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©David McClister / Willie Nelson
© David McClister / Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson: Don't Look Back

The legendary singer-songwriter forges ahead with new music and plans for a memoir

By Phyllis Stark
Special to MSN Music

Willie Nelson may have recently signed a multi-album deal with Sony Music's Legacy imprint, but the music icon whose work transcends traditional genre boundaries says he spends no time at all contemplating his own musical legacy.

"I'm afraid to look back," he says, laughing. "There might be somebody gaining on me."

The first album under that new deal, "Heroes," hit stores May 15 and features musical contributions from an eclectic list of guest stars, including Merle Haggard, Snoop Dogg, Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Price and Nelson's musician sons Lucas and Micah. Equally eclectic is the mix of songs on the 14-track project, which range from classic country tunes from the 1930s and '40s through covers of rock songs made famous by Pearl Jam ("Just Breathe") and Coldplay ("The Scientist").

Somehow, it all comes together as a cohesive and very entertaining whole.

Listening Booth: Hear the new album, "Heroes"

One of the new album's most poignant tracks is "Hero," a song Nelson wrote about Shaver, his longtime friend and songwriting idol. Despite painting a grim lyrical picture of Shaver's life with lines like "He used to be king of the bars/He's opened and closed them from Waco to Mars/Now he sings on the streets and he sleeps in his car," Nelson actually convinced Shaver to perform on the track.

Now, Nelson admits he took some liberties with the lyrics, joking that he did so "to make folks feel sorry for [Shaver]. He's really not sleeping in his car, I don't think, unless he wants to."

On the other end of the song spectrum, Nelson duets with pal and fellow cannabis aficionado Snoop Dogg on one of the album's new compositions, the hilariously titled "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die." That will also be the title of a memoir Nelson is just finishing up and hopes to have published later this year, he reveals to MSN Music

"I tell pretty much what I can remember from me growing up and going through one thing or another, the Air Force, beer joints and all the different places that I've been," the Country Music Hall of Fame member says of the book.

Nelson's greatest joy in making "Heroes" was the opportunity to work with his two sons, the youngest of his six children. Lukas performed on 10 of the album's tracks and has a writing credit on three. Micah plays and sings on one other track, "Come On Back Jesus."

"We just did a video on 'Just Breathe' down in Texas, and all three of us got to work on that together," Nelson says of his sons. "That's about as good as it gets when you can get your kids up there with you."

Nelson has family in mind for at least one other project under his new Legacy deal. He plans to record an album with his sister and band member Bobbie. But the next project at bat may be one he already has in the can, an album he recorded with fellow music legend Leon Russell.

So, what's still on the 79-year-old Nelson's bucket list? His answer is surprising.

"Barbra Streisand and I have been discussing recording together for years," he reveals. "It hasn't happened yet, but we're waiting for the right song to come along."

The veteran of such films as "Honeysuckle Rose," "The Electric Horseman" and several others, Nelson is giving the big screen another whirl this year with a role in the film adaptation of Turk Pipkin's holiday story "When Angels Sing." The film, which Nelson says will be released in the fall, also stars fellow singers Harry Connick Jr. and Kristofferson.

Whether he wants to think about it or not, Nelson's musical legacy is an impressive one with more than 60 studio albums, hundreds of collections and seven Grammy Awards to his credit, but he insists he can't be bothered to reflect on it.

"I really don't give it a lot of thought, honestly," he says. "I'm not sure in the big picture it's that important. I just sort of play it off the top of my head and do what I feel like doing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don't."

Veteran entertainment journalist Phyllis Stark has been reporting extensively on the music industry for two decades. As a freelance writer, her work appears regularly in numerous publications and sites, including, where she authors the newsletter Stark Country. She previously was Nashville bureau chief at Billboard magazine.

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May 15, 2012 9:31PM

Mr Willie Nelson, we  all love and care for you as very good fans and known friends of friends.


Willie, when you were invited to become part of the song that included:  "Now Let's Hear You Willie Boy" when "Walts Across Texas" was everywhere .... WHY, later, would you decide to humiliate a friend such as Shaver ... good grief he is a friend better than ...  possibly Ann Richards, etc. It is easy to take care of your family better (sometimes) but remember that you have endured so much that we also expect this of you!!


As life turns, we already may/should/ACTUALLY HAVE mutual friends from many years ago.


Do not go out with a "Heavy Brow" Mr. Willie

May 15, 2012 9:19PM
r u coming to san bernardino to see "annie".  she has told everyone u are to be here this friday.
May 15, 2012 4:51PM
Not the biggest Willie fan, but last night on Fallon covering Pearl Jam was HOT
May 15, 2012 4:42PM

How about willie & Paul Simon??  Country meets city??


May 15, 2012 2:20PM

Mad love for Willie!!!   Last night's appearance on Fallon was spectacular, as usual.  Lukas is hot!  Looking forward to Willie's 4th of July in Ft. Worth.  I'll be making the spiritual pilgrimage all the way from Bluefield, Virginia, with love for Willie and America!


God bless Willie!  God bless America!

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