Off the Record
Last Friday morning, Willie Nelson was arrested at a border patrol checkpoint on I-10 in Sierra Blanca, Texas, after officials first smelled and then reportedly seized 6 ounces of marijuana from his tour bus, the Honeysuckle Rose III. The 77-year-old icon was charged with only 2 to 4 ounces of the substance, a class A misdemeanor.
"He could get 180 days in county jail," Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West told El Paso Times of the charges, which carry a maximum punishment of one year in jail, a $4,000 fine, and three years of probation. "[I]f he does, I'm going to make him cook and clean."
Nelson posted a $2,500 bond and was released after four hours in the clink. "He said he feels great," harmonica player Mickey Raphael relayed to Rolling Stone. "He lost six ounces."
Of course, this isn't the outlaw's first run-in with the law. In 2006, Nelson; his sister, Bobbie; and two others received citations in St. Martin Parish, La., after nearly 1.5 pounds of pot and 3 ounces of hallucinogenic mushrooms were found on the bus. Fox News reports that he was also arrested in Texas in 1997. However, his criminal defense lawyer, Joe Turner, is quick to point out that Nelson was never convicted on those priors and therefore those arrests shouldn't be admissible to the court.
"It's too early to predict the outcome of this case," Turner acknowledges, "but he's got a very good lawyer to look into it."
Taking a hit of the legendary Willieweed has become a sort of national pastime, a ceremonial rite of passage enjoyed by more than just a lucky few (see "Blazing Saddles," below). As such, plenty of local artists were eager to voice their support for the Red Headed Stranger.
"I just called to say I think it's bloody criminal," offers Ian McLagan. "All he does is make beauty and share it with the world. So what if he smokes pot? I mean, what the fuck?"
"You know how they had Prop 19 in California," spouts Shawn Sahm of the Texas Tornados. "We need Prop 420 here in Texas, a law that makes Willie exempt from being busted for pot."
A noted spokesperson for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Nelson has an even better idea: the Teapot Party, a grassroots movement akin to Jon Stewart's Rally To Restore Sanity. "We lean a little to the left," joked Nelson to CelebStoner.com before outlining his platform. "Tax it, regulate it and legalize it. And stop the border wars over drugs. Why should the drug lords make all the money? Thousands of lives will be saved."
Turner's inclined to agree. "It's time for a national debate on the issue," he says. "Not just on marijuana but other drugs as well. The prohibition has caused a lot of violence."
Nelson's personal engineer, Matt Hubbard of 7 Walkers (see "Swampadelic," Nov. 24), has already recorded the Teapot Party's unofficial theme song, "Weedaholic," a new country-jazz standard featuring Nelson on guitar and background vocals. Stream the tune at austinchronicle.com/earache, and join the movement at www.facebook.com/teapotparty.
Matt Hubbard, keyboardist, engineer
"For health reasons, he switched to a vaporizer about two years ago. He'll be the host and hand the glass pipe around to the people in the circle. It's like a hookah. He has to explain what the hell it is and its benefits. Of course, he's never really learned to use it right. He always turns it up too hot so it burns the smoke anyway, but that's beside the point."
Jesse Dayton, country outlaw
"I recorded my first record [1995's Raisin' Cain] at Pedernales [Studio]. I walked out the back door one night and Willie was standing out there, smoking a joint by himself. I hadn't met him at all yet, but I walked out there and we burned one together. It didn't make me paranoid. It made me happy. It was awesome. I ended up going on tour with him, opening nine shows up in the Midwest. If only the back of that bus could tell those stories."
Ray Benson, Asleep at the Wheel
"The first time I remember was in 1973, on the bus outside of 57 Doors in Dallas. We were genuinely impressed. Back in the day, when you'd bring someone on the bus, Willie would hand them a joint. Even if they didn't smoke, they'd be like: 'Oh my god. Willie handed me a joint. I have to smoke it.' I've seen more people stumble off that bus and fall on their face or just not know where the hell they are than you can even imagine."
Joe Nick Patoski, author of the essential Willie Nelson: An Epic Life
"I used to kid Willie that he used marijuana around journalists to make them so stupid they wouldn't know what to ask. When I was working on the biography, Willie invited me on board the bus in San Francisco one night and we wound up in Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, where I spent an off-day with him. Each round of interviews concluded at my own behest because I was so stoned I forgot what I asked him, forgot what he said, and couldn't remember a follow-up question. He smoked me under the table."
Andy Langer, KGSR personality
"For a moment, I was the link between Willie and Snoop. I smoked once more with Willie two years ago at Bonnaroo. He played me the just-recorded Willie and Snoop duet ["My Medicine"], cueing it up inside the bus, outside the stage. My thinking was: A) It's Willie; B) I'm at Bonnaroo, where you wouldn't bat an eye at drug use; and C) it brought everything full circle."
Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones
[From the guitarist's new autobiography, Life]: "Willie's fantastic. He has a guy with a turned-over Frisbee, rolling, rolling, rolling. A beautiful weedhead, is Willie. I mean straight out of bed. At least I wait 10 minutes in the morning."
John Mellencamp has helped start a viral campaign to nominate Nelson for the Nobel Peace Prize for his lifelong humanitarian efforts and work toward sustainable agriculture and alternative fuels: www.facebook.com/willienelsonnobelprize.
As part of a weeklong grand opening celebration, Nelson headlines two nights at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, Feb. 13-14.
Nelson duets with his Dukes of Hazzard co-star Jessica Simpson on "Merry Christmas Baby" from her new holiday album, Happy Christmas.
The follow-up to 2009's Willie and the Wheel collaboration has been pushed back indefinitely. "Willie's got like four albums coming out next year," reasons Ray Benson. "We'll put ours in the can and see what happens five years from now."
An extended version of the Nelson Family Band has recorded a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses." The benefit single aims to raise awareness for the Restore Our American Mustang Act, a perpetually stalled bill that would require the Bureau of Land Management to return to the acreage guidelines of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. "Those mustangs are a symbol of American freedom," posits Matt Hubbard, "and the West is being lost for them."