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Country Music Innovator Ray Price Dead at 87

Image courtesy of Donn Jones/Country Music Hall of Fame (via ABC News Radio)
Image courtesy of Donn Jones/Country Music Hall of Fame (via ABC News Radio)

Country Music Hall of Fame member Ray Price , whose hits include "Crazy Arms," "Heartaches by the Number" and "For the Good Times," died Monday at home in Mt. Pleasant, TX after a battle with pancreatic cancer.  He was 87.  A rep for his wife of 45 years, Janie , confirmed Price's passing on Facebook , adding that she and the family are "so grateful for your prayers."

Though Price had been undergoing treatment since his 2011 diagnosis, the cancer recently spread to the singer's liver, intestines and lungs.  A December 12 statement from East Texas Medical Center said Price and Janie had made the decision to end treatment and for Price to return home to receive hospice care in his final days.

In a last message to his fans, Price said, "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."

Raised in East Texas, Ray Price split his time between his divorced parents' homes. After a stint in the Marines during World War II, Price went to college to become a veterinarian, but also started singing and recording in Dallas. Price met Hank Williams in 1951, and then moved to Nashville from his native Texas in 1952 to join the Grand Ole Opry; he briefly roomed with Williams.  His early style was heavily influenced by Williams, and Price even used Williams' band, the Drifting Cowboys, as his backing band.

For the next twenty years, Price earned a well-deserved reputation as one of country music's foremost innovators.  He came into his own with the 1956 #1 hit, "Crazy Arms," which introduced the 4/4 shuffle tempo that came to be known as the "Ray Price Beat." Through the late '50s, Price helped put legendary songwriters like Harlan Howard and Bill Anderson on the map by recording their songs "Heartaches by the Number" and "City Lights," respectively.  He also hired Willie Nelson , Roger Miller and Johnny Paycheck as his band members during this time.

The 1960s found Ray Price trading in his honky-tonk style for a much smoother, pop sound marked by the use of string sections. In 1970, Price hit the #1 spot on the country chart with Kris Kristofferson 's "For the Good Times," which was named ACM Single of the Year. The For the Good Times LP was named ACM Album of the Year as well. In 1971, Price's I Won't Mention It Again took CMA Album of the Year honors.

Price moved back to Texas in the mid-'70s after growing frustrated with the Nashville music business. He recorded sporadically for the next few decades, and teamed up with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard for a 2007 collaborative album, Last of the Breed . His duet with Willie Nelson from that album, "Lost Highway," won a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.

Price kept an active touring schedule through May 2013.   According to the December 12 statement, "He has a new CD coming out and several tribute shows were already being planned to celebrate his career. One is set for Feb. 12 in Nashville." 

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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