As a vocal stylist, songwriter, bandleader, and even occasional movie actor, Nelson’s long commercial reign (20 #1 hits and 114 chart singles between 1962 and 1993) has been outstripped only by his boundless energy as a performer and songwriter. Since the mid-1950s, his recorded output has been vast.
Nelson did a brief stint in the air force and married Martha Mathews (the first of four wives) in 1952. He played in various local Texas bands and worked as a DJ at stations in Texas and Vancouver, Washington, where, in the mid-1950s, he made his earliest self-released recordings.
In 1960 Nelson relocated to Nashville, where he met songwriter Hank Cochran, who connected Nelson with Hal Smith and his Pamper Music publishing house. Nelson soon blossomed as one of Music City’s most gifted and prolific writers. “Crazy” (first popularized by Patsy Cline), “Funny How Time Slips Away” (a hit for Billy Walker), and “Hello Walls” (Faron Young) are a few of the best known of his compositions from the early 1960s. In 1963 Nelson married his second wife, Shirley Collie (ex-wife of Biff Collie).
In 1970, with his second marriage over and his house destroyed by fire, Nelson moved back to Texas. In 1973 Nelson was signed to Atlantic Records’ fledgling country division by Jerry Wexler. Nelson recorded a pair of vivid and surprisingly rustic concept albums. On July 4, 1973, Nelson held his first annual Willie Nelson Picnic in Dripping Springs, Texas. In the late 1970s, at the height of his stardom, Nelson ventured into feature films and proved a competent actor as well.
He and his third wife, Connie Koepke, whom he married in 1971, were divorced in 1988. In 1991 he married his fourth and present wife, Ann-Marie D’Angelo. By the early 1990s, he had accumulated millions of dollars in debt to the Internal Revenue Service (he has since erased his tax burden), and in the same period of time, his son, Billy, took his own life.
The Farm Aid concerts begun in 1985 by Nelson, John Mellencamp, and Neil Young had raised over $24 million to benefit family farming in the U.S.more » « less