The Full Nelson

April 30, 1933

Born in Abbott. His mother leaves six months later; his father leaves a few years after that. Willie and his older sister, Bobbie, are raised by their grandparents, Daddy and Mama.

1939

Gets his first guitar, a Sears Stella.

1942

Lands his first paying job, playing with the John Rejcek Bohemian Polka Band in West. Gets drunk for the first time.

1944

Collects his songs in a notebook he titles “Songs by Willie Nelson.”

1947

Begins playing with Bud Fletcher and the Texans in area honky-tonks.

1950

Graduates from high school and joins the Air Force, where he is stationed at Lackland, in San Antonio.

1952

Marries Martha Matthews. Moves to Eugene, Oregon, where he works as a plumber.

1954

Enters Baylor University, sells encyclopedias door-to-door, and drops out of school. Moves to San Antonio. Becomes a deejay at KBOP, in Pleasanton.

1955

Makes his first demos at the radio station, recording over an old farm report. Tries marijuana for the first time. Doesn’t like it.

1956

Moves to Fort Worth, deejays and plays in honky-tonks. Meets Paul English, a pimp and trumpet player, who briefly plays drums with him. Moves to San Diego.

1957

Moves to Portland, then Vancouver. Records “No Place for Me” in his garage and puts it out on Willie Nelson Records.

1958

Moves back to Fort Worth. Teaches Sunday school and writes “Family Bible.”

1959

Moves to Pasadena, outside Houston, and writes “Night Life,” “Crazy,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.”

1960

Moves to Nashville, where he becomes a staff songwriter at Pamper Music for $50 a week. Drinks a lot and fights often with Martha.

1961

Faron Young records his “Hello Walls,” and Patsy Cline covers “Crazy.”

1962

Releases his first album, And Then I Wrote .

1963

Marries Shirley Collie. Ray Price’s version of “Night Life” enters the Top 20.

1964

Becomes a farmer, tending eight hundred hogs and two hundred cattle at his property in Ridgetop, Tennessee.

1965

Meets Waylon Jennings and Connie Koepke, with whom he begins an affair.

1966

Paul English joins his band as a road manager and backup drummer for Bush.

1968

Tours with Charley Pride to the chagrin of some club owners and fans. Bush leaves the band, and English becomes drummer.

1969

Buys a Martin guitar that he eventually names Trigger. Connie gets pregnant. Shirley moves out, Connie moves in.

1970

House at Ridgetop burns down.

1971

Moves to Lost Valley Ranch, near Bandera, and starts golfing. Marries Connie in Las Vegas. Dan “Bee” Spears joins the band to play bass.

1973

Moves the family and band to a 44-acre spread in South Austin. Hosts first Fourth of July Picnic. Harmonica player Mickey Raphael joins the band.

1974

Films a pilot for a new TV show, Austin City Limits . Guitarist Jody Payne joins the band.

1975

Writes Red Headed Stranger on a drive from Colorado to Texas with Connie; the album ultimately sells more than three million copies. “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” becomes his first number one country hit.

1976

Buys his first tour bus.

1977

Smokes pot on the roof of the White House.

1978

Releases Stardust, an album of pop standards that is the most successful record of his career. Becomes the top concert act in the country. Makes film debut in The Electric Horseman with Robert Redford.

1979

Buys the Pedernales Country Club, west of Austin; builds a recording studio and Western town, which he names Luck; and restores homes for band and crew.

1980

Stars in Honeysuckle Rose and releases “On the Road Again,” which he wrote on the back of a plane ticket envelope.

1983

Releases five albums, including Pancho and Lefty.

1984

“To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” is a hit.

1985

Organizes the first Farm Aid concert, where Neil Young and John Cougar Mellencamp perform. Films Red Headed Stranger in Luck. Buys home in Maui.

1986

Films Stagecoach, where he meets Ann-Marie “Annie” D’Angelo on the set and has an affair.

1988

Divorces Connie.

1990

IRS agents raid Pedernales and seize Willie’s land and studio to pay off his $16.7 million debt.

1991

Marries Annie. Willie’s son Billy commits suicide on Christmas Day.

1992

Pays off IRS and starts recording again.

1994

Arrested in McLennan County after marijuana is found in his car; the case is thrown out.

1996

Records Spirit, his favorite album.

1998

Receives Kennedy Center Honors lifetime achievement award.

2001

Leads choir in “America the Beautiful” at the end of a 9/11 memorial concert.

2003

The Essential Willie Nelson becomes a number one country album. His duet with Toby Keith, “Beer for My Horses,” also hits number one on the country charts.

2004

Takes several months off from touring to recover from carpal tunnel surgery. Goes on the road with Dylan, playing minor league ballparks, and endorses Dennis Kucinich for president.

2005

Releases reggae album Countryman.

2006

Buys and saves 107-year-old Abbott Methodist Church and Abbott Cash Grocery. Busted for marijuana in Louisiana and receives six months' probation.

2007

Plays four nights at Lincoln Center with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet.

2008

Releases Moment of Forever , which was co-produced by Kenny Chesney. Goes on the road again.

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