Willie Hugh Nelson (born April 30, 1933) is an American country singer-songwriter, author, poet, actor and activist. Nelson was one of the main figures of the Outlaw Movement, a subgenre of country music that developed between the end of the 1960s and early 1980s. Nelson is also recognized for his contributions to charity and for his activism for the legalization of marijuana and for the use of biofuels. Nelson plays a Martin N-20 nylon-string acoustic guitar equipped with a Baldwin three-cord pickup, named Trigger, which he’s owned since 1969.
Nelson started studying music from mail order material that his grandparents gave him. He wrote his first song at age seven and joined his first band at nine. During high school, he toured locally with the Bohemian Fiddlers as their lead singer and guitar player. Nelson attended Baylor University for two years but dropped out because he was succeeding in music. Nelson moved to Vancouver, Washington, where he wrote "Family Bible" and recorded the song "Lumberjack" in 1956.
In 1960, he signed a publishing contract with Pamper Music which allowed him to join Ray Price's band as a bassist. During that time, he wrote songs that would become country standards, including “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Hello Walls,” “Pretty Paper” and “Crazy.” In 1962, he recorded his first album, “And Then I Wrote.” Due to this success, Nelson signed in 1965 with RCA Victor and joined the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1973, after signing with Atlantic Records, Nelson turned to outlaw country, including albums such as “Shotgun Willie” and “Phases and Stages.” In 1975, he switched to Columbia Records, where he recorded the critically acclaimed album, “Red Headed Stranger.” The same year, he recorded another outlaw country album, “Wanted! The Outlaws,” which he recorded with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser.
During the mid 1980s, while creating hit albums like “Honeysuckle Rose” and recording hit songs like “On the Road Again,” “To All the Girls I've Loved Before” and “Pancho & Lefty,” he joined the country supergroup The Highwaymen, along with fellow singers, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. His 1982 album, “Always on My Mind” which featured the hit title track and was certified 4× platinum, reached #2 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and marked his highest peak to date.
Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985. The original objective was to raise money for families in danger of losing their farms, later Farm Aid promoted awareness of the economic importance of farming. The annual event celebrated its 25th Anniversary at Milwaukee’s Miller Park in 2010.
During the 1990s and 2000s, Nelson continued touring extensively, and released albums every year. Nelson explored genres such as reggae, blues, jazz, and folk. Nelson made his first movie appearance in the 1979 film, “The Electric Horseman,” followed by other appearances in movies and on television.
Nelson is a major liberal activist and the co-chair of the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which is in favor of marijuana legalization. On the environmental front, Nelson owns the bio-diesel brand Willie Nelson Biodiesel, which is made from vegetable oil. Nelson is also the Honorary Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Texas Music Project, the official music charity of the state of Texas.