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Ray Price Biography

Ray Noble Price, 12 January 1926, on a farm near Perryville, Cherokee County, Texas, USA. Price grew up on a farm and by the time he left high school, was already singing and playing guitar locally. In 1942, while studying veterinary medicine at Abilene’s North Texas Agricultural College, he was drafted into the Marines. He returned to his studies in 1946, but also began performing at local clubs, and as the Cherokee Cowboy, he appeared on KRBC. He still had thoughts of a career as a rancher but in 1949, the opportunity to join theBig D Jamboree in Dallas finally convinced him that his future lay in country music. He first recorded for a minor label, Bullet, and had some success in Texas with ‘Jealous Lies’, but in 1952 he joined Columbia Records and had immediate US country Top 10 hits with ‘Talk To Your Heart’ and ‘Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes’. Price moved to Nashville, where he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. He was also befriended by Hank Williams, with whom he lived for a time and on occasions worked with the Drifting Cowboys on shows that Hank missed. When he later formed his own band, the Cherokee Cowboys, quite apart from appearances by members of the old Hank Williams band, it was occasionally to include Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Bush, Buddy Emmons and Roger Miller.

Price’s vocals and the excellence of the Cherokee Cowboys represented some of the finest honky-tonk country music of all time. The immense popularity Price gained may be judged by his chart successes. In the 20 years between 1954 and 1974 he amassed a total of 64 US country chart hits, only 11 of which failed to make the Top 20 and 13 also crossed over to the pop charts. He registered 7 country number 1 hits including ‘Crazy Arms’ (his first million-seller), ‘My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You’, ‘City Lights’ (his second million-seller, which also launched Bill Anderson’s songwriting career) and ‘For The Good Times’, a third million-seller which first introduced the songwriting talent of a young Nashville janitor called Kris Kristofferson. He also recorded what is probably the most popular country version of ‘Release Me’, a song that 13 years later became a UK pop chart number 1 for Engelbert Humperdinck.

In 1967, Price moved from honky-tonk music to a more pop-orientated approach. His backings began to feature strong orchestral accompaniment, far removed from the traditional fiddle and steel guitar influence of his mentor, Hank Williams. Price maintained that most of his songs were ballads and that the strings provided the soul. In concert, he often used up to ten violins in his backing but for his records there were often many more; when he recorded his version of ‘Danny Boy’, the backing was by an orchestra that comprised forty-seven musicians. He also dispensed with his western-style dress and took to appearing in smart evening suits; the Cherokee Cowboy was dead. He toured extensively and appeared on all major network radio and television shows. By 1973, Price had grown rather tired of the touring and semi-retired to his ranch near Dallas to breed horses. Five years later, he found that he missed the musical life and once more was to be found back on the circuit. From the mid-70s through to the late 80s, he recorded for Myrrh, ABC Records, Monument Records, Dimension, Warner Brothers Records, Viva and Step One, and although there were few Top 20 hits after 1974, he continued regularly to register country chart entries.

In 1980, in an effort to boost his somewhat flagging chart successes, Price asked Willie Nelson to record an album with him. Nelson obliged his old boss and their duet of ‘Faded Love’, from the albumSan Antonio Rose, charted at number 3. A feud had existed for many years between Price and Nelson dating back to when they were neighbours. Nelson had shot and eaten one of Price’s fighting roosters for killing some of his hens and Price swore he would never record another Nelson song (the reason why Price kept fighting roosters is open to conjecture). He eventually overcame his anger, but Nelson had no real reason to agree to the request to record the album since Price had not recorded any of his songs for a long time. Price also appeared in the Clint Eastwood movieHonkytonk Man. From the mid-80s, some of his recordings were of dubious country content, such as his versions of the Frank Sinatra pop hit ‘All The Way’ and the 1931 Gene Austin hit ‘Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone’, but on others he tended to revert more to the simple country backings of his early days. When ‘I’d Do It All Over Again’ charted in December 1988, it took his tally of country hits to 108 and in the statistics produced by Joel Whitburn for his Record Research, based on country music chart success from 1944-88, Price stands at number 6 in the Top 200 country artists of all time.

Price currently performs at his own theatre in Branson, Missouri. In 1996, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame. An all-new album appeared in 2000 on which he recorded cover versions of the Beatles’ ‘In My Life’ and the classic Johnny Green, Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, Frank Eyton collaboration, ‘Body And Soul’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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