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Jody Payne, Willie Nelson’s longtime guitar player, dies

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Peter Mongillo

Editor’s note: This article was originally published August 10, 2013

Jody Payne, longtime guitarist for Willie Nelson’s Family Band and an important part of the group’s sound, has died. He was 77.

“Our friend will be missed,” Nelson said in a Facebook message Saturday. Nelson’s son Lukas, who has played guitar in the Family Band since Payne retired in 2008, said on Twitter that Payne was a “great mentor.”

Payne, who was born in Kentucky in 1936, joined Nelson in 1973 after working with Merle Haggard and Sammi Smith, his wife at the time. He had a reputation both as a talented bluegrass musician (having worked with Bill Monroe’s brother Charlie, among others) and an R&B session player for King Records in Cincinnati and Motown in Detroit.

“My role was to try and put something down for Willie to walk on (with his guitar), try to lay it down for him and sing a little harmony to support his vocals,” Payne told Joe Nick Patoski in Patoksi’s 2008 Willie Nelson biography “An Epic Life.”

“He was very critical to the band,” Patoski said. “When everything blew up, there were other guitarists that came in and and out, but Jody was always there.”

Patoski said that Payne’s experience with bluegrass added an important dimension to the Family Band’s sound, countering the Western style of some of the other members. He was known to take the lead on the band’s version of Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues.” “You can’t underestimate what he brought to the table as far as the sound,” Patoski said.

Payne retired in 2008, settling in Alabama with his wife Vicki.

Earlier: Jody Payne played guitar in Willie Nelson’s band for 35 years, before retiring in 2008. We’ll have more on Payne and his career later today. The Willie fan blog, Still is Still Moving, shared these photos of Payne from his wife, Vicki. And here’s a story about his retirement.