He may look, walk, talk, sing, and play the guitar like Willie Nelson, but Richard Isaac Renner is not Willie Nelson. Richard started singing when he was just five years old. He would run around his parents house, grab his mother’s broom, and create a makeshift guitar while singing along to the tunes of George Jones, Hank Williams Sr., and Lefty Frizzell.
“I didn’t know what they were singing since I was so young, so I made up words that suited me, that fit the music,” laughed Richard. “Mom would say, ‘I don’t know what those words are,’ and I would say, ‘Well, I know what they are!’”
When Richard was five years old, his parents took him to a carnival where a band from Hanover, Pennsylvania, was playing. During their intermission, the Hundred and One Ranch Boys announced that there would be an amateur singing contest. Richard’s parents didn’t say anything to him; his father just grabbed him and hoisted him onto the stage. When he was on the stage, his father said to him, “Sing that Patsy Cline song that you sing!” So Richard sang “7 Lonely Days” by Patsy Cline.
“I won a silver dollar! The audience loved it and I was just thinking, wow, it’s no big deal, I sing every day,” said Richard.
It’s safe to say Richard’s singing career started after that moment. As Richard grew older, he became involved with high school bands and marching bands, as well as playing the drums. At age ten, he was being sneaked into bars to play the drums for professional bands. “I’d been offered four professional jobs, but I was too young to accept them,” he said. So he kept on singing and playing. When he turned thirteen years old, he began to write down his lyrics. His original songs started being added to the band’s shows, and the audience would yell out, wanting to hear the drummer sing.
When Richard was in his late twenties, his band would often perform Waylon Jenning’s “Good Hearted Woman,” featuring Willie Nelson. His band mate would sing Waylon’s part, and Richard would sing Willie Nelson’s bit. As soon as Richard started to sing the first note, the crowd would start to applaud.
“I thought, what’s the problem? What am I doing?” recalls Richard. So during intermission, his band mate told him to go look in the mirror. Richard went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror and said, “I see me.” But then his band mate explained to him that the crowd doesn’t see “him.” To them, his face, his hair, and his voice are Willie Nelson. “But, I’m not Willie!” stated Richard.
Consequently, Richard Renner has been called Willy for thirty-five years, whether he’s on the road or at his home.
While dining at the Kountry Kitchen Restaurant in Thurmont, Richard laughed and said, “I’ve had ladies come in with their husbands and ask their husbands if it was okay for them to sit down with me for dinner. They would want me to sign an autograph. So I told them I could sign Willy Renner, but I can’t sign Willie Nelson, because I’m not.”
Throughout his career, Richard has played at private parties, pig roasts, motorcycle parties, pool parties, anniversaries, birthday parties, and in every club along Rt. 355. While performing at a party in 2006, Richard’s friend, Greg Nixon, pointed out that since everyone knows him as Willy, he should write a song about it. After some thought, Richard started to develop his song, “No, I’m not Willie.”
Richard’s wife took it all in stride, and, since she likes Willie Nelson, she helped him start to look the part. She would do his hair and pick out the shirts similar to what Willie would wear.
Richard has two sons and two daughters, and whenever he would start to ease off of the music scene, one daughter in particular would encourage him to keep going. “She would say to me, ‘Dad, you are depriving people and you don’t want to do that; you’re not that kind of guy. Get back out there, get your ‘you know what’ in gear, and let’s go!’”
“No, I’m Not Willie” has three verses in the song. Each verse has a different scenario of occasions when Richard was mistaken for Willie Nelson. Verse one is about when he and his wife were held up at a Pennsylvania store by a cashier who was not convinced that Willie Nelson was not standing in front of her until Richard pulled out his driver’s license to show her his name. Verse two recalls a situation at a fair where people would point and nudge one another to get a look at “Willie” walking through the crowd. The final verse tells about how, even in his hometown, people call him Willie Nelson.
“I don’t want to imitate him; it’s more of a tribute to him, and so I tell them that. But I give them this song, so they can understand,” said Richard.
“No, I’m Not Willie” will be available on December 6, 2014, during the Christmas in Thurmont event at the Kountry Kitchen on Water Street and the Thurmont Eye Care on East Main Street. After the event, the single will be available until December 20, 2014, at those two businesses.
Richard has decided to donate all proceeds from this project to the Thurmont Food Bank. The song is available for purchase for $5.00.
Richard will has a ten-song country-rock album due to come out in January 2015.
“The only thing that Willie Nelson does, that I would like to do, is get that sound in my guitar that Willie Nelson has. I just can’t get that Willie Nelson sound. The Willie Nelson sound is one in a world. Certain people in the world have sounds that you just can’t copy. If I could play the guitar like Willie and make that sound, I would be happy. I still wouldn’t imitate him; I want people to know that I am not a Willie Nelson impersonator. I just happen to be born his twin.”
You can reach Richard “Willy” Renner at 240-409-1414.
In closing, Richard voiced, “God Bless All!”