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Willie Nelson: The Red Headed Stranger rides again

Troublemaker coming to the Emerald Queen Casino

Willie Nelson

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Since his stage debut way back during World War II, Willie Nelson has laid claim to being one of our greatest singer-songwriters. He's beloved across genres and by people of all political stripes. Simply put, he's an icon, a living legend, and deservedly so. What you may not know about him is he recorded his first song, "No Place for Me," in Vancouver, Washington, where he worked as a disc jockey for KVAN. This was only a few years before he wrote "Crazy," arguably one of our greatest country songs. It's been said, in fact, that Patsy Cline's cover of "Crazy" is the biggest jukebox hit of all time, but that was no beginner's luck.

Actually, there's quite a bit you may not know about Willie Nelson. In the '50s, he was a door-to-door Bible salesman. After the success of his justly lauded 1975 concept album Red Headed Stranger, he essentially funded the launch of Austin City Limits, a PBS show still running today after close to four decades. He and Waylon Jennings birthed the outlaw country genre in 1976, but Nelson also recorded his first gospel album, Troublemaker, later that year. In 1980, he performed on the south lawn of the White House, where he duetted with First Lady Rosalynn Carter on, of all things, Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother." And yes, Nelson claims he did smoke a "big fat Austin torpedo," meaning a joint, on the White House roof.

Inspired by a Bob Dylan remark during the concert for Live Aid, he co-founded Farm Aid in 1985. He's raised millions for charity over the years, not to mention an undisclosed sum needed to pay off notorious IRS proceedings in 1990. At 81, he's still the president of Farm Aid's board and a co-chair of NORML's advisory board. Since 1979's The Electric Horseman, his numerous acting appearances include Miami Vice, Thief, Wag the Dog and The Simpsons. He's stumped for Dennis Kucinich, Kinky Friedman, gay marriage and the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. He's written or co-written six books including a novel, 2008's A Tale out of Luck, and recorded with everyone from Sinatra to Snoop Dogg. He holds a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do and a fifth-degree black belt in GongKwon Yusul, a Korean martial art influenced by Hapkido and boxing.

I had the great pleasure of watching Nelson perform from mere feet away at Billy Bob's in Fort Worth several years ago. After three hours, my young friends and I decided we'd best get on the road again, but ol' Willie was still going strong. Believe me, he hadn't run out of recognizable tunes. He has an album called Fourteen Number One Hits, but actually, he's had 25 with no end in sight. In short, if country music ever gets a Rushmore of its own, I suspect Willie Nelson will be on it. He'd sure get my vote.

WILLIE NELSON, 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29, Emerald Queen Casino, 2024 E. 29th St., Tacoma, $65-$175, 888.831.7655

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