One of the best things about neotradionlists such as the Derailers and Dale Watson is that they present an opportunity to learn about the people who inspired them. There seems to be no end to the worshipping of honky-tonk legends, from well known masters such as George Jones, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens to the somewhat more obscure but equally important Faron Young, Johnny Bush, Johnny Horton and Wynn Stewart, to name just a few.
I’m not quite sure where Ray Price fits on this list, other than I never really gave him a second thought until I started listening seriously to Dale Watson and couldn’t get through a Watson review or interview without Price’s name being mentioned. And for good reason. I’ve since discovered why folks in the know hold Price in such high esteem, thanks largely to this recently reissued ’60s masterpiece.
Price helped create and define the modern honky-tonk sound for 10 years prior to cutting the first sides of Night Life in 1961. He was discovered by none other than Hank Williams, and many of his earlier years were spent touring with Williams’ Drifting Cowboys, who became his backup band after Williams’ premature demise. (Those early sides are nicely documented on a budget Columbia/Legacy compilation, The Essential Ray Price, 1951-1962).
Eventually, in order to distinguish himself from the inevitable Williams comparisons, Price formed the Cherokee Cowboys, a band that over the years served as a training ground for Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Horton and Roger Miller, as well as some of the greatest sidemen in Nashville. It was with the Cowboys that Price put together Night Life.
An ode to late-night drinking and despair, the album evokes sentiments similar to those found on another classic from a bygone era, Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours, with a sound not unlike “Sweet Dreams”-era Patsy Cline. Price masterfully croons classic weepers such as Hank Cochran’s “If She Could See Me Now”, Charlie Rich’s “Sittin’ and Thinkin’ “, Buddy Emmons’ “Are You Sure” and the Willie Nelson-penned title track, which Price introduces as a song “written especially for me by a boy down Texas way…”
Night Life is a classic that has stood the test of time, and no true country music collection is complete without it. Just ask Dale Watson.