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Genre: Country

Hometown: Austin, TX

Certified Artist Developer: Michele Molinaro

Willie Nelson

Willie Hugh Nelson (born April 29, 1933) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, author, poet, actor, and activist.[1] The critical success of the album Shotgun Willie (1973), combined with the critical and commercial success of Red Headed Stranger (1975) and Stardust (1978), made ... read more >

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10.16.2017
Willie Nelson was born in Abbott, Texas on April 29, 1933, during the Great Depression, to Myrle Marie (née Greenhaw) and Ira Doyle Nelson. He was born on April 29, but his birth was recorded by doctor F. D. Sims on April 30. He was named Willie by his cousin Mildred, who also chose Hugh as his middle name, in honor of her recently deceased younger brother. His parents moved from Arkansas in 1929, to look for work. Nelson's grandfather, William, worked as a blacksmith, while his father worked as a mechanic.

Nelson as a junior in Abbott High School's Annual, 1949
His mother left soon after he was born, and his father remarried and also moved away, leaving Willie and his sister Bobbie to be raised by their grandparents. The Nelsons, who taught singing back in Arkansas, started their grandchildren in music. Nelson's grandfather bought him a guitar when he was six, and taught him a few chords, and with his sister Bobbie, he sang gospel songs in the local church.[8] He wrote his first song at age seven, and when he was nine, played guitar for the local band Bohemian Polka. During the summer, the family picked cotton along with other citizens of Abbott. Nelson disliked picking cotton, so he earned money by singing in dance halls, taverns, and honky tonks from age 13, and continuing through high school. Nelson's musical influences were Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Django Reinhardt, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong.

Nelson attended Abbott High School, where he was a halfback on the football team, guard on the basketball team and shortstop in baseball. He also raised pigs for the Future Farmers of America organization. While still at school he sang and played guitar in The Texans, a band formed by his sister's husband, Bud Fletcher. The band played in honky tonks, and also had a Sunday morning spot at KHBR in Hillsboro, Texas. Meanwhile, Nelson had a short stint as a relief phone operator in Abbott, followed by a job as a tree trimmer for the local electrical company, as well as pawn shop employee. After leaving school, in 1950, he joined the United States Air Force for eight to nine months.

A man with a leather helmet and a white football jersey
Nelson's high school football portrait, c. 1950
Upon his return, in 1952, he married Martha Matthews, and from 1954 to 1956 studied agriculture at Baylor University. Nelson joined the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, but dropped out to pursue a career in music. He worked as a bouncer for a nightclub, as a partsman in an auto house, saddle maker and again tree trimmer. He later joined Johnny Bush's band. Nelson moved with his family to Pleasanton, Texas, where he auditioned for a disc jockey job in KBOP. The owner of the station, Dr. Ben Parker, gave Nelson the job despite his lack of experience working on radio. With the equipment of the station, Nelson made his first two recordings in 1955: "The Storm Has Just Begun" and "When I've Sung My Last Hillbilly Song". He recorded the tracks on used tapes, and sent the demos to the local label SARG Records. SARG rejected the recordings.

Nelson then had stints working for KDNT in Denton, Texas, KCUL and KCNC in Fort Worth, Texas, where he hosted The Western Express, taught Sunday school and he played in nightclubs. He then decided to move to San Diego. He was unable to find a job, and decided to go to Portland, Oregon, where his mother lived. Nelson tried to hitchhike, but after nobody picked him up, he slept in a ditch. He then found a nearby railroad yard and boarded a freight train that left him in Eugene. A truck driver then drove Nelson to a bus station and loaned him $10 for a ticket to reach Portland.
10.16.2017
Nelson moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1960, but was unable to find a label to sign him. During this period he often spent time at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, a bar near the Grand Ole Opry frequented by the show's stars and other singers and songwriters. There Nelson met Hank Cochran, a songwriter who worked for the publishing company Pamper Music, owned by Ray Price and Hal Smith. Cochran heard Nelson during a jam session with Buddy Emmons and Jimmy Day. Cochran had just earned a raise of US$50 a week, but convinced Smith to pay Nelson the money instead to sign him to Pamper Music. On hearing Nelson sing "Hello Walls" at Tootsie's, Faron Young decided to record it. After Ray Price recorded Nelson's "Night Life", and his previous bassist Johnny Paycheck quit, Nelson joined Price's touring band as a bass player. While playing with Price and the Cherokee Cowboys, his songs became hits for other artists, including "Funny How Time Slips Away" (Billy Walker), "Pretty Paper" (Roy Orbison), and, most famously, "Crazy" by Patsy Cline. Nelson and Cochran also met Cline's husband, Charlie Dick at Tootsie's. Dick liked a song of Nelson's he heard on the bar's jukebox. Nelson played him a demo tape of "Crazy." Later that night Dick played the tape for Cline, who decided to record it. "Crazy" became the biggest jukebox hit of all time.