Willie Nelson has a great little song called "Me and Paul" that he sang last night at Harrah's in Atlantic City. "Almost busted in Laredo for reasons that I'd rather not disclose," Nelson warbled. It was one of the highlights of a fun night that began with hanging out on Nelson's bus.
Believe it or not, I'd never been on the bus until last night. Every time I tried in the past there was always some reason why I couldn't get on. One night in Austin it was because Jessica Simpson and a few other celebs were on the bus.
My friendship with Willie Nelson dates back to when I worked at High Times. In 1990, he campaigned for pro-marijuana candidate for Kentucky governor Gatewood Galbraith. A team of us drove from New York to catch Nelson touring around the state with Galbraith, a tall lawyer who loved to remind people about Kentucky's long history with hemp. I conducted the interview that became a cover story and Nelson's second appearance on the magazine's cover.
Several years later, I produced a benefit album for NORML called Hempilation. We weren't able to track down Nelson for the first album, which came out in 1995. That one did so well we decided to do a sequel. Willie had to be on it.
One day I received a phone call in the High Times office from Willie Nelson. We'd sent him a Christmas card and he called to say thank you. That's the kind of guy Willie is. While I had him on the phone I asked him if he'd like to be on Hempilation 2. He said yes and suggested it include a version of "Me and Paul." A few months later, his management sent us a live version, which ended up on the album.
Cut to 2009. By that time I'd left High Times and started CelebStoner. In December, Willie got arrested for marijuana possession in Texas. I sent him an email asking for a comment. He wrote back:
"There's the Tea Party. How about the Teapot Party? Our motto: We lean a little to the left. Tax it, regulate it and legalize it. And stop the border wars over drugs. Why should the drug lords make all the money? Thousands of lives will be saved."
My old friend at High Times Rick Cusick suggested I start a Teapot Party page at Facebook. I did and it immediately had 30k likes. I told Willie about it and he give it his blessing. We were off and running.
The Teapot Party primarily exists as a forum on Facebook. The page now has 120k likes. The main focus behind the party, as Willie further explained in another email, "is to vote in people who believe the way we do and vote out the ones who don't."
Around that time, NORML rep Chris Goldstein began to help out with our nascent project. It's been pretty much me, Chris and Willie pushing the Teapot Party's pro-legalization agenda ever since.
So when Chris asked me if I wanted to take a ride down from New York to see Willie in Atlantic City on Sept. 19, I jumped at the chance. The last time the three of us spent any time together was at Farm Aid two years ago in Hershey. But this time Chris had a specific request: He wanted to interview Willie for NORML's new publication, Freedom Leaf, which hired him as associate editor. I sent Willie a note and he responded, "Come on." Willie's tour manager John Selman took over from there. He left us tickets and wristbands, and greeted us at the backstage door. We were about to go on the bus.
The door swung open and we hopped aboard. Willie was in the back area, not yet visible to us. His usual seat in a booth facing the driver was vacant. On the table was a Mac Book. There was no noticeable smell of marijuana. In a minute or so, Willie walked in, greeted us warmly and took his seat. Willie's not a tall man. He's slight at 5-foot, 6-inches and weighs probably less than 140 pounds. His hair was set in his trademark braids, and his face had a reddish, healthy glow.
I came with my Cloud Penz hash oil vaporizer and offered it immediately to Willie, who took several hits. Chris began the interview, which lasted 15 minutes and will soon be posted at freedomleaf.com. As Chris has already reported on Facebook, Willie talked about his support of Hillary Clinton (but he noted she could be more favorable to marijuana legalization), how he quit nicotine by rolling joints and putting them in his pack of Chesterfields, his support of Wendy Davis for governor of Texas and said, "Everyone should get out and VOTE on Nov. 4." You'll have to wait read the full interview in Freedom Leaf.
After the interview concluded, Willie pulled out a fat joint rolled without a filter and no hump in the middle. He lit it, took a nice hit and passed it to me, saying, "Try this." Finally, I was getting my first chance to smoke the infamous Willie Weed on his bus. I took several pulls, as seen in the photo below. It was delicious. Sadly, Chris, who's on probation from his federal arrest for smoking a joint at the Liberty Bell, couldn't join our smoke session.
Thrilled that we'd gotten our interview on Willie's bus and, for me, smoked one with him, we said our goodbyes and climbed down the stairs. Standing outside on the deck behind Harrah's, we rejoiced in a job well done. It was about 15 minutes until showtime. Soon, Willie's daughter Amy walked by with a plate of watermelon and went on the bus. Now we know Willie's preparation for his show: A big joint and some fresh, juicy watermelon.
The crowd assembled for the show was closer to Willie's age (81) than ours. He was playing for the senior set who like to gamble and watch some music when they tire of pushing slot-machine buttons. For 90 minutes we sat and watched a performance by an American master who, like Tony Bennett, has been singing for audiences for a good seven decades. The band is simple: His younger sister Bobbi on piano, Kevin Smith on upright bass, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, and Paul and Billy English alternating on a snare drum. Willie opened, as always, with "Whiskey River," and continued with a brisk rundown of his greatest hits and other peoples' songs, like Hank Williams' "Jambalaya." What people sometimes forget about Willie is what a terrific guitar player he is. Strumming hard on Trigger, with its double holes and worn wood, Nelson accentuated each song with acoustic flourishes, picking clean and sharply. Raphael filled with quick solos and Bobbie offered ragtime riffs.
The highlight for us stoners, of course, was "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die," which Willie introduced as a gospel number. We were wondering what the crowd thought of the song, since it deals with marijuana and death, two controversial subjects. Afterwards, several elderly women told us they liked it very much. Willie can do no wrong.
I strongly recommend that anyone who has never been to a Willie Nelson show make sure to catch him next time he's in your town. And if you've already seen him, go again. His current tour ends tomorrow in Newark, New Jersey and picks up again on Oct. 10 in St. Charles, Missouri. Roll one up and go see Willie Nelson before you die.