BY STEWART SMITH, email@example.com
Country music has lost one of its all-time greats. Singer Ray Price has died at the age of 87.
Price, a native of Wood County, left an indelible mark on country music, not only with his string of No. 1 hits or with the sound he crafted, but with the musicians he was associated with and helped foster.
His hits include songs such as “Release Me,” “Crazy Arms,” “Heartaches by Number” and “Danny Boy.” Even mere months before his death, Price was still giving live performances and has a new album due out soon as well. He has won multiple Grammys, has been recognized twice by the Academy of Country Music and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
Price pioneered a beat, known as the “Ray Price Shuffle,” an arrangement in 4/4 time with a distinctive bassline that was a perfect fit for the honky tonk style that he became so well known for.
Additionally, he has been associated with a variety of country musicians such as George Jones, Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Willie Nelson, the latter three of whom were in the lineup of his band, The Cherokee Cowboys in the late ’50s.
East Texas radio personality Tom Perryman was a close friend of Price’s and was with Price’s family leading up to the man’s death. Perryman said that even though Price garnered a life’s worth of recognition, from Grammys to honors at the Kennedy Center, his friend never really made it as big as one might expect. But even though Price never made it as “big” as some legends of his day, Perryman said his friend attained a longevity that is almost unheard of, especially for musicians from Price’s era.
“He has survived all of the changes in our music, from hillbilly to country to rockabilly to the Nashville sound and the orchestrations and all,” Perryman said. “He’s consistently maintained chart action and sales and personal appearances during that whole 60 years. He’s the only one that’s ever done that.”
Perryman said it was Price’s pioneering of his signature shuffle beat that garnered him an immediate following.
“Then, he came along with different kinds of songs and music and got to be real popular,” Perryman said. “Then, when the Nashville sound came along, he was the first to put together an orchestra with arrangements and all. And then he introduced ‘Danny Boy’ before all of us disc jockeys at a disc jockey convention in about 1967. And oh man, some of them dyed-in-the-wool country disc jockeys thought, ‘Oh man, he’s gone pop.’ But then he did it there with arrangements and continued having hits.”
Price was no stranger to performances in East Texas and Perryman had worked with Price on numerous occasions. Perryman said that while Price lacked some of the pure professionalism of the bigger names of the day, he had the instincts of a true showman that served him well.
“Ray Price, he wasn’t a dyed in the wood professional the way a Jim Reeves was. But he always had good associations with his musicians and he always knew what to do as far as picking songs, and on stage he knew how to interact,” Perryman said. “Most of his work in the early days was in these beer joins and honky tonks across Texas and the Southwest.”
Perryman said Price’s legacy will be the lasting influence he had on the younger musicians that worked under and with him, such as Willie Nelson.
“There’s a lot of artists that are still working now are playing the Ray Price sound,” Perryman said.