Country singer Ray Price has died at the age 87, after suffering from pancreatic cancer. Though Price might not have the mass-market name recognition of someone like Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard, Price was one of the most influential honky-tonk singers in country music. He landed 100 songs on the country charts throughout his career, including “Release Me,” “Crazy Arms,” “Night Life,” and “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.” Price was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1996, and had continued to work and tour up until his final days.
Price was born in Perryville, Texas in 1926, and began singing for Abilene, Texas radio station KRBC when he was 22. He moved to Nashville in the early ‘50s and lived with Hank Williams, who would later lobby for Price’s induction into the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1953, Price formed his band, the Cherokee Cowboys. Members included Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Roger Miller, Darrell McCall, Van Howard, and others. Miller would go on to write a hit for Price, 1958’s “Invitation To The Blues,” and Nelson would write another, “Night Life.” Together with his group, Price developed a signature sound, the “Ray Price Shuffle,” which features a 4/4 beat, walking bassline, and single-string fiddle, and can be heard on tracks like “Crazy Arms,” a track so popular that it stopped the country charts for five months in 1956.
In the ‘60s, Price started messing around with the then-popular “Nashville Sound,” adding strings and backup singers to his arrangements. Hits from that era included his 1967 take on “Danny Boy” and 1970’s “For The Good Times,” which was written by Kris Kristofferson. The latter won both single and album of the year from the Academy of Country Music, as well as a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
Later in his life, Price began focusing on gospel music, and in the ‘80s he recorded renditions of tracks like “Amazing Grace,” “Rock Of Ages,” and “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.”
In 2007, Price released his final album, Last Of The Breed, which he recorded with Nelson and Haggard. The record was Price’s third with Nelson and first with Haggard and earned Price and Nelson a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for the track “Lost Highway.”
Price is survived by a wife, Janie, and a son, Cliff.