By Lou Antonelli
Hundreds of people – including colleagues from the music industry – crowded the First Baptist Church for a memorial service Saturday afternoon honoring County Music Hall of Fame member Ray Price.
Price died Monday in hospice care Dec. 16 after losing a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 87.
Pastor Clint Davis noted the large number of people who were willing to brave the cold, wet weather to attend the memorial.
The event, noted Davis, was to “celebrate a life well lived on this very sad and special day.”
“He left a deep and indelible imprint on our culture,” added Davis.
Long-time country radio personality Bill Mack of Fort Worth, who knew Price for 60 years, said he asked him many years ago why he settled down in Mount Pleasant.
He said Price told him, “It’s a pleasant town, how do you think it got that name?”
Mack brought greetings from Willie Nelson, who had called him that morning. He said Nelson told him to say “Without a Ray Price, there wouldn’t have been a Willie Nelson.”
Nelson noted Price gave him his first big break when he was hired to play bass in Price’s band, The Cherokee Cowboys, after Don Young (whose stage name was Johnny Paycheck) quit.
“He asked me, ‘Can you play bass?’” wrote Nelson. “I said, ‘Who can’t play bass?”
“Well, he found out I can’t play bass,” said Mack as he finished Nelson’s anecdote.
Mack spoke of his long and deep friendship with Price, who made him his official spokesman. “He was a marvelous pal, just a good man to be around.”
Mack as well as the other eulogists praised Price as down-to-earth. “He never seemed to realize he was a start, he just knew people liked to hear him sing.”
The interludes in the memorial service were filled by a country music quartet playing songs such as “In the Garden”, “Danny Boy” and “Let’s Make a Memory Today” – all Price songs – on a stage before a large display of poinsettias, floral tributes, and photos of Price and his wife of 45 years, Janie.
Eddie Stubbs, a radio host with the Grand Ole Opry, came from Nashville to offer condolences from the county music industry.
“He was as good as any of his contemporaries,” said Stubbs, “and no one was his superior.”
Price was responsible for the last major musical innovation in classic country music, the 4/4 shuffling beat, noted Stubbs.
Over his 65 year career, Price earned the respect of his colleagues by constantly perfecting his craft, said Stubbs. “As a result, his voice is just as fresh today as it was 65 years ago.”
Mack agreed that Price retained his vocal skills until the end, “He just got better as time went by.” His last album is yet to be released.
Both Mack and Stubbs spoke of Price’s deep religious faith. Mack pointed out that both Faron Young and Marty Robbins has died in December, and he added – somewhat choked up – that perhaps Jesus brought him home to heaven “to sing for him on his birthday.”
Stubbs added that Price’s religious conviction was quiet but sincere, and mentioned that one time he learned Price supported a charity that helped elderly Jews immigrate to Israel from Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Stubbs said he expressed some surprise at Price’s support of a Jewish charity. He said Price’s opinion was that more Christians should feel the same way, “I plan on spending eternity with one of them.”
“Ray Price was just a country boy who spent a third of his life in Mount Pleasant, but was known around the world” said Stubbs.
Another eulogist, Dallas Wayne – the Sirius XM radio DJ for the country channel Willie’s Roadhouse – said Price was a gentleman off the stage as well as on, possessing “heart and soul, grace, dignity, elegance and character.”
He credited Price’s music for drawing him to his career. “He had that kind of voice that sang from the heart, you know he put his heart and soul into his music.”
A natural gentleman, Wayne said – reflecting on his given first name – “He was the epitome of the word “noble”.
Other speakers included Tyler Mayor Barbara Bass – a member of the extended Price family – and former District Judge Lanny Ramsay of Mount Vernon, who got to know Price as he prepared his will.
Bass said Price was the same as a family member as he was in public, “he was a very umble man and down to earth.”
Ramsay said Price never stopped being a gentleman, and even in his last days, when they were discussing his estate, he apologized as he had to blot his nose because of an oxygen tube.
Price lived in Mount Pleasant for 31 years; he was born in Wood County, in the small community of Peach outside Perryville.
The benediction at the end of the service was given by Shiles Hubbell, chaplain of the Cypress Basin Hospice, which cared for Price at the end of his life.
A funeral is planned for Dec. 28 in Dallas by the Restland Funeral Home.