Northeast Texas
6:40 am
Tue December 17, 2013

Country singer Ray Price dead at 87

Country music star Ray Price, one of the most celebrated Northeast Texans ever, has died.

Billy Mack Jr., the son of Bill Mack, says Price died Monday afternoon. Price had pancreatic cancer.

Mack, a family friend, said he was acting as a family spokesman. The wife of family friend and spokesman Tom Perryman, a DJ with KKUS-FM in Tyler, also confirmed his death. 

Price's distinguished career in country music began with the honky-tonk sound of the 1950s and progressed through the lushly arranged "countrypolitan" sound and later into gospel. In recognition of his decades of outstanding work, Price was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville in 1996.

A native of the tiny Wood County town of Perryville, Price was born in 1926. Following service in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II, Price began singing on KRBC in Abilene and later earned a spot on KRLD's Big D Jamboree, which was broadcast from the old Dallas Sportatorium. 

Price's band in the 1950s, the Cherokee Cowboys, included future greats Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Johnny Bush. Nelson wrote "Night Life" and Miller wrote "Invitation to the Blues," both hits for Price. Other early Price hits include "City Lights," "Release Me" and "Heartaches by the Number."

Price made a permanent mark on country music style with his development of the "Ray Price shuffle," a convention in which the melody is played in 4/4 time over a "walking" bass line, as in his 1956 hit "Crazy Arms." 

In the 1960s, Price moved to a more highly-polished sound, which became increasingly popular in Nashville. In 1970, Price had a no. 1 hit with an orchestral-influenced arrangement of Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times."

Price continued to record and tour actively through the 1980s, 1990s and into the 21st century. In 2007, Price released "Last of the Breed," a collaboration with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard.

Price entered into hospice care at his home in Mount Pleasant on Dec. 12. Price had been receiving treatment for cancer at East Texas Medical Center in Tyler. In a statement, Janie Price said her husband of 45 years had decided "to leave the hospital and return home to spend his final days on his beloved ranch surrounded by the comfort of his home, family and friends."  Price was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011. The cancer had recently spread to his liver, intestines and lungs, according to a hospital statement. 

"I love my fans and have devoted my life to reaching out to them, Price said last week in a public statement. "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."

In recognition of his career, Price received an honorary doctorate from Texas A&M University-Commerce on Dec. 19, 2009.

"This is the highest honor a university can bestow on an individual," said Jim Anderson, department head of mass media, communications and theatre at A&M-Commerce. "There have only been a handful of honorary doctorates given by the entire Texas A&M University System. I can think of no other person more deserving of this honor than Ray Price."

Cards may be sent to the Family of Ray Price, P.O. Box 1986, Mt. Pleasant TX 75456.