Already legitimately labeled a "legend" in country music and comfortable raising thoroughbreds in northeast Texas, 78-year-old Ray Price doesn't need to tour anymore. Yet, he says he does about 100 dates a year.
"I don't feel like retiring," the Country Music Hall of Famer said by cell phone from his tour bus last week, edging closer to his July 30 date in Little Rock. "I'm still working, doin' my thing. I enjoy what I do. I love my work and try to do as much as I can. You can't hardly hear country music anymore."
Now that the corporate world rules the radio stations and airplay, traditional country has mostly been replaced by country pop, he says, and most would agree. Price seems to be on a crusade to remind folks what classic country really sounded like. You can get his dander up just mentioning radio.
"What's happened is the Clinton administration let people buy hundreds of radio stations," he said. "One corporation has about 1,900 [actually, radio ownership leader Clear Channel owns 1,200]. You don't get your record played unless you pay the corporations to play you. The power people in New York are killing our culture."
Today's sound "is a lot of hollering, in my opinion," Ray adds, though at this point he's starting to sound like our parents did describing our music in our teens. "You hear what they make you listen to. To me, that's against what radio is supposed to be."
We didn't bother to mention that the radio conglomerate, Clear Channel, is providing the venue (the Clear Channel Events Center on Col. Glenn Road and I-430) where Price is performing here Friday at 7 p.m. Not only does it control the airwaves, it's trying to corral the live performance venues, too.
Fortunately, Price and I both agree, such outlets as XM and Sirius satellite radio, Internet streaming stations and cable radio offer so many choices, classic songs like Price's biggest hits are sure to show up somewhere.
If you want to hear them live, though, Price promises many of them Friday: "Crazy Arms," "Make the World Go Away," "City Lights," "For the Good Times" and "I Won't Mention It Again," to name a few.
"I can't sing them all but I'll do 14 or 15 of my biggest hits that I feel like the fans like to hear more than the rest of them," he said in a gravelly speaking voice that belies what comes from those blessed pipes when he's singing. Though he's most associated with country music, Price has long proven he can handle pop, jazz and other styles.
Two years ago, the label Honky Tonk released "Time," a collection of new Price songs. It was stellar, pure music, and stayed in this writer's CD player for a month. It contains such classic titles as "I'm Not Leaving (I'm Just Getting Out Of Your Way)."
Price plans to return to the recording studio next week "if everything goes according to Hoyle," he said, working on what he says is a special album of songs written or recorded "by my old friends who aren't here anymore. I'm going to do it country-style, not whatever you call the other stuff out there. It sure ain't country."
Those friends would include Hank Williams Sr., Ernest Tubbs, Roy Acuff, Marty Robbins and Waylon Jennings. "We were together in the Grand Ole Opry, we were more or less a family. Now, the Grand Ole Opry has new owners. They want to try to pull a young audience, but it's the mommas and daddies that buy the tickets. They're appealing to the wrong audience."
Price says it's been a year or two since he last visited the Opry in Nashville, and again we hit a nerve. "They don't want anybody over 30 on the stage. They proved that the other day when I got the Pioneer Award. They didn't want me on the stage, they just wanted to give me the award. Before long, they will be running one of those 16-year-olds up there and giving them the Pioneer Award.
"I'll tell you what. Everybody is waking up. My fans are, at least. They don't like it."
But they're still filling venues where Price visits. "I have a really good [10-piece] band and I try to make my music sound exactly like my record."
That's good, since we don't hear his records on mainstream radio anymore.
Tickets for Friday's show are $30 at the door.