One day in 1960, Larry Butler was rehearsing his band at the Esquire Ballroom on Hempstead Highway when the manager approached and said a man at the front door wanted to talk to him.
"So I told her to just show the fellow in and sit him at the table by the bandstand and I'd talk to him when we took a break," recalls Butler from his home in Cut and Shoot. "And I told her if he wanted something to just put it on my tab."
When Butler took a break, he sauntered to the table and introduced himself. The stranger stuck out his hand and said, "I'm Willie Nelson, and I'd like to sell you some songs."
A songwriter himself, Butler had several regional hits at the time, including "Just Walked Out" and "Exactly Like You."
"I was getting airplay on KIKK and all the other stations, so Willie had heard me on the radio and thought maybe I would buy some of his songs. I told Willie that I didn't really buy other people's songs, but I let him play them for me," Butler recalls.
"He had 'I Gotta Get Drunk,' 'Night Life,' 'The Party's Over' and 'Crazy.' I asked him how much he wanted for them, and he said ten dollars apiece."
"So I told him, 'Mr. Nelson, I'm not gonna buy your songs,' and he said, 'What's the matter, no good?'"
"I told him they were actually too good and that he needed to keep them, because if he could write like that he was going to be a star himself one day."
"Well, Willie said, 'I'm broke and I need money right now, and I can always write some more songs.'"
"Anyway, we talked and then we went outside, and he had his three kids in the car and I could see the man needed some help. So we talked and my wife found them a room nearby, and got them some groceries and I put Willie to work in my band that night.
"Back in those days most of that stuff was union scale, so sidemen got $12.50 a night and the leader got $25. So I went to the club owner and told him I had one more man in the band, and he said he couldn't pay for another man. So I ended up splitting my $25 a night with Willie for a while."
And did Nelson put anything on Butler's tab the day of that first fateful meeting?
"Yeah, a pack of cigarettes and a Coke."
Check back with us over the coming two weeks as we reveal more of Larry Butler's remembrances of Willie and others.
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