From Sunday's Times and News-Star
A lot of country music entertainers through the years have brought me much joy without being able to -- what you’d call in the strictest sense -- sing.
Not the case with a chosen few like George Jones, Larry Gatlin, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette and, the subject of today’s effort, Ray Price. Price, who passed away this month in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, could sing the sandspurs out of a cow’s tail.
Maybe it’s because he didn’t score a classic in the 1980s, as Haggard and Jones and Willie Nelson did, that he’s not mentioned as often as those three, who would comprise three-fourths of the male country music Mt. Rushmore. But he picked up the slack left by the death of his old roommate, Hank Williams, back in the day, then kept the ball rolling, adding strings along the way and hired for his band some now-familiar names like Willie, Roger Miller and Johnny Austin Paycheck.
And all the while singing a hard-to-match country tenor. If you’re covering a Gatlin or Price song, you’d better buckle your chin strap.
According to Billboard, Price charted 46 Top 10s, eight No. 1s and 109 titles total from 1952-1989 on the Hot Country Songs chart. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
A Ray Top 10? That’s tough. In this bureau, it would go like this:
10. Faded Love (we always say “Faded” as if it rhymes with “Batted,” just because;
9. Night Life;
8. San Antonio Rose with Willie Nelson, a Bob Wills classic like “Fadded Love,” and also like No. 3 on this list;
7. Burning Memories;
6. Crazy Arms;
5. City Lights, written by Whisperin’ Bill Anderson;
4. Heartaches by the Number, a Harlan Howard classic;
3. My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You;
2. Danny Boy
1. For the Good Times, with thanks to author Kris Kristofferson.
Two quick Ray Price stories:
The night was smoky and the music was too in the little bar, either in Shreveport or right across the line in East Texas. It was late late and my old friend Speedy, a former all-American football player and now a young cowboy – the real kind – was relaxing with a cold one and minding his own when somebody said Ray Price was in the joint. Not only that, he was about to sing. Right there. In this little bar.
Speedy figured that would happen about the same time the cattle he’d worked that day started flying. Paid it no mind. Until the house band started playing again and the guest lead singer, at least for this set, was Ray Price, fresh off a nearby gig, still in his Nudie suit and fine voice.
Speedy stayed til past closing time.
The mid-December weekend that Price’s battle with pancreatic cancer ended, a Mt. Pleasant Justice of the Peace and friend of the Price family called my old pastor buddy to please come pay with the family. He went over and waited while the phone rang, friends calling to check on Ray. Larry Gatlin called, and Ray’s wife, Janie, put the phone to her husband’s ear. Gatlin launched into the old gospel favorite, “In the Garden.” Wow…
A few minutes later, Willie Nelson called. He didn’t sing; he was just calling to check on his friend. That was Sunday, Dec. 15.
Ray Price died the next day. My friend was called back to pray with the gathered family, and as he prepared to, another interesting moment occurred, one of those surreal times you know you’ll never forget. Willie’s Roadhouse XM station was playing on the television. Just before the family prayed, the station played Ray Price. He was singing “Danny Boy.”