Few artists are as readily associated with marijuana as country crooner Willie Nelson. In terms of identifiable pieces of the man, Nelson’s love of weed is right up there with the song “On The Road Again,” his long, braided locks, and his old, beat-up guitar, Trigger. But Nelson’s pro-pot advocacy wasn’t always something he pinned to his sleeve. Instead, his public affair with marijuana came about much like his career in the spotlight: Entirely on his own terms.
When Nelson first started out, the world of country music was drilled down deep into the center of Nashville, Tennessee and mired in tradition. The audience was largely conservative, and as a result, Nelson went along to get along, presenting himself as a buttoned-down Western crooner with a knack for writing songs that had peculiar phrasing, which gave him a signature sound but not a standout look or personality. Eventually, Nelson wouldn’t so much find his niche as make it himself, writing songs that took a new and confident approach to the long-standing traditions of country music. As far as his personal habits, he was a known smoker for many years — and he has the arrest record to prove it — but over time Nelson would become one of the most renowned and outspoken advocates for marijuana legalization.
Here’s a look at how Willie Nelson ended up transforming, not just the sound of country music, but the culture as well.