Willie Nelson

Antiwar songs by Willie Nelson
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Willie NelsonWillie Nelson (born William Hugh Nelson, 30 April 1933) is an American entertainer and songwriter, born and raised in Abbott, Texas. He reached his greatest fame during the so-called "outlaw country" movement of the 1970s.

Willie Nelson and his sister, Bobbie Nelson, were raised by their grandparents after their parents divorced. His grandparents gave him mail-order music lessons, starting at age six. Willie played the guitar, while Bobbie played the piano. He met Bud Fletcher, a fiddler, and both siblings joined his band, Bohemian Fiddlers, while Nelson was in high school.

After graduation, Nelson joined the Air Force, but left due to back problems. He also attended Baylor University for one year. Eventually, he became a DJ at a country music radio station in Fort Worth while singing locally in honky tonk bars. In 1956, Nelson moved to Vancouver, Washington, to begin a musical career by recording "Lumberjack," which was written by Leon Payne. The single sold fairly well, but did not establish a career. Nelson continued to work as a radio announcer in Vancouver and sing in clubs. He sold a song called "Family Bible" for $50; the song was a hit for Claude Gray in 1960, has been covered widely and is often considered a gospel music classic.

Nelson moved to Tennessee, but was unable to land a record label contract. He did, however, receive a publishing contract at Pamper Music. After Ray Price recorded Nelson's "Night Life" (reputedly the most covered country song of all time), Nelson joined Price's touring band as a bass player. While playing with Ray Price and the Cherokee Cowboys, many of Nelson's songs became hits for some of country music's biggest stars of the time. These songs include "Funny How Time Slips Away" (Billy Walker), "Hello Walls" (Faron Young), "Pretty Paper" (Roy Orbison) and most famously, "Crazy" (Patsy Cline). Nelson signed with Liberty Records in 1961 and released several singles, including "Willingly" (with his wife, Shirley Collie) and "Touch Me."

He was unable to keep his momentum going, however, and Nelson's career ground to a halt. Demo recordings from his years as a songwriter for Pamper Music were later discovered and released as Crazy: The Demo Sessions (2003). His personal life during this period was also colorful, to say the least. His alcoholism, failed day jobs and a penchant for carrying guns got him in trouble with the law, not to mention with his wife, numerous times.

In 1965, Nelson moved to RCA Victor Records and joined the Grand Ole Opry. He followed this with a series of minor hits. Frustrated with the music business, which tried to force him into a mold, Nelson retired and moved to Austin, Texas. While in Austin, with its burgeoning "hippie" music scene (see Armadillo World Headquarters), Nelson decided to return to music. His popularity in Austin soared, as he played his own brand of country music marked by rock and roll, jazz, western swing, and folk influences. A lifelong passion for running and a new commitment to his own health also began during this period.

Signing with Atlantic Records, Nelson released Shotgun Willie (1973), which won excellent reviews, but did not sell well. Phases and Stages (1974), a concept album inspired by his divorce, included the hit single "Bloody Mary Morning." Nelson then moved to Columbia Records, where he was given complete creative control over his work. The result was the critically acclaimed, massively popular concept album, Red Headed Stranger (1975). Although Columbia was reluctant to release an album with primarily a guitar and piano for accompaniment, Nelson insisted (with the assistance of Waylon Jennings) and the album was a huge hit, partially because it included a popular cover of "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" (Fred Rose 1945).

Along with Nelson, Waylon Jennings was also achieving massive success in country music in the early 1970s, and the pair were soon combined into a genre called outlaw country ("outlaw" because it did not conform to Nashville standards). Nelson's outlaw image was cemented with the release of the album Wanted: The Outlaws! (1976 with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser), country music's first platinum album. Nelson continued to top the charts with hit songs during the late 1970s, including "Good Hearted Woman" (a duet with Jennings), "Remember Me", "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time", "Uncloudy Day", "I Love You a Thousand Ways", and "Something to Brag About" (a duet with Mary Kay Place).

In 1978, Nelson released two more platinum albums, Waylon and Willie (a collaboration with Jennings that included one of Waylon's signature songs, "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys") and Stardust, an unusual, string-based album of popular standards. It was produced by Booker T. Jones. Though most observers predicted that Stardust would ruin his career, it ended up being one of his most successful recordings.

Nelson began acting, appearing in The Electric Horseman (1979), starring in Honeysuckle Rose (1980), Barbarosa (1982), Red-Headed Stranger (1986, with Morgan Fairchild), Wag the Dog (1997), Gone Fishin (1997) as Billy 'Catch' Pooler, and the 1986 TV movie Stagecoach (with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, all of whom would form a band with Nelson called The Highwaymen). He has continued acting since his early successes, but usually in smaller roles and cameos, such as Half Baked as an elderly "Historian Smoker" who, while smoking marijuana, would reminisce about how things used to be in his younger years; Nelson also appeared as himself in the 2006 movie Beerfest, looking for teammates to join him in a mythical world-championship marijuana-smoking contest held in Amsterdam. Nelson has made guest appearances on Miami Vice, Delta, Nash Bridges, The Simpsons, Monk, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, King of the Hill, and The Colbert Report. He played Uncle Jesse in The Dukes of Hazzard, the 2005 cinematic remake of the television series, and will reprise the role in the upcoming sequel The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (2007) (V).

The Eighties saw a series of hit singles: "Always on My Mind" (originally made popular by Elvis Presley), "On the Road Again" from the movie Honeysuckle Rose and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" (a rather incongruous duet with Julio Iglesias). There were also more popular albums, including Pancho & Lefty (1982, with Merle Haggard), WWII (1982, with Waylon Jennings) and Take it to the Limit (1983, with Waylon Jennings).

In the mid-1980s, Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash formed a group called The Highwaymen. They achieved unexpectedly massive success, including platinum record sales and worldwide touring. Meanwhile, he became more and more involved in charity work, such as establishing the Farm Aid concerts in 1985.

In 1990, the IRS handed Nelson a bill for $16.7 million in back taxes and took away most of his assets to help pay the charges. He released The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories? as a double album, with all profits going straight to the IRS. Many of his assets were auctioned and purchased by friends, who gave his possessions back to him or rented them at a nominal fee. His debts were paid by 1993.

In 1996, Willie Nelson was featured on the Beach Boys' now out-of-print album "Stars and Stripes Vol. 1" singing a cover of their 1964 song "The Warmth of the Sun" with the Beach Boys themselves providing the harmonies and backing vocals.

He released Across the Borderline in 1993, with guests Bob Dylan, Sinéad O'Connor, David Crosby, Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson and Paul Simon.

During the 1990s and 2000s, Nelson has toured continuously and released albums that generally received mixed reviews, with the exception of 1998's critically acclaimed Teatro (which was produced by Daniel Lanois—more commonly known for his work with U2—and featured supporting vocals by Emmylou Harris). Later that year, he joined rock band Phish onstage for several songs as part of the annual Farm Aid festival. He also performed a duet concert with fellow Highwayman Johnny Cash, recorded for the VH1 Storytellers series.

Nelson received Kennedy Center Honors in 1998. A star-studded television special celebrating his 70th birthday aired in 2003. In 2004, he released Outlaws & Angels, featuring guests Toby Keith, Joe Walsh, Merle Haggard, Kid Rock, Al Green, Shelby Lynne, Carole King, Toots Hibbert, Ben Harper, Lee Ann Womack, The Holmes Brothers, Los Lonely Boys, Lucinda Williams, Keith Richards, Jerry Lee Lewis and Rickie Lee Jones.

In 2004, Nelson and his wife Annie became partners with Bob and Kelly King in the building of two Pacific Biodiesel Plants, one in Salem, Oregon, and the other at Carl's Corner, Texas (the latter founded by Carl Cornelius, a long time friend). In 2005, Nelson and several other business partners formed Willie Nelson Biodiesel[1] (also known as BioWillie), a company that is marketing Biodiesel biofuel to truck stops. The fuel is made from vegetable oils, mainly soybeans, and can be burned without modification in diesel engines.[2]

Nelson also sits as co-chair on the NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) advisory board, which includes such names as Bill Maher, Mark Stepnoski, Daniel Stern, Dr Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School, Sheriff Bill Masters of Telluride, Colorado. He has been working with the organization for many years in an attempt to 'normalize' the use of cannabis, including producing "public service" commercials for NORML that have appeared on Pot TV programs. In 2005, Willie and his family hosted the first annual Willie Nelson & NORML Benefit Golf Tournament, which appeared on the cover of High Times Magazine. Nelson once said on the David Letterman Show that he smoked marijuana on the White House roof while visiting President Jimmy Carter.

On January 9 2005, Nelson headlined an all-star concert at Austin Music Hall, to benefit the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake. Tsunami Relief Austin to Asia raised an estimated $120,000 for UNICEF and two other organizations.

Nelson was a supporter of Kinky Friedman's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in Texas in 2006. In 2004, he supported Congressman Dennis Kucinich for President, raising money, appearing at events, composing a song ("Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?") for the campaign, and contributing an enthusiastic quote to the front cover of Kucinich's book. In 2005, he recorded a radio advertisement asking for support to put Friedman on the ballot as an independent candidate. Friedman has promised Willie a job in Austin as the head of the new "Texas Energy Commission," due to Nelson's support of biofuels.

Nelson is an honorary trustee of the Dayton International Peace Museum.

Nelson is an advocate for horses and their treatment. He has been campaigning for passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503/S. 1915) with the Society for Animal Protective Legislation. He has also adopted a number of horses from Habitat for Horses.

In March 2007, Ben & Jerry's released a new flavor, Willie Nelson’s Country Peach Cobbler Ice Cream. Nelson's proceeds will be donated to Farm Aid.[4] The flavor has been re-released[5] and is now available, After Ben & Jerry's voluntary recall of 250,000 pints of the new flavor on On March 19, 2007, as wheat was incorrectly excluded from the list of ingredients,[6]

Willie Nelson performed at Montgomery Alabama's Riverwalk Amphitheater for a tribute to Hank Williams on what would have been his 73rd Birthday. Other performers included Ray Price (pictured), Andy Norman and Don Helms.
Willie Nelson performed at Montgomery Alabama's Riverwalk Amphitheater for a tribute to Hank Williams on what would have been his 73rd Birthday. Other performers included Ray Price (pictured), Andy Norman and Don Helms.

Nelson has been married four times and fathered seven children.

1. Martha Matthews from 1952-1962. Children are Lana, Susie, and Billy (who died in 1991) .
2. Shirley Collie from 1963 to 1971.
3. Connie Koepke from 1971-1988. Children are Paula Carlene and Amy,
4. Annie D'Angelo from 1991-present. Children are Lukas Autry and Jacob Micah.

Willie (and his 6 living children) can trace their genealogy [7] back to the American Revolutionary War, in which his ancestor John Nelson served as a major.

On September 18 2006 Willie Nelson was issued misdemeanor citations for drug possession. Nelson was on a Louisiana highway after performing in Montgomery, Alabama, for a tribute to Hank Williams on what would have been his 73rd birthday. A search of his tour bus produced 1.5 pounds of marijuana and 0.2 pounds of psychoactive mushrooms, according to state police[8].

Willie Nelson is widely recognized as an American icon. His distinctive music and other social and political activities (which include, among other things, being Advisory Board co-chair of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) sometimes take a backseat to his pop-culture public image (firmly grounded in the acknowledged reality of his life) - that of an elderly, lifelong marijuana-smoking old-school cowboy-hippie troubadour. His image is marked by his red hair, often divided into two long braids partially concealed under a bandana. He has been featured in recent advertisements for a variety of products and companies, including The Gap.

During the controversial 2003 Texas congressional redistricting, Nelson made the news by sending a case of whiskey to the Democrats of the Texas Legislature in self-imposed exile in Ardmore, Oklahoma. An attached note read "Stand your ground." In 2005 a Democratic representative in Texas' legislature attempted to name part of a highway after Nelson, but after opposition from Willie[9], who did not want his name associated with the controversial toll road, and from some Republican lawmakers (who claimed Nelson did not warrant mention since he had nothing to do with the creation of the highway), the representative dropped his plan.

Nelson also volunteered to narrate "The Austin Disaster, 1911", a little-known documentary about a flood in Potter County, Pennsylvania (see Floods in the United States). Before the tragedy, an unrelated William "Willie" Nelson repeatedly warned residents of possible dam failure.[10]

Willie Nelson performed a duet on "Beer for my Horses" with Toby Keith on Keith's Unleashed album released in 2002. This song was released as a single in 2003 and Nelson shot a video with Keith in 2003. It won an award for "Best Video" at the Academy of Country Music Awards held on May 26, 2004.

In 2002, Nelson signed a deal to become the official spokesperson to the Texas Roadhouse, a fast-growing chain of steakhouses in the U.S. Since then, Nelson has heavily promoted the chain (including on a special on Food Network). Meanwhile the Texas Roadhouse itself installed "Willie's Corner" at several locations, which is a section dedicated to Nelson and decked out with memorabilia of Nelson.

No stranger to controversy, he released the Tex-Mex style "Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other," a song about gay cowboys, as a digital single through the iTunes Music Store on Valentine's Day 2006, shortly after the release of the film Brokeback Mountain (which also featured Nelson on the soundtrack). He deadpans his way through the song, with such phrases as "What did you think all them saddles and boots was about?" and "Inside every cowboy there's a lady who'd love to slip out." The song was written and first recorded more than twenty years previously by musicologist/songwriter Ned Sublette and had also been covered, prior to Nelson's version, by queercore band Pansy Division.

In 2004 Crazy and Mammas Don't let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys appeared in popular videogame Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, playing on fictional country music station K-ROSE.

In 2006, Julio Iglesias recorded Willie's hit "Always On My Mind" for Iglesias' upcoming "Romantic Classics" album, due out September 19, 2006. This song was recorded 20 years after Julio and Willie teamed up for "To All The Girls I've Loved Before."

In the April 2007 issue of Stuff Magazine Nelson was interviewed about his long locks.[11] "I started braiding my hair when it started getting too long, and that was, I don't know, probably in the 70's."

Nelson's touring and recording group is a collection of a number of longstanding members, including his sister Bobbie Nelson, longtime drummer Paul English, harmonicist Mickey Raphael, Bee Spears, Billy English (Paul's younger brother), and Jody Payne. Willie tours North America in his biodiesel (aka "BioWillie" - Willie Nelson Biodiesel) bus, the "Honeysuckle Rose IV."

Nelson's principal guitar is a Martin N-20 nylon-string acoustic, which he has named "Trigger", after Roy Rogers' horse. Constant strumming over the decades has worn a large sweeping hole into the guitar's body near the sound hole. Its soundboard has been signed over the years by over a hundred of Nelson's friends and associates, from fellow musicians to lawyers and football coaches. Legend has it that when the guitar finally wears beyond the point of being able to be played, he will permanently retire from the music business.