Willie Nelson on Family, Positive Thinking, and His Long Hair
The 83-year-old legend gives it to us straight.
Q: You've got your Family Band out with you, in which your sons, Lukas and Micah sometimes play. You've said that family is the most important thing in your life. What does family mean to you?
A: To me, family is a big deal. Our family is rather a large one. It's more than relatives. I would like to think that the audience is part of it.
Q: Your taste in music has stayed relatively the same since the days you played in places so rough that they strung up chicken wire strung up to keep flying beer bottles off the band.
A: That's true, yeah. I started out singing Hank Williams and Bob Wills, and learning songs like "Stardust," because my sister [Bobbie] and I would play music together. I'd listen to her play "Moonlight in Vermont," and I'd try to figure it out. So I learned a lot just by sitting around and listening to her play a lot.
Q: Your bond with Bobbie, the pianist in your band, is a close one.
A: Well, we've been playing music together all our lives, and having a lot of fun doing it. She's a great musician and a great asset, not only on the stage, but in the studio. There's only one Sister Bobbie. And she's smarter than I am. (Laugh)
Q: Your singing style is unusual—you often sing before or after the beat. You put that together from listening to Louis Armstrong, Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Ernest Tubb, right?
A: Yeah, along with Hank Williams, Floyd Tillman, and a couple more.
Q: It's a more conversational style.
A: A lot of people have said that I talk my songs a lot. Maybe I do. I think that just sort of happened. I don't know that I got that from any particular singer.
Q: We have this image of you as someone who never worries about anything, that you're this Buddha. Is that true?
A: Well, worry will make you sick. I've seen it happen. Every negative thought releases poison into your system, and will kill you or give you cancer or some other bad thing. But I've never seen it accomplish or change anything. So I decided not to do it. I don't dwell on things. If you can't do anything about it, why in the hell worry about it? I live day to day, and I'm glad to be here right now. I have this philosophy that I can't do anything about what happened yesterday, or what's going to happen tomorrow. But I feel like I'm in full control of what's going on now.
Q: So it's really the power of positive thinking.
A: It is, absolutely. Norman Vincent Peale. If you're thinking negative about anything, erase that. Take all the negative thoughts away. Delete and fast forward.
Q: You hold a fifth degree black belt in Gongkwon Yusul. Are you still practicing martial arts?
A: I still try to stay in condition. I do a few kicks around every day, and just try to stay healthy. I highly recommend martial arts to everyone, because it's good for you mentally, spiritually, and physically.
Q: What's the spiritual part of it?
A: Confidence. Without bragging or anything, you're pretty confident you can handle anything that happens. I haven't learned to stop bullets yet, but… (Laugh).
Q: One of your trademarks is your beautiful hair. Do you have hair care tips to share?
A: No. It's so long, it takes me a little longer to braid it every day. There's a lot of it to take care of. Every now and then I'll get some scissors and whack it off and start over. I had a lung collapse one time, and I went to the hospital, and while I was laying there, I knew I was going to go through a lot of therapy, so I decided I'd cut my braids off. I took a scissors and just left the braids layin' there. And [my manager] Mark Rothbaum came in to see me, and he said, "How you doing?" I said, "Well, I don't know. I think this medicine might be having a bad effect on me," and I pulled the braid away, and he freaked out. (Laughter). But I knew it'd come back one day.
Q: Did you always want long hair?
A: Well, I enjoy not getting a haircut. Going to the barbershop was one of the hardest things I had to do as a kid. I hated to get my hair cut.
A: First of all, it's a little painful to get your hair cut, and then there's all that horse---- they do while you're in that chair. I just got tired of it and said, "I'm not going back." And I haven't.
Q: Last year, Dolly Parton received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at CMAs.
A: Yeah, that was cool. That was great. She deserves it. She's a great talent. We go back a long time, to when she and Porter Wagoner were singing together. I wound up buying the bus that they traveled in. The band and I got to thinking how nice it would be to pass Dolly in the hall. (Laughter) But we didn't dwell on that very much.
Q: There's a statue to you in Austin.
Q: Did you ever think you'd have a statue?
A: I'll be stone(d) for a thousand years.
Q: If you could tell your 19-year old self anything, what would it be?
A: Shut up! (Laughter)
Q: Over the six decades of your career, you've gone from a counterculture hero to a mainstream American icon.
A: Well, the audience has gotten larger, sure. The more people who are able to hear the music, the more people who like it, and they come out. That's why I think we see people of all ages in the crowd--little kids, and grandmothers and grandfathers. It's that way every show.
Q: Here we are in 2017. What do you hope to accomplish this year?
A: I'd like to make it to 2018 (laugh), if that's possible. And then we'll figure out something else.