Willie Nelson & Family at McCallum Theater for the Performing Arts in LA (Jan. 8, 2017)

by:  David Green

The McCallum Theatre welcomes the return of Willie Nelson on Monday, January 8, at 8:00pm. The words “living legend” can truly be applied to Willie Nelson. His career has spanned six decades, he’s earned every award in his profession, and he has amassed credentials as an activist, actor and author.

Born in Texas, Willie was raised by his grandparents who encouraged him to play music. He began writing songs in elementary school and played in bands as a teenager. After high school, he served in the Air Force but music was a constant pull. By the mid-1950s, Willie was working as a country deejay in Fort Worth while pursuing a musical career. He made the move to Nashville where his songwriting talents were embraced. In 1961, his “Hello Walls” for Faron Young and “Crazy” for Patsy Cline topped the charts. In 1962, Willie scored several hits as a singer but struggled for a breakthrough. Disillusioned with Nashville, he moved back to Texas in 1972. Emboldened by the rock and folk music popular in Austin, Willie’s music started to change.

He began to build a following with Shotgun Willie (1973) and Phases & Stages (1974), and 1975’s Red Headed Stranger became one of country’s most unlikely hits. His convention-busting stardom, combined with the popularity of maverick Waylon Jennings, prompted journalist Hazel Smith to dub the trend “Outlaw Music” and a movement was underway. RCA Records seized on the phenomenon, compiling an album of material from Willie, Waylon, Tompall Glaser and Jessi Colter. Wanted: The Outlaws spawned the hit Willie/Waylon duet “Good Hearted Woman.”

Willie’s star continued to rise with a string of hit albums, including Stardust (1978); Across the Borderline (1993); Teatro (1998); The Essential Willie Nelson (2003);and Songbird (2006). A two-day recording session with Merle Haggard and Ray Price in 2006 resulted in Last of the Breed album, a two-disc collection of country classics. To celebrate Willie’s 75th birthday in 2008, Columbia released the four-CD set One Hell of a Ride which included hit singles, rarities and tracks from 60 albums. Willie released Two Men with the Blues in 2008, his acclaimed collaboration with Wynton Marsalis. His single releases also topped the charts, including “On the Road Again,” “Always on My Mind,” and a duet with Julio Iglesias, “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

Willie continues to release hit albums. To All the Girls (2013), featured a collection of duets with all female partners, including Dolly Parton, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Carrie Underwood, Emmylou Harris, Miranda Lambert, and more. The album entered the country charts at #2 and extended his record to a total of 46 Top Ten albums. Chart-topping Band of Brothers (2014) was the first of Willie’s albums to feature mostly newly self-penned songs since 1996’s Spirit. In 2015, he released Django and Jimmie, his collaboration with Haggard. 2017 saw the release of God’s Problem Childenter the country charts at the top.

Willie’s stardom increased with forays into other genres. He has appeared in TV shows and feature films, including The Electric Horseman and Honeysuckle Rose. Willie became a fiction author with A Tale out of Luck, co-authored with Mike Blakely, a classic western tale that brings to life characters central to any great Wild West story – Texas Rangers, women of ill repute, saloons and shootouts. On the environmental front, Willie owns the bio-diesel brand “Willie Nelson Biodiesel,” which is made from vegetable oil. He is also the honorary chairman of the Advisory Board of the Texas Music Project, the official music charity of the state of Texas.

Willie was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993, and in 2004, the Academy of Country Music honored him with the Gene Weed Special Achievement Award. His career has been recognized with numerous Grammy wins, a President’s Merit Award, a Grammy Legend Award and the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007 Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) named him a BMI Icon, declaring that his “ascendance to internationally-renowned treasure is a singular path marked by self-belief and musical brilliance.” In 1998, Willie received a Kennedy Center Honor and, in 2011, he was inducted into the National Agriculture Hall of Fame for his work in Farm Aid and other benefits on behalf of farmers.

As ever, Willie tours tirelessly, climbing aboard Honeysuckle Rose III (he rode his first two buses into the ground), taking his fans on an endless journey to places that were well worth the ride.

Tickets for this performance are priced at $117, $97, $87 and $67. Tickets are available at the Theatre’s website at www.mccallumtheatre.com or by calling the McCallum Theatre Box Office at (760) 340-ARTS.

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