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  • This year singer Willie Nelson turned 79. He got a very cool statue in downtown Austin that symbolizes one of the most incredible musical careers in history. He also released a remarkable CD entitled “Heroes.”

    The first time I met him was in the summer of 1967. He was 34 and I was 16. I was blown away by him and I still am.

    It was 6:30 am in my hometown of Brady, Texas and I was spinning records at the only radio station in town, KNEL – The Mighty 1490! This tiny station had 250 watts of power and only reached about 50 square miles of West Texas. Not exactly a powerhouse station where big stars dropped by to chat.

    At the time Willie was not a big star. He was the opening singer in the Claude Grey Band and he played guitar in the band. His job was to get the crowd warmed up for the big star. Ironically, aside from his family and a few hardcore fans, most people don’t remember Mr. Grey but just about everyone on the planet knows who Willie Nelson is.

    Grey’s band was on the road constantly and while motoring through the downtown “square” in Brady, in route to that night’s gig, Nelson said that he noticed that the radio station lights were on in the studio that was located on the second floor, above the Brady National Bank building. He had a new album that he wanted me to listen to, the title cut of which became synonymous with lost causes – Turn out the Lights - The Party's Over (

    I played a couple of cuts off the album for the farmers and ranchers and groggy families of McCulloch County and then proceeded with my first interview with a singer. Actually, if memory serves correctly, he interviewed me. He talked about the music that we were playing on the station and offered his opinion about the artists. He asked about how much rain we were getting (there’s never enough) in the area, talked about his hometown of Abbott, Texas and where he got the ideas for the songs that he wrote. He would have continued the interview for the rest of the morning but the bus driver started honking his horn and Willie had to get on the road again.

    In addition to having the most distinctive singing style I have ever heard, he was one of the most charming guys I have ever met. Willie Nelson is a born salesman because he really likes people. I was too young to have thought to have popped a tape in the ancient Ampex reel-to-reel that we had at the station to save this momentous event, but even 45 years later, I haven’t forgotten the experience of chatting with Willie.

    About 10 years later when I had a morning talk show on a radio station in Austin, Willie, who had transformed into the leader of redneck rock, was nice enough to be one of my guests. He mentioned specific parts of the interview he did with a high school kid on a tiny radio station in 1967. As I said, a born salesman.

    Spring forward to 2012 and Willie Nelson is still charming his fans with a new album, “Heroes,” that showcases a part of him that’s most important – his family. In addition to his sister, Bobby Nelson who has played piano in his band for decades, Willie has added his two sons, Lukas and Micah to that band of gypsies that goes down the highway.

    To say that Luke Nelson sounds a lot like his dad is like saying that a guy might get into a little trouble in the Texas beer joints where Willie started his storied career. The first radio cut from the CD, "Just Breathe," ( sounds like it was written for him. When asked by the New York Times if this talent for singing is something that has been passed along genetically, Willie responded, “I think it’s definitely in the DNA. I do believe there is power in the blood.”

    At an age when most guys are hanging around the golf course and taking it easy, Willie Nelson still tours the world. He is a force of nature. It’s very likely that he will be on stage tonight, somewhere in the world. When the family band hits those first chords of “Whiskey River,” the song that begins every show, he’s a young man again.
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