You can’t say Willie Nelson doesn’t keep life interesting. One minute, he’s flying to Jamaica to sing reggae music. Another moment, he’s standing alongside the curvaceous Jessica Simpson to tape a music video. On still another occasion, he’s donning his environmental cap to tout technology that could help save American farmers.
During a recent tour stop in Texas, the Country Music Hall of Fame member took a break to talk to CMT Insider about his just-released reggae album, Countryman, his involvement in the film version of The Dukes of Hazzard and how biodiesel can help farmers while relieving America’s dependence on foreign oil.
“It’s amazing how well reggae rhythms and country songs work together,” Nelson said of Countryman, which is spending a second week in the Top 10 of Billboard’s country albums chart. Nelson and producer Don Was actually began recording the album a decade ago for Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, but the project was shelved after some upheavals at the record label.
Although Nelson refers to the album as “an experiment,” the project also enlightened him about the connection between country and reggae.
“Some of the reggae guys told me that the way reggae got started was that in Jamaica, they would listen to the radio at night,” Nelson said. “All they could hear was stations like WSM [in Nashville] that played country music, that didn’t play any drums. They used those country melodies and put a lot of their great rhythms behind it.”
Nelson traveled to the land of dreadlocks to shoot two music videos for songs from the album. The first, a cover of Johnny and June Carter Cash’s “I’m a Worried Man,” is a duet with Frederick “Toots” Hibbert of the legendary reggae act, Toots & the Maytals. The other is for Nelson’s cover of the Jimmy Cliff classic, “The Harder They Come.”
In addition to his own music videos, Nelson has been busy in front of the camera a lot lately. He stepped into the role of Uncle Jesse for The Dukes of Hazzard movie that opens in theaters Aug. 5. He also makes a cameo appearance in co-star Simpson’s video for “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 pop hit featured in the Dukes film soundtrack.
“She’s beautiful, easy to look at, easy to work with and she sings good, dances great, acts well,” Nelson said. “I had a lot of fun with her and look forward to doing some more.”
As for his film role as Uncle Jesse, Nelson responds with his self-effacing humor.
“That didn’t require a big long stretch there,” Nelson said. “The good part about it is my character and Uncle Jesse’s were pretty close to what they were looking for, anyway, so it was a lot of fun.”
Meanwhile, Nelson has been pumped up over the environmentally friendly fuel, biodiesel. So much so, he recently entered into a business venture selling the product with his old friend, Carl Cornelius. They’re now co-owners of Carl’s Corner Truck Stop on I-35 between Dallas and Waco, Texas.
“We played a little poker and everything, and Willie won part of it,” Cornelius joked.
“Yeah, he’s lucky,” Nelson added with a laugh. “I’m trying to lose it back, but every time I put it back on the table, everybody folds.”
Nelson was motivated to enter into the deal with Cornelius to call attention to the fuel made from vegetable oils.
“Here I’ve been in Farm Aid for 20 years, trying to figure out a way to help the farmers,” Nelson said. “And here’s something that the farmer can grow and put in his tractor, in the trucks and our cars and … and keep us from being dependent on the rest of the world for our energy.”
The Farm Aid co-founder first heard about biodiesel almost three years ago from his wife, who used it in her car.
“It ran perfect,” Nelson discovered. “I drove it, and it had a lot of power. … So, I bought a Mercedes, put 100 percent vegetable oil in the new Mercedes, drove it, and it ran perfect.”
Nelson uses biodiesel in his buses, too, as often as he can find the fuel, and he’s sounding the rallying cry for others to come on board.
“Everybody’s concerned about gas and oil prices, availabilities and alternatives, and biodiesel is just one,” Nelson said. “But this is a very important one because it can put our farmers back to work on the land. It can make the land healthy again. It can also help the environment, help the truckers, and it helps everybody right on up the economic ladder.”