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.
Gets his first guitar, a Sears Stella.
Lands his first paying job, playing with the John Rejcek Bohemian Polka Band in West. Gets drunk for the first time.
Collects his songs in a notebook he titles “Songs by Willie Nelson.”
Begins playing with Bud Fletcher and the Texans in area honky-tonks.
Graduates from high school and joins the Air Force, where he is stationed at Lackland, in San Antonio.
Marries Martha Matthews. Moves to Eugene, Oregon, where he works as a plumber.
Enters Baylor University, sells encyclopedias door-to-door, and drops out of school. Moves to San Antonio. Becomes a deejay at KBOP, in Pleasanton.
Makes his first demos at the radio station, recording over an old farm report. Tries marijuana for the first time. Doesn’t like it.
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.
Moves to Portland, then Vancouver. Records “No Place for Me” in his garage and puts it out on Willie Nelson Records.
Moves back to Fort Worth. Teaches Sunday school and writes “Family Bible.”
Moves to Pasadena, outside Houston, and writes “Night Life,” “Crazy,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.”
Moves to Nashville, where he becomes a staff songwriter at Pamper Music for $50 a week. Drinks a lot and fights often with Martha.
Faron Young records his “Hello Walls,” and Patsy Cline covers “Crazy.”
Releases his first album, And Then I Wrote.
Marries Shirley Collie. Ray Price’s version of “Night Life” enters the Top 20.
Becomes a farmer, tending eight hundred hogs and two hundred cattle at his property in Ridgetop, Tennessee.
Meets Waylon Jennings and Connie Koepke, with whom he begins an affair.
Paul English joins his band as a road manager and backup drummer for Bush.
Tours with Charley Pride to the chagrin of some club owners and fans. Bush leaves the band, and English becomes drummer.
Buys a Martin guitar that he eventually names Trigger. Connie gets pregnant. Shirley moves out, Connie moves in.
House at Ridgetop burns down.
Moves to Lost Valley Ranch, near Bandera, and starts golfing. Marries Connie in Las Vegas. Dan “Bee” Spears joins the band to play bass.
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.
Films a pilot for a new TV show, Austin City Limits. Guitarist Jody Payne joins the band.
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.
Buys his first tour bus.
Smokes pot on the roof of the White House.
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.
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.
Stars in Honeysuckle Rose and releases “On the Road Again,” which he wrote on the back of a plane ticket envelope.
Releases five albums, including Pancho and Lefty.
“To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” is a hit.
Organizes the first Farm Aid concert, where Neil Young and John Cougar Mellencamp perform. Films Red Headed Stranger in Luck. Buys home in Maui.
Films Stagecoach, where he meets Ann-Marie “Annie” D’Angelo on the set and has an affair.
IRS agents raid Pedernales and seize Willie’s land and studio to pay off his $16.7 million debt.
Marries Annie. Willie’s son Billy commits suicide on Christmas Day.
Pays off IRS and starts recording again.
Arrested in McLennan County after marijuana is found in his car; the case is thrown out.
Records Spirit, his favorite album.
Receives Kennedy Center Honors lifetime achievement award.
Leads choir in “America the Beautiful” at the end of a 9/11 memorial concert.
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.
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.
Releases reggae album Countryman.
Buys and saves 107-year-old Abbott Methodist Church and Abbott Cash Grocery. Busted for marijuana in Louisiana and receives six months’ probation.
Plays four nights at Lincoln Center with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet.
Releases Moment of Forever, which was co-produced by Kenny Chesney. Goes on the road again.