The Family is Willie Nelson's touring and recording group. Nelson, who did not manage through the 1960s to succeed as a singer, retired after the failure of his 1971 album Yesterday's Wine. The following year, he returned from retirement rejuvenated by the burgeoning music movement of Austin, Texas.
|Past members||Paul English|
In 1973, he formed a new backing band. The new lineup consisted of some of the members of his old road band "The Record Men," with the addition of new members. The original lineup included his sister, Bobbie, on the piano; drummer Paul English; harmonicist Mickey Raphael; bassist Bee Spears; and guitarist Jody Payne. The current lineup includes all the members but Jody Payne, who retired in 2008, Bee Spears, who died in 2011, and Paul English, who died in February 2020. Billy English joined in 1983 on percussion. Replacing Spears, Kevin Smith joined the band in 2012, and Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson joined in 2013 replacing Payne. Bobbie Nelson died in 2022.
The Record MenEdit
During the 1960s, while recording as an RCA Records artist, Nelson was backed in the studio by session musicians, while he also had a road band. In 1966, he formed a new lineup for his road band, consisting of Johnny Bush on guitar; Jimmy Day on the steel guitar; Paul English on drums; and David Zettner on bass. The band was originally named "The Offenders", but after it was rejected by the promoters, the name was changed to "The Record Men", after Nelson's single "Mr. Record Man". Zettner left the band in 1968 after he was drafted. He was replaced on the bass by his friend Bee Spears. While playing in the band, Johnny Bush also played as a solo act on the package of the Willie Nelson Show. After Zettner was discharged from the military he returned to the band, and Spears started to play for Bush. Bush left The Record Men to concentrate on his solo act a few months later. After a brief exit of Jimmy Day to play with Ray Price's Cherokee Cowboys, Paul English's older brother, Oliver, joined for nine months playing the steel guitar. In 1969 Jimmy Day and David Zettner returned, while Billy English, Paul English's younger brother, joined to play the drums.
By 1971, after nearly a decade with RCA, Nelson had no major success. Meanwhile, his latest album Yesterday's Wine failed to chart and to meet RCA expectations. Although his contract was not over, Nelson decided to retire because of the number of failures he had had.
Forming the FamilyEdit
He moved to Austin, Texas, where the burgeoning hippie music scene rejuvenated the singer. His popularity in Austin soared as he played his own brand of country music marked by country, folk and jazz influences. In 1972, Nelson's friend Darrell Royal, introduced him to harmonicist Mickey Raphael during a jam session. Nelson soon returned to the recording under a new contract with Atlantic Records. His sister Bobbie, who performed on piano in Nelson's band during his childhood throughout the Texas Honky-Tonk circuit, joined the band during the recording of Shotgun Willie. After Nelson's relationship with Jimmy Day became turbulent, due to his habitual drinking, and after he was shot by Paul English during a dispute, Day left shortly after recording Shotgun Willie. Nelson retired the steel guitar from his backing, using Raphael's harmonica to replace the steel guitar on the melody lines. He later also hired Merle Haggard's touring guitarist Jody Payne. The final lineup consisted of Bobbie Nelson (piano), Paul English (drums), Bee Spears (bass), Mickey Raphael (harmonica), and Jody Payne (guitar). The band that became known as the Family, performed together for the first time at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas, where they were acclaimed by the audience.
Rex Ludwig played drums with the band from 1976 to 1979, Chris Ethridge played bass from 1978-1982, and Grady Martin played guitar from 1979-1994. In 2012, Kevin Smith joined the band as the bassist after the death of Bee Spears earlier the same year. Smith had already backed Nelson on his 2009 album Willie and the Wheel. Willie & Family tours North America in the bio-diesel bus Honeysuckle Rose V, which is fueled by Bio-Willie.
- Willie Nelson – vocals, guitar (1973–present)
- Mickey Raphael – harmonica (1973–present)
- Billy English – drums, percussion (1975, 1983–present)
- Kevin Smith – double bass (2012–present)
- Micah Nelson - guitar, vocals (2022–present)
- Paul English – drums, percussion (1973–2020; his death)
- Bobbie Nelson – piano (1973–2022; her death)
- Bee Spears – bass (1973–2011; his death)
- Jody Payne – guitar, vocals (1973–2008; died 2013)
- Rex Ludwig – drums (1976–1979; died 2004)
- Chris Ethridge – bass (1978–1982; died 2012)
- Grady Martin – guitar (1979–1994; died 2001)
- Lukas Nelson – guitar, vocals (2013–2022)
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