Willie Nelson

A great photograph of Willie Nelson and his guitar "Trigger" performing on stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN.

Willie Nelson and his guitar named “Trigger”

Willie Nelson is a true living legend and an American cultural icon. From his humble beginnings in small-town Abbott Texas, he has built a globally celebrated career as a highly accomplished songwriter, a revolutionary “outlaw” musician, a one-of-a-kind actor, a social activist, and a philanthropist.

He has one of the most original and beloved personas in American popular culture, known for his long braided hair, his beat-up autographed Martin classical guitar named “Trigger,” his well-traveled tour bus named “Honeysuckle Rose,” and his outspoken advocacy for marijuana legalization.

Willie Nelson has always done things his own way, and he has always kept moving. Despite his reputation as a slow-movin’ outlaw, he has usually kept a few steps ahead of everyone else.

Today, he is as active as ever in his mid-80s. Billy Joe Shaver once nicely summarized Willie’s approach to life by writing, “Willy he tells me that doers and thinkers say movin’ is the closest thing to bein’ free.” Willie has lived a long and amazing life. Looking back at it here reminds us of Willie’s words, “Gee ain’t it funny how time slips away.”

Early life

A photograph of Willie Nelson's grandparents who raised him as a child in Abbott, Texas.

Willie and Bobbie Nelson’s grandparents.

Willie Hugh Nelson was born on April 29, 1933, in the tiny town of Abbott in east-central Texas. His mechanic father, Ira, and his mother, Myrle, divorced when he was only six months old, and his mother left home to work as a dancer, waitress, and card dealer. Willie and his two-years-older sister Bobbie, who would eventually play piano in Willie’s “Family” band, were raised by their paternal grandparents. Young Willie enjoyed hanging out in his grandfather’s blacksmith shop.

But times were hard. The nation was struggling through the Great Depression, and the family was poor. Solace was found in religion—and music. The children were exposed to music when they attended Abbott’s small Methodist church with their grandparents. “The first music we learned was from the hymn books. Willie had such a beautiful voice,” Bobbie later recalled. Both grandparents encouraged Willie and Bobbie to play music. Willie got his first guitar when he was six years old, and he started writing his own songs by the next year.

In addition to religious musical influences, Willie was exposed to wide range of other musical styles while growing up in the 1940s. These included the Western swing of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, the honky-tonk country of Ernest Tubb, the big-band pop of Frank Sinatra, and the jazzy guitar stylings of Django Reinhardt. Even polka music was popular in the part of Texas where Willie Nelson lived because of the German and Czech populations.

Willie’s first musical gig, when he was only ten years old, was singing and playing guitar in a locally touring Bohemian polka band. He joined a honky-tonk band called Bud Fletcher and the Texans while in high school. The group played the local club circuit. Bobbie, who played piano in the group, later married Fletcher.


Live clip from 1945 of Django Reinhardt, a major influence on Willie’s guitar playing.

Following his graduation from high school in 1950, Willie joined the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. After about eight months, he had to leave the service because of back problems. He then studied agriculture at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, for two years. He also continued playing music in local clubs. To make ends meet during this time, he also took on a series of odd jobs, including door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, tree trimmer, and nightclub bouncer.

Early music career

After dropping out of college to follow his music dreams, Willie Nelson worked as a radio disc jockey for several years. And he wrote songs and played gigs whenever he could. During this period—the late 1950s—he penned a number of songs that would later become major hits for various artists. These included “Night Life,” “Crazy,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.”

He also wrote a gospel song, “Family Bible,” that reflects the family and religious influences of his childhood. He sold the song for $50, and it became a hit for Claude Gray in 1960. Using that cash, he decided to seriously pursue his music ambitions by moving to the “capital” of the country music industry—Nashville, Tennessee. Hank Cochran helped him get a job as a songwriter for Pamper Music, earning about $50 a week. He also joined Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys band as the bass player (taking the place of Johnny Paycheck).

A photograph of Willie Nelson in overalls at the mailbox of his home in Ridgetop, TN in the 1960s when Willie Nelson was farming and writing songs.

Willie Nelson at the mailbox of his home in Ridgetop, TN. Yes, Willie really was a farmer!

In 1961, Willie achieved his first major professional successes when two of his songs become hits for other artists. Faron Young had a big country hit with “Hello Walls,” while Patsy Cline’s immortal rendition of “Crazy” crossed over onto the pop charts.

In 1963, Ray Price had a top-40 country hit with Willie’s “Night Life.” Late that year, Willie and his new wife, a singer named Shirley, bought a house and ranch in Ridgetop, a town about 20 miles north of Nashville. There, while he pursued his music career, he also unsuccessfully tried to become something of a gentleman farmer, raising hogs and cattle.

Willie’s own first album was released in 1962. Titled …And Then I Wrote, it featured 12 of Willie’s originals. The album failed to generate much notice within the industry. It seemed that Willie’s songs could be successful only when they were sung by other people. Willie’s singing style was too unusual, plaintive, and noncommercial for the country music of that era. The Nashville music producers and promoters weren’t sure what to do with him.

Willie’s singing has sometimes been mocked as nasally. Willie’s good friend and frequent singing partner Waylon Jennings would often have a bit of fun doing his Willie impersonation while pressing his nose closed with his finger.

However, Willie actually sings in a baritone that can switch easily between octaves. He uses off-the-beat phrasing, which he has frequently attributed to his Sinatra influence. His band plays with a rather gritty road-house sound that incorporates elements of country, blues, jazz, and rock.

He definitely did not fit into the traditional Nashville country music scene of the 1960s. His record company, RCA, dressed him up in a suit, and producers tried to make him fit into a countrypolitan mold.

Looking at old black-and-white videos of the young, conservatively dressed, short-haired, clean-shaven Willie Nelson we can see how forcefully repressed was the real Willie that we know and love today. Willie’s attempted resistance to these efforts at cramping his style made him an “outlaw” in the country music business, as did his reputation as a hard-partying free spirit.


Willie in 1965 performing a medley of his songs that were hits for other artists.

A turning point in Willie’s life came when his house in Ridgetop burned down in 1970. He made sure to save his guitar—and the pound of weed inside—from the burning house. Willie took the fire as a sign that it was time to make a major change in his life. He left Nashville and returned to Texas.

Finding freedom in Austin

Willie was drawn to Austin. In the early 1970s, this college town and government capital in central Texas was a unique mix of hippies, rednecks, students, and professional people. Compared with Nashville, it was a bastion of artistic freedom.

The music scene was conducive to creativity and experimentation, where a band could get away with mixing rock, country, blues, and any other genre they wanted to play, and the band members could grow their hair long, wear old blue jeans, and get wild. They tended to drink a lot of beer, smoke a lot of pot, and trip out on some psychedelic drugs.

Willie Nelson was a key, founding figure of this special and unique time and place in American musical history. Other important members of the early-70s Austin musical scene included Jerry Jeff Walker, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Ray Benson, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Doug Sahm.

A major focus of this scene was a concert hall and beer garden known as the Armadillo World Headquarters. Willie and his Family band were frequent players there. This is when Willie started to grow his hair long. Willie found freedom to be himself as he achieved his musical liberty.

His band members were also uniquely expressive individuals. Drummer Paul “The Devil” English, with his black goatee, performed while wearing a black cape with red lining. Bass player Bee Spears sometimes wore a train engineer cap and Indian moccasins. Harmonica player Mickey Raphael sported a bushy black Afro-style hairdo. Guitarist Jody Payne had long blonde hair and beard. Sister Bobbie wore a big black cowboy hat.


Short video about the Armadillo World Headquarters.

Word about this musical and cultural revolution quickly spread throughout central Texas—before breaking out to the rest of the country. The most important early milestone of this revolution was the Dripping Springs Reunion concert, a large Woodstock-style event held on a piece of Texas ranchland in March 1972.

Along with Willie, other performers included Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Roger Miller, Buck Owens, Charlie Rich, Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, and Dottie West. It was a mix of traditional country and what was beginning to be called “progressive” country. Another massive Dripping Springs event was held on July 4, 1973, marking the beginning of Willie’s annual Fourth of July picnics.

Recording success as a singer

Helping Willie build his growing following of enthusiastic fans in the early and mid-1970s were a series of albums in which he had finally recorded music in his own distinctive style. The first of these albums, recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York City, was Shotgun Willie (1973).

This album was unlike anything ever heard before in country music. It consisted mostly of simple, laid-back arrangements of original Willie songs. Some of these songs had highly personalized themes, such as “Shotgun Willie” (about himself sitting “around in his underwear, biting on a bullet and pulling out all his hair”) and “Devil In a Sleepin’ Bag” (about Paul English complaining that “traveling on the road is such a drag”). There were also tunes from Leon Russell and Bob Wills.

Willie followed that up with Phases and Stages (1974), which was even more unusual. It was a concept album of intellectually probing songs about a couple’s divorce, such as “Phases and Stages/Washing the Dishes,” “Phases and Stages/Walkin’,” “Pretend I Never Happened,” and “It’s Not Supposed to be That Way.”

But Willie’s commercial breakthrough album was Red Headed Stranger (1975), his first album with Columbia, a record company that gave him complete artistic control. It was a concept album relating the story of a cowboy in the Old West. The album included Willie’s first song to reach number one on the country charts. It was a sad song featuring mainly just Willie’s voice and acoustic guitar called “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” written by Fred Rose. The song also crossed over onto the pop charts and earned Willie his first Grammy Award, for Best Country Vocal Performance in 1975.

Nashville was shocked to discover that the guy who they brushed off as a weird-singing songwriter was suddenly a big singing star. In 1976, Willie Nelson surprised them again by releasing an album of gospel songs called The Troublemaker, scoring a hit song with “Uncloudy Day.”


Willie performing “Bloody Mary Morning,” from the album Phases and Stages, live in 1974.

This was the same period in which Waylon was recording such ground-breaking albums as Lonesome, On’ry and Mean; Honky Tonk Heroes; This Time; The Ramblin’ Man; and Dreaming My Dreams, in which he was finally exercising artistic freedom to record in his own style and use his own musicians. Waylon fought through the Nashville system to win that freedom. He warned his record company, RCA, that they would lose him as an artist the same way they had previously lost Willie if they refused to give him his way.

A photograph of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson performing together during one of their many TV appearances.

Waylon and Willie performing during one of their many TV appearances.

Together, Waylon and Willie became known as the fathers of the outlaw country music movement. That reputation was solidified with the release of the album Wanted! The Outlaws by RCA in 1977. The album also included Jessi Colter (Waylon’s wife) and Tompall Glaser.

The duet by Waylon and Willie of “Good Hearted Woman” became an instant country classic. The names Waylon and Willie were further linked together (sometimes so much that they were referred to as “Waylie”) by their duet “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” on Waylon’s 1977 album Ol’ Waylon, and by their 1978 duet album Waylon and Willie. The latter album included the monster hit, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” That tune won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.


Willie and Waylon singing “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” together in 1983.

Just when the music industry thought it was figuring out who Willie was, he threw them another curve ball with the album Stardust (1978). With this song collection, he breathed unexpected new life into such old American pop standards as “All of Me,” “Blue Skies,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and “Moonlight in Vermont.” His cover of the Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell classic “Georgia on My Mind” earned him his second Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance. Beyond its critical success, this album proved to have staying power as well, remaining on the country charts for a decade. A double 1978 album, Willie and Family Live, showcased the energetic live performances of Willie and his band.

In 1979, Willie received country music’s highest honor when he was selected as “Entertainer of the Year” by the Country Music Association. That same year, Willie used his financial success to purchase property near Lake Travis in Austin. There, he converted Pedernales Country Club into the Pedernales Recording Studio. The first album he recorded there was Tougher Than Leather (1983), a concept album telling a cowboy saga similar to that of Red Headed Stranger.

In the busy year of 1979, Willie also opened the Willie Nelson and Family General Store in Nashville, along with his friends, Frank and Jeanie Oakley.  Thirty nine years later that store is still open and has expanded to include the Willie Nelson and Friends Museum which pays homage to Willie Nelson and also many of the greats who made country music what it is today.

Acting accomplishments

In yet another accomplishment of 1979, Willie branched out his career into movie acting. He had a relatively small role in The Electric Horseman, starring Robert Redford. But he still managed to steal the show with the line, “I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna get me a bottle of tequila, find me one of them keno girls that can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch, and just kind of kick back.” Willie was obviously a naturally gifted actor.

In 1980, he played a veteran country musician much like himself, though with the character name of Buck Bonham, in the movie Honeysuckle Rose. His character was torn between his wife (played by Dyan Cannon) and a young singer (Amy Irving) who joins him on the road. The film, which also featured all of Willie’s band, included the original song “On the Road Again.”

The catchy tune garnered Willie an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. It also won him the Grammy Award for Best Country Song of 1980. Perhaps no other song is so strongly associated with Willie than “On the Road Again,” which seems to encapsulate his life in 2 minutes and 23 seconds.  Scenes from Honeysuckle Rose featuring Willie singing “On the Road Again.”

Willie’s early cinematic successes led to many more movie offers. He appeared with James Caan in Thief (1981), with Gary Busey in Barbarosa (1982), with John Savage in Coming Out of the Ice (1982), and with his friend Kris Kristofferson in Songwriter (1984). The latter movie also generated a duet album.

He had the lead role in Red Headed Stranger, a 1986 movie version of the album (with Morgan Fairchild). That same year, he appeared in a television remake of the John Wayne movie Stagecoach, along with fellow Highwaymen Kristofferson, Jennings, and Johnny Cash. That country supergroup had released its debut album, Highwayman, in 1985.

Other notable movie appearances by Willie over the years have included roles in Wag the Dog (1997), Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999), The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (2007), Swing Vote (2008), Surfer, Dude (2008), and Zoolander 2 (2016). Some of his more popular movie cameos have involved his well-known advocacy for marijuana.

For example, in 1998’s Half Baked, he portrayed the elderly “Historian Smoker,” who, while high on pot, reminisced about how things used to be in his younger years. In 2006’s Beerfest, he played himself looking for teammates to join him in a mythical world-championship cannabis-smoking contest in Amsterdam.

In 2015, Willie appeared in an episode of the Bryan Blue Show titled “The Need for Weed.” Other television series in which Willie has appeared include Miami Vice, Nash Bridges, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Monk, Bones, King of the Hill, The Simpsons, and The Muppets.

More hits and musical collaborations

Music has always been Willie’s main love. He spent the 1980s and 1990s exploring many different musical genres. Like a singing version of Captain Kirk, Willie has had the courage to boldly go where no [country-music] man has gone before.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow (1981) was another album of 1940s-era American pop standards. Willie’s old friend Freddie Powers joined him on such classics as “Exactly Like You” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself a Letter).” Always on My Mind (1982) featured the hit title song, which had also been a hit for Elvis. It was Billboard’s top country album of the year. The previously mentioned Tougher Than Leather (1983) was Willie’s first album of original songs in several years, serving as a reminder of what a great writer Willie is. It included new cowboy songs from Willie’s unique perspective, such as “Little Old Fashioned Karma,” “Nobody Slides, My Friend,” and “I Am the Forest.” City of New Orleans (1984) featured Willie’s joyful take on the Steve Goodman title song, previously known from Arlo Guthrie’s recording.


Willie singing “City of New Orleans” with the Highwaymen in 1990.

Who’ll Buy My Memories–The IRS Tapes (1992) was a double album with an interesting story behind it. In 1990, the IRS seized most of Willie’s assets, alleging that he owed millions of dollars in back taxes. Willie’s accountant had been neglecting that essential duty for years, and Willie Nelson had no knowledge of the problem. To help him pay this huge debt, Willie released this album featuring just he and his guitar performing many of his original songs.

In addition, many of Willie’s assets were auctioned and purchased by friends, who later gave the items back to him. Willie sued the accounting firm Price Waterhouse, and the lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount. All his debts were paid by 1993. That same year, Willie Nelson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.

Across The Borderline (1993) was an album that featured Willie performing with several other artists, such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Sinead O’Connor, Bonnie Raitt, and David Crosby. One of the songs was a revealing Willie original titled “Still is Still Moving to Me.” For a man who’s usually on the move, the lyrics suggested that even during those rare times when he’s not moving, his restless mind is still on the go. Spirit (1996) consisted of original songs with instrumentation stripped down to two guitars, fiddle, and piano. Many of the songs had a Spanish or classical feel. Night and Day (1999) consisted of jazz instrumentals, such as “Gypsy,” “Vous et Moi,” and “Nuages.”

As is evident in the Across the Borderline collection, Willie is well known for his duets and other collaborations with a vast range of artists of almost every imaginable genre.

The 1985 Highwaymen debut, with the hit Jimmy Webb title composition, was followed up with two more albums by the group of four country-music giants, in 1990 and 1995. Willie and Waylon themselves released additional duet albums, including WWII (1982), Take It To the Limit (1983), and Clean Shirt (1991).


Waylon and Willie in a fun video version of “If I Can Find a Clean Shirt,” from 1991.

Some of Willie’s many other duet albums have included the following artists: Leon Russell (One For The Road 1979); Ray Price (San Antonio Rose 1980, Run That By Me One More Time 2003); Webb Pierce (In the Jailhouse Now 1982); Merle Haggard (Poncho and Lefty 1982, Seashores of Old Mexico 1987, Django and Jimmie 2015); Roger Miller (Old Friends 1982); Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee (Texas Tornadoes 1983); Hank Snow (Brand On My Heart 1985); Faron Young (Funny How Time Slips Away 1985); lesser-known country artist Curtis Potter (Six Hours at Pedernales 1994); Johnny Cash (VH1 Storytellers 1998); B.B. King and other blues artists (Milk Cow Blues 2000); jazz guitarist Jackie King (guitar duos on The Gypsy 2001); traditional pop singer and professional golfer Don Cherry (Coast 2 Coast 1995, The Eyes of Texas 2002, It’s Magic 2007); genre-crossing singer-songwriter Kimmie Rhodes (Picture in a Frame 2003); Toby Keith, Joe Walsh, Kid Rock, Al Green, Shelby Lynne, Carole King, Lee Ann Womack, Lucinda Williams, Keith Richards, Jerry Lee Lewis (Outlaws & Angels 2004); and Wynton Marsalis (Two Men With the Blues 2008, Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Genius of Ray Charles 2011).


Willie, Wynton Marsalis, and Norah Jones performing the Ray Charles’ classic “Hit the Road Jack” in 2012.

Some of Willie’s popular duet singles have been with Julio Iglesias (“To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” 1984); Ray Charles (“Seven Spanish Angels” 1984); Emmylou Harris (“Gulf Coast Highway” 1990); Toby Keith (“Beer for My Horses” 2002); and Lee Ann Womack (“Mendocino County Line” 2002). Outstanding duet partners in Willie’s later years have included Rosanne Cash (“Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends” 2013); Alison Krauss (“No Mas Amor” 2013); Kacey Musgraves (“Are You Sure” 2015); Merle Haggard (“It’s All Going to Pot” 2015); and Loretta Lynn (“Lay Me Down” 2016).


Willie and Merle Haggard in the 2015 video of “It’s All Going to Pot.”

Activism

Willie Nelson has fought for several social and political causes throughout his life. He has often been a supporter of Democrat political candidates. There is a famous true story—dating back to when Jimmy Carter was president in 1977—of Willie smoking a joint on the roof of the White House, reportedly with one of Carter’s sons. Arrested a few times for possession of the drug—including in the Bahamas a few days before his White House smoking session—Willie Nelson has maintained his strong views supporting marijuana legalization. And society has largely come around to his way of seeing things in recent years. In 2015, Willie began marketing his own line of cannabis products called Willie’s Reserve, at: https://williesreserve.com.

Willie's take on the state of the union…

Posted by Willie Nelson and Friends Museum and General Store on Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Willie talking politics and pot in 2017.

The challenges of the family farmer have always been of great concern to Willie. In 1985, Willie—along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp—organized the first Farm Aid concert to raise both awareness and funds to help family farmers. Dave Matthews joined the effort in 2001. As of 2017, the annual musical event and the Farm Aid organization have raised more than $50 million.

Environmental protection is another issue of concern to Willie. For example, he has long promoted an alternative, cleaner-burning fuel known as biodiesel. For a few years, he marketed his own brand of biodiesel for truckers called BioWillie, made with soybean oil. Willie is also an advocate for the humane treatment of horses and farm animals.

And Willie Nelson has never forgotten his hometown of Abbott, Texas. He bought and continues to support the town’s church and grocery store, which were both in danger of failing.

Still moving

As he sings in the song, Willie Nelson is still moving. He keeps on the road much of the year performing live shows, and he continues to write new material and release new albums. In total, he has written more than 2,500 songs, and about 350 Willie albums have been released during his lengthy career.

Perhaps Willie’s most popular recent song is “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” from the album Heroes (2012). It’s become something of a joyful anthem during Willie’s concerts. The recorded version of the song features vocal help from Snoop Dogg, Jamey Johnson, and Kristofferson. Snoop and Willie had previously made a song and video together titled “My Medicine,” in 2008. The Heroes album includes a number of additional guest appearances, such as from Sheryl Crow, Billy Joe Shaver, and Willie’s son Lukas

Willie has several other notable recent albums. The 2014 album Band of Brothers was the first collection to feature mostly original songs since Spirit in 1996. Also in 2014, Willie released two albums made with his sister Bobbie: Willie’s Stash, Vol. 1: December Day and Farther Along: The Gospel Collection.

In 2015, the Library of Congress presented Willie with the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. Willie was the first country artist to receive the award, which was perhaps the most prestigious of his countless honors.

Presented by the Library of Congress, the Gershwin award honors “musical artists whose lifetime contributions in the field of popular song exemplify the standard of excellence associated with George and Ira Gershwin by promoting the genre of song as a vehicle of cultural understanding, entertaining and informing audiences and inspiring new generations.”

He followed that up in 2016 with the release of an album of Gershwin classics called Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin. Also in 2016, Willie honored his friend, colleague, and mentor with the album For The Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price. Price had died in 2013.

Willie’s 2017 album God’s Problem Child, consisting mostly of original songs, reached the top of Billboard’s country chart in May. It was Willie’s seventeenth album to accomplish that feat. One of Willie’s most moving and touching ballads ever is on the album, a song titled “A Woman’s Love.” Willie also pokes fun at the recurring Internet rumors of his death with the song “Still Not Dead.”


Willie in the 2017 video of “Still Not Dead.”

Like most older people, Willie has dealt with a number of health issues during the 2000s, prompting the frequent Internet gossip about his health. On August 13, 2017, breathing problems forced him to cut short a concert in Salt Lake City. Responding to the latest online speculation, the 84-year-old legend tweeted, “This is Willie I am sorry to have to cut the SLC show short tonight The altitude got to me I am feeling better now & headed for lower ground.”

Marriages and children

Willie Nelson has been married four times, and those marriages have resulted in two generations of musicians. His first wife, in 1952, was Martha Matthews. They had three children together—Lana, Susie, and Billy—before splitting up in 1962. Tragically, Billy committed suicide on Christmas Day 1991. Billy’s daughter, Raelyn Nelson, has her own band and creates music that has been described as “country punk.”

From 1963 to 1971, Willie was married to singer Shirley Collie. After the couple divorced, Willie married Connie Koepke. Connie is mentioned in some of Willie’s songs from the 70s. Willie and Connie had two daughters, Paula and Amy, before divorcing in 1988. Paula and Amy are musicians with their own bands. Paula is a country singer-songwriter, as well as a radio disc jockey. Amy performs in the acoustic duo Folk Uke with Cathy Guthrie, daughter of Arlo.

A photograph of Willie Nelson with his Annie celebrating Willie Nelson's 80th birthday.

Willie and Annie celebrating Willie’s 80th birthday.

Since 1991, Willie has been married to Ann Marie “Annie” D’Angelo. Their union has produced two sons, Lukas Autry and Jacob Micah (who goes by “Micah”), both of whom are musicians. Lukas fronts a rock band named Promise of the Real (POTR). The band, joined by Micah, backed up Neil Young on Young’s “Monsanto Years” tour in 2015. On Willie’s 2012 Heroes album, Lukas performed a duet with his dad on Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe.”

In 2017, the album Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real included a duet of Lukas and Lady Gaga singing a funky song called “Find Yourself.” Micah plays in a couple “neo-psych-folk-rock-punk-orchestra” bands, including one named Insects vs. Robots. He is also a very original illustrator, painter, and animator.


Willie and Lukas Nelson at Farm Aid 2013 performing “Just Breathe.”

Books

Willie has written a number of books, including two autobiographies.

Willie, An Autobiography, written with Bud Shrake. Simon & Schuster, 1988.

The Facts of Life: And Other Dirty Jokes. Random House, 2002.

The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart, written with Turk Pipkin. Gotham, 2006.

Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From the Road. William Morrow, 2012.

It’s a Long Story: My Life, written with David Ritz. Little, Brown and Company, 2015.

More about Willie Nelson and his family

Willie’s official site

Willie’s official Twitter page

Willie’s official Facebook page

Superfan Linda Banks’ site about Willie and band

Willie discography

Willie filmography

Playlist of Willie’s classic songs from throughout his career

Sister Bobbie’s official Facebook page

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

Micah Nelson

Paula Nelson Band

Amy Nelson – Folk Uke

Raelyn Nelson Band


In addition to Willie Nelson, the displays and exhibits you’ll see at the Willie Nelson and Friends Museum  honor other country music legends including:


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