One day after news erroneously circulated about the death of the legendary "Cherokee Cowboy" the sad inevitable occurred.
Ray Price died today (12/16) at 4:43 p.m. central time at his ranch in eastern Texas, less than a week after being released into hospice care due to advanced pancreatic cancer. According to reports from family and close friends the legendary singer lapsed into a coma on Saturday evening.
Noble Ray Price was born January 12, 1926. As his nickname implies, he was indeed part Cherokee Indian. Following his service as a Marine in World War II Price began working Texas honky tonks and made his first recordings in 1949. He became friends with Hank Williams, and Williams' Drifting Cowboys became Price's band following Williams' death.
The hits came early and often. "Talk to Your Heart," his first hit, reached #3 on the Billboard country charts in 1952. His first #1 song was the classic "Crazy Arms," which stayed at #1 for five months in 1956. Price was one of the major superstars of country music in the 1950's and 1960's. He resisted the urge to follow the "Nashville sound" at first; however, as the 60's progressed he added more and more orchestration to songs such as "Danny Boy" and "Burning Memories." In 1970 his version of the Kris Kristofferson song, "For the Good Times," earned Price a "best country male vocal" Grammy award. In total, Price had 109 charted hits, eight of them going to #1 and two of those logging over two months at the top spot ("Crazy Arms" and "City Lights," the song that gave 20-year-old University of Georgia journalism major Bill Anderson his big break in country music).
Price was also a man who helped a number of legends get started. In addition to being the first national star to record a Bill Anderson song, the flip, "Invitation to the Blues," was written by another up-and-coming struggling singer/songwriter by the name of Roger Miller. Miller was part of Price's band, as were Willie Nelson and Johnny Paycheck at times. Among the little-known songwriters at the time that Price brought attention to, in addition to Anderson and Miller, were Nelson (with his astonishing rendition of "Night Life"), Harlan Howard ("Heartaches By the Numbers"), and Mel Tillis ("Heart Over Mind"). Additionally, Price was a good songwriter himself, having written his hit "Soft Rain" after the death of his grandfather, and co-writing another hit, "I've Just Destroyed the World I'm Living In" with Nelson.
Through it all Ray Price remained a humble gentleman. When he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996 he began his acceptance speech by joking, "It's about time! I was beginning to feel like Susan Lucci." The laughter quickly turned to gratitude as he thanked his wife Janie, producers, and those who he said made his career. In the end, however, Ray Price's Hall of Fame career was made possible thanks to that exceptional voice with the unmistakable tremolo.
Now that voice is gone and Ray Price belongs to the ages. As his massive crossover hit said, "Let's just be glad we had some time to spend together."
He was one of a kind. One of the best. And there's time enough for sadness now that he's left us.
Ray Price was 87.