Of all of the country artists in the world, Willie Nelson is one of the most accomplished. Not just in the country universe, but the entire world. The talents of one of this most iconic musicians go beyond his passion for music.
In a career that is filled with songwriting, performing, acting, and activism, there are many highlights behind the man who’s known as “Shotgun Willie.”
Nelson Was Abandoned As A Child
The future country star’s mother disappeared shortly after giving birth. His father would abandon Willie, and his sister Bobbie afterward. Fortunately for Willie, he and his sister were raised by their grandparents. The Nelson’s taught them how to sing, and they bought a guitar for the six-year-old Nelson.
A year later, he would write his first song.
In High School, He Was Quite The Jock
Nelson attended Abbott High School in Texas. He was the halfback for his football team, and a guard for the basketball team too. Outside of sports, Nelson also raised pigs with the Future Farmers of America organization.
But, in between all of that, he sang and played guitar in The Texans, a band formed by his brother-in-law, Bud Fletcher.
After High School, He Joined The Air Force
Long before he became relevant to country music fans, Nelson enlisted in 1950. Right after high school, the future activist was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
However, he only lasted for about eight or nine months. The Texas native suffered from back problems, thus leading him to be discharged.
His First Few Jobs Will Surprise You
Before breaking the bank as a musician, Nelson worked as a cotton picker. But, that’s not all. The Grammy winner would also be a Bible salesman too and sold vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias door-to-door.
Despite his lack of on-air experience, Willie worked as a disc jockey at KVAN in Vancouver, Washington.
He Loves To Golf
With a handicap of 16, Nelson owns a golf course. It’s located near Austin, Texas, and Willie Nelson’s Cut N’ Put is known for its laidback atmosphere. The best part about it is that he welcomes dogs.
And, visitors are allowed to wear flip-flops while golfing at whatever pace they desire.
He’s A Jogger And Got His Black Belt At 81 Years Old
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Willie mentions that he has always been a jogger. “I like to run and ride my bike and swim.” Ever since he was a kid, the country artist has been practicing martial arts.
At a 2014 ceremony in Austin, he was presented with a fifth-degree black belt in tae kwon do.
He Got Down With A First Lady
There was a time when the 10-time CMA winner performed at the White House. Nelson performed for President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Robyn. At some point during the performance, the First Lady decided to join the musician for a duet.
The song they sang was “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.”
Then, He Got High On The Roof Of The White House
After the performance at the White House, Willie and Chip Carter (Jimmy and Rosalyn’s son) headed off on a private tour.
The tour of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ended on the roof, which they decided was a safe enough place to light it up. I mean, I guess that makes the most sense.
He Actually Wrote A Song In A Barf Bag
The 12-time Grammy winner was on a flight with producer Sydney Pollack. Pollack was looking for a song for the movie Honeysuckle Rose, where Nelson plays an aging musician. While on the plane, he pulled the disposable vomit bag from the back of the seat and started writing.
“On the Road Again” would become another No. 1 hit.
His Nickname “Shotgun” Was Inspired By His Son-In-Law
When Willie found out that her husband assaulted his daughter, he slapped around his son-in-law. Later that evening, the two men got into a gunfight at Willie’s house. The country artist would later recall “I grabbed an M-1 rifle and shot.”
Thus, Shotgun Willie became the title of his 1973 album.
He Shattered Records
Nelson’s 1978 “Stardust” hit No. 1 and remained on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart for ten years. Four of the tracks became hit singles, and in 2015, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Ironically, the record doesn’t include any country songs. It’s a collection of standards written by different musicians.
He Gave His Locks To Waylon Jennings
Back in the eighties, Nelson was at a party for Waylon Jennings. Since it was honoring his friend’s sobriety, Willie gave Jennings the famous red locks of braided hair that he recently had cut off.
In 2014, Jennings’ estate was auctioned off, and Willie’s braids went on the block for $37,000.
Yes, He’s A Sex Symbol
A woman once claimed that she hooked up with the most recognized artists in the country. She described it to be a marathon that culminated when Nelson did a backward somersault.
She said “I’m not saying it didn’t happen,” while Willie told Kinky Friedman, “It’ might’ve. But you would’ve thought I’d remember at least the first four or five hours.”
He’s Been In A Ton Of Movies
Nelson’s first taste of acting was 1979’s The Electric Horseman. It was directed by Sydney Pollack, who hired Willie to write a song for Honeysuckle Rose. Willie also appeared in 1985’s Songwriter.
Eventually, Nelson would appear in more films, but he would play himself in Woody Harrelson’s Lost in London.
The Outlaw Thing Isn’t Just A Pose
One of Nelson’s bust-ups was on his way to the funeral of Ann Richards, the former Texas governor. He got arrested for drug possession, and the court date prevented him from attending the Grammy’s.
If that sounds weird, one time a prosecutor on a drug charge made Willie sing “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” but the judge said no.
His Annual Picnic Is Legit
The 37-time award winner has hosted an annual Fourth of July picnic and concert. The very first one was held at a ranch outside of Austin. It featured Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and John Prine.
Later performers included the Doobie Brothers, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young.
He’s Had A Colorful Home Life
Shotgun Willie has married four times and fathered seven children. His first two marriages ultimately ended with a divorce. The split from his second marriage was brutal. His wife discovered a bill from the maternity ward of a Houston hospital, for another woman’s baby.
That woman was Connie Koepke, who became Nelson’s third wife.
He’s Super Tight With Dolly Parton
Parton and Nelson’s friendship goes back to the sixties. They used to hang out a lot together, which references the title of Willie’s 1984 duet with Julio Iglesias “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”
Parton added that she was one of the girls he loved. They never had a thing, but it’s always been a “what if” scenario.
The IRS Came Down Hard On Him
In 1990, the IRS seized the country star’s assets. They hit him with a $32 million bill for unpaid income taxes, among the largest in history. His lawyers would negotiate and brought down the number substantially.
However, Willie stilled owed money. To pay off the debt, he released the double-album The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?
His Guitar Has A Legendary Status
For decades, Nelson has been playing the SAME acoustic guitar — a 1969 Martin N-20 that he named Trigger, after Roy Rogers’ horse. Over 100 artists and friends have either signed it or scratched their names into Trigger.
When Willie got into trouble for not paying his taxes, he had to hide it from the IRS.