Happy 80th birthday to Willie Nelson

photo by Scott Newton

We here at Austin City Limits TV would like to wish a very happy birthday to the one and only Willie Nelson, 80 years young today. Willie has, of course, a long history with ACL, beginning with our pilot episode in 1975 and continuing through multiple (and we mean multiple) headlining shows, songwriters specials and guest appearances. He’s a local, state and national treasure, and we hope he’s still twanging away on Trigger when he hits 100. Happy birthday, Willie!

Along with other friends and fans, Austin City Limits’ Executive Producer Terry Lickona recorded a special birthday message for the red-headed stranger, which you can see here.

Darrell K. Royal – in memoriam

Darrell K. Royal, published in the book Austin City Limits by Clifford Endres. Photographed in Studio 6A by Scott Newton.

We here at ACL were saddened to learn that legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell K. Royal passed away this morning at the age of 88. Not only was Royal the “winningest coach in University of Texas history,” as noted by the Austin-American Statesman, but he was also a longtime friend of Austin City Limits. He helped us grease the wheels with the many artists he knew personally, including Merle Haggard and George Jones. The “guitar pulls” at his house that featured his buddy Willie Nelson and veteran and up-and-coming writers inspired our Songwriters Specials. And we also remember him as being one of our most loyal fans. His friend Terry Lickona, ACL executive producer, had this to say:

“Darrell Royal – or just Coach, as we called him – was one of the best friends Austin City Limits had back in its early days. He would come to many, if not most, of the tapings in the original Studio 6A. In fact, we saved a special seat for him at practically every show, ‘just in case.’ It was in the corner of the back row of the middle bleacher, where everyone entering could see him and he could greet the fans as they came in. In fact, he actually helped us book Merle Haggard during Season 3, at a time when most major artists had never even heard of the show. He had a passion for music, especially songwriters, a quick wit, an iron-grip handshake and an ear-to-ear smile. There are few, if any, Austin icons like him left.”

Goodbye, Coach. May you rest in peace.

Coach and Willie Nelson at the Austin Opry House, 1977. Photo by Scott Newton. Copyright 1977 Scott Newton.

Encore: Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel

photo by Scott Newton

It goes like this: Willie Nelson starred in the pilot for Austin City Limits in 1975 and has appeared many times since. Asleep at the Wheel kicked the first episode proper in 1976 and is also a multiple headliner. Amazingly, they’ve rarely collaborated, despite being buddies for 40 years. So when these great Texas artists came together to record 2009’s fantastic Western swing tribute Willie and the Wheel, we had to have this explosion of musical chemistry on the show – especially since it coincided with our 35th anniversary.

Featuring great old tunes like “Right Or Wrong, ‘“Hesitation Blues” and “Fan It,” as well as a handful of Willie classics, the resulting episode has since become one of our all-time favorites. It’s a special show to our beloved audience as well, and we’re happy to present this encore episode. Tune in to your local PBS station this weekend, and you might want to push the furniture against the wall in case you’ve the urge to dance.

Go here for more details on this episode, and check in with our Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr pages for more ACL info and ephemera. Next week: M Ward and Okkervil River.