Ray Price, RIP

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Two musicians who shaped American popular music in the 1950s and 1960s, introducing distinctive sounds and beats and influencing later artists, passed away in the last few weeks -- Ray Price and Phil Everly. I'm behind on my writing, but here's a few words about Ray Price, a true legend.

(Note: An earlier version of this entry mentioned Bo Diddley as a recently deceased musical great, but a reader pointed out that he died in 2008. I think someone on Facebook had linked to NPR's obituary for the late Mr. Bates, and I failed to notice the date. Perhaps the connection was Diddley's influence on the music of the Everly Brothers.)

Country artist Ray Price emerged as a successor to Hank Williams, taking charge of the Drifting Cowboys after Williams's death. Influenced by Williams's sound and western swing, Price introduced a distinctive shuffle and walking bass line in hit songs like "Crazy Arms" and "Heartaches by the Number," defining the honky-tonk sound. In 1961, Price recorded what may have been the first tribute album honoring the music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. (George Jones and Merle Haggard and many others would follow suit.) Price's band, the Cherokee Cowboys, launched the careers of singer/songwriters like Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck, and Johnny Bush. In the '60s and '70s, he was a pioneer of the "countrypolitan" sound, trading in his Nudie suit for a tuxedo and fiddles for orchestral strings and crossing over to the pop music charts with "For the Good Times" and "Night Life." In 1982, he made a cameo appearance in the Clint Eastwood film "Honky Tonk Man," as a singer with the Texas Playboys. (Bob Wills was played by fiddler Johnny Gimble.) In recent years, Price recorded and toured with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011, he continued to perform until May 2013. He kept in touch with fans through his Facebook page throughout the ups and downs of his illness. In December, as he made the decision to decline further treatment and to return home, Price issued a 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.

Videos of some of Ray's performances over the years, after the jump:

Here's Ray Price with Roger Miller, singing Miller's "Invitation to the Blues":

"Crazy Arms":

A live TV performance of "For the Good Times":

And here he is singing "Night Life" on Austin City Limits, with Buddy Emmons on steel:

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 7, 2014 11:54 AM.

Tulsa Boy Singers Christmas concert RESCHEDULED tonight (01/04/2014) was the previous entry in this blog.

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