Inside Willie Nelson's Friendship With Jimmy Carter

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Legendary singer and songwriter Willie Nelson has gotten himself into legal trouble over the years, including for marijuana possession and not paying taxes. Those don't seem like the kinds of things that would endear him to a former president, but Nelson and Jimmy Carter have a long friendship that went back before Carter's time in the White House.

Some people might have preferred seeing Carter spend more time with friends like fellow politician Joe Biden instead of Nelson, but we like how Carter didn't let that dissuade him. "There were some people who didn't like my being deeply involved with Willie Nelson [...] and disreputable rock 'n' rollers. I didn't care about that because I was doing what I really believed," Carter said in the documentary "Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President."

Their friendship seems rooted in similarities in their small-town upbringings — Carter was born in Plains, Georgia in 1924, and Nelson was born in Abbott, Texas in 1933. Carter explained those experiences he shared with Nelson in a Country Music Television special in 2004: "He and I grew up in cotton fields. When we were both teenagers, we did blacksmithing. We shoed horses and mules, and we picked cotton."

Willie Nelson covered for Jimmy Carter's son smoking pot with him

Willie Nelson and Jimmy Carter's friendship grew as Carter was governor of Georgia and running for president in the 1970s. Once Carter became president in 1976, he invited Nelson to stay at the White House. In his book "White House Diary," which detailed much of his time as president, Carter wrote about one of Nelson's visits on September 12, 1980. "Wille Nelson, [his wife] Connie, and their two daughters are staying with us. We jogged three or four miles and then went swimming. I like them very much. They are at ease with us and vice versa." We like to think of Nelson and Jimmy splashing around in the White House pool.

Later that night, Nelson got into a little bit of mischief at the White House. He wrote in his 1988 autobiography about smoking a joint on the White House roof with someone. Many years later, it was confirmed by Chip Carter, Jimmy and Rosalynn's second son, that he was the one Nelson had smoked with, as reported by GQ. Jimmy later said that Nelson had intentionally covered up that he'd smoked with Chip, alluding in his autobiography to it being someone on the White House staff instead. Now that's true friendship.

Jimmy Carter performed with Willie Nelson multiple times

Jimmy Carter noted in his diary Willie Nelson was at the White House for a concert, but he didn't go into detail about it, though we wish he would have — Rosalynn sang "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother" with Nelson at the show. That was just one of several performances that Nelson had with the Carters — Nelson invited Jimmy and Rosalynn onstage to sing "Amazing Grace" with him as recently as 2016, a song that Jimmy first sang with Nelson onstage in 2004. Jimmy also occasionally pretended to accompany Nelson on the harmonica during "Georgia on My Mind."

Jimmy used Nelson's music to help him in the Oval Office. "When I was in trouble in the White House or when I wanted to have some deep thoughts, I had a very high quality hi-fi player, and the number one thing I played was Willie Nelson songs," he told the Rolling Stone.

It's a mutual admiration, for sure. Nelson stayed friends with the former first couple, and in 2002, Nelson came to Oslo to sing "Georgia on My Mind" when Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize. Nelson has called Jimmy his favorite president. "President of the United States is a hard job, and I don't know why anybody would want it," Nelson said in the Country Music Television documentary about Carter. "But, fortunately, some people are brave enough to take it on, and he did a great job."