Ray Price, one of country music’s most beloved voices, died at home Monday afternoon at the age of 87, his family said through a spokesman. Price had been hospitalized in Texas recently, and had been fighting a battle against pancreatic cancer since late last year. On Thursday (Dec. 12), the singer entered hospice care, leaving a message to fans: “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.”
Country radio veteran Bill Mack, who has been acting as a spokesman for the family in recent days, relayed on Facebook that Price’s wife Janie called him to confirm the singer had died. “Ray Price left for heaven at 4:43 PM Central Time,” he writes. “He went in perfect peace.” The AP is reporting that Billie Perryman, the wife of family friend Tom Perryman, also confirmed his death.
Earlier, on Sunday, multiple news sources posted that Price had died, with many splashing the headline across home pages and social media. The story snowballed after Price’s son, Cliff, wrote on Facebook that he had “heard” his father had passed. Later, he took the post down and said he had been “deceived by some cruel people.”
Price’s musical career spanned some 65 years, and his recordings stand among the most versatile in the format’s history — ranging from honky-tonk to western swing to a more lush sound in the 1960s that brought him some of the biggest hits of his career.
|Watch: Ray Price Classics|
He was born January 12, 1926 in Perryville, Texas. Upon turning 18, Price enlisted in the Marines, where he stayed for two years. He began performing on Abilene radio station KRBC in 1948, and moved on to the Big D Jamboree in Dallas the next year.
The singer would move to Nashville not too long after signing a contract with Columbia Records. His first five releases failed to dent the charts, but he would make his debut in 1952 with “Talk To Your Heart,” which would climb all the way to No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. Upon his move to Music City, Price lived with Hank Williams for a time between his marriages to Audrey and Billie Jean.
Scoring a second hit with “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes,” Price’s star was on the rise. He formed his band, the Cherokee Cowboys, in 1953. The names of the future artists that would be included in the lineup reads like a Who’s who, including Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Darrell McCall, and Johnny Paycheck. It was at this point, that Price began to develop a signature sound – with the 4/4 shuffle being an integral trademark. Some of his biggest hits of the era included “City Lights,” “Crazy Arms,” and 1959’s “Heartaches By The Number,” a Harlan Howard-written gem that many consider to be the best country record of that era.
As the 1960s dawned, Price continued to dominate the charts with singles such as “Pride,” “Walk Me To The Door,” and “Burning Memories.” He also was the first artist to record “Make The World Go Away,” earning a No. 2 hit with the song two years before Eddy Arnold recorded his version. Though the hits continued for Price, he was feeling somewhat restless musically. He hadn’t had a number one hit since 1959, and artists such as Arnold were enjoying success with a more lush style — known as “The Nashville Sound.”
So, Price began to tinker with his sound. The first major example of this was his recording of “Danny Boy” in 1967. Though some critics took aim at the heavy use of strings, the record hit the top ten — and earned him his second biggest ranking on the Hot 100 at No. 60. The next few years saw him continue to refine that sound, with records such as “I’m Still Not Over You” and “She Wears My Ring” being among his biggest chart hits of the latter part of the decade.
By 1970, the singer found the perfect record for his new style — from a new singer / songwriter in town named Kris Kristofferson. Price’s recording of “For The Good Times” became his first chart-topper in eleven years, and just missed the top ten on the pop charts, as well. The first half of the decade saw some of his most memorable — and successful work. “I Won’t Mention It Again,” “The Lonesomest Lonesome,” and “She’s Got To Be A Saint” all performed well on the chart, with his final Billboard number one coming in 1973 with “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.” Price’s stint with Columbia came to an end the next year, with his signing to Myrrh Records.
The hits continued for Price, albeit at a slower rate. Two of his first singles for his new label home, “Like Old Times Again,” and “Roses And Love Songs,” were top-five hits in 1974-75, but his records were relegated to top-40 status more and more throughout the rest of the 70s, as he switched to ABC / Dot, and then to Fred Foster and Monument Records.
Things changed swiftly as the 1980s dawned. He moved to Dimension Records, and returned to the top ten with “It Don’t Hurt Me Half As Bad” and “Diamond In The Stars” in 1981. He teamed with former band member Willie Nelson for the gold-selling “San Antonio Rose” in 1980 — earning a No. 3 hit with a cover of Bob Wills’ “Faded Love.” He switched labels once again, this time to Step One — where he remained until the early 1990s. His last charted single came in 1989 with “Love Me Down To Size,” which peaked at No.79.
Though his hit making days on the charts were over by the 1990s, Price continued to record and tour. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, and performed at venues across the United States and abroad. He teamed up with Nelson and Merle Haggard for the 2007 disc “Last Of The Breed.” Released on Lost Highway, the album gave Price his final bow on the charts as it peaked at No. 7 on the Country Albums chart.
All along, the singer remained a crowd favorite. He still recorded from time to time, appearing with Rascal Flatts on the 2011 Anna Wilson CD “Countrypolitan Duets,” reprising “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.” Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late 2012, the singer valiantly fought the disease — even recording a new album in the process. That disc, tentatively titled “Love Songs In Nashville,” is expected be released in 2014. He even kept his sense of humor along the way. Price told the San Antonio Express-News concerning his illness. “The doctor said that every man will get cancer if he lives to be old enough. I don’t know why I got it — I ain’t old!”
Ray Price was one of country music’s last living links to the days of Hank Williams and 78 RPM records. Whether it be a shuffle, a Bob Wills swing tune, or a sentimental love song with a string section, he did it all — and did it all very well. He will be missed, but his music will endure.