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Pretty Paper: A Wonderful Christmas Song and a True Inspiration

Willie Nelson, Fort Worth, Texas, Pretty Paper, John Spiars, Under Lone Star, Christmas, Christmas Song, Roy Orbison


Merry Christmas, my friends!  Christmas is only a little over a week away, and like everyone else, my family is busy enjoying all of the festivities of the season, as well as making preparations for the “Big Day.”  This is our favorite time of the year, and with four children, there’s always a lot of work to be done, but it’s worth it, because they really do bring home the true meaning of Christmas.

Each year I try to find something Christmas related to write about for the month of December, and this year is no exception.  As a Texan, I grew up with a great love of country music, especially those sung by the many artists from Texas, and Willie Nelson was always at the top of that list.  During Christmas, the country stations would play Christmas music sung by country artists, and I was always intrigued by one of these songs in particular.  Willie Nelson’s song, Pretty Paper, is beautiful and poignant, but with a touch of sadness, and as such, it always stood out to me, especially after I learned the story behind it.  My mother was a huge Willie fan and one year she related how he came up with the idea for this Yuletide classic.

Willie Nelson; Pretty Paper; Christmas; Pretty Paper
Willie Nelson

In the early 1960’s, as he was playing the bars and honkytonks of Fort Worth, Willie Nelson found himself in downtown Fort Worth, outside of Leonard’s Department Store. There, in front of the store’s big glass doors, was a man calling out, “pretty paper, pretty paper!”  He was selling pencils, wrapping paper, and ribbons from a custom-made vest he wore, while dragging himself along the sidewalk on his hands and knees.  On this particular day, the man wasn’t having much luck as the people shuffled past him as they walked in and out of Leonard’s, and the sight stuck with Willie.

Leonard’s Dept. Store in Fort Worth, Texas

In 1963, after moving to Nashville, Nelson was walking around his farm when the disabled man in front of Leonard’s crossed his mind.  He sat down to write the song, and twenty minutes later, the song Pretty Paper was born.  “It was an easy song to write,” Willie Nelson said later. “The easy ones write themselves.”  Roy Orbison recorded it in November of 1963, and Willie recorded his own version the following year.  The song, with its beautiful melody and haunting words, has become a Christmas classic.

Frankie Brierton, the inspiration for “Pretty Paper.”

In 2013, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram revealed that the man’s name was Frankie Brierton, who was born with spinal meningitis and learned to get around on his hands and knees as a child.  According to his daughter, Lillian Compte, he refused all government assistance. “He didn’t want to depend on anybody. He wanted to be on his own and take care of his family. He crawled around on his hands and knees, but we never did without.”  He not only sold his wares in Fort Worth, but also in Dallas and Houston.  Frankie Brierton died in 1974, and by all accounts, he never knew the song that he had inspired, but I know the song, and his story has certainly inspired me.  Now, when I hear Pretty Paper, I’m not only moved by what a beautiful song it is, but also by the man it is based on,; a man who rose above his circumstances to live life on his terms and provide for his family.

I would like to thank each and every one of you for your readership and support.  The success of Under the Lone Star is a real blessing and is due entirely to you.  I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Now saddle up, get out there, and enjoy all the Christmas joy that the great state of Texas has to offer.





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