Willie Nelson: An Epic Life

Willie Nelson: An Epic Life

4.3 6
by Joe Nick Patoski
     
 

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From his first performance at age four, Willie Nelson was driven to make music and live life on his own terms. But though he is a songwriter of exceptional depth - "Crazy" was one of his early classics - Willie only found success after abandoning Nashville and moving to Austin, Texas.

Red Headed Stranger made country cool to a new generation of fans.…  See more details below

Overview

From his first performance at age four, Willie Nelson was driven to make music and live life on his own terms. But though he is a songwriter of exceptional depth - "Crazy" was one of his early classics - Willie only found success after abandoning Nashville and moving to Austin, Texas.

Red Headed Stranger made country cool to a new generation of fans. Wanted: The Outlaws became the first country album to sell a million copies. And "On the Road Again" became the anthem for Americans on the move. A craggy-faced, pot-smoking philosopher, Willie Nelson is one of America's great iconoclasts and idols.

Now Joe Nick Patoski draws on over 100 interviews with Willie and his family, band, and friends to tell Nelson's story, from humble Depression-era roots, to his musical education in Texas honky-tonks and his flirtations with whiskey, women, and weed; from his triumph with #1 hit "Always On My Mind" to his nearly career-ending battles with debt and the IRS; and his ultimate redemption and ascension to American hero

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Editorial Reviews

Alan Light
Patoski has been thorough, conducting more than a hundred interviews and drawing on extensive historical research and an impressive familiarity with the 300-plus albums that form Nelson's oeuvre. Nelson has long seemed the personification of "laid back," but it is his quiet determination and unwavering focus that shine through the pages of this admirable biography…Nelson's story doesn't have the gothic edge of Johnny Cash, haunted by the death, in childhood, of his older brother, or the quest for redemption that Merle Haggard nursed after his days as a young criminal. At times Nelson has threatened to become a punch line (and often embraced the impulse), but he has lived a sprawling, uniquely American life, and it deserves an examination this comprehensive.
—The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
In-depth celebration of the Lone Star music legend. Veteran Texas scribe Patoski (coauthor, Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire, 1993), well-equipped to pen a 75th-birthday look at Nelson's eventful life, begins with a knowing look at his subject's Abbott, Texas, roots. Born in 1933, the product of a quickly broken marriage, Nelson was just a boy when he realized that writing and performing music promised an escape from poverty and cotton picking. After bouncing around Texas as a journeyman musician and DJ, he finally landed in Nashville, where his success as a songwriter (author of Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and Faron Young's "Hello Walls") led to an RCA recording contract. But Nelson, a cardigan-wearing anomaly in a town full of Nudie-suited establishmentarians, found no commercial or creative satisfaction as a worker on producer-executive Chet Atkins's "countrypolitan" assembly line. Only after he relocated to Austin in 1972 did he find his groove among the wide-open city's cosmic cowboys. Flying the "outlaw country" banner, he morphed into the long-haired, dope-smoking, peripatetically touring Willie universally venerated today. Drawing on interviews with Nelson and his widely extended "family," Patoski pulls together a rich narrative that keenly comprehends Nelson's artistic and geographical perambulations. The author is especially fine in the early going, colorfully recalling Willie's many years on the beer-joint circuit and the cast of sketchy characters who trod those hardwood floors. But Nelson doesn't get any free passes: Patoski dwells in depth on his capriciousness, quick temper, hard-partying lifestyle, infidelities and four tempestuous marriages, as well as hisheadline-making '90s tax case. The result is a warm, honest portrait of a compulsively footloose, restless artist at home in any musical style-country, Western swing, jazz, gospel, standard pop, reggae, even polka-and truly at home only on his tour bus. Patoski's profound understanding of Nelson's life, character and milieu make this the Willie bio to get.
Kinky Friedman
For a guy who isn't me, Joe Nick Patoski can really write. Willie Nelson: An Epic Life is heartbreaking enough to have been ghostwritten by Hank Williams. It may be the best book ever written about the life of Texas's greatest gift to the world.
Nick Tosches
Joe Nick Patoski has here conjured a biography that by far transcends its subject, a book whose evocations of time, place, and spirit are as masterful as they are enthralling.
From the Publisher
Drawing on interviews with Nelson and his widely extended
"family," Patoski pulls together a rich narrative that keenly comprehends
Nelson's artistic and geographical perambulations. The author is especially fine in the early going, colorfully recalling Willie's many years on the beer-joint circuit and the cast of sketchy characters who trod those hardwood floors. But Nelson doesn't get any free passes: Patoski dwells in depth on his capriciousness, quick temper, hard-partying lifestyle, infidelities and four tempesturous marriages, as well as his headline-making '90s tax case. The result is a warm, honest portrait of a compulsively footloose, restless artist at home in any musical style ... and truly at home only on his tour bus.

Patoski's profound understanding of Nelson's life, character and milieu make this the
Willie bio to get.

Kirkus (starred review)

An expansive, engrossing,
and epic look at the life of a true American icon. Required reading for music fans and scholars. Former Texas Monthly writer Patoski infuses his biography of Willie Nelson with an encyclopedic knowledge of Texas
history that deftly illuminates the depth of influence the land and people of Texas had in shaping
Nelson. Hundreds of interviews are seamlessly interwoven as Patoski traces
Nelson's journey from young musical prodigy raised by his grandparents in
Abbot, TX, to fledgling songwriter flush with the early success of 'Crazy.'
Nelson's perilous, unsuccessful navigation of the Nashville
country music establishment is thoroughly recounted, as is his redemptive relocation to Austin,
where he recorded organic, successful albums like Red Headed Stranger
that cemented his status as a visionary musician and resourceful outsider. The author's deep, intimate knowledge of Texas
and informed love of country music add layers of nuance and detail to his portrait of the complex singer.—Library Journal

This impressive, entertaining chronicle of
Willie Nelson's life is replete with exactly what you'd expect-honky-tonk, long nights on the open road, whiskey, womanizing and weed-but Texas writer Patoski
(Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire, Texas Mountains)
looks beyond country music trappings to find the funny, talented, determined man who became an unlikely icon. ...
Patoski conducted over a hundred interviews for this thorough,
well-noted "epic," peopling it with "pickers, gypsies, pirates, vagabonds,
wanderers and carneys," including fellow performers like Kris Kristofferson,
Kinky Friedman and Leona Williams. Writing with an affectionate country twang,
Patoski gives his subject the consideration he deserves in a fine, fluid piece of storytelling that any Nelson fan will appreciate.—Publisher's Weekly

Austin-American Stateman
Patoski tells wonderful stories, infusing his narrative with rich detail illustrating Willie's artistic development and its roots in his family's pre-Texas years in Arkansas.
Entertainment Weekly
Nelson fans will have their blue eyes cryin' in the rain-with joy-over the arrival of such a richly report bio. There are scores of funny firsthand stories in his account of how a ramshackle hillbilly career sparked an unlikely convergence of redneck, hippie, and Hollywood culture.
Houston Chronicle
Based on scores of interviews (including with Nelson himself), it's a lively, substantive account, closer to the treatment given a world-historical figure than a laid-back guitar picker. With Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, Patoski has written a fine book worthy of Willie.
Los Angeles Times
Veteran author and music writer Joe Nick Patoski spent enough time around Nelson and his friends to fill a few dozen chapters of "Willie Nelson: An Epic Life" and still leave us wanting more.
Rolling Stone
"Excellent... Seamlessly weaves together the good, the bad and the ugly to form a three-dimensional portrait of the singer.... For Nelson, his hit 1980 single 'On the Road Again' isn't just a silly song he wrote for the movie Honeysuckle Rose--it's literally the story of his life. And Patoski has fleshed it out beautifully.
The Village Voice
A mind-bogglingly thorough biography,
The Washington Post
A freelance writer with a strong interest in Texas and its music, he seems to have tracked down every song Nelson ever wrote, every engagement he ever played, every recording he ever made, and so far as I can tell he has left out absolutely nothing.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316031981
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
04/21/2008
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
949,454
File size:
636 KB

Read an Excerpt

Willie Nelson

An Epic Life


By Joe Nick Patoski Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2008 Joe Nick Patoski
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-316-01778-7



Chapter One

Somewhere in America, 2007

The sea of humanity swells and roils all the way to the horizon, thousands of eyes fixed on him, thousands of hands clapping, a chorus of voices cheering and yelling, lips whistling, feet stomping, smiles everywhere, all because of him. Lone Star flags and arms thrusting skyward, hands clutching cigarette lighters and cans of beer above heads bobbing like buoys because of the music. The old man with the wild white eyebrows and wrinkled skin, his long white hair pulled back into two braids, tries to make eye contact with as many eyes as he can in ten seconds before glancing offhandedly over his shoulder at the musicians standing and sitting in place behind him. He straps on his guitar and steps to the microphone with a casualness that betrays a lifetime of going through the very same ritual night after night, year after year. He half sings, half talks five magic words that trigger a sonic roar.

Whisk-key Riv-verrr take my miiiiiind.

Abbott, 1938

Eyes had been gazing at him wherever folks tended to gather ever since he could remember. His first audience was a group of families at the Brooken Homecoming, an allday reunion, picnic, and songfest in a shadygrove by the small community eight miles southeast of Abbott, Texas. His grandmother had dressed him up in a white sailor suit with matching shorts. The stage was the back of a flatbed truck. The five-year-old boy showed little sign of nervousness other than picking his nose, as young boys are known to do. There was praying, singing, eating, visiting, more singing and more praying, and so much nose picking that when it was his turn to stand and recite the psalm his grandmother had taught him, his white sailor suit was splattered with blood redder than the boy's hair. The boy acted like the nosebleed was no big deal. He followed the prayer with an original poem he recited while holding one nostril shut with his hand. In a voice that was small but not shy, he said:

What are you looking at me for? I ain't got nothin' to say. If you don?t like the looks of me, You can look some other way.

The audience clapped and cheered. The boy beamed. He'd remembered all the words. The people seemed to like him. He liked the attention, all eyes on him. He liked making them smile. The people listening felt like family. He flashed a not-so-shy grin of gratitude. From that moment forward, Willie Hugh Nelson, who earned the nickname "Booger Red" for his bloody nose, was determined to give a good show.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Willie Nelson by Joe Nick Patoski Copyright © 2008 by Joe Nick Patoski. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Kinky Friedman
For a guy who isn't me, Joe Nick Patoski can really write. Willie Nelson: An Epic Life is heartbreaking enough to have been ghostwritten by Hank Williams. It may be the best book ever written about the life of Texas's greatest gift to the world.
Nick Tosches
Joe Nick Patoski has here conjured a biography that by far transcends its subject, a book whose evocations of time, place, and spirit are as masterful as they are enthralling.

Meet the Author

Joe Nick Patoski has been writing about Willie Nelson for 35 years for a number of publications including No Depression, Texas Monthly, Rolling Stone, Country Music, TV Guide, Picking Up the Tempo, and the Austin American-Statesman. The co-author and author of biographies of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Selena and a contributor to the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll and Conjunto, Patoski lives in the Texas Hill Country near the village of Wimberley.

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