Janie Price Interview: Ray Price’s Widow Shares Thoughts on Country Legend’s Life, Music and Legacy
Ray Price married Janie Price (nee Phillips) on June 11, 1970. They were together almost exactly 43 and a half years before the country music legend passed away on Dec. 16, 2013, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Born in Texas in 1926, Price went to college to become a veterinarian but began singing in a local cafe and found himself with a budding music career instead. After a first recording contract and some unsuccessful singles, Price signed with Columbia and toured with Hank Williams in 1951.
The following year, the 'Release Me' singer moved to Nashville to join the Grand Ole Opry. His breakthrough hit, 'Crazy Arms,' came in 1956; it hit No. 1 and showed off Price's signature sound. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996 and had a slew of successful albums, hit songs and major awards to his name.
In November 2012, Price revealed that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Much of his last year of life was spent going through treatment and dealing with its effects. In December 2013, it was revealed that the disease had spread to Price's, liver, lungs and intestines; he ceased treatment, spending his final days at home in hospice care.
But Price also used his final year to put together one last album, 'Beauty Is ...' Nostalgic, touching and full of love, the record was released on April 15 and quickly became the third most-downloaded country album on Amazon, also landing in the Top 30 on the iTunes chart. Because Price was not alive to promote the disc, his widow stepped in in his place, fulfilling one of her last promises to her husband.
In advance of the one-year anniversary of Ray Price's death, Janie Price spoke with The Boot about her husband's music and legacy, as well as about what the last year has been like for her.
This is a bit of an unusual situation: You're promoting your husband's record. What does this record mean to you, and what would you say that it meant to Ray?
This was Ray's last dream. When his pancreatic cancer returned and it started spreading and we knew [he was] not going to survive, he already had done this, and he told me that the album was completely done, and the project was completed: He had chosen the record label. The record label, AmeriMonte, had hired [the label's president] Steve Popovich, Jr. Steve had put this marketing team together of all the people who were going to distribute it and do all the promotion. And he told me, he said, "Honey, you're going to have to take what I've done, you're going to have to take this project, and you're going to have to run with it." And I said, "Well, sweetheart ..."
You know, I had always been Ray's personal business manager since we got married ... and I had taken care of all of his business behind the scenes, but I had never, ever stepped out front and done any of these things. I've scheduled 10,000 interviews for Ray Price and handed him the phone ... but I'd never done this, and so, what this means to me, it's hard for me to put it in words ... but what I want you to know is that this was Ray's very last dream -- a dream come true. And my intent is to do whatever I can, if I can do anything at all, to lend any credence to the project. I'm here to see that his dream is fulfilled, and that was for him to do a last album and a last project for him to leave so that his legacy would continue to live on long after he was gone. That's why I'm involved in the project, and I just want to see it come to fruition.
This was Ray's very last dream -- a dream come true.
And of course, I've just been blown away with the reception and with all of the continuing fan base. It just keeps building and building. To think, the album was released April the 15th ... and the fact that this is December! ... This album is still selling. They're still putting it in all these stores, and I just can't believe it. The radio stations are all picking it up, and it's actually like it's picked up a life of its own, and it's gained momentum, and it's like a snowball that starts out as a little small one and ends up as a great ol' big snowman at the end of the mountain. That's actually what I see has happened here.
What has the last year been like for you, both in respect to being without Ray and as far as promoting his last album, doing something like that that you've never done before?
Ray Price was my life. When I say that, I mean that Janie Phillips ceased to exist not very long after we were married, and I just merged into him. His life was so big, and he was such a big presence, that he just demanded every waking moment that I had. And, you know, when you love someone, in marriage, you just willingly go along with this, but Ray never made any bad decisions, and so what he was doing was always fun, and I just wanted to be a part of it. And so I had no clue that, all of a sudden, I just simply got lost and became Ray Price's wife. And all we did was his business and promoting all of his things, and it was not until he was gone that, I woke up the morning after, and I thought, "Well, what am I even waking up for?"
[After he died,] I had lost so much weight; I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. I was like a zombie ... and I just couldn't get out of the house because I was lost. I just simply woke up, and I kept looking for him, every day of my life ... Steve Popovich had started calling me in the very beginning. He was at Ray's funeral, and he asked me at the funeral, "Janie, can we talk about you becoming a part of this project?" and I said, "Oh, God, Steve, I'll do anything I can to help you, but don't ask me to go out of the house, don't ask me to do anything like that." And he said, "Well, OK." So he waited a few days, and he called me and asked me again, and then he asked me again, and every time he asked me, I said, "I just can't do it," and I couldn't.
But then something happened. The album was released on April the 15th, and it was Ray Price himself, I promise you ... I'm telling you for a fact, it was on the 13th day of April that I was laying in that bed. I woke up, and I heard Ray Price, crystal clear, say to me, "Get out of this bed, and keep your promise to me!" ... I jumped out of that bed! I did, I heard his voice, and I jumped out of that bed and said, "Yes, sir!" [Laughs] Just like I'd done a million times before. I was always the lazy one to get out of bed in the morning, and he was always coming over [and saying], "Come on, we're burning daylight! Come on, get out of bed! Let's go, we've got things to do today." He always had these projects, and he just motivated me to get up and get out of that bed ...
I thank God every day that I had him because if i had not had this project, I doubt seriously if I would even have survived this.
[When I started meeting fans,] I started understanding what he had told me ... He said, "You're going to be the closest thing to me that people are going to have to reach out and touch," and he said, "You're going to have to make yourself available for me, so that my fans will have a way to say goodbye to me." I fully understood what he meant because it was like everyone was hugging me like an old, long-lost friend, and I could feel their love. And these people that support Ray Price, they don't just like Ray Price, they love Ray Price, and I can feel it. And so that just, literally, it has set me on fire ... and so that's what I've been doing, and I thank God every day that I had him because if i had not had this project, I doubt seriously if I would even have survived this.
Do you have any stories about meeting Ray's fans that are especially memorable?
Oh my goodness, the fans! Oh my God, there's millions of stories; there's so many ... It's like Ray Price has got an extended family out there. Have you ever been to a whole-family reunion, and you've got people that you really don't remember, and you recognize their face, or you know their name, and they come up to you: "Hey, good to see you, remember me?" And then all of a sudden, you go, "Oh, yeah!" And then the history of this person starts coming to your mind, and then you remember who they were, where you met them and what the circumstances were, and what you relationship is with them. Well, that's what's happening to me because every person I meet has a relationship with Ray Price of some kind.
On 'Beauty Is ...,' do you have a favorite song?
Well, I love them all. 'Beauty Lies in the Eyes of the Beholder' is just a spectacular song. It's just a Ray Price classic ... 'I Can See You,' my God, I mean, I can't hardly listen to that. That just brings me to absolute tears every time. I could just sit there and live through that because we've had so many beautiful, wonderful, intimate moments together, just like that song describes. 'This Thing of Ours,' oh my goodness, it just -- you listen to that, and it just tells pretty much my and Ray's life story.
But the one that just, of course, it was the one that I brought to Ray, and that I had been bringing to him over and over for many years, is 'An Affair to Remember.' That was a song I had asked him to do many, many, many years ago, and he just simply said that he never thought it would fit into an album, and this time, when he ran it by [producer] Fred Foster, he said, "Absolutely. That will fit this album." And so I got my song cut after 43 and a half years! [Laughs] And the duet he did with Martina McBride, my God, she sounds like an angel on there, and their voices blend so beautifully, and I mean, I cried my eyes out the first time I heard it. I just think it's -- that's gotta be my favorite.
What has the last year shown you about Ray's legacy and impact on country music?
I hope that country music is never, ever talked about [and] Ray Price's name is not mentioned. He should be a part of that.[/pullquotes]
You know, if anyone knows the history of country music, and if anyone knows Ray Price's story, I don't see how the two can be separated. This man literally is country music. He opened the doors; he built the stages; he set the stages. Ray Price paid out of his pocket. He's the one who hired all of the violin players, and the dobros and the cellos. He introduced those to country music. Do you listen to a song now that doesn't have them on it?
And he paid those dues. He was chastised by the country music industry for abandoning country music when his only hope was to expand country music and make people proud of country music -- the music that he was so proud of. He said that country music is America's music, and I say Ray Price's legacy will be -- I'm hoping that it will be -- that he will be remembered and tied into the story of country music. I hope that country music is never, ever talked about [and] Ray Price's name is not mentioned. He should be a part of that.
He opened the doors for those who came behind. Most people don't know the true story behind what Ray Price actually did and the personal price, the toll it took on him, of what actually happened to him when he left that old, old honky-tonk sound behind and when he added those beautiful strings. He brought country music to town, is what Ray Price did, and not only did he do that with the musical instrumentation itself, but what he did was bring others on board. Ray is the one to open the doors for people like Willie Nelson and Roger Miller and Johnny Paycheck and Johnny Bush and Darrell McCall -- I mean, that's just a few of them who he helped along the way, but think about all the writers that Ray Price literally -- he supported these people's families. I mean, there's hundreds and hundreds of people who have made a living because of Ray Price's songs and the success that he had, which of course goes back to the Ray Price fan base. They supported the whole thing, but Ray Price chose these artists' songs ...
Ray Price is country music as far as I'm concerned. I may be over-embellishing it because I'm his wife, but let me tell you, that's how I feel.