For decades, Willie Nelson has represented country music – I feel that it’s very nearly accurate if I tagged him as the “most seasoned country musician alive right now”. His decades in the spotlight have given him a strong opinion on what country music should sound like and what it shouldn’t, and most especially, who should and shouldn’t sing a song in the traditional genre.
Want to have bragging rights over your friends on what country music should really sound like, then Willie Nelson can give you a few pointers. He really does know his way around the genre.
Willie Nelson Resents Country Music Having to Sound a Particular Way
Willie Nelson’s career started in 1962 when he released his debut album “…And Then I Wrote”. In 1965, he joined the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, where he met another rising country superstar, Waylon Jennings.
Throughout the ’60s and the ’70s, Nelson only had minor success and was increasingly getting frustrated with the limitations he had to perform with (not as much as he loathes pop singers meddling with the genre, but we’ll get to that).
In the early ’70s, he and Jennings and a few other country artists began recording what later came to be known as “outlaw country” music, since it defied the conservative ideals of Nashville at the time.
His music began to incorporate sounds that have influenced modern country music and have persisted even over the years.
Willie Nelson on Pop Infiltration of Country Music and the Sadness in Music
Nelson’s rise to fame as part of outlaw country was explored in the 2021 Netflix docuseries “This Is Pop”.
“In the 1960s, the music coming out of Nashville started to sound less and less like country music. It started to have orchestras and singers without Southern accents,” journalist Shuja Haider recounted. “By the ’70s, you have pop artists like John Denver or Olivia Newton-John putting out country records.”
One person who was not enthusiastic about the genre-blending and crossover acts was good ol’ Willie Nelson. He was annoyed with the influx of pop artists performing country music. “We don’t want a bunch of high rollers [and] rip-off artists from other parts of the world to come in here and foul it up for the rest of the people,” Nelson candidly opined in a clip from the ’70s.
In 1976, Nelson and Jennings teamed up with Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser to form the group The Outlaws. Their album “Wanted! The Outlaws” became the very first country album to go platinum, having sold over a million copies.
Nelson was also very protective of country music as a genre, having grown up with deep love for the genre.
“Since I was a kid, music was what I wanted to do,” Nelson told Parade in 2010. “I thought I could make it by my own talents. That’s what I wanted to prove.”
“A lot of country music is sad,” he went on to note. “I think most art comes out of poverty and hard times. It applies to music. Three chords and the truth — that’s what a country song is. There is a lot of heartache in the world.”
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