American musician, singer, songwriter, author, poet, actor, and activist Willie Hugh Nelson was born April 29, 1933 in Abbott, Texas. Nelson wrote his first song at age seven and joined his first band at ten. 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.
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. He also earned money by singing in dance halls, taverns, and honky tonks from age 13, and also played guitar for the local band Bohemian Polka with whom, he toured locally during high school as a singer and guitar player. Nelson’s musical influences were Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Django Reinhardt, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong.
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. 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 and again tree trimmer. 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. 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 nearby 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 $10 for a ticket to reach Portland. He also worked as a disc jockey in Texas radio stations and a singer in honky-tonks. In 1956 Nelson moved to Vancouver, Washington, and was hired by KVAN in Vancouver, Washington and appeared frequently on a television show. he wrote “Family Bible” and recorded the song “Lumberjack” in 1956. He released his first record, “No Place For Me”, which included “Lumberjack” on the B-side
After his son Billy was born In 1958, he moved to Houston, Texas, where he signed a contract with D Records. He sang at the Esquire Ballroom weekly and he worked as a disk jockey. In 1960 he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, Where he often spent time at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a bar near the Grand Ole Opry frequented by the show’s stars and other singers and songwriters. There Nelson met Hank Cochran, a songwriter who worked for the publishing company Pamper Music, owned by Ray Price and Hal Smith. Cochran heard Nelson during a jam session with Buddy Emmons and Jimmy Day. He subsequently signed a publishing contract with Pamper Music which allowed him to join Ray Price’s band as a bassist. He also wrote “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Hello Walls”, “Pretty Paper”, and “Crazy”.
Nelson signed with Liberty Records and was recording by August 1961 at Quonset Hut Studio And released “Willingly” (a duet with his soon-to-be second wife, Shirley Collie, and “Touch Me”. In 1962, he recorded his first album, …And Then I Wrote. Following this success, Nelson signed in 1964 with RCA Victor and joined the Grand Ole Opry the following year. 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
Following hits in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Nelson retired in 1972 and moved to Austin, Texas. The ongoing music scene of Austin motivated Nelson to return from retirement, performing frequently at the Armadillo World Headquarters. In 1973, Nelson turned to outlaw country, And recorded albums such as Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages in 1974, including “Bloody Mary Morning.” This 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. he also produced and starred in PBS’ Austin City Limits. In 1975, he switched to Columbia Records, where he recorded the critically acclaimed and popular album Red Headed Stranger, which included a cover of Fred Rose’s 1945 song “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”. In 1975, Willie Nelson collaborated With Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser to record another outlaw country album, Wanted! The Outlaws. Next Nelson released The Sound in Your Mind and his first gospel album Troublemaker. The critical success of the album Shotgun Willie (1973), 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.
In the summer of 1977, Nelson discovered that Reshen had been filing tax extensions and not paying the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Nelson was arrested. The charges were later dropped, when Reshen’s assistant, Mark Rothbaum stepped in and took the charges. Rothbaum was sentenced to serve time in jail. Impressed by his attitude, Nelson fired Reshen and hired Rothbaum as his manager. 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. Nelson released more 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 1980’s, while creating hit albums like Honeysuckle Rose and recording hit songs like “Midnight Rider”, “On the Road Again”, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” (with Julio Iglesias) and “Pancho and Lefty”, with Merle Haggard. To All the Girls I’ve Loved before 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 Honeysuckle Rose was certified quadruple-platinum, and later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008. Two collaborations with Waylon Jennings were also released; WWII in 1982, and Take it to the Limit,in 1983. He also joined the country supergroup The Highwaymen, along with fellow singers Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson.
Willie Nelson also 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 Ray Charles and Neil Young. In 1980, Nelson performed on the south lawn of the White House. The concert of September 13 featured First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Nelson in a duet of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother”. 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. he performed at the Dripping Springs Reunion, the concept of this festival inspired Nelson to create the Fourth of July Picnic.
In 1990, Nelson’s assets were seized by the Internal Revenue Service, which claimed that he owed US$32 million. The difficulty of paying his outstanding debt was aggravated by weak investments he had made during the 1980s. In 1992, Nelson released The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?; 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 including 1998’s Teatro and performed and recorded with other acts including Phish, Johnny Cash, and Toby Keith on the song, “Beer for My Horses”, which 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 was featured on the album True Love by Toots and the Maytals, which won the Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Reggae Album. Which also featured Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Trey Anastasio, Gwen Stefani/No Doubt, Ben Harper, Bonnie Raitt, Manu Chao, the Roots, Ryan Adams, Keith Richards, Toots Hibbert, Paul Douglas, Jackie Jackson, Ken Boothe, and The Skatalites. In 2005, Nelson released a reggae album entitled “Countryman” featuring Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals on the song “I’m a Worried Man”. In 2005 Nelson headlined the Tsunami Relief Austin to Asia concert to benefit the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. A live performance of the Johnny Cash song “Busted” with Ray Charles was released on Charles’ duets album Genius & Friends. In 2007 Willie Nelson performed with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis at the Lincoln Center, which was released as the live album Two Men with the Blues in 2008, Nelson also recorded the album Moment of Forever.
Nelson also duetted with Kenny Chesney on his album “That Lucky Old Sun”. In 2009 Nelson and Marsalis joined with Norah Jones in a tribute concert to Ray Charles, released as “Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Genius of Ray Charles”. In 2010, Nelson released Country Music, a compilation of standards produced by T-Bone Burnett, which was nominated for Best Americana Album at 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. In 2012 Nelson released the album Heroes featuring 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. In 2013 he released 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. In 2014 he released the album Band of Brothers, and duetted with Rhonda Vincent on the song, “Only Me”. He also worked with Haggard Django and Jimmie. In 2017 Nelson released the album God’s Problem Child.
Nelson has also acted in over 30 films. 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 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. He also makes a cameo appearance in Woody Harrelson’s live film, Lost in London and appeared alongside Merle Haggard in the documentary The American Epic Sessions directed by Bernard MacMahon Performing, “The Only Man Wilder Than Me”,and Bob Wills’ classic “Old Fashioned Love
In 1988 Willie Nelson published 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 he published 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. His next book, A Tale Out of Luck, was published in 2008 and co-authored by Mike Blakely. In 2012 Nelson released a new autobiography entitled, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road. Which contained further biographical details, as well as family pictures and stories about Nelson’s political views, as well as his advocation for marijuana, plus artwork by his Son Micah. In 2015, a second Nelson autobiography was published entitled It’s a Long Story: My Life co-authored with David Ritz.
In 2002, Nelson became the official spokesman of the Texas Roadhouse, a chain of steakhouses and In 2008, Nelson reopened Willie’s Place, a truck stop in Carl’s Corner, Texas. In 2010, Nelson founded with the collaboration of producers and filmmakers Luck Films, a company dedicated to produce feature films, documentaries and concerts. In 2011 he created Willie’s Roadhouse, as a result of the merger of his two other channels The Roadhouse and Willie’s Place. In 2014 Nelson hosted the thirteen-episode television series Inside Arlyn, shot at Arlyn Studio in Austin, Texas Featuring artists being interviewed by Nelson and Dan Rather, followed by a performance.
Nelson is a major liberal activist and the co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which favours the legalization of marijuana. Following the legalization of marijuana in different states, Nelson announced in 2015 the establishment of his own marijuana brand, Willie’s Reserve. 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. Nelson has also co-authored several books, and has been involved in activism for the use of biofuels