That time when Willie Nelson made an album just to pay his IRS debt

Famous country singer paid the price for not paying his taxes

Singer-songwriter Willie Nelson performs onstage with Willie Nelson and Family during the 46th Annual Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic at Austin360 Amphitheater in 2019 in Austin, Texas. (RICK KERN, WireImage for Shock Ink)

There’s always incentive for musicians to sell a lot of albums, but there was a whole new level of motivation for Willie Nelson to do so back in 1992.

Two years earlier, the Internal Revenue Service seized Nelson’s assets after claiming he owed $16 million, a result of Nelson and his accountants going years without paying taxes.

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So the IRS struck a deal with Nelson and allowed him to record an album with the specific purpose of paying off his debt.

Nelson then recorded the album, “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories,” a compilation of his past hits.

The album only featured Nelson and his guitar.

The original arrangement by the IRS was for Nelson to sell four million copies of the album to pay off his debt, but only $3.6 million total was raised from the album.

Ultimately, Nelson paid off the remaining $9 million he owed and his debt was satisfied.

“Mentally, it was a breeze,” Nelson said to Rolling Stone in 1995. “They didn’t bother me, they didn’t come out and confiscate anything other than that first day, and they didn’t show up at every gig and demand money. I appreciated that. And we teamed up and put out a record.”

This story was first published in 2019. It has since been updated.

About the Author

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.

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