Known as the Red-Headed Stranger, Willie Nelson (born April 30, 1933) is perhaps one of the most iconic Country Music
artists of the 20th century. He started his career in the 1950s, playing bass guitar for Ray Price and writing songs for others (ever heard of "Crazy" by Patsy Cline?). A modest #10 hit in 1962 ("Willingly"), first brought him to the charts, but it wasn't until 1975 that he broke through with the massive crossover hit "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain". For most of the 1970s and 1980s, Nelson was at the top of his game, charting both as a solo singer and as a duet partner with... well, almost everybody: Waylon Jennings
, Merle Haggard
, Julio Iglesias and Ray Charles
, among others. Although Nelson hasn't touched the Top 40 on his own since 1990, the occasional duet found its way onto the charts as late as 2003's "Beer for My Horses", with Toby Keith
- As Himself: In guest appearances on Swing Vote, Broken Bridges, Beerfest, Monk, The Country Bears, The Simpsons (voice), Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me, and King of the Hill (voice).
- Badass Beard: Since Shotgun Willie, he's had one. His prior albums look quite strange with him clean shaven.
- It's a major plot point for the underrated Western Barbarosa where he plays the eponymous cowboy hero.
- Concept Album: The Red-Headed Stranger, chronicling the life of a man from Blue Rock, Montana.
- Cool Old Guy: In addition to being one of the legends of Country Music and American music in general, being known for his friendly and funny manner, and being The Stoner, he's also a practitioner of Kung Fu, and Tae Kwon Do, which he's held a black belt in since The Eighties.
- Countrystar Song: "On the Road Again", natch.
- The Cover Changes The Meaning: The majority of the songs on Red Headed Stranger are older songs that are used to illustrate the album's story arc.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: His earliest material is fairly straight classic country (though his sophisticated lyrics were considered cutting edge). When he recorded with RCA Records in the late 60s he had the same problem as his labelmate Waylon Jennings: his style was too eclectic to fit into the usual Nashville formulas, leading to experiments with crooning ballads ("She's Not For You"), pop ("I'm a Memory") and even gospel ("Laying My Burdens Down"). He also sang with a clipped, over-enunciated style that stands in contrast to his later signature jazzy phrasing.
- Empty Chair Memorial: Riderless horse variant; namely, the bay pony that accompanies the Red-Headed Stranger in the eponymous song was his deceased wife's horse. He shoots and kills a woman who tries to steal it, and went free, because "you can't hang a man for killing a woman who's trying to steal his horse."
- Fan Nickname: The Red-Headed Stranger
- Money, Dear Boy: Thanks to a combination of his accountants from Price Waterhouse not paying his taxes for years and some bad investments in The Eighties, the IRS seized most of Nelson's assets in 1990, claiming he owed them $32 million. His attorney managed to negotiate a settlement down to $6 million, leading him to record The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories? in 1992, a highly acclaimed double album performed by him alone on vocals and guitar, to pay off the debt.
- Signature Style: A reedy voice singing just off of the beat.
- The Stoner: He's the co-chair for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The occasional arrest for possession is another clue.
- According to legend, he once smoked a joint on the roof of the White House.
- And according to another legend, he once barged in out of nowhere on a Rolling Stone reporter interviewing Bob Dylan bearing a blunt as long as his forearm. The article was never written (according to the legend, anyway).
- Toby Keith penned a song titled "I'll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again". And sings it in Willie's Signature Style.
- Super Group: The Highwaymen with Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash.