I recently took a trip to Houston, and while I was there, fourth-generation shirt maker, David Hamilton measured me for this custom Lyle Lovett for Hamilton Shirt. I’ll be sharing photos from the factory very soon, but I couldn’t wait to share the shirt.
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.
Thanks to a partnership with entertainment site The A.V. Club, Basil Hayden’s is putting me on the road to mix it up with fans of our bourbon and fans of their site. We call this tour “This is My….” Starting in Denver, we’ll be traveling to several cities across the country to document a collection of people in each city doing interesting things centered around a theme. Our theme for Denver was après ski, that time when you ditch your gear and curl up with some good food, good friends, a good movie, and a good cocktail (or two). Special thanks to Williams & Graham’s Chad Michael George for crafting the Red on the Rocks cocktail and to Winter Session’s Tanya Fleisher and Roy Katz for sharing their story and their space for our first event.
So incredibly stoked for my friend N’East Style’s Christine Mitchell Adams’ new site. Some of you may recall that when it was time for us to create the logo for Buckshot Sonny’s, Christine was our first call. When Basil Hayden’s asked me to create an image to go along with my title of “Cultural Bloodhound,” well, you know the rest. As she tells it, “99% of my commissions to date have been folks approaching me through word-of-mouth. With my new site, I will be promoting/pitching my illustration services for the first time. This is a big challenge for me since I hate talking about myself. But in doing so I hope to collaborate with a wider range of clients including individuals, brands, and editorials.”
Hopefully, you will consider Christine when it comes to you and your brand’s illustration needs. Oh, and while you’re at it, if you haven’t already, go ahead and bookmark her blog, N’East Style. Couldn’t be prouder of her.
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
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.