The Time Willie Nelson Deescalated a Parking Garage Shootout With Two Colt .45s

Willie Nelson might don the nickname “Shotgun Willie,” but given the events of a parking garage shootout in the late 1970s, perhaps “Colt .45 Willie” would’ve been an equally appropriate moniker. (Of course, one notable difference between the two nicknames is that “Shotgun Willie” was trying to shoot his daughter’s abusive husband, while “Colt .45 Willie” was trying to keep the peace.) 

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The country icon’s stage manager and bus driver, Randy “Poodie” Locke, recalled the harrowing moment he watched Nelson get in the thick of an Alabama parking garage gunfight in Willie: An Autobiography. And yes, the story is just about as quintessentially “Willie Nelson” as you’d expect.

How A Post-Show Loadout Turned Life-Threatening

Getting in the middle of a shootout in the Deep South after performing at the Birmingham Coliseum in Alabama’s state capital seems like something straight out of a dark comedy film, but for Willie Nelson and his crew, it was just part of life on the road. Locke described the outfit making their way back to their tour bus in a six-story parking garage when, suddenly, gunfire erupted around them. 

“We hear ‘Kaboom!’ ‘Kaboom!’ It’s the sound of a .357 magnum going off in the parking garage,” Locke said in Nelson’s autobiography. “The echoes sound like howitzer shells exploding. It’s kind of semi-dark, and this guy comes blowing through this parking deck and jumps in the Franks Brothers’ Suburban. Now, here comes this b**** with a f***ing pistol. ‘Kaboom!’ She’s chasing this motherf***er. It sounds like a f***ing war.” 

Locke said it didn’t take long for police to arrive on the scene and for chaos to ensue. Not knowing where the echoing shots were coming from, the officers on the scene were treating everyone like a suspect, demanding the onlookers get on the ground while they frisked them for weapons. And who arrives to de-escalate the tense scene but country icon Willie Nelson.

Willie Nelson’s Unconventional Method of Deescalation

Randy “Poodie” Locke’s description of the band’s frontman is the stuff of American folk legends. Per Locke, Willie Nelson approaches the chaotic scene of frantic police officers and nervous onlookers wearing tennis shoes, denim cutoffs, and two Colt .45 revolvers stuck into his waistband. Apparently, the revolver barrels were so long (or, perhaps, Nelson’s circa 1979 cutoffs were so short) that they poked out of the bottom of the frayed denim. 

“Willie just walks over and says, ‘What’s the trouble?’” Locke continues. “Well, he’s got some kind of aura to him that just cools everything out. The cops put up their guns, the people climb off the concrete, and pretty soon, Willie is singing autographs. He’s got those eyes, that smile, it’s magic.” 

Despite the supernatural air about him, Nelson’s pacifist attitude is not accidental. From his optimistic demeanor to his medicinal (and recreational) marijuana use, Nelson has made conscious decisions to stay away from the more aggressive temptations of a man of his success—booze, cigarettes, women, bad tempers. Decades after the infamous parking garage shootout, the country icon stopped sticking around in the cities where he played and opted to do his post-show wind-down on his tour bus, partaking in a bit of smoke and relaxing. (Though, if we’re being honest, we’re sure Nelson’s tour bus still had a trusty firearm somewhere…just in case “Shotgun Willie” needed to take care of business.)

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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