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Clip: Hoekstra on Last of the Breed tour

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  • Carl Z.
    Real Country Near 66 4:30 p.m. (local) March 10 SCOTTSDALE, AZ.---The Last of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 12, 2007
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      <http://blogs.suntimes.com/hoekstra/2007/03/real_country_music_near_66.html>

      Real Country Near 66


      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.
      The Last of the Breed will appear March 25 at the Rosemont Theatre
      outside of Chicago,
      The crowd will be different............

      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.
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