The Year of Willie
Willie Nelson - San Antonio Rose
Part Three of Eight
First Appeared at The Music Box, November 2003, Volume 10, #11
Written by John Metzger
San Antonio Rose
Early in Willie Nelson’s career, he penned songs that became hits for other artists working in Nashville, and one of those was Ray Price, who turned Nelson’s Night Life into a country standard. Just a year earlier, Price had recorded San Antonio Rose: A Tribute to Bob Wills, which has long been considered a country classic, and at the time Nelson had been performing on both bass and guitar in Price’s band. Eighteen years later, Price’s star had fallen considerably, at least in terms of album sales, while Nelson — who unquestionably held a strong admiration for both Wills and Price — was having his own moment in the sun.
Indeed, their collaboration on the 1980 outing San Antonio Rose might have been viewed simply as a nice gesture to an old friend or a passing of the proverbial baton, but unlike most duet albums, this pairing actually worked quite well by building upon the strengths of each performer. It helped, of course, that despite his superstar status, Nelson remained malleable with his music, not to mention the fact that the songs selected for the outing had been a part of both his and Price’s individual repertoires for quite some time. Throughout San Antonio Rose, the duo was backed by a terrific cast of supporting characters, including pianist Leon Russell, guitarist Grady Martin, drummer Paul English, steel guitar player Buddy Emmons, and fiddler Johnny Gimble. In fact, it was Gimble and Emmons that helped to turn this set from a simple rehashing of classic country tunes into something that was reverent to the spirit of Wills, revisited Price’s own output in the ’50s and ’60s, and sounded wholly contemporary — all at the same time.
The smooth, polished vocals of Price really shouldn’t have meshed quite so easily with the earthy yearning of Nelson, and yet they sounded absolutely perfect together. Whether taking turns singing the verses or harmonizing on the choruses, the collaboration succeeded as Nelson’s jazzy guitar, Emmons’ flighty steel, and Gimble’s weepy fiddle danced around the edges of the songs. Most notable was the reworking of Night Life, which slips from a lounge-y ballad into a driving blues groove, but the rest was pretty fine too, including a pair of Wills’ tunes (the title track and Faded Love), a tender rendition of Release Me, and the easy-going swing of Deep Water. The reissue includes two bonus tracks: a superb cover of Rex Griffin’s Just Call Me Lonesome that inexplicably was left off the original album and Nelson’s splendid solo turn on Jesse Ashlock’s My Life’s Been a Pleasure that very well could have been about the influence Price had on his career.
Of Further Interest...
Part One: To Lefty from Willie
Part Two: Willie & Family Live
Part Four: Honeysuckle Rose
Part Six: Always on My Mind
Part Seven: Pancho & Lefty
Part Eight: Tougher than Leather
San Antonio Rose is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box