This is perfect.
There are any number of adages about walking in another man’s shoes one could apply as a means of introducing the story of Willie Nelson’s New Balance shoes. I assure you Mr. Nelson himself has a handful of lyrics that would lend themselves nicely to such an introduction. Instead, I’d like to begin by explaining how I came upon this post.
My twin uncles Mark and Matt were two of the first guys I idolized as a little kid. My dad’s younger brothers were cool. Artists with a passion for hunting elk, there’s this story they tell of Hank Williams, Jr. offering to buy one of their bronze statues of an elk or of a cowboy on a bucking bronco or something like that. My first memories of Willie Nelson are wrapped around hearing his voice pour forth from factory-issued speakers while my legs dangled from the front bench of one of my uncles’ pick-up trucks.
Since then, Mr. Nelson’s music has been a part of mine and my family’s life — a part I largely disregarded until I re-discovered his brilliant songs in early adulthood.
Then there’s the running. Growing up, I recall sneaking around in my dad’s closet and finding this old pair of blue New Balance 320s which he told me he wore when he ran 5ks and 10ks in the 1970s. Around the time of my dad’s running exploits, Willie Nelson left Nashville in a cloud of dust (among other things) and returned to his home state of Texas, and threw his sizable, embellished ten-gallon-hat into the ring of the burgeoning singer-songwriter movement beginning to crest there. And underway was this massive running boom. The hippies were hitting the trails with nothing but a bandana around their heads, some fitted shorts and simple, synthetic and leather shoes on their feet. And with a relentless tour schedule (Mr. Nelson has a song about it. Maybe you’ve heard it.) taking its toll, Willie Nelson found running — or perhaps better stated, running found Willie Nelson.
“For a health kick, I ain’t on one. But… I find that running makes me feel better. It had gotten to the point where I was killing myself at night, so I had to do something in the daytime to make up for it. Now that I run, I don’t stay out as late as I did. I don’t drink much anymore, and I don’t even smoke cigarettes…. It’s not that I’m all that strong willed. It’s just that when you’re done running five miles you don’t want a drink or cigarette. All you want to do is flatten out,” courtesy of Texas Girl, December, 1979.
“More than once, I’ve gone jogging in a town I don’t know and had to knock on a stranger’s door and ask directions to get back to where I started.” from the Tao of Willie.
Running became such an integral part of Mr. Nelson’s life that he began to run races. For a time, at his Pedernales Country Club outside Austin, he hosted the “Willie Nelson Distance Classic.” I was lucky enough to find a vintage t-shirt online from the race that was held in June of 1980. According to one source at the time, “More than 1,000 runners entered the race which Nelson hopes to make an annual event. Nelson (47) finished the hilly 6.2 mile course in one hour, seven minutes and 45 seconds.”
And I’m surprised his running/golf hybrid game has not as yet taken off.
“Willie is very big on fitness and the fact that he is still putting in the miles on the road and working around the clock lends some fact to this. He used to enter road races and I’m not sure if he invented a golf game for fitness folks, but it is different than the one we watch on television. The winner is the person that can run 18 holes the fastest and by adding the number of strokes and the running time determines the winner. Fastest runner with the fewest strokes is the winner and gets to buy the beer.” from Moe Johnson of the San Marcos Record.
And though, early on in his running life, Willie Nelson wore the same 320s my dad wore, as can be seen in this photo from inside the fold of the 1978 album Willie Nelson and the Family Live and on the cover of 1981’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow, at some point he discovered the unparalleled comfort and durability of the 496, a walking shoe. On a recent trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, I took an abundance of detailed photos of a pair of Mr. Nelson’s custom 496s currently on display in the lobby.
And earlier in the year, I reached out with some questions to the folks at New Balance, who were kind enough to humor me with the following statement.
We make them at our Lawrence, Massachusetts manufacturing facility. We knew Willie was a New Balance fan so when we were presented with the chance to work with him on a running event in Austin, Texas with one of our retailers to benefit Farm Aid – it was a great opportunity. I believe it might have also been timed to our newfound ability to do personalized embroidery at our factory in Lawrence when we added new machinery – which was around that same time. Our manufacturing team members have enjoyed making Willie his 496 New Balance shoes and over the years have added different special embroidery elements on them such as a guitar or his name or Farm Aid. – Amy Dow, New Balance
Thanks to Ms. Dow at New Balance, to Linda Lee Banks, the author of the authoritative Willie Nelson fan site, Still is Still Moving, to my good friend Adam Geremia, author of the inspiring Tumblr which explores that early running boom, They Call Us The Seekers, and to those of you who found your way to the end of this lengthy headlong dive into the world of Willie Nelson’s footwear choice. I saw this as something of a tribute to this year’s running of the Boston Marathon and to Mr. Nelson as he approaches his 81st birthday at the end of this month. If you’re still hungry for more, there are plenty of photos in this Flickr album that didn’t make the cut. Let’s end it with some inspiring thoughts from the man himself.
“I just try to exercise. I try to do enough in the morning to make up for what I did, detrimentally, the night before. I try to make it even out, but you know, we don’t live the greatest lifestyles out here traveling on the road and eating whatever we can get a hold of. So, any kind of exercise we can do daily is good, and I try to get in a run or a bike ride or something every day.”
“I enjoy running around Austin. I enjoy going downtown and running on the rivers and lakes down there, and you see just loads and loads of people doing it every single day. There’s not a more beautiful place to run and Austin has so many great roads and trails.” – Willie Nelson, courtesy of Still is Still Moving.
The tires couldn’t spin fast enough as I pulled out of Kentucky. Just after loading up on coffee and chocolate chip cookies at Please & Thank You, my favorite record-store-cum-bakery-and-café, I headed north on a course made of winding country roads, and headed for home. And then, a strange thing happened. Somewhere in Southern Indiana, where I spent four years of a college education mostly trying to outdrive my youth, I was stopped dead in my tracks, staring at a horse that — no kidding — I’d met before.
While in college, I’d ride a bicycle all over these backroads, sometimes with a buddy, but mostly alone, usually around 50 miles at a clip, but sometimes up to a century or more. When I could, I rode longer on a sunny Sunday not unlike the one I was experiencing. I’d pack a portable CD player with a fresh mix of tunes I’d compiled that week, and I’d stuff it in my jersey pocket, along with a few Powerbars and a carrot or two for sustenance. And every now and then, I’d stumble onto this horse.
Magical. It was a mottled white horse with a big black birthmark and bit of gray at the tip of his snout. If I hadn’t already scarfed it down, I’d pull the carrot from my pocket and gently call for the horse. Well, on this road trip, I didn’t have a carrot, but I did have a camera. Felt wrong to steal so many photos of someone’s pride-and-joy. And yet, I marveled that I didn’t recall doing it before, while in college. After dealing with that, I called for the horse, and we spent about five minutes reconnecting as though not a day had passed.
Finding that horse, more than a decade on, put me in an altogether contemplative mood, and so as I revved the car’s engine, I was transported back to a time when things were simpler, when life was ahead of me — rather than all around me. I remember those bike rides fondly, the inner dialogue I’d have with myself, thinking I had to figure everything out right then and there, on this county route. I was hell-bent on solving all life’s problems. And so it was, while driving a rental car from Louisville to Chicago, I had the wild notion to create the perfect playlist for a meandering drive through some Indiana backroads. What follows is the fruits of that labor. These are songs I’ve been listening to virtually nonstop since that fateful day last fall. They took me — quite literally — from Louisville to Chicago, with several stops to revisit old haunts, old memories, old loves. It’s my hope you’ll take these tunes and apply them to your own slow and introspective road trip. And maybe, as I’ve found, you won’t even need the road for the rumination.
1) Harry Jackson – Morning Grub-Holler
2) Marion Summer – Lost Indian
3) Willie Nelson – Whiskey River (Live at the Texas Opry House)
4) Rory Block, Stefan Grossman – Crow Jane
5) Paul Simon – Rewrite
6) Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell – Bluebird Wine
7) Rodney Crowell – Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight
8) Emmylou Harris – New Cut Road (Live)
9) Guy Clark – Come From the Heart
10) Ryan Adams – Lucky Now (Live)
11) Lyle Lovett – Loretta
12) John Prine – That’s The Way The World Goes Round
13) Fleetwood Mac – Never Going Back Again
14) Levon Helm – Kingfish
15) Aretha Franklin – Good Times
16) Aretha Franklin – The House That Jack Built
17) Wilson Pickett – Toe Hold
18) Jerry Reed – Amos Moses
19) Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose – Treat Her Like a Lady
20) Jackson 5 – Doctor My Eyes
21) Lee Dorsey – Yes We Can
22) Jeff Lynee – Mercy, Mercy
23) Don Covay – I’ll Be Satisfied
24) The Meters – Here Comes The Meter Man
25) Eddie Harris – Get On Up And Dance
26) The Silvertones – True Confession
27) Clifton Chenier – One Step At A Time
28) Richard Berry – Louie, Louie
29) Ornette Coleman – Ramblin’
30) The Doc Watson Family – Down the Road
31) Lucinda Williams – Ramblin’ on My Mind
32) Dwight Yoakam – Nothing’s Changed Here (Acoustic)
33) Dwight Yoakam – Train In Vain
34) 7Horse – Meth Lab Zoso Sticker
35) Steve Earle – Hometown Blues
36) Bobby Horton – Dogue Creek
37) J.J. Cale – Golden Ring
38) John Martyn – May You Never
39) Marvin Gaye – Need Your Lovin’ (Want You Back)
40) Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott, John Prine – Paradise
41) Eric Clapton – That’s No Way To Get Along
42) Lane Hardin – Hard Time Blues
43) Dave Van Ronk – St. Louis Tickle
1) Waylon Jennings – Gold Dust Woman
2) Little Feat – Roll Um Easy
3) The Band – Atlantic City
4) John Mayer – Call Me The Breeze
5) Heartless Bastards – Only For You
6) Allah-Las – Long Journey
7) Willie Nelson & Tom Petty – Goodnight Irene
8) Rodney Crowell – When the Blue Hour Comes
9) Linda Ronstadt – I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
10) The Soul Searchers & Jake Wade – Searching For Soul – Pt. 1
11) Average White Band – Your Love Is A Miracle
12) Funkadelic – Can You Get To That
13) The Impressions – Fool For You
14) Tony Joe White – Hard to Handle
15) The Shouting Matches – Seven Sisters
16) Joe Cocker – Living in the Promiseland
17) Feist, Constantines – Islands in the Stream
18) David Byrne – I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Live on Austin City Limits)
19) The Be Good Tanyas – When Doves Cry
20) Dottie West – Last Time I Saw Him
21) Barbara Lynn – You’ll Lose A Good Thing
22) Irma Thomas – Ruler of My Heart
23) Jackie Moore – Precious, Precious
24) Freddie King – Going Down
25) Minutemen – Cohesion
26) Glen Hansard – Drive All Night (featuring Eddie Vedder & Jake Clemons)
27) Billy Bragg – Swallow My Pride
28) Willie Nelson – Night Life (Live)
29) Little Feat – On Your Way Down
30) Neil Young – Don’t Let It Bring You Down (Live at The Cellar Door)
31) Neil Young – See The Sky About To Rain (Live at The Cellar Door)
32) Dr. John – Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
33) The Coasters – Down in Mexico
34) Shovels & Rope – Hail Hail
35) John Mellencamp – Paper in Fire
36) Roscoe Holcomb – In the Pines
37) The Blind Boys of Alabama w. Justin Vernon – Every Grain of Sand
38) Bruce Springsteen – Pony Boy
39) Robert Parker – Barefootin’
40) Derek & The Dominos – Blues Power (Live for The Johnny Cash Show)
41) Eric Clapton – Double Trouble
42) Genuine Spares – Proper Stranger
43) Sophie Zelmani – Most of the Time
44) Neil Young – Pardon My Heart
45) Johnny Thunder – Teach Me Tonight
46) Otis Redding – It’s Too Late
47) Johnny Cash – Wayfaring Stranger
48) The Dominoes – Sixty Minute Man
49) Lester Young, Nat King Cole, Buddy Rich – I Cover The Waterfront – Take Two
50) Wayne Shorter – Deluge
51) Wayne Shorter – House of Jade
52) Ry Cooder – Dark End of the Street
53) Jeff Beck – Sleepwalk
54) Levon Helm – Anna Lee
55) John Martyn – Over the Hill
56) Willie Nelson – I’d Have to Be Crazy (featuring Steven Fromholz)
57) Richard Strauss – Four Songs, Op. 27: IV. Morgen
58) Fred McDowell – Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning
Today marks the launch of The Collective Quarterly, a travel magazine told from the perspective of a group of creative individuals brought together to collaborate with one another. Each issue focuses on a single locale: its people, places, and things. For those who have traveled to the place in question, the hope is that fresh surroundings will stoke the creative fire, infusing their work with elements of their discoveries while on the trip. For the locals featured, the hope is chiefly to be inspired by them, and secondarily, humbly, in their meeting this motley crew of writers, artists, artisans, and photographers, it may trigger in them a desire to further explore the potentials within their own craft. Pouring together this unique combination, reading about how it has come together in the pages of the publication, we think readers will aspire to more deeply explore their own passions.
I’m proud to have been asked to help with the creation of this publication from some of its earliest stages by its founders — photographer Jay Gullion, illustrator Jesse Lenz, and writer Seth J. Putnam — prouder still to have been asked to participate and have my work featured in this, Issue Ø.
The beta run of The Collective Quarterly is focused on the city of Marfa, Texas and its surrounding area. While on the trip we slept in tipis and vintage trailers, crossed the border in a row boat, learned some life lessons from our mezcal-swigging barkeeps, and garnered an inside look at the work of a number of the town’s artists and artisans. You’ll have to buy a copy and read all about it.
You’ll notice The Collective Quarterly is more than just a magazine. There is also a retail component featuring a collection of products made by members of the collective and inspired by the trip. As future issues develop, they will dive deeper into the creation of those products, documenting the people responsible for them and the sui generis story that lead to their creation. For issue Ø, Faribault Woolen Mill’s John Mooty made a blanket inspired by the colors of the wide skies of West Texas. That blanket was then incorporated into the manufacture of a backpack and a quilted vest.
In wrapping up, I thought it best to share the story of how I came to become involved with this incredible group. At one of our regular bar stool elbow-rubbings, one of my closest friends Seth Putnam asked me what I knew about Marfa. When I explained that — coincidentally — I had been planning a trip there with Basil Hayden’s in tow, he recruited me to help launch this ship on its maiden voyage, and thus began the process of reaching out to other shipmates — some of our favorite people, local folks in Marfa, clothing brands, clothing stores, advertisers, and other participants. That was followed by a crazy week-long stay in one of the most inspiring places I’ve ever been, and followed again by months of work on the part of all involved. Now, nine months later, Seth’s baby is born… well, Seth’s, Jay’s, and Jesse’s: Three Men and a Baby. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Collective Quarterly.
The issue is for sale here.
Chris Mantz of Drift Eyewear
John Mooty of Faribault Woolen Mill
Kevin Russ, Photographer
Duncan Wolfe, Photographer and Filmmaker
My newest holiday tradition: watching The Johnny Cash Christmas Show, circa 1977.
Thanks to the National Film Preservation Foundation, I discovered a 1935 reprint of the original 1920 film, “Birth of a Hat” an industrial short about, and sponsored by, the John B. Stetson Company.
From the press materials: “Within ten years of its founding, Stetson developed the widely popular ‘Boss of the Plains’ hat, the inaugural model of the now-traditional cowboy hat. By the early 1900s, Stetson hats were the most popular in the American Southwest, and the company operated the largest hat factory in the world, with 5,400 employees, in Philadelphia.”
From Grace’s profile, “While on a hunting trip he learned that an old homestead in the Ventana Wilderness was being put up for auction by the estate of a childless heiress. He put a bid on the property and won. On the land he built a small cabin using materials from the land and milling trees by hand. When his wife passed away, Jack effectively left “society” and moved to the cabin full time.”
He continues to make repairs to the cabin, chop wood, hunt, and make violin bows, a simple life for a contented man.
I deeply appreciate a profile such as this. It is a solid reminder that it really can be a good life.
I am an athlete. I’m fairly tall, but you wouldn’t want me on your basketball team. I suck at offense and though I’m a fierce defender, I’d probably foul out in the first half. I’ve got a sweet swing, but I’ll hit one in one hundred pitches, which — for those of you keeping score at home, is the worst batting average humanly possible. I can show you how to throw a decent spiral, but throw a bigger dude on top of me, and I’m a complete wuss. And, yeah, I can kick and kind of dribble, and I can block a pass, and I’ve owned several pairs of shinguards, and I can skate and handle a puck just fine, but not well enough to matter much to you or your stinking team. It still burns when I think about getting picked last in the soccer games played at gym and recess, or in the cul de sac roller hockey game. My own best friend once betrayed me, choosing our sworn enemy before me in order to improve his chances. Turns out, my team won, and that friend and I were never as close again. I digress.
I play individual sports. I was recruited to swim in college. My friends will tell you, throw a pair of skis on me, and I’ll dance down the mountain. And I never feel as free as I do when I’m on my bicycle. Which leads me to James Wilson’s most recent post on Secret Forts.
“Writing a piece on my relationship to cycling. Feels like it’s something you’d write. Like I’m channeling you somehow.”
I got this text last night from James.
“Send it to me,” I wrote back.
He sent it.
“May I edit it?”
I didn’t do too much to it: fixed some late night spelling errors, removed several erroneous parenthetical remarks (dude loves him some parentheses). It’s precisely the kind of thing I would write. Obsessive. Meandering. It’s a road trip by bicycle. It’s something I think we can all relate to, and I’m happy to see that James is writing again. Hope you find it as inspiring as I did.
Photos of my current bicycle come courtesy of Sheldon Brown’s Retro Raleighs page.