Willie Nelson made one confession about the IRS that no one ever expected

Apr 2, 2024

Willie Nelson has had one of the longest and most storied careers in country music.

That includes some scrapes with the law.

And Willie Nelson made one confession about the IRS that no one ever expected.

The IRS came after Willie Nelson

The IRS came after country music legend Willie Nelson in 1990 for owing more than $16 million in unpaid taxes.

Nelson landed himself in the hot water after he used a tax shelter that was later ruled illegal, which resulted in his massive tax bill.

That led to the IRS seizing most of his assets, including the Texas ranch that he lived on, to pay off his tax debt.

But a group of farmers came together to buy the property from the IRS and return it to him to thank him for his work supporting farm charities.

To help settle his tax bill, Nelson released the 1991 album The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?

Eventually, he was able to pay off his debt to the IRS in 1993.

Willie Nelson tests the IRS’s sense of humor

Nelson told Playboy in a 2002 interview that the IRS Tapes album title was about testing the sense of humor at the IRS.

“I was just trying to test their sense of humor, I suppose,” Nelson said. “I actually heard that they thought it was pretty funny. The funniest part was that it was the best promotion for an album I ever had. People heard about it everywhere.”

After his work supporting Farm Aid and other charities, Nelson’s friends and fans had his back.  

“The more people heard about my troubles, the more they came out to help. I got phone calls and letters from people wanting to do everything you can think of. At shows, people would try to give me money. Friends bought my stuff so I could buy it back from them,” Nelson said.

IRS woes never fazed Nelson

Owning so much to the IRS could have ruined his life but Nelson said it was just an obstacle to get through.

“Everybody thinks it was this hell in my life, but it wasn’t,” Nelson explained. “It was just something I had to get through. There has been worse. An impressive sum. I got an official letter. I owe what? We knew it was coming, actually. It was happening to other people who invested in the same things I invested in—these shelters we were sold on—and we were told to expect it. They seized everything I had. I was angry, of course.”

Nelson added that his IRS situation taught him who he could trust with his money.

“A couple of things. First, not to trust other people with things that are your responsibility. I just didn’t want to know and I let people make decisions and nodded, thinking, I’m just playing music,” Nelson said. “That was a mistake and I want to know what people are doing in my name and with my money or anything else. Second, it made me think clearer about what I really want in my life, what I need. You can get caught up thinking you need a lot more than you do. Then it can be like a weight on you, keeping you down.”

He added that the IRS ended up doing him a favor because he realized what was important in his life.

“The IRS didn’t mean to do me a favor, but in a way they did. They helped me clean house. I didn’t need all that stuff anyway. Stuff like a jet. That’s what can happen and then you have all this s**t and think, ‘Now I have to pay the bills.’ I prefer the bus anyway,” Nelson concluded.

Willie Nelson was able to take something positive away after his troubles with the IRS.

Hot Take Politics will keep you up-to-date on any developments to this ongoing story. 

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