Monday, December 16, 2013

Ray Price

By now, everyone has heard the news that the legendary Ray Price has passed away. In deciding what to write about Ray, and there will be numerous articles written that will cover his career and achievements, I have decided that I would do something a little different. As many of you know, Ray was a former member of the Grand Ole Opry. He came to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry 1951 and remained an Opry member until he was dismissed from the cast in December 1964 for failing to meet the required number of appearances. While never again becoming a member, Ray did maintain a close association with the show and would continue to make Opry appearances each year, right up until his final illness.

Instead of writing his biography, which can be read elsewhere, I am going to write what was written about Ray in the Grand Ole Opry History-Picture Book that was printed in 1957, which was about the mid-way point of Ray's Opry membership:

"Texas can add Ray Price to here host of native sons who have become country and western music stars, because the Leatherneck hero appears destined to be an all-time great. Born on a ranch near Perryville, Texas, 100 miles from Dallas, Price started in music early, picking up an older brother's guitar and singing a tune. he studied veterinary medicine at North Texas State Agricultural College for three and one-half years before enlisting in the U.S. Marines. He served overseas with the famed Second Division on Tarawa and other Pacific beachheads. On honorable discharge after five years of service he chose music as a career, organized a band and barnstormed all over Texas and Louisiana. In 1951 he joined the Grand Ole Opry and signed a recording contract with Columbia.

Part Cherokee Indian, Ray often wears a bright blue custom-tailored jacket. Its multi-hued Indian headdress on the back is a familiar sight to country music fans throughout the United States. He has been pictured and profiled in Life Magazine and other national periodicals. His 'Crazy Arms' record for Columbia won the triple-crown by leading all country music trade magazine charts, and earned him a 'Golden Guitar.' He also scored with 'I've Got a New Heartache' and 'Wasted Words.' Previously he rated high with 'You Done Me Wrong,' 'Run Boy,' 'Talk to Your Heart' and 'Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes' which he sang with Rosemary Clooney. In 1959 Ray Price captured top Dee Jay honors when he was selected Country Music's Favorite Male Artist, and his recording of 'Heart Aches By The Number' was named the favorite Country and Western single.

Price is an outdoorsman, a big game hunter of marksman caliber, and an expert fly-caster, who traveled with sport shows before his music career began. He collects guns and his trophy room includes several priceless antique weapons. Price's backyard is populated by three champion bird dogs."

We can all remember that in the later part of the 1960's, Ray moved to a more pop-oriented sound, not only changing his music, but his look. He was no longer the "Cherokee Cowboy" and the traditionalists wanted to kick him out of country music. They said he "sold-out". But for Ray, the move proved to be successful as "For the Good Times" became one of the biggest hits in the history of country music.

Ray was not one to keep his opinions to himself. When he was finally elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, his first words upon receiving the award were, "It's About Time." And many agreed with him, including Willie Nelson, who always considered Ray one of the greatest. Even well into his 80's, Ray kept up a heavy touring and recording schedule. Some will say that his later albums contained some of his best music. And even in declining heath, he was rushing to get another album out before he died.

After all the years, Ray still called Texas home and it was at his ranch that he passed away with his family at his side. Ray will be missed but we will always have his memory and that great music to look back upon.


  1. Fred, Bismarck:

    Nice tribute, Byron. In the last half of the 1950s, I paid Ray the tribute of buying two copies of every single. That's so I'd have a good copy left to play after the first one wore out.

    Yes, I played them plenty, altho no more than those by Webb, Kitty, Roy, Hank Snow and others. The problem was, Columbia 45s of that day -- alone of those by major labels -- did not stand up. Ordinary use would reduce them to "burns" in quick order. Must have been inferior shellack or something. Their LPs were fine.

    I pushed my guts out on a hand rotary lawnmower to buy those duplicate 45s, my own testimony to the greatness of Ray Price.

  2. Ray Price was a class act in Country Music. Like so many other legends, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Conway Twitty and others, he changed with the times; and although it was not popular to some, it led to a very long career.

    While Price, Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves and even Marty Robbins, shifted their careers in the 1960's and adjusted to the "Nashville Sound", they never lost that connection with the true country music fan. Sadly, this cannot be said of Modern Country Music. They have so far removed themselves from the simpleness of Country Music, it is not even comparable to those controversial Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins recording days. Nashville Sound basically saved mainstream country music. Modern Country has polluted it.

    The 1996 induction of Ray Price into the Country Music Hall of Fame, in my opinion, was 10 to 15 years late. Some of his peers, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Jean Shepard, Porter Wagoner, etc.., had ruffled feathers to keep themselves out for many years, Ray's overdue omission has long been a puzzle to me personally. Undoubtedly, he should have entered the Hall prior to Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, George Jones and possibly Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash or Lefty Frizzell. But, he is a member, and rightly he should be.

    I always wished a Opry reinstatement would have happened, guess it was not meant to be. Or maybe not even really wanted by Ray? He was a true pioneer and legend and one of the last of the Golden Era of Country Music.

    I saw a picture online today taken in the mid 1950's of Pierce, Young, Dickens, Carl Smith and Price at an Opry show. Little Jim now stands almost virtually alone. Doors to the past, sadly, are closing.

  3. Really sad to hear of Mr. Price's passing. I believe Ray Price's last Opry appearances were on August 11, 2012. So thankful I was there that night. I only had a ticket to the first show that night but after seeing how thin Mr. Price looked and knowing he had been diagnosed with the death sentence of pancreatic cancer, I decided after the first show was over to go buy a ticket to the second show as well. So glad I did that. Just had a feeling that would be the last time I would see him perform live. He performed "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" and For the Good Times on the early show and "I Won't Mention it Again" and " A Way to Survive" on the late show. As usual, he blew the crowd away on both shows and was in fine voice. Again, and Byron you can confirm but unless something slipped by me, I believe those were the last songs he ever sang on the Opry. So glad I was there. Also saw condolences on Twitter from Mona and Little Jimmy Dickens a couple of hours ago, and that was nice to see them remember their friend.

  4. Fred, Bismarck:

    Agree with David B. that Price was overdue for the Hall. I don't know why changing Nashville for Texas should have hurt; Texas didn't hurt Willie (or California Merle Haggard). I wonder if it wasn't a style issue. I don't know how chummy Price was personally, but there was certainly a professional aloofness about him. He sang what he wanted, where he wanted, not always consulting the venue.

    I'd take his last Opry visit as a case in point. Three of the four numbers named by David were from his pop playbook. Where were Crazy Arms; My Shoes; Heartaches; City Lights, et. al?

    I'm sure the crowd was blown away, as David says; but, then, they would have been blown away if Ray had only thrown his hat out on the stage. If he'd done his country stuff, there might have been a riot!

  5. Fred, Bismarck:

    Excuse, please; I conflated posts, David B's with mll's. It's mll who saw Price's last Opry visit.

  6. Regarding Ray Price and the Opry, I never saw or read anywhere that there was any desire on his part to rejoin the Opry. I believe he was happy just coming up to Nashville a couple of times each year and making an appearance. I will say that he did the Opry a few more times in his later years, particularly after 1990.

    The wait for him to get into the Hall of Fame is puzzling and I am sure there were still some hard feelings among the older voters over his "career shift" around 1970. He was elected in 1996 along with Buck Owens and Patsy Montana. What is interesting is that 1996 was the first year that the Hall started to elect more than 1 singer/songwriter each year. Most years before that, only 1 was elected and if there was more than 1, it was because the 2nd individual was either an "old-timer" or a contributor. 1996 was the start of the expanded categories.

    Just for the heck of it, I went back and looked up who was elected to the Hall in the "modern" category (or in a few cases the only inductee) in the year prior to Ray Price. In 1995: Roger Miller. 1994: Merle Haggard. 1993: Willie Nelson. 1992: George Jones. 1991. Interesting that each of these considered Ray Price as one of their "hero's".

    And you are correct, his last Opry appearance was that August 2012 show. Thanks for the "first person" account. I was lucky enough to see him once at the Opry and the crowd response was what you would have expected.

  7. (from Anonymous in PA): We were privileged to see Ray Price several times and actually met him at one of the shows; he signed the poster from that performance for us. Every single show was outstanding. One venue was very small and the stage was full of his orchestra; couldn't believe he had all those fiddles there too, but of course, it was going to be his show wherever he played. I can't recall the time period, but we were in Nashville (Opry anniversary ??) and Eddie Stubbs did an interview with Ray at the Country Music Hall of Fame, we attended and it was a wonderful afternoon of personal stories by a legend; will always remember that day.

  8. Byron, a terrific tribute to one of the greatest singers--not just country--of his time. Too many people don't realize how much he changed music history.

  9. Sad to hear Ray has passed on.About the only ones from that era are Little Jimmy Dickens [1948] and Jean Shepard [1955] Loved his music.

  10. Correction.I almost forgot Jim Ed Brown [Maxine & Bonnie too],Sonny James,Jordanaires,Jim & Jesse [Jim is still with us],Ralph Stanley,All from the '50s

  11. Johnny, it depends. Some of the acts we may not associate with the 1950s were performing then--on the Opry, for example, Stu Phillips, Bobby Osborne, Mel Tillis. I like to point out that the senior living former Opry member is Jimmie Sizemore, who performed with his father as Asher and Little Jimmie in the 1930s! So far as I know, he still does an appearance or two up in Wisconsin. Wouldn't THAT be great to have at the Opry?

    I'd also like to mention that The New York Times and the Associated Press both did excellent obituaries on Ray Price. Bill Anderson also did a tribute at his website, and I'm not giving it away, but he has a terrific story on there.

  12. I almost forgot Everly Brothers,Roy Drusky,Jimmy C.Newman,Rusty & Doug Kershaw I was looking at Wikipedia and found that most everybody on the Opry are gone now,

  13. Fred, Bismarck:

    Gotta put in a plug for Mac Wiseman, who I consider the greatest '50s figure left standing. His exclusion from the Hall of Fame is a gross omission indeed.

  14. Fred, Bismarck:

    Thanks, Michael; I knew about the golf game, but had not heard about Ray's appearance so many years later in Commerce. What a night that must have been for Bill Anderson!

    So much in life depends on good luck as well as talent. I'm happy whenever that turns out well for such as Bill Anderson. For the rest, per "Sundown in Nashville" ... the dreams get swept up off the street!

  15. I agree Mac should be in the Hall of Fame.He's long over due and when he does get in,he will no doubt say [like Ray Price said in 1996] ''IT'S ABOUT TIME''

  16. I was looking at a site about the Blue Grass Boys and I think there was one Blue Grass Boy who was with Mr. Monroe before Mac, but all I need to hear is that an interviewer once asked him who his greatest lead singer was and Mr. Monroe said, "Oh, Mac," in such a way as if to say, it could be only him.

  17. Regarding Johnny's post: Roy Drusky died in 2003. Ray Walker is the only surviving member of the Jordanaires group that was on the Opry (Gordon Stoker died this year) and Jesse, not Jim, is still with us. Another one you can add from the 50's is Stonewall Jackson. Jan Howard also began her career on the west coast in the 50's.

  18. Interesting in looking at the current Opry cast, only Jimmy Dickens, Jimmy C Newman, Jean Shepard and Stonewall Jackson have ties to the show prior to 1960. There are a few others including Bill Anderson, George Hamilton IV, Ralph Stanley, Jesse McReynolds, Jan Howard, Mel Tillis, Bobby Osborne and Jim Ed Brown who had career success prior to 1960. A pretty small list.

  19. A very small list of Opry stars from the '50s indeed.Aw well that's life.

  20. Fred and Johnny, I'll echo you on Mac, especially when you consider his role within the industry, not "just" as a singer.

    It isn't a happy fact to face, but there it is: 1960 WAS 53 years ago. If you were on the Opry at that time, no doubt you were at least in your twenties and possibly older.

    I also think of sidemen who were around then, as Mac was for Mr. Monroe. Curly Seckler is still among us--he was with Flatt & Scruggs then--as is Buddy Emmons, to name just a couple. We could add Carol Lee Cooper to the list of those around in the 1950s, too.

    One more: Earl White came to the Opry as a sideman in 1955. He worked with Marty Robbins, and later with Jean Shepard, and Hawkshaw Hawkins on there, among others.