Willie Nelson Once Shot Ray Price’s Rooster & He Was PISSED: “I’ll Never Sing Another One Of Your Songs”

Willie Nelson Ray Price country music
Columbia Records/Willie Nelson

Only Willie Nelson.

Growing up dirt poor in Abbott, Texas and raised by his grandparents, he’s obviously become a music icon, but his early days were far from glamorous. Willie struggled for decades trying to make it as a songwriter in Texas and Nashville, in addition to being a radio DJ in places like Portland, drifting through the country while (somehow) never giving up on his dreams.

And just like his career, he struggled quite a bit in his earlier marriages too, which he talks about in great detail in 2015 memoir, It’s a Long Story: My Life. During the late 60’s and very early 70’s, Willie and his extended family, and band members, were living on expansive property called Ridge Top in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, about 30 miles from Nashville.

He had a small farm operation, and one time his friend and fellow Texan and country artist Ray Price asked if he could leave his rooster at Willie’s farm for a while, because he needed some “room to run.” Willie’s wife at the time, Shirley Collie, had her own laying hens which she loved a lot and treated more like pets.

As you can probably guess where this is headed, it didn’t take long before the rooster killed one of her hens, and Mrs. Shirley was (understandably) very upset:

“Shirley put up with a lot. When one of my mentors, Ray Price, asked me if he could let one of his roosters stay at our farm for a short while, I was happy to say sure. ‘He just needs a little room to run,’ said Ray. ‘He’s cooped up here.’

Before I knew it, Ray’s rooster had killed one of Shirley’s laying hens. Shirley loved those hens — she had named each one — and was understandably upset. ‘Better come get your rooster, Ray,’ I told him over the phone. ‘I’ll be there tomorrow,’ he promised.

But tomorrow came and went and the damn rooster killed another one fo Shirley’s hens. Another call to Ray, another promise, and then another no-show.”

And after the rooster killed a third hen, Shirley had enough and grabbed the shotgun. Willie explained that, because he was a better shot, he did it for her and the rooster “made a delicious dinner.”

Needless to say, Price was not too happy about what happened, telling Willie he’d never sing another one of his songs… and Willie reminded him that he should’ve come after the first or second hen got killed:

“After the death of a third hen, Shirley grabbed a shotgun. BecauseI was a better shot, I decided to do it for her. That night Ray’s rooster made a delicious dinner. When he learned what happened, Ray hit the roof.

He called me every name in the book. ‘I’ll never sing another one of your goddamn songs,’ he swore. ‘I’ll never let you near my band.’ ‘Well, you should have fetched your rooster like you promised.’ ‘That was a prize rooster.’

‘Hell, Ray, there ain’t one fightin’ rooster in all of Tennessee worth on good laying hen.’ Took years for Ray to forgive me, but he did.”

Eventually, Ray forgave Willie, but it’s hard to feel too sympathetic for Price when Willie gave him numerous chances to come get his animal, and he just kind of ignored him while his dang rooster was wreaking havoc on Willie’s farm (and causing him marital problems, which I’m sure was the worst part of the ordeal for Willie).

They obviously eventually got back to making music together, releasing a successful collaborative album called San Antonio Rose in 1980. It peaked at #3 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, and Price had recorded an album by the same title in 1961 as a tribute to Bob Wills, which Nelson played acoustic guitar on.

Moral of the story, though: don’t leave your crazy a*s rooster around Willie Nelson for too long… they don’t call him “Shotgun Willie” for nothin’.

“San Antonio Rose”

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