Willie Nelson was already nearly 30 by the time his career as a songwriter, and then a performer, began to make inroads on the Nashville scene of the early 1960s. On November 28, 1964, he made a new career breakthrough when he was afforded the accolade of a debut performance at the Grand Ole Opry.
After improving his reputation immensely from 1961 onwards by writing such future classics as Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and the much-covered “Funny How Time Slips Away,” Nelson had country chart success of his own in 1962 and then more successful covers, including Roy Orbison’s recording of “Pretty Paper.”
Willie’s first Opry booking came only two weeks after his first recording session in his new deal with RCA Victor, at which he recorded his own version of “Pretty Paper.” He may have taken a while to get there, but he went on to be a regular at the famous country music institution, playing on average every other week during these Nashville years, before he returned to Texas.
Brass eyes, really handsome
Loretta Lynn, who had made her own first appearance at the Opry in 1960, recalled Nelson’s performances in an interview with Rolling Stone. “He was stylish,” she said. “He was working in suits. His hair was cut every little bit, he had brass eyes, and his hair was the same colour. He was really handsome.”
Despite the Opry distinction, Nelson’s success on record at RCA Victor was patchy. He had two chart entries with them in 1965 (“She’s Not For You” and “I Just Can’t Let You Say Goodbye”) but neither made the Top 40 of the country chart. In fact, he only managed two Top 20 singles in his entire time there, with “One In A Row” and “Bring Me Sunshine.” By the mid-1970s, outlaw Willie would be telling a different story.
Listen to uDiscover Music’s Outlaw & Disorder: Country Rebels playlist.