“If America could sing with one voice it would be Willie’s.”
– Emmylou Harris
When I met Willie in person I froze. I literally couldn’t open my mouth to speak.
It was in the late 1980s in the Dan Russell Rodeo Arena in Folsom, California. When Willie finished his last song he did something that blew our minds: He put down his guitar, stepped down from the stage and walked through the dirt right into the crowd of his worshipers wearing that famous crinkly-eyes, half-crooked smile.
I don’t remember if I shook his hand but I think not. I just stood stupidly next to my hero while my wife asked him to autograph our tickets, which he did. Then she asked Willie if I could phone him the next morning for a short live interview on my radio show. He smiled and nicely explained that he’d like to but his bus would be hitting the road as soon as he got back in it.
(This was in the early days of cell phones, once you got out of town you could forget about talking to anyone. He’d be long gone by tomorrow.)
I never said a word. I literally couldn’t find my voice and I don’t regret it. I had stood beside him for a few minutes while he chatted with my wife. I’m pretty sure that’s about as much live interaction with Willie Nelson that I could handle.
I was happy.
I’ve seen Willie and his family four times, I think.
He’ll turn 85 next week and I need to see him again before the time slips away.