American Music Icon Adds Santa Clarita Valley Stop to 2014 Tour April 5
Having a superstar artist like Willie Nelson in Santa Clarita will likely raise the bar for future PAC bookings.
Joining the American music icon and his equally iconic, road-worn Martin acoustic guitar, Trigger, will be his “family” band, which usually includes his sister Bobbie (piano), Mickey Raphael (harmonica) and Paul English and his brother Billy English (drums), plus bassist Kevin Smith (Bee Spears’ replacement in 2011) and occasional special guests. The exact lineup was not available at press time.
Nelson, who will turn 81 on April 29 and shows no sign of slowing down, has won seven Grammys, from “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” in 1976 (from ‘75’s “Red-Headed Stranger”) to “Lost Highway,” a duet with former employer Ray Price, in 2007.
Nelson is also set to perform live at the 56th Grammy Awards Sunday, Jan. 26, along with Kris Kristofferson (this year’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy honoree), Merle Haggard and Blake Shelton.
Willie Nelson, Then & Now: A Brief History
Nelson has hosted the annual Willie Nelson 4th of July Pic-Nic music festival in Texas since the early 1970s, and co-founded Farm Aid in the ‘80s with Neil Young and John Mellencamp to aid farmers in America.
Originally from Abbott, Texas, Nelson got his start as a starving disc jockey, bouncing over several years from radio station to radio station starting near San Antonio, then Vancouver, Houston and Fort Worth, finally landing in Nashville about 1960.
He was a regular at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge around the corner from the Ryman, where the Grand Ole Opry was broadcast. He’d hang out with other then-unknowns like Mel Tillis and Roger Miller, and guys on the rise like Waylon Jennings, trying to pitch songs to the Opry stars who’d duck into Tootsie’s for a drink.
Nelson earned $50 for his first song – “Family Bible” – but didn’t starve long. In 1961, Faron Young (“Hello Walls”), Patsy Cline (“Crazy”) and Ray Price, for whom Willie also played bass on the road (“Night Life” and “Funny How Time Slips Away”) all had huge hits with Nelson songs. (Songwriter and Tootsie’s habitue Hank Cochran introduced Nelson and his material to his publishers.) Willie launched his solo career, fronting a revolving wild bunch he called the All-Stars.
Nelson recorded for Liberty (debut album, “…And Then I Wrote,” 1962) and RCA (where Jennings was also on the roster) into the early 1970s, when Nelson broke with Nashville tradition and moved to Austin, Texas. His albums for Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler (“Shotgun Willie,” “Phases & Stages”) were seminal “progressive country” or “outlaw country” works that presaged Nelson’s 1975 breakthrough with “Red-Headed Stranger,” his first album for longtime label Columbia.
Over the next several years, Nelson and other Austin-based artists spearheaded this alternative style of country music that also pulled vocal phrasing, sounds, licks and riffs from rock, blues and jazz.
Nelson in particular often refers to 1930s Gypsy-jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt as a major influence on his guitar-playing, and 1930s-1950s Western swing kings Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys as major influences, period.
The 1970s “outlaw country” or “redneck rock” music represented the sweet spot where Texas hippies and rednecks could get along famously, and it still does. While Willie Nelson didn’t start the scene, he became its central force, along with Jennings, primarily, after he, too, fled Nashville for his native Texas (Littlefield).
This pop-cultural detente has spread to music fans worldwide over the past 35-40 years. Willie Nelson & Family became one of the most formidable live acts on the road (having seen the group from the wings a couple dozen times in the ’70s and ’80s, this writer can attest to that). Today, traditional and alternative country fans young and old almost universally revere Nelson and his music.
Willie Nelson’s Best-Known Songs and Recordings
Nelson is one of the most prolific writers and recording artists in music, with scores of albums in his catalog. Along with the aforementioned, his best-known songs include “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “Bloody Mary Morning,” “Good Hearted Woman” (co-written with Jennings), “Healing Hands of Time,” “I Gotta Get Drunk,” “Me and Paul,” “Mr. Record Man,” “On the Road Again,” “Pick Up the Tempo,” “Phases & Stages,” ”Pretty Paper,” “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” the instrumental “Under the Double Eagle,” “Yesterday’s Wine,” and many more.
His set lists over the years have also included his versions of country classics like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Blue Skies,” “Pancho & Lefty,” “Stay All Night,” “If You’ve Got the Money Honey, I’ve Got the Time,” “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “City of New Orleans,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and, of course, Nelson’s perennial set-opener, Johnny Bush’s immortal “Whiskey River.”
Willie’s Latest Album, ‘To All the Girls…’
Nelson’s most recent album, “To All the Girls…,” out in October on Legacy/Sony, features duets with famed female country singers including Dolly Parton, Mavis Staples, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris, Shelby Lynne, Roseanne Cash, Alison Kraus, Norah Jones, Carrie Underwood and more.
On Tuesday, Nelson and longtime friend Ray Benson of Austin-based Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel released a new track,” “It Ain’t You,” penned by Waylon Jennings and Gary Nicholson and never recorded before.
‘Rolling Smoke’ Tour Rolls Through West Coast
“Willie Nelson & Family: Live In Concert” at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center is the local stop on their current national tour. The Southern California leg also includes April 1 at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside; April 2 at the Wiltern in Los Angeles; and April 4 at Humphreys in San Diego.
After Santa Clarita, Nelson and family will roll north to Davis (April 9), Carmel (April 10) and Berkeley (April 11), then take a break until June.
Ticket Info for Willie Nelson & Family at Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center
“Willie Nelson & Family: Live In Concert” is a late addition to the PAC’s 2013-2014 season, effectively kicking off its 10th anniversary season, which officially begins in September.
“We are very excited to present an artist of Willie Nelson’s iconic status and immense talent at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center,” said Evy Warshawski, the venue’s executive director, in a statement. “As one of the most celebrated country artists of all time, I know that audiences will be talking about this evening for years to come.”
Ticket prices for Willie Nelson’s one-night-only concert in Santa Clarita range from $85-$95 and go on sale at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28 to all PAC named-seat holders and Patrons of the Performing Arts Center headliner-level members.
Ticket holders for the 2013-2014 season may buy tickets starting 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 31.
Public sales will begin Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 11 a.m. The approximately 965-seat venue is expected to sell out quickly.
The PAC box office is conducting the ticket sales. For more info or to buy tickets, visit www.canyonsPAC.com or call 661-362-5304.
Visit www.willienelson.com for lots more info about Willie and family.
Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples, who met and first wrote about Willie Nelson in 1975, is a features writer/photographer for KHTS AM 1220 Radio News and its website (HometownStation.com) and for SCVTV’s SCVNews.com. His blog is “Peeples Place at KHTS.” He also hosts and co-produces SCVTV’s acclaimed “House Blend” music and interview program. For more info, visit https://stephenkpeeples.com.