It's hard to think of a more hardworking musician than Willie Nelson. The country legend has been prolific throughout his 56-year career, with 2,500 songs and almost 300 albums under his belt.
And that doesn't scratch the surface of the myriad live performances he's done throughout his life. To celebrate country music's coolest cucumber — whose birthday is April 29, 1933 — we've compiled some of the most amazing Willie Nelson performances that span his almost six-decade career.
Hit Medley on the Grand Ole Opry
Your jaw will drop at this amazing black-and-white video of Willie looking like a perfect southern gentleman, performing four of his vintage hits at the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly concert in Nashville, from 1965. One YouTuber's comment sums it all up: "It's so weird seeing him all cleaned up."
On-stage medley with Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers
This performance from the 1989 TV special "Kenny, Dolly & Willie: Something Inside So Strong" is packed with country star power. Almost as amazing as the hits themselves is the between-song banter, like when Kenny tells Willie that "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" was sent to him first, and Willie shoots right back, saying: "I didn't know that but they actually submitted 'The Gambler' to me, did you know that?"
This intimate performance of 'Stardust'
Willie delivered a tender rendition of his hit "Stardust," originally a Hoagy Carmichael cut from 1927, on this NBC special which went on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Variety or Music Series. He prefaced the initial plucks by telling the audience that "the stars would make me feel a little better" when he would look at them "when I was a kid in Abbott, Texas in the depression days."
'She's Not for You' and 'Darkness on the Face of the Earth' on 'The Porter Wagoner Show'
Here's another pre-bandana performance from "The Porter Wagoner Show," which aired from 1960 to 1981 and regularly featured RCA artists. Here we see Shotgun Willie looking his most fixed up and belting some good old-fashioned country music excellence.
Getting smooth with Ray Charles
Willie shows off his impressive range in this performance with the legendary Ray Charles, who he introduces by saying, "This is a time when a lot of my dreams come true. I really mean that." This is a rare glimpse at Willie playing his hand at a different genre, standing reverently on stage for an inspired piano performance by Charles, then accompanying him on vocals as he tries on his lounge-singer best.
Covering Townes Van Zandt's 'Pancho and Lefty'
This performance from "Outlaws and Angels," a special celebration of Willie Nelson's music, is a cover of "Pancho and Lefty" by the late country legend Townes Van Zandt. Joined by fellow country giants Merle Haggard and Toby Keith, Willie performs with a stoic come-what-may groove worthy of the song, which tells of the death of a Mexican bandit named Pancho who dies after being betrayed by his associate Lefty.
Covering Frank Sinatra's 'Summer Wind'
On "Late Night with Stephen Colbert," Willie covered his rendition of "Summer Wind" from his album "My Way," a tribute to Frank Sinatra. The star puts a country twang on the lofty orchestral masterpiece.