Nelson was born in Abbott, Texas, on April 30, 1933, and raised by his grandparents. He worked cotton fields until he was ten, when he began playing guitar in local German and Czech polka bands. He joined the air force, after which he attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Before dropping out, he sold Bibles and encyclopedias door-to-door, worked as a disc jockey and musician, and taught Sunday school. While teaching Sunday school in Fort Worth, Nelson was also playing honky-tonk clubs on Saturday nights; when his parishioners demanded he choose between the church and music, he chose the latter. He played bars around the country, taught guitar, and wrote songs.
With the fifty dollars he earned from his first published song, “Family Bible,” Nelson went to Nashville, where songwriter Hank Cochran got him a publishing contract. Nelson wrote pop and C&W hits for many artists: “Night Life” for Rusty Draper, “Funny How Time Slips Away” for Jimmy Elledge and Johnny Tillotson, “Crazy” for Patsy Cline, “Hello Walls” for Faron Young, “Wake Me When It’s Over” for Andy Williams, and “Pretty Paper” for Roy Orbison. Eventually, he had a recording contract of his own, but his weathered tenor and his taste for sparse backup were considered uncommercial.
When his Nashville home burned down around 1970, Nelson moved back to Texas, continuing to record, write, and perform. In 1972 he held his first annual Fourth of July picnic, featuring young and old rock and country musicians, in Dripping Springs, Texas — an event that would soon become a local institution. The Fourth of July was named Willie Nelson Day by the Texas Senate in 1975.
** Her Secret Cowboy (Feb 2014) is Book 3 in The Cash Brothers series and the hero in this story is named after Willie Nelson.