Monday, April 29th: WILLIE NELSON
As a songwriter and performer, Willie Nelson played a vital role in post-rock & roll country music. Even when he was a star, Nelson never played it safe musically. Instead, he borrowed from a wide variety of styles, including traditional pop, Western swing, jazz, traditional country, cowboy songs, honky tonk, rock & roll, folk, and the blues, creating a distinctive, elastic hybrid.
Born during the Great Depression, Nelson learned to play guitar from his grandfather and at the age of 10 was performing at local dances. He served in the U.S. Air Force before becoming a disc jockey in Texas, Oregon, and California during the 1950s. Nelson spent the '60s writing songs that became hits for stars like Ray Price, Patsy Cline, Faron Young, and Billy Walker, as well as performing songs of his own.
During the early '70s, Willie aligned himself with Waylon Jennings and the burgeoning outlaw country movement that finally made him a star by 1975. Beginning with the narrative album “Red Headed Stranger” in 1975, which featured the hit song “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” he became one of the most popular performers in country music as a whole. Nelson consistently charted on both the country and pop charts, with "Remember Me," "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time," and "Uncloudy Day" becoming Top Ten country singles in 1976.
In 1990 the Internal Revenue Service, claiming Nelson owed $16.7 million in unpaid taxes, seized his assets. To raise money, he recorded the album The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories. Despite that setback, he continued to record at a prolific pace into the 21st century.
Nelson is also known for his activism; he is a co-founder of Farm Aid, serves as a co-chair of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, owns a biodiesel company, and has also been active for many more causes.
He remains a vital figure in country music, having greatly influenced the new country, new traditionalist, and alternative country movements of the '80s and '90s that continued to thrive in the 21st century. Beyond his music, Nelson was an icon in pop culture, an outlaw beloved by fans who otherwise had little time for country music. Nelson has released over 60 albums and is releasing his 69th album this year, titled “Ride Me Back Home.” Today is his 86th birthday.