5:45 p.m. Friday, May 6
Between country singer Willie Nelson's clean-cut 1962 debut ... And Then I Wrote and 2009's traditional Country Music stretches a legendary five-decade career as an outlaw, an activist and a highwayman. Armed with his unmistakable tender growl and beat-to-shreds guitar "Trigger" (named after Roy Rogers' horse), Nelson and country comrades Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson broke from Nashville gloss and rhinestones in the early 1970s. Landmark albums Shotgun Willie and Red Headed Stranger shot Nelson to American hero status, and the dozens of albums that followed dip into gospel, jazz and pop standards (1978's Stardust). Nelson's conspiracy theories, politics and marijuana use grab headlines, but in March, Nelson collaborated with Wynton Marsalis and Norah Jones for Here We Go Again, which cracks into Ray Charles' songbook and spans jazz, country and blues for a purely American experience.