Thanks to the late, great Charlie Coleman for singling out Ray Price’s redoubtable backing band, The Cherokee Cowboys and their 1965 Columbia debut (and sole) release — check out Buddy Emmons’ hot jazz steel guitar solo on “Devil’s Dream,” the kick-off tune from Western Strings:
The Cherokee Cowboys (1965)
Ray Price: guitar & vocal
Grady Martin & Pete Wade: lead guitar
Jack Pruett & Charlie Harris: rhythm guitar
Buddy Emmons & Jimmy Day: steel guitar
Tommy Jackson, Francis Coleman & Wade Ray: fiddle
Floyd Cramer: piano
Harold Bradley: bass guitar
Pete Burke & Buddy Killen: bass
Buddy Harman: drums
Johnny Bush: drums & vocal
Dec. 1964 – Columbia Recording Studio, Nashville
Mar. 1965 – Music City Recording, Nashville
The Cherokee Cowboys – 1965
(image courtesy of Buddy Emmons.com)
Western Strings would shoot to the Top 20 of the Country charts the first week of release, according to Billboard’s July 17, 1965 edition. and remain there the following week (while Dick Curless and his Tombstone Every Mile album quietly jumped ahead two spaces during that same time period to the #17 slot – just above Western Strings).
Rich Kienzle provides some historical background on the recording of the Western Strings album in Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing & Country Jazz:
It was no small paradox that as Price continued weighing changes in 1964, he hired two legendary swing fiddlers. Wade Ray had made his name on the West Coast as a bandleader and singer; Keith Coleman, one of the finest improvisers in western swing, had worked with both the Texas Playboys and Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys. Despite the changes, Price retained a steadfast pride in the Cowboys. With Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours making their own records, Price talked Don Law into recording a Cowboys album with Grady Martin and Tommy Jackson present along with Harold Bradley.
At the first session for Western Strings album in December of ’64, this capable group of musicians, who’d worked together continually for years, were so nervous about recording on their own that, after 45 minutes of musical inhibition, a frustrated Price sent a studio handyman out to buy some Wild Turkey. He literally ordered everyone to get drunk to loosen them up; it worked. [Buddy] Emmons, Ray, and Coleman played brilliantly. “Grady and I ended up drunk, and a lot of the other guys were in good shape, too,” Emmons laughed. “And when I heard [the song played] back I couldn’t believe how together it was for the condition we were in.” Because recording costs came out of Price’s royalties, the album included the original ‘Crazy Arms,’ and Price took credit for the arrangements to make back any money lost.
1977 would see the release of a Ray Price & the Cherokee Cowboys album on ABC-Dot entitled Reunited, a Top 50 Top Country album and one that would yield a Top 30 single — “Different Kind of Flower” b/w “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” (as well as their take on Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”). Recording the album in Nashville would be Price, along with Moises “Blondie” Calderon, Buddy Emmons, Pete Wade, Tommy Jackson, Harold Bradley, and the two Buddys – Harman & Spicher.
Saving Country Music has a nice piece of history – “The Ray Price Cherokee Cowboys Proving Ground” – that pays tribute to the musical personnel that have passed through the ranks of Ray Price, who took over Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys before putting together his own ensemble.