Suffice it to say, Willie Nelson may well be the most prodigious musician working today, no small accomplishment for a guy turning
turning 79. Born April 30, 1933, Willie continues to issue multiple albums in the space of a single year, generally for multiple labels (his accountant must go crazy!), each with a different focus and often in the company of younger, big-name guest stars. And yet, that's only part of his accomplishments. An author, actor, and activist, he's always on the move, and when he's not touring on his biofueled bus, you may find him relaxing on the golf course.
Still, it's not like he's got anything left to prove. The writer of numerous country standards ("Crazy," "Hello Walls," "Funny How Time Slips Away," and "Pretty Paper" among them), he began to record in earnest in the early '70s, when he released the two albums that helped set the standard for alternative Americana, Shotgun Willie and Red Headed Stranger, the latter of which spawned the indelible, oft-covered "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain." His album Stardust, a collection of standards released at the end of the decade, proved early on that he wasn't confined to any one genre.
Nelson proved he is pioneer in the establishment of Outlaw Country, a movement that also included at various times his frequent collaborators Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Billy Joe Shaver, Tompall Glasser, and other artists who loath the usual commercial trappings deemed necessary by the Nashville establishment. The seminal effort Wanted! The Outlaws, recorded with Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Glaser, defined the genre and became a milestone in the evolution of a style that quickly caught the attention of both country enthusiasts and those who veered toward rock 'n' roll.
In the '80s, he redefined himself yet again, recording such signature songs as "On the Road Again" (an enduring anthem if ever there was one), "To All the Girls I Loved Before" (an unlikely duet with Latin crooner Julio Iglesias), "Pancho & Lefty" (which helped bring its writer, Townes Van Zandt, to public prominence), and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" (a song written in the '30s by Fred Rose and later recorded by Roy Acuff but that Nelson quickly made his own). He also cofounded a supergroup of sorts, the Highwaymen, alongside Jennings, Cash, and Kris Kristofferson.
Unfortunately, a snafu with the IRS resulted in the claim that Willie owed Uncle Sam a whopping $32 million in unpaid taxes, forcing him to sell his assets and give up his profits to an album he recorded strictly to raise the cash, The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories? Yet, instead of becoming embittered, Nelson continued to make more music and delve deeper into the popular songbook, devoting entire albums to reggae, blues, jazz, and folk. He also began writing a series of best-selling books and later ventured into acting, beginning with the Robert Redford film The Electric Horseman and followed by the semi-autobiographical film Honesuckle Rose, which yielded the aforementioned "On the Road Again." As if that weren't enough, he agreed to become the official spokesman for a chain of steak houses called Texas Roadhouse, which garnered him an appearance on the Food Network. It's also worth mentioning that he holds a black belt in tae kwon do.
Willie is heavily involved in charity work. After appearing on the We Are the World record in 1984, he subsequently helped initiate "Farm Aid" to provide support for America's besieged family farmers. He's been invited to the White House, honored with numerous Grammy Awards, inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, recognized with the Kennedy Center Honors and made honorary chairman of the Texas Music Project.
One honor that eluded him was the naming of a Texas highway after Nelson, an initiative that had the support of 23 of the state's 31 legislators. The proposal was later dropped when two Republican senators objected, citing among other things, his fundraising on behalf of Democrats, his drinking habits, and his penchant for pot smoking, a well-known past-time of his that resulted in his arrest of several occasions.
To his credit, he's also made legalization of marijuana one of his many core causes, one reason why he serves as co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML for short. He even sponsored a golf tournament to help raise funds for the group. You might say it was clearly a case of putting money where his mouth is (smoke some green on the green? Anyone?).
Ultimately, there are many things that define Willie's image - his long braided red hair, his nasal, off-kilter vocal phrasing, the battered guitar that he nicknamed Trigger and his outlaw image as a pot-smoking, bandana-tied traveling troubadour. However, when it comes to thinking that grass is a gas, he's clearly not alone. Here's a short list of other musicians who have been known to relish the weed:
Bob believed, as do all believers of the Rastafarian religion, that marijuana is a sacrament. He took that belief seriously, as often evidenced by the smell of smoke that emanated from his dressing room. Both he and his former Wailers band mate Peter Tosh wrote songs encouraging legalization. Marley's song, "Legalize Marijuana," goes something like this: "Legalize it/Don't criticize it/Legalize it, yea-ah, yea-ah/And I will advertise it..." Kind of catchy, actually...
Macca may have fostered a wholesome image, but in fact he was frequently "Hi Hi Hi" (to quote the title of one of his early post Beatles songs). He and his late wife Linda were busted on several occasions, most famously at the Tokyo airport in 1980 when he was confined to a Japanese jail for several days. However, he recently told Rolling Stone that at age 69, he's given it up for the sake of his eight-year old daughter Beatrice. "I did a lot, and it was enough. I smoked my share," he told the magazine. "When you're bringing up a youngster, your sense of responsibility does kick in. Enough's enough."
Like Willie, Snoop is an outspoken proponent of pot and, again like Willie, he was busted on the same stretch of west Texas highway where Nelson was busted in 2010. In this instance, the rapper admitted that three prescription bottles filled with joints were his. To his credit, they were likely legal. Snoop has a license to obtain prescription medical marijuana in California.
No one's calling old Arlo a pot head, although if you caught the movie Alice's Restaurant, you might be convinced he made it stoned. We'd also point to the song he sang at Woodstock, "Coming into Los Angeles," in which he brags about "bringing in a couple of keys." True to his freewheeling ways, Arlo endorsed Ron Paul for president in 2008, who, it should be noted, has also come out in favor of decriminalization.
'Nuff said? This writer once attended a Dead concert in Boulder Colorado where the band literally threw bags of pot out to the audience (I was already high -- up in the bleachers that is -- so none of the goodies got as far as my seats). Still, their seminal song "Truckin'" describes the mishaps that can come with a freewheeling life on the road: "Busted -- down on Bourbon Street/Set up -- like a bowling pin/Knocked down -- it gets to wearing thin/They just won't let you be..." Somehow, it still sounds like a shame.
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