Happy Birthday, Willie Nelson! On my 4/20 post about Snoop Dogg I told to be on the lookout for today's Daily Doodle and here it is, in all of it's glory! I say glory, not because I think this is the best painting ever, but because I'm trying to be more kind to myself, and let the art just be what it is. After all, this is my 168th straight day of painting and researching and writing a snippet, so good for me, even if it were stick figures.
Willie Hugh Nelson was born April 29, 1933. He and his older sister (Bonnie who has been his pianist for the last 50 years) were raised by their paternal grandparents, Nancy and Alfred Nelson, both of whom had musical backgrounds and encouraged Willie and Bonnie in musical endeavors. Willie got his first guitar at the age of six, wrote his first song by seven, and was performing with a local band in paying gigs by 10 years old (even though these gigs were in beer joints at night).
In 1947 Nelson joined a gospel group called, "Bud Fletcher and the Texans", which already featured his sister, Bobbie, on the piano. He continued to attend school and even lettered in sports. The band played the local club circuit for the next few years and Bobbie married Bud Fletcher. It was during this time Nelson first aired on local radio.
Though Willie Nelson wasn't instantly successful with music, he persisted and upon selling his first song, Family Bible in 1959 he gained the confidence to move to Nashville in 1960. He wrote four top 20 hits which were recorded in 1961, (Faron Young recorded Hello Walls, Patsy Cline recorded Crazy, Billy Walker recorded Funny How Time Slips Away and Ray Price recorded Nightlife) quickly making a name for himself in the industry. Nelson got a recording contract with Liberty Records and then RCA, and over the next decade made 14 albums; but none of them took off, and his own singing career remained stalled.
A house fire... in which he ran inside to save his guitar, named Trigger, and a case full of primo Columbian weed... caused Nelson to rethink his situation and he took the fire as a sign and decided to move back to Texas with family in tow, settling in Austin. Many considered this to be career susicide, but Nelson soon became an important part of the city’s country music scene, performing regularly at its many venues and this is where he gained his trademark laid-back style and long hair.
Willie Nelson also began hosting his now-legendary Fourth of July picnics in 1973. Inspired by Woodstock, the gatherings were popular musical celebrations and included performances from other country music outlaws, such as Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. In honor of his contributions, in 1975 the Texas State Senate declared July 4 to be Willie Nelson Day. The annual event remains a popular attraction for the city.
Back on his home turf and feeling comfortable (I'm sure switching from a suit to blue jeans and a t-shirt helped), Nelson resumed recording music, but in his own style and on his own terms. Soon, that unique approach won the long-haired, bandanna-wearing performer a devoted fanbase. Shotgun Willie was released in 1973 and is considered by many to be one of his best albums, showcasing his abilities as a singer, storyteller and performer, despite the fact that it did not chart well. The same would be true of 1974’s Phases and Stages.
However, with 1975’s Red-Headed Stranger, Nelson had his first real taste of success. Not only did the album reach No. 1 on the country charts, but it also crossed over to the pop Top 40. Among the highlights from the recording is the Fred Rose–penned number “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” which gave Nelson his first No. 1 country hit and earned him his first Grammy Award for best country vocal performance. Around this time, Nelson’s collaborative endeavors with Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser took off like wildfire and he contributed to the compilation Wanted! The Outlaws (1976), which also achieved both critical and commercial success.
Nelson teamed up with Jennings again soon after to record their popular single, "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," which won the 1978 Grammy Award for best country vocal performance by a duo or group.
Having always been interested in different music styles, Nelson recorded his own takes on American standards on Stardust (1978), and his cover of Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell's "Georgia on My Mind" earned him his second Grammy Award for best country vocal performance. Beyond its critical success, the album proved to have commercial staying power as well, lingering on the country charts for an entire decade!
Adding to his resume of successful collaborations, Nelson joined with Johnny Cash, Jennings and Kristofferson to form the country supergroup the Highwaymen. “You wouldn’t think that our four uneven voices would blend. But they did. They fit together like a jigsaw puzzle,” Nelson writes of the group in his autobiography, It’s a Long Story. Their first release, Highwayman (1985), went platinum, and the title track reached No. 1 on the country charts. The group would return to the studio two more times, for 1990’s Highwayman 2 and 1995’s The Road Goes on Forever. Nelson would also star alongside Kristofferson and Cash in the 1986 television movie Stagecoach.
Riding high on his newfound musical successes, Nelson also brought his distinctive presence to the big screen. His first appearance was in The Electric Horseman (1979) with Robert Redford (*swoon*) and Jane Fonda, and the following year he starred in Honeysuckle Rose (1980), playing a veteran country musician performer. Although the film was only mildly successful, it featured the song, "On the Road Again", which earned Nelson an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. It also won that year’s Grammy Award for Best Country Song and is considered a trademark Willie Nelson tune. Nelson starred as the titular role of the Red Headed Stranger (1986), a western drama film based on his 1975 album of the same name. He would later go on to appear in films such as The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), Blonde Ambition (2007), Beer for My Horses (2008) and Zoolander 2 (2016).
Willie Nelson has 143 albums to his name, 17 Grammys (along with another 34 nominations) among numerous other achievements... he even has his own line of marijuana products. He declares his love for working and says to be perfectly honest, he's not very happy when he's not working.
I'm not sure I can pick my favorite Willie Nelson tune... can you?