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Little Known Facts From The Life Of Outlaw Country Star Willie Nelson

Updated on September 24, 2012

One Of The Most Recognizable Voices In Music

One of the most recognizable voices in country music, actor, singer, songwriter, activist... Willie Nelson.
One of the most recognizable voices in country music, actor, singer, songwriter, activist... Willie Nelson. | Source

A Little History And Some Little Known Facts

Most anyone that is a true fan of Willie Nelson will know the basics from his biography... he was born April 30,1933 in Abbott, Texas. He grew up along with his sister, Bobbie, raised by their Grandparents who first gave them music lessons, and introduced them to music. I've always thought that Willie Nelson has always been exceptionally creative, and a fantastic artist... he is most certainly a free spirit with a very unique and intriguing sound.

There are things about Willie that I didn't know, however, and I found some of these little known facts from his life to be fascinating! You might know the standard biographical facts, but hopefully I'll be able to share some lesser known things, and that you'll find them just as interesting as I have.

Little Known Facts About Willie Nelson

  • Did you know that Willie Nelson wrote his first song at the young age of seven, and that he was singing with a band by the age of ten? Now THAT is having a true focus, and knowing what you want to do with your life at a VERY young age!
  • During High School, Willie toured locally with a band known as "Bohemian Polka." He was their lead singer and guitar player.
  • Willie Nelson was an athlete in High School, playing in three sports. He played halfback on his High School's football team, played basketball as a guard, and played the position of shortstop in baseball.
  • Did you know that Willie Nelson was in the Air Force, but was discharged less than a year after signing up, due to back problems?
  • Willie Nelson attended Baylor University for two years, before he quit school due to having found success in the music business.
  • While Willie was in college, he was a member of the Fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon. I had a little trouble picturing Willie in a fraternity, until I thought about the famous frat parties they sometimes hold, then it somehow became easier to picture it! Another little known fact is that Tau Kappa Epsilon is the SAME fraternity that Ronald Reagan was a member of, and Elvis Presley was also an alumni of Tau Kappa Epsilon. Now I'd say Willie was among some great company having this fraternity history as a part of his past!
  • While he was trying to get a career going in music, Willie worked several odd jobs as a radio DJ, door to door Bible salesman, and a as a janitor.
  • One thing I didn't realize is that Willie Nelson worked for a short time for Ray Price, as a bassist in Ray's band.
  • Willie Nelson has practiced several forms of Martial Arts, beginning with Kung Fu in the 1980s. He has also mastered Tae Kwon Do, and has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
  • Willie has been featured in over 30 movies, starting with the 1979 Film "Electric Horseman" with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.
  • Willie is able to trace his ancestry back to the Revolutionary War. One of his ancestors, John Nelson, was a major in the Revolutionary War.
  • According to Willie Nelson's autobiography titled Willie: An Autobiography, he was a frequent visitor to the White House during the Jimmy Carter years. He says in his autobiography that he smoked marijuana on the White House Roof. Gives a whole new meaning to "political party" ~ Moving on....

Willie became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1965, and eventually grew disillusioned with the direction Country Music was headed. He ended up "retiring" in 1972, and then moved to Austin Texas. The only thing that got him back into music was the evolving of the "Hippie" movement, which gave rise to "Hippie music."

In 1973, Willie signed with the label Atlantic Records, and he began to record and perform as a part of the new "Outlaw Country" movement. In the mid 1980s, he became a member of the most famous of the Outlaw groups, which was known as "The Highwaymen" and also featured members Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson.

Probably one of the most famous events from the life of Willie Nelson was a little run in he had in 1990 with the IRS. It seemed that his accountants, Price Waterhouse, hadn't paid his taxes for years, leading to Willie owing the IRS thirty-two million dollars in back taxes. Willie released an album in the early 1990s in an effort to come up with funds to pay those taxes, and the album was called - in a tongue in cheek way - "The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories?" The profits from sales of this double album along with auctioning off a lot of Willie's belongings allowed him to have his taxes paid in full by 1993.

One belonging that Willie did NOT want to have auctioned off to pay those back taxes was his famous guitar, which he nicknamed "Trigger." A Martin N-20 nylon string acoustic guitar, it has a hole in it from Willie's use of guitar picks (there was no pick guard on it, since classical acoustic guitars were meant to be used with fingers and not picks). He wore that hole into that guitar over a lot of years of playing it. Willie once said that if he were to play a different guitar, his music wouldn't sound the same. When he uses this guitar, which has "the best tone" he has ever heard, every song sounds like a Willie Nelson original and listeners can tell that it is a Willie Nelson song. This guitar has over 100 signatures on it from famous musicians, lawyers, and a few football coaches. He was quoted as saying if they were to take his guitar - "I quit."

In the 1990s and into the 2000s, he has continued to release albums about every year, as well as touring extensively. He lives on the Island of Maui now with his wife, Annie and two sons.

Willie The Philanthropist

Willie Nelson performing at Farm Aid in 2009, one of the many charitable causes he has been involved in over the years.
Willie Nelson performing at Farm Aid in 2009, one of the many charitable causes he has been involved in over the years. | Source

He has been very generous with his time, when he believes in a cause...

Willie has been exceptionally charitable with his time, and seems to have a soft spot in his heart for those less fortunate, especially those who have been victims of natural disasters throughout the world. Here are a few of the organizations that have benefited from Willie Nelson's philanthropy:

  • In 2005, Willie headlined in a concert called "Tsunami Relief Austin To Asia" to benefit victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.
  • In 2011 he participated in a concert known as "Kokua For Japan" to help by raising funds for the victims of the of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. That concert alone raised over 1.6 million dollars to benefit those victims.
  • In perhaps his best known act of charity, Willie set up "Farm Aid" along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp in 1985 to provide help to family farms, and to help raise awareness to the plight of the average American family farmer. The first Farm Aid concert raised over 9 million dollars, and Farm Aid has continued to raise funds over many years. Today, Nelson is the President of the Board of Farm Aid.

Willie Nelson is a strong believer in finding alternative fuel to run trucks, buses and other vehicles. In 2004, he along with his wife, Annie, formed a partnership with another couple to build two bio-diesel plants. One of the plants is located in Carl's Corner, Texas, and the other is located in Salem, Oregon.

Known as Willie Nelson Bio-Diesel, these plants market bio diesel fuel to truck stops. Being a man that stands up for what he believes in, his own tour bus, known as "Honeysuckle Rose" is run on Willie Bio Diesel fuel. Willie and family tour all over North America in this bio-diesel bus, using fuel made from vegetable oil.

A New Album, "Heroes" Coming Out In May

Willie Nelson has a new album coming out on May 15, 2012, that features some interesting new songs, as well as revisiting some country classics. It should be a very interesting album, and the list of guests on the album is pretty creative and varied as well! The album features guest spots by Snoop Dogg, Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, Jamey Johnson, and two of Willie's sons, Lukas and Micah Nelson.

Performing with his famous guitar, Trigger, Willie lends his creative take to some older songs, plus features some new songs with very interesting titles! One of those new creations is called "Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die" and features the talents of Jamey Johnson (who wrote the song "Give It Away" for George Strait), and Kris Kristofferson, and Snoop Dogg.

Another song with a fascinating title is "Come On Back Jesus" and this song features Willie's sons Lukas and Micah. Three songs on the album were penned by Willie's son, Lukas, and he performs on several tracks with his Dad.

This should be another impressive and interesting album to add to anyone's collection of Willie Nelson albums (I'm dating myself with that word, album, maybe I should say "CD's" instead). But to me, a true collection of musical artistic expression is better represented by the word "album."

Willie Nelson has been and will continue to be a musical icon, not just in country music, but in all music. He is truly one of the most unique artists I've heard in my lifetime. They just don't make 'em like Willie any more!


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    • profile image

      kaye 2 years ago

      Read all books published so no surprises for me

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      That surprised me too, Damon! :) Some songs you hear surprise you when you find out who the writers are. I think Willie is the kind of song writer that could write any type of song for any singer. Thanks for reading and for your comment! :) Much appreciated!

    • Damon Brewer profile image

      Damon Brewer 5 years ago from Greenbrier, Arkansas

      I like Willie but was really surprised a couple of years ago to learn that he wrote Crazy first recorded by Patsy Cline.

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thanks SPK5367, so glad you enjoyed this! :) I never knew about Willie being in a fraternity, that one surprised me! I learned a lot about Willie while writing this :) Thanks so much for reading and sharing your great memory! :)

    • SPK5367 profile image

      SPK5367 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I enjoyed this very much. I still remember climbing up to our barn roof (not very high!) and dangling my feet off the edge while singing "Sittin' On the Dock of a Bay." I just loved his (and Waylon Jennings) recording of that one!

      This was a neat hub. I had heard about the marijuana at the White House, but I didn't know he had a black belt or that he was in such a large number of movies.

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thanks, Sunshine! :) Happy Birthday, Willie! :)

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Happy 79th Birthday to Willie Nelson! A great list of facts for the country music legend!

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thank you so much Katherine for correcting that one! :) I missed it when I proofed it! :) Glad you enjoyed the Willie facts, thanks again! :)

    • profile image

      Katherine 5 years ago

      "Jamey Johnson (who wrote the song "Throw It Away" for George Strait)" I think the song is "Give it Away"

      Was fun to read your Willie facts.

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thanks, Brian! :) I look forward to hearing Willie and Snoop Dogg too, it sounds so interesting! :) Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

    • brianlokker profile image

      Brian Lokker 5 years ago from Bethesda, Maryland

      This was an interesting read - quite a few facts that are new to me. I've always loved Willie's music, including his voice. But then again, I love Bob Dylan's voice too! I look forward to the new album, especially hearing Willie and Snoop Dogg together!

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thanks, Jools! :) Glad you like it. I LOVE his songwriting, it was amazing to me when I found out he wrote "Crazy" for Patsy Cline... that song gives me goosebumps! :) Patsy's singing was amazing, and Willie's songwriting is, too! Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      Kathy, for me he is one of the best songwriters around today. I have never been a fan of his voice, which I find a little reedy for my own tastes but I will happily listen to anyone doing a cover of his songs - an amazing talent and a real character! Voted up, enjoyed this hub.

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      You're welcome, Steve! :) Glad you like this, and your Dad has great taste in music! :) Thanks for reading and commenting, much appreciated!

    • Steve Orion profile image

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      My dad LOVES this guy. I prefer music a bit more heavy, but I do like his hits when I hear them on the radio frequently. Interesting Hub, thanks!

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thanks, Ms. Dora! :) I appreciate your support! :) Thanks for stopping by, glad you liked this!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for sharing all these interesting and informative details about the music legend Willie Nelson. Good research. Good presentation.

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      You're welcome, teaches12345, so glad you liked it! :) He really does have a totally unique sound, and one that I love listening to! Thank you for your wonderful comment! :)

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thank you Gypsy Rose Lee for your great comment! So glad you like the hub! :) I didn't know some of these things either and thought they were interesting, thank you for the wonderful feedback! :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Good coverage on such an interesting musician. His voice is so unique and it makes for enjoyable listening. I have one of his gospel CD's and it features many other artists as well. He is such a fascinating person. Thanks for sharing.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 5 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Thanks so much for this great hub. Voted up and awesome. I love Willie and his music and it was interesting to read some of these facts which I really didn't know. Boy do I wish I could also live on Maui must be like paradise. Glad to hear another album is coming up. Passing this on.

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your thoughtful comment, Theeyeballkid! ;) Willie is amazing, I love the song "Crazy" he wrote for Patsy Cline, really a classic! Thanks again!

    • Theeyeballkid profile image

      Theeyeballkid 5 years ago

      Great hub Kathy, I too love Willie Nelsons music, he is a great American and musician. He sings with such perfect understatement. I am looking forward to the new album. My favourite album of his was the "Spirit" album he put out about 10 years ago featuring his sister Bobby on piano.

      Great hub, Voted Up!

    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thanks so much, Billybuc! :) He is one of my all time favorites, too. My step Mom has been a Willie fan a lot longer than I have, she turned me into a fan! And you are so right, that list would take a long time to write! :) Thanks for reading and commenting! :) Much appreciated!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      One of my all-time favorite performers... a list of my favorite songs by Willie would take a very long time to compose. Great hub!