Willie Nelson bio author Joe Nick Patoski: The Extended Interview

In his own words, “Texans by nature are independent, free-thinkers, open, outgoing and friendly.” That sentence certainly describes Joe Nick Patoski, whose recent work chronicling Texan ambassador Willie Nelson (Willie Nelson: An Epic Life) has been met with rave reviews. Joe Nick might be the only author (certainly the only one who’s written for Rolling Stone and Texas Monthly) holding book signings at Poodie’s Hilltop Bar in Spicewood, but he’s also someone who’s spent a good deal of time during his fifty-five years in Texas in and around Austin and parts related. So naturally Yelp Austin’s own Kevin N asked him about some of his favorite spots.

KN: It would stand to reason that you wrote most of An Epic Life from home (either symbolically or literally). But this area’s full of places where one might sit down and work on the next great novel or bio. Where do you head to fire up your creative juices?

JNP: I go immerse myself in the Blanco River, then retreat to my hidey hole of an office, which once upon a time was the laundry room. My friend Kevin Phinney wrote his book Souled American at a Starbucks. While it would appear cool to be out in public, writing, that ain’t me, babe. I prefer showing my bidness in public when it’s done.

KN: Let’s talk food. You’ve been on record as a pretty enthusiastic BBQ supporter. Where do you go out of your way to sample some?

JNP: I dig ‘cue. I’ll go out of the way just about anywhere to sample some. Kansas City is a great BBQ town and so is Memphis. But generally, I know that to sample anywhere else outside of Texas requires a little bit of caveat emptor. Anywhere inside the Central Texas BBQ belt which stretches from Llano to Mason to Junction to Pleasanton to Halletsville to Taylor, and especially around Luling and Lockhart, is worth exploring. In my book the best barbecue in Texas is at Luling City Market although the Luling Barbecue across 183 is pretty great too. Smitty’s, Louie Mueller’s, Cooper’s in Mason are also at the top of my list. Then again, I think I smoke the best pork ribs in Texas although my beef brisket needs more practice.

KN: It’s got to be hard to cover musicians without ultimately conjuring an opinion about the best places to see them play. Where are your favorite venues to see a great show?

JNP: Best places to see a show? Someone’s living room, a tiny club, the Broken Spoke, the Continental, Red Rocks in Denver, Carnegie Hall.

KN: One of the best things about living in Central Texas is being able to show visitors around. When you have out of towners in, where do you head?

JNP: Momma was a travel agent and I guess it’s in my blood because I love showing folks around the area. I usually try to size up their interests first, but if I’m doing Austin, the Capitol, the University (Ransom Center, LBJ Library), Barton Springs, Threadgill’s South (for the music history), Mt. Bonnell and Mayfield Park, the Spoke, Barton Creek (when it’s running).and the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture are on the itinerary. Outside of the city, I enjoy showing off West Cave Preserve, Hamilton Pool (not the ugly ass development springing up around it), the Ladybird Wildflower Center, Wimberley, the Blanco Bowling Club and Fischer Hall. How far out do you want to go?

KN: It’s also a gas to uncover new and cool places that most folks haven’t caught onto just yet. Know of any hidden gems?

JNP: Yes I do, and I’m not about to share them or they won’t be hidden anymore. I spent much of my 22 years in Austin hyping the city to friends out of town. After what’s transpired, I apologize. I’ve learned to keep the really special spots to myself.

KN: With all the love you’ve been receiving on this book, have you sorted out what your next project’s going to be? Clifford Antone? Leslie? Just kidding. But really, who?

JNP: Clifford talked to me about helping him on the book he was writing two weeks before he passed. Leslie? Nah. Too easy. But there is some appeal to rear back and write my take on Austin if I could figure out who I could use as the subject to write that story, just as Willie was a means to write about Texas. I’m already working on a coffee table book with the Sand County Foundation, profiling ten families in the western United States who’ve been recognized for their exemplary stewardship and sustainable ranching, farming, and forestry practices. It’s got nothing to do with Austin or music but has plenty to do with figuring out how to keep the wide open spaces of Texas wide open. These families lead by example.