By conservative count, Willie Nelson's upcoming "Remember Me, Vol. 1" will be the country figurehead's kajillionth album -- and he plans to follow it up next year with two more projects, including a collaboration with veteran producer Buddy Cannon. "But I wouldn't want to think I say yes to just anybody!" Nelson says, by phone from a tour stop in Englewood, N.J. -- a tour that brings him to the Paramount in Huntington tonight. You don't schedule an appointment to talk to the 78-year-old who wrote "Crazy," "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Red Headed Stranger" and countless other country standards. His publicist calls him, and if he's around, you better be ready.
Well, [producer] James Stroud and I got together, and we decided we wanted to do these songs -- country songs -- and sort of a history of country music. And we sat down and named these titles, and it was really easy to do. We had more we could have done.
Earlier this year, I spoke with Johnny Mathis, who had just covered "Crazy" on his country album. He said, "To simplify it, music is music. You put a guitar behind it, sometimes people think of it as country -- and if you put a violin behind it, people think it's romantic, and you put a rhythm section behind it, people think it's jazz." True?
Well, yeah, in Nashville, they proved that by taking a good country song and putting some strings behind it and seeing if it'll go pop. You know, Ray Charles did that. "Crazy" can be done with a symphony, or it can be done with banjos and a fiddle. I haven't heard it yet that way.
What's the strangest version of "Crazy" you've ever heard?
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Probably the way I did it last night!
When you were changing country music with the "outlaw country" movement in the '70s with Waylon Jennings and others, how much did you really feel like an outlaw?
You know, you can call it an outlaw, or you can call it just somebody wanting to do it differently. I think the term "outlaw" was great -- just a marketing label people like. But it was mainly guys wanting to play music the way they played it last night in Waco.
Does your bus, which runs on biodiesel made from vegetable oil, still smell like French fries?
Well, there's so many other smells on the bus, it's hard to distinguish what you're smelling.
WHO Willie Nelson
WHEN | WHERE 8 tonight, the Paramount, 370 New York Ave., Huntington
INFO $49.50-$99.50; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
Here's what Willie Nelson played in Durham, N.C., a couple of weeks ago:
"Still Moving to Me"
"Funny How Time Slips Away"
"Me and Paul"
"If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time"
"Help Me Make It Through the Night"
"Good Hearted Woman"
"Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain"
"Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be
"Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground"
"On the Road Again"
"Always on My Mind"
"You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore"
"Healing Hands of Time"
"Georgia on a Fast Train"
"You Ask Me To"
"One Day at a Time"
"Jambalaya" / "Hey, Good Lookin' " / "Move It on Over"
"Georgia on My Mind"
"City of New Orleans"
"Rainy Day Blues"
"Will the Circle Be
Unbroken" / "I'll Fly Away"
"Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die"
WHAT CRITICS SAY
"His face may be wrinkled and his long hair may be gray, but Nelson's voice is still clear and strong. His artful guitar picking has only gotten more creative." -- Bill Robinson, Richmond (Ky.) Register
"Nelson's hourlong performance was loose, bordering on sloppy, as he indulged his well-known love for jazzy riffs and phrasing. But the man himself was in fine voice as he ran sprightly through one of the strongest catalogs in American popular music."
-- Mark Jordan, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis
"Nelson took the stage unceremoniously. All of a sudden he was just there, a short figure dressed in a black cowboy hat, black shirt and black pants with a red-white-and-blue guitar strap. His signature hair braided to just below his collarbone, shorter than in years past. Recordings of his songs had been playing in the park before the show started, and kicked in again afterward. He stayed true to the Willie-isms that fans have come to expect with his shows."
-- Christa Lawler, Duluth (Minnesota) News Tribune