In-depth celebration of the Lone Star music legend.
Veteran Texas scribe Patoski (coauthor, Stevie Ray Vaughan: Caught in the Crossfire, 1993), well-equipped to pen a 75th-birthday look at Nelson’s eventful life, begins with a knowing look at his subject’s Abbott, Texas, roots. Born in 1933, the product of a quickly broken marriage, Nelson was just a boy when he realized that writing and performing music promised an escape from poverty and cotton picking. After bouncing around Texas as a journeyman musician and DJ, he finally landed in Nashville, where his success as a songwriter (author of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and Faron Young’s “Hello Walls”) led to an RCA recording contract. But Nelson, a cardigan-wearing anomaly in a town full of Nudie-suited establishmentarians, found no commercial or creative satisfaction as a worker on producer-executive Chet Atkins’s “countrypolitan” assembly line. Only after he relocated to Austin in 1972 did he find his groove among the wide-open city’s cosmic cowboys. Flying the “outlaw country” banner, he morphed into the long-haired, dope-smoking, peripatetically touring Willie universally venerated today. Drawing on interviews with Nelson and his widely extended “family,” Patoski pulls together a rich narrative that keenly comprehends Nelson’s artistic and geographical perambulations. The author is especially fine in the early going, colorfully recalling Willie’s many years on the beer-joint circuit and the cast of sketchy characters who trod those hardwood floors. But Nelson doesn’t get any free passes: Patoski dwells in depth on his capriciousness, quick temper, hard-partying lifestyle, infidelities and four tempestuous marriages, as well as his headline-making ’90s tax case. The result is a warm, honest portrait of a compulsively footloose, restless artist at home in any musical style—country, Western swing, jazz, gospel, standard pop, reggae, even polka—and truly at home only on his tour bus.
Patoski’s profound understanding of Nelson’s life, character and milieu make this the Willie bio to get.