The Willie-Nilly Way
Narrow is the gate to life eternal, but Willie Nelson says he isn’t afraid to venture beyond the straight gate.
He’s the environmentalist, farmers advocate, and a pro-pot activist. There’s no pigeon-holing on a Willie Nelson. While he still keeps his trappings of Christianity, Nelson is obviously a pantheist. He accepts anything that he deems as good and harmless regardless of its origin. Thus, despite identifying with Methodism, most devout won’t endorse his claim on Christianity. Nevertheless, they respect his person and commend his causes like Farm Aid. Personal troubles aside, he has always been an initiator of helpful acts for the betterment of the society.
“The Gospel is the lens through which to see all he has tried to do to lift others, whether it is through Farm Aid, alternative fuel, medical research, making somebody else laugh or encouraging a friend whose heart is broken…”
“If you look for the divine image in good ole Willie, it’s easy to find.”
– Rev. Curry on Willie Nelson –
Dirt Poor, Rich in Love
Six months after Nelson’s birth, his mother left in the hopes of finding a greener pasture. Shortly after his mother’s departure, his dad remarried but met an early demise. That left Nelson and his sister Bobbie in the care of their grandparents, Alfred and Nancy. They gave everything they had for the siblings including their treasure of faith and gift in music. Nelson’s Paw-paw worked as a blacksmith while Maw-maw picked cotton. In their free time, Maw-maw gave the children piano lessons. Music was in the family’s blood so Nelson grew up taking music seriously. That explains his natural take on songwriting.
At age 7, Nelson wrote his first song. Having discovered his knack in songwriting, he began playing music for money. Aware that he isn’t yet a great singer, he still chose music as a profession over picking cotton. Soon, he found himself playing in circuits. Maw-maw Nancy could not help but be worried as Nelson started performing in nightclubs. She would repeatedly warn Nelson of the danger of being corrupted by the world. A devout Christian, she strongly encouraged the siblings to follow their path of faith. Years later, Willie Nelson inculcated gospel songs in his album. Some have become gospel standards and sung in Southern Baptist churches.
Young Willie Nelson – Family Bible
Unfazed in the Lost Highway
They say you can’t put a good man down. Crediting his involvement in community development, let’s extend the title to Willie Nelson. That does not mean we condone this highway man’s wrongdoings, though. Nevertheless, this post is not to put Willie Nelson’s spirituality on trial. We’ll leave that to the Great Judge.
Moving on, Willie Nelson seems not to have a shortage of humor. The ‘90s decade gave him a truckload of difficulties. The biggest was the IRS looting his property as payment for his tax debts. They auctioned his possessions but the collected profit did not settle Nelson’s bill. Hence, the release of a compilation album which Nelson purposely titled, “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?” Sales paid half of the tax debt, and in a few years, the payment was settled in full. Albums and songs that followed were similarly given unusual names including Spirit, Teatro, Night and Day, Milk Cow Blues and The Rainbow Connection.
Suited to his outlaw image, Nelson is one tough nut to crack in his fondness with his ‘herbs.’ Stubbornly, he did not let the fear of arrest and imprisonment get to him. He chose to butt heads with the law by inciting activist efforts for the legalization of his precious medicine.
The biggest killer on the planet is stress and I still think the best medicine is and always has been cannabis.
I think people need to be educated to the fact that marijuana is not a drug. Marijuana is an herb and a flower. God put it here. If He put it here and He wants it to grow, what gives the government the right to say that God is wrong? – Willie Nelson
Where You There When They Crucified My Lord
On the Road Again
As a musician, Willie Nelson remained to be one of the biggest names in Hollywood. But there’s more to the man than his music. He stayed close to his roots and tirelessly worked for the causes he believed in. Beginning in 1985, Nelson organized concerts tagged Farm Aid as a means to raise funds for farmers’ lands and their families. Come 2007, “Willie Nelson’s Country Peach Cobbler Ice Cream” was launched and some of the proceeds also went to Farm Aid. In 2011, the National Agricultural Hall of Fame honored Willie Nelson for his valuable contributions.
“Family farmers are small farmers who love the land. They’re still not getting enough money for their product and are rapidly losing their battle to stay in business. By helping the American family farmer, we will, in turn, help ourselves out of the economic hole that we find ourselves in today. It doesn’t really matter how we got here; the point is, we have to dig our way out.”
When news of his childhood church in Abbot, Texas facing financial crisis reached Nelson’s ears, he did not think twice about buying the church’s lot for them. That endeared him to the congregants’ hearts and have always defended Nelson when people question or bad-mouth his claims on faith.
A nature nut, Nelson has always been concerned about our environment’s plight. In 2007, he launched BioWillie to promote the use of biofuel from soybeans. Going further, his cowboy heart led to his involvement in saving horses and has adopted about 50 other rescued animals. In case you did not know, proceeds for his family’s recording of “Wild Horses” went to that cause and other animal-welfare groups.
“Trigger” as his Constant Companion
Skyrocketing career, four marriages, and children. These did not seem to fill the void in Nelson. Having his own set of principles, sticking with a Willie Nelson can really be challenging. There’s one, however, which kept Nelson company – his trusty guitar, Trigger. Throughout the years, the duo made music that may have been ignored for a time, but not for long. Not a few of Nelson’s songs were put on records and they did awesome on charts.
From the late 1950’s to date, Nelson and Trigger produced 110 Singles and 161 albums including music videos. Overall, Nelson had 33 No. 1 Singles, 25 of which were chart-toppers in the US. Many of us are already familiar with his songs, so we’re only quoting three of his successful albums for brevity: Shotgun Willie (1973), of Red Headed Stranger (1975) and Stardust (1978).
Rebels Together Made History
Though a natural lone ranger, Nelson did collaborations with a string of talented artists. For a decade, he ganged-up with Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson in The Highwaymen. The group was phenomenal and were the buzzword from the late 80’s to the early 90’s. A decade later, the RIAA certified The Highwaymen albums Gold and Platinum.
More than each man’s unique skill, this country supergroup stood out for heir commitment to make genuine friendship the foundation for The Highwaymen. Individually, each man is a musical force to be reckoned with. Together, they’re a unified power in making Country an indispensable genre in the music industry.
What began as buddy jams in hotels turned into a historic legacy. For years, they were hard up fitting in status quos so they end up trying. Surprisingly, these outlaws’ refusal to be boxed in worked like magic in putting them together in The Highwaymen. Of course, a few brotherly bickering were a needed ingredient in producing a creative formula for success. It worked, and on stage, their harmony could not be surpassed.
The misunderstandings were for different reasons, but with Nelson, it’s nothing serious than just having more songs to sing than the rest.
Other Notable Musical Collaborations
- “After the Fire Is Gone” (1974) with R&B singer Tracy Nelson.
- “I Gotta Get Drunk” (1979) for George Jones’ psycho-talks.
- “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” (1984) with Spanish pop singer Julio Iglesias
- Seven Spanish Angels” (1984) with jazz legend, Ray Charles
- “Heartland” (1993) with pop sensation Bob Dylan
- “I’m a Worried Man” (2005) with Toots Hibbert for Nelson’s reggae album
- Superman (2011) with Snoop Dogg
- “Django and Jimmie” (2015) with Merle Haggard and his version of Jimmie Rodgers yodel
(If Not For) Django and Jimmie
Not the Last Man Standing in Book Writing 1
Some writers were made, while some were born. Nelson is among the born-to-be authors. His unusual phrasing as a songwriter was not immediately appreciated. It takes people willing to broaden their perspectives of arts in music to understand
the likes of Willie Nelson. Fortunately for him, some believed in him and were not disappointed.
On top of writing songs, not many fans may be aware that Nelson authored an array of books. For Goodreads alone, he had 72 featured works. Among his distinct writings were the ff:
- It’s a Long Story: My Life (2015)
- Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road (2012)
- The Troublemaker: A Story of Faith, Redemption, and Staying True to Your Deepest Beliefs (2012)
- A Tale Out of Luck (2008)
- On the Clean Road Again: Biodiesel and the Future of the Family Farm (2007)
- The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart (2006)
- Pretty Paper (2006)
- The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes (2002)
Not the Last Man Standing in Book Writing 2
Seems like every year, there’s a Willie Nelson book being published. It’s really a wonder how Nelson can pull off writing and co-authoring books despite his overloaded Nashville schedule. For a man with a few words when spoken to, one could not help but be astonished at this book-writing feat. How much more is left to be squeezed in that good ole brain?
- I Didn’t Come Here and I Ain’t Leaving (1989)
- Willie: An Autobiography (1988)
- Willie: An Autobiography (1988)
- Louis L’amour Stories (1995, 1984, 2002)
Aged but Still Restless
“If I had to break it down, I’d say about 99 percent of the people in my life were telling me I wasn’t going to make it. All that adversity and lack of faith ended up just strengthening my own convictions. All that negativity really helped me in the end, because there’s no better inspiration for doing something than having somebody say that you can’t do it.”
Having lived for eight decades, one can only try his luck telling a Willie Nelson to slow down. Not once did the media speculate his retirement seeing his declining health. Nelson, however, always refuted them and with that, another song was again Pope-ishly baptized into Still Not Dead. Typical Willie. He’s the embodiment that humor is the key to longevity.
Now 85, this God’s Problem Child is no way interested in the idea of retirement. This year, he’s booked for a whole year with a lineup of tours and concerts. Well, that’s not surprising. Always the misfit, Nelson would rather die with his boots on than to waste away on a rocking chair.
An Apostrophe to the Country Music Joker
Tell you what. There’s no ending a story about Willie Nelson. Be it in his career or personal life, he had always been adding commas where people have attempted to put a period on. Hence, it’s best to see the collective wisdom of his experiences be our example and inspiration.
1. Don’t Play Safe
Taking his active involvement in the Country Outlaw Movement, Nelson experimented on various musical styles from Bob Will’s western swing to honky-tonk sounds and rock & roll beat. Soon, he created a hybrid of music that made him an icon today.
2. Be Willingly Persistent to Follow Your Call
That brought to mind his 1962 duet with his then-wife, Shirley Collie. Their song “Willingly” became a hit but not for long. What followed was a string of successive disappointments and rejections of his songs. He tried to change labels but to no avail. That led him to quit music and embark on raising farm animals.
It is in Austin, Texas that he noticed youths who were as enthusiastic listening to country as with rock music. It was Nelson’s eureka moment which gave birth to the rise of Outlaws.
3. Be Surrounded by Your Band of Brothers
In case some still did not know, Willie Nelson has the Cherokee blood running in his veins. We can safely say that owing to that was his endless reserve of wit for survival (Remember IRS?). But, thriving independently was no barrier to accept a hand from your brothers. Through Nelson’s ascent to stardom, he always had people to help him up.
4. You are Worth Your Salt
Still wearing rough headbands and always with his battered guitar, Nelson remains the Father of Outlaw. Numerous critics repeatedly predicted his downfall. But, his hard work and staying true to his passion silenced the nay-sayers.
5. Know Your Tribe
Nelson learned a long time ago that entertainment is no platform to endorse political views. He’s not interested in siding with any political party. When asked by the press, he simply stated this,
“I’m just an ole redneck from Texas who ain’t a Democrat or Republican, but I can look at a guy and tell whether I like him or not.”
That’s coming from a man with a mind of insurmountable depths.
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