Classic Artist of the Week: Willie Nelson

Shotgun Willie! We’ve been going through a heavy outlaw phase as of late, including lots of records by this Texas Troubadour, legendary outlaw countryman and our latest classic artist this week, Willie Nelson.

In the mid to late 1950s, Nelson saw little success with his music as he moved his career from city to city, ultimately finding himself in Nashville, the capital of country music, by 1960.

There, he signed his first record deal and in 1964, officially become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Despite many of his songs becoming hits for other major artists (Billy Walker, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline), Nelson struggled to see much in the way of commercial success or popularity.

Tired of Nashville’s conservative restrictions, he decided to call it quits, moving back to Austin, Texas where his career became rejuvenated by the local appreciation for his own unique brand of country, which drew heavily from blues, jazz and rockabilly.

Alongside artists like Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, Nelson’s music developed the label “outlaw country” for its defiance of Nashville norms. His albums “Shotgun Willie” and “Red Headed Stranger” became seminal works of the outlaw movement, achieving widespread acclaim, while giving Nelson’s hippie-leaning style a national audience.

More notoriety came when Nelson and Jennings officially joined forces for their own collaborative project. In 1976, they released country music’s first certified platinum album (“Wanted! The Outlaws”) and two years later, released a second platinum effort with “Waylon & Willie.”

In the 1980s, Nelson and Jennings teamed up with Kristofferson and Johnny Cash to form country supergroup The Highwaymen, achieving platinum record sales and touring the world. To this day, Willie continues to tour and release new music at the age of 86.

Recommended Listening:

Album: Shotgun Willie (1973)

Album: Red Headed Stranger (1976)

Album: Stardust (1978)

Album: Waylon & Willie (with Waylon Jennings) (1978)

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