Willie Nelson has been a country music icon for decades and his status in the industry remains undisputed. As one of the legends of the genre, Nelson has at times vehemently defended who can make country music and what it actually looks like.
Willie Nelson is a legendary country music artist
Willie Nelson started recording music in the 1950s, when he was in his early twenties. He worked as a radio announcer and freelance musician, picking up all the gigs he could get. In 1960, he moved to Nashville, the country music capital of the world, but initially struggled to gain recognition there.
Nelson released his first album … And then I wrote in 1962 and his profile began to increase in the industry. In 1965, he joined the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, where he met another future country superstar, Waylon Jennings.
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Nelson had only minor success, and he grew increasingly frustrated with the boxes he had been placed in. In the early 1970s, he and Jennings – along with other country artists – began recording what came to be known as “outlaw country” music, which challenged the conservative ideals of Nashville.
Willie Nelson resented pop singers making country music
Nelson’s rise to prominence as part of the outlaw country was chronicled in the 2021 Netflix docuseries It’s pop. “In the 1960s, the music coming out of Nashville started to look less and less like country music. He started to have orchestras and singers without southern accents, ”said journalist Shuja Haider. “In the 70s, you have pop artists like John Denver or Olivia Newton-John releasing country records. “
One person who was annoyed by the influx of pop artists into country music was Nelson himself. “We don’t want a bunch of big guys [and] crook artists from other parts of the world come here and mess it up for the rest of the people, ”Nelson said honestly in a ’70s music video.
In 1976, Nelson and Jennings teamed up with Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser to form The Outlaws. Their album Wanted to! The outlaws became country music’s first platinum album, with over a million copies sold.
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Willie Nelson is country music protector
While Nelson seemed to resent the new players in country music, he was protecting a genre of music close to his heart. Becoming a musician was for him the dream of a lifetime.
“Ever since I was a kid music was what I wanted to do,” Nelson told Parade in 2010. “I thought I could do it with my own talents. That’s what I wanted to prove.
“A lot of country music is sad,” he continued. “I think most works of art are born out of poverty and hard times. This applies to music. Three chords and the truth, that’s what a country song is. There is a lot of sorrow in the world.