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Free Willie

A gospel album on a Denver record label is the latest step in the rehabilitation of Willie Nelson's career.

"One thing I learned is that if it's good, it's not going away. Songs like the Stardust album, some of the stuff on the Red Headed Stranger album, the George Jones stuff, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams. That stuff hasn't gone anywhere."

And Nelson keeps going, and going, and going. His touring schedule has hardly slackened in decades, and he's in the midst of planning this year's edition of Farm Aid, scheduled to take place October 12 in Columbia, South Carolina. As usual, the bill juxtaposes Nelson and other country stars with rockers like Neil Young and John Mellencamp. According to Nelson, "We want to have all aspects of music and people there as much as possible. We want to do rock and roll and country together so that we can represent all the farmers."

Does he enjoy this kind of mix? "Oh, I enjoy mixing it up in just about any part of life," he confirms, his words accented by a well-placed cackle. "I enjoy putting things together and seeing it all work. I enjoy seeing 100,000 people coming together in one place and getting along and clapping their hands and singing along, whether it's to 'How Great Thou Art' or 'We Don't Smoke Marijuana in Muskogee' or 'Whiskey River.'

"All three of those songs are just as positive to me. Because I think all music is gospel.

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