Willie Nelson, the 79-year-old country icon, Red Headed Stranger, and friend of the reefer, cracked jokes and shared tales from the road yesterday at a SiriusXM Town Hall in Manhattan.
Hosted by Johnny Knoxville — yes, that Johnny Knoxville — the event offered a few lucky subscribers the chance to ask questions of the legendary performer in an intimate setting.
It was all geared toward promoting Nelson’s new book Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road, which hit stores last week. Nelson’s son Micah, who provided all of the book’s illustrations, joined his father and Knoxville on stage.
Knoxville introduced Nelson as the “greatest living songwriter, and a pretty good bullsh—er,” claims which are not wholly unfounded. Nelson has left a titanic mark on country music — he’s sold more than 40 million albums in the U.S. alone — and he spins a pretty good yarn, bullsh– or not.
Nelson is graced with the gift of storytelling particular to country & western performers. Every tale told in his weathered baritone, whether about trying to raise hogs and chickens in Nashville or getting his guitar signed by superstar Leon Russell, came off with the paternal, homespun ease of a granddad at the kitchen table. He started one anecdote, “Johnny Bush and I were building an electric fence during a rainstorm…” sneaking a wily grin while recalling their misadventure. You got the sense that Nelson was chummy with just about everyone in the history of the business, and has gotten into some good ol’ fashioned trouble with most of them.
In fact Nelson seemed eager to brush off the praise being heaped on him in favor of highlighting the work of his peers. “Leon Russell was the best entertainer I’d ever seen,” he said. “He was the first guy I saw who threw his hat into the audience. So I stole that from him right off.” When a fan asked who he thought should win future Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Awards (Nelson himself received the inaugural honor this year), he suggested 92-year-old Little Jimmy Dickens and 86-year-old Ray Price. Before he left, he also made sure to mention his friend, composer and musician Ned Sublette, who had stood quietly in the back of the room during the Q&A; Sublette appeared genuinely moved by the nod.
And as if we needed any further proof that Willie Nelson is just a down-home good ol’ boy who happened to strike it big, he cited his family and his children as his greatest accomplishments (even if he has been married four times). Nelson’s a bona fide star, yet he still puts family first and shrugs off the trappings of the industry (“Nashville is a store where you go to sell your stuff”) — ten-gallon hats off to you, sir.
The SiriusXM Town Hall with Willie Nelson will broadcast on Willie’s Roadhouse and Outlaw Country throughout the week.
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