Country greats Ray Price, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson are touring in support of their new album, Last of the Breed, which will be released next Tuesday. The backing band is Asleep at the Wheel, a very talented group that has revived the Texas Swing tradition.
"Last of the Breed" could be the Rat Pack of country music: Ray Price assumes the sophisticated role of Sinatra, Merle Haggard is the playful conscience who takes a lot of pride in who he is and Willie Nelson is everyman’s best buddy who knows everybody loves somebody sometime.
All three men stand tall in the Country Music Hall of Fame. . . .
Price opened up with his own 35 minute set with his own band of Cherokee Cowboys. He set the bar for vocal performance. At 81 years old Price’s smooth pipes are in amazing shape, especially on ballads like "For The Good Times," "Make The World Go Away" and "Release Me." He hit his notes with clarity and integrity. Price deployed a three-piece fiddle section to set a Western Swing motif, in fact they delivered "Crazy Arms" and "Heartaches By The Number" in the same dance hall tempo.
Dressed in blue jeans, a crisp white shirt and black blazer, Price offered the evening’s mission statement: "This is the music they’ve been trying to kill," [correctly characterizing the work of the music industry and corporate radio stations—STK] he told the crowd that included a six-month old with a red bananda (I’m not kidding). "And they’re not going to get it done."
After Price’s performance, there was a 15 minute intermission to reset the stage for "Last of the Breed." Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel opened up part two with their own set that consisted of "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66"–with a shout out to Flagstaff—and "Miles of Miles of Texas."
But still no "Last of the Breed."
Finally, Haggard strolled on stage like the eternal hipster saint. He hoisted his fiddle and took authentic delight in interacting with the twin fiddles, consisting of his own fiddle player and Jason Roberts of Asleep at the Wheel. Haggard twirled his foot and shook his ass before slicing into Bob Wills’ "Take Me Back to Tulsa" and hitting the classic two-beat on "I Wonder If You Feel The Way I Do." Haggard covered the latter track on the Wheel’s excellent 1993 tribute to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
Haggard followed with several of his greatest hits: "Silver Wings," "Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink" (big crowd pleaser with this crowd), and "I Take a Lot of Pride In What I Am," a ’45 that used to have regular rotation in my old loft jukebox. Dean Martin also covered "Pride." When Haggard sings about things he learned in a hobo jungle, it is clear these guys are the last of a breed. Who sings about hobo jungles today?
As Hoekstra notes, Haggard "is America’s voice"—or one of them, anyway. Willie Nelson then came out, and the show really took flight:
The trio then played songs from the "Last of the Breed" two-disc, 22-song CD that is out March 20 on Lost Highway. The three giants climbed new heights on Harlan Howard’s 1958 honky-tonker "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down," wiith Haggard mimicking Bob Wills yelps and "I Love You So Much It Hurts" (both on the CD, produced by the empathetic Fred Foster). They followed the downbeat on the underchampioned Floyd Tillman material from the new record, most notably "I’ve Gotta Have My Baby Back."