When Three Stars Align

Music legends Willie Nelson, Mick Fleetwood and Michael McDonald continue to rock on.

Stars don’t always come out when you want them to-even out here under pacific-blue skies. Sometimes it takes gentle breezes of persistence and patience to chase away the clouds and ambient light until you’re finally alone with these luminous beings.

That’s how it is with stars, you know? Everyone wants a piece of their brilliance. So, when you’re assigned to catch not just one but three of them, it can feel like a Maui-the-Hawaiian-demi god-sized task just to lasso these incandescent giants long enough to slow their streak across the Milky Way, and convince them to stop and give you a twinkling of their time.

Of course, the stars we’re talking about here are ones with more salt in their beards than pepper. But Michael McDonald, Mick Fleetwood and Willie Nelson, who’ve been tickling ivories, banging on bongos or trading guitar licks with others for more than four decades, still have plenty of shine left in them. They’re not burning out, and they’re definitely not fading away. Thanks to the millions of albums sold in their respective R&B, rock and country careers, these hardworking musicians continue to be light years ahead of most of their contemporaries in terms of longevity and overall legacy. And because they occupy a part of the Hawai’i sky scape, either as full- or part-time residents of the Valley Isle, the trio was the natural choice to receive starring roles in this all-men’s edition of HILuxury.

Still, the process of reaching them was slow and lengthy; months of requests by email followed by even more months of phone calls and text messages to their managers, publicists and personal assistants, even close friends, had led to nowhere fast. Persistence and patience were needed because, at times, the silence coming from the artists’ camps felt like doing a pre-concert sound check in an empty cosmos: Testing one, two, three. Is anyone out there? Can anyone hear me?!

And then, suddenly, a signal from the distant reaches of the galaxy. McDonald, Fleetwood and Nelson had graciously decided to step away from their hectic schedules of studio recordings and live performances to grant the long-awaited interviews. Finally, the stars were aligned and all was right again in the HILuxury universe. And for that, we thank our lucky stars.


Somewhere back in his long ago, long before he became a household name as a member of the Doobie Brothers, MICHAEL MCDONALD caught a flight to O’ahu with a popular jazz/rock outfit that he often performed backing vocals and keyboard duties for, and promptly fell hard for his new surroundings. It was McDonald’s first visit to the islands, but it would certainly not be the last for this sentimental fool of a songwriter-not after his Honolulu-blue eyes caught a glimpse of the celestial canopy above and, in one of his life’s most pleasurable moments, it became forever seared in his memory.

“I was in town with Steely Dan for a concert at the old HIC, and found myself walking out on a beach, located away from the lights of the city, looking up and saying to myself, I’ve never seen so many stars before in my life!'” McDonald recalls. “My sense then was there was something magical about this place.”

In the many years that followed, he would come back for more sips of these tropics and dips into their magic, often renting a place near Baby Beach in Lahaina, Maui for his wife, Amy, and their two children, and making regular jaunts to nearby Puamana for surf sessions. Perhaps because he felt that renting demonstrated a lack of commitment, McDonald would form a more permanent bond with the island by eventually purchasing a place there.

That was three years ago. Today McDonald still owns a home on the Valley Isle, but spends most of his time in Santa Barbara, Calif., the perfect midway point between Lahaina and Nashville, where son Dylan resides and pursues a career in music. The elder McDonald continues to tour year-round, performing his catalog of blue-eyed soul/soft rock favorites for fans both young and old. But although he’s still able to fill venues, even he admits it’s getting tougher to be a force on the road. “I’m an older musician in a world that’s really a young man’s game,” he confesses. “I have to look for an edge on a day-to-day basis.”

At his career’s zenith in the late ’70s to mid-’80s, McDonald needed no edge whatsoever. His touch was almost Midas-like with the way his songs-whether done as a Doobie, as a solo artist or in duet fashion with James Ingram and Patti LaBelle-would often go straight to gold. Indeed, radio stations could not seem to get enough of his unmistakably husky, baritone voice during those glory years.

Maybe it’s a good thing then that the Missouri-born artist chose to pattern his singing style after some of the all-time great vocalists. As an up-and-coming musician in the late ’60s, he honed his chops with several Top 40-type bands in the St. Louis area before eventually settling on his own unique sound and heading for L.A., determined to make it big.

“All singers go on a journey,” says the five-time Grammy Award winner. “For me, I was kind of an emulator at first. As a kid, I wanted to sing like Ray Charles, James Brown, Marvin Gaye. When I did a Marvin Gaye song or a Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ song, I would try to mimic their sensibilities and singing style to get as close to what they sounded like on the record. Sure, it sounds goofy, but at the same time it was very much an education and the process wound up serving me well.”

Well enough to make him a star among musicians as well as afford him a part-time home under skies filled with stardust magic. It’s a home he longs to visit again once he’s able to put the brakes on a fast-moving touring schedule.

“Puamana is still my spot,” says McDonald, who even now at age 62 sports a full mane of hair and a goatee, except that they’re of the snowy white variety. “When I die, I want them to throw my ashes there, because that’s where I’ve spent many of my most pleasant moments in life.”


It’s not every day that a junkie rolls out of bed prepared to flaunt his addiction to anyone in sight, but MICK FLEETWOOD is someone who’s always more than happy to oblige. Between the time the sun rises above Haleakala and the stars come out over ‘Iao Valley, the British-born drummer known for his hyperactive ways and wild rock ‘n’ roll days is often found firing things up and inhaling that sweet Maui air. Even his dear old mum loves being a part of his fast-paced addiction. Fleetwood’s life, it seems, has always been about the roll.

Welcome to the highly addictive world of celebrities and their car collections. Strewn across a handful of his properties from Kula to Napili is Fleetwood’s impressive fleet of motorcars, which includes Model A Fords, Ferraris, twin-turbo Porsches and BMW 750s. Of the latter, he owns not just one but three of these gleaming models. “I’m a BMW freak!” he admits. Of course, these rides are not just for show-they’re for ‘go’ every day of the week. On Sundays, for example, Fleetwood can be found forcing his 6-foot, 6-inch frame into a 1933 Austin 7-a tiny perambulator of an old English car he’s owned since he was a young man wreaking

havoc on the streets of London-just so that he can take his 97-year-old mother, Biddy, on open-top rides and lunch dates in. It’s still his favorite automobile to this day, having earned the nickname “Lettuce Leaf ” for its racing green color.

“That car actually remained in England for years at the house of my ex-brother-in-law, Eric Clapton,” explains Fleetwood, who was once married to Jenny Boyd, the sister of Pattie Boyd who was once wife to first George Harrison and later Clapton. “One day about 10 years ago, Eric called me up and said, ‘Hey, Mick, you’ve still got your car here. What do you want me to do with it?’ And I said, ‘Oh, my god-it’s still there?!’ The poor car had been sitting in an apple orchard with birds nesting in it! So I had it shipped over to Hawai’i and refurbished.”

Whether talking about his very first vehicle, a taxi cab he purchased from a London neighbor for 12 pounds, his oil-leaking Jaguar XJ-120 that nearly killed him after the transmission fell out while he was bombing down a motorway in England, or a little Deux Chevaux that carried all his supplies during a brief period in his 20s when he seriously considered leaving music to become a window cleaner or painter, it’s clear that motorcars are an important part of Fleetwood’s makeup. It’s also a habit he doesn’t plan on kicking anytime soon. “I’ve had cars that I probably should have unloaded a long time ago, but I just can’t. That’s what car lovers do, you know? They’re addicted. But I suppose that’s an addiction I can be thankful for.”

Older and wiser (and quite fittingly looking more Gandalf-like) these days, Fleetwood passes much of his time in careful reflection as he approaches his 67th birthday. A good portion of his life has been spent in total abandon with well-documented substance abuse battles, but age and experience have tempered his conduct in recent years. He pours a lot of time into outside ventures, including the launch of his own wine line and his return to restaurant ownership with Fleetwood’s on Front Street in Lahaina. “I look at the restaurant as a long-term plan,” says Fleetwood, whose first foray into the food industry business did not go so well. “It’s a way that I can be really active as a person. I love being around people.” He loves it so much, that the restaurant hosts a Hawaiian blessing each night on its rooftop for employees and diners. “It’s not really a touristy thing because it’s really poetic and really heartfelt,” he says of the ceremony. “But it’s my way of saying the islands changed me years ago.”

The man with the infectious mouth-agape drumming style discovered Hawai’i in the mid-’70s, shortly after adding guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks to a lineup that included John McVie and his then-wife, Christine, on bass and keyboards/ vocals, respectively. That incarnation of Fleetwood Mac (the first was formed in 1967 with blues-rock guitarist Peter Green, who abhorred the spotlight and chose to name the band after its rhythm section of fellow group founder Fleetwood and McVie) went on to produce one of the biggest-selling albums of all time in Rumours. It’s also the lineup that recently reunited following Christine McVie’s decision to rejoin the band after a 16-year absence from the business.

“We’re thrilled to be a reformed five-piece band,” says Fleetwood of the group, which will be embarking on a world tour this fall. “With Christine’s decision to return, it’s like having the final piece of our crazy puzzle put back together again.”

As for Hawai’i, it’s become more than just a place for Fleetwood to, as he says, “come and lick my wounds.” He still resides in the same home in Napili that he bought from John McVie years ago, and doesn’t plan on changing full-time residency any time soon.

“Life is good,” he says. “When things appear to be a little down, we in Hawai’i have a lot to be grateful for. We’re blessed to be living in one of the most beautiful places on this planet.”


It’s difficult to imagine WILLIE NELSON ever calling any tract of land home, particularly since he spends so much time aboard a tour bus called the Honeysuckle Rose IV and his only apparent stops happen when he’s singing to his legion of followers about forever wanting “to get back on the road again.”

But when the Honeysuckle does pull over and park for long periods of time, Nelson is more than happy to disembark and head to his home on Maui, which remains no ka’oi in the heart of this beloved music maverick. It’s where his sons, Lukas and Micah, were raised in a mostly eco-friendly community on the island’s north shore; where one of his regular hangouts, Charley’s Restaurant and Saloon, is located in Paia; and where he enjoys one of his favorite pastimes: hosting poker games with good buddies and fellow Hollywood stars Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson.

It’s also the place where this American and country music icon, who’s played in just about every arena, concert hall, club and saloon around the world but is obviously in the twilight of his career, would likely retire-except for the simple fact that he can’t see himself ever stepping off the stage for good. “I still enjoy traveling on the Honeysuckle Rose and playing music in front of crowds,” says Nelson, 81. “Why would I ever want to quit?”

Why, indeed, since his prodigious talent for writing memorable melodies continues to please his fan base and win over new converts to country music each year? He began composing poems and putting them to music at an age when most children are still learning the basics of writing.

Yet despite his youth, Nelson persisted in crafting honest tales†of his own life’s experiences and putting them to song-a process he once referred to as “three chords and the truth”-because the music was therapeutic in helping him cope with life growing up during the Great Depression in Abbott, Texas, and also because, as he puts it, “The songs seemed not too bad.”

Nelson is being modest. Fact is, his compositions would go on to become the stuff of legend. In the past six decades, his massive catalog of recorded ditties numbers in the thousands and includes classics such as “Always On My Mind,” “On The Road Again,” “Crazy” (made famous by Patsy Cline) and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” His style of country music and highly distinguishable nasal-sounding voice were born out of the sub-genre known as outlaw country, which despised the overproduced sound and clean-cut image coming out of Nashville in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but embraced the things that Nelson often celebrated: hard drinking and loving, and long hair and jeans. But even though Nelson cleared his throat on this style of country with the release of “Shotgun

Willie” in 1973 and his star rose to unfathomable heights with the coming of the critically acclaimed concept album “Red Headed Stranger” the year after, he’s never put on airs about his vocal abilities. Singing, he explains, was always the third notch on his belt.

“I know who the real singers are,” he says, citing Frank Sinatra and Ray Price among those he most admires. “But I’ve always seen myself as more of a writer and guitar player than as a singer.”

Today, Nelson sounds much like he did decades ago, championing such causes as the legalization of marijuana while unapologetically continuing to roll and smoke his share of fatties on a daily basis. “Stress is still one of the biggest killers out there and marijuana is one of the best ways to relax,” says Nelson, who quit smoking cigarettes in the ’80s. “I think it’s high time people accept the fact that marijuana is not a drug-it’s an herb that God put here. And if he put it here, who’s to say that God is wrong?”

He even looks the same, sporting a red bandana, a ragged beard and his trademark long hair braided into Pocahontas-like pigtails-the latter touching a raw nerve in so many people early on in his career that the ever-rebellious Nelson says, “I figured it was worth doing.” Even his instrument of choice-a 1969 Martin N-20 nylon-string guitar that he calls “Trigger”-remains its same battered self, although the gash between the instrument’s bridge and sound hole has grown in size over the years.

More importantly, Nelson is still producing the type of music the country world embraces. His latest album, “To All the Girls…,” showcases many prominent country singers, but also includes a track in which he trades lines with fellow Maui resident and singer Lily Meola. The album also features a stanza that best sums up the way millions of country music fans feel about the man who’s affectionately and simply known as Willie:

I would blow you a kiss from the star where I sat

I would call out your name to echo through the vast

Thank heaven for you and to God, tip my hat

From here to the moon and back.

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