Willie Nelson On Country Music In Texas Back In The ’70s: “We Don’t Want A Bunch Of High Rollers And Rip-Off Artists To Come In Here And Foul It Up”

Willie Nelson country music
WFAA Collection/Youtube

One of the things I love the most about Willie Nelson is that he calls it like he sees it.

And he always has…

Willie left RCA Records in for Atlantic, and then Columbia Records, in the early 1970’s, when he became a trailblazer of the country outlaw movement, along with his friend Waylon Jennings.

His first release with Columbia came in 1975 after he left Nashville and moved back to Austin, with was what is widely considered one of, if not the, greatest country albums of all time, Red Headed Stranger.

And actually, the executives at the label were actually hesitant to release the album in its entirety, because they thought it was a demo at first.

And if it wasn’t for Willie’s good buddy Waylon Jennings, it’s likely that it never would’ve seen the light of day. You can read about that amazing story here, but long story short, Waylon basically told the record label the album was perfect as is and to leave it alone or he would walk.

Obviously, what made both Willie and Waylon so desirable to such large and different groups of people was their authenticity and willingness to do exactly what they wanted, even if it wasn’t necessarily the most popular thing.

In the “When Country Goes Pop” episode of Netflix’s 2021 This Is Pop series, Willie confirmed in footage from an old interview what Waylon had previously said about them being branded as country outlaws in the ’70s in the wake of their Wanted! The Outlaws record release:

“‘Outlaw’ is a term that someone came up with to try to sell records.'”

The release of that album was an attempt to capitalize on Willie and Waylon’s solo commercial success in the ’70s, and was a massive hit in 1976, becoming the first country album to ever be certified Platinum (reaching sales of one million).

And Willie noted in another old interview with Waylon, that’s also featured in the episode, that he was very protective over the genre and what was going on in Texas, and didn’t want to see a bunch of inauthentic artists coming in and trying to leech off their success:

“Myself, Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Murphy, all the people who are more or less established down here in this area want it to stay the way it is.

We want it to keep growing, naturally, but 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.”

Of course, he’s continued to carry the torch for many decades since, even release his 98th career studio album (his 73rd solo studio album to go along with his 26 collaborative studio albums) I Don’t Know A Thing About Love back in March.

And clicking around on Youtube, I stumbled upon an Austin news report from 1974, which focuses on the rising popularity of the indepdenent scene down in Texas, specifically Willie and Waylon’s impact on it.

Around the 2:30 mark, you can see Willie in the original interview where Willie is hanging out with his good buddy Waylon Jennings, just calling everything exactly how he sees it.

And you know what, the interview aged pretty damn well, because he was pretty much right about all of it, and in a lot of ways, it seems like not too much has even changed when it comes to the Texas and Nashville dynamic of the country music genre.

The footage is incredibly high quality too, especially considering it was filmed almost 50 years ago now. I promise you, it’s super cool and well worth your time to check out.

I mean, just seeing how damn cool they looked back then was one of my favorite parts about it. They really did not give a flying shit about the powers that be in the music industry, and I know we all certainly love ’em for it:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock