Willie Nelson Doesn’t Like His Iconic Nickname, “Red Headed Stranger”: “I’d Rather Just Be Called Willie”

Willie Nelson country music
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Who knew…

In his newly-released book, Energy Follows Thought: The Stories Behind My Songs, Willie Nelson is giving fans a new perspective on some of his biggest hits, deep cuts and longtime fan-favorites by providing commentary on the stories that inspired many of them.

And in a pretty surprising admission, Willie let readers know that he actaully doesn’t like his nickname “Red Headed Stranger” all that much.

Keep in mind, people have been calling him that since he put out the album of the same name way back in 1975, so for the better part of 48 years, I guess people have been calling him something he doesn’t necessarily prefer.

In the book, he recounts “the suits,” as he refers to the label executives, not liking the album at all, telling him that it wouldn’t sell at all because it sounded “unfinished.”

Though, on his newly-signed contract with Columbia Records, Willie had complete creative control, so he essentially told them to screw off and followed his gut, and rightfully so:

“They called it a concept album. Maybe. They said the title, ‘Red Headed Stranger,’ applied to me. They said that I was, in fact, the red headed stranger. Maybe.

To make the album, the label gave me a $60,000 advance because they were sure it’d cost me at least $40,000 to record it. I recorded it for $2,000. When I turned it in, the suits hated it.

Said it sounded tinny and unfinished. Said the combination of old songs and new ones was confused. Said it wouldn’t sell. I said, ‘Tough.’ My contract gave me creative control.

I liked the way it was. I thought music fans would feel the same. They did. When it came out in 1975, it sold like hotcakes.”

And he couldn’t have been more right about that…

Red Headed Stranger became his very first #1 country album, an all-time classic, and is often regarded as the best country album of all time.

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.

Of course, Red Headed Stranger included classics like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” which was released as a single in the lead-up to record release and became his very first #1 hit and one of my favorite songs of all-time. He also put out “Remember Me (When the Candle Lights Are Gleaming)” as a single.

In the book, he implies he’s not even sure that the nickname really fit him, though it obviously stuck and is still used very often today (I call him that all the time, which you’ve probably read plenty of times).

Willie says that he’d actually “rather just be called ‘Willie'”:

“And whether I thought the handle of ‘Red Headed Stranger’ fit me or not, it stuck. Folks call me that to this day.

I’d rather just be called ‘Willie,’ but call me whatever you wanna. Just call me.”

Touché, Mr. Nelson…

“Red Headed Stranger”

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock