Influential country singer Ray Price dead at 87
Good friends like Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard got more credit for their contrary ways and trend-setting ideas, but it was Ray Price who set the precedent for change in country music more than a decade earlier.
Price passed away Monday at his Texas home, having long outlasted most of his country music contemporaries and the prognosis doctors gave him when they discovered his pancreatic cancer in 2011. He was 87.
The way the Country Music Hall of Fame member fought cancer was an apt metaphor for the way he lived his life, always fiercely charting a path few others might have the fortitude to follow.
Along the way he changed the sound of country music, collaborated with and inspired the genre’s biggest stars and remained relevant for more than half a century.
"Ray Price was a giant in Texas and country western music. Besides one of the greatest voices that ever sang a note, Ray’s career spanned over 65 years in a business where 25 years would be amazing," said Ray Benson of the country music group Asleep at the Wheel.
Price, one of country music’s most popular and influential singers and bandleaders, had more than 100 hits and was one of the last living connections to Hank Williams.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum historian Michael McCall said Price "was one of his generation’s most important musical innovators," popularizing the bedrock 4/4 shuffle beat that can still be heard on every honky-tonk jukebox and most country radio stations in the world.
"His emphasis on the shuffle rhythm influenced every generation to follow and remains a staple of country dance floors everywhere, especially in the Southwest," said McCall.
Price died Monday afternoon at his ranch outside Mount Pleasant, Texas, said Billy Mack Jr., who was acting as a family spokesman. Billie Perryman, the wife of family friend and spokesman Tom Perryman, a DJ with KKUS-FM in Tyler, also confirmed his death.
Price’s cancer had recently spread to his liver, intestines and lungs, according East Texas Medical Center in Tyler. He stopped aggressive treatments and left the hospital last Thursday to receive hospice care at home.
At the time, his wife, Janie Price, relayed what she called her husband’s "final message" to his fans: "I love my fans and have devoted my life to reaching out to them. I appreciate their support all these years, and I hope I haven’t let them down. I am at peace. I love Jesus. I’m going to be just fine. Don’t worry about me. I’ll see you again one day."
Perhaps best known for his version of the Kris Kristofferson song "For the Good Times," a pop hit in 1970, the velvet-voiced Price was a giant among traditional country performers in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, as likely to defy a trend as he was to defend one. He helped invent the genre’s honky-tonk sound early in his career, then took it in a more polished direction.
He reached the Billboard Hot 100 eight times from 1958-73 and had seven No. 1 hits and more than 100 titles on the Billboard country chart from 1952 to 1989. "For the Good Times" was his biggest crossover hit, reaching No. 11 on the Billboard pop music singles chart. His other country hits included "Crazy Arms," ‘’Release Me," ‘’The Same Old Me," ‘’Heartaches by the Number," ‘’City Lights" and "Too Young to Die."
Price was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, long after he had become dissatisfied with Nashville and returned to his home state of Texas.
His importance went well beyond hit singles. He was among the pioneers who popularized electric instruments and drums in country music. After helping establish the 4/4 shuffle in country music, Price angered traditionalists by breaking away from country. He gave early breaks to Nelson, Roger Miller and other major performers.
His "Danny Boy" in the late 1960s was a heavily orchestrated version that crossed over to the pop charts. He then started touring with a string-laden 20-piece band that outraged his dancehall fans.
In the 1970s he sang often with symphony orchestras — in a tuxedo and cowboy boots.
Like Nelson, his good friend and contemporary, Price simply didn’t care what others thought and pursued the chance to make his music the way he wanted to.