At 90 years old, country music icon Willie Nelson is proving that age is just a number for the enduring singer-songwriter. Nelson, known for his trailblazing spirit in the music world, continues to captivate audiences with his storytelling and songwriting skills.
In his recent book, “Energy Follows Thought,” released in October, Nelson delves into the narratives behind his numerous classic songs and details his creative journey. He said his approach to songwriting comes from an organic process.
“I wrote this thing one time that says, ‘I don’t really want to write another song but don’t tell that to my mind.’ It keeps throwing out words and I have to make ’em rhyme,'” said Nelson.
Nelson’s output remains significant, with the 12-time Grammy winner releasing 18 studio albums released in the past decade.
When it comes to the issue of writer’s block, Nelson said that it happens to “every songwriter.”
“They get to a point where the well runs dry,” said Nelson. But he said the secret was to “wait.”
Songwriting gives Nelson a sense of accomplishment and joy, especially at this stage of his life.
“I haven’t quit … I’m 90. Maybe I should, but … after every tour. I said, this is it. And then get the urge again to go back,” said Nelson.
His induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year was another accomplishment for Nelson. He performed with artists like Chris Stapleton, Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews during the event.
“Naturally, it was a great honor, you know,” Nelson said. “I know the difference between the Rolling Stones and Hank Williams, but still it’s all rock and roll.”
Nelson started as a songwriter in Texas in 1961. He moved to Nashville to sell his songs, and his breakthrough came when Patsy Cline recorded one of his tunes, “Crazy,” in 1961.
“She heard ‘Crazy,’ loved it,” Nelson said. “Recorded it. One take.”
However, he struggled to find success as a solo artist because he didn’t fit the conventional Nashville mold.
Nelson said he started to drink “too much” and contemplated suicide. To counter these dark thoughts, he began to find solace in positive thinking and eventually stopped drinking altogether.
Nelson reinvented himself upon returning to Texas. Embracing his identity as “The Red-Headed Stranger,” he became America’s favorite outlaw musician.
Now in his 10th decade, Nelson’s passion for life extends beyond music. He maintains a daily routine of martial arts. He initially started out in kung fu but then went over to jiu-jitsu and judo and taekwondo. Now, Nelson has a fifth-degree black belt.
Nelson said that martial arts gives him confidence and helps him feel that he has nothing to worry about.
In his songwriting, Nelson often makes light of his age. He has said in the past that he believes in reincarnation, suggesting a philosophical outlook that underpins his enduring career.
“I don’t believe life ends ever, you know?” he said. “And I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Willie Nelson’s 90th Birthday Celebration” airs on CBS this Sunday at 8:30, 7:30 Central, and will be streaming on Paramount Plus. The new Paramount Plus docuseries “Willie Nelson & Family” will be streaming on December 21st.