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Ray Price Recalls Early Pop Vs. Country Controversy

Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Ray Price is still going strong at 84 years young. He’s singing his beloved hits, including ‘Heartaches by the Number‘ and ‘For the Good Times,’ at concerts across the country. It’s just taking him a bit longer to get from city to city.

“I know there’s an end to my career somewhere. But I enjoy what I do, so why stop?,” the 84-year-old tells the Lubbock Avalanche- Journal. “But my flying days are over; I prefer to stay on the bus.”

Ray landed in the music biz after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and starting college at North Texas Agricultural College. That’s where he met several classmates who were also musicians. After playing at Roy’s House Cafe in Dallas, he changed his career goal from veterinarian to country musician and was soon playing on Big ‘D’ Jamboree and on Hank Williams‘ radio shows.

“Me and Hank, when we met, it was an instant friendship. In an entire lifetime, you may come across just one or two people you instantly like,” he says. “I lived with Hank during the last year of his life. He was about the only mentor I ever had.”

Ray Price is now lauded for changing the sound of country music in the 1950s. The rhythmic brand of honky-tonk he introduced has been widely adopted. And in a way, he could be considered a trailblazer for artists including Shania Twain and Taylor Swift. Like Shania and Taylor, Ray’s later music was often considered pop — his 1970 hit ‘For the Good Times,’ was on both country and pop charts and he took a lot of verbal beatings from mainstream country insiders for it.

“I said I was sorry they were upset but, if they didn’t like it, they could kiss my exposed rear end,” says Ray. “I’d taken a lot of crap. They tried to tell me I had left country music, which was a lie. They were just upset because I left Nashville.”

His band members — which over time included Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck and Roger Miller — still stood behind him. In fact, he says, he owes a lot to Willie for prodding the Country Music Hall of Fame to induct him in 1996 after numerous nominations.

“I felt like [soap opera star] Susan Lucci,” he says. “But really, I probably got in because Willie embarrassed them the year before when he got up on stage and said, ‘Don’t you think it’s about time to invite Ray Price?’”

Ray has concerts scheduled throughout the year. For a complete list of tour dates, click here.

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