DALLAS – Good friends like Willie Nelson and Merle haggard got more credit for their contrary ways and trend-setting ideas, but it was Ray Price who set the precedent for change in country music more than a decade earlier.
Price passed away Monday at his Texas home, having long outlasted most of his country music contemporaries and the prognosis doctors gave him when they discovered his pancreatic cancer in 2011. He was 87.
The way the Country Music Hall of Fame member fought cancer was an apt metaphor for the way he lived his life, always fiercely charting a path few others might have the fortitude to follow.
Along the way he changed the sound of country music, collaborated and inspired the genre’s biggest stars and remained relevant for more than half a century.
Ray Price was a giant in Texas and country western music. Besides one of the greatest voices that ever sang a note, Ray’s career spanned over 65 years in a business where 25 years would be amazing, said Ray Benson of the country music group Asleep at the Wheel.
Price, one of country music’s most popular and influential singers and bandleaders, had more than 100 hits and was one of the last living connections to Hank Williams, having shared a tour, a house and a band.
Price died Monday afternoon at his ranch outside Mount Pleasant, Texas, said Billy Mack Jr., who was acting as a family spokesman.
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.
After helping 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. 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 dance hall fans.
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.