Willie Nelson (born April 29, 1933) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, actor, producer, author, poet, and activist….whose critical success of the album Shotgun Willie (1973)….when 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….which was a sub-genre of country music that developed in the late 1960’s…..as a reaction to the conservative restrictions of the Nashville sound.
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….when 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….where 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…..which opened the doors to Nelson signing in 1964 with RCA Victor…..and joined the Grand Ole Opry the following year. After mid-chart hits in the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s, 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, after signing with Atlantic Records, Nelson turned to outlaw country….including albums such as Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages…..then in 1975, he switched to Columbia Records….where he recorded the critically acclaimed album Red Headed Stranger….and that same year, he recorded another outlaw country album, Wanted! The Outlaws….along with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser. During the mid-1980’s, 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 and Lefty”….that is when he joined the country super group 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 $32million…..when the difficulty of paying his outstanding debt was aggravated by weak investments he had made during the 1980’s. In 1992, Nelson released The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?….where the profits of the double album and the auction of Nelson’s assets cleared his debt. During the 1990’s and 2000’s, Shotgun Willie continued touring extensively….and released albums every year…..where he explored music genres such as reggae, blues, jazz, and folk.
Nelson made his first movie appearance in the 1979 film The Electric Horseman….which was followed by other appearances in movies and on television…..as he has acted in over 30 films….co-authored several books….and has been involved in activism for the use of bio-fuels and the legalization of marijuana.