Willie Nelson visited Alvarado last Saturday - almost - when a bus with lettering on the side that read, “Almost Willie,” was spotted in front of David’s Supermarket.
Billed as the No. 1 Willie Nelson impersonator in the country, Tom Bradshaw of Kansas City, Kan., has been in the business of impersonating Nelson since 1985.
“I worked for 14 years as a funeral director and a county coroner, but I felt like I needed a change,” Bradshaw said. “So I tried selling cars and I grew a beard - but I still felt that something was missing.”
Bradshaw said that on Halloween in 1985, he was invited to a party and one of his friends suggested that he add a little white to his beard and go as Willie Nelson.
“I won the contest for best costume and, out of that, ‘Almost Willie’ was born,” Bradshaw said, noting that gigs have taken him to the Virgin Islands, Sturgis, Billy Bob’s in Houston, the Nashville Palace, Opryland Hotel, Michigan State Penitentiary, Las Vegas, Branson, and more than 4,500 other interesting places.
Bradshaw’s “Almost Willie” dream was to not be too famous and he said that, so far, his dream has come true. Performing in lounges, at county fairs, country music shows and casinos, his repertoire has grown into a 90-minute show and includes such Willie Nelson favorites as “Good Hearted Woman,” “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain,” “Seven Spanish Angels,” “On the Road Again” and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.”
“I was mobbed by autograph-hunting fans at Farm Aid IV in Indianapolis, Ind., who felt that ‘Almost Willie’ was close enough - while the real Willie was performing on stage,” Bradshaw said, saying this happens frequently when fans refuse to believe the two are not the same.
Farm Aid V, which was held in Dallas, brought him first prize in the Willie Look-Alike Contest and, in 1989, Almost Willie went to a concert and was asked to man Nelson’s booth.
“You could see the amazement and disbelief on people’s faces when they learned that I was not Willie,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw has appeared on the front page of the Nashville Banner, Fan Fair and in People Magazine.
“There’s nothing I’d rather do than entertain people with the Willie gigs,” said Bradshaw, saying he is personally acquainted with Nelson and has been granted a lifetime pass to all of his concerts.
Almost Willie will perform at the Old Town Corral in Burleson at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, and, while he is in the area, he is paying a brief visit to his niece, Debbie Lane of Alvarado.
Bradshaw said he loves to please the crowds and, to keep things from getting too serious, he maintains his perspective on what he does with the following parody sung to the tune of “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain:”
“If you came to see Willie
I’m afraid you’ve made a big mistake
I’m not Willie, I’m just Almost
He’s the real thing, I’m a fake.”