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Ray Price: For the Good Times…For All Times

Ray-Price“Don’t look so sad, I know it’s over.”

That line from the lover’s lament, “For The Good Times,” which Ray Price took to No. 1 on the country charts and No. 11 on the pop charts in 1970, is appropriate after the 87-year-old Country Music Hall of Fame member – regarded by many as country’s greatest voice – died Monday.

Kris Kristofferson, the man who penned that song – one of the masterworks of his catalogue of mostly melancholy classics – took some time out Tuesday at his home in Hawaii to reflect on the man who changed his life and influenced so many others.

“If there is a Country Music Mount Rushmore, Ray Price is up there with Hank Williams,” says Kristofferson, who had just gotten home from Florida – where he has been filming A Dolphin Tale 2 when he was reached for comment.

Price, who had been fighting pancreatic cancer in a Tyler, Texas, hospital, left the hospital last Thursday (Dec. 12) and went home to live his final days under hospice care at his ranch near Mount Pleasant, Texas.

He had been in a long and mortal struggle with pancreatic cancer, and, according to reports, it had spread to his lungs, intestines and liver.

Price built his career more on a shuffling sort of honky-tonk beat before evolving into a crooner, with string accompaniment and taking such songs as “For The Good Times,” written by a then-young Kristofferson, to the top.

“He was as great a person as he was a singer, and I will never forget the Columbia Studio A filled with an orchestra with sheet music – unheard of in country music at the time – to record ‘For the Good Times,’ changing our lives and country music forever,” says Kristofferson, who had asked for some time to carefully ponder and then to write out his comments about his old friend and, in a very real way, mentor and champion.

Lisa-Meyers-Ray-Price-Kris-KristoffersonThat song marked a huge change in his career and in country music, in that Price made use of strings, which he cherished. Not all of his early fans were immediately won over by his use of strings on recordings and on the stage. But he persisted, helping establish a new flavor for the music he loved.

Of course, the strings were a far cry from Price’s early recordings.

Influenced by the Texas swing of his home state but also by his mentor, pal and roommate, Hank Williams – the other member of Kristofferson’s figurative  Mount Rushmore – those songs included “Release Me,” “Crazy Arms,” “City Lights,” “Heartaches by the Number” “You’re the Best Thing That Happened to Me” and “Night Life.”

Price’s first big break in country music came when he moved to Nashville in the early 1950s after breaking in as a regional performer on the air and in nightclubs in his home state of Texas.

After arriving in Music City, Price roomed for a time with the man most regard as country’s poet laureate, Williams.

And when Williams fell victim to generally poor health and excesses in his lifestyle, Price took over for a time as manager and leader of his dead friend’s Drifting Cowboys band.

But he wasn’t content being so narrowly viewed as a spinoff from Williams.

With his own band, The Cherokee Cowboys, Price cut a mightily broad swath across the hybrid of Appalachian sounds and Texas swing that has become known as “country music.”

In 1953, Price formed that band.  Members in the 1950s and early 1960s included a host of country legends and A-team pickers. Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Buddy Spicher and Johnny Bush were among the early members of The Cherokee Cowboys.

The players not only accompanied the boss, they also provided him some of his best music. Miller wrote “Invitation to the Blues” in 1958 and Nelson wrote “Night Life,” which became Price’s signature tune.

There likely was never a Ray Price concert in the last several decades that did not include “For The Good Times” and “Night Life.”

After establishing himself as “the voice of honky-tonk music” early in his career, Price – who long ago moved back to his beloved Texas – adapted, turning to a mellower crooner with an almost unprecedented range.

Revealing late in 2012 that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Price, ever the showman, continued performing, taking the stage for the final time on May 4 at The Legend Club in Salado, Texas.

In his final months, he worked on an album, “Beauty Is,” which is expected to be released in the new year.

That “farewell” album reportedly includes such reflective songs as “I Wish I Was 18 Again,” a tune which indicates how much he cherished his life and career.

December 12, when he was released from the Tyler, Texas, hospital, he was at peace, according to his wife of 45 years, Janie Price.

She delivered her husband’s farewell to his legion of fans:

“I love my fans and have devoted my life to reaching out to them. I appreciate their support all these years, and I hope I haven’t let them down,” Price said.

“I am at peace. I love Jesus. I’m going to be just fine. Don’t worry about me. I’ll see you again one day.”

Ray-Price-Circa-1970*Photos by Ray Price (including one of [L to R] Lisa Meyers Kristofferson, Ray Price and Kris Kristofferson) courtesy Price’s Facebook page, except for vintage photograph by Michael Ochs Archives courtesy Getty Images.

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About Tim Ghianni

Tim Ghianni is a lifelong journalist and author in Middle Tennessee. He was a nationally honored columnist and editor at The Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville for 14 years, at the Nashville Banner for its last 10 years of existence and then spent the final 10 years of his newspaper career at The Tennessean before being “bought out” in August of 2007. His newspaper years – which included encounters with murderers, mayors and movie stars, from James Earl Ray to O.J. Simpson and his friend Kris Kristofferson – are chronicled in his 2012 book "When Newspapers Mattered: The News Brothers & their Shades of Glory." When John Seigenthaler hosted Ghianni for a Word on Words show about that book, he called it “an obituary on newspapers …. but it’s funny” (or words to that effect. ) Ghianni continues to write for local and national publications and for his They Call Me Flapjacks blog; he is also Tennessee and Kentucky correspondent for Reuters. His recently published book, "Shoebox Full of Toads: Farewell to Mom," chronicles his hours spent at his mother’s deathbed, telling her how she affected his life. A heartwarming, occasionally funny book, it is available for $25 – including shipping and handling -- from Ghianni by writing him at 471 Rochelle Drive, Nashville, TN 37220. His latest, “Monkeys Don’t Wear SILVER SUITS: Kelly’s Little Green Men & the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse,” a “non-fiction novel” (co-authored with his “When Newspapers Mattered” partner Rob Dollar) chronicling the folklore and fact of a 1955 alien invasion in Southern Kentucky, just has been released. All three books are available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

Comments

  1. Corky Williams says:

    It was a real pleasure to have been introduced to this great man”s music at my friend’s honkytonk here in Kansas City, Knucklehead’s. My introduction to country music has been late in life, but this place has been giving me a college course in it;s beauty.

    Ray’s performances there, along with his large group of stellar musicians )including an excellent string section, the first I;d ever seen live with any musician) very much impressed and thrilled my gal and I. Being close enough to see Mr. Price wink at us with his beautiful blue eyes is an image that I won’t soon forget. And what a voice!

    Bless you Mr. Price. We thank you for a lifetime of gracious and thrilling entertainment.

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