Last stop for country's 'Last of the Breed,' for now
by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune
(The Chicago Tribune, Published
March 23, 2007)
There are two kinds of country fans: those who like
the old-school stuff, and those who like the
countrypolitan Rascal Flatts. This show is not for
Seeing legends Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray
Price and western swing band Asleep at the Wheel on Sunday
night at the Rosemont Theatre will feel nothing like
the slick, showy concerts that constantly roll
through town. There will be no pyrotechnics. No sex symbols.
What you will get is an education in what country
music was like when the instruments were simpler,
the lyrics were controversial and the politics weren't
always popular. Nelson and Haggard are leaving their
bands at home this time to keep the concert as
straightforward as the music.
During a call to his Redding, Calif. home, Haggard,
69, told the Tribune he has a set list of songs he
needs to do for those fans. "It'd be wrong not to do
the songs they're expectin'" said Haggard. "You'd
think I'd have a favorite one, but they all kinda
run together. Though I do like 'Big City' and 'Workin'
"On familiar tunes such as those, it will be
interesting to hear if age has seasoned or crippled
the voices of these stalwarts.
Haggard also confessed that he only listens to
satellite radio now. "I don't listen to commercial
radio anymore, because that's not really what I like
... The songs don't have no melody," he said.
Who's influencing the influencer these days? Haggard
says he listens to Bob Wills, Bing Crosby and George
While Haggard had done a farewell tour back in 2002
("I'm just living longer than I thought I would
he admitted), the three heroes show no signs of
The 73-year-old Nelson has been at it since the
early '70s. These days he's co-writing a song with Mariah
Carey, and promoting a new anti-war-pro-troops
single called "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth."
Evidence of Nelson's image as a hippie troubadour is in his
Martin acoustic guitar, which has been strummed it
so much that a hole has been worn in the body.
And at 81, Price's commitment to touring is as
legendary as he is. He has said that this breed is
so important because "With the exception of George
Jones, we're really the only three who are still alive."
And Haggard? His career timeline may have more
awards on it than tour stops, starting with his 1965 ACM
Top Male Vocalist kudo to his 2006 Grammy Lifetime
Achievement Award. Today, even after all that
success, Haggard keeps active. "I've got a bluegrass album
fixin' to come out, and I'm working on a new one for
Cracker Barrel," said Haggard. "That's all got [me]
Price thinks this music bridges the gap to a
different time, when country music wasn't crossing over, or
looking so slick, as he said "People are dying to
hear music like this again."
Newbies talk about sonic outlaw power
The music of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Ray
Price has been around for decades, but its fans? Not
so much. Today's youngest-and-hottest artists are
jonesing for this rootsy sound. Here's what they
told the Tribune:
Miranda Lambert "Real fans know that these guys founded country
music. They're the reason we're out there, because of what
they did 30 years ago. I loved that my record went
to No. 1. But meeting Haggard was the real highlight of
my career. His 'Red Bandana' is my ring tone."
Dierks Bentley "Willie, Ray and Hag are like aristocracies for the
workin' man. They tell stories in a way that's
classy, with a different kind of groove that's not just
straight up and down strumming. Hag's 'Misery and
Gin,' or Ray's 'Crazy Arms' are a couple of my
favorite tunes. Man, I'd love to see their show."
"I was raised on Willie and Hag. The core of my
songwriting is getting back to that traditional
old-school music. I still soak up so much from their
charisma, the way they handle an audience. My
favorites are Willie's 'Angel Flying Too Close to
the Ground' and Hag's 'Honky Tonk Man' remake."
Josh Turner "Merle lives up to his moniker of 'poet of the
common man.' I saw him down in Nashville, and it was just
one hit after the next. And I've always been a student
of the old school, so I listened to Ray Price when I
started my own songwriting."
Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price and Asleep
at the Wheel
Pioneering outlaws band together.
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune