Willie Nelson’s Birthday: Celebration of a Legend

Below is an excerpt from Randy Poe’s book, Stalking the Red Headed Stranger.

Red Headed Stranger also went to No. 1 on the country album charts and reached the Top 30 on the pop album charts. For the first time in his thirteen-year recording career, Willie Nelson had finally made an album his way. And lo and behold—after all those years of being forced make records the way other people wanted him to—it turned out that all the experts were wrong and the first-time record producer was right. After Red Headed Stranger, there was no looking back.

Over the next decade, seven more Willie Nelson albums would reach the top of the country charts. During that same time span, Willie scored seventeen more No. 1 singles, including “Always On My Mind,” which also made it to No. 5 on the pop charts. The Stardust album alone spawned three hit singles. And then the movies began. Willie appeared first in the Robert Redford/Jane Fonda film Electric Horse- man—with a soundtrack that included the No. 1 hit “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” His first starring role was in Honeysuckle Rose, a movie that included two more No. 1 hits: “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” and the song that has become the theme of Willie’s life, “On the Road Again.” And of course there were the duet hits—with Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles, Merle Haggard, Julio Iglesias, his old friends Roger Miller and Ray Price, Leon Russell, Toby Keith, and others. As if that weren’t enough, he also had hit singles and albums with his country supergroup, the Highwaymen (Willie, Waylon, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash). There have been some serious hiccups along the way—problems with the IRS and more than one arrest on drug charges—but through it all, Willie Nelson has never stopped making music.

He has received Grammy Awards, CMA Awards, ACM Awards, American Music Awards, and others. He’s been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame. He’s been a Kennedy Center Honoree and the guest of several presidents. (He even smoked pot on the roof of the White House during the Carter administration.)
Like Bob Dylan (another of his duet partners), Willie Nelson changed the musi- cal landscape. The term “outlaw country” was created for the kind of music he and pals such as Waylon Jennings began to make in the 1970s. Willie unsuccessfully tried to play the Nashville game for over a decade before he finally realized that the only way to beat the system was to break virtu- ally all of the rules Nashville had ever written. A line from his song “Me and Paul,” captured all of those misspent years in a single phrase: “Nashville
was the roughest.”

Stalking the Red Headed Stranger

Stalking the Red Headed Stranger is a guide to the art and history of professional song plugging. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill history book/instruction manual. It is an in-depth, up-close look into the real music business by industry insider and Grammy Award nominee Randy Poe, who has represented literally hundreds of the greatest songs in the history of popular music, including “Stand By Me,” “Happy Together,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “Hound Dog,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Chapel of Love,” “Summer in the City,” “Love Potion No. 9,” and “Kansas City.”

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