Memories with Willie is a post that Kenneth wrote many years ago when he came across an article about Willie Nelson and his guitar, Trigger, and it evoked something in him. Read on for another excellent piece of writing by Kenneth.
Memories with Willie | by Kenneth Foster Jr.
In my 16 years of incarceration there isn’t much under the sun that I haven’t written about. From rainbows to apartheid, from death row to I-pods, I’ve thought about it all and documented these thoughts.
There is an old cliché that goes- “You learn something new every day”- so I really shouldn’t be surprised when I do. But, often I am.
I have a subscription to the magazine Texas Monthly, and while I shouldn’t be so crazy about the State (“it” once tried to kill me!), I think it’s a beautiful State with a lot of stuff in it. So, I enjoy learning about this State that I really got to see little of my 19 years of freedom.
In the December issue (Volume 40/Issue 12) I came across a really great article about Willie Nelson. And how he came to own his guitar of 43 years, Trigger. I’ve known about Willie Nelson for many years, but I have never read a story about the man.
Sure, I’ve heard about how the man loves his cannabis sativa and went to jail for possession of it at the Sierra Blance checkpoint, but other than that the life of this legend and icon has been oblivious to me. My loss, because the man is a whirlwind of history that includes weathering divorce, the IRS, a son’s suicide, 10,000 shows and even a song with rapper Snoop Dogg.
However, none of it is more powerful or special than his bond with his guitar that was more than an instrument and probably closer than any family member. It is an extension of himself. There is a loyalty there unfounded.
And loyalty moves me, because we human beings seem to lack this trade a lot. Be it to a spouse, a project or sometimes our very own selves we have lost the grasp of beauty and loyalty. Perhaps it’s because people think loyalty is one-way street. They think it’s about giving only.
However, if something has been worthy enough to receive loyalty then there will always be a returned factor, because if it was worthy enough to receive loyalty then it surely knows how to return it.
Loyalty is as much an emotion as it is an action. Just like love. So, we are often loyal to things like the brands we eat, the brands we wear, a piece of jewelry passed down, dogs over cats, etc. And that is what prompts this writing, because I know a similar loyalty.
As odd as it may be, like Willie, it’s not a person, but something my hand has touched everyday over the last 15 years- my type writer. Before you shake your head, it can be not stranger than Willie and Trigger.
Trigger is a Martin N-20 classical made of sitka spruce. Brazilian rosewood, ebony from Africa, mahogany from the Amazon basin and brass tuning pegs from Germany all put together at the Martin guitar factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. It’s not hard to tell how such a fine specimen captured Willie’s heart. In 1969 their journey began. And what a journey it was. Once this union was consummated it was a bond to be unbroken and also unmatched.
Together, Willie and Trigger has played with everyone from country legend Toby Keith to jazz classicist like Wynton Marsalis. They’ve shared stages with Ray Charles and Boy Dylan and even serenaded President Jimmy Carter but, like any love affair such toil came with a high price. After much blood, sweat and beers Trigger began to show as much wear and tear as his owner.
“Next to the bridge is a giant maw, a gaping hole that looks like it was created by someone swinging a hammer.” It came about from the years and years of Willie’s pinky and ring finger digging into the woods as he played. This led to trigger getting semi-annual physicals where he was cleaned, reconstructed and lacquered. Nothing was too good for Trigger because as one of Willie’s crew stated, “When the guitar can’t go one, he won’t go one”.
I can relate! Though only emotionally. Since I came into the system I have kept a type writer in my possession. It is an ultimate assistant and a fight for freedom. To be able to sit down and produce masses of words (and copies for that matter) in mere seconds is a tool to not go without for a freedom fighter. And just as Willie would pour his time and energy into his guitar, we freedom fighters do the same.
We lack some of the luxuries that Willie possesses. We cannot have high maintenance work done on our machines. Once they break, if you are to buy a new one, you must discard the old one. You cannot open your typewriter. That is looked at as destruction on state property, as disciplinary case. You must walk as carefully as possible to preserve your machine.
In 16 years, I have been through many storms- shake downs, transfers to other units, vigorous cell searches that resulted in my type writer being taken and banged up. Over 16 years I’ve had approximately five different typewriters.
Nevertheless, I feel emotionally the same for all of them. They were tools that walked with me when I began writing poetry, when I started my first website, Facebook, when I chronicled the struggle of my life, and even when I wrote my letter to Governor Rick Perry asking him to spare my life. It has been a tool of utter relevance.
More than that- these keys have led me to gates of relief. When I’m trying to find my way through these dark tunnels I can put my headphones on, tune into some good music and get lost in my own world. As the tapping goes, so does my imagination. I drift, I dream, I envision. I feel the essence of humanity flowing through my fingers reminding me that I am more than #1451768 and a life sentence.
Everything wasn’t always smooth sailing for Willie and Trigger either. At least twice Willie had to resort to physical measures to take Trigger away from the people who had scooped him up in violation of etiquette.
Then on close calls—like when federal agents invaded Willie’s Pedernales ranch over-looked his most prize possession (Trigger was sitting on Willie’s bus, parked just down the road from the main house)- Willie had his daughter mail it to him in Hawaii. The things we do for what we love!
Willie exclaimed that “Trigger’s like me. Old and beat up.” Not long ago I had to come to terms with a similar fate. One day while having a “moment” on the ol’ Royal Throne I looked down at my right leg. I have never noticed the dark, rough patch that was right above my right knee. It was blackened and no hair grew there. Almost mystified I rubbed it and noticed how rough it was. I had not noticed the extent this patch had worn. Then it dawned upon me how it had happened.
When I type I have a habit of sitting with my left leg over my right. This patch had formed from years of sitting that way while I typed. I shook my head. It saddened me. Not because of the formulation of it, but that I have never noticed it! In many ways that is troubling. For my mind to be so locked in on something to when I overlooked harm to myself.
Willie did something similar with his tuning pegs. As one of the crew members explained- “The old man’s got this nervous habit. After playing songs he would fidget with the D-string peg, turning it up and down, which was ruining the gear and the D-string kept breaking.” Willie had no idea he was doing this. Hopefully Willie has stopped.
I’m in rehabilitation and have to make conscious efforts to tell myself to not cross my leg. Like Willie when he tried to change the way his strap attached to his guitar – his strap around his neck, down under the guitar, then clipped to the bottom of the rim (because it had placed a knot on his neck) – to moving the strap where it wasn’t around his neck.
He couldn’t do it that way. Willie hated it because “it changed the whole balance of the guitar.” At 79, I figure Willie says to hell with it. But, I’m a little younger so I’m going to stop what I know can be stopped before it gets any worse.
From a colossal musician to a 16-year convict it’s mind blowing the ties that can bind two different human beings. Beyond bars where noise bangs from the steel doors and the gates to bars where tunes blares out of an old rickety juke box, we’re all just people trying to make our way and find some love in the process.
Whether it’s with Susie or Old Yella, Trigger or a Clear Tech CT TW 100, may peace and happiness descend upon you. Because as Willie found out with Trigger, and I found out with Ol’ Faithful here, there’s nothing more rewarding than something you can put loyalty into and get it right back. Amen!
It’s almost that time again….October 22, 2021 is Rise Kenneth Foster Birthday. Birthdays have been one of the hardest times for Kenneth because it’s not only another year behind bars, but another year away from his beautiful daughter Nydesha. This year we’ve decided to do something BIG. We are doing another drawing BUT this one will have 3 winners. This drawing is to show love to Kenneth and raise money to pay for legal representation. (organized by Rise Kenneth Foster)
Click on the photo to enter the raffle.
Amazon disclaimer: as an Amazon associate I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. This helps me maintain my website.