#155 – On The Road Again by Willie Nelson
– My wife Cowgirl Debbie and I are sitting next to each other at a table on Willie Nelson’s tour bus. Yeah, that’s pretty cool in itself. But to make the scene even cooler, sitting across from us is Willie Nelson himself. I’m kind’a fumbling around for something to say that will keep him interested in our conversation. I hit on something, his face lights up and Cowgirl Debbie says…
Okay, now that I might have you somewhat interested, we’ll go back a couple decades before continuing with this scene.
In the late 1970’s I had a pretty cool apartment in New York City. I’ve talked about it before in these Classic Rocker ramblings, but to be brief it was in the Gramercy Park neighborhood, had three levels and a small terrace. For NYC it was living in style. However, since I was still basically a just-graduated college student trying to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up, most of my funds went into paying rent.
The furnishings consisted of whatever my parents didn’t want anymore and how much of it I could stuff into a station wagon for my move from Ohio.
My first big splurge of spending money for pure enjoyment was a subscription for Manhattan Cable Television. It’s now sort of a laughable starving artist memory since the only television I had was another parental castoff small enough to be balanced on my stomach while lying in bed. It also scores high on the memorabilia meter since it can be described by another castoff term – black and white.
As Ralph Kramden often said in a black and white sitcom classic called The Honeymooners: I was living in the lap of luxury. And as another piece of memorabilia for dedicated NYC television viewing veterans from the era, that show was aired every weeknight at 11 pm on Channel 11.
I know, because I watched.
With my cable television subscription, which included an extra length of cable in case I wanted to put the television on a table next to the bed instead of on my stomach, came a relatively new network called Home Box Office (HBO). This was revolutionary since movies and special features (comedy and music concerts come to mind) were broadcast without any commercials.
Hey, if they could land a man on the moon only a decade earlier, why stop there? Commercial free paid television was the next logical step.
After a few years of progressively improving personal finances I eventually had a color television in the living room with added cable networks like MTV, ESPN and Cinemax. But HBO was still the go-to for watching movies if you didn’t feel like heading out to a theater and paying an exorbitant seven dollar ticket price for a first-run feature.
But HBO didn’t seem to have an exorbitant amount of feature films at that time. In other words, they seemed to air the same movies over and over and over…
But that was okay if the movie was really good or – even better – if it was really bad. The frequently run HBO classics that immediately come to mind during the early 1980’s fitting both requirements were Can’t Stop The Music with The Village People (and Bruce Jenner!), Thank God It’s Friday with Donna Summer and Honeysuckle Rose starring Willie Nelson.
Yeah, there were others. But this trio of music flicks were aired so often during my insomniac late nights they’ve been burned into my lasting memory.
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Speaking of memory, On The Road Again joined the subliminal category of this Dream Song list on October 21st. There’s no other explanation for its inclusion other than my burned-in memory since I don’t own a copy and probably haven’t heard it since we saw Willie Nelson in person the evening we sat with him on his tour bus.
To connect all the dots between the movie memories and our in person Willie Nelson experience…
On The Road Again was the Academy Award nominated theme song written by Nelson for his 1980 movie Honeysuckle Rose that seemed to be on HBO over and over and over… And of course, the title of the movie was also the name of his tour bus both in the movie and real life.
Got that? Okay, then one final classic movie note…
Not only was Willie Nelson the romantic lead in this “on the road” country-music-flavored film, but his co-star was one of my favorite American actors, Slim Pickens. Yeah, I know, a quirky choice on my part. But he made my personal all-star list with roles in the films Dr. Strangelove (riding on an atomic bomb into glory), Blazing Saddles and 1941. After playing these burnt-into-my-mind roles, I found it a bit unreal to watch ol’ Slim as a guitar player in Willie’s band, which is probably another reason I found it impossible to switch on a different cable channel whenever the film came on HBO during another late night round of sleepless viewing.
Two decades later, in 2002 to be exact, I wasn’t quite grown up yet (I’m still working on that) but was doing something I could’ve never dreamed or predicted when I made the long ago decision to splurge on Manhattan Cable Television. I was writing a weekly country music column for a newspaper in northern Ohio. Again, I’ve mentioned this in past Classic Rockers and how it gave me a fresh outlook on music I hadn’t paid much attention to previously.
It also brought me face to face with the country legend and star of Honeysuckle Rose on his tour bus. And though I’m not sure his 2002 updated traveling home shared the same name, I’ll go ahead and say it did just to keep you somewhat interested.
With two review tickets for Nelson’s July 22nd concert in Cleveland and a confirmed post-show interview, Cowgirl Debbie and I were psyched for a somewhat interesting evening. Debbie’s reason was based on her being a big country music fan (hence the name) and me because…
Well, come-on. I’m sure you’d also think it’s pretty cool to meet Willie Nelson.
Willie and his band played all his classic hits, but I somehow felt disappointed Slim Pickens wasn’t standing next to him playing guitar. On a sad note, Slim passed away almost two decades before in 1983. On a techno-psychological note, that shows the lasting power of cable television on the human brain.
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After Willie walked off stage following an encore or two, we flashed our media passes at a security guard and were escorted behind the outdoor venue to a closed off parking area and a large bus. Another guard stood outside protecting the open door.
After checking our passes, he told us to go inside and have a seat.
The front section of the bus was a living room that included a table with booth seating big enough for four people to have dinner or a card game. Then there was a closed door dividing what I assumed were private sleeping quarters in the back. The decor (if I remember correctly) included wood paneling and dark red curtains over the bus windows.
After just a few minutes the closed door opened. Willie Nelson walked in, said hello and sat at the table with us.
Doing my best Ralph Kramden impression from The Honeymooners, I probably started my newspaper interview with, “Homina, homina, homina…” BTW – veteran Honeymooners fans will know exactly what I’m referring to.
But as I should have expected, Willie Nelson was very cool. Soon we were talking about the concert, his tour, music and… well, it could have been somewhat more exciting than that. It was obvious to both of us I was asking – and he was answering – questions he’d heard countless times before.
So I went with something else:
“What would you have done if music didn’t work out?”
Willie looked at me, smiled and said, “I’d like to be a professional golfer.”
That takes us back to the beginning of this epic rambling story. Cowgirl Debbie, who had been uncharacteristically quiet (trust me on that) up to this point, saw his face light up and said…
“On what? The Senior Circuit?“
Okay, obviously Willie didn’t look like a teenager – even back in the days of filming Honeysuckle Rose. But Cowgirl Debbie’s remark was like a sucker punch to his funny bone. Willie started laughing and might have pretended to be offended by her age-related joke. But it didn’t matter since the timing, delivery and his reaction had all three of us cracking up.
After that ice-breaker the rest of the interview goes down in my memory as fun time. Willie was a genuine nice guy with a great sense of humor. And I’m sure if we had asked, he would’ve let us ride on Honeysuckle Rose with him to the next tour stop.
Okay, probably not. But the idea of us on the road (again?) with Willie Nelson might have kept you somewhat interested enough to read this far.
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Here’s a 1983 video of Willie Nelson performing On The Road Again.
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