Clip: Hoekstra on Last of the Breed tour
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.