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At this point, it almost feels like singing and songwriting superstar Willie Nelson has always been famous. However, there was a time before he broke into the country music industry when he was still working non-entertainment jobs to get by. So, how did Nelson literally fall out of one of those positions, “never to return”?  

Black and white photo of Willie Nelson smiling, wearing a cowboy scarf and hat
Willie Nelson | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Willie Nelson was a tree trimmer in Texas before he was a country superstar

According to Nelson’s book, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, he used to trim trees for a business contracted by a power and light company in Texas. His job was to help his team “keep the power lines clear and free of trees and limbs.”

The legendary music superstar notes that his work was normally on the ground feeding the wood being thrown down to him into a chipper. But there were times when someone in a tree needed something, and on this occasion his coworker needed rope to lower down a large branch without it falling on “anybody or anything” — including the future country star.  

So, as he had done before, Nelson climbed up the tree with a provision for a teammate. However, instead of climbing back down the tree, he notes how he decided to attempt to clamber down the rope. The decision had near-deadly effects for the one-day outlaw of country when he’d soon found himself in a charged situation high above the ground.

A rope entangled Willie Nelson 20 feet off the ground over 2 power lines

Willie Nelson with short hair, smiling and holding a guitar c. 1967
Willie Nelson | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Soon it became clear that Nelson was in a predicament. He writes that as he lowered himself down the rope, one of his hands became entangled and he was eventually trapped. “I was hung up,” he shares. “I couldn’t go up, and I couldn’t go down.”

The “Pretty Paper” writer shares that they were about 20 feet off the ground, and he was dangling in such a way that “the rope was tearing the fingers off [his] left hand.”

To make a dangerous dilemma all the worse, Nelson was positioned just above two power lines with nowhere to go. Ultimately, he didn’t see any other option but to have his coworker cut the rope from above. He took his chance on the fall to the ground.

Willie Nelson ‘hit the ground, jumped up, and walked away from that job’ to a life of making country hits  


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Once the rope was cut, Nelson shares that he plunged the 20 feet to the ground. Fortunately, he dropped down right between the two power lines and landed relatively unharmed.  

“I hit the ground, jumped up, and walked away from that job, never to return,” Nelson concludes of the experience. It seems he wasn’t going to take that chance again. But arguably, that career probably wasn’t really his true calling in the first place.

It wasn’t long before Nelson was writing songs for country superstars like Patsy Cline and carving his own place in the industry, as well. So, in the end, falling out of that tree-trimming job might have been the best thing for him.