Willie Nelson Says ‘IRS Tapes’ Album Was A Way To “Test” Their Sense Of Humor: “I Heard They Thought It Was Pretty Funny”

Willie Nelson country music
Youtube/Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson might be the only person who has ever been interested in “testing the sense of humor” of the IRS.

Back in August of 1990, the IRS showed up at Willie’s door, and federal agents actually seized Willie’s property in six different states, including his houses and land, his master tapes, his recording and touring equipment, his gold records, and even his clothes.

They claimed that the country legend owed $16.7 million in unpaid tax bills to Uncle Sam, and while they tried to auction most of it away in order to recoup part of the money he owed, many of his loyal fans and fellow Texans stepped in to buy it all back for him. You should definitely go read about that remarkable story HERE.

And in addition, Nelson also put together his 39th studio album The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?, which features only Willie and his beloved guitar Trigger. Released in 1992, it was another effort by Willie to pay off his tax debt, and it ended up making $3.6 million for the IRS (though he was on the hook for an additional $9 million after that).

But if you’re thinking this destroyed Willie’s life and kept him up at night (like it would most people)… think again. In a 2002 interview with Playboy, Willie explained that it was “just something I had to get through”:

“Everybody thinks it was this hell in my life, but it wasn’t. It was just something I had to get through. There has been worse. An impressive sum. I got an official letter. I owe what?

We knew it was coming, actually. It was happening to other people who invested in the same things I invested in—these shelters we were sold on—and we were told to expect it. They seized everything I had. I was angry, of course.

Especially angry at the people who advised me and got me into the mess.”

He continued, saying that the IRS Tapes album was really just an effort to “test their sense of humor,” and he heard that many of the people that work for the Department of the Treasury found it “pretty funny.” And actually, Willie says it was the best promotion for an album he ever had:

“I was just trying to test their sense of humor, I suppose. I actually heard that they thought it was pretty funny. The funniest part was that it was the best promotion for an album I ever had. People heard about it everywhere.

The more people heard about my troubles, the more they came out to help. I got phone calls and letters from people wanting to do everything you can think of. At shows, people would try to give me money. Friends bought my stuff so I could buy it back from them.”

For someone who has given so much to others, it’s refreshing to hear that so many people showed up to help when he really needed them. And though Willie has never been one to fixate on worldly possessions, the principle of the story and way it was all handled by his fans and friends is just incredible.

And of course, Willie learned a lot about the business side of things and who he could trust with his money through the whole ordeal:

“A couple of things. First, not to trust other people with things that are your responsibility. I just didn’t want to know and I let people make decisions and nodded, thinking, I’m just playing music. ‘You deal with this other shit.’

That was a mistake and I want to know what people are doing in my name and with my money or anything else. Second, it made me think clearer about what I really want in my life, what I need. You can get caught up thinking you need a lot more than you do. Then it can be like a weight on you, keeping you down.

The IRS didn’t mean to do me a favor, but in a way they did. They helped me clean house. I didn’t need all that stuff anyway. Stuff like a jet. That’s what can happen and then you have all this shit and think, ‘Now I have to pay the bills.’ I prefer the bus anyway.”

And with tax day right around the corner (sorry for the reminder), I always have this saga on my mind and the way Willie once again proved his legendary, outlaw status with something you’d think you could only read about in books.

Also, Willie Nelson might be (and probably IS) the only person on this planet to get a laugh out of the IRS after owing them millions of dollars… long live the red headed stranger.

“Who’ll Buy My Memories”

“Yesterday’s Wine”

“Pretend I Never Happened”

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock