Say Hey Willie

Even though he never made any effort to look (or sound) youthful, it's still a bit jolting to consider that Willie Nelson turns 75 next week. To put things in perspective, the Lone Star State's greatest living music icon was born two years before Elvis Presley, and while Presley went out as a bloated wreck at the age of 42, Willie was only getting started at the same age.

Veteran Texas music writer Joe Nick Patoski has delivered a fitting testament to Nelson's epic life with a new biography, appropriately titled An Epic Life (Little, Brown). A painstakingly researched 567-page tome, An Epic Life chronicles Nelson's slow, frustrating rise and his groundbreaking cultural achievement: linking earnest folkies, longhaired hippies, and C&W-loving cowboys under his inclusive tent.

Among the great anecdotes: A young Willie getting a job in Nashville as an encyclopedia salesman, and quickly quitting when a dog chased him back to the car; Willie, aware that Patsy Cline didn't care for his music, sheepishly waiting in the car while his music publisher, Hank Cochran, tried to sell "Crazy" to her; a drunk Jerry Jeff Walker trying to grab Nelson's beloved guitar, Trigger, and getting a good pummeling for his efforts; and Nelson having an epiphany when he saw a hippie rock band called Freda and the Firedogs (led by a very young Marcia Ball) play an Austin benefit for legislative candidate Lloyd Doggett at the Broken Spoke, a haven for the kicker crowd. Willie called his old friend Waylon Jennings, told him that something was stirring in Austin, and the rest is Outlaw Country history.


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