Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Crazy for Willie

Music icon takes stage in Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

Willie wows Ketchum this weekend.

Let's count famous Willies. There's Willie Mays and Wee Willie. For Yankee fans there's Willie Randolph. Others are Willy Wonka and hereabouts there's Willy Cook. And then there's Willie Nelson. Of all the Willies, he may arguably be the best known. That's how long he's seemingly been around and how far his influence, music and reputation have reached.

Willie (who can call him "Nelson"?) plays in Ketchum for the second time in the past few years on Saturday, Sept. 10, at 7:30 p.m. This time he's taking the stage at the Ketchum-Sun Valley Outdoor Pavilion (Park & Ride lot) off Warm Springs Road in Ketchum. The Bravo-produced concert also features Reckless Kelly and Micky and the Motorcars, both Austin, Texas-based country rock bands.

Planned to coincide with His Holiness the Dalai Lama's visit, the concert is a benefit for the Dalai Lama's Children's Fund.

Stats: Texan, Hall of Famer, Grand Ole Opry inductee, family man, prolific songwriter, annual picnic giver, highwayman, maker of 26 albums and nine films. Seventy-two years on earth. In his long and eclectic career, Willie Nelson has recorded country music, standards, gospel, rock and blues.

Once upon a time, because of his quirky, quavering voice, the powers that be in Nashville refused to believe that Willie should or could record his own compositions. At the time, strings and choirs filled the background of most music that emanated via the radio from Nashville. His first taste of fame and success came when others recorded his work.

The sublime "Crazy" was made famous by Patsy Cline. Billy Walker did "Funny How Time Slips Away." "Night Life" became a hit with Ray Price, and Faron Young burst out with "Hello Walls." At least he was noticed, becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry for his writing in 1965.

Then during the early 1970s, having moved on to Austin, Willie and fellow outsider Waylon Jennings cut the strings with an outlaw country movement that shot him into the world as a genuine star and crossover artist.

The success of Waylon and Willie helped restore the earthiness to country music. The songs were about drinking, drugs, honky-tonk women and hard working men. The music was more rock 'n' roll than Porter Wagoner and besides, no strings softened the background.

In the 1980s, he and Jennings formed the supergroup The Highwaymen, which also included music heavyweights Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.

Throughout, Willie has been a prolific recording artist and a voice for the regular Joe. For the past two decades he has hosted the Farm Aid concerts to benefit the American farmer.

And now he's an energy company executive, having formed a company with four partners to produce and market biodiesel fuel to truck stops. The fuel, called BioWillie, is made from vegetable oils, mainly soybeans, and can be burned without modification to diesel engines.

The inherent social responsibility of the move is classic Nelson, helping both American farmers and American truckers.

He has said, "There is really no need going around starting wars over oil. We have it here at home. We have the necessary product--the farmers can grow it," Nelson said.

Fittingly, music producer Don Was once called Willie the "Dalai Lama of Texas, a Zen master and an icon whose phrasing is on par with Sinatra and Miles Davis."

It's one superstar kind of weekend.

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