Willie Nelson's epic career spans seven decades, and includes hundreds of
original songs (including standards like "Crazy" and "Funny How Time Slips
Away"), 300 albums, many Top 40 hits, movies, numerous awards and a place in
the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Nelson was born in east Texas during the Great Depression. After his father
died, and his mother took off, Willie and his older sister were raised by their
paternal grandparents, who encouraged the kids to learn music. Willie took up
guitar at six and was writing his first songs a year later. By the time he was
a teenager, he was playing professionally in a touring Western swing
After brief stints in the Air Force and college, Nelson became a radio DJ, all
the while writing songs. By the time he moved to Nashville in 1960, he had
already written a few significant songs, "Night Life" and "Family Bible" among
them. While he thrived through the decade as a Music Row songwriter, his solo
recording career faltered. He bridled at record-label attempts to make him over
into a smooth Nashville Sound crooner. When Nelson's house burned down in 1970,
he took that as a cosmic cue and moved back to Texas.
It was there that he found his groove. He grew his hair. He became part of the
Austin scene. He started writing more personal songs. The album Shotgun
Willie (1973), with its stripped-down storytelling, announced a new
direction. In the mid-'70s, Nelson collaborated with another Nashville outcast,
Waylon Jennings, and their rough and ready Outlaw sound shifted the direction
of country music.
Not one to be pinned down stylistically, Nelson has spent the past 30 years
dabbling in everything from reggae to rap to the Great American Songbook, while
living on his tour bus and playing 200-plus dates a year.
A humanitarian and philanthropist, Willie was also one of the organizers behind
the hugely successful Farm Aid benefit, founded in 1985. More recently, he
helped form a biodiesel company (BioWillie) that makes fuel out of recycled
Much like Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby before him, Willie Nelson infuses his
warm, well-traveled style with an everyman quality that transcends genres and
trends to speak to listeners of all ages.
As Emmylou Harris once put it, "If America could sing with one voice, it would
be Willie's." In 2013, Nelson received the first Kris Kristofferson Award for
lifetime achievement in songwriting from the Nashville Songwriters Association