Five Firsts: Willie Nile
NAME: Willie Nile
INSTRUMENT: Guitar, piano
1. THE FIRST ALBUM I EVER BOUGHT WAS … “Meet The Beatles.” I saw them on Ed Sullivan’s show, and it changed my life. They were having such a great time, and the music was incredible. I’d heard about them before the show from friends at school. There was talk that they were a sensation in the UK. After seeing and hearing them, indeed they were.
I’d blast the music from my small, white, plastic record player. It made me smile. Up to that point, I was only buying singles – or 45’s as they were called. The first single I ever bought was “Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly. Great record. Last year, I played a show in Austin, TX and Buddy’s wife Maria came to see me play. A mutual friend brought her and told her she “had to see this guy.” During my performance, he told me she leaned over to him and said, “He’s just like Buddy. He’s got the same energy as Buddy.” Needless to say I was deeply humbled. She bought two CDs and wanted me to sign them. I couldn’t believe it and told her that the first record I ever bought was “Peggy Sue.” She laughed, and we hugged, and it’s something I’ll never forget as long as I live. The photo from that day is at my website.
2. THE FIRST CONCERT THAT I EVER SAW WAS … Olatunji. He was an African drummer, and he played an old movie theater in Buffalo with a large group of musicians. My father took me and my brothers and sisters. It was incredible. There were Watusi dancers 6-7 feet tall with long white headresses dancing up a storm to amazing rhythms and songs. It was loud, and it rocked, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I think I was eight or ten years old at the time. What inspired my father to take us there I have no idea, but I’m glad he did. We laughed and rocked the night away. Thanks, Dad.
3. THE FIRST MUSICAL INSTRUMENT I EVER OWNED OR PLAYED WAS … An upright piano. We had one in our home growing up. My older brothers and sister took piano lessons, and my mother played as well, and then I followed suit. My grandfather was a great piano player and ran orchestras for over 20 years in Buffalo for all the vaudeville performers who passed through town. He could play for four hours and never play the same song twice. Buffalo was a passageway to Canada and to the west as well, and also the way to get to NYC from those parts. He used to play for Bojangles Robinson (who sent him Christmas cards every year), Eddie Cantor and thousands more. He would come over to the house for great family parties, where he and my uncles would take turns playing. They’d play solo and duets all night long and ripped the place apart. I once saw him put a piano sheet over the piano and play a song. I’m told it was an old parlor trick from back when. Pretty cool thing to see as a very young and impressionable lad. When he died, Eddie Cantor had a live national TV show and mentioned that his good friend Dick Noonan had died that week and said some kind words about him. He must have made quite an impression on Eddie for him to do that. Thanks, Eddie.
4. THE FIRST SONG THAT I EVER PERFORMED IN PUBLIC WAS … “Dear Lord.” It was a song I wrote that was eventually on my first album. I sang it in New York City the first year I moved here in the ’70s at an open mic one night. It was a rock song, and I was playing it solo, as I couldn’t afford a band at the time and was jumping around on stage, introducing imaginary band members to the audience. I think I jumped off the stage at the finish to emphasize the point. I don’t know if the local folkies approved of it, but I liked it. All in all, I’d say it was a good start.
5. THE FIRST BAND I WAS EVER IN WAS … I’ve always been a solo artist but am very close with my band. They’re brothers to me. At one point about 12 years ago, I was calling it Willie Nile & the Worry Dolls, named after those South American little one-inch dolls that you put under your pillow when you go to sleep, and you make a wish and your wish comes true. But since then I’ve had my share of dreams come true, so I’ll leave some wishes left for others. Thanks, Worry Dolls.