Recorded from the Columbia LP "Love Life" in my collection

Click player at left to listen. Recorded from Columbia LP in my collection.

Nov. 23: The history books tell us that Hank Williams wrote “Cold, Cold Heart” 59 years ago today. It was a huge hit for him, and dozens of others have recorded it, from Tony Bennett to Louis Armstrong to Norah Jones. But this is my all-time favorite version, a Ray Price album cut from 1964 that exemplifies for me the pinnacle of Nashville’s days as a recording center.

Because it’s Ray Price, you know going in that it’ll be a shuffle, and a fine shuffle it is. “Cold, Cold Heart” was cut on Feb. 25, during a marathon 6 p.m.-4 a.m. session at Columbia Recording Studio on 16th Avenue. That’s the famous Quonset Hut studio formerly owned and operated by Owen and Harold Bradley. Harold played tic-tac (6-string baritone guitar) on the session. The instrumental highlights are Buddy Emmons’ steel guitar and Tommy Jackson’s fiddle, with rhythm from Grady Martin and/or Charlie Harris on guitar, Bill Pursell on piano, Joe Zinkan on bass and Johnny Bush on drums. Price, who was a couple of years away from entering the string-laden countrypolitan phase of his career, turns in his usual fine vocal performance.

And it’s so well recorded. Producers Don Law and Frank Jones knew how to get the best out of the great Nashville musicians, as did their colleagues Owen Bradley, Chet Atkins, Ken Nelson, Billy Sherrill, Jack Clement, Anita Kerr and the other great behind-the-glass people.

The late-’50s-to-late-’60s decade was a wonderful period in Nashville’s studios, the best in my view. The tracking rooms were warm, the engineers knew the fine art of mic placement, the musicians listened to and played off each other as a complete performance and not in isolation, the tape had just enough tracks to enhance the result of all I just said and not so many that it led to assembly-line thinking. Note for note, I’d rather listen to music cut live to tape in the Quonset Hut or RCA Studio B (or the Capitol Tower or Radio Recorders or Western Recorders in L.A) than the technically perfect but largely soulless digital productions of today. But, that’s just one man’s opinion.

Learn more about Ray Price here, and check out his discography. Here’s the skinny on the song itself. And, for comparison’s sake, watch a modern music video of Hank Williams, based on a TV performance of his enduring classic “Cold, Cold Heart.”