Ray Price | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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Ray Price, a crucial figure in country who transformed it in the 50s and 60s with hits like "Crazy Arms," "Heartaches by the Number," and "City Lights," still performs and records today, at age 80. A Texas native, he began playing out shortly after a stint as a marine during World War II, though his career didn't begin in earnest until 1951, when he signed with Columbia Records. After moving to Nashville in 1952 Price lived with Hank Williams, whose life was in shambles by then; Price would occasionally fill in at the Grand Ole Opry when his roomie was too drunk or ill to perform. Though he had a suave, charming voice that was common among western swing singers, his tunes were pure honky-tonk. But he revolutionized that genre in 1956 with "Crazy Arms," which brought a crisp shuffle rhythm to the usual twang; the innovation was eventually dubbed the "Ray Price beat." As Price's success grew, his band provided a launchpad for some of country music's most important performers and songwriters, including Willie Nelson, Harlan Howard, Roger Miller, and Johnny Paycheck. In the mid-60s he changed his sound again, favoring more countrypolitan arrangements and dabbling in pop material like his 1967 orchestral version of "Danny Boy." By the early 70s he'd faded off the charts, and after parting with Columbia in '74 he returned to Texas, where he recorded for a variety of smaller labels. These days he sticks close to the honky-tonk styles he worked in decades ago, and he can still sing like a champ. The impressive Time (Audium, 2002) progresses with typical elegance, with guitar, steel, and fiddle playing off Price's smooth vocals. More recently he recorded a series of delightful duets with his old bass player, Willie Nelson, released in 2003 as Run That by Me One More Time (Lost Highway). These shows, part of Robbie Fulks's "Secret Country" series, are Price's first in the Chicago area since 1998. Sun 3/19, 4 and 7:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000 or 866-468-3401, $28, $24 seniors and kids. All ages.

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