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Ray Price

Country singer

Country singer

Born: January 12, 1926; Died: December 15, 2013.

Ray Price, who has died aged 87, was one of country music's most popular and influential singers and band leaders. He had more than 100 hits and was one of the last living connections to Hank Williams.

Perhaps best known for his version of the Kris Kristofferson song For The Good Times, a pop hit in 1970, velvet-voiced Price was a giant among traditional country performers in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and was 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. 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," he said. "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."

He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, long after he became dissatisfied with Nashville and returned to his home state of Texas.

His importance went well beyond hit singles. He was among the pioneers who popularised 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. 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.

Like Nelson, his good friend and contemporary, Price simply did not care what others thought and pursued the chance to make his music the way he wanted to. "I have fought prejudice since I got in country music and I will continue to fight it," he said in 1981. "A lot of people want to keep country music in the minority of people. But it belongs to the world. It's art."

In the same interview he credited the cowboy for the popularity of country music. "Everyone loves the cowboy. He's nice, humble and straightforward. And country music is the same thing," he said. "The kids have discovered what Mom and Pop told 'em."

He continued performing and recording well into his 70s. In 2007, he joined buddies Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson on a double-CD set, Last Of The Breed. The trio performed on tour with Asleep at the Wheel.

Over the years, he came in and out of vogue as traditional country music waxed and waned on the radio. He was a constant advocate for the old days and ways of country music, and more recently re-entered the news when he took offence at comments Blake Shelton made about classic country music that included the words "old farts".

The dust-up drew attention on the internet and introduced Price to a new generation of country fans. "You should be so lucky as us old-timers," Price said in a happily cantankerous post in capital letters. "Check back in 63 years (the year 2075) and let us know how your name and your music will be remembered."

As a young man, Price became friends with Hank Williams, toured with the country legend and shared a house with him in Nashville. Williams even let Price use his band, the Drifting Cowboys, and the two wrote a song together, the modest Price hit Weary Blues (From Waiting).

Price was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011 and it had recently spread to his liver, intestines and lungs. He stopped aggressive treatments and left hospital last Thursday to receive hospice care at home.

At the time, his wife, Janie Price, relayed what she called her husband's "final message" to his fans, saying: "I love my fans and have devoted my life to reaching out to them. I appreciate their support all these years, and I hope I haven't let them down. I am at peace. I love Jesus. I'm going to be just fine. Don't worry about me. I'll see you again one day."

He is survived by his wife and son.

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