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Nelson Vows He'll Be 'Regular Willie' for 2 Hours at Arts Plaza : The legendary performer brings his band for pair of Thousand Oaks concerts. Fellow Texan Billy Joe Shaver opens.


It's hard to imagine a better choice to bring country music to the new Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza than country legend, Willie Nelson. Considered by many to be one of the founding fathers of country music, Nelson has more than 100 albums to his credit.

In 1992 he received the Academy of Country Music's Pioneer Award, and the following year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Opening for Nelson on Sunday and Wednesday evenings will be fellow Texas singer-songwriter, Billy Joe Shaver, whose tunes have been covered by Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, John Anderson and Nelson himself. And "Honky Tonk Heroes,"--an entire album of Shaver's songs recorded by Jennings--is often cited as the album that launched the "outlaw" movement in country music.

In the accompanying photo, Nelson may look more like Cole Porter than a country music outlaw, but don't let the get-up fool you.

The swank image is for his new compact disc, "Healing Hands of Time," a lushly arranged, romantic album of standards on the EMI/Liberty label, which was recorded with a 60-piece orchestra and a hot, Nashville country band.

As his major label follow-up to last year's critically acclaimed "Across the Borderline" CD, Nelson has moved in a new direction. This latest release--featuring timeless classics by American songwriters including Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein and Nelson himself--beautifully showcases the popular side of Willie-as-standards-crooner.

But during our phone interview last week, the Redheaded Stranger from Abbot, Tex., told me there will be no tuxes or orchestras on the Civic Auditorium stage. "It'll be a regular Willie--two hours," he said. "I'll have my band. And I'll sing everything I can think of."

And here's what else the writer of "Crazy," "Angel Flyin' Too Close to the Ground" and "On the Road Again," had to say:

This new album of standards has gone full circle from your 1978 record, "Stardust." How did you choose the songs?

When you say I recorded standards--and six of 'em are mine--that's a nice feeling to have my songs along with "All the Things You Are," by Jerome Kern, and "If I Had My Way,"--which is copyrighted back in 1913.

Three of mine were requested by Jimmy Bowen, the producer. They were "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Crazy," and "Night Life." So naturally I said yes to those. And the rest of 'em we set down and talked about 'cuz we were lookin' for the romantic-type theme.

The tone is very nostalgic, meditative.

And there is a sort of concept that runs through it. A relationship ends and begins and ends and begins and ends (laughs) and so on, all the way through. And "The Healing Hands of Time" is sort of the theme that flows through it.

To extend that to your personal life, if I may: You've lived life like a country song with the career ups, downs, the marriages . . . you do have kind of a reputation.

(Chuckles) I know it.

And you can tell in the album that you're tracing the seasons of one's life and relationships. But after reading the article about you in the September-October issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, I think your real love affair has been the lifelong one with the acoustic guitar.

Oh, yeah. I would definitely agree with that--that my best girlfriend I guess has always been my guitar.

Your country guitar style using nylon strings is instantly recognizable. So is your voice. And I think you're known more as a singer-songwriter. But if you had to choose only one area, which would it be?

I'd rather play the guitar because you never learn all there is to know about playing the guitar--neither do you about performing or singing or writing. But the guitar is my favorite instrument. And I could stay with it forever and learn a little bit every day.

As a former deejay, what's your opinion about the radio stations that only play hot, new country music?

Well, everything always travels in cycles. And there is this particular trend these days where--if you're over 40, if (the song is) over five years old or whatever--then you don't get on the play list. But I still think that time will change all those rules. There's still enough traditional country fans out there to revolt against that type of thinking. And I think it'll show up in their ratings. It'll hit 'em in the pocketbook. And they'll eventually get back to adding a little bit. I'm not saying, "Turn it all over to the old guys." But I'm not saying, "Turn it all over to the new ones," either. I think there's room to mix it up.

So what's next for you?

I have some ideas for a concept album that I'm working on. We just recorded a new "Highwaymen" album in L.A. with Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash, that's due out next March. And we did a documentary film about that album.

Can we expect any surprises from those projects?

(Laughs) I guess the biggest surprise is that we're all four still around.


* WHO: Willie Nelson.

* WHERE: Civic Arts Plaza Auditorium, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks.

* WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

* HOW MUCH: $47, $37, $27.

* FYI: Civic Arts Plaza box office, 449-2787, or TicketMaster, 583-8700.

* ETC: Opening act, Billy Joe Shaver and his band.

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