Willie Nelson and Ray Price first met back in 1961, when a young, short-haired Nelson joined Price’s band the Cherokee Cowboys as a bass player. Though Nelson’s time in the group was short, he built a lifelong friendship with Price.
Ray Price gave several notable musicians their start in Music City. Roger Miller, honky tonk veteran Johnny Bush and steel guitar legend Buddy Emmons all did a stint in the Cowboys.
In the video below, Nelson tells the story of joining the Cherokee Cowboys as a replacement for Johnny Paycheck, who then went by the slightly less outlaw name Donny Young. Nelson concedes that he was not exactly a proficient bass player. He even admits that he learned to play bass on a trip from Nashville to Virginia.
Price and Nelson teamed up for several collaborations over their five decade friendship, including the 1980 duet album San Antonio Rose.
Their live performance of the Bob Wills-penned title track is pure Western swing magic.
Nelson’s tribute to the late Price, For the Good Times, will be released Sept. 16. For the album, Nelson teamed up with producer Fred Foster, who was putting the final touches on Price’s final record Beauty Is… when Price passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2013. Nelson recorded the album in Nashville’s Ocean Way Studios in the same room where Price made his final recordings.
The 12-track album features Western swing mainstays The Time Jumpers, who join Nelson for some of Price’s signature songs, including “Heartaches by the Number,” “Crazy Arms,” and “Invitation to the Blues.” Time Jumpers member Vince Gill provides backup vocals on several songs.
When you’re a songwriter as treasured as Willie, you may end up covering yourself even while paying tribute to someone else. Call it a side effect of greatness. Nelson’s song “Night Life,” recorded by Price in 1963 (and later recorded by Frank Sinatra, B.B. King and Dolly Parton) is featured on For the Good Times. Another Nelson-penned track “It Always Will Be,” recorded by Price for Beauty Is…, also makes an appearance.