Willie Nelson Recalls Career Low Point When He Laid Down On Broadway In A Snowstorm: “I Was In My ‘Who Gives A F*ck Mind'”

Willie Nelson country music
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Willie Nelson went through as much as any great musician ever has to see insane success in his career.

Of course, he’s become one of the greatest country artists of all time and is a beloved figure by people all over the world now, but he went to Hell and back just to get his career started back in the early 1960s in Nashville.

In his 1988 autobiography, It’s a Long Story: My Life, Willie opened up about one of the lowest points of his life, when he essentially bottomed out in Nashville and thought about giving up his career completely.

He felt stuck, and though he’d made some famous friends in the industry and had great music to share, no one would listen.

He recalled one cold, snowy night in Nashville getting drunk alone at Tootsie’s on Broadway when he hit rock bottom:

“When a cold front hit Nashville that winter, I sat at the bar at Tootsie’s and gazed out the window, watching the drifting snow, feeling as low as low can be. My soul was frozen over. The warm sunshine of hope was a million miles away.

I didn’t know how long I could go on in Nashville, I still hadn’t found a way to get my songs in the store, even though I had found good pals like Roger Miller and Hank Cochran, DJ’s Grant Turner and Ralph Emory, I felt like I was sliding down a slippery slope.

You can bet I’d been downing big quantities of whiskey, wine and beer. I was no longer in my right mind. I was in my ‘Who gives a fuck’ mind. I was out of my mind. I got up from the bar and walked out into the cold.”

He proceeded to leave the bar, wearing just a light denim jacket while heading out into the subfreezing temperatures.

He noted that the cold didn’t even bother him at that point, and he felt a strange peace come over him as he trotted down the empty streets and decided to lay down in the middle of Broadway:

“I didn’t have a heavy coat, just a denim jacket, but the freezing temperature didn’t bother me. The chilling wind didn’t bother me. The snowfall didn’t bother me. Nothing bothered me.

The city was still. No one on the street except me. A weird peace came over me as I walked off the sidewalk into the middle of the street, where – don’t ask me why – I decided to lie down and rest. Right then and there, I lay on my back, eyes wide open, watching the snowflakes fall on my head.

I considered the possibility that a car might well roll over me. I guess I must have been okay with that, because, for at least 10 minutes, I didn’t move.”

He tried to explain why he would do something like that, though mostly boiled it down to the fact that he was drunk, and “drunks do crazy shit.”

And though the whole night surely sounds like it has all the makings of a great country song, he admitted that he never wrote anything about such a pivotal moment in his life and career:

“Maybe I was looking for an out, or maybe I was just taking a break or a chance. It’s tough to know exactly what I was up to. I was drunk, and as a rule, drunks do crazy shit.

I can’t tell you that I was trying to commit suicide, because I wasn’t. In those days, I usually packed a pistol. In my young and stupid macho mind, I thought that’s what ‘real men’ did. If I were interested in ending it all, I could have shot myself in the head, but that thought did not cross my mind.

Instead, it was just a matter of reclining in the middle of the street on a snowy night in Nashville. I might have written a song about it, but I didn’t.”

His aforementioned friend Hank Cochran was selling songs at the time, and told Willie not long after this happened that he was “too good not to” make money and a living playing his music.

He told Willie to check out the publishing firm Pamper Music that was based in Goodlettsville, a suburb north of Nashville, because it was owned by Hal Smith and Ray Price, and they would appreciate what Willie was doing.

Willie went in for an audition, and performed “Night Life,” “Crazy,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and when they were done, Hank gave him a ride home and dropped him off at Dunns Trailer Park, where he was living at with his wife at the time, Martha Matthews, and their young kids.

Hank told him he’d hear something back in the next day or two, and actually showed up the next day to tell Willie he had his first publishing deal as a staff writer making $50 a week.

At the time, it meant that Willie had his first job as a professional writer and could move his young family to a decent home.

Willie found out years later that Hank had talked to Hal Smith about signing him, and Hal didn’t want to hire Willie because they already had “too many” writers and didn’t need him.

As it turns out, Hal was planning on giving Hank a $50 a week raise, and Hank told him he should give that money to Willie Nelson so they could hire him, and Hank would keep his same salary.

He knew Willie had something special, and wanted to do whatever he could to ensure his future succes. Clearly, Hank couldn’t have been more right about that part, though Willie did have to leave Music City in order for his career to really take off.

Ultimately, Willie left Nashville in 1975 and moved back to Austin and signed with Columbia, where he became a pioneer in the country outlaw movement and the legend we all know and love to this day.

If you want to hear more about some of Willie’s early days in Nashville, make sure you check out this video:

The Story Of Willie Nelson’s Legendary Guitar “Trigger”

Few artists have a sound as unique as Willie Nelson.

The voice, the tempo and… the guitar.

Willie has played the same Martin since 1969. While still an up and coming act, Willie’s guitar was ruined by a drunk at a gig at John T Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, TX and he needed a new one.

A friend of his knew of one for sale for $750, quite a steep price at the time (that’s about $5,650 today) but something told Willie he needed it.

Safe to say, it turned out to be a great decision. As Willie put it, the guitar had a bit of Django Reinhardt, a famous Belgian Jazz guitarist from the 193’s, in it, which he had been looking for.

“That was really what I was striving for, that tone that Django got. He did it with just these (two) fingers.

His method of playing, the tone, the speed was incredible. I think he was the best guitar player ever.”

From the day he got it, Willie named it after Roy Roger’s horse and made sure it was never to far away. He even saved it from a housefire that took everything from him except the guitar and a pound of weed he had stashed away.

Funny how it’s those two things that turned out to be the biggest constant in his life when the wild ride to superstardom happened…

After the housefire, Willie moved back home to Texas from Nashville and, well, the rest is history.

Rolling Stone did a fantastic mini-documentary narrated by none other than Woody Harrelson on the story of Willie and Trigger. They go through the details and tell way more of the story, I highly recommend the watch.

The bond between a musician and their guitar is special. So special it’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t play themselves. But for an artist to keep one guitar for over 50 years, wearing a hole straight through top and having a who’s who of Country Music stars etch their signatures into it, yeah… that’s next level special.

Willie Nelson, ladies and gentlemen.

There will never be another.

“Time Of The Preacher”

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock