From 1952 through 1982 the velvet voice of Ray Price recorded more than
eighty hits that soared into the Country Music Top Forty, along with numerous
crossover hits. The memorable artistry of Price has included notable
innovations, and when he was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996,
there was widespread feeling that the honor was long overdue.
Ray Noble Price was born in East Texas, at little Perryville, southeast of
Winnsboro, on January 12, 1926. When he was four his parents divorced and his
mother moved with little Ray to Dallas. When Ray graduated from Adamson High
School in Dallas, World War II was raging. The eighteen-year-old enlisted in the
U.S. Marines in 1944, serving in the Pacific. Discharged in 1946, he enrolled in
a Dallas-area college, intending to become a veterinarian. But his musical
talents led to college gigs and other local dates. By 1948, billing himself as
"The Cherokee Kid" (soon changed to the "Cherokee Cowboy"), Ray joined Abilene's
Hillbilly Jamboree, broadcast over KRBC Radio. The next year he moved to
the Big D Jamboree, which was nationally telecast over Dallas' CBS
affiliate. Ray made his first recordings over the Dallas-based Bullet label, but
he signed with Columbia in 1951.
By this time he had become close friends with his idol, Hank Williams, who wrote
a song, "Weary Blues," for Ray. This connection with Hank Williams was
instrumental in Ray's invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1952, the
year his recordings began to reach the charts. After Hank's death early in 1953,
his Drifting Cowboys became Ray's backup band, and the young artist patterned
himself stylistically after Williams. But one night an audience member told him,
"Ray, you sound more like ol' Hank every time I hear you." Ray realized he
needed to find his own sound, and the rest of his career would be a musical
adventure. Dismissing the Drifting Cowboys, he formed a new band, the Cherokee
Cowboys. Notable artists who, at one time or another, were members of the
Cherokee Cowboys have included Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, and Johnny Paycheck.
Within a year Ray added a drum set to the Cherokee Cowboys. Although Bob Wills
used drums with his famous dance band, country bands of the era did not include
drums, "and certainly not on the Grand Ole Opry," recalled Price. But by
introducing drums, his band was able to emphasize the "Ray Price Beat," a
distinctive shuffle-beat that quickly spread throughout Country Music. Country
Music fans thought that Ray Price and his band were becoming Rockabilly, like
Elvis and Carl Perkins. But in 1956, Ray's "Crazy Arms" spent forty-five weeks
on the Country charts, including twenty weeks at Number One. As he reeled off
one hit after another, the "Ray Price Beat" became the standard country sound.
By the 1960s Ray began slipping strings into such country hits as "Make the
World Go Away" and "Burning Memories." In 1967 he was backed by forty-seven
pieces when he recorded "Danny Boy." Although some country deejays boycotted
him, "Danny Boy" broke the Top Ten. In 1970 there were more strings when Ray
covered Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times," which reached Number One and
also hit the Pop charts. Now in his 80's, this innovative stylist still leaves
his East Texas ranch and wife of three decades to record and to perform 100
dates per year.
thirteen-year-old farmboy Billy Walker picked more than 320 pounds of cotton in
one grueling day. Rewarded by his father with a quarter, Billy treated himself
to a Gene Autry movie, Cowboy Serenade. "That movie hooked me on show
business," reminisced Billy half a century later. "That's where I wanted to be."
Show business offered escape from a difficult
upbringing. Billy Marvin Walker was born on a West Texas farm near Ralls on
January 14, 1929. Billy was one of eight children, but when he was four his
mother died while trying to give birth to a ninth baby. It was the heart of the
Great Depression, and Billy's father was forced to place his three youngest
children--Jerry, Billy and Delmar--in a Methodist orphanage in Waco. Billy hated
life in an orphanage dormitory. "It was like being in prison." After a few years
the family was reunited, but life on a West Texas cotton farm was hard. "I made
spending money by plucking turkeys for between three and eight cents a bird," he
recalled. After seeing Cowboy Serenade, Billy saved enough money to buy a
guitar for $3.25 and an instruction book for another quarter. "From then on, I
practiced and worked on songs every spare minute."
When he was fifteen, Billy won a talent competition
in Ralls. He was awarded three dollars and a chocolate cake--and a
fifteen-minute show on Saturday mornings at a New Mexico radio station. There
was no pay, only exposure and experience, but Billy eagerly hitch-hiked eighty
miles each way on Saturdays. After high school, Billy advanced quickly, soon
forming his own trio. "When I was nineteen," he related, "Hank Thompson hired me
as his opening act, which led to a Capitol Records recording contract."
Billing himself as "The Traveling Texan," he joined
the Big D Jamboree from KRLD Radio in Dallas. Topping out at six
foot-three, he also would be known as "The Tall Texan," and eventually Billy
would develop a Tall Texan record label. From 1952 through 1955 he was a member
of Shreveport's prestigious Louisiana Hayride, touring with such Hayride
stars as Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, and Faron Young. Billy was part of the last
tour with Williams before Hank died, and he was present when young Elvis Presley
debuted with the Hayride.
Billy first hit the charts in 1954, and through the
years he enjoyed thirty-four Top Ten Hits. In 1962 his single, "Charlie's
Shoes," reached Number One and stayed on the charts for five months. He was
voted by Billboard as one of the Top Twenty most played artists during the
period 1950-1970. In 1960 Billy became a member of the Grand Ole Opry,
remaining one of its most loyal participants. Three years later, because of a
family emergency, Billy and Hawkshaw Hawkins traded flights. Billy flew safely
to Nashville, but a few hours later the small plane carrying Hawkshaw, Cowboy
Copas, and Patsy Cline crashed, killing all aboard.
In the 1970s Billy, backed by his group the
Tennessee Walkers, headlined his own television show, Country Music Carousel.
He appeared on the Jimmy Dean Show, The Statler Brothers Show, Hee Haw,
and many other TV shows. Billy is the father of six daughters and is happily
married to Bettie Walker who runs Billy Walker Enterprises from their suburban
home near Nashville.
"When you see me fall asleep, say amen but don't you weep. I've
got so many million years that I can't count them." This expression of deep
religious belief came from an East Texas preacher's son who, as a Hollywood
performer, strayed far from his boyhood faith, then returned. Carl Stuart
Hamblen was born at Kellyville, west of Jefferson, Texas, on October 20, 1908.
His father was an itinerant preacher, and Stuart learned to love outdoor life
while traveling with him. Enrolling at a Methodist institution in Abilene,
McMurry College, Stuart soon became a singing cowboy on KAYO Radio in Abilene.
Three years later, in 1929 he won a talent contest in Dallas.
With his $100 cash prize, Stuart traveled to the East Coast, recording four
songs for the forerunner of RCA Victor. Then he ventured across the country to
Hollywood, where he became a member of the early Western singing group, the
Beverly Hill Billies. Soon he became a West Coast radio star, headlining such
programs as Stuart Hamblen and His Lucky Stars, Covered Wagon Jubilee,
and His Woolly West Review. During the 1930s and 1940s he appeared in
Western movies with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Wild Bill Elliott, and Don "Red"
Barry. In 1945 he joined the cast of Flame of the Barbary Coast, starring
Although he married in 1933, Stuart drank, gambled, brawled, and wrote such
songs as, "I Won't Go Huntin' With Ya, Jake, But I'll Go Chasin' Women." His
lovely and devoted wife, Suzy, prayed fervently for him, and Stuart finally
experienced a religious conversion at the Canvas Cathedral in Los Angeles,
during the 1949 crusade which brought evangelist Billy Graham nationwide fame.
This spiritual turnaround was instrumental in his growing success. Stuart
stopped drinking and ran for president of the Prohibition Party in 1952. He
began writing gospel songs and starred in a Sunday morning radio show, Cowboy
Church of the Air. When Stuart encountered John Wayne on the street, the
movie star asked, "What's this I hear about you, Stuart?" "Well, Duke," answered
the transformed Hamblen, "I guess it's no secret what God can do." Wayne
commented, "Sounds like a song."
John Wayne's casual remark was a creative inspiration for Hamblen, who composed
a Gospel classic, "It Is No Secret." Stuart wrote more than 225 other songs,
including such hits as "Remember Me," "I'm the One Who Loves you," "Open Up Your
Heart and Let the Sunshine In," and "Teach Me, Lord, To Wait." His songs were
recorded by such artists as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Pat Boone, Eddy Arnold,
Hank Snow, and Ernest Tubb. His biggest hit was "This Ole House." Recorded by
Rosemary Clooney, it was Number One simultaneously in seven different countries,
and was voted the 1954 Song of the Year.
In 1970 Stuart was inducted as a charter member of the Nashville Songwriters
Hall of Fame. The next year the Academy of Country and Western Music honored him
with its Pioneer Award for being the "first singing Country and Western Cowboy
in the history of broadcasting." In 1976 he was awarded a star on the Hollywood
Boulevard Walk of Fame, and in 1988 he received a Golden Boot Award for his work
in motion pictures. Stuart and Suzy made their family home at a horse ranch just
outside Los Angeles. He died at the age of eighty on March 8, 1989.