Outlaw still at large
After a great show in Oroville, Willie Nelson talks about his outlaw brother, Waylon Jennings
Despite the loss of his longtime friend and touring partner Waylon Jennings last Wednesday afternoon, Willie Nelson’s show at Feather Falls Casino in Oroville went on as scheduled that evening.
Though Nelson didn’t pause and specifically eulogize Jennings during his over-2-hour, 40-plus song set, he clearly felt the loss. Saddened, subdued and quiet, Nelson sat at the kitchen table of his tour bus after the show. He spoke plainly about Jennings, a man he’d known for 40 years.
“He was ornery, mean and loveable, all in equal parts,” Nelson said. He went on to say that what he’d miss most was “all the music we played together, all the shows we played together and the arguments we always had.”
Nelson led his seven-piece country/swing band on an epic set, spanning half a century of material. Alternating between rousing rockers, slow ballads and good ol’ redneck anthems, Nelson showed that he’s still a force to be reckoned with on-stage. At one moment he’d croon to classics like “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” and “Stardust.” Other times, he’d kick up some dust, wailing on his road-worn guitar and singing out on such honky-tonk rockers as “On the Road Again,” “Move It on Over,” “Truck Drivin’ Man” and the opening number, “Whiskey River.”
With his long reddish-brown hair split into braided pigtails, Nelson sported black jeans and a T-shirt set off with a wide red, white and blue guitar strap. Topped off with his trademark red bandanna, the 68-year-old national treasure looked every bit like an elder statesman of country. And with a résumé that includes 45 million albums sold since he emerged on the scene in the 1950s, it was no surprise that a casino official said that the show was the quickest sellout in Feather Falls history.
Nelson and his versatile band, which featured his daughter Bobbie Nelson on piano, offered a historic look at classic country. A little Hank Williams medley included “Honky Tonk Blues,” “Jambalaya” and “Hey Good Lookin',” and Nelson’s ensemble also offered tunes by Rodney Crowell ("Like a Light House"), Kris Kristofferson ("Me & Bobby McGee") and Kenny Rogers and the First Edition ("Just Dropped In to See What Condition My Condition Was In"). Nelson even threw in one of his own songs that matched the season, “Valentine.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the concert was the non-stop nature of the show. The band moved from song to song without taking a moment’s rest. As one song wound down, a band-member would segue right into the opening riff of the next number, keeping the audience constantly entertained.
Toward the end of the set, Nelson slipped off his guitar and, while the rest of the band rambled on with a fine instrumental, signed autographs. Scores of fans pressed toward the stage, and Willie signed more than 100 photos, CDs, T-shirts and hats. He evened signed a half-pint of whiskey, after taking a swig from the bottle, naturally.
After the show, Nelson described how he and Jennings—who had 16 No. 1 country singles and was recently inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame—met back in 1962.
“I met him before he went to Nashville,” Nelson said of his old friend and co-member of the Highwaymen and the Outlaws. “It was in Phoenix; he was playing a club and I was playing at another. After we got through, we got together for breakfast. He asked me about Nashville. ‘Should I go there?’ I said, ‘How much are you making here?’ He said $400. I said, ‘Stay here.'”
Though Jennings’ health had been poor in recent years, and his left foot was amputated in December due to diabetes, the disease that ultimately took him, Nelson said he was surprised when he got the news Wednesday afternoon from his manager.
When asked why he didn’t pause to mention Waylon during the long concert, Nelson looked up and firmly said, “Oh, I mentioned him. I don’t think it was necessary [to expound]. People know what Waylon meant.” He said he mentions Waylon in “the songs I sing every night.”
Last Wednesday, those songs included Jennings-penned songs such as “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” But the biggest ovation of the night came for “Luckenbach, Texas,” a song Willie and Waylon recorded in 1978 as part of the Outlaws.
The lyrics include:
“Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas,
With Waylon and Willie and the boys
This successful life we’re livin’
Got us feudin’ like the Hatfields and McCoys.”