Finally getting to meet Willie Nelson (well, sort of)

On Life and Love After 50 eNewsletter October 2, 2020

By Columnist Thomas P Blake

Finally getting to meet Willie Nelson (well, sort of)

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that Greta and I would be attending an outdoor drive-in-movie-style concert in Irvine, California on September 25.

It was to see “True Willie,” the most authentic Willie Nelson tribute band in the world. I had never met the real Willie in person although I tried a few times at concerts.

My Stand Up Paddle Boarding buddy Russell Kerr and his wife Pam know True Willie. Russell said, “My friend Roger Hegyi has a band called ‘True Willie.’

I recalled Greta and I seeing True Willie perform four years ago at an outdoor concert at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. They were fabulous. We were amazed how much Roger looked like, and sounded like, the real Willie Nelson.

Russell had said two weeks ago, “True Willie is playing at a unique outdoor concert on September 25 at the Great Park in Irvine.”

“During this pandemic?” I said.

Russell stated, “It’s a drive-in-movie type of concert. You sit in your car or in socially distanced lawn chairs next to your car. My wife Pam and I are going.

“Why don’t you and Greta come and park next to us? I can introduce you to Roger after the show. He’s not Willie Nelson, but he’s the closest thing to Willie you’ll ever meet.”

“How do you know him?”

“Pam worked with Roger’s wife, Diane, at Aegis Assisted Living on Niguel Road, a few years back.”

Greta and I bought a car ticket in advance; the cost was only $30. We followed the Kerr’s car. To ensure we could park near the stage, we got to the Great Park an hour before the show. We were cars number four and five, respectively, in line.

Our cars were parked 20 feet apart in row two, with a clear view to the stage. We sat outside the cars in lawn chairs. It was a great concert. After each song, the audience would honk their car horns in appreciation. True Willie liked that.

The band played about 20 songs including three of my favorites: “Pancho and Lefty,” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” and “Seven Spanish Angels.”

 True Willie and the Boys Irvine California September 25 2020

And yes, after the concert, Russell led us to the front of the stage. He said he had mentioned to True Willie that Greta and I would be there. When True Willie saw us with Russell, he yelled out, “Hello Tom, hello Greta.” Pretty cool for a guy we’d never met. But it was getting dark and lots of people wanted to say hello also.

I handed Roger an autographed copy of my book, “Prime Rib & Boxcars. Whatever Happened to Victoria Station?” The front cover features a 1976 picture of Johnny Cash and me together in front of the Victoria Station restaurant in Newport Beach. I thought Roger would get a quick out of it. 

Tom Blake’s book available at the bookstore listed below

Russell said, “We’ll meet Roger next week when we have time to talk.”

On Wednesday, Roger, Russell, and I met at the Coffee Importers in Dana Point Harbor.

I asked Roger: “How long have you been a musician and when and why did you become a Willie Nelson tribute band?”

Roger said, “I’ve been 50 years in the music business. Nine years ago, my family and I were attending a concert at the Greek Theater in L.A. There was a huge photo of Willie on the side of the building promoting an upcoming Willie Nelson concert.

“My daughter looked at me, and then at Willie, and said, “Dad, you are Willie. And I now am.”

Roger added, “I don’t do it for the money; I do it to make a difference and share the music of an icon.”

Over a cup of coffee, I was finally able to tell Willie Nelson (well, sort of) how much Johnny Cash thought of him. It took me 45 years to pull that off.

He handed me an autographed cd of 11 of  his songs.

If Dana Point can bring back the outdoor concerts in Sea Terrace Park next summer (canceled this year due to the pandemic), maybe “True Willie and the Boys” will be invited to perform.

Here is True Willie’s website.

P.S. this comment was added a week later. Meeting True Willie inspired me to call my long-time friend, Lou Robin, Johnny Cash’s manager from 1972 until Johnny passed away. Since then, Lou has done estate work for the Cash family. Lou in his career produced over 5,000 concerts, many of those for Johnny Cash. I worked with Lou 45 years ago; we remain great friends.