Country music legend Willie Nelson — who turned 80 last year — will return to the Mondavi Center this spring, performing in Jackson Hall at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 9.
With a six-decade career and 200-plus albums, Nelson’s career extends back into the 1950s, when he worked as a radio disc jockey and a journeyman singer/songwriter, performing in honky-tonk bars. Nelson’s early tunes included “Family Bible,” which he penned in 1956, and has recorded several times over the course of his career, most recently with the Blind Boys of Alabama on their album “Take The High Road” in 2011.
Another of Nelson’s early songs was “Crazy,” which he wrote in 1961, and became a hit when recorded by Patsy Cline the following year.
Nelson settled in Nashville in the 1960s, and enjoyed some success recording albums of his own and appearing on the Grand Ol’ Opry, in addition to writing songs recorded by other artists. He announced his “retirement” in 1972 and moved back to his native state of Texas, where he soon re-emerged as a prominent figure in the “outlaw” movement that challenged the more conventional Nashville sound.
Nelson’s 1975 album “Red-Headed Stranger” zoomed to No. 1 on the country charts, and also proved popular with pop music fans, selling more than 2 million copies.
Nelson then reinvented himself as an interpreter of the Great American Songbook. His 1978 album “Stardust” included songs by Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and others, and Nelson’s glimmering vocals earned him a Grammy Award for the single “Georgia On My Mind.” The album ultimately sold more than 7 million copies.
President Jimmy Carter invited Nelson to perform at the White House, where Nelson sang a duet with first lady Rosalynn Carter.
In the 1980s, Nelson teamed up with country veterans Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings in a quartet known as The Highwaymen, recording several popular albums and touring internationally. Nelson also made a foray into film, appearing in movies like “The Electric Horseman,” and playing the title role in “Barbarosa.” He continues to appear on screen from time to time.
Nelson continued to tour and record through the 1990s and 2000s, and also participated in various fundraising concerts for charities and causes.
In the past few years, he has enjoyed renewed popularity as a recording artist. His 2013 album of duets with female singers — including Mavis Staples, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and others — went to No. 2 on the country charts, and also placed in the top 10 in Billboard’s Top 200 albums, making it Nelson’s highest-charting album in several decades.
In 2012, Nelson also published a book, “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die,” a “road journal” featuring his musings about life, which landed in the top 10 on The New York Times bestseller list. (The book’s title is, in part, a self-deprecating reference to Nelson’s new status as an octagenarian, as well as his longtime advocacy for the legalization of marijuana.)
Nelson’s appearance in Jackson Hall on April 9 is one of the Mondavi Center’s “Just Added” concerts. Tickets ($45-$88) go on sale to the public Tuesday. Tickets are available at midnight online at mondaviarts.org or during regular business hours at 530-754-2787 and in person at the Mondavi Center Ticket Office.
Nelson previously appeared at the Mondavi Center in January 2009, performing before a sold-out house.