinach being contaminated, and he said, “Gosh, it’s a good thing we didn’t have spinach. We’d be dead.”

Paul English Used to be the biggest problem he had was drinking. Back when he drank, the first thing he’d want to do was drive a car. I would chase him down and try to get the keys away from him. He’d get dishes and throw ’em over the balcony, punch holes in walls, tear up rooms. He don’t drink anymore. He changed over to weed slowly. When he smokes weed, you can’t even tell it. He says, “I don’t smoke weed to get high. I smoke weed to get normal.”

Bud Shrake He says when he drinks, “I’m like a turkey, sticking my neck into everything.” But marijuana—he can keep cool. It calms him down.

Turk Pipkin It’s not like the guy walks around like an idiot because he smokes pot. The guy is just as smart when he doesn’t smoke pot as when he does, and he’s the smartest guy you ever met. I mean, how does he remember all 2,500 songs he wrote?

Mickey Raphael He deals with it pretty well, but a few times during a show he has forgotten where he is and starts again. We’ll be all winding down, two hours into the show, and he’ll be thinking we’re five minutes into it and he’ll do the opening medley again.

Kinky Friedman There’s a reason Willie smokes dope, a very good one, as he told me once, and I think it’s the best reason I ever heard: to keep down the rage. I think Willie has a lot of rage, and that’s part of what makes him great.

Ray Benson Willie’s quote is, “It calms the rage.” If you’re a pothead of the kind that we are, we tend to have qualities that are short-tempered, and a lot of what pot allows us to do is not sweat the small stuff.

Gary Cartwright If you smoke his weed, be prepared not to move for a long time. I remember when I went out to Las Vegas to interview him on his bus. It was going to be an hour-long interview, and we started smoking this weed and I just completely lost track of what was going on. I took notes for a while, then I just gave up and completely forgot that I was supposed to be interviewing him. And he did too, and we just talked and there’d be long silences; we’d just look out the window at people walking across the parking lot. Several hours went by and I finally realized I had to get out of there.

Bruce Robison I was at a dinner party with Bud Shrake and Turk Pipkin and Ray Benson and Willie. I maybe shouldn’t have inhaled. By the end of the night, I had fallen up a flight of stairs, which I think is physically impossible, but it actually happened.

Jimmy Carter I can’t deny that he smoked marijuana on the roof of the White House, but I also cannot confirm that he did. I had three sons at the White House, and I’m sure that one or two of my sons could confirm the accuracy of that report, but not me as president. They didn’t tell me what they were smoking.

Turk Pipkin I attended the last dinner Ann Richards held in the Governor’s Mansion before she left office. She gave us a private tour of the mansion, and when we got upstairs, Willie went over to the window. Ann was saying, “Over here is a piece of furniture Sam Houston once sat on,” and Willie was saying, “How do I open this window?” She said, “You stop it right now.” She knew exactly what was going on. He was trying to get out on the roof of the Governor’s Mansion and extend the legend.


Kinky Friedman Other than music, golf is as close to a religion as Willie has.

Bee Spears We play anytime we have a day off. We plan our bus routes around the golf courses. The only reason we’re playing music now is to support our damn golf habit.

Ray Benson Once, we were out playing golf, and I said, “Man, you oughta go take a lesson. Your golf swing sucks.” And Willie said, “If there’s a right way to do things, I’ll try the wrong way first. Every time I did it the right way”—like in Nashville—“nothing happened. When I finally did what I thought was the right way”—and here he was talking about “Blue Eyes,” which everyone else thought was the wrong way—“everything fell into place.” So, you know, just trust yourself and follow your instincts.

Dennis Hopper I came to Pedernales in the mid-eighties to get sober, strangely enough. Willie said, “You come out to the golf course.” And I said, “You know I don’t play golf.” He said, “Well, we don’t give lessons, but you just keep hitting the ball straight toward the hole till you hear the turkey gobble.” So that’s where I started out. And, as Willie said, it’ll keep you out of bars.

Poodie Locke Golf saved our lives. For a long time, all we did was chase women, drink all day, stay up all night, and sleep seven days at a time. Golf got us out of the hotel and into the sunshine. Now almost everybody plays golf. We still drink, but we don’t do hard drugs. I mean, people back then were giving us blow, and we didn’t even know who they were. We were young, and it was the ’70’s. Now we are old, and it’s the 2000’s. Our golf game still sucks, but we play every chance we get. Golf is our life. Music supports our habit.


Turk Pipkin It’s easy to find him. Where’s Willie? He’s on the bus. The bus is his office. He gets up and goes to his office. The phone rings in the office and he answers the phone. E-mails come in. He stays in touch pretty actively.

Evelyn Shriver The bus is his comfort zone. He knows where everything is; he can find stuff. It’s set up just the way he likes it. Annie and the boys have their own bus. He’s not gonna give up his mattress on the floor in the back. It’s like an Indian thing, blankets and rugs.

Tony Sizemore, 60, has been driving Willie’s buses since 1983. He lives in St. Cloud, Florida. After Christmas, he got back to Texas from Maui, and Annie and the boys went to Austin, and Willie went to Luck, to his bus. But the bus wasn’t there. I had it in Florida, where I was doing some work on it—new granite floor, new electric window. It was taking longer than we thought. So we got a call from his manager: “Why is Willie’s bus not there?” I called Willie and said, “We’re putting the bus together as we speak. Do you want me to fly your guitar to you?” He said, “No, I want my bus too. What would stop you from turning the key in that bus and heading toward Texas right now?” I said, “Sir, I’m on my way to the shop right now.” And about five hours later I left and brought two people with me, putting the bus together on the way out there. When he said he wanted his bus, I knew he wanted his bus. That bus is home. And he should have it. And I was really hurt that he didn’t have it.

Buddy “Budrock” Prewitt, 58, has been Willie’s lighting director since 1977. He lives in Spicewood. He likes things that are familiar to him. The interior of his bus was actually in his last three buses.

Tony Sizemore When we wrecked his first bus [in 1989], he says, “I want that same interior in this bus.” And we say, “Okay, we’ll build you another.” And he says, “No, no, I want that interior.” When we built this new bus, he said, “Empty every drawer out and put it in the same place so I’ll know where everything is.” That’s what he said about his guitar case. [Crew member] Tom Hawkins tried to buy him a new guitar case. Willie said, “I don’t want a new one. I want that old one.”

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1. Performing with Merle Haggard in Los Angeles in 2004. 2. With Bobbie Nelson outside the Abbott Methodist Church, which he bought in 2006. 3. In the studio with Jerry Wexler. 4. On the bus with Kinky Friedman. 5. Onstage with Kenny Chesney at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2004. 6. Hitting the links with Turk Pipkin, Darrell Royal, and Ray Benson. 7. At the Democratic National Convention in 2004. 8. With Norah Jones. 9. Smoking a joint on the bus in 1996. 10. Greeting guests at a gospel concert in Abbott in 2006. 11. With Jack Clements in 2007. 12. Playing chess with Woody Harrelson. 13. Hanging out with Mickey Raphael.


Merle Haggard Once, I said to Willie, “What are you going to do with all your old guys?” He said, “I’m going to take them all the way to the grave. Just like you are.”

Paul English It’s amazing how this band has stayed together for so long. What makes it amazing is Willie. He’s the glue. We would have gotten disgusted with each other and left, but we wouldn’t leave him. And he’d never leave us.

Evelyn Shriver I think that the relationship between him and Bobbie is the real constant in his life. I’ve spent a lot of time with them, and they both read a lot, and they’re both very curious about different spiritual things and philosophies. I think that on long road trips they’ve had some really interesting conversations that have given them both that kind of serene touchstone that most people don’t have.

Ray Benson Willie playing with his band is kind of like a comfortable chair. He walks onstage and it’s very comfortable, maybe too comfortable. And he knows that and that’s why he does other things. These people are literally his extended family.

Kinky Friedman If you look at the people around him, you see Willie giving a lot of people second chances. The number of those people who have been to prison or gone through major problems in their lives is enormous, and so he’s healing them too. I know of nobody that has the same band and crew. They stuck with him for thirty years. And that’s bus drivers, security, stage management, everything.

Tony Sizemore You wanna be with him. You don’t wanna let him down. None of the people who work for him do.

Paul English He treats you like you like to be treated. I once said, “If I didn’t have Willie, I’d die.” Someone asked me, “What would you be doing right now if you hadn’t met Willie?” I said, “Time.” We were very wayward sometimes.

Annie Nelson You end up collecting these family members, and that’s your tribe. They’re the ones you choose, not the ones you’re born to. And it just grows and grows and grows. He’s like a magnet—sometimes a weirdo magnet.

Dennis Hopper I was in jail in Taos. I’d gotten in a poker game in the Taos Plaza, and part of the winnings were some tabs of acid, so I just took them and continued to play. I ended up out in the plaza with my gun, shooting at a tree. Willie and Connie got me out of jail. I got in the car and Willie said, “We’re going to Vegas.” And I said, “Well, I’ve got to go get some clothes, Willie.” He said, “No, you don’t. We’re going straight to Vegas. We’ll get you clothes when we get there.” So we drove from Taos to Vegas. He had a gig at the Golden Nugget. Actually it was the last time Elvis played. Sam Peckinpah was up there, and I remember Sam, Willie, and all of us went from casino to casino, and he had these big Mexican pesos and we were throwing pesos against the wall. We had our own game going.

Annie Nelson He’s extremely loyal. He does things because people need it. Friends of ours lost their son at eighteen, just before Christmas. And he knew instinctively just to go there. We went to them that night, and I can still hear him saying—it was the wife that was the most traumatized—“You don’t get over it, but you do get through it.” She repeated that at the memorial service, but it was sort of for him too. He knew to be there to say the words but also for her to see that he had survived too.

Darrell Royal, 83, was the head football coach at the University of Texas from 1957 to 1976. He lives in Austin. I know this about Willie: He has a long memory of his friends. If anybody’s ever done anything for him, he remembers. When my son David died, Willie came to the house and brought his guitar and played some music just for my wife, Edith, and me. He played “Healing Hands of Time”: “They’re working, while I’m missing you, those healing hands of time / Soon they’ll let me sleep again, those healing hands of time.” And then when Billy died, I went and visited him. I hope it helped him.

Billy Joe Shaver When my son Eddy [who played guitar with his father] passed in 2000, we were supposed to play that night at Poodie’s Hilltop Bar and Grill. But Willie—this is a little hard—Willie just said, “You need to get back on the horse. Come on out, I’ll put a band together.” ’Cause my band—it just devastated them—they all just went to pieces. I went out there and he had a band together. And I’d get up, sing one or two, then he’d carry the ball for me. And nobody knew that Eddy had died and nobody told ’em. Every once in a while you’d see a couple of ’em go out the back door crying, ’cause they’d heard about it. But I stayed there ’cause I knew I’d be better off with Willie, since he’d been through something similar. I spent the night over at his house, and we talked about a lot of things. I was a little low on money. He gave me some money and everything was all right.

Johnny Gimble, 81, is a fiddler and singer who has played with Willie off and on since 1958. He lives in Dripping Springs. He’s the kind of guy that if you do him a twenty dollar favor, he pays you back a thousand.


Kris Kristofferson Of all the artists that I’ve known, Willie is the most comfortable with his fans. He’ll stay there for hours, signing autographs and meeting people.

Paul English When he got the Kennedy Center award, in 1998, he left the security and went over and talked to the guy running the elevator. When we play at a fair, I’ve seen him break away from security and go out to the gate and talk to the fans for about two hours. I’ve heard people ask him, “Does it bother you when people are always trying to talk to you?” And he said, “It’d bother me a lot more if they didn’t.”

Kimmie Rhodes I’ve played gigs with him where he stood at the edge of the stage and signed autographs longer than he actually played the show.

Turk Pipkin You want to see Willie get mad? Let Willie get in a conversation with a stranger, and then go up and interrupt him. Go up and try to tell him that he doesn’t have time to talk to her because he has to be somewhere else, and you’ll see a little flash in those eyes. He’s having a moment that he thinks is important, an important human moment with someone. It’s up to him to determine whether he has time to talk to that lady.

Annie Nelson If he’s mad, you’ve pushed really hard, because it takes a while to get him there. But when he gets there? Oh, man, his pupils dilate so his eyes look black.

Tony Sizemore You can get drunk and miss a show and that’s no problem, but if you’re rude to one of the fans, you’re in big trouble.

Ray Benson I remember my band playing with Willie in 1974 at 57 Doors, this little club on Greenville Avenue, up in Dallas, and one night this stripper came over and said, “Willie’s God! Willie’s God! We love Willie!” He had this adulation from the dregs of society, the people who really needed music, the nightlife people. He spoke to the people in the nightlife. Not just with the song but with everything.

Lana Nelson He laughs, he cries, he makes mistakes, he has good days, he has bad days, he’s just honest about it all, and that is what endears him to his fans: He reminds them of themselves. He’s a human being. If he were perfect, we wouldn’t even be talking about it.

Bee Spears He’s real common. Once, we were on tour with Dolly Parton, and there was a big mud hole where our bus got stuck. She was fixin’ to pull in, and he went runnin’ around sayin’, “Wait, wait, wait!” And she said, “I like you. I like the way you talk. You’re real common, just like me.” And he said, “There ain’t nothin’ common about you, woman.”

Annie Nelson His songscome from a real perspective. Most people feel it, but they don’t know why. These are words that they would say or that they would want to say. He says it for them. But he says it succinctly and melodically, and that means that everybody who meets him says, “I feel like I know you.”

Evelyn Shriver Willie treats everybody the same. If you were the president, if you were the mail-room guy, if you were Bono, or if you were some kid on the corner with a guitar.

Johnny Bush I have noticed that he treats everybody the same, a business acquaintance, a stranger, a golf partner, a grandchild, a wife. Nobody that I can think of has ever gotten real close to him. And I think it’s a fear of getting hurt. My take on it is, when your mother leaves you with your grandparents when you’re six months old, to me that would tend to have you think, “Well, if I get close to someone, they’ll leave and I’ll get hurt again.”

Kris Kristofferson He’s able to be with a whole bunch of people, but he keeps himself private, and if he didn’t do that, he couldn’t be an artist.


Billy Joe Shaver What sums him up is “Simplicity don’t need to be greased.” Simplicity, you just slide it in there. He’s simple, but simplicity’s hard to hold on to and hard to keep.

Budrock Prewitt He’s a simple man, you know? He wears T-shirts and blue jeans. He wears the same style tennis shoe.

Mickey Raphael Material things mean nothing to him. We go to Europe, and he does total carry-on: a little shaving kit, a duffel bag with an extra pair of jeans, maybe not even an extra pair of jeans, maybe a T-shirt or something.

Evelyn Shriver It sounds crazy to say he lives a fairly simple lifestyle. Willie can spend money with the best of them—he has those buses and all the people that work for him. But on a day-to-day level it’s not that expensive. Willie likes to measure his money in inches. Like when he wants some money, it’s not, like, “I want five thousand dollars”; he takes his fingers and puts some space between them and says, “I want this much money.” You never know what the denomination is, but it’s that much money.

Annie Nelson He’s very right-brained. He is not mechanical at all. He thinks that everything’s broke if he can’t do it, so he gets mad. He wants to know how to work things, but I can be in the middle of working on something in the other room and he’ll come in five times and say, “Okay, I pushed this button and now I don’t have TV or my Internets”—he calls his e-mail his “Internets.” This is an all-day-long thing. He can be standing next to the light switch saying, “I can’t find the damn thing. How do I turn this thing on?” If he was standing on his socks, he would be asking me where they were.

Turk Pipkin He’s the most competitive guy I’ve ever met. He loves to win. And he will kick your ass—if it’s dominoes, checkers, or poker, forget it. In the long run, you get to that poker game, and if it’s for matchsticks, Willie wants to win ’em. And if it’s for $50,000, Willie wants to win it. It isn’t about the money; he just wants to win.


Annie Nelson He has the same charisma that the Dalai Lama has. When Willie and the Dalai Lama get together, they’re like a couple of eight-year-olds. They’re laughing and talking and they crack each other up, and you know it’s a mutual exchange. I’m not saying he’s on the level of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but there’s a recognition in each of them when they’re together. They can relate.

Ray Benson He has this Buddha-like quality. One of the greatest things I learned from Willie Nelson is how to listen. He’d be sitting in a room with all these people talking up a storm, and Willie’d be listening. Then he’d say the most intelligent, amazing thing. He would listen. And he’d sit there and just smile, kind of like what you think the Dalai Lama is supposed to do. There is that quality to him, and you know he ain’t no saint. He’d be the first to tell you that.

Kinky Friedman I’ve always called him the Hillbilly Dalai Lama. He’s a healer through music.

Kris Kristofferson He’s always had a Zen-like thing about him, even back in the sixties, when his first wife was sewing him up in a bedsheet and beating him with a broomstick.

Kimmie Rhodes Willie is a shaman, a really amazing spiritual person. But he’s also a regular guy from Abbott who likes salmon patties.

Willie Nelson in 2008.
Willie Nelson in 2008.Photograph by Platon


Faye Dell Brown Clements I don’t think he’s changed at all. I can still hear bits and pieces from the boy of sixty years ago. Willie has not forgotten where he came from. He bought the church here in Abbott. It would not have survived if he hadn’t have bought it. And he bought the little grocery store in Abbott. It would have closed too.

Jack Clements We put a new name on the grocery store. We call it Willie’s Abbott Cash Grocery. It probably won’t make any money, but he’s doing it as a service to the community. He said the community has to have a store. That’s his philosophy. The same thing about the church. Now we have services there twice a month. He does a lot of things for Hill County and the community. We did twelve $1,000 college scholarships through the church this past year for the four high schools in Hill County. He, of course, put the money up for that. When we made the awards to the different schools, he said, “Just tell them it’s from the Abbott Methodist Church.” He didn’t want any recognition.

Jerry Wexler I don’t think I have to get rhapsodic about Willie, but I once described him as the incarnation of humanity. The word comes from carna in Latin. It means “meat.” I called him the incarnation of decency and humanity.

Kinky Friedman His résumé reads like Jack London’s. I mean, he’s done everything—pig farmer, encyclopedia salesman, deejay—but I think all the time, since he was a kid, he really was a singer, really was a minstrel boy. He’s always wandered in the raw poetry of time.

Robert Redford He keeps experimenting, he tries new things, he starts new partnerships with other entertainers. He’s just happiest when he’s playing.

Evelyn Shriver He’s happy as long as he’s on that bus and gets to play music. It’s the most important thing to him, whether he’s in a club with a couple hundred people or a stadium with 20,000.

Turk Pipkin He still does 150 to 200 shows a year. He says every year he’s going to play less. He never does.

Ray Price Willie’s got so many concert dates. He’s like a mad witch trying to cover shit with a broom. He’s busy all the damn time. I don’t see how he ever gets any damn rest.

Budrock Prewitt I’ve heard some stuff that Willie already has in the can that is unbelievable. He’s got at least three sittin’ there that keep getting put back farther on the shelf because somebody else comes in with a better deal.

Kimmie Rhodes Willie has the basic spirit of a true artist that transcends age and fame and all that stuff. I think that he’s not the kind of artist who’d kick back and say, “Okay, I’m done. I’m going to rest on my laurels.” There’s something deep inside of him that had to create and had to have a vision. He always has new ideas. When I see him, he’s always grown artistically, and he’s moved into other genres, even if it’s pissed somebody off: “Here comes Willie making a reggae record or more gospel records.” That’s how he got the success of Stardust—he was following his heart.

Bruce Robison You can count on your one hand people who made a career in their own image, and they can do what they want to do. He created a sound, a style, and a vibe.

Kinky Friedman There were times with Willie when I wondered if he would survive certain situations in his life. He’s not only done that, but he’s just bigger than the whole, he’s bigger than country music. Willie is one of the few people that has a guaranteed legacy. He’s like Charles Schulz of Peanuts.

Kris Kristofferson He’s the closest thing to Stephen Foster since Stephen Foster. And he’ll leave a great legacy. He’s one of the few people who’s going to last much longer than he lives. His work is going to be appreciated as long as people listen to music.