Charley Pride Talks New Album, Merle Haggard & Disappointment Over Stalled Biopic

Charley Pride performs during the 7th annual "Darius and Friends" concert at Wildhorse Saloon on June 6, 2016 in Nashville, Tenn.
Erika Goldring/FilmMagic

Charley Pride performs during the 7th annual "Darius and Friends" concert at Wildhorse Saloon on June 6, 2016 in Nashville, Tenn.

This summer is gearing up to a busy one in the career of Country Music Hall of Fame member Charley Pride. The veteran performer is lending his talents to Music Industry Day at the Summer NAMM Show in Nashville on July 15. He laughs a little when asked about his musical prowess, saying that while the guitar is an important instrument in his musical history, he never did get as fluent with it as he would have liked.

"I never played a guitar too well," the singer admits to Billboard. "I remember getting my first when I was about fourteen years old. It was a Sears and Roebuck special. I remember playing it straight open bar chord until I started recording for RCA back in 1966. After I started recording, I learned how to play it pretty conventional. I can accompany myself pretty good, but I never did get that good as a picker. My youngest son can pick the guitar pretty good, but I never did get to the point where I was that proficient with it." Still, he says it was a vital part of his music education. "I was just trying to learn as I went along. I don’t read a note of music, so I just did what I do without ever learning how to read music."

Pride has just released his first new album in six years, titled Music In My Heart. Working with highly respected singer-songwriter Billy Yates on the record was an enjoyable moment for the singer. "My last three CDs I produced myself, and my wife Rozene suggested that I use a new producer. I’m glad I chose Billy for the project. I had heard about him, and had met him. The album speaks for itself. I think this one is one of the best ones I’ve done – better than some of the earlier ones that sold a lot," he remarked.

Later this summer, the singer will be honored for his legendary career with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at the upcoming Special Merit Awards on July 11. He says that he is both honored and humbled with the distinction. "That was definitely something else. I never would have dreamed that something like that would happen to me while growing up in Mississippi. I just started singing a little bit here and there, and then an award here and an award there, and it all just kept coming to me. I’m just happy that I was able to achieve all that I was blessed to do.

"People would always ask ‘Did you ever think that growing up picking cotton in Mississippi or milking cows, and walking four miles to and from school, that you’d end up like this?' I would say no. How do you answer that question? But as I started to record and be successful, I thought ‘Maybe I can take this a little bit further,’ and that’s where I took it – I let the achievements take care of themselves."

Pride is still hopeful that the movie version of his life will be made, offering that the series of events behind the planned biopic have been frustrating. "It was supposed to be done in 2008, but with the writers’ strike, everything just kind of went to pot. Terrence Howard was going to play me, and we had all the directors and producers. Paramount was going to do it, and then they just put it on the back burner, where it has been ever since. I’m still trying to find a way to get that going again."

Pride still counts himself as a sports fan. A Dallas resident, he was once a frequent visitor to Texas Stadium in the days when the Dallas Cowboys ruled the roost in Irving, but these days not so much. "I used to be really involved with the team in the days of Staubach, Lilly, and Calvin Hill. I’ve been to only one game since they went to the new stadium. But, I really like Dak Prescott. I like him," he noted of the team’s young QB. "He’s from Mississippi. He sure looked good last season."

Closer to his heart these days are the Texas Rangers, of which he said, "We struggle a bit. With as many games as there are left, if somebody stumbles a little bit, we could catch on and be in the mix, but it’s rough right now. We were up 9-2 last night, and lost to Cleveland 15-9. We’re trying real hard, but it’s just one of those things."

One track from Music In My Heart that has emotional significance for Pride is "The Way It Was In '51," which was a chart entry for its writer Merle Haggard in 1978. Pride says the singer occupies a special place in his heart. "Merle let me use his band at the biggest show I ever was on, up in Detroit. Each artist who is inducted into the Hall of Fame is brought in by another one from the Hall, and Merle did mine in 2000. I talked to him two days before he passed away," he reflected. He knew that Haggard performed the song, but didn’t know that he wrote it until preparing the album. "I didn’t know that Merle had written that one, but I really liked that one, so we decided to put it on the album."