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Big Willie

Mar 7, 2008
Willie Nelson was an unknown songwriter when he pitched "Hello Walls" to Faron Young, one of the hottest singers in country music. Faron recorded the song in 1961, and it stayed at number one on the Billboard country music charts for nine weeks.

Faron later explained in a radio interview that artists get paid sooner than writers do. When he had already received $38,000 for the song, Willie was still broke. Willie asked Faron for a loan, and promised to sell him the song's royalty rights. Faron gave Willie five $100 bills, and "made him swear on a stack of Bibles he wouldn't sell that song."

Willie said in his autobiography, "When I got my first royalty check of $3,000, I ran to Tootsie's and found Faron sitting drinking at a table and kissed him flush on the mouth I was so excited."

Faron had a more colorful description of this incident in a Nashville tavern: "I was down at Tootsies watering trough, having a bottle of grape juice. I felt this hairy arm go around my neck, and Willie pinched my jaw and pulled me back and French kissed me. It was probably one of the best kisses I ever had."

Willie tried to repay the $500 then, but Faron responded, "I don't want your money, son. Wait till you can afford it and then fatten a steer for me or something."

According to Willie, "It took years, but I finally paid Faron back by giving him a prize bull my son Billy bought at a livestock auction for $38,000."

In November 1984, Willie had the bull delivered to Faron's office on Nashville's Music Row. A newspaper quoted Faron as saying, "I could have killed him. I didn't have any place to put a bull like that."

Faron called friend and Grand Ole Opry performer, Jimmy C. Newman, who raised cattle on a farm fifty miles from Nashville. Jimmy C. agreed to take the bull, but he was unprepared for what arrived: "There in the trailer was the biggest bull I'd ever seen in my life. It was three years old, a registered Simmental bull. I said, 'what in the world have I gotten into?' The bull weighed around 3,000 pounds. Willie Nelson gave him to us, so I called him Big Willie."

Faron gave half-ownership to the Newmans and wanted to use the bull for breeding. But that would include showing its registered offspring, and Jimmy C. wasn't equipped for that. He said, "We didn't have registered Simmental cattle. The only cattle I had were crossbred."

Big Willie became an item in Faron's 1986 divorce. A special master inventoried the property of both Faron and Hilda, and included as one of Faron's assets half-interest in a Simmental bull valued at $10,000. Faron's lawyer filed an objection, saying the bull was a gift from a personal friend and not a marital asset. Hilda's lawyer responded with, "This is a marital asset as the defendant had loaned Willie Nelson money years before from marital assets and this animal was in repayment of this debt." The divorce settlement required Faron to pay Hilda $2,500 for her interest in the bull.

Jimmy C. Newman told me in February 2000 that he still had three of Big Willie's offspring. "They're huge. They were some of my best cows. They're getting old." And what became of Big Willie? Jimmy C. says, "Finally we sold him for what we call grade. I forgot what he brought. I would imagine around $1,500. So that was the end of that."

(Reprinted with permission from the blog of author Diane Diekman)
About the Author
"Live Fast, Love Hard: The Faron Young Story," by Diane Diekman, the biography of Country Music Hall of Fame member Faron Young, was published in 2007 by the University of Illinois Press. Diane is currently working on her second CMHOF biography, "Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins." To learn more, visit Diane Diekman.
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