Ray Price, one of country music's most popular and influential singers and bandleaders who had more than 100 hits and was one of the last living connections to Hank Williams, died Monday. He was 87.
Mr. Price died at his ranch outside Mount Pleasant, Texas, said Billy Mack Jr., who was acting as a family spokesman.
Mr. Price was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011 and it had recently spread to his liver, intestines and lungs, according East Texas Medical Center in Tyler. He stopped aggressive treatments earlier this month to receive hospice care at home.
Perhaps best known for his version of the Kris Kristofferson song "For the Good Times," a pop hit in 1970, the velvet-voiced Mr. Price was a giant among traditional country performers in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, as likely to defy a trend as he was to defend one. He helped invent the genre's honky-tonk sound early in his career, then took it in a more polished direction.
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."
Mr. Price was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, long after he had become dissatisfied with Nashville and returned to his home state of Texas.
His importance went well beyond hit singles. 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, Mr. Price angered traditionalists by breaking away from country. He gave early breaks to Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and other major performers.
His "Danny Boy" in the late 1960s was a heavily orchestrated version that crossed over to the pop charts. He then started touring with a string-laden 20-piece band that outraged his dance hall fans.
In the 1970s he sang often with symphony orchestras -- in a tuxedo and cowboy boots.
Like Mr. Nelson, his good friend and contemporary, Mr. Price simply didn't care what others thought and pursued the chance to make his music the way he wanted to.
Mr. Price continued performing and recording well into his 70s.
In 2007, Mr. Price joined buddies Merle Haggard and Mr. Nelson on a double-CD set, "Last of the Breed." The trio performed on tour with the Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel.
Mr. Price earned his long-standing fame honestly, weaving himself into the story of modern country music in several ways.
As a young man, he became friends with Hank Williams, toured with the country legend and shared a house with him in Nashville. Williams even let Mr. Price use his band, the Drifting Cowboys, and the two wrote a song together, the modest Price hit "Weary Blues (From Waiting)".
By 1952, Mr. Price was a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry.
The singer had one of country music's great bands, the Cherokee Cowboys, early in his career. His lineup included at times Mr. Nelson, Miller and Johnny Paycheck.
His 1956 version of "Crazy Arms" became a landmark song for both Mr. Price and country music. His first No. 1 country hit, the song rode a propulsive beat into the pop top 100 as well. Using a drummer and bassist to create a country shuffle rhythm, he eventually established a sound that would become a trademark.
Mr. Price was born near Perryville, Texas, on Jan. 12, 1926, and was raised in Dallas. He joined the Marines for World War II and then studied to be a veterinarian at North Texas Agricultural College before he decided on music as a career.