Willie Nelson is among the world’s most established musicians – and not only in the country music community. Nelson’s abilities go beyond genre, and his talent surpasses music. Listed here are 10 facts you probably didn’t know about the world famous outlaw country performer.
1. HE COMPOSED HIS VERY FIRST SONG WHEN HE WAS JUST SEVEN YEARS OLD
Nelson was writing and composing songs while his friends were still struggling to keep inside the lines of their coloring books. He recounted some of his memories of his songwriting debut to Rolling Stone in 2004: “Back when we used to take music lessons from our grandmother, we’d go through lessons, and if we’d get the lesson right that day she’d take a gold star—a little star, about the size of your finger, with glue on one side—and she’d stick it on the sheet of music, which meant you’d done well.
So I wrote this song with the line ‘They took a gold star away from me when you left me for another, long ago.’ I’d never been left by anybody, so it was kind of funny.” This means that Nelson has been writing songs for three quarters of a century!
2. HE WAS ONCE A BIBLE SALESPERSON
Prior to becoming a full-time artist in the mid-1950s, Nelson had been working as a cotton-picker (a job he started as a kid, working together with his grandmother), a disc jockey, and a Bible sales rep.
3. HE RAN INTO A BURNING BUILDING TO SAVE SOME WEED
While residing in Nashville, Nelson got home one night to find his house aflame. “By the time I got there, it was burning real good,” he told People magazine in 1980. “But I had this pound of Colombian grass inside. I wasn’t being brave running in there to get my dope—I was trying to keep the firemen from finding it and turning me over to the police.” Other precious things were not so lucky – one hundred tapes of songs yet-to-be-recorded were lost in the fire.
4. HE RETIRED IN 1972
In 1972, Nelson paid $14,000 to get out of his contract with RCA so that he could retire to Austin, Texas. However, his resignation from the music industry didn’t last long. The move to Austin actually rejuvenated his music career, as Willie found a lively music scene there that inspired him to get back on the horse.
Within a year, Willie reclaimed his spot on the charts with the album Shotgun Willie. By the mid-1970s, he had released some of his greatest hits with a trio of albums: Red Headed Stranger, The Sound in Your Mind, and The Troublemaker.
5. HE HAS BEEN PLAYING THE VERY SAME GUITAR FOR ALMOST 50 YEARS
Nelson has been playing the same guitar since 1969. He even named it ‘Trigger’, after Roy Rogers’s horse. “I’ve got to take good care of Trigger,” Nelson shared with Uncut Magazine in 2014. “He’s had a couple of problems. We’ve had to go in and do some work on the inside, build up the woodwork in there a little bit over the years. But Trigger’s holding up pretty good.”
6. HE RECORDED THE IRS TAPES TO SETTLE HIS TAX DEBT
In 1990, the IRS raided Nelson’s residence and seized his belongings (almost everything except Trigger) due to Nelson’s failure to pay taxes. The bill totaled $32 million, but it was negotiated down and settled in a creative way – Nelson recorded a new album, for which the IRS would receive a minimum of 15 cents for every dollar made. The outcome was the limited-edition The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories, which was distributed for $19.95 on cassette or CD, and could be bought by calling 1-800-IRS-TAPE.
7. HE COMPOSED “ON THE ROAD AGAIN” ON A BARF BAG.
Nelson’s 1980 hit, “On The Road Again,” was composed on an airplane, and this resulted in it being recorded on an unlikely scrap of paper – a barf bag. “I was on an aeroplane with Sydney Pollack and Jerry Schatzberg, who was the director of the movie Honeysuckle Rose,” Nelson told Uncut in 2014. “They were looking for songs for the movie and they started asking me if I had any ideas.
I said, ‘I don’t know, what do you want the song to say?’ I think Sydney said, ‘Can it be something about being on the road?’ It just started to click in my head. I said, ‘You mean like, ‘On the road again, I can’t wait to get on the road again?’ They said, ‘That’s great. What’s the melody?’ I said, ‘I don’t know yet.’”
8. HE SANG “UP AGAINST THE WALL, REDNECK MOTHER” AT THE WHITE HOUSE WITH THEN-FIRST LADY, ROSALYNN CARTER
Ex-President Jimmy Carter has been very vocal in expressing his appreciation for Willie Nelson. The camaraderie between the two is well-established. On September 13, 1980, Nelson performed for Carter and guests at the White House, and this performance featured a duet of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” with then-First Lady, Rosalynn Carter.
This is also the occasion when, as Nelson has often fondly described, he snuck up to the White House’s roof to smoke a joint. In 2012, the ex-President got his very own opportunity to share the stage with the iconic artist when the two sang “Amazing Grace” in Atlanta.
9. HE IS THE OWNER OF A BIODIESEL CORPORATION.
Nelson is a lot more than a musician – he’s also a known environmental activist and a businessman too. In 2004, he unveiled his very own biodiesel company, BioWillie Biodiesel.
10. HE’S GETTING READY TO BE A POT-REPRENEUR.
Nelson is a vocal supporter of the legalization of marijuana, and he’s never made a secret of his own use of pot. His rap sheet of pot-related busts certainly attests to these facts. It’s hardly surprising then that, as a growing number of states are legalizing weed, Nelson is putting his own expertise to very good use by starting his own brand of pot: Willie’s Reserve.