The final chapter of Marshall Chapman's new book, They Came to Nashville, is probably as close as most of us will ever get to riding on Willie Nelson's tour bus. Chapman, who has known Nelson since meeting him at a party in Nashville in 1973, hooked up with the Red Headed Stranger at a gig in Memphis and traveled with Nelson down to Beaumont, then on to Austin, four days in all.
It was pretty much an all-access pass. She even impulsively jumped onstage in Beaumont to sing Waylon Jennings' parts on "Good Hearted Woman."
While pot doesn't play a significant role in this part of the story, it does pop up occasionally.
Before she chronicles her trip with Nelson, however, Chapman revisits some of her previous meetings with the outlaw singer.
1. Nov. 19-21, 1973, Nugget Studios, Goodletsville, Tenn.: Nelson holed up for three days in Fred Carter Jr.'s studio to re-record Phases and Stages in its entirety with his road band. He'd already recorded it a few weeks before at Muscle Shoals with Jerry Wexler producing, but used the house rhythm section.
Chapman was present for all the Goodletsville sessions, which eventually were not used. She recalls "watching Paul English [Willie's drummer] roll a Texas-sized joint - basically the size of a huge cigar - which he then passed around." During the sessions, she sang backup on "Bloody Mary Morning," "Ain't No Love Around" and "Pick Up the Tempo."
This version of the album wasn't released until about ten years ago, when Rhino put out Willie Nelson: The Complete Atlantic Sessions. The Goodletsville cuts were included as ten bonus tracks.
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2. Chapman played phone tag with Willie for several days trying to set up her interview. Here's her recollection of the conversation when she finally reached him, she recalls that "he sounded youthful and alert; the antithesis of a 75-year old pothead."
3. Chapman is finally offered the opportunity to travel on the bus, but she has second thoughts until her husband convinces her that it's a lifetime opportunity that she shouldn't pass up. She calls Nelson and confirms that she can meet the bus in Memphis. Then she writes:
Sounding every bit like my mother, I asked, "Now, Willie, I have to ask you one thing."
"Is there cigarette smoking on your bus?'
"Nah," he said, "No cigarette smoking permitted."
"Good," I said. "Because cigarette smoke gives me a terrible headache. Now marijuana smoke. I don't mind. In fact, I love the smell of marijuana."
There was a momentary pause, then Willie said, "Me, too!" as we both burst out laughing.
Tune in Monday when we'll see what really happens on Willie's bus.