Ray Price, country music hall of famer, dies at 87

Ray Price performs at the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. His propulsive 1956 hit "Crazy Arms" helped revolutionize the sound of country music in the 1950s.
(Laura Rauch / Associated Press)

Country singer Ray Price, whose propulsive 1956 hit “Crazy Arms” helped revolutionize the sound of country music in the 1950s, died Monday at his home in Mount Pleasant, Texas, following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 87.

His death was announced by family spokesman Bill Mack, a country music disc jockey.

Price charted more than 100 hits during a span of nearly 40 years as a regular presence on the country charts from 1952 to 1989, from “Crazy Arms” and “Heartaches by the Number” during his first round of fame in the ‘50s through deeply felt ballads such as his 1970 Grammy-winning recording of Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times.”

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Price cited country giant Hank Williams as one of his few mentors. He toured with Williams, and they roomed together for a time. Price took over Williams’ band after the fabled singer and songwriter died at age 29 in 1953.

Tiring of the standard rhythm of honky-tonk music that emphasized the second and fourth beats in each four-beat measure, Price asked his bassist to play evenly on each beat of the measure while they were in the studio to record “Crazy Arms,” a song written by Chuck Seals and Ralph Mooney. He also asked the fiddle player to try something new and instructed the drummer to play something different than what he was used to.

“I don’t know where it came from,” Price said years later of the rhythm that became known as “the Ray Price shuffle. “It’s just what I wanted. Everybody at the session thought it was the funniest thing they ever heard. They just thought it was strange. It was -- and it was on the charts for 45 weeks.”

Price won two Grammys and several awards from the Country Music Assn. and the Academy of Country Music. He was a member of the Grand Ole Opry and in 1996 was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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Price’s Cherokee Cowboys band was a fertile stop for many musicians who would go on to become stars in their own right, including Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Johnny Bush.


While being treated for pancreatic cancer earlier this year, Price said his only complaints were stomach upset from radiation treatment.

And his sharp sense of humor showed little evidence of wear. “The doctor said that every man will have cancer if he lives to be old enough,” he told an interviewer in San Antonio recently. “I don’t know why I got it — I ain’t old.”

A full obituary will follow online and in the print edition of The Times.