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Remembering Ray

By Blaine Schultz 

Country music legend Ray Price died December 15, 2013, at age 87.  In August of 2008, he appeared at the Oneida Main Casino Lounge.  Below is a column I wrote back then in advance of Price’s appearance, recounting an earlier run-in with the legend.

Price was perhaps the most legendary artist Phil Doran booked to a local venue.  Today Doran runs Rock N Roll Land in Green Bay, a store that combines the funkiness of a record store with a stage in back for live performances.   He still books bands, but if he never lifted a finger, Doran’s legacy would be intact.

At various venues in the Fox Valley, Doran was responsible for showcasing some of the best live music many of us have seen.  Automatic Slim’s, a corner tavern in Neenah’s Dog Town  neighborhood (where my grandma used to tend bar) was transformed by the appearances of Jon Dee Graham and the Gourds, rockabilly legend Robert Gordon, Bill Kirchen, the Silos, Sid Griffin, Sleepy LaBeef, the Hollisters and many others.

In Green Bay and Oneida Phil booked Loretta Lynn, Ike Turner, Lemmy Kilminster, Frankie Ford, Los Lobos, Ray Condo, Chuck Berry, Joan Jett, Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Thompson, Link Wray, Wanda Jackson, Ray Sharpe, Barbara Lynn, the B52s, Deke Dickerson and many others.

Needless to say, the guy is a diehard music fan, but he also found ways to bring the music to the people.  Next time you see Phil, say thanks.

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His set concluded, Ray Price makes his way to the meet-and-greet table at Lounge in the Oneida Casino where fans get a chance to shake hands with a bona fide country music legend.  Earlier, before the show, we stroll into the casino foyer outside the lounge where a small orchestra of Cherokee Cowboys led by Price’s son Cliff will perform.

“I’m sorry,” says the security guard, cutting off our path. “You can’t take that inside the casino.”

“What? It’s a jar of salsa!” Stan says, laughing.

“And it’s probably even expired,” Fred adds.

But make no mistake friends. This is no ordinary salsa.  This is Ray Price brand salsa.

I made the trip from Milwaukee to Oneida to see the show, one of many Phil Doran has set up at the casino. Doran previously made a name for himself booking world-class roots music at Automatic Slim’s, a corner bar near downtown Neenah .

 “I’m sorry,” the security guard continues, “It is glass and we can’t allow it inside.  But you can check it at the desk.”

“OK!  Then I’ll check my salsa!”  Stan says. 

Performances by legends can be a dicey proposition, but Price’s set is fantastic.  He has seen it all twice, and considering Price once roomed with Hank Williams and cut early hits for Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, he could lift a finger, and that would be enough.  But the octogenarian still has that voice, and his Cherokee Cowboys are in fine form tonight.  Price’s early career began in the golden age of honky-tonk ballads and shuffles (“Invitation to the Blues,” “Invitation to the Blues,” “Night Life” and “Crazy Arms”) but greater fame came with the smoother Nashville sound.  While countrypolitan milquetoast dominated the charts in the early 70s, Price managed to cut thorough the lush arrangements with “City Lights” and a clear-eyed take on Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times.” Tonight he’s like a time machine, a one-man history of country music.

Concluding his set, Price thanks the audience and makes his way to the meet-and-greet table. Wxe, on the other hand, have a date with the elderly coat-check gal.  She can’t believe we checked the salsa and laughs as Stan explains he bought the tasty condiment at an “old food” store on the other side of Lake Winnebago.  (There was mention of Waylon Jennings chips, but if they exist these have never been brought to the table as evidence.)

Naturally, we are last in line at the meet-and-greet.  Finally, there in front of us, like a modern day Buddha, sits Ray Price, icon of country music.  And he looks tired as an old hound dog.  But we have waited for this moment, and we will not be denied.   Stan hands him the jar and says, “Mr. Price, will you autograph my jar of your salsa?”

For a long moment the legendary singer examines what he has been handed.  He looks up at Stan without missing a beat and says, “Why didn’t you get the hot?”

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