No stranger to Texas, the 'red headed stranger,' Willie Nelson marks his 80th birthday today doing what he has done for the last forty years...traveling in his marijuana-scented bus, and performing a back breaking 200 concerts per year.


  Actually, Willie's birthday is uncertain.  Nelson says he was born on April 29, 1933, while his Texas drivers license has the date as April 30th.


  Regardless, Tom Buckley, editor in chief of Texas Music magazine, says Nelson today enjoys the type of popularity that only a handful of musicians ever see.


  "He can duet with Merle Haggard or Bob Dylan," Buckley told 1200 WOAI's Michael Board.  "On his new album, he has a duet with Neil Young."


   Willie Hugh Nelson was born in Abbott Texas, into a Depression-era working class family.  He was actually raised by his grandparents, who were musically inclined and bought Willie his first guitar at the age of six.


  After a brief stint studying Agriculture at Baylor University, and knocking around Texas and the West as a disc jockey and club announcer, including a stint at KBOP radio in Pleasanton, Nelson finally broke through in 1960 when he wrote the Faron Young classic 'Hello Walls.'  Ray Price then recorded Nelson's song 'Night Life' and invited Nelson to join his band in 1961.


  Despite personal troubles, including high profile marijuana arrests and a fight with the IRS in the nineties, Buckley says Nelson has become the original Texas musical icon.


  "He embodies the song that he is singing in such a genuine way that you can't help but be moved by his performance," he said.


  "He represents freedom, he represents certainly independence, and he represents courage in the way that he will take on the drug issue."


  Buckley says it is a testament to Nelson's creativity and musicianship that he has worked with rock stars, hip hop artists, and jazz musicians.


  Nelson will go into his eighties 'on the road again,' continuing to tour and perform.  He did a concert last weekend to benefit victims of the West fertilizer plant blast, and he frequently is the first to volunteer his services for a worthy cause.