I interviewed Willie Nelson twice for High Times. Both were cover stories. The first interview was a long shesh on the bus in Maryland that took place over several hours (above). Keith Stroup, the founder of NORML and Allen St Pierre, the executive director at that time, were with us along with High Times photographer, Brian Jahn. A quintet of world-class stoners, we got very stoned. Heroically stoned. Seriously, after a hour you couldn’t see the front of the bus.
So Willie was sitting in his booth facing the front of the bus, and I was sitting opposite, facing Willie. After an hour hour or so I heard the front door open and knew someone had come on the bus. I assumed it was the road manager to tell us it was time for the sound check. Any reasonable person would have turned around to see who ws there, but I, blazed beyond reason, decide to lean my chair backward and arch my shoulders and head back even further – a silly stoned stunt to see who was behind me. Meanwhile, the person who had boarded the bus walked up to the back of my chair. Looking up at him from my upside down perspective, I saw at a pair of profoundly large nasal cavities that seemed to be wearing a woolen sock cap. Hanks of frizzy grey-black hair burst out on either side from under the cinch of the cap. Overall, it was a very bizarre sight, and I remember straightening up and turning around slowly to take a good look, literally thinking to myself, That is the ugliest motherfucker have ever seen in my life! Then, as my vision crystallized, I realized I was looking at Bob Dylan. He had a small chess set in his hand and he wanted to get a game going with Willie but… He looked down at me and saw a tape recorder and a burning joint.
“He’s got you trapped,” Dylan quipped. “I’ll come back.”
Willie said, “Are you sure?”
Fuck yeah he was sure, and he vanished as quick as he came. Did that just happen? I turned to Willie through the smoky haze and said, ‘You know, I named my daughter after that guy.”
The second Willie interview was a few years later in Beehive, Texas, a steeplechase experience at a NORML benefit concert with a lot of press on hand. Back on the bus, now with serious time constraints, we pulled off a full interview and a complete photo shoot for the cover in the span of eleven minutes! Tight questions, tight answers, and we had Willie in his cowboy hat and his NORML tee shirt with a quarter pound of giant kolas for props.
Willie held the impressive buds, one in each hand, as High Times veteran photojournalist Chris Eudaley aka Pot Star snapped away. I asked Willie to hold the buds together. “You know, like maracas.”
“Now, don’t go getting fancy on me,” Willie grinned. “I already gave you too much time.”
After we were through, I dared one more request: “Hey Willie, can I bring my daughter in here and get a quick picture?”
Of course he said yes.
When we got back to New York the durable High Times art director Frank Max was unimpressed. The buds looked great, he said, but Willie wasn’t smiling. Nelson didn’t didn’t look angry. He didn’t look sad. He just wasn’t smiling, and we all knew that with a nationally distributed magazine a small detail like that can cost you ten thousand copies on the newsstand. We were crowded around the art director’s state-of-the-rt computer screen.
“See. He’s smiling here in these pictures with your daughter…” Then he clicked back to the mocked-up cover. “But he’s not smiling here. It looks like a mug shot.”
“We-ell…” one of us said the obvious – I swear I don’t remember which one – and six weeks later, the January 2008 issue of High Times appeared on the newsstands with Willie Nelson on the cover, big buds held in his hand like maracas and a beautiful, beaming smile on his face.
And the original snapshot, the one which made him grin, has never been published until now because, well, we were in a rush, and a little stoned and we didn’t think of everything. But I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Click to Enlarge Click to Enlarge