Ray Price, one of country music's most popular and influential singers and bandleaders who had more than 100 hits and was one of the last living connections to Hank Williams, died Monday. He was 87.
Price died Monday afternoon at his ranch outside Mount Pleasant, Texas, said Billy Mack Jr., who was acting as a family spokesman. Billie Perryman, the wife of family friend and spokesman Tom Perryman, a DJ with KKUS-FM in Tyler, also confirmed his death.
Price was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011 and it had recently spread to his liver, intestines and lungs, according East Texas Medical Center in Tyler. He stopped aggressive treatments and left the hospital last Thursday to receive hospice care at home.
At the time, his wife, Janie Price, relayed what she called her husband's "final message" to his 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. 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."
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.
He reached the Billboard Hot 100 eight times from 1958-73 and had seven No. 1 hits and more than 100 titles on the Billboard country chart from 1952 to 1989. "For the Good Times" was his biggest crossover hit, reaching No. 11 on the Billboard pop music singles chart. His other country hits included "Crazy Arms," ''Release Me," ''The Same Old Me," ''Heartaches by the Number," ''City Lights" and "Too Young to Die."
"If you got a pop hit, you sold a lot more records," Price said in 2000. "It was my style, really. I sang ballads, sort of laid-back. I'm still a country boy. I don't pretend to be anything else."
Price was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, long after he had become dissatisfied with Nashville and returned to his home state of Texas.
His importance went well beyond hit singles. He was among the pioneers who popularized electric instruments and drums in country music. After helping to 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. He gave early breaks to Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and other major performers.
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 dancehall fans.
In the 1970s he sang often with symphony orchestras – in a tuxedo and cowboy boots.
Like Nelson, his good friend and contemporary, Price simply didn't care what others thought and pursued the chance to make his music the way he wanted to.
"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."
In the same 1981 interview, he credited the cowboy for the popularity of country music.
"Everyone loves the cowboy. He's nice, humble and straightforward. And country music is the same thing. The kids have discovered what mom and pop told 'em."
As a young man, Price became friends with Hank Williams, toured with the country legend and shared a house with him in Nashville. Williams even let Price use his band, the Drifting Cowboys, and the two wrote a song together, the modest Price hit "Weary Blues (From Waiting)".
Price continued performing and recording well into his 70s.