Willie Nelson’s Set On The Pilot Episode Of ‘Austin City Limits’ In 1974 Is The Best Thing You’ll Watch All Week

Willie Nelson is easily one of my favorite artists of all time.

Of course, we all know his music is great, but there’s just somethin’ else about him that’s so damn cool… I mean, he didn’t become one of the leaders of the outlaw country movement for no reason.

And back on October 17th, 1974, he was apart of the very first episode of Austin City Limits. The PBS station KLRN in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, produced the pilot episode of the incredible, long-standing variety show and music program.

Though the audience of this early show was much smaller than the one they have now when they film it at The Moody Theater in Austin, it’s pretty cool to see Willie and his band on the first episode so long ago.

You may recognize some of the other people on stage, too, which include his late drummer, Paul English, his sister, Bobbie, on the piano, and even his trusty guitar, Trigger.

The first episode was pitched by ACL creator and executive producer Bill Arhos as a pledge drive, which eventually aired months later on March 22nd, 1975.

Because the audio and video quality was considered poor when it aired on TV back then, they never re-aired this particular episode, so it’s kind of been lost in the archives for quite some time. Though, watching it back now, the quality for something from the 70’s by today’s standards is actually really good here.

It only took one episode with Shotgun Willie for the program to go national, and it eventually premiered the following January as an entire season, with first appearances by Asleep at the Wheel and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys.

Willie’s episode was filmed in Studio 6A at the University of Texas, and it’s jam packed with tons of great songs from earlier in his career that he doesn’t typically play as much anymore. I mean, he doesn’t even have the braids yet… this is vintage Willie at his best.

He kicks off his set with “Whiskey River,” plays one of my personal favorite’s, “Funny How Time Slips Away” around the 18:50 mark, as well as “Crazy”, “Good Hearted Woman” and plenty of others. You even see the intro board at the beginning before the show goes live, too, which is pretty cool.

I promise, this is easily the best show you’ll find anywhere this week and it’s well-worth your time to watch in its entirety:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock