Wednesday, 15 April 2015

N is for Nelson

We've arrived at the halfway point of the A to Z Challenge and we're feeling good so far.  Willie Nelson was born in 1933 in Texas, to a working-class family with English, Irish, and Cherokee roots.  His parents' marriage broke up so he and his sister were raised by their grandparents.  He learned guitar at the age of six, and during high school he helped the family make some extra money by singing in dance halls and taverns. His early musical style was influenced by Hank Williams, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong among others.

After a brief stint in the U.S. Air Force he studied agriculture at Baylor University but dropped out to pursue a musical career.  After working odd jobs for a few years he landed a job at a radio station in Pleasanton Texas which enabled him to begin making recordings of his songs.  In 1956 he moved to California, and then to Oregon, and finally got another radio job in Vancouver, Washington where he worked as an announcer and began to appear on television.  Unfortunately his first attempt at a studio album failed, and he and his new wife and young son returned to Texas.

For two years he worked at a radio station near Houston and sang in clubs.  In 1960 he moved to Nashville in search of a record contract but most of his demos were rejected.  Luckily he attracted the attention of songwriter Hank Cochran who recorded several of Nelson's songs and later helped him get a solid contract with Liberty Records in 1961.  All the moving around didn't suit his wife and they divorced in 1962.  He soon remarried and by 1964 had signed on to RCA records where he made a number of successful singles.  At last his career seemed to be taking off.

However by 1970 his efforts stopped turning a profit, and his second wife divorced him after uncovering evidence of an affair.  When his ranch burned he took it as a sign for change and moved yet again, then married a third time and chose to retire from music.  That didn't last long, as the hippie music scene in Austin revived him and he released several albums to critical acclaim and piloted the show "Austin City Limits".  His first number one hit in 1975 was a cover of "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" which brought him the success he had been searching for.  Several of his albums in the 1970s and 1980s sold gold and platinum and he continued to top the charts consistently.

Yet more setbacks occurred in the 1990s.  The IRS came after him for unpaid taxes, and he had lost money on investments.  By 1993 he was debt-free as he continued to write music and perform on tour.  Today he remains as active as ever.  He has guest starred on many television shows, written books, and is involved in a number of charitable and environmental organizations.  Achievements include: induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, induction into the National Agricultural Hall of Fame, and an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music.

The following is a recording of one of Nelson's top hits.
Always On My Mind

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