Last Tuesday night, thanks to the generosity of our friends at Bill Young Productions (they produce almost every TV commercial that airs for touring music acts; at one point a Bill Young produced commercial was playing every 35 seconds in North America) and Houston producer Mike Hulsey, the hardest working man in show business, I went to see an American icon–Willie Nelson–perform at the new Smart Financial Center in Sugarland, Texas. Nelson is well known for both his look, instantly recognizable voice, and the songs that he’s created and sings, including “On The Road Again”, “Hello Walls”, “Pretty Paper”, “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”, and “Crazy”, among others. Willie is 84 now, and was in the midst of a short 9 stop late fall tour with his band The Family.
The show was tight, professional, seamless and remarkable in more than a few ways. For one thing, it would be impossible to determine how old Willie Nelson was by watching him perform. His guitar playing is marked by the amazing dexterity of both hands and his drawling, Texas voice doesn’t waver or crack when he sings. Nelson moved smoothly through the show, with no rest between songs; there was no extended talking between the numbers–actually, the most talking he did during the show was to introduce the five members of his touring band, none of whom used electronic instruments. Nelson played in front a huge Texas flag and was in constant interaction with the crowd, both during and after the show, when he went to the front of the stage and graciously shook hands and signed autographs.
His touring protocols are very finely tuned, and by the time Nelson had finished up with autographs and shakes, his road crew had stripped the stage of equipment and sound amplifiers. As our car was brought up from the parking lot, Willie’s bus drove past, on the way to his next gig later in the week. It’s safe to say that Willie Nelson has got the performing thing down.
Willie Nelson first made his reputation as a songwriter and wrote some of the biggest hits in the history of country music, but it was only a matter of time before he started performing and he hasn’t stopped since. His bio lists his career as starting in 1956 and it’s still not over–one part of being a legend is being around long and doing enough to create a serious legacy of work. That Willie Nelson has done, in spades.
As an icon, there is much to admire about Willie Nelson besides his music, his musicianship, and his unique voice and phrasing. After doing some research on Willie, I came away even more impressed with something that is seldom mentioned about the “red headed stranger”–his work ethic. There are few performers, in any area of music, that have been as productive, as consistently, as Willie Nelson.
For the record, here are some key metrics of the Work Ethic of Willie Nelson:
Recorded 72 Studio Albums
Produced 10 Live Albums
Included on 37 Compilation Albums
Created 2 Sound Track Albums
Featured in 35 Music Videos
Released 110 Single Records
Generated 25 Number 1 Singles (US)
Generated 32 Singles (Overall)
Named a 1996 Kennedy Center Honoree
One of the main organizers of the Farm Aid charity
Co-Chair of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws)
Has written 337 songs
On the Board of Directors of Habitat for Horses
Advocate for American Horse Slaughter Prevention ActInducted into Country Music Hall of Fame 1993
Inducted into National Agricultural Hall of Fame 2011
Gershwin Award Winner 2015
Rolling Stone Magazine 100 Greatest Singers
Rolling Stone Magazine 100 Greatest Guitar Players
Created Willie’s Roadhouse channel on Sirius XM Radio
Created The Willie Nelson Bio-Diesel Fuel Brand (made from vegetable oil)
Willie Nelson has not only outlived most of his contemporaries, he’s outworked them. At 84, he’s still stirring it up and turning it on in road shows. The lesson here is pretty easy to get: we can all do more. Have at it and don’t tell me you’re too old to do it. You aren’t.
The Fine Print: Image courtesy of Donna Wells Pierce. copyright 2017, used by permission. Willie Nelson, 14 November 2017, performing at the Smart Financial Center with his band, the Family. Shot on an iPhone 7 from the back of the arena. This image has not been altered in any way.