R.I.P. Ray Price: Iconic Country Crooner Passes Away at 87

Ray Price at Stafford Centre, January 2013
Ray Price at Stafford Centre, January 2013
Photo by Jason Wolter

Ray Price, one of the singular voices of country music for 60 years, has passed away, according to country-music elder Bill Mack, who posted "Ray Price left for heaven about 4:43 p.m. Central time" on Facebook about 25 minutes ago. Price was 87, and had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year ago.

"He went in perfect peace," Mack said, adding that Price's will be received at Restland Funeral Home in Dallas.

On October 8, Price was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with sepsis in his blood, according to announcements by his wife Janie Price. But he responded to the treatment of noted Houston medical figure Dr. Red Duke and was able to return home in November. After a Thanksgiving at home with his family, Price's condition worsened and he was admitted to the East Texas Medical Center in Tyler on December 2.

But according to a Facebook message from his wife, Price left the hospital December 12 to return to his farm near Mount Pleasant, where he was in hospice care. Janie Price reported that Price was lucid and "making decisions." The couple had decided to forego any experimental treatments. Sunday afternoon, several news outlets including Rolling Stone, CMT and USA today prematurely reported Price's death.

A consummate showman and song-picker, Price was born January 12, 1926 in the northeast Texas hamlet of Perryville, and elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. He set the standard for country dance bands for decades with his revolutionary 4/4 shuffle beat first heard on his iconic 1956 recording "Crazy Arms." That beat became known as the "Ray Price Shuffle," and he and his band filled dance floors to capacity from coast to coast with his classic buckle-polishers.

A member of the Glee Club at North Texas State in Denton, Price became one of country music's most recognizable vocal stylists as he evolved through several stages as a performer. After a World War II hitch in the Marines, Price began his singing career on the radio in Abilene, Texas, and by 1949 he was appearing regularly on the Big D jamboree in Dallas, the top country music show in Texas at the time.

Ray Price delivers his signature dance song, "Crazy Arms"

By 1951 Price had moved to Nashville, where he roomed for a while with Hank Williams. Price and Williams toured together and when Williams was too ill or drunk to perform, Price would fill in for him. When Williams died, his Drifting Cowboys became Price's band for a while.

But Price sensed that he would never get out from under Williams' shadow unless he changed his sound so he formed a new band, the Cherokee Cowboys, in 1953. Between 1953 and the release of "Crazy Arms" in 1956, Price had a handful of charting tunes that included another of his signature songs, "I'll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)," which reached No. 2 in 1954.

With the rock-solid Cherokee Cowboys behind him, Price reeled off hits at an amazing clip. After "Crazy Arms," Price had two or three charting hits year after year, virtually never leaving the charts over an eight year stretch that included "My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You" (1957. No. 1); "City Lights" (1958, No. 1); "Heartaches By the Number" (1959, No. 2); "The Same Old Me," (1959, No. 1); and "I've Just Destroyed the World (I'm Living In)," (1962, No. 12), one of the earliest recordings of a Willie Nelson song.

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Price also had an eye for talent, especially songwriting talent, and in the early '60s he counted Roger Miller, Johnny Bush and Willie Nelson as band members. He had hired Nelson upon his arrival in Nashville from Houston in late 1960 as a writer for Pamper Music, Price's publishing company.

Price titled his 1962 album after Nelson's song "Night Life," which is frequently but erroneously described as "written for Price." The album went to No. 1 and contained "Pride," which was a No. 5 single. Price's high profile rendition of "Night Life" brought Nelson's incomparable talent to its highest level of visibility yet.

Following up with Burning Memories, Price kept his hot streak going with "Make the World Go Away," 1963, No. 2 (country) and No. 100 (pop) and "Burning Memories," (No. 2). In 1965 he hit the charts again with "The Other Woman (In My Life)", (No. 2), and "Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me," (No. 11).

But with the arrival of the Beatles and Nashville's response to the rock and roll sea-change brought on by the British invasion, Price put down hard core honky tonk and began to experiment with lush, string-laden, ballads such as "Danny Boy," which peaked at No. 9 on the country charts but, more significantly, crossed over to the pop charts where it rose to No. 60.

While Price continued to chart regularly, he didn't hit No. 1 again until the release of Kris Kristofferson's bedroom ballad "For the Good Times" in 1970. Price followed up with an amazing streak of crossover chart success: "I Won't Mention It Again," (1971, No. 1 country, No. 42 pop); "I'd Rather Be Sorry, (1971, No. 2); 'The Lonesomest Lonesome," (1972, No. 2); "She's Got To Be a Saint," (No. 1, 1972); and "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me," (No. 1,1973).

For the Good Times catapulted Price's career to its highest point. The album and the single both went No. 1. The album and single won Academy of Country Music's highest awards in 1970, and the Country Music Association voted it the No. 1 album of 1971. Price also won his first Grammy in 1971 for Best Male Country Vocal.

Price released 52 albums in his career and scored nine No. 1 singles. His voice had remained in good shape throughout the passing of years. Only this past January, he performed a show in Stafford and by all accounts was still one of the great voices in the land.


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