Willie Nelson, the legendary country singer and songwriter turned 80 today, he was born on April 29, 1933, in Abbott, Texas. Nelson a country singer, actor, poet, author, activist and songwriter best known for his classic hit songs “Crazy” and “On the Road Again”, is described by some as the best country songwriter ever. The peak of his fame came in the ’70s during the “outlaw country” sub-genre, but he remains iconic in American culture.
Willie Hugh Nelson’s was born during the Great Depression in Abbot Texas, a small rural railroad town whose population peaked at 713, in 1914 and has declined ever since, Willie humorously describes Abbott’s as a town where “every time a baby is born a man leaves town”. The confusion about Nelson’s birthday is really very simple, he was born on April 29, 1933, but his doctor (F. D. Sims) didn’t record the birth until the next day, April 30. His cousin Mildred chose both his first name (Willie) and middle name (Hugh), his ancestry includes English, Irish and Cherokee. His mother left Abbott shortly after his birth and soon after that his father remarried and moved also, leaving Willie and his sister Bobbie to be raised by their grandparents.
At the age of six Nelson’s grandfather bought him a guitar and showed him how to play a few chords, at that time his family along with many other citizens of Abbott, picked cotton during the summer. By the age of 13 Willie knew picking cotton wasn’t for him so he earned money singing in taverns, dance halls and honky tonks. He wrote his first song at seven and was a member of a band at ten. During high school, he performed as the lead singer and guitar player with the Bohemian Polka. In 1950 after graduating from high school, he joined the Air Force but was discharged nine months later due to back problems. After his return to Texas, Nelson attended college at Baylor University, worked as a disc jockey at several radio stations and sang in honky tonks. His music success and interests soon caused him to drop out of Baylor after two years.
He then moved to Vancouver Washington and wrote “Family Bible” recorded the song “Lumberjack” in 1956. In 1960, he signed a publishing contract with Pamper Music; during this time, he wrote songs including “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Hello Walls”, “Pretty Paper”, and “Crazy”, music that would become country standards. Nelson wrote the country ballad “Crazy” in 1961 for country singer Billy Walker, who turned it down because he said it was “a girls song”. Willie at the time was a known singer-songwriter who had written several hits for other artists but hadn’t had a major recording of his own. Patsy Cline, who was a country superstar at the time was looking to extend her string of music hits picked the song as her follow up to her previous big hit “I Fall to Pieces”, “Crazy” became the #2 country hit in 1962 and eventually helped launch Nelson as a performer as well as a songwriter.
In 1962, Nelson recorded his first album, “And Then I Wrote”, owing to this success, he was signed by RCA Victor in 1964 and joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1965. After mid-chart success with hits in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Nelson decided to retire in 1972 and moved to Austin, Texas. It became a short retirement, Nelson motivated by the resurgence and popularity of hippie music in Austin, came out of retirement and performed often at the Armadillo World Headquarters. His albums Shotgun Willie (1973), Phases and Stages (1974), Red Headed Stranger (1975) and Stardust (1978) were critical and commercial successes and made Nelson one of the most recognized artists in country music.
Nelson and Waylon Jennings were combined into a genre called “outlaw country”, a subgenre of country music that grew in the late ’60s as a reaction to the old school conservative restrictions of Nashville sound. “Wanted! The Outlaws” an album by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser, released in 1976 and consisting of previously released material earned its place in music history by becoming the first country album to sell a million copies and received critical praise.
His musical influences were Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Django Reinhardt, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong.
In his book, “The Tao of Willie: A Guide to Happiness in Your Heart”, Willie describes the influence of the guitar in his style: “One of the secrets to my sound is almost beyond explanation. My battered old Martin guitar, Trigger, has the greatest tone I’ve ever heard from a guitar…If I picked up the finest guitar made this year and tried to play my solos exactly the way you heard them on the radio or even at last night’s show, I’d always be a copy of myself and we’d all end up bored. But if I play an instrument that is now a part of me, and do it according to the way that feels right for me…I’ll always be an original”.
Willie Nelson certainly is an original and is widely recognized as an American icon. In 1979, Willie Nelson received Country Music’s highest honor when he was selected “Entertainer of the Year” by the Country Music Association, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993. in 1982 “Always on my Mind” won the Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance. His Albums Without A Song (1984) and City of New Orleans (1984) reached the top or near the top of the country charts. “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” was a big hit in 1984.
The following year, he teamed up with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson to form the Highwaymen. They first release, Highwayman (1985) which was a big hit and then Highwayman 2 (1995). Known for his compassion, Nelson along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985. in an effort to help family farmers, to date they have raised more than $30 million to keep family farmers on their land Nelson has also been concerned and worked on behalf of the environment, most prominently promoting alternative fuels. Nelson is known for being generous not only with his money but with his time, after a show, “He’ll stay there for hours, signing autographs and meeting people,” friend Kris Kristofferson told Texas Monthly.
Willie first appeared as an actor in the movie “The Electric Horseman” (1979) with Robert Redford, shortly after he acted in Honeysuckle Rose (1980), playing the role of a veteran country musician; the movie featured Nelson’s song “On the Road Again,” which earned him an Academy Award nomination for “Best Original Song” and won the Grammy Award for “Best Country Song” (1980). Willie’s also appeared in the following movies; Thief (1981), Barbarosa (1982), “Red Loon” (1982), “Songwriter” (1984) with Kris Kristoferson, Red Headed Stranger (1986), Wag the Dog (1997) and “Gone Fishing”(1997). Willie has appeared in more than 30 movies to date.
On a personal note, Nelson has certainly had his share of tragedy and challenges in his life, most devastating was the death of his son in 1991. In 1990 he lost everything, when the IRS sized most of his assets after Price Waterhouse placed him into tax shelters that were later disallowed, the matter was settled and Willie’s debt was paid by 1993. Of course we all know about his problem on several occasions because of use of marijuana, Willie continues to be an advocate for legalizing marijuana.
Nelson lives in Maui, Hawaii, his neighbors include Kris Kristofferson, Woody Harrelson, and Owen Wilson, he married four times and has seven children. In 1991, he married his current wife, Annie D’Angelo, they have two sons together.
Nelson last performed a few days ago in Austin Texas on Sunday April 28, 2013, to benefit the West Volunteer Fire Department, located near the town of Abbott where he grew-up.
Happy Birthday Willie we wish you the best, peace, good health and happiness.
According to BMI sources: Willie Nelson has 351 song titles registered with them.
World News US