Willie Nelson’s ‘Shotgun Willie’: The Insane Story Behind the Iconic Track

by Clayton Edwards

Different people associate Willie Nelson with different things. Some go straight to his iconic musical career. Others might think of his road-worn guitar, Trigger. On the other hand, it might be his long braids and small stature that come to mind. His love for the devil’s lettuce is legendary as well. After this story, you might think about the time that Willie had a shootout in his front yard. At the very least, you’ll think about it when you hear the iconic track, “Shotgun Willie.”

Willie Nelson seems like one of the most relaxed people on earth. His wry wit and easy smile make it hard to imagine him taking up arms and firing on someone. It really happened, though. According to Texas Hill Country, it happened for a good reason, too.

Willie Nelson’s Chill Has Limits

It doesn’t matter how laid back you are, some things demand action. Willie Nelson knows this from experience. When he found out that his daughter Lana was being abused by her husband Steve, Willie couldn’t let that stand. He had to protect his daughter. So, he got in his truck, drove to his daughter’s house, and slapped her husband around. As you can probably guess, it didn’t stop there.

However, Willie Nelson thought the situation was resolved. He had talked some sense into his scumbag son-in-law and let Steve know he wouldn’t tolerate him mistreating Lana. You would think that when a man as peaceful as Willie resorts to violence, you’d know it was time to change your ways. The thing about men who beat their wives is that they’re not very bright. Steve wanted revenge.

Shortly after Willie Nelson arrived back at his home, he saw Steve coming up the driveway. Willie watched his son-in-law coming up the drive, probably wondering what he wanted. Then, he heard the crack of Steve’s .22 rifle. The abuser had come all that way to shoot up Willie’s house.

When a bullet slammed into the barn door just a couple feet from Willie’s head, he knew he had to take action again. He grabbed his M-1 rifle and returned fire. The loud bark of the military rifle was enough to let even someone as thick-headed as Steve know that it was time to get the hell out of Dodge.

Willie had shown Steve up twice. You would think that things would die down after that. They didn’t. The shotgun hasn’t even come into play yet.

Shotgun Willie Is Born

It had been one hell of a day for Willie Nelson. Shortly after his first shootout with Steve, he called Lana to check in. She told her dad that her abusive husband had left and taken their son with him. At this point, Willie knew it wasn’t over.

This time, Steve wouldn’t catch Willie off guard. The outlaw country icon drove his truck behind the house so no one could tell if he was home. Then, he took his M-1 and a shotgun and hid in his barn, waiting on Steve to return for another dustup.

It wasn’t long before Willie Nelson saw his son-in-law’s car creeping by his house. Willie ran out of the barn, shotgun in hand, and fired on Steve’s car. The shot blew out one of his tires. This is what finally ended it all. Even someone as dumb as Steve could see that Willie meant business.

Because Steve was a massive coward, he called the police on Willie. Instead of trying to explain to the authorities what would have happened Willie told them he had no idea what they were talking about. Steve must have run over a stray bullet in the road. They must have bought it because no charges were filed.

Because of the incident, Willie Nelson earned the nickname Shotgun Willie.

Months later, he wrote the song “Shotgun Willie” while sitting on the john in a hotel room. This song would be the title track for his 1973 album. That release marked the change in Willie’s sound that would make him the outlaw country icon we know and love today.