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AUSTIN, Texas -- Willie Nelson’s stash is going to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas.
The center announced today that the Texas music icon, road warrior and activist has donated “major portions” of his correspondence, records, awards and more, adding significant heft to an enviable Texas-centric music collection that already includes the family papers of pioneering folklorist and musicologist John A. Lomax and the archives from the Armadillo World Headquarters, where hippies and rednecks peaceably mingled and where progressive country music was born.
The papers (not the rolling kind) in the collection alone will likely have scholars and researchers eager to start digging. They include letters and photos from fans, fellow musicians Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash and dignitaries such as Bill Clinton and the late Ann Richards. The material also includes platinum records and other awards, posters from Nelson’s Fourth of July picnics, portraits, screenplays, books and personal items.
’’The Briscoe people are incredibly good,” said Jan Reid, a longtime Austinite and author of, among other books, “The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock.” ‘’People are going to be beating down the doors.”
Nelson himself has authored numerous books, including “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” and is the subject of more than a dozen biographies, including “Willie Nelson: An Epic Life,” by Joe Nick Patoski.
’’This sounds like the stash, the get,” Patoski said. “All I know is that in a 500-page history I came out feeling like I just scratched the surface. Willie’s life is so interesting and complex and extensive, some smart researcher is going to park there and spend the rest of their life going through it. And they’re never going to get to the end of it, I guarantee it. You’re never done with Willie. You can’t drop him and leave him be.”
UT President Bill Powers hailed the acquisition.
’’Willie Nelson is an iconic American and an iconic Texan, so it’s fitting that the Briscoe Center for American History should help safeguard his archives,” Powers said in a statement. “Because of his generous gift, scholars for decades to come will have access to the inner workings of his creativity and will better understand his influence on American culture. It’s a great day for UT’s Briscoe Center.”
Briscoe Center Executive Director Don Carleton said the collection includes about 800 items and is expected to expand.
’’We hope and anticipate the collection will grow over the years,” Carleton said. “Even though he’s 81 he’s very, very active and working hard, so he’s retained a lot of stuff, and we will continue to build the collection.”
So at least until Nelson permanently parks his tour bus, that means the collection will not include Trigger, Nelson’s battered and beloved Martin classical guitar that has been integral to his sound since the Nixon administration.
Carleton said the material spans not just Nelson’s career in music and the arts but his activism and philanthropy as well. The pride of Abbott co-founded Farm Aid with Neil Young and John Mellencamp and has been active in attempts at reforming marijuana laws, among many other pursuits. The collection includes American Indian headdresses donated to Nelson from tribes thankful for his support.
Also included is the fire helmet worn by one of two volunteer firefighters from Nelson’s hometown who were killed in the nearby West fertilizer plant explosion and fire last year, Carleton said. Nelson donated proceeds from an already scheduled performance to the West Fire Department.
Carleton said the material, portions of which will be included in an upcoming exhibit, is still being processed.
Nelson has a new album, “Band of Brothers,” due out June 17.