Ray Price, one of country music’s most popular and influential singers and
bandleaders who had more than 100 hits and was one of the last living connections
to Hank Williams, died Monday. He was 87.
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 was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011 and it 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
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.”
“If you got a pop hit, you sold a lot more records,” Price said in 2000. “It was my style,
really. I sang ballads, sort of laid-back. I’m still a country boy. I don’t pretend to
be anything else.”
Price was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, long after he’d 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 to establish the bedrock 4/4 shuffle
beat that can still be heard on every honky-tonk jukebox and most country radio stations in the
world, Price angered traditionalists by breaking away from country. He gave early breaks
to Willie 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
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.
“I have fought prejudice since I got in country music and I will continue to fight it,” he told The
Associated Press in 1981. “A lot of people want to keep country music in the minority
of people. But it belongs to the world. It’s art.”
In the same 1981 interview, he credited the cowboy for the popularity of country music.
“Everyone loves the cowboy. He’s nice, humble and straightforward. And country music is the
same thing. The kids have discovered what mom and pop told ‘em.”
Price continued performing and recording well into his 70s.
“I have to be in the business at least five or 10 more years,” Price told The Associated Press
in 2000, when he and his band were doing 100 shows a year.
“Two or three years ago, we did 182,” he said. “Fans come to the shows, bless their hearts, they
In 2007, he joined buddies Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson on a double-CD set, “Last of
the Breed.” The trio performed on tour with the Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel.
“I’ll be surprised if we don’t all get locked up somewhere,” Price joked at the time.
Over the years, Price came in and out of vogue as traditional country music waxed and
waned on the radio. He was a constant advocate for the old days and ways of country
music, and more recently re-entered the news when he took offense to comments Blake Shelton made
about classic country music that included the words “old farts.” The dustup drew attention on
the Internet and introduced Price to a new generation of country fans.
“You should be so lucky as us old-timers,” Price said in a happily cantankerous post in all
capital letters. “Check back in 63 years (the year 2075) and let us know how your name
and your music will be remembered.”
Price earned his long-standing fame honestly, weaving himself into the story of modern country
music in several ways.
As a young man, Price became friends with Hank Williams, toured with the country legend and
shared a house with him in Nashville. Williams even let Price use his band, the
Drifting Cowboys, and the two wrote a song together, the modest Price hit
“Weary Blues (From Waiting)”.
By 1952 Price was a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry.
The singer had one of country music’s great bands, the Cherokee Cowboys, early in his career. His lineup included at times Nelson, Miller and Johnny Paycheck.
His 1956 version of “Crazy Arms” became a landmark song for both Price and country
music. His first No. 1 country hit, the song rode a propulsive beat into the pop top 100
as well. Using a drummer and bassist to create a country shuffle rhythm, he eventually established a
sound that would become a trademark.
“It was strictly country and it went pop,” Price said of the song. “I never have figured that
one out yet.”
Price was born near Perryville, Texas, in 1926 and was raised in Dallas. He joined the Marines
for World War II and then studied to be a veterinarian at North Texas Agricultural College before
he decided on music as a career.
Soft-spoken and urbane, Price told the AP in 1976: “I’m my own worst critic. I don’t
like to hear myself sing or see myself on television. I see too many mistakes.”
He was one of the few who saw them.
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