Remembering Ray Price
Remembering Ray Price
By Mary Jane Farmer, Scene In Town
TEXAS BORN AND BRED, 60-YEAR MUSIC icon Ray Price left behind him not only numerous No. 1 country music hits, but also numerous celebrities with whom he rubbed shoulders, made music, and called friends. And if that were the sum of his life, it would be enough, but Price also left behind numerous people whose lives were enhanced for having met or worked with the legend at least once.
Ray Price began playing for an Abilene, Texas, radio station in 1948, after he returned from active duty with the U.S. Marine Corp. Then, he moved to Nashville in the early 1950s, and it wasn’t long afterward that he had his first national hit, “Release Me.” His band, the Cherokee Cowboys, at different times included others who went on to become stars, including Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck, and Johnny Bush. And today’s Nashville stars take some flack from other musicians, including those who endorse the commonly-known Texas music.” One of those top stars of today, Blake Shelton, made some disparaging remarks in 2013 about traditional country fans, to which Price took extreme offense, and a media battle ensued. Not to bring that up again here, because Price and Shelton officially buried the hatchet both backstage and onstage a couple of months later, at Choctaw’s Center Stage in Durant, Oklahoma. But, several of those people at that concert spoke of the lessons they learned that night from Price.
KHYI radio personality Allan Peck, said it’s not as if today’s country musicians, including Blake Shelton, aren’t taking flack for their brand of country music that Mr. Price hadn’t been subjected to himself. Texas Radio Hall of Famer Peck talked about the early Ray Price years, and how the legend understood that music must change to remain fresh and vital. “Ray Price was the first to play music in 4/4 time, and that is the standard used even in today’s country music,” Peck said. That first song was in 4/4 times was released in 1956, “Crazy Arms,” which also popularized drumming in country music. Peck went on to remember that, a decade or so later, Ray Price “got the idea that this is beautiful music and let’s expand the size of the band to a 27-piece orchestra. He was a pioneer.
There was some ‘shame on you, that’s not country music,’ directed toward him, but Ray stayed with it. And the reason? ... the fans seemed to like it. He went on the road, not with 27 musicians, but with a lot of them, and other artists, like Connie Smith and Kenny Rogers adopted that type of sound/arrangement. They saw how Ray was doing country, refined to be more than two or three guys strumming guitars. It became a smoother, less edgy sound that was more acceptable to more people. And he was responsible single-handedly for starting that. “His work ethic was also a model. When people are depending on you, whether those people are in the band or have bought a ticket to see you, it was important to Ray to be dependable,” Peck continued, adding, “He had to miss some dates this past year, with the cancer, and that’s something even a good work ethic can’t overcome.” Peck was at that ‘mending fences’ night in Durant. “Ray responded to the earlier comments, ‘there is probably room for everybody in this business.’ Ray was a true professional about it,” Peck commented. Joe Standifer, added that “In the sound/audio production for several years, I have gotten the pleasure to work with many great artists. The one that sticks out in my mind the most is the legendary Ray Price.” “We were at Choctaw Casino & Resort in Durant, Okla., setting up for Mel Tillis and Ray, (early 2013). Instantly, I recognized Mel as he walked in. I introduced myself to him and he proceeded to introduce himself to me as, “I’m Pam’s daddy!” About that time, a third gentleman walked into the room in blue-collar working-man everyday clothes. Faded Rustler jeans, short-sleeve button-up shirt, and boots that had been broke in time and time again. As I walked by, the gentleman grabbed me and asked, “Excuse me, young man, what time does the show start?” “I believe Ray Price goes on at 8 p.m. and will play a set that will last 45 minutes to an hour and Mel Tillis goes on after that, sir. It could be the other way around, so I’m not real sure.” “Well do you think anyone will mind if I sit here a bit?” “I personally don’t mind at all, but I can’t say yes or no.” “Well, let’s see how long it’ll be before anyone says anything.” I kept thinking this guy looks familiar. Then, when I saw ‘Pam’s daddy’ walk up behind him, attempt to kiss him on the cheek and laugh hysterically, I knew who I just got through speaking with. It was the legendary Ray Price. “But, I would’ve never known that with the way he carried himself and just sat back and stayed out of the way while he watched everyone work.
I worked up the courage to ask him to sign my guitar. Why I was nervous, I don’t know. After all, an hour before that he was a stranger. Now, I’m standing in front of Ray Price, could it really get any better? “Yes it does. “No sooner that I handed him my guitar, Mel starts telling Ray, ‘It’s R-A-Y, just in case you forgot. “If you need me to spell it again, it’s R-A-Y. Attaboy, and you even did it all by yourself.’ I couldn’t help but laugh, since Mel was doing the same thing. “I have two things in common with him: we both love music and we both fought a common enemy called cancer. Regardless that we had different types of cancer, it’s all the same fight in the end.“
After Ray’s sound check was over and he went back to his bus, I noticed a tall, dark-headed man and a short blonde walk in. Lo and behold, it’s Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. Blake asks me, “Where can I find Ray Price?” I showed Blake where Ray’s bus was and then next thing I saw was Ray’s family getting off the bus after those two had got on it. “I had heard that Blake had earlier made a comment along the lines of ‘no one wants to listen to your grandpa’s old country music.’
It wasn’t hard to put one and one together to know why Okies Blake and Miranda were there. Blake was there to apologize for putting his foot in his mouth. “Ray introduced both Blake and Miranda individually on stage. “What I took away from that show is that (1) you never get too old to stop doing what you love, (2) telling me that I can’t do something will only make me want to go out and do it that much more, and (3) the only limits we have in life are the limits that we set on ourselves. “Ray didn’t let his cancer stop him from doing what he loved, the doctors weren’t going to tell Ray he couldn’t perform any longer, and he did not allow his illness to limit him to a certain way to live the rest of his life.
“Ray Price also showed me that night that he has not let his
fame or legacy get to him like most acts these days have done. You could tell
it was all about simplicity, which more often than not is the hardest thing to
The legacy that Noble Ray Price left behind will guarantee that his show will never be over.” Jason “Fuzzy” Smith, of Overdrive Entertainment, picked up the story on the generosity of spirit that Mr. Price extended to Shelton that night, plus another quality he observed. “Before the Price/Shelton make-up started, and when we talked, I saw that his bus was filled with family. Family of all ages packed that bus and were then at the show. Ray showed himself to be an extremely-strong family man, enjoying everyone of those youngsters playing all around him.” Smith described Ray Price as a matter-of-fact man who seemed unimpressed with his stature as a country music giant. “He was not haughty, although very regal. He exuded class. He always made eye contact with whomever he was speaking.
The family stayed off of Price’s bus while he and Shelton spoke. Then, Ray allowed their photos to be taken together backstage.” When Shelton came out on stage, stretching his 6.5-foot torso toward the seated Price, and reaching across speakers and monitors to connect with Price’s outstretched hand, the feud was officially over.
North Texas musician Prag Padilla, (and later here) Gene Watson spoke of other ways that Price had enhanced their lives and their careers. “Ray was probably one of the first influences that help me realize if you had a dream to follow it. He showed me that a small town kid could do anything as long as you try with all you have.”
Padilla’s dad grew up with the Calderons. Padilla explained, “Blondie Calderon was Ray’s band leader til his death about… hmmm... 12 years ago. Ferdie Calderon played drums for Ray until his last show. “Through Ray Price, I learned that the songs were for the people, not yourself. Once you choose to perform them, make sure you give it your all. You are not there to get drunk or just get paid. Too often we see musicians put themselves on a pedestal. We could all learn a lot from him, ask ourselves WWRD.”
Gene Watson added, “I idolized Ray Price from the first time I heard his voice on the radio. I thought he was the greatest, smoothest singer I’d ever heard. When I performed in clubs, before I got a record label deal, I probably sang every one of his songs.
“The last time I spent a great deal of time talking to Ray was when we sat together backstage in 2012 at the Hall of Fame awards ceremony. We talked about the two of us doing a lot more shows together, but sadly, the cancer flared up and we never had to opportunity to do that.
Ray was a role model for me. So humble and still working ’til the end.’ “I hope the fans will keep his name and his music alive forever,” Watson lamented. “No music left in these old strings … no more words to rhyme,” excerpts of lyrics from one of the last songs Ray Price recorded, the third CD project from Price in the past about 18 months. but not yet released, - written by Tony Ramey.