Remember When: Country Star Willie Nelson Cut His First Single Near Seattle

Today, Seattle is known as a music hub. Not only is it the home of rockers like Heart and rappers like Sir Mix a Lot, but the area spawned the grunge movement, helping to foster bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. More recently, other big names have come from the Pacific Northwest locale like the Presidents of the United States of America, Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, Brandi Carlile and Macklemore.

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But did you know that country star Willie Nelson cut his first single in the Northwest, too? Well, buckle up all you fans of three chords and the truth, because Nelson’s origins as a songwriter and a recording artist also come from the Upper Left corner of the United States.

[RELATED: 3 Songs You Didn’t Know Willie Nelson Wrote for Other Artists]

On the Move

The year was 1956 and 23-year-old Abbott, Texas-born Willie Nelson was on the move. After working in radio in Texas for a while, the aspiring musician was hired by the radio station KVAN, which was located in a small city just outside Portland known as Vancouver, Washington. He’d moved to the area because his mother lived in Portland at the time.

While there, Nelson worked in media, appearing on local TV and working at the radio station. But when it came to his recording career, it was also in Vancouver where he made his first big move. He recorded his first record ever in 1956. That song, the 78-second “No Place for Me,” marked the beginning of his career. And though it wasn’t a hit, it set him on his path.

Nelson recorded the song in the radio studio, using his office as a studio, moonlighting as a recording artist between shifts. At the same time, he performed in local music clubs. Later, in 1957, Nelson wrote the song “Family Bible” while working at KVAN and he would later sell that song to musician Paul Buskirk. In 1960, the tune became a hit for artist Claude Gray.

“No Place for Me”

Nelson had his debut single pressed by Starday Records, which issued 500 copies of the song at first, and Nelson sold the product on his radio show The Western Express, eventually selling 3,000 units. Nelson’s show was in a one-hour slot at first but it soon grew to a beloved three-hour program. KVAN discontinued the show after it changed from country to rock.

Post-KVAN

After his time at KVAN, Nelson left the Pacific Northwest and, something of a rolling stone, he was off to play clubs in Colorado and move to places like Springfield, Missouri. Later, he moved back to Texas, finally settling in Fort Worth, where he sold bibles, vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias. But it wasn’t long until his early efforts paid off and he was making money, first writing hits for others, and then becoming one of the biggest stars in the genre.

In 1961, country artist Billy Walker cut a version of Nelson’s now-hit “Funny How Time Slips Away” and in 1963, Roy Orbison recorded a rendition of Nelson’s tune “Pretty Paper.” There would be no stopping him now.

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Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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