Soon after arriving in Nashville in 1960, Willie Nelson signed a songwriting contract with Pamper Music, co-owned by Ray Price, one of the era’s biggest stars. It launched a friendship that endured until Price’s death in 2013. Spending much of ’61 playing bass and singing with Price’s band, the Cherokee Cowboys, Willie worked alongside guitarist Pete Wade and, at various times, pedal steel greats Jimmy Day and Buddy Emmons. Honky-tonk remained Price’s focus until his controversial 1966 decision to record and perform with lavish symphonic backing.
These 12 songs span both halves of Price’s career. On the honky-tonkers, including “Heartaches By The Number,” “I’ll Be There,” “Night Life,” and “Invitation To the Blues,” Nashville’s Time Jumpers deftly re-create the Cherokee Cowboys, down to the three fiddles and distinctive 4/4 shuffle rhythm. Paul Franklin’s pedal steel invokes Day and Emmons, as Vince Gill and Andy Reiss add guitar fills.
A larger studio band frames Willie’s performances of “Faded Love,” “I’m Still Not Over You,” and Price’s 1970 country-pop crossover hit “For The Good Times,” complete with strings, Franklin, and guitarists Steve Gibson and John Willis.
Throughout, Willie’s weathered-yet-emotional vocals reflect his half century-plus friendship with Price.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s February ’17 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.