Willie Nelson at On the Waterfront

Country music legend Willie Nelson will be performing at On the Waterfront Thursday, Aug. 28, in Davis Park. The gates open at 6 p.m.

Best known for down-to-earth songs that cross several genres including country, pop and rock ‘n’ roll, the famous guitar-playing Texas “Outlaw” has become an icon of American music. He is a hero to farmers and millions of fans who found something in his music that struck a responsive chord in their lives.

During his five-decade career, Nelson helped define the sound of country music. He was a songwriter and backing musician in the ’50s and ’60s, and later became known as the “Outlaw” of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. This year he is in his 70th year and still going strong.

Willie Nelson was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1933. He and his sister Bobbie were raised by their grandparents after their father died and their mother left them. Both children took up musical instruments—Willie took guitar, and Bobbie chose piano. Willie began performing before audiences in his hometown of Abbott, Texas, at age 4, and he was writing songs by age 7. In high school, he played with fiddler Bud Fletcher’s Raychecks Polka Band.

After a brief stint in the Air Force, Nelson, now 23, singlehandedly recorded, financed and sold his first song, “No Place For Me.” By 1959, he had been married, divorced, and had two children. He worked as a disc jockey and wrote songs in his spare time. Eventually, he made enough money from selling songs, especially “Night Life,” which he sold to three Texas businessmen. He bought a Buick convertible and set out for Nashville. He stayed there for 10 years, writing and selling music, until December 1970, when his house burned down. Nelson packed up and went back to Texas. But he found few opportunities to sell music there, so he began performing his own work.

Willie Nelson continued writing and performing in Texas over the next few years. In 1973 he started his Fourth of July picnic, which has become an annual tradition. In 1975, one of his almost nameless albums, Red Headed Stranger, hit the charts and became a smash success. It put Willie in the spotlight and prompted a collection of some of his earlier music. It was released on one album: Wanted: The Outlaws, which, with more than 1 million copies, became the top-selling country music album in history.

About 1978, Willie launched his acting career. He played roles in several films, including Red Headed Stranger, Thief, Honeysuckle Rose, Barbarosa, Songwriter, Electric Horseman, Stagecoach and many more. Red Headed Stranger contained his first smash hit, a remake of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Also in 1978, he joined fellow country outlaw Waylon Jennings to record Waylon and Willie and the country song, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”

In 1985, he teamed up with Kris Kristoferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash to record an album as the Highwaymen. The same year, with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Nelson founded Farm Aid. During the last decade, the charity has raised more than $12 million for rural American causes.

Still recording and touring, Nelson keeps on going. In 1993, with more than 100 albums recorded, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. “On the Road” again has become his hallmark as he continues to perform around the country.

And now—Willie Nelson live at Davis Park!

Compiled by Susan Johnson.

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