“Well, hello there. It’s been a long time.”

by Dave Williams
April 30, 2020

Willie Nelson turned 87 yesterday. I’ll turn 69 in August.

I’m too old for heroes, I suppose.

I’ve met a lot of very famous and admirable people but aside from my dad I’ve only had two heroes, Willie Mays was my first. That was 60 years ago.

“It’s been so long now, but it seems now it was only yesterday.”

Heroes are always bigger in persona than in person. Their legend precedes them. When you meet them in real life they can be disappointingly ordinary.

“Gee ain’t funny, how time just slips away.”

Willie Nelson did not disappoint. He was short and sweet and purely ordinary Willie.

I was starstruck, literally speechless. Carolann had to do my talking for me. I said not a word.

“How’m I doin’? Oh, I guess that I’m doin’ fine.”

My wife asked Willie if he’d be willing to talk with me on the phone the next morning on my radio show.

(“Radio show?”  I heard Willie think. “This guy can’t even talk.”)

Willie bailed us both out. He told her he’d be sleeping in the back of his bus headed for Colorado when I was on the air. He was so nice. He smiled at me like Willie Nelson.

“I gotta go now. I guess I’ll see you around.”

Willie seems immortal but every year at the end of April I get worried. I don’t want to lose him.

And I don’t want to go, either.

“And it’s surprisin’, how time just slips away.”

 

© Dave Williams 2020
Funny How Time Slips Away © Willie Nelson 1961

 

Willie Nelson, CarolAnn and me

“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.

He stayed out there, signed autographs and chatted with folks until we all finally dragged ourselves back to our cars for the happy drive home.

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.