During his long and distinguished career, Ray Price has accomplished the
remarkable feat of re-inventing hard-core honky-tonk and also gaining success with lushly arranged love ballads aimed at the country-and-pop crossover market.
Whether clad in rhinestone suits or tuxedos, he has maintained an independence characteristic of great innovators in all artistic fields.
He was born Ray Noble Price near Perryville, Texas, on Jan. 12, 1926. As a boy, he divided his time between his father's farm and his mother's home in Dallas, where she moved after she and her husband divorced. After serving in the U. S. Marines during World War II, Ray planned to become a veterinarian and attended North Texas Agricultural College.
Singing at nearby Roy's House Cafe, however, led Price down a different road, and with assistance from Dallas recording entrepreneur Jim Beck, he made his first record for the Nashville-based Bullet label in late 1949 or early 1950. Soon he was singing on Dallas radio programs, including the popular KRLD Big D Jamboree. His work impressed Peer-Southern publishing executive Troy Martin, who steered him to a contract with Columbia Records in 1951.
Hank Williams also helped Ray by featuring him on road shows and writing
"Weary Blues (From Waitin')" for him. Price's recording of the tune sold well enough to strengthen his bid for Grand Ole Opry membership. He joined the cast in 1952, roomed with Hank for a time, and shared Hank's Drifting Cowboys as his band. Not surprisingly, some of Ray's early 1950s recordings reveal Hank's influence, including 1952's "Talk to Your Heart," Price's first chart-making disc.
Gradually, though, Price let his own voice shine through. He put his own stamp on country's honky-tonk tradition with his No. 1 1956 hit "Crazy Arms," played and sung to a 4/4 shuffle beat that is now an integral part of country music. As "I've Got a New Heartache," "My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You" and other hits climbed the charts during the late '50s and early '60s, Price lent a hand to singers and songwriters like Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and Johnny Paycheck (each of whom played in his Cherokee Cowboys band); Harlan Howard, who wrote Price's classic "Heartaches by the Number" and Bill Anderson, author of the equally fine "City Lights."
By the mid-1960s, however, Price was diversifying his music with pop-flavored ballads such as "Make the World Go Away" and a jazzy version of Willie Nelson's "Night Life." The 1967 hit "Danny Boy," recorded with a full orchestra, alienated some of his hard-core fans, who much preferred his 1966 honky-tonk gem "Touch My Heart." But Price was winning new audiences as well, and he continued his country-pop success in the early 1970s with "For the Good Times" (a crossover pop smash that hit No. 11 on the pop charts) and "I Won't Mention It Again."
Price and Columbia Records parted ways in 1974, and though he recorded with various other labels his singles seldom reached the Billboard Top 10. Yet he has continued to nurture his magnificent voice and tours whenever he likes. And his 4/4 shuffle beat remains a touchstone for new country singers with a taste for honky-tonk sounds.
Price was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. Following the release of the studio album Time in 2002, he and Willie Nelson released a classic-country duet album, Run That By Me One More Time, in 2003.