Legendary country music artist Willie Nelson celebrated his 83rd birthday this week. The iconic singer led one of the brightest careers in country music, and is still a well known performer and musician to this day. With a slew of hits and a touring career spanning decades, Nelson established himself as one of the most recognizable faces in music with his trademark outlaw sound. In addition to his musical efforts, Nelson is known for his activism for the decriminalization of marijuana and the use of biofuels.
Willie Nelson was born on April 29, 1933 in Abbott, Texas where he would be raised by his grandparents. At just six years old, Nelson was given a guitar as a gift from his grandparents, a moment which would later spur on one of the most successful careers in country music. His grandparents were originally music teachers from Arkansas, and their love of music no doubt helped to inspire him to become the icon he is today.
Following a brief stint in college, the aspiring recording artist would later relocate to Tennessee where he scored his first bit of recognition for writing “Crazy” for singer Patsy Cline. Though he initially struggled to score a recording contract, he wrote several songs during this period that would find success with other recording artists. By the sixties, Nelson’s career was beginning to pick up steam with singles like “Touch Me” and “Half A Man”. After making a few record deals, Nelson found his money tied up in unsuccessful tours and decided to briefly retire from music.
After moving to Austin, Texas, Nelson found himself inspired by the growing hippie scene, and In 1973 achieved his first major success with his classic album Shotgun Willie, regarded as one of the earliest examples of the outlaw country movement that gave birth to Nelson’s contemporaries Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. His later albums Red Headed Stranger and Stardust would further establish Nelson as one of the top acts in country music, while his work with Jennings on a number of tracks including “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” found success on the charts.
Nelson continued to tour and record throughout the eighties, but would later find himself in trouble with the IRS in the nineties over unpaid taxes. Through constant touring, auctioning his possessions and the release of his album The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?, Nelson managed to pay off his debts by 1993, and continued to tour frequently and release new music since then.
Nelson himself attributes his signature sound to his timeless companion; his forty five year old guitar, which he dubbed “Trigger”. Trigger is notable not only for its characteristic sound, but for its rugged appearance, which includes a large gash on the front of the guitar and a very worn look to its finish. The famous old guitar sports the signatures of many of Nelson’s friends from over the years, and the musician has stated in the past that he and Trigger are a package deal.
Today, Nelson is known for his distinguished career that spawned well known hits like “On The Road Again” and “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”. His decades long career made him a household name, and his iconic braids and bandana look has made him one of the most recognizable faces in country. His sons Micah and Lukas have even gone on to start their own careers as performers. Watch the video below as they discuss their time growing up on the road with one of country music’s biggest stars…