Country singer Ray Price, a pioneer of Texas honky-tonk music who later excelled at lushly arranged ballads for pop crossover hits, died Monday at his home in Mount Pleasant, Texas, at the age of 87, his family said.
Price was discharged last week from the East Texas Medical Center in Tyler, where he had been in and out in recent months as he was treated for cancer and its complications, Fox reported. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011 and it has recently spread to his liver, intestines and lungs, the hospital said.
In a seven-decade career, Reuters noted, Price helped launch Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Johnny Bush, Hank Cochran and Johnny Paycheck, who were members of his Cherokee Cowboys band and wrote songs for him that became classics.
Price in turn got a boost from the legendary Hank Williams, who helped get him on the Grand Ole Opry. After Williams' death, Price was his heir apparent to the raw, pared-down, honky-tonk sound.
In the 1950s, Price developed a style that broke country tradition by using drums to back a fairly slow but driving 4/4 bass-line that became known as the "Ray Price Beat."
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That beat fueled his ground-breaking "Crazy Arms," which was No. 1 for 20 weeks and on the country charts for 45, and other hits that made him a major star and helped country music survive the rockabilly wave led by Elvis Presley.
In the 1960s, Price started experimenting with other styles, breaking from traditional country with his lushly produced 1967 version of "Danny Boy" that showcased his huge voice and emotional range, and tapped into the pop market.
With its full orchestration and slick production, the style that came to be known as "countrypolitan" alienated Price's hard-core country fans even as it contributed to other tuxedo-clad crooners with a rural twang.
Perhaps his biggest success was a version of the Kris Kristofferson song "For the Good Times," a pop hit in 1970. He reached the Billboard Hot 100 eight times from 1958-73 and had seven No. 1 hits and more than 100 titles on the Billboard country chart from 1952 to 1989. "For the Good Times" was his biggest crossover hit, reaching No. 11 on the Billboard pop music singles chart. His other country hits included "Crazy Arms," ''Release Me," ''The Same Old Me," ''Heartaches by the Number," ''City Lights" and "Too Young to Die."
"If you got a pop hit, you sold a lot more records," Price said in 2000. "It was my style, really. I sang ballads, sort of laid-back. I'm still a country boy. I don't pretend to be anything else."
His importance went well beyond hit singles, Fox noted. He was among the pioneers who popularized electric instruments and drums in country music. After helping to establish the bedrock 4/4 shuffle beat that can still be heard on every honky-tonk jukebox and most country radio stations in the world, Price angered traditionalists by breaking away from country.