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The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Willie Nelson’s ‘Pretty Paper’

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Readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that resided in Palo Pinto County, together with a family out of Conroe helped to put together the pieces of a Christmas puzzle of sorts. The song “Pretty Paper,” by Willie Nelson is a beautiful lilting tune which apparently was inspired by a real-life disabled street vendor who truly did sell “pretty paper, pretty ribbons” for pennies as he crawled along a downtown Fort Worth sidewalk. Roy Orbison recorded the song in 1963, making it a Top 15 hit on the Billboard pop chart. And, the following year, Nelson recorded his own version. Forty years later, the identity of the song’s protagonist had remained a mystery. But, in 2004, Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnists began to search for his identity might be. Their research and series of phone interviews comprised the following:

Star-Telegram readers who at one time shopped at Leonard’s Department Store in downtown Fort Worth had actually remembered the vendor who was the song’s inspiration. Nelson had been a Fort Worth country radio personality prior to moving to Nashville and had watched the gentleman selling his downtown wares. For a long time, many only remembered that the man would travel from Santo, in Palo Pinto County, and then there came a response from a nearby rancher. Bob Neely, of Santo, had phoned into the paper about his former neighbor, who went by the name of Frankie Brierton.

“You could always hear him in town, dragging himself along the gravel street,” Neely noted. Crawling up and down Houston or Throckmorton streets on all fours, Brierton could be seen outside of Leonard’s selling his goods. He wore large gloves, kneepads which were made from old tire treads, and a leather vest which was custom-made to include a coin box on the back and a built-in pencil rack. From there, the columnists began to reach out to Brierton’s family members for further detail, eventually contacting Lillian Compte of Conroe (in 2004) who was found to be his daughter. She was unaware as to why anyone would be asking about her father, who had passed away in 1973.

The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Willie Nelson’s ‘Pretty Paper’
Photo: Facebook/Owen Bradley’s “Quonset Hut”

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