Willie Nelson might be one of the most prolific musicians of all time, with over 100 albums – 30 in the past decade alone. On his latest, ‘Heroes,’ he covers Coldplay and Pearl Jam and duets with bad boys Merle Haggard and Snoop Dogg. This summer the 79-year-old has shows scheduled across the country, and he’s got no plans to slow down. “The audiences that keep showing up keep me going,” he says. “As long as we’re enjoying playing and people are still enjoying coming out, it’ll be great.”
You played an incredible 152 dates last year. Will you ever quit touring?
All the time I think, “Maybe next year, I’ll stop.” But it’s been “next year” for the last 20 years. I’m sure one day I’ll say, “Fuck it, I’m through.” But I haven’t come to that point yet.
You sing with Snoop on “Roll Me Up.” How did that happen?
He and I had shows in Amsterdam at the same time in 2008. I sang on his show, he sang on mine, and we hung out and became good friends.
You’ve been playing Trigger, your beat-up old acoustic, for more than 40 years. How did it get the giant hole in the front?
On most classical guitars, you don’t use a pick. I’ve used a pick on Trigger all these years, and it doesn’t have a pick guard, so too many “Whiskey Rivers” wore a hole in it.
You’re a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do. How’d you get into that?
I grew up playing football, baseball, and basketball, and running track. But I fell off for a few years – gained weight, started smoking and drinking too much. To get back in shape, I started taking martial arts. Every day I try to do something different. The other day, I played golf.
What’s your handicap?
My putter and my driver. [Laughs]
In the fifties and sixties, you wore suits and looked clean-cut. What’s it like to look at those photos now?
I laugh at it. It’s another lifetime. When I started, my heroes were Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, who wore cowboy clothes. When I played bass for Ray Price, we wore sequined suits, which I thought were great. But later, I noticed my audience was in T-shirts. I decided, “If they’re gonna get comfortable, I might as well do it with them.”
You’ve spent most of your life traveling the country. How has it changed?
I see a lot of tractors rusting and farms that have been foreclosed on. I started Farm Aid 26 years ago to try to put more farmers back on the land. But more and more, big corporations are squeezing out small businessmen, farmers included. It’s not a pretty picture.
On your own farm, outside Austin, you have 72 horses. How did you get so many?
Six years ago, I saw some videos about slaughterhouses that kill horses and ship them to restaurants overseas. Where I come from, we don’t eat horses. So I teamed up with Habitat for Horses to save horses on their way to slaughter. I had about 20, and now I’ve picked up 50 more. They’re expensive to feed but beautiful to watch.
You sing with your son Lukas on the new record. Did you teach him about music?
We kept instruments around all my kids while they were growing up. I didn’t know if they’d pick anything up. But one day, I heard my licks coming back a lot better than they went out.