(Image credit: Country Music Hall of Fame)
Born outside Perryville, Texas on January 12, 1926, Ray Price became one of the best known country singers of his era. His parents were Walter Clifton and Clara Mae Bradley Price. There were no other known children born to this union. His parents divorced when he was only three years old, with his father remaining on the Wood County farm and his mother moving to Dallas and remarrying Dominic Cimini. Ray spent time with both families at various times, mostly in Dallas where he graduated from Dallas Adamson. Until World War II, Price attended North Texas Agricultural College (NTAC), formerly known as Arlington College and now known as University of Texas at Arlington. He lied about his age and at 17, one year early, Ray enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1944, serving served in the Pacific until 1946.
Price returned to Texas after his discharge from the Marine Corps, considering a career as a veterinarian, which was then one of the courses of study at NTAC. He is known to have sung on the radio at station KRBC in Abilene and later became a singer on the “Big D Jamboree.” This program aired on KRLD beginning in 1948 after a couple of years playing before a live audience, but not being broadcast. It was recorded in Dallas mostly at the old Sportatorium building, except for a a few months when it had to be moved to the Fair Park Livestock Pavilion due to a fire while the Sportatorium venue was rebuilt. Eventually the popularity of the genre dwindled and the popularity of other forms of music like rock and roll increased to the point where the show was no longer viable. It finally ended its run in the mid 1960s, but by then, Price had moved on.
Price also recorded with Jim Beck in Dallas, signing with Columbia Records in 1951. His first Columbia recording was written by his Dallas acquaintance, Lefty Frizzell, called “If You’re Ever Lonely, Darling.” After these early Dallas engagements, Price moved to Nashville, for a time living with singer Hank Williams, also performing in Williams’ band before going out on his own.
His first band was Williams’ former band called the Drifting Cowboys and in 1953, he started his own band called the Cherokee Cowboys. One of his first recordings to take hold was “Crazy Arms” which reached Number 1 in 1956 on the country chart, topping the chart for an amazing twenty weeks. The tune, introduced what would become his trademark style, called the country shuffle with a (“DUM ba DUM ba DUM ba DUM ba”) beat that became popular with other artists, also charted on the United States pop Top 100 that same year.
For the next four decades, Price’s songs were consistently found on the top country playlists. A number of future country and pop artists passed through his band including Johnny Paycheck, Darrell McCall, Johnny Bush, Willie Nelson and Roger Miller. Ray also employed instrumentalists Jimmy Day, Buddy Emmons, Tommy Jackson, Buddy Spicher and Pete Wade who would become sought after musicians in the country genre. Price was not afraid to continue to try innovations when in his later years, he began to use background singers and more lush string arrangements in his recordings, such as the old Irish tune “Danny Boy” from 1966 and later for the Kris Kristofferson song “For the Good Times.” Though he was criticized for this in country circles, he continued to do so and was successful at it.
Price and Willie Nelson had a long friendship, though both individuals told of a rift over a rooster. Both were living in Nashville and Price asked to bring over his rooster to Willie’s farm to allow the bird a place to run. However, the rooster was aggressive and killed a couple of Willie’s hens. Ray did not come retrieve the rooster quickly enough, and Willie ended the wild bird’s reign by shooting the rooster with his shotgun. In Willie’s version, the rooster then became dinner. It caused a rift between them for a while, but the two patched things up and continued to collaborate afterward.
Price moved back to East Texas around 1974. Though his success decreased from the level of his early career, he continued to tour and record well on into his senior years. He announced that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer about a year before he died in 2013 at his home in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. He is interred in the Mausoleum at Restland Memorial Park in Dallas.
He received two Grammy Awards and his album and single entitled “For the Good Times” was awarded album and single of the year by the Academy of Country Music in 1970. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
[Paul Mosley narrates this post here.]
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