I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like had Ray Price and Ernest Tubb not booked a golf game on that summer afternoon back in 1958.Legend has it that they were on their way to the golf course, listening to a local country radio station, when the DJ played my song, “City Lights” by Dave Rich. Ernest, in particular, listened closely to the song and said to Ray, “Son, you need to cover THAT one.”
Ray replied that he already had his next single in the can, a Roger Miller tune called “Invitation To The Blues.” Ernest argued that “City Lights” would be the perfect song for him and, from what I’ve been told, he continued to badger Ray all the way around the course that day. I never asked him, but I’ve sometimes wondered if Ray scheduled a special session and recorded my song because he truly liked it, or because he wanted to get E.T. off his back!
Regardless, his recording was the turning point in my life. Everything good that has happened to me in the music business over the past half-century plus began with Ray Price and “City Lights.” He didn’t record the song in order to help out a teenaged Georgia disc jockey, or to open doors for him all over the world, but that’s exactly what he did.
That’s one reason I’ve been hurting so bad these past few days knowing that the man we’ve all called The Cherokee Cowboy all these years was in the final stages of fighting pancreatic cancer. He passed away yesterday at the age of 87. The good news is that, as the end drew near, he told everyone that he was “at peace.”
He leaves behind an unequaled legacy. From “City Lights,” where he sang about “a purty picture,” to the beautiful pop-styled ballads like “For The Good Times” and “Night Life,” this man has been one of the greatest singers the Good Lord ever allowed to roam this earth. And right on through his last performance, he maintained that unbelievable vocal quality and the undeniable styling of a true artist.
My greatest Ray Price memory will always be the night he came to Commerce, Georgia, where I wrote “City Lights” and sang it on stage in front of 10,000 adoring fans. We were less than a mile from the little hotel roof where I had written the song almost 50-years before and, as the fiddles played the legendary intro, he turned to the side of the stage, looked at me, and said, “This is for you, Bill.” Two people stood in the darkeness with tears in their eyes….me and Vince Gill.
When Ray came off stage, Vince turned to me and said, “I feel like I just went to school.” He had never seen Ray perform before and was in absolute awe of his greatness.
To Janie, Ray’s wonderful wife of many years and his guardian angel throughout his illness, my utmost admiration and my deepest sympathy. To his son, Cliff, and friends, and fans everywhere, we have lost a great one. Chances are, we’ll never see the likes of him again.
Thanks one last time for changing my life, Ray. May you rest in peace, my friend.