You might say Willie Nelson was a boy who was born in the middle of nowhere and was challenged to find out where he fit into this world.
He was born in Abbott, Texas–a tiny agricultural town between Hillsboro and Waco–around midnight April 29, 1933, but the doctor wrote it down as April 30. No matter. Willie celebrates both days. His cousin named him. His mother abandoned the family soon after he was born. His father remarried and took off shortly after. Willie and his sister were left to be raised by their grandparents, and that may have been a good thing. Grandpa and Grandma Nelson were singing teachers, and they started their grandchildren in music. It was Nelson’s grandfather who bought Willie his first guitar and taught him how to play a few chords. Willie wrote his first song at 7, started playing guitar for a local polka band when he was 9, and by 13 was earning his money by singing in local dance halls.
After high school, Nelson served a short stint in the United States Air Force. (If you know him at all, you can only imagine how that went over…with both parties!)
For two years he studied agriculture at Baylor University. (It’s almost impossible for me to imagine Willie Nelson at a straight-laced Baptist college, but he did try.)
For a time Willie tried selling vacuum cleaners and Bibles door-to-door. He was not unsuccessful as a salesman, but music was still in his heart.
As a Houston newcomer, Nelson stopped by a popular ballroom to see if the house band singer would be interested in buying his original songs. He was only asking $10, but the band singer refused. Instead he loaned Willie $50 and gave him a 6-day trial singing at the club. One encouragement led to another, and by 1960 country music singer Claude Gray had turned Willie Nelson’s song “Family Bible” into a hit!
The road was never easy, and Willie Nelson has always been a maverick who blazed his own trail, but the boy from the backroads who always “bucked the system” finally found a place where he fit in just fine playing his own unique style of Texas country music.