Joan Carol, Willie Nelson and Cliffie Stone in Nashville in the early 1990s. On July 12, 2012, I had the pleasure of seeing Willie perform and talking with him backstage at the Pepsi Amphitheater in Flagstaff, AZ. Cliffie and Willie met decades ago and their pioneering paths crossed many times down through the years and they became good friends. Willie Nelson mini-bio: Willie Hugh Nelson is a legendary American Icon, who has had a multi-faceted career for decades: a musician, singer, songwriter, author, actor, activist and philanthropist. He was the second child born to Myrle and Ira Nelson on April 30, 1933, in Abbott, TX. Willie and his older sister, Bobbie, were raised by their loving paternal grandparents, who introduced both of them to music by attending the small Methodist Church in Abbott where they learned and sang hymns. (It was Willie’s early church background that would later inspire him to write one of his hit songs, “Family Bible.”) Bobbie learned how to play the piano and Willie’s grandfather bought him his first guitar when he was six years old and he taught him a few chords. This enabled Willie to start writing songs at an early age to express his emotions. Since his grandfather was a blacksmith, he introduced Willie to horses, animals and farm life, and one of the things Willie enjoyed doing was raising pigs for the “Future Farmers of America.” What Willie didn’t enjoy doing was picking cotton during the hot summers, which obviously motivated him to focus on music. When he was in his teens, he started playing guitar professionally with a local polka band. Bobbie had gotten married at sixteen and she played piano for her husband in his band, ‘Bud Fletcher and The Texans’ and later, Willie joined them on guitar. While making money playing with local bands, he also performed at school dances as well as playing halfback for his high school’s football team. After he graduated in 1950, he joined the U.S. Air Force. Because of back issues, he was discharged and he decided to attend Baylor University. In 1952, he married his first wife, Martha Matthews and they had three children - Lana, Susie and Billy. Willie also worked at numerous odd jobs to support himself and his family. (Willie would later marry three more times and have four more children, Paula, Amy, Lukas and Micah. This caption’s main focus is Willie’s career; and for more info on his personal life (which also includes his career), I recommend that you read “Willie: An Autobiography” that Willie co-wrote with Bud Shrake in 1988 as well as Joe Patoski’s biography, “Willie Nelson: An Epic Life.”) He also worked as a deejay as well as playing guitar and singing in local gigs for several years. In 1956, he quit Baylor University and moved to Washington and performed in gigs around Vancouver; in the late 1950s, he wrote some of his future hit songs such as “Crazy,” “Night Life,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” In 1960, Willie decided to relocate to Nashville and he started socializing at ‘Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge’ in downtown Nashville, which was a popular hangout for artists, musicians and songwriters. Hank Cochran (who was a songwriter with Pamper Music) befriended Willie, and he was instrumental in getting Willie signed as a writer with Pamper Music, which was owned by performer, Ray Price. When one of Ray’s musicians quit, he hired Willie to play in his touring band, ‘Cherokee Cowboys.” During this time frame, a number of his songs became hits by other artists: “Crazy” (Patsy Cline), “Hello Walls” (Faron Young), “Funny How Time Slips Away” (Billy Walker), “Pretty Paper” (Roy Orbison) and in 1963, “Night Life” (Ray Price). Although it took awhile, he finally got signed with Liberty Records in 1962 and his first album was “And Then I Wrote.” In April 1965, he recorded a RCA album with Chet Atkins entitled “Country Willie – His Own Songs.” In 1964, Willie joined the Grand Ole Opry, wherein he wore short hair and dressed in suits like the other male Opry stars. Willie became disenchanted with Nashville because he wouldn’t conform to their local Nashville sound (and neither could some of his friends like Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson). Thus, when his last album and single didn’t sell well, he decided to return to Texas with his family around 1971, where he felt more at home in Austin’s all encompassing music genres – redneck country, rock and the new hippie music scene (this musical admixture would become known as “the Austin Sound”). The most popular dance hall and entertainment hangout was ‘Armadillo World Headquarters’ (known as the Armadillo or the Dillo), which could hold 1,500 people. Businessmen, cowboys, hippies and people from all walks of life would gather there to listen to the eclectic music of country and rock artists as well as stars who performed there from 1970 through 1980. These stars included the likes of Michael Martin Murphy, Ray Charles, Bruce Springstein (1974), Frank Zappo, etc. At this point in time, Willie grew a beard, let his hair grow long and wore a bandana; he performed at the Armadillo countless times in his jeans, tee shirts and tennis shoes while playing his Martin guitar, which he nicknamed, Trigger. His new look and casual attire complimented his nasal sounding voice and offbeat lyrical phrasing, which his audience loved. Thus, he developed a loyal following that was the beginning of his future massive fan base that would be made up of all age groups from all walks of life who would be supportive of his long creative career for decades to come. As an actor, Willie had roles in numerous movies, which include: “Electric Horsemen” with Robert Redford; “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Thief,” “Barbarosa,” “Songwriter,” and a TV remake of the classic western film, “Stagecoach” with Johnny Cash in 1986. TV guest appearances include: “Miami Vice,” “Medicine Woman,” “Delta,” “The Colbert Report” and countless TV/cable interviews. Willie has recorded numerous albums and they include: “Shotgun Willie” (Atlantic) in 1973 – his musicians were his touring band, the ‘Family’ (his sister, Bobbie Nelson, piano; Paul English, drums; Mickey Raphael, harmonica; Bee Spears, bass; and Jody Payne, backup singer); “Phrases and Stages” (Atlantic) in 1974. In 1975, “Red-Headed Stranger” (Columbia) propelled Willie into stardom. This was his 1st album to cross over on both country and rock charts that featured “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” which was his 1st song to reach #1 on the country charts as well as his 1st Grammy Award for “Best Country Vocal Performance.” His album,“Stardust” (which stayed on the country charts for years), featured a hit single, “Georgia on My Mind,” wherein Willie received a Grammy for “Best Country Vocal Performance” in 1978. That same year, he also recorded “Wanted! The Outlaws,” with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser wherein Willie and Waylon did a duet on “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” and they received a Grammy for “Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.” “On the Road Again” (1980) from the movie “Honeysuckle Rose,” which earned Willie an Academy Award nomination for “Best Original Song,” as well as a Grammy Award for “Best Country Song” in 1980. “Always On My Mind” won Willie the Grammy Award for “Best Country Vocal Performance” in 1982. Around 1981, Willie joined forces with Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash and toured as the “Highwaymen;” and they became known as the ‘outlaw country subgenre.’ Their first album was released in 1985, which became a big hit – the “Highwaymen,” and so did their first single release, the “Highwaymen.” In 1984, Willie sang a duet with Julio Iglesias, “All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” which was the first single release from Julio’s “1100 Bel Air Place” album, and it became a huge hit - peaking at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1990, the IRS claimed that Willie owed Uncle Sam millions of dollars and seized his assets. Apparently, unwise investments were made by his accountants, etc. During this time frame, loyal friends and fans helped him out in many ways. In 1991, Willie released a double album called “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll buy My Memories,” and all the profits went to the IRS. By 1993, the IRS issue was resolved. Here’s a quote from Cliffie’s talent show book wherein he gives financial advice to aspiring artists: “If you don’t take an active part in your finances, you could get in trouble with the IRS and possibly end up owing a huge sum of money. This has happened to so many celebrities. They all make big bucks and many have ended up broke or with a small fraction of what they initially made because of a combination of things such as a high life style, unwise investments, scams, inadequate and/or dishonest business management. Multi-talented country legend, Willie Nelson, has been in demand for decades. His financial picture is very complex because his revenues come from song royalties, CDs/cassettes, concerts, books, motion pictures, etc. Like most of us, he delegated his finances to business associates, because he was on the road fulfilling his gig obligations. For whatever reason, he ended up in the ‘red’ to the IRS, which got big time press when it happened. Since then, Willie has rectified the IRS debt.” In 1995, Willie, Waylon, Kris and Johnny produced and released a ‘live’ album, “Highwayman 2.” In the ensuing years, he’s continued to relentlessly tour and to record songs. In 2003, he sang a duet with Toby Keith, “Beer for My Horses,” which was also filmed on video. Their song went to #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs for six weeks; and they also received an award for “Best Video” from the ACM. In 2005, he recorded a duet with Ray Charles, “Busted,” which was released on Ray Charles’ album, “Genius & Friends.” In February 2012, he signed a record deal with Legacy Recordings and his first album release was “Heroes,” that included his sons, Lukas and Micah, Ray Price, Merle Haggard, Sheryl Crow, Snoop Dog, which reached #4 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums. On various record/CD albums, TV shows and concerts, he’s performed with other stars from all music genres such as Ringo Starr, Diana Krall, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, jazz musician, Wynton Marsalis and the list goes on. Willie’s above career couldn’t have happened without great management and Mark Rothbaum has been his loyal longtime manager for years. Awards from various music organizations are too numerous to mention, but they include: the ACM’s “Pioneer Award” in 1991; The CMA’s “Entertainer of the Year” in 1979, and CMA’s Hall of Fame in 1993 (the CMA honored Willie with an all-star tribute on their awards show in 2012); Nashville’s Songwriters Int’l Hall of Fame in 1973 (he wrote over twenty-five hundred songs). In 1998, he was one of the “Kennedy Center Honors” recipients for the “Lifetime Achievement” award; and the National Agricultural Hall of Fame on July 25, 2012. Willie has participated in countless charity events as well as participating in fundraising disaster concerts such as the ‘Kokua For Japan’ concert for the victims of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Willie is an activist and has lent his voice, talent, and time to support causes that he believes in. He’s been a longtime advocate for the legalization of marijuana. As a child, his grandfather (a blacksmith) taught him to love horses and animals; consequently, Willie is involved in numerous animal causes and organizations such as the “Animal Welfare Institute” and “Habitat for Horses.” Willie is an environmentalist and a ‘greenie,’ who believes in solar and other energy saving devices. For years, he’s been involved in alternative burning fuels called ‘Biodiesel;’ and he walks the talk because he is involved in a company that produces BioWillie fuel, which is made up of 20% biodiesel (a vegetable oil-based fuel) and 80% diesel, which he uses in his ‘Willie and Family’ touring buses. (Visit: www.greencar.com.) “Farm Aid” concerts are an annual event, which was first launched in 1985 by Willie, Neil Young and John Mellencamp to help independent farmers and their families from being foreclosed. In 1987, Willie and John Mellencamp testified before Congress about the plight of the independent family farmer and consequently, Congress passed the “Agricultural Credit Act of 1987” which helps to save family farmers from foreclosure. Willie, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp are on the Farm Aid’s Board of Directors; and in 2005, Willie wrote the foreword to “Farm Aid: A Song for America” to celebrate its 20th anniversary. It’s a magnificent book with over 200 photographs that include Farm Aid performers such as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel as well as various farmers throughout America’s heartlands; contributing writers are Eric Schlosser and Howard Zinn. Willie understands the plight of farmers because he was raised in a Texas farmland agricultural community, which is why he told the Associated Press in 2012 that “he was honored and humbled to become the 39th inductee in the Agricultural Hall of Fame.” Frank Sinatra’s classic hit, “My Way,” describes how Frank lived his life; I think it also describes how Willie Nelson has lived his life too! Willie has always ‘done it his way’ and he ‘continues to do it his way.’ His official website is: www.willienelson.com.