Born Ray Noble Price, January 12, 1926, in Perryville, TX; divorced first wife, 1968; married wife Jeanie, c. 1982. Education: Attended North Texas Agricultural College, 1946. Addresses: Record company-- Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, Inc., 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211.

When Ray Price began recording in the early 1950s, he appeared to be the singularly anointed heir to Hank Williams's honky tonk throne. Yet Price, both innovative and fiercely independent, eventually evolved into the king of a style that came to be called "countrypolitan"--lush, carefully orchestrated, and well removed from the genre's lean and lonesome roots. Price was, in fact, much more than a competent honky tonk singer or country's first major artist to successfully employ intricate arrangements; he was, as music scribe Dave Marsh attested in the liner notes to The Essential Ray Price: 1951-1962, "an underrated honky tonk singer, possibly because he became such an exceptional balladeer."

Price was surely among country's most exacting singers. He was also a genius at selecting material, early on recording songs by time-proven stars like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Bill Anderson, Mel Tillis, Jim Weatherly, Harlan Howard, and Roger Miller. Price's influence is felt to this day; the "Ray Price beat," a laconic shuffle used on such brilliant '50s honky tonk fare as "Crazy Arms" and "Release Me," is now the first word in country's rhythmic language.

Known as the "Cherokee Cowboy"--he was born in Cherokee County, Texas, on January 12, 1926--Price came to music after considering other vocational options. Though raised in Dallas, Price was introduced to farming, ranching, and animal husbandry while still a boy. He chose to study veterinary science at North Texas Agricultural College in Abilene before his education was interrupted by World War II. After serving with the Marines in the Pacific, Price returned to Abilene in 1946. Ranching would remain of vital interest to him throughout his life.

By 1947 Price was playing guitar and singing with various bands at sundry social functions. In 1948 he suspended his schooling to perform regularly on radio station KRBC's Hillbilly Circus in Abilene. Though still intent on ranching someday, in 1949 Price joined the prestigious Big D Jamboree in Dallas, sponsored by radio station KRLD. The program was eventually broadcast nationally by CBS, giving Price his initial mass exposure.

With the Nashville scene still in its infancy, Texas was the informal center of country music. One of the hot spots was Jim Beck's recording studio in Dallas, a facility visited consistently by stars such as Lefty Frizzell and Floyd Tillman. Price began hanging around at Beck's and soon became friendly with Frizzell; he hastily contributed a song titled "Give Me More, More, More of Your Kisses" to one of Frizzell's 1950 sessions. After recording some undistinguished sides at Beck's--Price was still hard to separate from his heroes Hank Williams and Moon Mullican--he signed with the small Nashville label Bullet. His first record, "Jealous Lies," went nowhere.

Yet the Bullet recordings brought recognition: on March 15, 1951, Price signed a recording contract with the much larger Columbia label. Now socializing frequently with Frizzell, Price followed the older singer to Beaumont, Texas, where he met Hank Williams in the fall of 1951. Williams took Price under his wing, working shows with him and getting him a coveted spot on the Grand Ole Opry. In 1952 Price enjoyed his first hit, "Talk to Your Heart."

For a while Price even lived with Williams, worked with his band the Drifting Cowboys, and filled in for the troubled, self-destructive singer when he was unable to perform. Even after Williams's death, on New Year's Day, 1953, Price continued occasionally to front the Drifting Cowboys. But he longed for a sound closer to the western swing he first heard in east Texas, an exciting, less impassive style.

With that aim, Price formed the Cherokee Cowboys--three fiddles, bass, drums, guitar, piano, and steel guitar. By 1954 he was on his way to a fine collection of country hits. "Release Me" and the defiant "If You Don't Somebody Will" both reached the Top Ten. On March 1, 1956, just as Elvis Presley was shaking country music to its core, Price released the Ralph Mooney-penned "Crazy Arms." In addition to unveiling his trademark shuffle, "Crazy Arms" instituted the now-traditional second harmony on each chorus and the predominance of a single, linear fiddle line.

As Price later told Country Music' s John Morthland, "The sound they had going at the time in country was a 2-4 sound with a double stop fiddle. I added drums to it and a 4-4 bass and shuffle rhythm and the single string fiddle. I don't know where it came from; 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."

Number One for 20 weeks, "Crazy Arms" is one of country's monumental recordings--as compelling coming across the airwaves as it was in an unlit roadhouse. In what would later seem a gentle irony, Price was then considered the hardened country traditionalist, ignoring pop's more sugary sentiments. With the death of Williams and the decline of Frizzell, Price and his rhythmically insistent songs of hurt and disappointment nearly singlehandedly kept the hard country torch aflame in the late 1950s.

Although Price had other hits in 1956, notably "Wasted Words" and "I've Got a New Heartache," country music itself was struggling in the wake of Elvis's rockabilly revolution. Price remained undaunted, refusing to sing rock and roll; indeed, the fiddles and pedal steel were even more prominent in his subsequent recordings. By the end of the '50s, Price's influence had become enormous.

In 1958 Price made a hit of the touching "Curtain in the Window" and Bill Anderson's great story of urban anonymity, "City Lights." A year later he was voted favorite male country vocalist in nearly all of the major music magazines. Price's own 1961 hit composition, "Soft Rain," was inspired by his grandfather's death. And by the early 1960s, the Cherokee Cowboys were a way station for a future who's who of country music: Willie Nelson and Johnny Paycheck played bass; Roger Miller at one point was the drummer; Hank Cochran played guitar; and Buddy Emmons was Price's longtime pedal steel player.

Price became a huge concert attraction and continued to enjoy hit records--Nelson's "Nightlife" was Number One in 1963--but his association with the Grand Ole Opry ended in 1964: he was dropped for not appearing the mandatory 26 weeks on the Opry stage. By the mid-1960s Price would leave Nashville, where he had taken up residence, for Texas, the result of divorce, the death of his father, and a controversial career direction.

After recording a 1957 gospel album with the Anita Kerr Singers, Price had begun seriously considering the use of orchestrated string arrangements with softer, more poignant material. "That got me on the track that people liked strings, so I began adding strings down through the years to certain songs," Price told Morthland. "I was experimenting, until I did 'Danny Boy.' That's when I went all out, and that's when it all hit the fan."

Truly, it was not until 1964's "Burning Memories" and a 1967 remake of the standard "Danny Boy" that the world would hear the new Ray Price sound; his vocal register lowered and subdued, the fiddles and pedal steel replaced by strings, Price made widely popular countrypolitan music that left longtime hard-country fans disgusted and feeling abandoned. Once considered Hank Williams's hand-picked successor, or at least George Jones's great honky tonk contemporary, Price was now lumped in with more conventional crossover stars like Eddy Arnold.

Still, much of this new Price material was emotionally moving. And it improved. In 1969 Price had major hits with Kris Kristofferson's tender lament, "For the Good Times," and Arnold's "Make the World Go Away." He charted his final Number One in 1973, with "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me." In 1974, after 23 years, Price left the Columbia label for ABC/Dot.

The late 1970s were uneven for Price, among the highlights a Hank Williams tribute album in 1976 and a Cherokee Cowboys reunion LP in 1977. Price moved to Monument in 1978, the label where Roy Orbison had created his dense, operatic singles. Price recorded some decent material with Monument--"Misty Morning Rain" and "Feet" were both hits. Throughout this period Price was also a highly successful rancher, donating his thoroughbreds to Texas A&M University in 1979.

By 1980 Price found it difficult to obtain a recording contract. Turning to his old sideman Willie Nelson--by then a superstar--Price recorded the superb San Antonio Rose, an album of duets. It was a stirring return to his old sound. Hits from that outing included a remake of Patsy Cline's "Faded Love" and "Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me." In 1981 Price initiated the "Ray Price Country Starsearch," a contest that called for him to appear at the finals in all 50 states. In 1983 he performed "San Antonio Rose" for the soundtrack to the Clint Eastwood film Honky Tonk Man; he also portrayed a member of Bob Wills's legendary band the Texas Playboys.

Since the mid-1980s, Price has largely tended to his ranching concerns; he lives outside of Dallas with his wife, Jeanie. He has recorded pleasant, though uneven, albums with several labels, including Dimension, Viva, Warners, and Step One. After reconciling the mammoth contrasts in his influential career, Price had most recently re-signed with Columbia. Ray Price's long musical purpose has been informed by a stubborn self-reliance that found him updating hard country when it was questioning its own relevance, and then abandoning it altogether when he heard in his head a sound more compelling.

by Stewart Francke

Ray Price's Career

Played guitar and sang with various bands at social functions, mid-late 1940s; performed on radio shows Hillbilly Circus, KRBC, Abilene, TX, 1948, and Big D Jamboree, KRLD/CBS, Dallas, beginning in 1950; worked with Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys, early 1950s; signed to Bullet label, c. 1950; signed to Columbia Records, 1951; appeared on Grand Ole Opry, 1952-64; released single "Talk to Your Heart," 1952; formed Cherokee Cowboys, 1953; recorded gospel album with Anita Kerr Singers, 1974; signed with ABC/Dot, 1974; with Willie Nelson, recorded San Antonio Rose, 1980; recorded for various labels; re-signed with Columbia; rancher and sporadic concert performer, 1985--. Military service: U.S. Marines, World War II, Pacific Theater.

Famous Works

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 12 years ago

Over the years, I have more than anything, learned so much by from people like my father (Clif), Joe Paterno and Ray Price. God bless them all...

over 12 years ago

Dear Ray, You and I were both born in 1926! But you are still a little bit older than me--I was born in Arkansas on August 7. I am coming to hear you perform in Midland, Texas, on January 10, 2012. I told my kids that after that, I can die happy! Best wishes, Nila B. McDonald

over 12 years ago

Thanks for the great music. I have enjoyed it for many years and plan on enjoying it for many more. What a great artist.

almost 13 years ago

I saw Ray during the "Last of the Breed" tour a few years ago, and his voice was as lush and full as ever, even at the age of 82. I have been a Ray Price fan for over 50 years, and I have every one of his records, on media ranging from 78 rpm to mp3. In my opinion, Ray is one of the best country singers ever, and he should always be mentioned when names like Hank Williams, George Jones and Willie Nelson are uttered. And yes, even when you go back to the likes of Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow, et al. His greatest material was recorded in the 1960's, during which time he was going through a lot personally, resulting in the breakup of his first marriage. But some of the songs on "Time", which is only a few years old, have the same intensity and chill-inducing sound. Keep it up Ray, there are a lof of us out here who still love you!

about 13 years ago

I had the pleasure of visiting Ray's Golden Cross Ranch Mt Pleasant and meeting his brother-in-law Billy Warren....had a great visit....toured the ranch....Ray and Billy teamed up to raise and race pigeons (my interest) and I had the opportunity to meet Ray at Mr. Ed Cook's ( fancier) house in Fort Worth.....Ray was a delightful man and just one of the guys.....

over 13 years ago

Just looked up Ray Price in AllMusic. Make the World Go Away went to #2 in " 1963 " before Eddy Arnold, in 1966

over 13 years ago

Ray Price has always been my favorite. you say in 1969 he had major hits with Kris " For the Good Times " and Eddy Arnold's " Make the World Go Away" " For the Good Times " was about 1969. BUT Ray Price recorded " Make The World Go Away " 1963 in fact I think my 45 has "Night Life "#1 on B side..I heard Make The World Go Away on July 4, 1963.. Arnold didn't record the song until 1966 a posting said.I know it was later..I have seen Ray in person for over 50 years. October, 1952, Ray may have been in his band that year,if he was I saw him then. 60 years ago. For the good times is NOT Eddy Arnolds it just happened that Night Life #1 and the other side Make the World Go Away did not take off.. But it is still my favorite..please tell who gave you that information is wrong. thank you for your time

over 13 years ago

My husband and I saw you yesterday at the Florida Strawberry Festival...What a wonderful show and what a fantastic voice. You are a true legend in our eyes and we've enjoyed all your beautiful songs. You have a gift from above to sing that great. And Thank-you for all the years of music. We just love to see you perform !

over 13 years ago

What a voice! Mr. Price is the best. Hope he keeps singing for many more years. It would be great to hear him sing on his 100th birthday. I don't believe anyone can imitate his unique beautiful sound.

over 13 years ago

My husband and I heard Ray Price for the first time last week on his 85th Birthday in Stafford Texas. We were both totally in awe of this fabulous singer. The quality of his voice and his overall performance were truly amazing.

over 13 years ago

I was a member of a private dance party in a very small town in West Texas in the late 1980s. One of our members had some connection and learned that Ray Price was traveling from the west to the San Antonio rodeo. We were able to hire his band for our big night. He told us it was the first time in many years he was actually able to see the faces of his fans. He enjoyed himself so much (and so did we!) that he came back the next year at the same fee. What a gentlemen and what a wonderful talent. We saw him this week on his 85th birthday and his voice still resonates with the country/crossover music I grew up with in the 1960s. So glad he is still singing for us. God Bless him.

over 13 years ago

Oh MY! I have listened to Ray Price since I was a little girl. I never get tired of hearing his fabulous voice and listening to his style of music. Maybe one of these days I can go to one of his shows when he comes back to Oklahoma! I believe I have every recording the man ever made!

over 13 years ago

You can tell by the E Mail Address Im a Ray Price fan. His majestic voice rings loud and clear. The words just tend to roll form his lips and his musical arrangements are some of the best in the business. Probably the best singer in the country music field ever. Some come close but, none Pass. Burning Memories is my all time favorite followed by , The Other Woman. There will never be another Ray Price. Hes one in a million and the only one that can sing.

over 13 years ago

I first saw Ray. Price in 1950at a concert in new jersey. As a young girl growing up in Brooklyn ny. And a country music fan he captured my heart then and has held it ever since.

almost 14 years ago


about 14 years ago

I can never say enough good things about this wonderfully talented artist who has been in my heart since I first heard him sing around 1962. He has always had so much warmth and soul in his voice and every song he sings is special because of his style. He can sing a love song and I think he's singing it just to me. As has been said so often, Ray is always a very classy gentleman and it's obvious that he loves his fans and does all he can to please us all. I am so thankful that Ray is part of our wonderful country music world. He's the cream of the crop and then some. Thank you - thank you Ray. Love always,- Pauline (Kentucky)

about 14 years ago

We just saw Ray Price in Salina, Kansas, just a wonderful wonderful humble performer and his voice is just amazing just as always.

over 14 years ago

Ray has always been my number one country singer. I saw Ray on numerous occasions at Renfro Valley, Ky in the 60's and again in the 90's and the last time in 2007 and again as many have said his voice was amazing. I have had the pleasure of seeing Ray backstage and will always treasure that moment as being one of my highlights in life. Lastly I would like to say God Bless you Ray and hope to see you again someday!

over 14 years ago

My wife Barbara and I saw Ray in concert at Pigeon Forge, Tn. last night, 13 November 2009, and it was beyond belief how an 83 year old man who just underwent heart surgery could perform with such gusto. His voice still has that rich articulate quality it had in the 1950's when Barb and I first started loving his singing. Ditto on the God bless Ray!

about 15 years ago

looking for email or address for ray price have a neice who just loves his and all country music at the age of ten ray,s cousin maryanne is my brother,s mother in law wanted to see if i could get something for my nieace picture or something.

about 15 years ago

I had the pleasure of meeting Ray last night in Milwaukee.I was so excited to meet this living legend.What a treasure!His voice is superb and that does not even give him justice.His voice still resonates that rich quality we all have come to know and love.He sounds just as good as he ever has.I was mesmerized!!I can't believe that he can still deliver a melody with such richness.Thank you Ray for a wonderful night that I will always treasure.

about 15 years ago

Ray, what a gentlemam! I saw the performance Saturday night, April 25, 2009. My heart swelled. He has been singing not only to my ears but to my heart since 1964 when I first played Burning Memories. If I thought I had a chance with his heart I would play to win. I love his song "If Love Is what you are playing for, play to win". Ray, you signed my cd in Brenham, TX a couple of years ago. I wanted to visit with you but couldn't. I prayed for your health when you were ill and I pray you will have a longer successful career. God Bless!!! Margie

about 15 years ago

Saw Ray Price last night, April 9 2009, with Willie Nelson in Toronto Canada ....WOW! Amazing, and what an on stage 'gentleman!' Still cannot believe the power, and tone of his beautiful voice for his age! Keep singing Ray!

over 15 years ago

My mother and I saw Ray Price perform a couple of yrs ago in Minot, ND at the annual Hostfest. He has the most beautiful voice and the best show. We could have listened to him for hrs. He is such a gentleman, he is one of my favorites. When are you coming back to Minot, Ray?? We love You !!!!!

over 15 years ago

We used to attend his dances at the famed "Farmers Daughter" in San Antonio. I have a picture of Ray and me taken by my husband. He was and still is such a great performer. I get chills listening to his CDs. There is no one else that can remotely compare to Ray.

over 15 years ago

As I am getting ready to head to Dallas and link up with Billy Phelps (who played some pedal steel for Ray Price), I recall the first time I saw Ray. Johnny Ryan had a small triangular shaped music park on South Broadway in the Middle Fifties, and even though I was a kid, I can remember "the voice." You could stand a few feet from the small stage, which I did-all afternoon. I carried Ray's voice and phrasing in my head throughout the years, and always felt his recordings to belike a visit from an old friend.

over 15 years ago

I attended Mr. Price's concert in Oklahoma City Feb. 1, 2009. He is so very articulate. His diction is beyond comparison. I was again totaly mezmorized by the voice of this legend. I have driven for hours to be entertained by this man and will continue to be there for him as long as he is willing to perform. He is truly a gentleman. I can feel the respect and gratitude that he has for his band members, present and past. It is apparent that the respect is mutual. I appreciate the effort put forth by Mr. Price and each band member to maintain their appearence and project such a professional image on stage. Again, I am sure Mr. Price would not settle for any less. He leads by fine example. And yes, Mr. Price, you still turn this young lady's head.

over 15 years ago

I saw Ray Price in Ardmore, OK on 31 Jan 2009 his voice is still the best. He sings all his songs with such devotion

over 15 years ago

Ray Price is a music genius. His voice far surpasses anyone else's and he has a gift of choosing good,appealing material. He is a dedicated, honest , humble performer who prides himself in pleasing his fans. I have seen him perform 2 times 2007 and 2008( his 82nd birthday concert in Tyler Tx.) His voice just keeps getting better and he sings with such emotion and sincerity. Ray price is my idol; I adore the man and his music. God Bless Ray Price!!

almost 16 years ago

I sing ray price songs the are the best of all like the voice need a autograph pic to hang in office you keep on going ray gods speed

about 16 years ago

i have always been an elvis fan but just recently i began to listen to ray price with my dad. ray price has a voice to die for and i'd rather listen to him than elvis now.

over 16 years ago

Ray Price is the greatest singer who lives or who will ever live!!!