Willie Nelson is a man famous for two things, his country music career and the fact he’s spent the better part of half a century launching a hellacious assault on his internal organs by smoking like a pound of weed a day. Today though we’re here to talk about that time he forgot to pay his taxes.
Now the story of Willie Nelson’s showdown with the IRS began in the late 1980’s when the agency began investigating Nelson’s earnings and noticed that he hadn’t paid a cent in taxes in like 10 years. The agency wasted no time in collaring Nelson who has always maintained that he simply forgot to pay his taxes because he was too busy being a kick-ass rockstar, an tactic commonly known as the Snipes defence.
The IRS were unconvinced and accused the singer of hiding his assets and went right ahead and began taking all his shit to settle his estimated $32 million tax debt. This terrified Nelson whose mind only turned to his guitar, Trigger, an instrument he’d played since the 1960’s. After seeing the IRS seize everything from his clothes to his golden records to auction off, Nelson gave the guitar to his daughter and told her to take it to, get this, fucking Maui to hide it from the government.
To his credit Nelson took the whole thing in his stride, joking with the IRS auditors interviewing him and even parking his tour bus outside their offices so people could pose for photos in front of it. As a further fuck you, it would later emerge that most of the assets the IRS seized and auctioned off were bought by Willie Nelson’s fans and friends who immediately returned them all to him.
Hilariously when the auditors raised the prospect of simply taking any money they were owed from ticket sales to his shows, Nelson immediately cancelled all his upcoming live appearances as part of his admirable “fuck the IRS” campaign.
After weeks of negotiations Nelson eventually reached an agreement with the agency to record an album and give them all of the proceeds. Unwilling to spend a penny more than he needed to recording an album he wasn’t going to earn any money from, Nelson recorded it without his band and decided against writing any new music for it. Instead Nelson just recorded a bunch of acoustic covers of his older songs and then, to ensure his fans were 100% clear on exactly why he was making the album, called it The IRS Tapes. No Really.
Despite being literally the definition of a quick cash-grab the album was an unexpected hit, receiving rave reviews from fans and critics, though Nelson tried his hardest to ensure it wasn’t. We say this because when the time came to actually advertise the album for sale (you could initially only buy it directly) Nelson appeared on TV wearing a T-shirt with a number on it, not to buy the album, but for a random tech company in Utah. The guy who ran the company ended up finding the whole thing so funny that he let Willie use the number to sell albums. Which he did, to the tune of about $3.6 million, all of which the IRS took. The important thing though is that Willie Nelson managed to save his guitar.