Country music and Willie Nelson go hand in hand. The country legend is one of the biggest names in music (and popular culture), period. Between his incredible solo career and supergroup The Highwaymen with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, Nelson has lived quite a colorful life.
From hits like "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," "Whiskey River," "Funny How Time Slips Away" and "Good Hearted Woman," the singer-songwriter has become an inspiration in the country music genre. Nelson has also penned timeless classics including Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and Faron Young's "Hello Walls."
Here are 12 things you might not know about Willie Nelson.
1. He's been playing the same guitar for nearly half a century
The "Always On My Mind" singer and his beloved guitar Trigger have been playing together since 1969. Named after Roy Rogers horse, Nelson bought his famous acoustic guitar for $750. Trigger even has famous singer's names engraved in the wood --including one of Willie's best duet partners, Merle Haggard.
2. He wrote "On The Road Again" on a barf bag
His classic song written for the film Honeysuckle Rose was hastily written on a barf bag while Nelson was on a plane with the film's executive producers.
3. He went into a burning house to save his weed
After he rescued his pot from his burning Nashville home, Nelson relocated to Austin and later moved to Hawaii.
4. He owns his own brand of pot
For anyone who thinks Nelson's love of the illegal substance (in some states) is crazy, it has actually turned into a business venture for the singer. Willie's Reserve is available in states where weed has been legalized, so if you live in Colorado or California you can channel your inner Willie and get your smoke on.
5. Willie Nelson wrote his first song at 7 years old
Starting young gave the Abbott, Texas native plenty of practice for his future hit albums like Red Headed Stranger, Last Man Standing and Stardust.
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6. He's written multiple books
Nelson's first book, Willie: An Autobiography, was published in 1988. He followed the autobiography with more books, including The Facts of Life: And Other Dirty Jokes, The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart and It's a Long Story: My Life.
7. He's received multiple honors
Nelson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993 as well as the National Agricultural Hall of Fame for his Farm Aid music festivals and other fundraisers that raise money to benefit farmers. He also won the Gershwin Prize, a lifetime award from the Library of Congress. You could say that Nelson is a bona fide American icon.
8. He has a big family
From his first marriage, Nelson had Lana, Susie and Willie "Billy" Hugh, Jr, who passed away in 1991. Paula and Amy Lee Nelson came from his relationship with Connie Koepke. Nelson has been with current wife Annie D'Angelo since 1991 and they have two sons, Lukas Autry and Jacob Micah. Plus, he's toured and recorded for years with his sister Bobbie.
9. He's won 13 Grammy awards
Nelson has also won 7 American Music Awards, 10 CMA awards and 5 Academy of Country Music awards.
10. He tried to retire in 1972
The singer paid $14,000 out of his contract so that he could peacefully retire in his home of Austin, Texas, but that didn't last long in the live music capital of the US. The Red Headed Stranger came back bigger than ever from his short-lived retirement with new album Shotgun Willie. He also became part of the outlaw country movement and released Wanted! The Outlaws, with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser.
11. He made an album to pay off the IRS
Poor investments in the 1980s led to some serious debt for Nelson; $32 million in unpaid taxes, according to the IRS. The singer released compilation album The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories? as a way to clear back taxes by giving proceeds directly to the IRS. The creative way to pay off tax debt brought us such songs as "What Can You Do to Me Now" and "Permanently Lonely."
He was able to clear all of his debt with the Internal Revenue Service between the album and auctioning off some of his assets.
12. He's still making music as frequently as ever
In fact, he's cranked out studio albums at a quicker rate than many of the young country singers that play his Fourth of July picnic. Nelson released Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin in 2016, God's Problem Child in 2017, Ride Me Back Home in 2019 and First Rose of Spring in 2020.
This story originally ran on March 27, 2019.