Country music entered a period of splendor after World War II, when dispersed regional styles such as the honkytonk, the western swing and the bluegrass they began to converge on a common language. One of the leading voices of that era was that of singer Ray Price (Perryville, Texas, 1926), who died on December 16 at the age of 87. Protected from Hank Williams, Price and his contemporaries like Lefty Frizzell and Webb Pierce would create the defining sound of 1950s country music.
Little more than two years separated Williams from Price, but in 1951 Williams was the greatest in country and Price a dark aspirant. Williams liked him and invited him on one of his tours. From time to time, when alcohol or drugs knocked out the star, Price took her place. On one such occasion, during the summer of 1952, Williams was kicked out of the Grand Ole Opry, the legendary weekly country radio show founded in 1925 that airs from Nashville; Price led Williams’ celebrated band, the Drifting Cowboys, establishing himself on the best possible stage.
Price divided his childhood between his mother’s home in Dallas and his father’s Texas farm. He served with the Marines during World War II and when he graduated from the Army he resumed his veterinary studies. After a brief singing experience on an Abilene radio station, he joined the Big D. Jamboree, a popular Dallas country radio show, in 1949, making his discographic debut shortly thereafter on an independent Nashville label, Bullet. In 1951 he signed with Columbia and began to arouse some interest with Talk to your heart.
Although during his first recordings he had the reinforcement of the Drifting Cowboys, Price did not wish to become Williams’ second son. In 1954 he hired a band of veteran Texan musicians that he named the Cherokee Cowboys, inspired by the eastern Texas county in which he was born. These gave his music a distinct aroma of western swing, with a characteristic 4/4 dance beat, which came to be known as the “Ray Price rhythm”. In later years, Price’s band would become a stopping place for various musicians on their journey through the country world, including Johnny Payche, Roger Miller, and Willie Nelson.
Price had a grace year in 1954, in which he released hits like Release me (memorably covered by Engelbert Humperdinck in 1967), I’ll be there and if you don’t, somebody else will. Shortly after, the two songs that will be forever linked to his name would arrive: Crazy arms and City lights. Both topped the country music charts. These and other songs, such as Invitation to the blues (1957) and Heartaches by the number (1959) were carefully drawn maps of pain and disenchantment, the gloomy outlines of which were drawn by typical instruments of the genre, such as the steel guitar. But during the 1960s, Price abandoned these essential honkytonk tools and began using violins, recording records and even touring with small orchestras.
His career, which began to fade in the sixties, took off again when in 1970 he managed to rise to the top of the charts with the song by Kris Kristofferson. For the good times, with which he achieved a Grammy. Although throughout that decade he lived in near retirement on his ranch outside Dallas, where he raised horses, he recorded three other No. 1s on the country music charts. In 1980 he achieved another great hit with the album San Antonio rose, which he co-interpreted with Nelson and sold half a million copies.
“I have been hard at work with my instrument over the years,” Price said. “Many people do not conceive of the voice as an instrument, but that is precisely what it is.” When he came out of semi-retirement again in 2007 to tour with Nelson and Merle Haggard to promote their joint album Last of the breedHe gave both of them what Haggard called “a bloody singing lesson.” Country music historian Charles Wolfe credited Price with “one of the purest songs of the greatest country era.”
© Guardian News & Media 2013.
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Ray Price, country music legend | Culture