By Deborah Evans Price
Ray Price died just a year ago at the age of 87 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Before his death, he recorded his final album, “Beauty Is…,” a stunning collection of love songs that entered the Billboard country albums chart last spring at No. 22, the country icon’s highest debut in 32 years.
“Ray said, ‘Nobody’s going to remember be after I’m gone. I just know this is all going to be over,’” says Janie Price, Ray’s wife of 43 years. “I said, ‘Ray Price, you are like Arm & Hammer baking soda. There is a box in every house in America. Everyone knows your name.’ So this would just thrill him.”
Price was concerned that his final album wouldn’t get much attention without him being around to promote it, but thanks to Steve Popovich, Jr. President of AmeriMonte Records, and to Janie, Price needn’t have worried. His wife has been doing interviews to keep the album top of mind and has visited with Mike Huckabee, Nashville radio legend Bill Cody and a barrage of media anxious to talk about her husband’s legacy.
“Ray Price had a career longer than a lot of people are even old,” she says with a smile, noting his 65 years in the business. “He
has a fan base who supported him. Most of the fans that Ray Price had were Ray’s age. Ray was 87-years-old. But how are we explaining the tremendous record sales and support today? It is [because of] the children and the grandchildren of these people who were Ray Price’s fans.”
Known for such classic hits as “For the Good Times” and “Crazy Arms,” the Texas native’s smooth, rich voice never faltered and he toured into his 80s, regularly astounding audiences with his effortless crooning. “He was born with it,” Janie says of his voice. “He just opened his mouth and it came out. Didn’t it?”
Produced by longtime friend and collaborator Fred Foster, “Beauty Is…” features guest appearances by Price fans Martina McBride on “An Affair to Remember” and Vince Gill on “Until Then” and “Beauty Lies in the Eyes of the Beholder.” Listening to the album is a love letter to Janie. “He didn’t tell me. I did not know that that’s what it was,” she says, noting that he went to the recording sessions himself so it would be a surprise. “I always went with him everywhere he went because he was ill and I never left his side. We were going through all these treatments together, so in between the cancer treatments, he would come to Nashville and work on the sessions. And he said, ‘I really want to see if I can do this by myself.’ So I just said, ‘Okay, honey. You go do that.’
“But little did I know what he really was doing. He was doing it as a dedication to me. The whole time he was doing it, he was planning on doing it for me and dedicating it to me because we both knew the sad news that he was not going to survive for very long. He told me, ‘I want to leave you something that you can hold in your hand and you can look at and listen to when I’m gone, and you get down on those bad days. Those moments in time when you think: ‘How am I ever going to make it through this?’ You put this album on and you listen to it. It’s going to help you through it.’”
Price says the album has been a great comfort, but admits she couldn’t listen to it at for a while. “When he first passed away, I could not listen to it. I could not,” she says. “I was actually in bed for two and half solid months. I had lost so much weight. I had to go to the doctor. They were very worried about me. I really was a pretty sick puppy when I got home, because we had been in the hospital for three solid months. There was 120 days we were not even released. It was total confinement. That’s rough. Anyone who sat by their husband’s bedside, or any loved one in a hospital, knows how grueling that is. We knew that he wasn’t going to make it. That was the saddest part, letting him go.”
Price says she cried on the anniversary of Ray’s death (December 16), but that she lit candles to remember him. She also planned to visit where he is temporarily interred in the mausoleum where he and his mom have places there with his stepdad.”
Price plans to build a memorial where fans can pay their respects to the Country Music Hall of Famer. “I have the Ray Price Mausoleum Project that’s underway right now,” she says. “I have the most beautiful mausoleum picked out and I have found the site. It’s on a place called Mirror Lake at Restland. Restland Funeral Home is like 400 acres in downtown Dallas. It’s hard to believe. It’s like you’re in the country. I could not believe it when they took me down and showed me that site. It’s a beautiful lake and it has a waterfall in the center. They’ve got it lit all around. They’ve got plants planted around it. It looks like a scene on our farm. And it just took my breath away.”
Price is thankful for their life together and the support she’s received from fans since his passing. She encourages them to listen to his final album and in doing these interviews, she wants to share what he was thinking near the end.
“Ray wanted this album to be a representation of the Ray Price styles over the years,” she says. “So he wanted the country, and he wanted the big, lush, beautiful instruments and violins and everything. But every song he chose, he wanted to be about love. Because he said in the end, what do we have? We have nothing but love in the end.
“He said, ‘That’s all I’ve got left here with me. I have lived the American dream. I have come from a poor country family, and I have had a career that my fans gave that to me. I’ve gone from the outhouse to the White House, and every place in between. And I’ve lived that dream. I’ve been blessed with all these gifts.
“In the end, what do we have? I only have the love that’s surrounding me here to take with me. And I’m only going to be able to leave the love I have for you with you. We’re not going to take any of these things with us, none of them mean a thing to me, other than love.’
“That’s what he wanted his fans to feel, and that’s what he wanted to portray in this album.”