Me and Willy
I first met Willy Nelson through my brother Bill. Bill was playing bass with the “house” band on the Shindig tour across the USA. Shindig was an ABC TV series that ran for two years and featured acts like: Sonny and Cher, The Beach Boys, James Brown, The Supremes and The Righteous Brothers. In its’ second year, British acts joined the list including: The Beatles, The Who and The Rolling Stones. Willy was also on the tour as one of the featured singers.
After the tour, Willy started managing his cousin, Rick Nelson, and shared an office with me in the Sunset-Cahuenga Building in Hollywood. We became fast friends, “roomies” at one point, and quickly morphed into family. He did stand out in our Italian family as the only blond brother.
I can’t tell you how many times one of us would knock on the others’ door and say “walk with me”. We would then pace back and forth down the hallway talking out problems and helping each other make decisions. I’m sure the building managers must have wondered why the carpet on the eleventh floor wore out so quickly. Willy was in a battle with the head of MCA Records. Rick had not had a hit in awhile and they wouldn’t approve a budget for a new album. They were proposing a “singles” session. I told Willy to go ahead with it and said that record exec wouldn’t be there six months from now anyway. I helped draw up the budget and “Garden Party” became a monster hit for Rick out of the session. Willy was out on tour with Rick when I received a phone call from him. He asked me to check his calendar. He had written the day I said the head of the company would be fired six months earlier…I was off by one day!
Willy eventually left the business and moved to Portland where he could enjoy being a husband, father and grandfather. We lost touch for a few years but re-connected on facebook in 2012 when I started writing my book. Sadly, he passed away on June 12, 2013. We did “talk” a few years later while I was writing the chapter, “Roommates”, which included Willy. As I was writing, I felt a tap on my shoulder. This happened frequently. One of our cats liked to sit on a bookshelf next to my desk. It was his signal that he wanted to jump on my lap and settle in. When I looked over, there wasn’t any cat…they were both on the sofa with my wife. Linda looked over at me and said “What’s wrong?” I said, “Willy just said hello”.
Willy’s Birthday is today, Happy Birthday…RIP, my brother…