M1 From what I can remember, from what I picked up from Willy is his first musical exposure was to this polka band in Texas. He grew up in central Texas. And there are a lot of these old German communities around there. And polka was, you know, pretty big, was a big music, were the first bands, I think, that he listened to and that he actually played with. I think when he was 13, he had a gig playing guitar.

M2 And one of the local polka bands outside of it was a west west Texas town of West, which was outside of Abbott, where he grew up. And then I guess as he got a little older, Bob Wills was playing, you know, who incorporated a lot of jazz and, you know, stylings in his music and swing, you know, had a big swing band. And I think it just grew I mean, well, his musical interests are pretty vast. He doesn't I mean, riding on the bus, we don't listen to other country artists, really. He's listening to Chet Baker and Django Reinhardt, who he listens to. He listens to Django all the time. I saw Nat King Cole CD on the bus the other day, you know, so and Miles Davis was a friend and a fan of Willie's, too. And I remember in the late 70s, early 80s, Miles came to Vegas when we were playing there and spent a whole week with us and come to the show every night and have him, you know, watching over my shoulder every night was a little unnerving. Oh, that's great. He was a great inspiration. We love his music.

M11 So, yeah, we're interviewing Welham, Whalen said something like. Factory starts off yesterday and tomorrow, much as I think so, I it's pretty free form, it doesn't really stay with the beat.

M1 But if you just if as a musician, if you just keep time, try to keep time anyway when we will, we will find you will we will come back, you know, as long as you start together and end together. I guess that's the trick. What we kind of do with Will is we do follow him, but you have to give him enough room. You can't really just stay on top of him. You've got to. There's going to be some basic rhythm thing happening there that he can come back to because he will leave, but he will eventually come back to it.

M5 So I think so.

M21 Well, I think it's just one of his jazz influences, just Willie Starling, just what he picked up from everything, you know, from all his music and just the way he feels things. It is not something you can learn. I mean, it's really embedded deep in his musical style. He's like that with everything. If he was going to sing a country song or a standard, he's never going to sing it right on the beat. I remember we were doing a session with the Beach Boys and they were overdubbing Willie's voice.

M22 And Brian Wilson was there and wasn't saying much.

M23 He was just listening. And one of the other Beach Boys was telling Willie, not Willie, that the song goes like this. It's, you know, you're not singing on the beat today. And Brian Wilson is just kind of rocking back saying, man, that's great. Well, he's doing great. You know, leave him alone. And one of the other guys was going, no. Well, it goes like this. Your phrasing is a little off. And Willie stopped and he goes, and I thought, that's why you hired me was for my phrasing. Of course. Then it changed. Oh, that's great. But the whole time Brian's just rocking back going, yeah, that's great. That's it. Well.

M5 What is that what's the what is back with what they really mean?

M23 Well, I think he's just really not singing on the beat, he's singing behind the beat or he'll rush ahead. I mean, he'll finish the line, you know, maybe a whole bar before the band, you know, before you would get there musically.

M4 And sometimes he'll start the next the next verse before, you know, the band is is is there so he's just all over the place. But it's he knows where he is and he comes back, you know, he'll come back in time eventually. But he's just not singing on the beat, so that's something you can step, you stamp your foot to, it's kind of improvisational. Yeah, it's almost like scat singing really. And then he's singing, you know, and it's just it's it's like a snake wagging its tail. And as a band, we're trying to follow. And the it gets sometimes it gets it gets loose of us, but.

M10 Pretty unique, but improvisational style fits with its free spirit.

M22 The person. Mm hmm. Yeah, definitely he's.

M4 Marches, definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer.

M5 What do you know about Django Reinhardt?

M7 I think he I mean, really being a wonderful guitar player, I think and Django was really innovative style and lost several fingers on this hand through a fire. And he plays so fast. And I think that's, you know, not just that he played fast and Willie, but this guy was so skilled and just beautiful stuff and really innovative styles. And I guess he was playing in the 20s and 30s. I don't remember the exact dates, but this has really been a real influence for Willie. And it's funny because we were on the bus the other day with Ray Charles. Willie was playing chess with Ray and Willie was asking Ray about Django. And Ray hadn't heard him before. So Willie, you know, grabbed a stack of CDs and gave them to Ray.

M12 So it'll be interesting to see if there's any influence there after Ray has a chance to listen to him.

M10 That was great. Mm hmm. That's not like never heard of never heard of him. Yeah.

M4 Well, the French jazz scene, that's a whole different thing, you know, now that he's won, I mean, he was it was great. I knew about him before. You know, I came to Willie to work with the band, but it was great to see that Willie was, you know, these were his influences. And yeah, yeah, I know about Django, you know, just, you know, listening to, you know, just searching for different styles of music and stuff, I was familiar with them and it was great to see that Willie was such a fan of his, too, that he was a great influence in his playing as well as a great guitar player. And he doesn't he gets to play with us some, but he doesn't stretch out like he could. I mean, I'd love to hear him play a little more guitar. And when he does than it does, it's just brilliant and it's fun to play it fun. You know, where everybody in the band, we're all fans. We like to hear him play a song.

M21 Yeah, a lot of them. I mean, a lot of the on the blues songs, you know, Milk Out Blues, but I Never Cared For You is a great there's a great solo on there for that Bloody Mary morning, which is something we haven't done in a while. But there's a long instrumental break in that where he just stretches out. So anything really I mean even the ballads, when he does play the fills in the verse, he does some wonderful stuff.

M24 This is Rotenone Vickey interview.

M10 You at a point in your life where you devoted. At least half of your working years. Yeah, more than half, almost 30 years.

M6 I can go to a lady willing to go to lady and then will it would be 99, 98, right?

M10 I mean, you could do something else. It's like you're going to work for 60 years if I'm going to work. I were fired.

M6 No, no, I I don't think I'll retire. I hope I can still play, you know, I mean, that's the idea. Maybe and learn something else.

M21 You know, it's so I was thinking about maybe becoming an accountant or something, but what is it a. Now, as you say, something on CNN this morning about the botched abortion rights and life begins at conception, and I always thought, you know, being Jewish, that life begins after med school.

M4 A little old. Yeah, you never know, I just met a guy the other day who was his dad was a neurosurgeon.

M6 You know, he wants to take me into the you know, they are with him. So I figured you watch one, you do what you want. Maybe you watch, too.

M3 You do something like that. I'm sure it's. I can't be that if this guy is doing it, you know.

M5 So what's it been like for 30 years with Willie, Willie, and what was it that made you stick?

M21 Well, part of it was his style. You know, this is phrasing and his guitar playing. I was a fan of his of him musically and just thought he was so unique. It wasn't actually. Kinky Friedman told me the story the other day. He said, I asked him a long time ago, you know, I love playing with Willie.

M6 I love playing with Waylon. You know, which one should I go with? And of course, he said you should go with Waylon. So he reminded me of that the other day that I stuck with. You know, I stayed with where I went out and worked with Waylon for a couple of months, one summer while we took a break. Which is great fun. Well, it's great to play with just the music, with just the harmonica, fit his music so well, but I just there's just something about Willie that he's just so unique. And it was a real challenge musically at first, and still is to this day, I still don't know what to play on Whiskey River, you know, with with the way the beat is, the way he's kind of turned the beat around. I mean, I'm still searching for something that I feel comfortable with on that song, and I just have it locked into it. One day I'll find it, you know, but you've got the freedom with him to experiment and you can make mistakes, you know, and that's what's great. You know, you can you can try different things every night.

M3 And sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Nobody really cares.

M5 Tell me that story is that whaling really story without thinking that over the very beginning you went up the whaling or you like playing with and that I went to L.A. and they picked you out of it? I got.

M6 Oh, yeah, I was playing with with I was working for Willie when I first went to work for Willie, we took a summer off and I told Willie, I said I'd like to go out and play with Waylon because I've been sitting in with him a little bit. And he called Waylon in a while and said, yeah, great. So I spent a summer touring with Waylon. And then I remember getting a phone call one time in the middle of the night and it was Willie. And he goes, Didn't you used to work for me? I guess Willie started booking dates again because they'd taken the summer off. So I had to left that morning first thing out, you know, so it's like, do I stay with Weland? I go back to work for Willie. And I just took off immediately to meet up with Willie. There was just something there. There was just the freedom you have musically and just so much expression in his music. And it was even though I didn't really feel comfortable musically, I mean, Weland, I thought the harp just locked in to Whalen's music better because I was never sure of myself playing with Willie. I never was sure what to do, but it just became a challenge to keep trying.

M5 Why were William Whalen so associate with each other?

M4 I guess they you know, they both didn't like following rules and I guess they were both involved in Nashville. You know, the business of Nashville music scene. This is before I was, you know, with them. And they fought it to do it their own way. They didn't want the record companies telling them how to do their music. And I guess that's where that outlaw label came. It's nothing they came up with. It was somebody on the outside call was calling them outlaws, but they wanted to do music their own way and even if it meant not being successful.

M3 You know, by you know, in real commercial terms. They stuck to their guns.

M8 What do you think Nashville was so of? Holistically overproduced is what you think they will?

M4 Oh, I think they thought that he was a brilliant writer. I don't think they took him seriously as a singer and. You know, I think they just want to keep getting hit songs for their for their other acts that they already had control over and were producing and picking songs. Usually when an act would go in the studio, the producer had all the songs already together and that the artists really didn't have much choice in the material that they would do. And that's really was just a wealth of great material. So I think they wanted to keep him, keep him there. Plus, as his singing style was so unique and I guess his nasal tone, I don't hear it. But everybody says he sings through his nose. I can't tell. Maybe I'm just too close to it. And maybe he just wasn't, you know, what they thought was commercial enough, what they thought people wanted to hear, whoever they is, I don't know. I hadn't figured that out yet. What happened, he came back to Texas is kind of yeah, he left Nashville and came back to Texas in the early 70s and found that there was a great audience here in Austin where there were the hippies and rednecks would get together and listen to music.

M6 And he saw that music was a common bond, but they weren't, you know, killing each other, getting drunk and beating each other up. And he was really impressed by that bond and how music communicated between the two. And he felt so at home here.

M9 He moved and hasn't left. And this is his home anyway.

M4 So this is you know, he found he could make a decent living just playing in the beer joints, which we still do.

M8 Seems like that with. Like trying to get for this thing, he became a little yesterday, aged a little bit.

M7 Yeah. And I think, you know, he just wanted to come back here and relax at home and play around locally. I remember when he when I first went to work in 72, we had got offered the world tour with the Stones opening up for the Stones. And he didn't want to leave Texas. And I'm 20 years old, 21 years old and ready to go. And I said, I can't believe you turned this tour down to go out with the Rolling Stones. And he goes, Well, you know why we're here. You know, this is home. We got enough places to play around here.

M9 I still hate him for that. I'll never forgive him. Hmm, yeah.

M8 Is there not a lot of.

M12 You know, a lot of commercial turned down the U2, that U2 tour that B.B. King did, you just didn't you know, it didn't it didn't.

M13 Even though he and Bono or, you know, close and good friends at the time, it's just not something he wanted to do. It's not like I'm saying he was thinking I mean, he would never think, well, this might be good for my career or, you know, look at it from a commercial or a career move. It's just like, you know, well, we've got we're playing hello this next week. So that'll be fine. You know, I'll play to my fans, and that's that's enough for me.

M14 Do you feel like you had a good 30 years, like you expanded the places you want to go?

M15 Yeah, I feel like I've I'm still learning stuff.

M13 I hope, you know, and I I'm not so comfortable with it where I can just sit back and relax and take everything for granted, you know? So I think I've had a great 30 years. You know, we'll say we were doing something one time and he'll say just, you know, I'm passing. Thank you for something or other, something minor. And I'll say, well, thanks for the career, you know.

M4 Yeah, thanks for the coffee. You know, I'll bring him a cup of coffee because thanks for the coffee. Thanks for the career.

M16 You know, I was looking out at the audience and seeing all these 18 year olds, it seemed like it seemed like you guys are finding a new audience right now. And I was thinking it must have been the same.

M17 Everything going on with you and B and all these guys were joining up with him as 18 year old. Mm hmm. Somehow that's like the age that he connects with. Yeah.

M13 Because I didn't grow up listening to country music. Willy was really one of the first country artists I knew about. I think the first country song ever heard was Blood on the Saddle by Tex Ritter.

M15 And that that was a, you know, a young kid then and, you know, kind of didn't have a real positive influence on me for music. And then I discovered Willie and I was just so musically and I had to go back and I wanted to learn about all the other artists, too, you know, that I grew up listening to Hank Williams and, you know, Ray Price and Marty Robbins and some great Merle Haggard, who I love to George Jones. So there's some great talent. And yeah, the audiences are younger now. And it's I don't know if it's their parents that are turning them on to Willie or if it's I think they just you know, it's it's the music's very truthful. And I think that kids are might be looking for that.

M18 I mean, that's not the truth.

M14 Does he have, like, a really youthful energy?

M7 Yeah, well, he goes out and he'll run twice a day. I mean, just for a little jog, but he'll go out and move around and he's got a bike on the bus now.

M9 So he'll go for a ride, his bike and he gets a couple of times a day just is very active. Sixty eight is pretty, pretty athletic. It's got a punching bag in the back of the bus.

M14 I think he's starting to feel pull between.

M7 His advancing age, being on the road so much, I think that's maybe why he would work so much to I don't think he wants to slow down.

M19 That might be admitting.

M13 Something or other, you know that I mean, I don't think he sees I don't think slowing down is an option. I think he really enjoys it. And as long as he keeps moving, you know, he'll be the reaper.

M14 Maybe he's been talking about building a musical. His name, I would like to see that.

M15 No, I don't see him ever stand. I don't see him doing a sit down job at all. Not at all, I think.

M13 I think that that happened when we were going to, you know, at the end of the last tour, the tour last year, and well, they said, well, we're going to take six months off at the beginning of the year and just rest. And that took about 10 days and he was ready to go again. So.

M14 What about the war between family? You know, something I've really been getting deeply into, especially the last couple days, but I of our family and have this other family and growing up without much of a family, and I think that's a pull.

M12 And all the bad family's been there for, you know, a minimum of 30 years, minimum. I mean, saying that our Jodean are the newest ones in the band. You know, that's 30 years right there. So that's I mean, if he sees that as a family and we spend an awful lot of time, we spend more time with this group than our you know, than being at home.

M13 I mean, there are some times where we get a good mix, where we will take 10, 10 weeks off, you know, and have a little break and our families come out on the road with us and visit. So there is a mix. I mean, you can do it. You know, it's hard, but you can get.

M12 It makes the family life, you know, keep a family together. His family lives in Hawaii now, so they have a little they can't just come out for a weekend. I did notice that during the war, I think, well, he's always loved having a family at home, you know, feel centered, knowing that there's a family there at home. I don't know if he necessarily he doesn't get to spend much time at home, you know, but I think he feels comfortable knowing, you know, in the back of his mind or in the forefront that there is a family at home.

M14 I guess kind of what we were getting at with Paul and Amy and Bobby growing up really bothered with just one grandmother and being really afraid that something might happen to her. I think they'd really uncertain of. Unstable in his family environment. Now he's built this huge family farm road.

M18 The family of four wives and seven kids.

M7 So wherever he looks, he's with family, if he's out on the road, he's with family. If he's at home in Hawaii, he's with family.

M14 But I think that everything feels the need of somebody.

M7 Yeah, he's a guy that I don't think he likes being by himself. You know, there'll be times when maybe at the end of a tour and he'll say, well, come on, why don't you go to Hawaii with me or something or we'll go do this. And it's like I would think that he'd want to spend time by himself.

M13 And he really is very comfortable being around not big crowds, but having people around him. I think he likes to have people around him when he does go back to and the times I've gone back with him, the locals there is he's got friends there. He has a place dominoes with and our poker. And there's there's people around, you know, there's a small group of people that are with him all the time. He's not a guy that he's not really a loner. He's not a guy that likes to be alone with.

M18 Seems like you're really keen on a. Mm hmm.

M13 Yeah. But it's not like they're it's not like they're he has to be in a place where he's signing autographs either, which he will do till the end of time, but he likes having, you know, his buddies around and often see him sit and play dominoes till, you know, I mean, for twenty four hours straight, it's all through the night.

M14 You got any regrets about your 30 or should to learn to trade?

M20 No. No regrets at all.

Mickey Raphael
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Mickey Raphael, Willie Nelson: Still is Still Moving." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 10 Mar. 2002,
(2002, March 10). Mickey Raphael, Willie Nelson: Still is Still Moving. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Mickey Raphael, Willie Nelson: Still is Still Moving." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 10, 2002. Accessed May 20, 2022


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