Last of the Breed Tour, Prescott, AZ (3/9/07) REVIEW

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Real Country Near 66

by Dave Hoekstra
4:30 p.m. (local) March 10
SCOTTSDALE, AZ.—The “Last of the Breed” concert tour kicked off Friday night in Prescott Valley, which is scattered like buried treasure south of Route 66 near Flagstaff, Az. In order to find this town, you have to drive by a shotgun cantina called Billy Jack’s, a neon roadhouse named Left-ts and down an old stagecoach trail called the Reata Pass.

It was worth it. “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.  The trio is backed by the Western Swing band Asleep at the Wheel. I wanted to catch “Last of the Breed” in the event it ended abruptly, as in the case of the 1988 Rat Pack reunion tour which only made it to Minneapolis and Chicago before Dean Martin went home.

The first time the “Last of the Breed’ felt unique wasn’t until down the home stretch when Haggard sang “Okie From Muskogee” and got to the line about “the long haired hippies out in San Franciso,” Nelson sauntered on stage with red bandana and his braids nearly to his beltline. The crowd of cowboys, bikers, old hippies, outlaws and rodeo riders roared with approval at a joint called Tim’s Toyota Center. The 5,300-seat venue opened in October and this was the first sell out in its history. 

And there wasn’t much different about the “Last of the Breed” show at the outset.  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,” 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?

I heard Brad Paisley’s “Celebrity” while trying to find a decent country radio station on the midnight drive down I-17 back to Scottsdale. As much as that pop song panders it fails to connect with any real country music fan.
Haggard covered “BIg River” with more intensity than usual (due to the fiddles) and offered some succulent electric guitar jazz runs on “Misery and Gin,” a song he doesn’t often perform. I should know. I’ve seen Haggard about 50 times. He is America’s voice.

When he got to “Muskogee” the event finally began to take shape.  Price could be seen smiling in the wings as Willie and Merle traded verses on “Muskogee,” with Benson dropping in on the last verse. Willie and Merle reprised Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty” from their 1983 duet album of the same name (and a song Merle and Dylan should have done on last year’s tour) and they dealt a convincing version of Willie’s “Reasons to Quit,” (“…reasons to quit below it always lower than the high..”) from “Pancho and Lefty.”.

Towards the end of his duet section with Merle, Willie invited singer-songwriter Freddy Powers on stage to cover Fats Waller’s “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” Powers, who wrote the Haggard hits :”Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room Tonight,” and “A Bar in Bakersfield” and co-produced Nelson”s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” LP, is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Powers sang in charging Western Swing tones despite keeping his trembling left hand in his coat pocket.

Nelson took more edgy Spanish-influenced guitar solos than I have seen in recent years. He seemed amped up to be reunited with his old running buddies. Nelson has been down this ‘country supergroup’ road before with the Highwaymen and now two of them are gone (Cash and Arizona’s own Waylon Jennings). Nelson will make these moments count.

After Powers cameo, Price returned to the stage and said, “Willie, here we go,,,,,”  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.”

Willie brought back the Bob Wills number “Still Water Runs The Deepest” from the ’93 Asleep at the Wheel tribute album, whiile Merle chipped in with fluid vocals. Friday’s ringer that is not on the “Last of the Breed” record was Price and Nelson’s searing verison of Willie’s “Nightlife.” During Price’s vocals, Nelson played deep blues lines while Haggard messed around with the fiddle section.
Deep within his heart there lies a melody.

The Last of the Breed gave a no-nonsense performance on the CD’s leadoff track “My Life’s Been a Pleasure,” a chestnut written by Jesse Ashlock, who was a Wills vocalist-fiddle player. Willie and Merle first tackled the tune on “Pancho and Lefty,” but the Breed’s updated version is less maudlin. However, after “My Life’s Been a Pleasure,” Nelson sang “Crazy.”

Haggard picked up his white cowboy hat and walked off stage, exit right.  He was never seen again at Tim’s Toyota Center.

Price remained but did not sing along on “Crazy” or “Always On My Mind.” He coughed a lot. With Nelson’s long time harmonica player Mickey Raphael on board, a Willie concert broke out. Nelson sang “On The Road Again,” and Price did add vocals to Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me Lord” which appears on “Last of the Breed.” Benson took Haggard’s parts. The show ended with Nelson’s “Whiskey River.” just like any other Willie Nelson concert. The concert clocked in at two-and-a-half hours, including the short break after Price’s set.

The Last of the Breed wasn’t like the Who or the Rolling Stones where the stars conclude the evening by embracing arm around arm at the front of stage. Willie said so long and the entourage was off to the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas where they were scheduled to appear on Saturday.
So this is my longest blog ever.

I won’t even get into how I watched the Cubs blow a 5-0 lead to Sammy Sosa and the Texas Rangers a few hours before the concert. (But don’t forget this future Cub star: TYLER COLVIN, a smooth left handed swing like John Olerud but with more pop). As a liefelong Cubs fan, I’m used to all things last.

But tonight the “Last of the Breed” is first in my heart.

15 Responses to “Last of the Breed Tour, Prescott, AZ (3/9/07) REVIEW”

  1. Brody says:

    I’m all excited for the Austin show now.

  2. LindaLee says:

    What a treat to get to see these guys at the BackYard! You are going to have so much fun.

    I don’t have to wait long now — tomorrow night in Loveland, and the next day in Colorado Springs. Not the Back Yard, but I have front row seats and am so excited.

  3. Brody says:

    Wow, you’re going to both shows? Unfortunately didn’t act fast enough to get front row seats, so I’ll be stuck in the back somewhere :( But otherwise it should be an awesome show.

  4. LindaLee says:

    I’m not going to Texas this year, and I feel sad about that. I am just going to the two shows in Colorado. I after tomorrow night, i am going to kick myself for not going to the Back Yard.

  5. sweetheart says:

    LindaLee,
    Hope you had/have a great time at your 2 concerts!
    Brody,
    I also will be at the Backyard, way back…Friday night Row 24 and Saturday night Row 28, C section. I would love to meet you.
    and if you’re a ClubLuck member and I just don’t recognize your “name”, I’d still love to meet you!!
    LL can vouch for me! LOL!

  6. VegasBilly says:

    THE LAST OF A BREED. (LAS VEGAS, NEVADA) March 10th 2007
    That’s what the concert was billed starring Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price and Asleep at the Wheel. The venue was held at the Aladdin Hotel Casino with a 7000 seat Theatre of Performing Arts.
    I was all excited with good tickets in the front row of the mezzanine section, (first tier up from the main floor) Seats were 250.00 down front, mine was about $75.00.
    Las Vegas was jammed with roughly a million people who had arrived for all the stuff going on including NASCAR.
    All the hotels casino’s were booked and sold out. This event was totally sold out with 7000 people.
    I arrived a couple hours early to check out the new Aladdin Casino that has 40 restaurants, some 200 stores and shops.
    I went into the auditorium an hour early just not to take any chances I’d miss anything. What an awesome place.
    Well,, they were playing background music real low of Waylon Jennings and Jessie Coulter.. a nice tribute to a fallen “Highwaymen” The stage consisted of amplifiers and instruments. It looked like roughly 60 amps, instruments, microphones. As you know, each star had his own band and each star only brought their key players, for example Ray Price brought his violin players and those that could recreate his sound. I saw no Strangers.
    OK… on with the show.
    All of a sudden the lights on the stage went dark and an announcer said,, Ladies and Gentle.. Let’s welcome Ray Price!!!!!!!!!!! Oh my…. The yells and applause and an immediate standing ovation of 7000 people was unbelievable.
    Ray walked out and said, “I’m 81 years old” and they screamed again. And then he said, “I can positively tell you that I am not the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby.”
    Oh they went crazy.
    His voice was flawless, deep and rich, in fact without a doubt the best voice in the group. A real crooner, definitely
    the Tony Bennett of the bunch. (now don’t get mad at me, you know I love them all) He did all his classics including some of these… the report continues after this lists.
    Track Title iTunes Composers Performers Time
    For the Good Times

    Kris Kristofferson Ray Price (4:04)
    Burning Memories

    Mel Tillis, Wayne Walker Ray Price (2:25)
    Take Me as I Am (Or Let Me Go) … Boudleaux Bryant Ray Price (2:55)
    Lonesomest Lonesome … Mac Davis Ray Price (2:46)
    She Wears My Ring … Felice Bryant, Boudleaux Bryant Ray Price (2:49)
    Heart Over Mind

    Mel Tillis Ray Price (2:47)
    Crazy Arms

    Ralph Mooney, Chuck Seals Ray Price (2:33)
    The Other Woman (In My Life)

    Don Rollins Ray Price (2:56)
    You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

    Jim Weatherly Ray Price (3:48)
    I Won’t Mention It Again

    Cam Mullins, Carolyn Jean Yates Ray Price (3:59)
    Danny Boy

    Frederic E. Weatherly Ray Price (4:37)
    Release Me

    Dub Williams, Robert Yount, Eddie Miller Ray Price (2:49)
    She’s Got to Be a Saint

    Michael Di Napoli, Braulio Paulini Ray Price (4:08)
    City Lights

    Bill Anderson Ray Price (2:51)
    Heartaches by the Number

    Harlan Howard Ray Price (3:02)
    Make the World Go Away

    Hank Cochran Ray Price (2:31)
    I’ve Got a New Heartache

    Wayne Walker Ray Price (2:31)
    My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You

    Lee Ross, Bob Wills Ray Price (2:32)
    Talk to Your Heart

    Louise Ulrich Ray Price (2:42)
    Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes

    When Ray was finished, the lights came on and they set up for the next person. I saw them tune up Merle’s guitar and Violin and set two water bottles there on his amps as they always do so I figured he was next,, but the lights when out and the announcer said,,, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Let’s welcome Asleep at the Wheel” Oh they came on like Gangbusters.. singing “Get your Kicks on Route 66” with Ray Bensen. They were hot and the crowd went crazy.. all of a sudden,,, guess who comes drifting on stage looking like a million dollars?,, Merle Haggard drifts in on Asleep at the Wheel and when the crowd spots him,,, 7000 people jumped out of their chairs and started screaming and yelling.. whoa….. all too cool.. yep, I had tears, I was so proud of him.
    He took his fiddle and they had a ball for a few songs then he got his guitar and he took over starting with “That’s the Way Love Goes”……….oh, the lights dimmed and he let everyone know (who was boss) hee hee.. well I had to say it. Now what was interesting about his concert, is no one had their own complete bands.. so hearing Merle sing with Asleep at the Wheel’s band was really interesting. Without Norman Hamlet there it took on a whole new dimension to his songs and “Asleep’s” steel was good but different. I’m sorry but I was raised on Roy Nichol’s and It’s my personal feeling that without Roy, the Strangers were never the same. I know Merle likes to play lead guitar,, but it just doesn’t cut it for me. I give him credit for what he does. He plays better then I do,, it’s just not Roy Nichols.
    Merle was good and sang some good stuff like Silver Wings, Ramblin Fever.. he does a great job on the guitar on this one. WELL……………GUESS WHAT HAPPENS NOW? Merle says,, Ladies and Gentlemen… Welcome FREDDY POWERS… I never saw him in the back with Teresa Haggard.. Bless his heart… I was so happy to see him. I had talked with CAP about three weeks ago and she was hoping he would make the tour. He came out holding one arm that was bothering him. He didn’t play guitar but sang one song and everybody loved it. It was go neat to see hin.
    WILLIE NELSON starts drifting on the stage in the middle of one of Merle’s song.. I think it was Poncho and Willie and , oh my god,,,, the audience sees him and goes ‘bonkers’
    They jump out of their seats and screamed and yelled… Then Willie sings Poncho and Willie with Merle.. They start doing songs from that album… (what was it?.. all those duets? “Reasons to Quit” and that stuff… Oh god I loved that album.. Almost ended up in rehab over it.. good drinking songs. (No, I can actually go to these concerts sober now.. ha ha and have a ball.)
    Well,,, eventually Willie took off on Whisky River and Merle drifted off and Willie took over. The younger bunch up closer all started dancing and going crazy up front. Willie was hot,, I mean hot and his guitar playing was none other than spectacular. I’m sure that auditorium had at least 100,000 watts of power to those speakers,, and Willie’s guitar just rang out with such clearness and accuracy and unbelievable chord progressions endlessly.
    Ray Benson of “Asleep” is not amateur on his guitar either.
    He did a lot of duets with Willie on the guitar. My hat was off to him. What a nice pleasant person on the stage. Everyone loved him.
    Well…. About 11pm… Willie waved goodbye and half started to leave and half stayed yelling MORE! MORE! MORE! Sure enough, here he comes… he laughed and said, “I was coming back anyway!” Everybody laughed.
    He did two more and we were all just in Hog Heaven.
    When it was over.. I just sat there thinking it was hard to believe all this happened under one roof.
    The only mistake I made was parking in Valet Parking. Can you imagine waiting for your car with 7000 people waiting for theirs?? It took two hours to get the car.
    They were, “The Last of the Breed” Check out their new CD and check out their tour. Maybe you can see them.
    VEGASBILLY

  7. greg says:

    hey there,

    my name is greg and i am from LA, where the absolute worst music (if u want to call it that) exists.

    i just saw your site and think that anybody inspired by willie is an inspiration onto themselves and the world (whatever that means). Anyway, i love willie too and good luck to you and i hope u sail a lot a whiskey rivers,

    greg,

  8. sandrew says:

    who was the fiddle player in the red coat?

  9. sandrew says:

    On the PBS special, who was the fiddle player standing behing Merle Haggard. He does not seem to be in Asleep at the Wheel. One internet site said he was Merle’s fiddle Player? If anyone knows his name, thanks.

  10. jackie says:

    I thought I would be the only one who was seeking out the name of the fiddler in the red coat. Not to dismiss all the wonderful talent in the show, but I can’t seem to find the name of that tall drink of water in any credits.

  11. LindaLee says:

    Someone must know. Maybe Merle’s site can tell us something?

  12. click here says:

    I just wanted to say WOW! your site is really good and i’m proud to be one of your surfers

  13. Lohwoman says:

    Scott Joss is the fiddler in the red coat.

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