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As a songwriter and a performer, Willie Nelson played a vital role in post-rock & roll country music. Although he didn't become a star until the mid-'70s, Nelson spent the '60s writing songs that became hits for stars like Ray Price ("Night Life"), Patsy Cline ("Crazy"), Faron Young ("Hello Walls"), and Billy Walker ("Funny How Time Slips Away") as well as releasing a series of records on Liberty and RCA that earned him a small but devoted cult following. During the early '70s, Willie aligned himself with Waylon Jennings and the burgeoning outlaw country movement that made him into a star in 1975. Following the crossover success of that year's Red Headed Stranger and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," Nelson was a genuine star, as recognizable in pop circles as he was to the country audience; in addition to recording, he also launched an acting career in the early '80s. Even when he was a star, Willie never played it safe musically. Instead, he borrowed from a wide variety of styles, including traditional pop, Western swing, jazz, traditional country, cowboy songs, honky tonk, rock & roll, folk, and the blues, creating a distinctive, elastic hybrid. Nelson remained at the top of the country charts until the mid-'80s, when his lifestyle -- which had always been close to the outlaw clichés with which his music flirted -- began to spiral out of control, culminating in an infamous battle with the IRS in the late '80s. During the '90s and into the 2000s, Nelson's sales never reached the heights that he had experienced earlier, but he remained a vital icon in country music, having greatly influenced the new country, new traditionalist, and alternative country movements of the '80s and '90s as well as leaving behind a legacy of classic songs and recordings.
Nelson began performing music as a child growing up in Abbott, Texas. After his father died and his mother ran away, Nelson and his sister Bobbie were raised by their grandparents, who encouraged both children to play instruments. Willie picked up the guitar, and by the time he was seven, he was already writing songs. Bobbie learned to play piano, eventually meeting -- and later marrying -- fiddler Bud Fletcher, who invited both of the siblings to join his band. Nelson had already played with Raychecks' Polka Band, but with Fletcher, he acted as the group's frontman. Willie stayed with Fletcher throughout high school. Upon his graduation, he joined the Air Force but had to leave shortly afterward when he became plagued by back problems. Following his disenrollment from the service, he began looking for full-time work. After he worked several part-time jobs, he landed a job as a country DJ at Fort Worth's KCNC in 1954. Nelson continued to sing in honky tonks as he worked as a DJ, deciding to make a stab at recording career by 1956. That year, he headed to Vancouver, Washington, where he recorded Leon Payne's "Lumberjack." At that time, Payne was a DJ and he plugged "Lumberjack" on the air, which eventually resulted in sales of 3,000 -- a respectable figure for an independent single, but not enough to gain much attention. For the next few years, Willie continued to DJ and sing in clubs. During this time, he sold "Family Bible" to a guitar instructor for 50 dollars, and when the song became a hit for Claude Gray in 1960, Nelson decided to move to Nashville the following year to try his luck. Though his nasal voice and jazzy, off-center phrasing didn't win him many friends -- several demos were made and then rejected by various labels -- his songwriting ability didn't go unnoticed, and soon Hank Cochran helped Willie land a publishing contract at Pamper Music. Ray Price, who co-owned Pamper Music, recorded Nelson's "Night Life" and invited him to join his touring band, the Cherokee Cowboys, as a bassist.
Arriving at the beginning of 1961, Price's invitation began a watershed year for Nelson. Not only did he play with Price -- eventually taking members of the Cherokee Cowboys to form his own touring band -- but his songs also provided major hits for several other artists. Faron Young took "Hello Walls" to number one for nine weeks, Billy Walker made "Funny How Time Slips Away" into a Top 40 country smash, and Patsy Cline made "Crazy" into a Top Ten pop crossover hit. Earlier in the year, he signed a contract with Liberty Records and began releasing a series of singles that were usually drenched in strings. "Willingly," a duet with his then-wife Shirley Collie, became a Top Ten hit for Nelson early in 1962, and it was followed by another Top Ten single, "Touch Me," later that year. Both singles made it seem like Nelson was primed to become a star, but his career stalled just as quickly as it had taken off, and he was soon charting in the lower regions of the Top 40. Liberty closed its country division in 1964, the same year Roy Orbison had a hit with "Pretty Paper."
When the Monument recordings failed to become hits, Nelson moved to RCA Records in 1965, the same year he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Over the next seven years, Willie had a steady stream of minor hits, highlighted by the number 13 hit "Bring Me Sunshine" in 1969. Toward the end of his stint with RCA, he had grown frustrated with the label, which had continually tried to shoehorn him into the heavily produced Nashville sound. By 1972, he wasn't even able to reach the country Top 40. Discouraged by his lack of success, Nelson decided to retire from country music, moving back to Austin, Texas, after a brief and disastrous sojourn into pig farming. Once he arrived in Austin, Nelson realized that many young rock fans were listening to country music along with the traditional honky tonk audience. Spotting an opportunity, Willie began performing again, scrapping his pop-oriented Nashville sound and image for a rock- and folk-influenced redneck outlaw image. Soon, he earned a contract with Atlantic Records.
Shotgun Willie (1973), Nelson's first album for Atlantic, was evidence of the shift of his musical style, and although it initially didn't sell well, it earned good reviews and cultivated a dedicated cult following. By the fall of 1973, his version of Bob Wills' "Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)" had cracked the country Top 40. The following year, he delivered the concept album Phases and Stages, which increased his following even more with the hit singles "Bloody Mary Morning" and "After the Fire Is Gone." But the real commercial breakthrough didn't arrive until 1975, when he severed ties with Atlantic and signed to Columbia Records, which gave him complete creative control of his records. Willie's first album for Columbia, The Red Headed Stranger, was a spare concept album about a preacher, featuring only his guitar and his sister's piano. The label was reluctant to release with such stark arrangements, but they relented and it became a huge hit, thanks to Nelson's understated cover of Roy Acuff's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."
Following the breakthrough success of The Red Headed Stranger as well as Waylon Jennings' simultaneous success, outlaw country -- so named because it worked outside of the confines of the Nashville industry -- became a sensation, and RCA compiled the various-artists album Wanted: The Outlaws!, using material Nelson, Jennings, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Colter had previously recorded for the label. The compilation boasted a number one single in the form of the newly recorded Jennings and Nelson duet "Good Hearted Woman," which was also named the Country Music Association's single of the year. For the next five years, Nelson consistently charted on both the country and pop charts, with "Remember Me," "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time," and "Uncloudy Day" becoming Top Ten country singles in 1976; "I Love You a Thousand Ways" and the Mary Kay Place duet "Something to Brag About" were Top Ten country singles the following year.
Nelson enjoyed his most successful year to date in 1978, as he charted with two very dissimilar albums. Waylon and Willie, his first duet album with Jennings, was a major success early in the year, spawning the signature song "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys." Later in the year, he released Stardust, a string-augmented collection of pop standards produced by Booker T. Jones. Most observers believed that the unconventional album would derail Nelson's career, but it unexpectedly became one of the most successful records in his catalog, spending almost ten years in the country charts and eventually selling over four million copies. After the success of Stardust, Willie branched out into film, appearing in the Robert Redford movie The Electric Horseman in 1979 and starring in Honeysuckle Rose the following year. The latter spawned the hit "On the Road Again," which became another one of Nelson's signature songs.
Willie continued to have hits throughout the early '80s, when he had a major crossover success in 1982 with a cover of Elvis Presley's hit "Always on My Mind." The single spent two weeks at number one and crossed over to number five on the pop charts, sending the album of the same name to number two on the pop charts as well as quadruple-platinum status. Over the next two years, he had hit duet albums with Merle Haggard (1983's Poncho & Lefty) and Jennings (1982's WWII and 1983's Take It to the Limit), while "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," a duet with Latin pop star Julio Iglesias, became another major crossover success in 1984, peaking at number five on the pop charts and number one on the country singles chart.
Following a string of number one singles in early 1985, including "Highwayman," the first single from the Highwaymen, a supergroup he formed with Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, Nelson's popularity gradually began to erode. A new generation of artists had captured the attention of the country audience, which began to drastically cut into his own audience. For the remainder of the decade, he recorded less frequently and remained on the road; he also continued to do charity work, most notably Farm Aid, an annual concert that he founded in 1985 designed to provide aid to ailing farmers. While he career was declining, an old demon began to creep up on Willie: the IRS. In November 1990, he was given a bill for $16.7 million in back taxes. During the following year, almost all of his assets -- including several houses, studios, farms, and various properties -- were taken away, and to help pay his bill, he released the double album The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories? Originally released as two separate albums, the records were marketed through television commercials, and all the profits were directed to the IRS. By 1993 -- the year he turned 60 -- his debts had been paid off, and he relaunched his recording career with Across the Borderline, an ambitious album produced by Don Was and featuring cameos by Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, Sinéad O'Connor, David Crosby, and Kris Kristofferson. The record received strong reviews and became his first solo album to appear in the pop charts since 1985.
After the release of Across the Borderline, Nelson continued to work steadily, releasing at least one album a year and touring constantly. In 1993, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but by that time, he had already become a living legend for all country music fans across the world. Signing to Island for 1996's Spirit, he resurfaced two years later with the critically acclaimed Teatro, produced by Daniel Lanois. Nelson followed up that success with the instrumental-oriented Night and Day a year later; Me and the Drummer and Milk Cow Blues followed in 2000. The Rainbow Connection, which featured an eclectic selection of old-time country favorites, appeared in spring 2001.
Amazingly prolific as a recording artist, Nelson released The Great Divide on Universal in 2002. A collection of his early-'60s publishing demos for Pamper Music called Crazy: The Demo Sessions came out on Sugar Hill in 2003. Later in 2003 Nelson released Run That by Me One More Time, which reunited him with Ray Price and kicked off a relationship with Lost Highway Records. It Always Will Be and Outlaws and Angels both appeared on Lost Highway in 2004, followed by the release of Nelson's long-delayed attempt at a country-reggae fusion, Countryman, also on Lost Highway, in 2005. You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker arrived the following year, along with Songbird, Nelson's collaboration with alt-country singer/songwriter Ryan Adams and his band the Cardinals. The double-disc Last of the Breed, an ambitious project that paired Nelson with Merle Haggard, Ray Price, and Asleep at the Wheel, was released by Lost Highway in 2007, followed by the Kenny Chesney/Buddy Cannon-produced Moment of Forever a year later in 2008. Also in 2008, Nelson paired with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis for the live album Two Men with the Blues and with harmonica player and producer Mickey Raphael for some serious-repair remixes of vintage Nelson releases from RCA originally recorded between 1966 and 1970 called Naked Willie. Lost Highway, an album of duets with country and pop singers ranging from Shania Twain to Elvis Costello, appeared in 2009. Also appearing in 2009 was the jazz-inflected American Classic from Blue Note Records. Country Music followed next from Rounder Records in 2010. Nelson reunited with Marsalis again for 2011s Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Genius of Ray Charles, which was recorded live on February 9 and 10, 2009 at the Rose Theater with Norah Jones also on board. A CD drawn from the shows appeared on Blue Note in the spring of 2011 and in the fall, Willie released a covers collection called Remember Me, Vol. 1. He then signed with Sony Legacy and released Heroes in the summer of 2012, following it in the spring of the next year with a collection of standards called Let's Face the Music and Dance. That fall, he released To All the Girls..., a collection of new duets with female singers.
Nelson kept to a rigorous touring schedule despite the fact that he turned 80 in 2013. Though he'd been recording mostly covers for well over a decade, Nelson re-engaged as a songwriter while traveling. Band of Brothers, issued in June of 2014, featured nine originals (co-written with producer Buddy Cannon) among its 14 new songs.
Wikipedia:For the American boxer, see Willie Nelson (boxer). For the Scottish rugby player, see Willie Neilson.
Willie Hugh Nelson (/ɪ ɛən/; born April 29, 1933) is an American singer-songwriter, musician, guitarist, author, poet, actor, and activist. The critical success of the album Shotgun Willie (1973), combined with the critical and commercial success of Red Headed Stranger (1975) and Stardust (1978), made Nelson one of the most recognized artists in country music. He was one of the main figures of outlaw country, a subgenre of country music that developed in the late 1960s as a reaction to the conservative restrictions of the Nashville sound. Nelson has acted in over 30 films, co-authored several books, and has been involved in activism for the use of biofuels and the legalization of marijuana.
Born during the Great Depression, and raised by his grandparents, Nelson wrote his first song at age seven and joined his first band at ten. During high school, he toured locally with the Bohemian Polka as their lead singer and guitar player. After graduating from high school, in 1950, he joined the Air Force but was later discharged due to back problems. After his return, Nelson attended Baylor University for two years but dropped out because he was succeeding in music. During this time, he worked as a disc jockey in Texas radio stations and a singer in honky tonks. Nelson moved to Vancouver, Washington, where he wrote "Family Bible" and recorded the song "Lumberjack" in 1956. In 1958, he moved to Houston, Texas after signing a contract with D Records. He sang at the Esquire Ballroom weekly and he worked as a disk jockey. During that time, he wrote songs that would become country standards, including "Funny How Time Slips Away", "Hello Walls", "Pretty Paper", and "Crazy". In 1960 he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and later signed a publishing contract with Pamper Music which allowed him to join Ray Price's band as a bassist. In 1962, he recorded his first album, ...And Then I Wrote. Due to this success, Nelson signed in 1964 with RCA Victor and joined the Grand Ole Opry the following year. After mid-chart hits in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Nelson retired in 1972 and moved to Austin, Texas. The rise of the popularity of hippie music in Austin motivated Nelson to return from retirement, performing frequently at the Armadillo World Headquarters.
In 1973, after signing with Atlantic Records, Nelson turned to outlaw country, including albums such as Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages. In 1975, he switched to Columbia Records, where he recorded the critically acclaimed album, Red Headed Stranger. The same year, he recorded another outlaw country album, Wanted! The Outlaws, along with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser. During the mid-1980s, while creating hit albums like Honeysuckle Rose and recording hit songs like "On the Road Again", "To All the Girls I've Loved Before", and "Pancho & Lefty", he joined the country supergroup The Highwaymen, along with fellow singers Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson.
In 1990, Nelson's assets were seized by the Internal Revenue Service, which claimed that he owed US $32,000,000. It was later discovered that his accountants, Price Waterhouse, did not pay Nelson's taxes for years. The difficulty of paying his outstanding debt was aggravated by weak investments he had made during the 1980s. In 1991, Nelson released The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories? in 1992, the profits of the double album, destined to the IRS, and the auction of Nelson's assets cleared his debt.
During the 1990s and 2000s, Nelson continued touring extensively, and released albums every year. Reviews ranged from positive to mixed. He explored genres such as reggae, blues, jazz, and folk. Nelson made his first movie appearance in the 1979 film The Electric Horseman, followed by other appearances in movies and on television.
Nelson is a major liberal activist and the co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which is in favor of marijuana legalization. On the environmental front, Nelson owns the bio-diesel brand Willie Nelson Biodiesel, which is made from vegetable oil. Nelson is also the honorary chairman of the Advisory Board of the Texas Music Project, the official music charity of the state of Texas.
Willie Nelson was born in Abbott, Texas on April 29, 1933, during the Great Depression, to Myrle Marie (née Greenhaw) and Ira Doyle Nelson. He was born on April 29, 1933, but his birth was recorded by doctor F. D. Sims on April 30. He was named Willie by his cousin Mildred, who also chose Hugh as his middle name, in honor of her recently deceased younger brother. Nelson's ancestry includes English, Irish, and Cherokee. His parents moved from Arkansas in 1929, to look for work. Nelson's grandfather, William, worked as a blacksmith, while his father worked as a mechanic.
His mother left soon after he was born, and his father remarried and also moved away, leaving Willie and his sister Bobbie to be raised by their grandparents. The Nelsons, who taught singing back in Arkansas, started their grandchildren in music. Nelson's grandfather bought him a guitar when he was six, and taught him a few chords, and with his sister Bobbie, he sang gospel songs in the local church. He wrote his first song at age seven, and when he was nine, played guitar for the local band Bohemian Polka. During the summer, the family picked cotton along with other citizens of Abbott. Nelson disliked picking cotton, so he earned money by singing in dance halls, taverns, and honky tonks from age 13, and continuing through high school. Nelson's musical influences were Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Django Reinhardt, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong.
Nelson attended Abbott High School, where he was a halfback on the football team, guard on the basketball team and shortstop in baseball. He also raised pigs for the Future Farmers of America organization. While still at school he sang and played guitar in The Texans, a band formed by his sister's husband, Bud Fletcher. The band played in honky tonks, and also had a Sunday morning spot at KHBR in Hillsboro, Texas. Meanwhile, Nelson had a short stint as a relief phone operator in Abbott, followed by a job as a tree trimmer for the local electrical company, as well as pawn shop employee. After leaving school, in 1950, he joined the United States Air Force for eight to nine months.
Upon his return, in 1952, he married Martha Matthews, and from 1954 to 1956 studied agriculture at Baylor University. Nelson joined the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, but dropped out to pursue a career in music. He worked as a bouncer for a nightclub, as a partsman in an autohouse, saddle maker, tree trimmer again and as an oilfield worker. He later joined Johnny Bush's band. Nelson moved with his family to Pleasanton, Texas, where he auditioned for a disc jockey job in KBOP. The owner of the station, Dr. Ben Parker, gave Nelson the job despite his lack of experience working on radio. With the equipment of the station, Nelson made his first two recordings in 1955: "The Storm Has Just Begun" and "When I've Sung My Last Hillbilly Song". He recorded the tracks on used tapes, and sent the demos to the local label SARG Records. SARG rejected the recordings.
Nelson then had stints working for KDNT in Denton, Texas, KCUL and KCNC in Fort Worth, Texas, where he hosted The Western Express, taught Sunday school and he played in nightclubs. He then decided to move to San Diego, California. He was unable to find a job, and decided to go to Portland, Oregon, where his mother lived. Nelson tried to hitchhike, but after nobody picked him up, he slept in a ditch. He then found a near railroad yard and boarded a freight train that left him in Eugene. A truck driver then drove Nelson to a bus station and loaned him US$10 for a ticket to reach Portland.Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. 13. Scobey, Lola 1982, p. 58. Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake 2000, p. 49, 94. Nelson, Willie 2007, p. 29. Laufenberg, Norbert 2005, p. 473. Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. 6. Reid; Jan p.218 Malone, Bill 2002, p. 303. Patoski, Joe Nick 2 2008. Kienzle, Richard 2003, p. 236. Richmond, Clint 2000, p. 7, 8, 23. Scobey, Lola 1982, p. 47. Richmond, Clint 2000, p. 17. Hann, Michael 2012. Myers, Judy 1969, p. 4. Chapman, Roger 2010, p. 392. Richmond, Clint 2000, p. 24. Thomson, Graeme 2012, p. 24. Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David 2015, p. 92. Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David 2015, p. 93.
ContentsMusic career1.1 Beginnings (1956–1971)1.2 Outlaw country and success (1972–1989)1.3 IRS and later career (1990–present)
He was soon hired by KVAN in Vancouver, Washington, while he also appeared frequently on a television show. He made his first record in 1956, "No Place For Me", that included Leon Payne's "Lumberjack" on the B-side. The recording failed to succeed. Nelson continued working as a radio announcer and singing in Vancouver clubs. He made several appearances in a Colorado nightclub, later moving to Springfield, Missouri. After failing to land a spot on the Ozark Jubilee, he started to work as a dishwasher. Unhappy with his job, he moved back to Texas. After a short time in Waco, he settled in Fort Worth, and quit the music business for a year. He sold bibles and vacuum cleaners door-to-door, and eventually became a sales manager for the Encyclopedia Americana.
After his son Billy was born in 1958, the family moved to Houston, Texas. On the way, Nelson stopped by the Esquire Ballroom to sell his original songs to house band singer Larry Butler. Butler refused to purchase the song "Mr. Record Man" for US$10, instead giving Nelson a US$50 loan to rent an apartment and a six-night job singing in the club. Nelson rented the apartment near Houston in Pasadena, Texas, where he also worked at the radio station as the sign-on disc jockey. During this time, he recorded two singles for Pappy Daily on D Records "Man With the Blues"/"The Storm Has Just Begun" and "What a Way to Live"/"Misery Mansion". Nelson then was hired by guitar instructor Paul Buskirk to work as an instructor in his school. He sold "Family Bible" to Buskirk for US$50 and "Night Life" for US$150. "Family Bible" turned into a hit for Claude Gray in 1960.
Nelson moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1960, but no label signed him. Most of his demos were rejected. Nelson used to frequent Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, a bar near the Grand Ole Opry, which was also frequented by the show stars, as well as another singers and songwriters pursuing a career. There Nelson met Hank Cochran, a songwriter who worked for the publishing company Pamper Music, which was owned by Ray Price and Hal Smith. Cochran heard Nelson during a jam session with Buddy Emmons and Jimmy Day. Cochran had received a raise of US$50 a week, but instead, he convinced Hal Smith to pay Nelson the money, in order to sign him to Pamper Music. In Tootsie's they met Faron Young, who decided to record Nelson's song "Hello Walls" after he sang it for him. After Ray Price recorded Nelson's "Night Life", and his previous bassist Johnny Paycheck quit, Nelson joined Price's touring band as a bass player. While playing with Price and the Cherokee Cowboys, his songs became hits for other artists, including "Funny How Time Slips Away" (Billy Walker), "Pretty Paper" (Roy Orbison), and, most famously, "Crazy" by Patsy Cline. In Tootsie's, Nelson and Cochran met her husband, Charlie Dick. Dick liked a song by Nelson that he had previously heard on the jukebox of the bar. Nelson played later for him a tape of "Crazy", Dick decided to take the record with the demo and play it the same night to Cline. Cline also liked the song, and she decided later to record it. "Crazy" became the biggest jukebox hit of all time.
Nelson signed with Liberty Records and was recording by August 1961 at Quonset Hut Studio. His first two successful singles as an artist were released by the next year, including "Willingly" (a duet with his soon-to-be second wife, Shirley Collie, which became his first charting single and first Top Ten at No. 10) and "Touch Me" (his second Top Ten, stalling at No. 7). Nelson's tenure at Liberty yielded his first album entitled ...And Then I Wrote, released in September 1962. In 1963 Collie and Nelson were married in Las Vegas. He then worked on the west coast offices of Pamper Records, in Pico Rivera, California. Since the job did not allow him the time to play music of his own, he left it and bought a ranch in Ridgetop, Tennessee, outside of Nashville. Fred Foster of Monument Records signed Nelson in early 1964, but only one single was released, "I Never Cared For You".
By the fall of 1964, Nelson had moved to RCA Victor at the behest of Chet Atkins, signing a contract for US $10,000 per year. Country Willie – His Own Songs became Nelson's first RCA Victor album, recorded in April 1965. That same year he joined the Grand Ole Opry, and he met and became friends with Waylon Jennings after watching one of his shows in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1967, he formed his backing band "The Record Men", featuring Johnny Bush, Jimmy Day, Paul English and David Zettner. During his first few years on RCA Victor, Nelson had no significant hits, but from November 1966 through March 1969, his singles reached the Top 25 in a consistent manner. "One In a Row" (#19, 1966), "The Party's Over" (#24 during a 16-week chart run in 1967), and his cover of Morecambe & Wise's "Bring Me Sunshine" (#13, March 1969) were Nelson's best-selling records during his time with RCA.
By 1970, most of his songwriting royalties were invested in tours that did not produce significant profits. In addition to the problems in his career, Nelson divorced Shirley Collie in 1970. In December, his ranch in Ridgetop, Tennessee burned down. He interpreted the incident as a signal for a change. He moved to a ranch near Bandera, Texas, and married Connie Koepke. In early 1971 his single "I'm a Memory" reached the top 30. After recording his final RCA single – "Mountain Dew" (backed with "Phases, Stages, Circles, Cycles and Scenes") in late April 1972, RCA requested that Nelson renew his contract ahead of schedule, with the implication that RCA would not release his latest recordings if he did not. Due to the failure of his albums, and particularly frustrated by the reception of Yesterday's Wine, although his contract was not over, Nelson decided to retire from music.
Outlaw country and success (1972–1989)
Nelson moved to Austin, Texas, where the burgeoning hippie music scene (see Armadillo World Headquarters) rejuvenated the singer. His popularity in Austin soared as he played his own brand of country music marked by country, folk and jazz influences. In March, he performed on the final day of the Dripping Springs Reunion, a three-day country music festival aimed by its producers to be an annual event. Despite the failure to reach the expected attendance, the concept of the festival inspired Nelson to create the Fourth of July Picnic, his own annual event, starting the following year.
Nelson decided to return to the recording business: he signed Neil Rashen as his manager to negotiate with the RCA, who got the label to agree to end his contract upon repayment of US$14,000. Rashen eventually signed Nelson to Atlantic Records for US$25,000 per year, where he became the label's first country artist. He formed his backing band, The Family, and by February 1973, he was recording his acclaimed Shotgun Willie at Atlantic Studios in New York City.
Shotgun Willie, released in May 1973, earned excellent reviews but did not sell well. The album led Nelson to a new style, later stating that Shotgun Willie had "cleared his throat". His next release, Phases and Stages, released in 1974, was a concept album about a couple's divorce, inspired by his own experience. Side one of the record is from the viewpoint of the woman, and side two is from the viewpoint of the man. The album included the hit single "Bloody Mary Morning." The same year, he produced and starred the pilot episode of PBS' Austin City Limits.
Nelson then moved to Columbia Records, where he signed a contract that gave him complete creative control, made possible by the critical and commercial success of his previous albums. The result was the critically acclaimed, and massively popular 1975 concept album Red Headed Stranger. Although Columbia was reluctant to release an album with primarily a guitar and piano for accompaniment, Nelson and Waylon Jennings insisted. The album included a cover of Fred Rose's 1945 song "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain", that had been released as a single previous to the album, and became Nelson's first number one hit as a singer. Throughout his 1975 tour, Nelson raised funds for PBS-affiliated stations across the south promoting Austin City Limits. The pilot was aired first on those stations, later being released nationwide. The positive reception of the show prompted PBS to order ten episodes for 1976, formally launching the show.
As Jennings was also achieving success in country music in the early 1970s, the pair were combined into a genre called outlaw country, since it did not conform to Nashville standards. The album Wanted! The Outlaws in 1976 with Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser cemented the pair's outlaw image and became country music's first platinum album. Later that year Nelson released The Sound in Your Mind (certified gold in 1978 and platinum in 2001) and his first gospel album Troublemaker (certified gold in 1986). In 1978, Nelson released two more platinum albums. One, Waylon & Willie, was a collaboration with Jennings that included "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys", a hit single written and performed by Ed Bruce. Though observers predicted that Stardust would ruin his career, it went platinum the same year. Nelson continued to top the charts with hit songs during the late 1970s, including "Good Hearted Woman", "Remember Me", "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time", and "Uncloudy Day".
During the 1980s, Nelson recorded a series of hit singles including "Midnight Rider", a 1980 cover of the Allman Brothers song which Nelson recorded for The Electric Horseman, the soundtrack "On the Road Again" from the movie Honeysuckle Rose, and a duet with Julio Iglesias titled "To All the Girls I've Loved Before".
In 1982, Pancho & Lefty, a duet album with Merle Haggard produced by Chips Moman was released. During the recording sessions of Pancho and Lefty, session guitarist Johnny Christopher and co-writer of "Always on My Mind", tried to pitch the song to an uninterested Haggard. Nelson, who was unaware of Elvis Presley's version of the song asked him to record it. Produced by Moman, the single of the song was released, as well as the album of the same name. The single topped Billboard's Hot Country Singles, while it reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100. The release won three awards during the 25th Annual Grammy Awards: Song of the Year, Best Country Song and Best Male Country Vocal Performance. The single was certified platinum; while the album was certified quadruple-platinum, and later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.
Meanwhile, two collaborations with Waylon Jennings were released;WWII in 1982, and Take it to the Limit, another collaboration with Waylon Jennings was released in 1983. In the mid-1980s, Nelson, Jennings, Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash formed The Highwaymen, who achieved platinum record sales and toured the world. Meanwhile, he became more involved with charity work, such as singing on We are the World in 1984. In 1985, Nelson had another success with Half Nelson, a compilation album of duets with a range of artists such as Ray Charles and Neil Young. In 1980, Nelson performed on the south lawn of the White House. The September 13 concert featured First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Nelson in a duet of Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother". Nelson frequently visited the White House, where according to the biography by Joe Nick Patoski, Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, where he smoked marijuana on the White House roof.
IRS and later career (1990–present)
In 1990, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seized most of Nelson's assets, claiming that he owed US$32,000,000. In addition to the unpaid taxes, Nelson's situation was worsened by the weak investments he had made during the early 1980s. His lawyer, Jay Goldberg, negotiated the sum to be lowered to US$16,000,000. Later, Nelson's attorney renegotiated a settlement with the IRS in which he paid US$6,000,000, although Nelson did not comply with the agreement. Nelson released The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories? as a double album, with all profits destined for the IRS. Many of his assets were auctioned and purchased by friends, who donated or rented his possessions to him for a nominal fee. He sued Price Waterhouse, contending that they put his money in illegal tax shelters. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount and Nelson cleared his debts by 1993.
During the 1990s and 2000s, Nelson toured continuously, recording several albums including 1998's critically acclaimed Teatro, and performed and recorded with other acts including Phish, Johnny Cash, and Toby Keith. His duet with Keith, "Beer for My Horses", was released as a single and topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts for six consecutive weeks in 2003, while the accompanying video won an award for "Best Video" at the 2004 Academy of Country Music Awards. A USA Network television special celebrated Nelson's 70th birthday, and Nelson released The Essential Willie Nelson as part of the celebration. Nelson also appeared on Ringo Starr's 2003 album, Ringo Rama, as a guest vocal on "Write One for Me".
Nelson headlined the 2005 Tsunami Relief Austin to Asia concert to benefit the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, which raised an estimated US$75,000 for UNICEF. Also in 2005, a live performance of the Johnny Cash song "Busted" with Ray Charles was released on Charles' duets album Genius & Friends. Nelson's 2007 performance with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis at the Lincoln Center, was released as the live album Two Men with the Blues in 2008; reaching number one in Billboard's Top Jazz Albums and number twenty on the Billboard 200. The same year, Nelson recorded his first album with Buddy Cannon as the producer, Moment of Forever. Cannon acquainted Nelson earlier, during the production of his collaboration with Kenny Chesney on the duet "That Lucky Old Sun", for Chesney's album of the same name. In 2009 Nelson and Marsalis joined with Norah Jones in a tribute concert to Ray Charles, which resulted in the Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Genius of Ray Charles album, released in 2011.
In 2010, Nelson released Country Music, a compilation of standards produced by T-Bone Burnett. The album peaked number four in Billboard's Top Country Albums, and twenty on the Billboard 200. It was nominated for Best Americana Album in the 2011 Grammy Awards. In 2011 Nelson participated in the concert Kokua For Japan, a fund raising event for the victims of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan which raised US$1.6 million.
In February 2012, Legacy Recordings signed a deal with Nelson that included the release of new material, as well as past releases that would be selected and complemented with outtakes and other material selected by him. With the new deal, Buddy Cannon returned to produce the recordings of Nelson. After selecting the material and the sound of the tunes with the singer, Cannon's work method consisted in the recording of the tracks with studio musicians, with the takes later completed on a separate session by Nelson with his guitar. Cannon's association to Nelson also extended to songwriting, with singer and producer composing the lyrics by exchanging text messages.
Nelson's first release for the Legacy Recordings was Heroes, that included guest appearances by his sons Lukas and Micah of the band Insects vs Robots, Ray Price, Merle Haggard, Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, Billy Joe Shaver and Sheryl Crow. The album reached number four on Billboard's Top Country Albums. His 2013 release To All the Girls..., a collection of duets with all female partners, featured among others Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Mavis Staples, Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. The album entered Billboard's Top Country Albums at number two, marking his highest position on the chart since the release of his 1989 A Horse Called Music, and extending his record to a total of forty-six top ten albums on the country charts. Nelson scored as well his second top ten album on the Billboard 200, with the release entering at number nine.
His following release was Band of Brothers, in 2014, the first Nelson album to feature the most newly self-penned songs since 1996's Spirit. Upon its release, it topped Billboard's Top Country albums chart, the first time since 1986's The Promiseland, the last Nelson album to top it. The release reached number five on the Billboard 200, Nelson's highest position on the chart since 1982's Always On My Mind. In December 2014, a duet with Rhonda Vincent, "Only Me", topped Bluegrass Unlimited's National Airplay chart.Myers, Judy 1969, p. 4. Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. 74-76. Evans, Mike 2006, p. 70. Dicair, David 2007, p. 246. Erlewine, Michael 1997, p. 324. Dingus, Anne 1992, p. 77. Myers, Judy 1969, p. 5. Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake 2000, p. 116, 117. Smith, Michael William 2013. Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake 2000, p. 117. Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake 2000, p. 118. Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. 102. Richmond, Clint 2000, p. 36. Kosser, Michael 2006, p. 73. Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. 6. NPR staff 1996. Edwards, David; Callahan, Mike 2001. Johnny Bush; Rick Mitchell 2007, p. 79. Scobey, Lola 1982, p. 190. Reid, Jan 2004, p. 224. Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. Nashville, 1960. Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake 2000, p. 158. Johnny Bush; Rick Mitchell 2007, p. 137, 138. Kienzle, Richard 2003, p. 248. Reid, Jan 2004, p. 223. Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake 2000, p. 167. Reid, Jan; Sahm Shawn 2010, p. 79. Thomas, Dave 2012. Milner, Jay Dunston 1998, p. 183, 184. Harden, Lydia Dixon; Hoekstra, Dave; McCall, Michael; Morris, Edward; Williams, Janet 1996, p. 169. Tichi, Cecilia 1998, p. 341. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas 2007. Dicair, David 2007, p. 247. Richmond, Clint 2000, p. 75. Wolff, Kurt; Duane, Orla 2000, p. 367. Richmond, Clint 2000, p. 76. Hartman, Gary 2008. RIAA staff 2010. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas 2008. RIAA staff 2 2010. Jennings, Waylon; Kaye, Lenny 1996, p. 10. RIAA staff 3 2010. Billboard December 25, 1976. Tribe, Ivan 2006, p. 188. Allmusic staff 2008. Jurek, Thom 2008. Monkman, Martin 2008. Poe, Randy 2012, p. 147. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas 2005. Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. 383. Edwards, Gavin 2015. Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. 368. Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. 342. Draper 1991, p. 177. Cowan, Alison Leigh 1991. Johnston, David Cay 1995. Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. 430. Farm Aid Staff 2011. Erlewine Stephen Thomas 2000. BMI Staff 2003. Biography staff 2011. Pareles, Jon 2003. PRNewswire staff 2003. Entertainment One staff 2003. BBC News 2005. Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David 2015, p. 360. Cooper, Peter 2014. Willie Nelson.com staff 2011. Evans-Price, Deborah 2010. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas 2010. CBS Music staff 2011. Sugimoto, Minna 2011. Willie Nelson.com staff 2012. PrNewswire staff 2012. Billboard staff 2012. Vinson, Christina 2013. Jessen, Wade 2013. Leahey, Andrew 2014. Holden, Larry 2014.
Nelson's acting debut was in the 1979 film, The Electric Horseman, followed by appearances in Honeysuckle Rose, Thief, and Barbarosa. He played the role of Red Loon in Coming Out of the Ice in 1982 and starred in Songwriter two years later. He portrayed the lead role in the 1986 film version of his concept album Red Headed Stranger. Other movies that Nelson acted in include Wag the Dog, Gone Fishin' (as Billy 'Catch' Pooler), the 1986 television movie Stagecoach (with Johnny Cash), Half Baked, Beerfest, The Dukes of Hazzard, Surfer, Dude and Swing Vote.He has also made guest appearances on Miami Vice (1986's "El Viejo" episode), Delta, Nash Bridges, The Simpsons, Monk, Adventures in Wonderland, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, King of the Hill, The Colbert Report, Swing Vote and Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
In 1988 his first book, Willie: An Autobiography, was published. The Facts of Life: And Other Dirty Jokes, a personal recollection of tour and musical stories from his career, combined with song lyrics, followed in 2002. In 2005 he co-authored Farm Aid: A Song for America, a commemorative book about the twentieth anniversary of the foundation of Farm Aid. His third book, co-authored with long-time friend Turk Pipkin, The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart, was published in 2006. In 2007 a book advocating the use of bio-diesel and the reduction of gas emissions, On The Clean Road Again: Biodiesel and The Future of the Family Farm, was published. His next book, A Tale Out of Luck, published in 2008 and co-authored by Mike Blakely, was Nelson's first fictional book. In 2012, it was announced the release of a new autobiography by Nelson, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road. Released on November 13, it was named after the song from his album Heroes. The book contained further biographical details, as well as family pictures and stories about Nelson's political views, as well as his advocation for marijuana. The artwork of the book was designed by Nelson's son, Micah, and the foreword written by Kinky Friedman. In 2015 the publication of a second Nelson autobiography entitled It's a Long Story: My Life was announced. Co-authored with David Ritz, the book was published on May 5, 2015.
In 2002, Nelson became the official spokesman of the Texas Roadhouse, a chain of steakhouses. Nelson heavily promoted the chain and appeared on a special on Food Network. The chain installed Willie's Corner, a section dedicated to him and decked out with Willie memorabilia, at several locations.
In 2008, Nelson reopened Willie's Place, a truck stop in Carl's Corner, Texas. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court allowed Nelson to invest in it. The establishment had about 80 employees and was used as a concert hall with a bar and a 1,000 square feet (93 m) dance floor. It closed in 2011 after defaulting on a loan, leading to foreclosure and bankruptcy. In 2010, Nelson founded with the collaboration of producers and filmmakers Luck Films, a company dedicated to produce feature films, documentaries and concerts. The next year, he created Willie's Roadhouse, aired on channel 56 of SiriusXM radio. The channel was a result of the merger of his two other channels The Roadhouse and Willie's Place.
In November 2014, it was announced that Nelson would be the host of the television series Inside Arlyn, shot at Arlyn Studio in Austin, Texas. The thirteen-episode first season would feature artists being interviewed by Nelson and Dan Rather, followed by a performance. The series concept received attention from cable channels that requested to see the pilot episode.
Following the legalization of marijuana in different states, Nelson announced in 2015 through spokesman Michael Bowman the establishment of his own marijuana brand, Willie's Reserve. Plans to open chain stores in the states were marijuana was legalized were announced, to be expanded state-to-state if marijuana legalization is further expanded. Bowman called the brand "a culmination of (Nelson's) vision, and his whole life".Allmovie staff 2011. Yahoo! Movies staff 2011. Google Books staff 2004. Good Reads staff 2010. Google Books staff 2005. NPR staff 2010. Google Books staff 2007. Google Books staff 2008. Sterling, Whitaker 2012. Hachette staff 2015. Carey Brian 2003. Dunn, Jill 2011. Willie's Place staff 2010. KWTX staff 2012. Chagollan, Steve 2010. Opry.com staff 2011. Swiatecki, Chad 2014. Guardian Music staff 2015.
Nelson uses a variety of music styles to create his own distinctive blend of country music, a hybrid of jazz, pop, blues, rock and folk. His "unique sound", which uses a "relaxed, behind-the-beat singing style and gut-string guitar" and his "nasal voice and jazzy, off-center phrasing", has been responsible for his wide appeal, and has made him a "vital icon in country music", influencing the "new country, new traditionalist, and alternative country movements of the '80s and '90s".
GuitarsMain article: Trigger (guitar)
In 1969, the Baldwin company gave Nelson an amplifier and a three-cord pickup electric guitar. During a show in Helotes, Texas, Nelson left the guitar on the floor of the stage, and it was later stepped on by a drunk man. He sent it to be repaired in Nashville by Shot Jackson, who told Nelson that the damage was too great. Jackson offered him a Martin N-20 Classical guitar, and, at Nelson's request, moved the pickup to the Martin. Nelson purchased the guitar unseen for US$750 and named it after Roy Rogers' horse "Trigger". The next year Nelson rescued the guitar from his burning ranch.
Constant strumming with a guitar pick over the decades has worn a large sweeping hole into the guitar's body near the sound hole—the N-20 has no pick-guard since classical guitars are meant to be played fingerstyle instead of with picks. Its soundboard has been signed by over a hundred of Nelson's friends and associates, ranging from fellow musicians to lawyers and football coaches.The first signature on the guitar was Leon Russell's, who asked Nelson initially to sign his guitar. When Nelson was about to sign it with a marker, Russell requested him to scratch it instead, explaining that the guitar would be more valuable in the future. Interested in the concept, Nelson requested Russell also to also sign his guitar. In 1991, during his process with the IRS, Nelson was worried that Trigger could be auctioned off, stating: "When Trigger goes, I'll quit". He asked his daughter, Lana, to take the guitar from the studio before any IRS agent got there, and bring it to him on Maui. Nelson then hid the guitar in his manager's house until his debt was paid in 1993.Erlewine, Stephen Thomas 2015. Encyclopædia Britannica staff 2011. Nelson, Willie 2005. Willie Nelson Genral Store staff 2010. Reinert 1976, p. 103. Draper 1991, p. 103. NPR staff 1996.
Nelson is active in a number of issues. Along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, he set up Farm Aid in 1985 to assist and increase awareness of the importance of family farms, after Bob Dylan's comments during the Live Aid concert that he hoped some of the money would help American farmers in danger of losing their farms through mortgage debt. The first concert included Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, B.B. King, Roy Orbison, and Neil Young among many others, and raised over $9 million for America's family farmers. Besides organizing and performing in the annual concerts, Nelson is the president of the board of Farm Aid.
Nelson is a co-chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) advisory board. He has worked with NORML for years, fighting for marijuana legalization. In 2005 Nelson and his family hosted the first annual "Willie Nelson & NORML Benefit Golf Tournament", leading to a cover appearance and inside interview in the January 2008 issue of High Times magazine. After his arrest for possession of marijuana in 2010, Nelson created the TeaPot party under the motto "Tax it, regulate it and legalize it!".
In 2001, following the September 11 attacks, he participated in the benefit telethon America: A Tribute to Heroes, leading the rest of the celebrities singing the song "America the Beautiful". In 2010, during an interview with Larry King, Nelson expressed his doubts with regards to the attacks and the official story. Nelson explained that he could not believe that the buildings could collapse due to the planes, attributing instead the result to an implosion.
Nelson supported Dennis Kucinich's campaign in the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries. He raised money, appeared at events, and composed the song "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?", criticizing the war in Iraq. He recorded a radio advertisement asking for support to put musician/author Kinky Friedman on the ballot as an independent candidate for the 2006 Texas gubernatorial election. Friedman promised Nelson a job in Austin as the head of a new Texas Energy Commission due to his support of bio-fuels. In January 2008, Nelson filed a suit against the Texas Democratic Party, alleging that the party violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution by refusing to allow co-plaintiff Kucinich to appear on the primary ballot because he had scratched out part of the loyalty oath on his application.
In 2004, he and his wife Annie became partners with Bob and Kelly King in the building of two Pacific Bio-diesel plants, one in Salem, Oregon, and the other at Carl's Corner, Texas (the Texas plant was founded by Carl Cornelius, a longtime Nelson friend and the namesake for Carl's Corner). In 2005, Nelson and several other business partners formed Willie Nelson Biodiesel("Bio-Willie"), a company that is marketing bio-diesel bio-fuel to truck stops. The fuel is made from vegetable oil (mainly soybean oil), and can be burned without modification in diesel engines.
Nelson is an advocate for better treatment for horses and has been campaigning for the passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503/S. 311) alongside the Animal Welfare Institute. He is on its Board of Directors and has adopted a number of horses from Habitat for Horses. In 2008, Nelson signed on to warn consumers about the cruel and illegal living conditions for calves raised to produce milk for dairy products. He wrote letters to Land O'Lakes and Challenge Dairy, two of the major corporations that use milk from calves raised at California's Mendes Calf Ranch, which employs an intensive confinement practice that was the subject of a lawsuit and campaign brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
A supporter of the LGBT movement, Nelson published in 2006 through iTunes a version of Ned Sublette's "Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other", that met instant success. During an interview with Texas Monthly in 2013, regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and Same-sex marriage in the United States, Nelson responded to a comparison the interviewer did with the Civil Rights Movement, stating: "We'll look back and say it was crazy that we ever even argued about this". He presented also two logos with the pink equal sign, symbol of the LBGT movement. The first one, featured the sign represented with two long braids; while the second one, featured the sign represented with two marijuana cigarettes. The use of the logos became viral instantly in social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.Durchholz, Daniel; Graff, Gary 2010, p. 134. Durchholz, Daniel; Graff, Gary 2010, p. 135. Richmond, Clint 2000, p. 94. NORML staff 2009. High Times staff 2007. Thomson, Gayle 2010. Quay, Sara; Damico, Amy 2010, p. 149. O'Reilly, Bill 2010. Reuters staff 2004. Hamilton, Reeve 2010. Car Connection staff 2010. Selby, W. Gardner 2009. Smith, Zachary Alden; Taylor, Katrina 2008, p. 173. Associated Press staff 2005. Nelson, Willie (2) 2007. Habitat for Horses staff 2011. Nelson, Willie 2008. Neu, Clayton 2006. Langer, Andy 2013.
Nelson lives in Maui, Hawaii, in a largely self-sustaining community where all the homes use only solar power. Neighbors include Kris Kristofferson, Woody Harrelson, and Owen Wilson. Nelson also owns a ranch near Austin, Texas.
Willie Nelson has married four times and fathered seven children. His first marriage was to Martha Matthews; it lasted from 1952 to 1962. The couple had three children: Lana, Susie and Willie "Billy" Hugh, Jr. Billy died by suicide in 1991. The marriage was marked by violence, with Matthews assaulting Nelson several times, including one incident when she sewed him up in a bed sheet and then beat him with a broomstick. Nelson's next marriage was to Shirley Collie in 1963. The couple divorced in 1971, after Collie found a bill from the maternity ward of a Houston hospital charged to Nelson and Connie Koepke for the birth of Paula Carlene Nelson. Koepke and Nelson married the same year and had two daughters, Paula Carlene and Amy Lee. Following a divorce in 1988, he married his current wife, Annie D'Angelo, in 1991. They have two sons, Lukas Autry and Jacob Micah. Nelson traces his genealogy to the American Revolutionary War, in which his ancestor John Nelson served as a major.
While swimming in Hawaii in 1981, Nelson's lung collapsed. All of his scheduled concerts were canceled and he was taken to the Maui Memorial Hospital. Nelson temporarily stopped smoking cigarettes each time his lungs became congested, and resumed when the congestion ended. He smoked between two and three packages per day. After suffering from pneumonia a repeated number of times, he decided he had to quit either marijuana or tobacco. Nelson decided to quit tobacco. In 2008 he started to smoke marijuana with a carbon-free system to avoid the effects of smoke in his lungs. In 2004 Nelson underwent surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, as he had damaged his wrists by continuously playing the guitar. On the recommendation of his doctor, he canceled his scheduled concerts and only wrote songs during his recovery. In 2012 he canceled a fund-raising appearance in the Denver area. Nelson suffered from breathing problems due to high altitude and emphysema, he was taken to a local hospital. His publicist Elaine Schock confirmed soon after that Nelson's health was good, and that he was heading to his next scheduled concert in Dallas, Texas.
Nelson has been arrested several times for marijuana possession. The first occasion was in 1974, in Dallas, Texas. In 1977 after a tour with Hank Cochran, Nelson went on a short trip to the Bahamas. Nelson and Cochran arrived late to the airport and boarded the flight without luggage. The bags were later sent to them. As Nelson and Cochran claimed their luggage in the Bahamas, a customs officer questioned Nelson after a stash of marijuana was found on a pair of his jeans. Nelson was arrested and sent to the local jail. As Cochran made arrangements to pay the bail, he took Nelson a six-pack of beer to his cell. Nelson was released a few hours later. Inebriated, he fell after he jumped celebrating and was taken to the emergency room. He then appeared before the judge, who dropped the charges in exchange for Nelson to never return to the country. In 1994, highway patrolmen found a marijuana cigarette in his car near Waco, Texas; the resulting court appearance caused him to cancel his appearance at the Grammy awards. While traveling to Ann W. Richards' funeral in 2006, Nelson, along with his manager and his sister, Bobbi, were arrested in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana and charged with possession of marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Nelson received six months probation. On November 26, 2010, Nelson was arrested in Sierra Blanca, Texas, for possession of six ounces of marijuana found in his tour bus while traveling from Los Angeles back to Texas. He was released after paying bail of US$2,500. Prosecutor Kit Bramblett supported not sentencing Nelson to jail due to the amount of marijuana being small, but suggested instead a US$100 fine and told Nelson that he would have him sing "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" for the court. Judge Becky Dean-Walker stated that Nelson had to pay the fine but did not require him to perform the song, explaining that the prosecutor was joking. Nelson's lawyer Joe Turner reached an agreement with the prosecutor. Nelson was set to pay a US$500 fine to avoid a two-year jail sentence with a 30-day review period, which in case of another incident would end the agreement. The judge later rejected the agreement, claiming that Nelson was receiving preferential treatment for his celebrity status; the offense normally carried a one-year jail sentence. Regarding the status of the case, Bramblett declared that the case would remain open until it is either dismissed, or the judge changed her opinion.
During his childhood, Nelson grew interested in martial arts. He ordered by mail the self-defense books advertised on the Batman and Superman comics, which included jujitsu and judo. Nelson started to formally practice kung fu after he moved to Nashville, in the 1960s. During the 1980s, Nelson started to train on tae kwon do, in which he holds a second-degree black belt. During the 1990s, Nelson started to practice the Korean martial art GongKwon Yusul. In 2014, after twenty years on the discipline, his Grand Master Sam Um presented him with a fifth-degree black belt on a ceremony held in Austin, Texas. A 2014 Tae Kwon Do Times Magazine interview revealed that Nelson had developed an unorthodox manner of training during the lengthy periods of time he was on tour. Nelson would conduct his martial arts training on his tour bus "The Honeysuckle Rose" and send videos to his supervising Master for review and critique.Kane, Coleen 2008. Grigoriadis, Vannessa 2007, p. 57. Hollabaugh, Lorie 2010. Hall, Michael 2008. Cartwright, Gary 2000, p. 276. Goldman, Andrew 2012. Riggs, Thomas 2007, p. 239. Hunt, Ernest E. IV 2009. Krebs, Albin 1981. O'Hare, Kevin 2010. NPR Staff 2012. Patoski, Joe Nick 2011. Associated Press staff 2002. Miller Loncaric, Melissa 2008. McKinnley, James Jr 2012. Goddard, Steve 2010. Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David 2015, p. 247. Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David 2015, p. 248. Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David 2015, p. 249. People staff 2006. Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. 471. Associated Press staff 2010. Caulfield, Phillip 2011. Amter, Charlie 2011. TMZ staff 2011. Cohen, Jason 2013. Nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake; Edwin Shrake 2000, p. 55. Chilton, Martin 2012. Hall, Michael 2014. Chilton, Martin 2014. Zirogiannis, Marc (September 2014). "Willie Nelson: Master of Country Music and Gongkwon Yusul". Tae Kwon Do Times Magazine (September 2014): 50 Extra |pages= or |at= (help). Retrieved 24 May 2015.
LegacySee also: List of awards and nominations received by Willie Nelson
Nelson is widely recognized as an American icon. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993, and he received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998. In 2011, Nelson was inducted to the National Agricultural Hall of Fame, for his labor in Farm Aid and other fund risers to benefit farmers.
In 2003, Texas Governor Perry signed bill No. 2582, introduced by State Representative Elizabeth Ames Jones and Senator Jeff Wentworth, which funded the Texas Music Project, the state's official music charity. Nelson was named Honorary Chairman of the Advisory Board of the project. In 2005, Democratic Texas Senator Gonzalo Barrientos introduced a bill to name 49 miles (79 km) of the Travis County section of State Highway 130 after Nelson, and at one point 23 of the 31 state Senators were co-sponsors of the bill. The legislation was dropped after two Republican senators, Florence Shapiro and Wentworth, objected, citing Nelson's lack of connection to the highway, his fund raisers for Democrats, his drinking, and his marijuana advocacy.
An important collection of Willie Nelson materials (1975–1994) became part of the Wittliff collections of Southwestern Writers, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas. The collection contains lyrics, screenplays, letters, concert programs, tour itineraries, posters, articles, clippings, personal effects, promotional items, souvenirs, and documents. It documents Nelson's IRS troubles and how Farm Aid contributions were used. Most of the material was collected by Nelson's friend Bill Wittliff, who wrote or co-wrote Honeysuckle Rose, Barbarosa and Red Headed Stranger. In 2014, Nelson donated his personal collection to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The items include photographs, correspondence, song manuscripts, posters, certificate records, awards, signed books, screenplays, personal items and gifts and tributes from Nelson's fans.
In April 2010, Nelson received the "Feed the Peace" award from The Nobelity Project for his extensive work with Farm Aid and overall contributions to world peace. On June 23, 2010 he was inducted into the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry. Nelson is an honorary trustee of the Dayton International Peace Museum. In 2010, Austin, Texas renamed Second Street to Willie Nelson Boulevard. The city also unveiled a life-size statue to honor him, placed at the entrance of Austin City Limits' new studio. The non-profit organization Capital Area Statues commissioned sculptor Clete Shields to execute the project. The statue was unveiled on April 20, 2012. The date selected by the city of Austin unintentionally coincided with the number 4/20, associated with cannabis culture. In spite of the coincidence and Nelson's advocacy for the legalization of marijuana, the ceremony was scheduled also for 4:20 pm. During the ceremony, Nelson performed the song "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die". The same year, Nelson was honored during the 46th Annual Country Music Association Awards as the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was also named after him. In 2013, he received an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music. The following year, he was part of the inaugural class inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame. Also included among the first inductees was his friend Darrell Royal, whose jamming parties that Nelson participated in were the source of inspiration for the show.
For many years, Nelson's image was marked by his red hair, often divided into two long braids partially concealed under a bandanna. In the April 2007 issue of Stuff Magazine Nelson was interviewed about his long locks. "I started braiding my hair when it started getting too long, and that was, I don't know, probably in the 70's." On May 26, 2010, the Associated Press reported that Nelson had cut his hair, and Nashville music journalist Jimmy Carter published a photograph of the pigtail-free Nelson on his website. Nelson wanted a more maintainable hairstyle, as well helping him stay cool more easily at his Maui home. In October 2014, the braids of Nelson were sold for US$37,000 at an auction of the Waylon Jennings State. In 1983, Nelson cut his braids and gave them to Jennings as a gift during a party celebrating Jennings' sobriety.
Nelson's touring and recording group, the Family, is full of longstanding members. The original lineup included his sister Bobbie Nelson, drummer Paul English, harmonicist Mickey Raphael, bassist Bee Spears, Billy English (Paul's younger brother), and Jody Payne. The current lineup includes all the members but Jody Payne, who retired, and Bee Spears, who died in 2011. Willie & Family tours North America in the bio-diesel bus Honeysuckle Rose, which is fueled by Bio-Willie. Nelson's tour buses were customized by Florida Coach since 1979. The company built the Honeysuckle Rose I in 1983, which was replaced after a collision in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1990. The interior was salvaged and reused for the second version of the bus the same year. Nelson changed his tour bus in 1996, 2005 and 2013, currently touring on the Honeysuckle Rose V.PBS staff 2011. Hamilton, Reeve 2010. Edwards, Joe 1993. Kennedy Center staff 2011. Treolo, Melissa 2011. Texas Music Project staff 2011. Ward, Mike 2005. Fort Worth Star-telegram staff 2005. Alkek Library 2010. Briscoe Center staff 2014. PRWeb staff 2010. Donahue, Ann 2010. Dayton Peace Museum staff 2010. BBC News staff 2010. Houston Chronicle 2010. Tomlinson, Chris 2012. Tomlinson, Chris (2) 2012. Lewis, Randy 2012. Sullivan, James 2013. Associated Press staff 2014. Everett, Christina 2010. Associated Press 2010. Carter, Jimmy 2010. New York Post staff 2014. Scobey, Lola 1982, pp. 198, 358. Kerns, William 2012. Vancouver Province staff 2007. Langer, Andy 2014.
Discography and other works
As well as recording over sixty studio albums, Nelson has appeared in over thirty films and TV shows. His acting debut was in the 1979 film, The Electric Horseman, followed by appearances in Honeysuckle Rose, Thief, and Barbarosa.RecordingsFurther information: Willie Nelson albums discography, Willie Nelson singles discography and List of songs written by Willie NelsonFilmsFurther information: Willie Nelson filmographyBooksWillie: An Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, 1988, with Bud ShrakeThe Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes, Random House, 2002The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart, Gotham, 2006, with Turk PipkinA Tale Out of Luck (a novel), Center Street, 2008, with Mike BlakelyOn The Clean Road Again: Biodiesel and The Future of the Family Farm, Fulcrum Publishing, 2007Farm Aid: A Song for America, Rodale Books, foreword by Willie Nelson, 2005Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From the Road, William Morrow, foreword by Kinky Friedman, 2012It's a Long Story: My Life, Little, Brown and Company, 2015 with David Ritz Allmovie staff 2011.