~by Bob Volpe ~
Yes, Paula Nelson is one of country legend, Willie Nelson’s talented children.
Paula currently has six albums under her belt and another in the works. In October of 2016, she was awarded “Female Artist of Year” by the Country Music Assoc. of Texas. Growing up the daughter of a world renowned celebrity can be a mind bending experience, when you are a child searching for your own identity.
Born in Huston, Texas, to Willie and his third wife Connie, Paula traveled on tour with Willie and family in much of her youth. In the early 70’s the family moved to Conifer, Colorado where she attended public school from third through fifth grade. From Conifer the family moved to a 70 acre ranch on Upper Bear Creek, west of Evergreen, Colorado. After that move she attended school in Idaho Springs through her sophomore year in high school. Last week, I got a chance to conduct a detailed interview with Paula Nelson, who has performed live at the Crystola Roadhouse and other popular bar and musical entertainment hubs in Colorado, regarding a variety of subjects, ranging from Willie’s IRS problems, to legendary late-night antics, to her current musical aspirations, including some return visits to Teller County. Here are a few highlights:
BV (Bob Volpe) How is your father doing, since he recently canceled a number of shows due to illness?
PN (Paula Nelson)“He’s doing fine. He was in London doing a live movie with Woody Harrelson, and flying back he caught a bug, and got sick. Then he went straight to Vegas for a “Willie’s Reserve” party. (Willie’s Reserve is Nelson’s own strain of marijuana) He was toking out with everybody and by the third night his body just wasn’t ready for it He couldn’t finish a show because he just couldn’t breath. Basically he had to, in his own words say, ‘Alright, I’m not Superman,’ a reference to the song he did with Snoop Dog.
BV: How did you like living in Colorado?
PN: “Oh my God, I loved Evergreen.” She recalled living on Upper Bear Creek and the blizzard of 1982.”We had a barn there that we had some summer cars in. We didn’t have a lot, but we had a nice ’57 Chevy and a Mercedes. That blizzard collapsed the roof and the cars were completely totaled.”
BV: Do you consider yourself a daughter of Texas or a Colorado girl trapped in Texas?
PN: “Well, ya know what, I was born in Houston and so of course I’ve always been around Texas. Even when we lived in Colorado, we would spend the summers in Texas and during the school year in Colorado. I have such close friends in both, but Texas is my home.”
IRS Blues and Traveling with a Legend
In November of 1990, the IRS seized the majority of Willie’s assets including the ranch in Evergreen, for $16 million in back taxes and penalties. The whole thing sprang from mismanagement by Willie’s manager who wasn’t paying the taxes that Willie owed the IRS, and a cattle scheme that Willie invested in that, unbeknownst to him was not above board.
BV: How did the family take the news and the ensuing seizures?
PN: “Oh man that really did suck because that house had so many memories for me. Before the Life Magazine cover (referring to a cover shot with Willie, his third wife Connie, and daughters Paula and Amy), I didn’t realize what it was to be Willie’s daughter. I didn’t think at the time that it was any different than anybody else’s life. After that magazine cover, it was in every rack in the grocery store and everywhere I went there it was. I remember my 7th grade orientation school dance. It was the first time I really experienced what it meant. The kids didn’t know who Willie Nelson was, but their parents did, and the administration did, and it sort of trickled down to the kids. About 20 or 30 kids kinda cornered me. They weren’t being mean or anything, but they were just crowding me and saying ‘Oh my God you’re a celebrity, can we meet your dad? Can we come over to your house? How much money do you have?’ I was like, I don’t have any money. I mean, I wanted to have friends more than no friends at all, but I always kinda questioned what the reasoning was. I didn’t want to be a celebrity’s kid. I just wanted to blend in with everybody else. So it was difficult. Those school years were really tough.”
“We moved back to Austin permanently during that, and I started going to a different school which was a completely different type of school. It was like a Beverly Hills type school. It just wasn’t me. You know, the flashy, driving fancy cars type. Well, the IRS stuff. I stopped at a little Circle K convenience store and there was this jar on the counter for children’s charity funds and it had just some change and a few bills in it, and there was another one marked, “Willie’s IRS fund” that was jammed packed with twenties and big bills. I didn’t really understand what it all meant. I was just trying to get through high school with my own set of problems. Overall, I thought he (Willie Nelson handled it (the IRS situation) really cool. I heard, I didn’t witness it myself, but they (IRS agents) were standing with suits at the end of each show waiting to collect from that show. The cool thing was, he put out an album ‘Who’ll Buy My Memories’ also known as the ‘IRS Tapes’ and all the money from the album went to paying off the IRS debt.”
BV: Growing up around American music icons like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Jesse Colter must have been a great life experience. What influence did they have on your music?
PN: “Well when I first meet some of those people I was just a kid. The first time I met Waylon and Jesse I was only 6 or 7. They were just like Uncle Waylon and Aunt Jesse to me then. I didn’t realize at the time how unbelievably talented and cool they were. Years later when I started my own career those were my influences. Rita Coolidge, Jesse Colter, Bonnie Bramlett, Leon Russel, and Waylon all were. They all were a great influence on my music.”
BV: Did you travel with your dad when you were young?
PN: “We did. We traveled all the time. I grew up on the bus, except during the school years. It was about the time we moved to Colorado that we stopped touring all the time. It was more important to not miss school.”
Willie is well known for his support of the legalization of marijuana. It was ironic that on the pot smokers’ self-proclaimed National Holiday, (4/20) April 20, 2014 Paula was busted in Menard, TX for possession of marijuana
BV: Did that arrest (for possession of marijuana) scare you?
PN: “Well, the funny thing is, we (her band) were coming back from Colorado and we were almost home. We had been given gifts. There was like 20 joints, some THC gummy bears, and half of a brownie. There was no smoke in the van. Nobody was smoking. Our guitar player was driving, and we came over this hill and the speed limit changed as we came into this little town. They pulled us over. They pulled him out of the car and asked him what he was doing and he made the mistake of saying, ‘Oh we’re a band coming from Colorado and that’s Willie Nelson’s daughter.’ So all of a sudden they had more questions. They searched the van and found the gummy bears and the brownie in my purse and I ended up spending 10 hours in jail. They never even found the 20 joints, which was amazing, because they tore the van apart looking for the mother load. I found them the next day when I got out of jail. Yeah that was quite an ordeal.”
BV: Was it hard for you in the beginning of your music career to have the shadow of your dad hanging over you?
PN: “Yeah. It still is. Not so much with the expectations. My skin is not a thin as it used to be. I would take it kinda personally. I would pull up to a gig and in giant letters the marquee would say, ‘Willie Nelson’s daughter’ then in tiny letters it would say, ‘Paula Nelson.’ I would have people yelling, ‘Play on the Road Again’ and I wasn’t singing any of his songs, I was singing my own.”
Return Performances in Teller County?
BV: Are you still performing with a band?
PN: “We still are. We’re getting ready to do some recording. I haven’t been the last couple years because after that jail stint it kinda made me realize I want to be home with my animals. Being out for 6 or 7 weeks at a time away from my animals was just tough on me. I guess that’s part of the rain theme you asked about. That sadness of wanting to be home. I worked for 4 years at a local radio station here in Austin called Sun Radio. That was my first radio gig and then Sirius XM came along with my own show. Now I have contracts with Sirius XM doing the Outlaw Country show Monday through Friday. That’s Sirius XM channel 60 and then Monday through Thursday I’m on Willie’s Roadhouse on Sirius XM channel 59. Honestly I’m kind of enjoying the time off of the road.”
BV: The last time you performed here in the Woodland Park area, at the Crystola Roadhouse, was in April 2013. Are you planning to come back anytime?
PN: “I would love to. I’d really like to come back to the Crystola and The Little Bear in Evergreen with some new stuff we’re working on now in the studio. But I definitely haven’t given it up; I’m just taking a little time off.”
BV: Is there truth to an old story about Willie Nelson coming home drunk as a skunk one night. According to this story, he passed out on the couch and his first wife, Martha, sewed him up in a sheet and beat him repeatedly about the head and shoulders with a broom
PN: “That is a very true story. Martha was full blooded Cherokee. She would wait for him, because he would be out at the clubs playing till closing time. He’d always come in late and probably drunk and would pass out on the couch. She would get pissed. So the night that this happened she laid out a white sheet on the couch knowing that, like clockwork, when he came home he would hit the couch and pass out. Sure enough he did and she took a needle and thread and sewed up every bit of that sheet completely, like a little burrito (laughing) and then started beating him with a broom. Willie said, ‘When I woke up there was just these white things that hurt really bad.’ That was Martha. She was a really cool lady though. We all loved her. My mom and her were good friends.”