If the great Willie Nelson says this story is true, I’m gonna take his word for it.
I mean, we’ve heard some crazy stuff from the country music legend before, like wild tale of how he earned his nickname “Shotgun Willie,” or the tale of his 9-hour sex marathon, so it really isn’t that much of a stretch to believe the one I’m about to tell you, too.
It involves Willie and his ex-wife, Martha Matthews. They were married in 1952, and stayed together for 10 years, but it was far from a blissful union for a lot of that time.
Martha was a waitress and Willie worked at a saddle factory, playing beer joints and bars at night and on the weekends to try to make something happen with his music career.
He admits that they were both extremely jealous of each other all the time, and that it was the cause of a lot of their fighting back then. In an excerpt from his book, Willie: An Autobiography, Martha explained how one famous story about their tumultuous relationship really went down:
“One story everybody thinks they know about Willie and me is the one about me catching him passed out drunk and sewing him up in a bedsheet and then beating the hell out of him with a broom handle.
For years I’ve been hearing and reading that story. People who’ve never so much as said hello to me or Willie tell that bedsheet story like they saw it with their own eyes.
They just laugh and laugh, like, hey, that Martha, she was one tough cookie, wasn’t she?”
Apparently, that never even happened… or at least, not quite the way most people tell it now, she wrote:
“How dumb would I have to be to try to sew Willie into a bedsheet? You know how long that would take to sit there and take stitch after stitch?”
No, she didn’t sit there and hand-stitch the bedsheet together; she did it much more efficiently, using their kids’ jump ropes to tie her husband up:
“The truth is, I tied him up with the kids’ jump ropes before I beat the hell out of him.
I scooted the jump ropes underneath him while he was asleep and knotted them up on top. I tied him up as tight as I could.”
And she had the kids already outside in the car, just waiting for her to come get in and drive them away as soon as she got done beating Willie’s ass:
“I started whipping Willie pretty good, and he commenced yelling, and I was crying and cussing.
Oh, it was quite a commotion, but nothing our neighbors at Dunn’s Trailer Park in Nashville hadn’t heard coming out of our trailer before.”
She said most of their problems stemmed from the fact that neither one of them was mature enough to be married, let alone having kids yet, and it was often just too much for them to deal with back then.
“Hell, we were just kids trying to deal with being married and having babies but no money and no home life to speak of — just one beer joint after another, sleeping under a different roof every few months, drinking way too much whiskey.
Neither me nor Willie knew what to expect form marriage. We thought being young and in love was all we needed.”
According to People Magazine, Willie admitted to some of his other marital shortcomings in a different memoir, Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band, when his second wife, Shirley, found out he’d had an affair with another woman who had just given birth to a daughter with him in 1971:
“Shirley saw a bill from a Houston hospital. I tried to play it off as no big deal. I told her that I had to go to the hospital for something minor.”
And it sounds like no big deal, except for the fact that it came from the maternity ward…
“She wasn’t buying that for one simple reason… the bill said the charges were for the birth of a baby girl, Paula Carlene, born to a Mrs. Connie Nelson.”
Shirley literally caught him red-handed, and he owned up to it, saying:
“Connie’s my girlfriend and Paula’s our daughter.”
I mean, I’m sure Willie had another house he could’ve put on there as the address for the hospital mail, right?
It had to have been heartbreaking for Shirley to find out about not only the affair, but also her husband’s new daughter, that way.
Not shockingly, the pair ultimately filed for divorce that same year in 1971, and Willie married Connie a few months later. They later divorced in 1988, as well, because of Willie’s inability to stay loyal again:
“I messed up another marriage. My wandering ways were too much for any woman to put up with. I’ll always love Connie.
I’ll always love all my wives. I’ve always said that there’s no such thing as a ‘former’ wife. Once in your life, a wife never leaves. I regret the pain I caused Connie… and Martha and Shirley before her… and have no excuses.”
In the end, it did work out for the Texas outlaw when he married his now-wife, Annie, in 1991. The pair has been together ever since, and have two musician children of their own together, Lukas and Micah.
Willie says marrying Annie is the best decision he ever made:
“Love is love. And in the mid-eighties I fell head over heels in love with Ann Marie D’Angelo, called Annie. Never had met a woman like her before.
Marrying Annie wasn’t complicated at all. It’s about the smartest thing I ever did. I can say that because, 34 years after we first met, we’re still together and going strong.”
I do love a story with a happy ending, no matter all the crazy twists and turns it took to get there.
And Willie’s song “I’ll Love You Till The Day I Die,” from his 2022 Grammy-winning album A Beautiful Time, sounds like it was probably inspired by the best parts of their relationship: