Remember when the IRS tried to auction Willie Nelson’s property and his fans bought it for him?

They say you don’t mess with Texas.

And you definitely don’t mess around Willie Nelson in Texas.

Of course that’s what the IRS tried to do in the early ’90s when they went after the country music legend for what they claimed was $16.7 million in unpaid tax bills he owed Uncle Sam.

The trouble for Willy began in the early 1980s, when the IRS claimed he owed $6 million for money that was hidden in tax shelters set up by his accountant. And after they did some digging, the government also claimed he owed an additional $10 million in unpaid fines and taxes dating back to the 1970s.

Willy and his team tried to work with the IRS and challenge the tax bill, but to no avail.

So in August 1990, the IRS showed up at Willie’s door, which is pretty much the last thing anyone would want.

Federal agents seized Willie’s property in six different states, including his homes and land, his master strips, his recording and touring equipment, his gold records, and even his clothes.

But there was one thing the IRS didn’t get: his famous and beloved guitar, the Trigger.

That’s because Willy suspected the IRS would eventually knock, and gave Trigger to his daughter Lana to take to Maui for safekeeping.

However, the rest of his possessions were put up for auction.

and as save country music Reports, things did not go well.

The IRS attempted to sell a 44-acre ranch in San Marcos, Texas that he bought from the doctor who gave birth to him as a child. But no one will buy it.

After two failed auctions, the property was finally purchased at the lowest bid: $203,840. And the lucky buyer? A lobby group for farmers, Willie had previously helped them through his Farm Aid party – who bought the house so they could sell it back to Willie.

Another property up for auction is the Pedernales Country Club, which also houses Willie’s studio where he made many of his recordings in the ’80s, including Pancho and Lefty Album with Merle Haggard. The IRS managed to sell this: to Daryl Royal, a former University of Texas football coach and friend of Willie Nelson.

But when the IRS learned that Royal had bought the property for safekeeping to return to Willie after paying off his tax debts, the government canceled the sale to Royal and got his money back.

When the club returned to auction, they eventually found a buyer in an investor group, but this time the recording studio was auctioned separately. It was bought by Freddie Fletcher – Willie Nelson’s nephew.

See how this is going.

Well, apparently, the IRS saw how it was, too. In the end, they decided to stop fighting him.

A collection of gold and platinum Willie records, instruments, posters, and other personal items were sold to the Willie Nelson & Friends Gallery for the low, low price of just $7,000. And the IRS, upon seeing the writing on the wall that they would never get their money back by trying to sell Willie’s property (at least not if his fans and Texans had anything to say about it), returned to the negotiating table with Willie and his representatives.

Willie, for his part, has remained surprisingly optimistic. At one point, he even parked his bus outside the IRS offices in Austin, and during breaks in their meetings, he would go out and sign autographs for fans (including the IRS staff themselves).

Finally, in 1993 Willy and the IRS settled their dispute over just over half of what the government initially claimed to owe, with Willy agreeing to pay $9 million, $3 million of which had already been paid.

One result of these negotiations, of course, was the infamous “IRS tapes”. IRS Tapes: Who Will Buy My Memories? A double album, featuring sound recordings of both new and unreleased songs, was released in 1992 to help pay off some of his debts, and the IRS agreed to help promote the album to help Willie raise money.

He also appeared on TV to promote the album, but there was one small problem: the shirt he was wearing with the phone number to order the album had a phone number that didn’t exist.

In the end, Willy also entered into an agreement with Sony to distribute the record to stores, and through a profit-sharing agreement that included the IRS, the album would help Willie raise nearly $4 million to go on his tax bill.

Oh, and he also made a commercial for Taco Bell to help him raise some cash, too.

Wylie also sued his accounting firm that created tax shelters, Price Waterhouse, and eventually settled an undisclosed amount of money to be paid to the IRS for his tax bill.

Reflecting on his fight with the IRS, Willy didn’t seem alarmed by the whole ordeal, telling Rolling Stone:

“It was a mental breeze.

They didn’t bother me, they didn’t go out and confiscate anything other than that first day, they didn’t show up at every party and ask for money. I appreciate it. We cooperated and set a record.”

And he wasn’t too bothered about auctioning off his possessions, calling them “things only, nothing irreplaceable.”

I guess you’re not too worried about your stuff when you know you have an army of loving fans out there to buy those things and get them back to you.

Because like the IRS learned: You don’t mess with Willie Nelson.

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