With more than 200 albums, Willie Nelson is country music

May 12, 1999|By KATE COLEMAN

With his long hair and bandanna, 66-year-old Willie Nelson is not your typical heartthrob, pretty-boy country singer in a cowboy hat and spangled shirt.

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His fans range from kids to octogenarians. He's made recordings with performers outside the country-music circle, including Ray Charles, Neil Young, Julio Iglesias and Carlos Santana. He recorded George Gershwin's "Summertime" with Leon Russell.

Nelson has more than 200 albums. "Teatro," his most recent, was recorded in a California studio that at one time was a Mexican movie theater. It was produced by Daniel Lanois - noted for his work with U2 and Bob Dylan.

Nelson was born in Abbot, Texas, to Ira and Myrle Nelson and raised, along with his sister Bobbie Lee, by his paternal grandparents. He got his first guitar when he was 6. The family was involved with the church and gospel music, and young Nelson listened to the radio - Grand Ole Opry, New Orleans jazz, big band music, Southern black blues and Western Swing, according to biographical information.


He moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 1960 and, rejected as a performer, he made his mark writing songs, including Patsy Cline's "Crazy."

Nelson didn't fit into the '70s Nashville scene as a singer. He returned to Texas and did things his way. He broke through as a performer with his album, "Red Headed Stranger." Its 1975 single, "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," established him as a superstar.

Nelson's 1978 "Stardust," a collection of pop standards, was on the country charts for more than a decade, and during the late '70s and '80s, hit records included "On the Road Again," "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys," "Always on My Mind" and "Whiskey River." He also acted in movies, including "Electric Horseman," "Red Headed Stranger, "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Wag the Dog."

Along with Neil Young, John Mellencamp and John Conlee, Nelson helped to establish Farm Aid, an organization that has raised awareness and millions of dollars, helping to save the family farm in America.

Nelson was inducted into the Country Music Association's Hall of Fame in 1993. In 1994, he settled his 14-year-old $16.7 million dollar IRS debt. That settlement included another album - "The IRS Tapes/Who'll Buy My Memories."

In December 1998, Willie Nelson was awarded the Kennedy Center Honor for his lifetime achievement as a performing artist, joining the likes of Benny Goodman, Leonard Bernstein and Frank Sinatra.

Emmylou Harris, who sang a duet with Nelson in the film "Honeysuckle Rose" and sings on 11 of "Teatro's" tracks, has said: "If America only had one voice, it would be Willie's."

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