Q&A: Willie Nelson

The country star is on the road again, this time for 'Healing Hands of Time'

Willie Nelson in 1995. Credit: Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Would that we could all be Willie Nelson: He motors around in his tour bus, rolls a few joints, sings a few songs, marries some wives (he and fourth wife Annie have two young children) and drinks some whiskey with his buddies. Sure, there have been a few setbacks — a $16.7 million debt to the IRS comes to mind — but all in all, Nelson has lived a very nice life. When he's not spending his time collecting accolades (the Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music Awards, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame), the 61-year-old is, as usual, on the road, treating audiences to songs from his latest collection of standards, Healing Hands of Time.

You're attending a wedding today. Are you a crier? 
I hope I don't break down. [Laughs] This is my daughter getting married. It's important, you know.

Are you wearing a tux?
No. It's a little warm out there. I haven't decided whether to wear my chaps.

Your wedding chaps?
Yeah. Heh, heh, heh!

What prompted your new album? You had the jones to do more standards?
Well actually, when I changed labels, I was talking to ... uh ... I forgot his name. The producer. [Laughs heartily] Anyway, me and the producer ... wait, it was Jimmy Bowen. Who is an old friend of mine, ha, ha! We play golf together all the time. Anyway, he suggested doing standards.

What's the most unusual rendition of "Crazy" that you've heard?
What's Michael Jackson's sister's name?

Janet?
The other one.

LaToya?
Yeah. She has a record out with "Crazy." It's ... surprising. [Laughs.]

Name a few activities that pot enhances.
Enduring life as far as I'm concerned! [Laughs] It keeps me from killing people.

Why do you think country radio shies away from folks over 40?
I don't know, but I knew I was in trouble when I heard this guy the other day say, "Boy, I wish they'd play some of them old guys again like Randy Travis and George Strait." [Laughs.]

Do you like any metal songs?
Aerosmith and I did a thing together that I thought was pretty hot. It never came out. [Laughs] It was about seven years ago. Steven Tyler came down, and we did a thing. And we were really knocked out over it, but there was a label thing that happened. So somewhere there's a great track out there.

Be honest. At this point, is it really great to be on the road again?
Oh, it's probably greater now than at any time.

Any film roles you're considering these days?
I've been sitting here on my bus watching cowboy movies for the last two months, one after the other! [Laughs] So I'll probably take the best of all these ideas. I just bought a direct-TV thing; it's a little disc. I set it up outside my bus, and I can get a thousand channels.

I'd never leave the damn bus.
It's hard. I got up this morning at 5, and I come down here, and I watched me a cowboy movie and then went for a run, watched me another cowboy movie. Then I did a commercial for General Tires, singing "On the Road Again."

What are you doing up at 5 o'clock?
That's about the norm for me around here. I got two young boys, you know, and they go down early. Well, last night I went up to Little Joe's house [— Ed: We have no idea who the hell Little Joe is] and played some dominoes and drank some whiskey, so it was a little harder to get up this morning.

So you would recommend having kids later in life, then?
Oh, I can't recommend people doing what I do! [Laughs] Luke is 6, and Mica will be 5 in April. I took them yesterday to their first karate class. I like what it teaches — discipline, courtesy. They love it. They've been watching the Power Rangers on TV, and they've been kicking the furniture around there for years.

They're at that Power Rangers age?
Yeah, they are. I've watched them on TV. They have some talent. They're great gymnasts. I'll tell you, if everybody's bought as much crap as my family has, those guys are independently wealthy.

How did your IRS troubles affect you on a daily basis? Or did they?
Not at all. By the time everybody else heard about it, I was already on to other things. Mentally it was a breeze. They didn't bother me, they didn't come out and confiscate anything other than that first day, and they didn't show up at every gig and demand money. I appreciated that. And we teamed up and put out a record.

And your commercials for Taco Bell, God bless 'em.
Taco Bell came in there like a champ.

Can you even look at a taco now?
I had three yesterday, believe it or not. Bringing the boys back from karate school, we stopped in at Taco Bell.

So who can party the hardest: you, Waylon Jennings or Kris Kristofferson?
Well, I wish you hadn't said Kris. I can out-party Waylon, but Kris, he makes it a religion. Waylon, in his old age, he'd run anybody a race for their money. But since he's quit drugs, he's very boring. He's reliable and all that shit. He shows up, he sings good. Who needs that?

Maybe you should stop returning his phone calls.
He called me two days ago, and I haven't called him back! [Laughs] I know what he wants. I'm doing his TV show up in Nashville in a day or two, and he wants to talk about what we're gonna do.

You would rather freestyle it?
It worries him when we do that.

You're playing him, aren't you?
I'm supposed to! That's my role.