New York based singer-songwriter Willie Nile gratefully acknowledges he’s had some terrific breaks throughout his four-decade career. “After my very first album came out in 1980,” he enthusiastically recalls, “I got to tour across the U.K. with The Who. I mean, how lucky can you get! You shoot for the stars, but basically, I’ve always just done my best, not plotting or planning anything … just trying to write good songs.”
Born Robert Anthony Noonan, June 7, 1948, in Buffalo, New York, Nile retains a strong fan base, especially in New York and down at the Jersey Shore. Some of his staunchest supporters have included Paul Simon, Bono, Bruce Springsteen and the late Lou Reed.
USA Today has called Nile “a rocker’s rocker,” The New Yorker has written “one of the most brilliant singer-songwriters of the past thirty years,” and the noted British music magazine Uncut describes him as “a one-man Clash.”
Now Nile is celebrating the release of his latest CD, World War Willie, eleven new originals and a spirited cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane.” The songs were recorded “live” in the studio with his ace band: lead guitarist Matt Hogan, bass player Johnny Pisano and drummer Alex Alexander.
Elliot Stephen Cohen: Let’s talk about the new album. The opening track, “Forever Wild,” seems to have a very strong Springsteen influence. Was that intentional?
Willie Nile: Well, Bruce and I are about the same age, so we probably had a lot of the same influences. So, if the song came out sounding that way, that’s fine. It’s definitely a rocker. The song embraces the dreams of youth in a way, being forever wild, never giving up. It’s a fun song to play live.
ESC: Now you’ve also performed with Springsteen on various occasions.
WN: Yes, and he’s very generous for the handful of musicians he’s jumped onstage with. A great honor, for sure. He loves playing with his friends, and that’s just one reason he’s got the following he has. Bruce still has the passion and the fire, and a huge heart for Rock and Roll. That’s for sure.
ESC: “Runaway Girl” is definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album. What was the inspiration behind the writing of it?
WN: There’s so much “bs” that women have to put up with in this world. I just wanted to create a song that a young girl or woman could hear, where they feel not everyone is trying to take advantage of them. Look at the Third World, or the modern world, in general. Do women get really the proper respect they deserve? I just wanted to write something for their ears.
ESC: “When Levon Sings” is your special tribute to Levon Helm. It sounds as if he was a very close friend to you.
WN: Yes, he definitely was a good friend. I loved Leon and was always a huge Band fan. He was a straight shooter, a real down-to-earth guy. For me, he just embodied so many things that are great about America. I wrote that song to make people happy. Everybody loved Leon, and I’m so very happy the song came out as well as it did.
ESC: To me, both onstage and in person, you still seem like a big kid, so I’m sure it must come as a surprise to a lot of people that you’re actually a grandfather. How much of the song “Grandpa Rocks” is about you?
WN: Well, yeah, you’re right. Although I have four grandchildren, I’m still a kid. So, I wrote those lines, “wears black jeans and a Clash T-shirt, combat boots covered with dirt.” Those lines really made me laugh. I may be 67 years old, but I’m rockin’ more now than I ever have. Take someone like Keith Richards. What is he supposed to do? Not play guitar any more?
ESC: It’s been a great career for you and it’s obvious, from seeing you perform just a few weeks ago, how much you still love it.
WN: Yes. And you know something, I still have great passion, not only for performing, but for life in general. I’ve been through some tough times, but I survived, and all makes you stronger. Overall, it’s been a pretty good ride.