Willie Nelson featured in “Celebrities That Served”, by Travis McVey

Willie Nelson with Jessica Simpson, USO tour in Germany (May 23, 2005)

Celebrities That Served by Travis McVey

As a veteran U.S. Marine and a Marine Guard under Present George H.W. Bush, Travis McVey is author of the book “Heroes of the Stage,” which profiles Country music artists who have served in the Military and the impact it has had on their careers, music and personal lives. The 284-page narrative was published by Hero Spirit.

Country Music Legend & USAF Veteran Willie Nelson


Willie Nelson was born April 30, 1933 in Abbott, Texas. His family was very musical and encouraged his talent as a child. Nelson first learned how to play music when his grandparents purchased mail order lessons and gave them to him at age six. It was by age seven when he had composed his very first song. Nelson had already joined a band by the time he was nine years old.

Nelson’s family owned a farm and his job was to pick cotton. Since he hated doing it so much, he decided to earn money in other ways. That included singing in local taverns for tips. In high school, Nelson toured with a band called the Bohemian Fiddlers, where his brother-in- law was a member.

Nelson graduated from high school in 1950. During this time, the Korean War had broken out and he decided to join the United States Air Force. He was stationed at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. Willie had to leave the Air Force shortly afterward (9 months) because he became plagued by back problems and was diagnosed by a doctor with this problem.

Once he was released from the military, he attended Baylor University for two years studying agriculture. While he attended classes during the day, he was a DJ at night. On the weekends, he sang at clubs and honky tonks where he got lots of recognition for his talent. He quit school to focus solely on his music career that was taking off.

After he quit school, he continued to sing and write songs. In 1960, he was offered a contract with Pamper Music. He also joined Marine Corps Veteran Ray Price’s band the same year. Nelson wrote “Crazy” for Patsy Cline, “Pretty Paper” for Roy Orbison and “Hello Walls” for Faron Young during his time as a bassist for Price’s band. His first album was titled “And Then I Wrote” which was released in 1962. It was such a hit, RCA Records signed Nelson to their label in 1965. He was also invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.

Nelson was working on a new album for RCA in 1969, but Atlantic Records wanted to secure a new deal with him. Once the deal was negotiated, Nelson became the first country artist to sign with Atlantic Records. He began a new sound called Outlaw Country. In 1973, his album titled “Shotgun Willie” was released. It did not sell well, even though music critics liked the sound. Nelson released a few more albums before switching labels again. During the 1970s Nelson began the first of many collaborations with Waylon Jennings. They released an album called “Wanted! The Outlaws” in 1976, along with Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser.

The 1980s had several hit songs for Nelson and included  “Pancho & Lefty”, “On the Road Again” and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”. In 1985, Nelson teamed up with Army Veteran Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Air Force Veteran Johnny Cash in the Highwaymen. Their album The Lost Highwaymen was a hit.

Nelson followed his friend Kris Kristofferson in to acting in the 1980s as well. He has had roles in several movies, but did not win awards for them. Some of his movies include The Electric Horsemen, Honeysuckle Rose, Surfer Dude and The Unforeseen. All in all, Nelson has appeared in over 100 movies.

Willie Nelson USAF Veteran/Farm Aid Founder

Nelson is an activist and has worked hard on many projects to better our country. One of his most important contributions has been the creation of Farm Aid, which started in 1985. Many of his friends signed on to perform during this multi-day music festival. The proceeds raised were used to help small family farmers in the Midwest from losing their farms. The festival was an annual event and is still held on a smaller scale today and has raised millions of dollars in much needed aid.

In 1990, the IRS and Nelson began a long and tenuous battle. They claimed he owed $32 million dollars in back taxes. Upon further investigation, Nelson’s managers did not pay the government and they squandered away a lot of his earnings. It took until 1993 to settle all of the cases and debt.

Country music star Toby Keith, checks out his new “Balls of the Eagle” t-shirt that was presented to him by Lt. Col. John Dunleavy, commander of 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at Logistical Supply Area Anaconda, Iraq, on April 28, 2008. Keith visited the 2-320th FAR to meet with Soldiers and take part in a re-enlistment at the battalion headquarters. Photo by 1st Lt. Jonathan Springer

During the 1990s and in to the 2000s, Nelson has had success with duets and collaborations with many artists. He went to #1 with Toby Keith singing “Beer For My Horses” in 2003. It won Best Video in 2004 from the ACM Awards. He and Lee Ann Womack had a hit duet with “Mendocino County Line”. An album by the title “Outlaws & Angels” was released in 2004. It had duets and collaborations on it with artists such as Kid Rock, Rickie Lee Jones, Keith Richards, Joe Walsh, Merle Haggard, Al Green, Lee Ann Womack and Lucinda Williams. In 2008, Nelson worked with Snoop Dogg and created “My Medicine”. Nelson has recorded close to 300 albums and wrote more than 2,500 songs as a solo artist and with other individuals.

During his career, Nelson has received many accolades. In 2005, 49 miles of State Highway 130 are named The Willie Nelson Highway. He belongs to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. He is a trustee to the Dayton International Peace Museum, which is in honor of his activism for tolerance of all people. Nelson has won 9 Grammy Awards, 8 CMA Awards, 7 American Music Awards and 5 ACM Awards. He was voted in to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993. He was inducted in to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2001.

Nelson is a regular performer on the USO tour. He and other acts go overseas and perform for the troops in war torn countries and on military bases around the world.

Willie Nelson USAF Veteran/Country Music Legend
Willie Nelson USAF Veteran/Country Music Legend

During his life, Nelson has been married four times and has seven children. In the year 2004, Nelson and his wife became partners in an alternative fuel venture. They built two bio-diesel plants that produce fuel made from vegetable oil.

His first autobiography, which is self-titled, was released in 1988. A second autobiography called An Epic Life was released in 2008. Willie Nelson is one of the most familiar faces associated with Country Music and has contributed so much to the arts and entertainment of our great Nation. He has given so much of himself to others and brought much needed attention and change to some of the problems of our Country and continues that today. Willie has served our Nation in and out of uniform and supported and entertained our men and women who serve and is one of the Heroes Of Music…


Heroes Of The Stage/Country Serving Country by Travis McVey. A book about all the great country music artists that served in the military. Get your copy today at www.heroesofthestage.com

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