photo: James Minchon
by: George Varga
Willie Nelson is not the first music legend who’s had to publicly refute premature reports of his death. But he may well be the first to write a song contradicting those reports.
Entitled “Still Not Dead,” it includes such wry lines as:
Well, I woke up still not dead again today
The gardener did not find me that way
You can’t believe a word that people say
And I woke up still not dead again today.
Later, Nelson adds: Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play; followed by: They say my pace would kill a normal man / But I’ve never been accused of being normal anyway.
A highlight of his 110th album, 2017’s “God’s Problem Child,” “Still Not Dead” is Nelson’s best song about mortality since his 2012 gem, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
Of course, at 84, this American music giant is old enough to contemplate the eventual end of the road.
Happily, Nelson he is far too busy recording and being on the road yet again — including his sold-out Saturday concert at Harrah’s Resort SoCal — to pay much attention to such thoughts. Besides, he’s almost a spring chicken compared to his longtime roadie, Ben Dorcy, who died in September at the age of 92 and had worked with Nelson for half a century, including most of last year.
Saturday’s concert at Harrah’s is one of eight shows Nelson has scheduled for January, followed by eight more in February, and then more in the spring.
In January 2017, he co-starred with Owen Wilson in the Woody Harrelson-directed film “Lost in London.” In February, Nelson won his first Grammy Award in a decade for “Summertime,” his heartfelt album saluting the songs of George and Ira Gershwin.
He has released seven albums since 2014, a pace that would challenge most young musicians, let alone a senior citizen. And he played more than 80 concerts in 2017, despite a health scare that saw him cancel some shows last January and February.
His tour last year included a sold-out April 26 San Diego date at Humphreys, where he coasted on auto-pilot for the first half, then soared through the second. (A soundboard recording of that show, and hundreds of other Nelson concerts, is available on his website.)
In September, he and Farm Aid co-founders Neil Young and John Mellencamp performed at the 32nd edition of that annual fundraising concert. The same month saw Nelson join Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, James Taylor, Asleep At the Wheel, Leon Bridges and other artists at the “Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas” concert for hurricane relief.
A musician for all seasons, Nelson can shine whether singing country, blues, gospel, pop or any other style that suits him. He is currently planning a Frank Sinatra tribute album and a joint recording with rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis (who in the 1970s successfully rebranded himself as a country artist). A long-discussed Nelson Broadway musical could also reach fruition.
In the meanwhile, he’s busy overseeing Willie’s Reserve, his line of premium marijuana products (in states where pot is legal).
Nelson’s marketing slogan is “My stash is your stash.” It could also be applied to his broadly appealing music — “My songs are your songs” — as befits an American icon whose appeal has transcended generations for, well, generations.
Willie Nelson & Family, with Lukas Nelson
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Events Center
Harrah’s Resort SoCal
777 Harrah’s Rincon Way