Willie Nelson’s Set On The Pilot Episode Of ‘Austin City Limits’ Is As Timeless As Ever 50 Years Later

Willie Nelson country music
Vintage Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson is easily one of my favorite artists of all time.

Of course, we all know his music is great, but there’s just somethin’ else about him that’s so damn cool… I mean, he didn’t become one of the leaders of the outlaw country movement for no reason.

Back on October 17th, 1974, he was apart of the very first episode of Austin City Limits. The PBS station KLRN in San Antonio and Austin, Texas, produced the pilot episode of the incredible, long-standing variety show and music program.

And on this date in 2014, he was rightfully inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame, which I’m sure had to have been a really cool, full-circle moment for the red headed stranger.

Though the audience of this very first, early show was much smaller than the one they have now when they film it at The Moody Theater in Austin (where Willie also has a statue), and it’s pretty cool to see Willie and his band on the first episode so long ago in this vintage video of the pilot episode.

You may recognize some of the other people on stage, too, which include his late drummer, Paul English, his sister, Bobbie, on the piano, longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael and even his trusty guitar, Trigger.

The first episode was pitched by ACL creator and executive producer Bill Arhos as a pledge drive, which eventually aired months later on March 22nd, 1975.

Because the audio and video quality was considered poor when it aired on TV back then, they never re-aired this particular episode, so it’s kind of been lost in the archives for quite some time. Though, watching it back now, the quality for something from the 70’s by today’s standards is actually really good here.

It only took one episode with Shotgun Willie for the program to go national, and it eventually premiered the following January as an entire season, with first appearances by Asleep at the Wheel and Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys.

Willie’s episode was filmed in Studio 6A at the University of Texas, and it’s jam packed with tons of great songs from earlier in his career that he doesn’t typically play as much anymore. I mean, he doesn’t even have the braids yet… this is vintage Willie at his best.

He kicks off his set with “Whiskey River,” plays one of my personal favorite’s, “Funny How Time Slips Away” around the 18:50 mark, as well as “Crazy”, “Good Hearted Woman” and plenty of others. You even see the intro board at the beginning before the show goes live, too, which is pretty cool.

I promise, this is easily the best show you’ll find anywhere this week and it’s well-worth your time to watch in its entirety:

And to think he’s still doin’ it, too… the living legend has a new album called The Border dropping next month, and he’s also gearing up to hit the road for his 2024 Outlaw Music Festival tour with Bob Dylan, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, John Mellencamp and more.

“Made In Texas”

“The Border”

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock