This week, WW investigated Willie Nelson's days living in Vancouver, Wash., and the small town of Goble, Ore. In the course of our reporting, we came across a woman allegedly in possession of an box of never-before-seen memorabilia from Nelson's early career, found in a home formerly owned by Nelson's mother. So we went to Puget Sound to investigate. Here's what we found.
In the early 1970s, Susan Liotta's mother purchased a small plot of land in Scappoose adjacent to 20 acres already owned by the family. Though the teensy property was acquired primarily for logging, Liotta remembers her parents' excitement at discovering the prior inhabitant's identity.
"My folks bought the house from Willie Nelson's mom," Liotta says. "It hadn't been maintained, and my dad was an engineer. So, they went to clean it up and make it livable. Up in the attic, they found this cardboard box, and my mom just kept it."
Noting a long-unanswered message left upon Willie Nelson's Facebook page, Willamette Week learned Liotta had brought the box to her current residence near Gig Harbor, Wash. After she agreed to let WW examine the contents, Blackbook Guitars owner Nate Fasold went to arrange retrieval. Fasold, who'd previously arranged the authentication and sale of iconic instruments from Elliott Smith and Kurt Cobain, found a potential treasure trove of memorabilia from Nelson's early career—instructional piano books; lyric sheets; hand-written arrangements; full orchestral charts; an $800 contract from Alamo Promotions signed by Nelson for a 1967 concert.
A doodle-strewn yellow legal pad contains notes for a dozen others in varying states of completion; "this is a fine example of an unfinished song" is scrawled above one such composition.
Alongside a promo glossy for then-radio host Creswell—the psychic immortalized by Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space—a pair of black and white photographs portray a man resembling young Willie looking down the sights of a rifle and laughing around the rear of an Odessa school bus.
A handful of vinyl 78s were stored inside a Tex Williams record sleeve bearing an autograph and inscription that reads, "To Willie, thank you for all the great songs and performances you've given to country music." A smaller box had been packed with pristine 45s of "The Party's Over," the Nelson single produced by Chet Atkins.
Most intriguing, there's an acetate recording of a song entitled "Stolen Moments" that lists Eddie Downs as songwriter and features vocals not wholly unfamiliar.
Since Nelson's management has thus far not responded to WW's requests to verify provenance, we cannot be certain the artist ever possessed any of the items. That being said, the handwriting and images at least appear similar enough to suggest the artist had stopped by the old family place around the time of his 1967 performance at former 82nd and Killingsworth nightclub the Viewpoint Lounge.
Unable to reach Nelson via social media or through an acquaintance with connections to his touring crew, Liotta had stored the box for all these years in order to ensure the contents would one day be returned to their rightful owner. If he ever does claim possession, she asked only for a personalized photo to hang on her wall as reward and shrugged away thoughts of a signed album.
"I'd smoke a bowl with Willie," Liotta says, "but, to tell you the truth, I like heavy metal."