In 2008 Willie Nelson released a 4 CD Box set entitled “One Hell Of A Ride”. It’s a great historical perspective of Willie Nelson’s writing, choice of covers, recording career, etc… Mickey Raphael can be heard on a lot of it and contributed to the liner notes. He’s played with Willie Nelson for 39 years. Personally I love his playing and I always look forward to hearing him whenever a Willie Nelson album comes out.
Q: Michael Bloomfield said something like “even if Paul Butterfield was a tuna fish sandwich he could still play the blues”… In other words, it didn’t matter what color he was or what his background was, Butterfield was a blues player. I’m a huge fan of those early Paul Butterfield albums… Growing up, what player knocked your socks off and is there a story that goes with it?
A: I always loved Paul Butterfield. His tone and phrasing were like nobody I’ve ever heard. In the mid 80s I was spending a lot of time in LA and Leon Russell took me to see Paul play at the Roxy. Paul was doing a gig with Gary Busey and Rick Danko.
He was amazing and I finally got to meet one of my idols.
A year or so after that I was in new York and Paul called me up and wanted me to come downtown and hang out. I ended up taking him to Miles Davis’s 60th birthday party and after we just cruised the streets of New York jamming on the harmonica with the notes just bouncing off the tall buildings till wee hours of the night.
Q: You’re heard on Motley Crue’s “Smoking In The Boys Room” and you’ve played with artists like Neil Young, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Emmylou Harris, just to name a few. Is there anyone living or dead that you’d like to collaborate with?
A: I’d love to do something with Paul Simon. I played a couple of songs with him at the Ryman in Nashville last June. It was an amazing experience and we have kept in touch since then.
Q: What was the most challenging album you recorded with Willie Nelson?
A: We recorded Teatro with Daniel Lanois and he said everyone pick an instrument that’s not your main one. I used the bass harmonica which I dont play all the time so it was a challenge.
Q: What’s the secret to playing with Willie Nelson this long?
A: Can’t hit a moving target
Q: I know your schedule keeps you busy, but it’s been years since you released a solo album… Do you plan to release another one sometime soon and who have you been recording with lately?
A: I’ve been writing a little with Joey Burns from Calexico. We have 5 tunes half finished. I carry the hard drive with me on the road and when I run into muso friends I have them play on it. Bill Evans who played soprano with miles just played on one tune.
Q: You seem very involved with the Willie Nelson Catalog. Your efforts on the box set and your involvement with the Naked Willie album, where you “unproduced” some of the early RCA recordings from the
late 60’s are two recent examples… What other projects might fans hear?
A: We are searching for live recordings of the Highwaymen which might turn into a future project.
Q: Do you have any Bob Dylan stories from the Willie Nelson / Bob Dylan Ballpark tour?
I’m such a fan of Bob and his harp playing. While we were on tour he loaned me a bunch of DVDs of some of the old blues greats. Little Walter, sonny boy Williamson , howling wolf and a copy of the tv game show ” to tell the truth” with Paul Butterfield as a guest.
Bob was also a great inspiration for me.