In the event that Willie Nelson ever runs out pot for smoking, he can find his own charm a suitable replacement.
Speaking to the country legend is like taking a puff of the good stuff — you feel a little light-headed and the laugh comes easy. He takes the time to answer questions, but far from resting on the laurels of a career with some 15 Grammy wins, Nelson wantsam busy. This year alone he released a new album, Last Man Standing, saw his cannabis brand, Willie’s Reserve, expand into California and has a full calendar of tour dates for the summer.
“My sister, Bobbie, is two years older than me,” he says when asked if he has any plans to slow down. “I think we’re probably the oldest people on the road right now. I don’t know anyone older than us who is still touring. I think we’ll keep doing it as long as it’s fun.”
“Fun” is a term often thought of as empty calories, but when Nelson says it, you believe him. After all, what other reason is there right now for Nelson to go through the grind of tour buses, studio sessions, and stage night after night unless it still brings him undiluted joy? Of course, Nelson has a few tricks to make the ordeal as easy as possible — namely smoking more marijuana than just about anyone else on the planet.
In fact, during a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, rapper and famous weed lover Snoop Dogg confessed that Nelson was the only person he knew who could surpass him. Nelson laughs when this anecdote is mentioned, but doesn’t deny the superlative.
“He’s a heavyweight,” Nelson says. ‘We’re good buddies. We recorded a song or two together. I was in Amsterdam once and found out he was coming, so we hung out in Amsterdam for a few days and had a good time. He’s just a good guy.”
It’s hard to imagine the reaction of an Amsterdam café owner when he sees Nelson and Snoop Dogg strolling around together, but like many myths that have long surrounded the acclaimed octogenarian, the details have been lost. The most infamous is undoubtedly the story of Nelson smoking a joint on the roof of the White House during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Despite numerous inquiries from talk show hosts and journalists over the years, Nelson has always played it coy. But in 2015 GQ writer Chris Heath had the singer confirm that it was President Carter’s middle son, Chip, who gave Nelson access to arguably the most guarded rooftop in the U.S.
Nelson may not have much more to say about his evening overlooking the sprawl of Washington, DC, but he’s more than happy to talk about cannabis – especially now that he’s a ganjapreneur.
After numerous arrests for possession, Nelson is finally taking full advantage of the country’s changing position on weed with Willie’s Reserve, its personalized product range. From flower buds and vaporizer pens to espresso beans and lozenges, Nelson’s brand is a one-stop marijuana empire.
in April, Willie’s Reserve eventually expanded to California after initial launches in Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Nelson says part of his motivation to take an active role in the industry was to provide cannabis that meets the environmental standards he believes all farmers should adhere to.
“A lot of big companies don’t really consider health issues,” he notes. “Many of them grow marijuana on land with pesticides and chemicals. We are 100 percent against that.”
Another focus is on smallholder farmers who have long been the sole suppliers of medicinal cannabis, but are now in danger of losing their livelihoods at the hands of large companies eager to take advantage of the green rush. Nelson’s desire to help farming families goes all the way back to Farm Aid, the annual festival he co-founded in 1985 with fellow artists Neil Young and John Mellencamp. Willie’s Reserve continues its mission by partnering exclusively with independent farmers in several states.
It’s a little surreal to ask Nelson about terpene profiles and the aesthetics of packaging when you remember that such terms weren’t even in the lexicon when he first started smoking. That was in the early 1950s – a time when the federal government enacted tougher criminal laws for possession of marijuana and people still believed the mass hysteria of “Reefer Madness” as gospel truth. With the tide turning, Nelson is confident that his long-held preference for national legalization is finally on the horizon.
“It’s pretty clear that the trend is toward legalization across the country,” he says. “It’s happened in Colorado, California, Washington and Oregon — and a few more are headed that way. It’s just a matter of time, I think.”
on Last Man Standing (released April 27), the issue of time is a major theme. The title track of the record contains the line: “I don’t want to be the last man standing / On second thought, maybe I will.”
“It’s a bit of a joke,” Nelson offers by way of analysis, but it doesn’t take much effort to find the deeper truths contained in the musician’s 67th studio album.
Over the years, Nelson has watched celebrated peers and personal friends such as: Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash have all left for the great afterlife. Mortality has always been a prolific theme for the greats of the land, and while Nelson seems content to worry about death once it arrives, the latest addition to his timeless discography makes the artist think back to the greatness of life and what comes after before the wind leaves behind. to determine the fate.
That doesn’t mean Nelson isn’t doing his best to take care of his health. A few years ago, he switched to vaporizers in an attempt to keep his singing voice intact.
“My lungs have been under attack almost my entire life,” he says. “I started smoking cigarettes, grapevine – you name it, I smoked it – and my lungs suffered. I had pneumonia four or five times. I finally decided I had to quit smoking. Luckily vaporizers came along and they are a good alternative.”
Adjusting on the fly and rolling the punches are hallmarks of the Willie Nelson guide to life. From his pivotal 1973 choice to reinvent himself as an outlaw country musician to the release of The IRS Bands — his brilliant solution to paying off some tax debt — Nelson never encountered an obstacle that prevented him from continuing on the dusty path we all have to walk.
In Nelson’s case, he rests his boots on the Honeysuckle Rose – now in its fifth incarnation as his official tour bus. Next to him is his 87-year-old sister, as well as his children: sons Lukas and Micah and daughters Amy and Paula. Maybe the weight of morality just isn’t that heavy when you sing about it with family. In addition, there is the time-honored tradition of local friends and fans hopping aboard the Honeysuckle Rose at tour stops to share their latest harvests with the world’s most beloved cannabis connoisseur.
For Nelson, that’s what the spirit of cannabis is all about.
“There’s a fellowship involved,” he agrees. “You sit down and you take a sip of whiskey or a sip of a joint. I had to give up whiskey, but I still take a sip from a joint.”
Willie’s Reserve Products are available at Medithrive (1933 Mission St.) and online at williesreserve.com.