The lights dim. The sixtyish-looking woman beside me, a
complete stranger until fifteen minutes ago, clutches my arm in
excitement. It's the first time she'll see Ray Price in person.
This mature audience in Laughlin, Nevada, seems to appreciate the
fact that the living legend on stage, now in his early seventies,
is still youthfully handsome, his voice as powerful and melodious
Near the end of the show, Ray introduces a song
written, he tells us, by a "dear friend" who brought him as a
young Texas kid to Nashville and got him on the Grand Ole Opry.
"I lived with my friend for almost a year before he passed away."
He pauses, his eyes seeming to wander back to that
long-ago time. "So, if you-all don't mind, I'd like to sing you
one of the late Hank Williams' songs."
The crowd responds with a huge ovation as Ray begins
Hank's "Mansion on the Hill."
After the show I'm set to interview Ray Price. I want
to learn more about that famed friendship. It's a dramatic
story, I feel, one that will say much about how a true friend can
ease your path, whether you're on the way up--or the way
The year was 1951. Early autumn. There was a slight chill
in the air outside on Nashville's streets. Inside Studio C at
station WSM, the atmosphere was tense for the dark-haired young
singer from Texas, an ambitous Capricorn, eager to get ahead in
the music business.
He had just driven all the way to Nashville, and with
his Moon in expansive, fiery Sagittarius, had probably broken a
few speed laws on the way. If there were stars in the newcomer's
intense blue eyes, he had every reason to be thrilled and
Ray Price was about to meet Hank Williams, the reigning
country music star of the day. Not only that, Ray was going to
sing on his show.
Ray had a few minor recordings and some local Texas
performances behind him. Twenty-eight-year-old Hank Williams was
already a national phenomenon. Songs he'd written were blasting
from every radio and juke box across the country.
But ole Hank, a helpful Virgo with his Moon also in
friendly Sagittarius, didn't let that stand between them.
Ray, recalling that first meeting, says. "It was one
of those instant friendships. I liked him; he liked me. For
some reason we hit it off right away."
Astrologically, it's easy to see why. Their Suns were in
almost perfect lucky trine to each other and their Moons conjunct
in the same sign, an indication of great compatibility.
They went to Hank's home after the show and talked for
hours about their hopes and dreams. Price, a 25-year-old former
veterinary student, had a clear, vibrant voice that many felt
might be wasted just talking to horses. He had recently signed
with Columbia Records.
"All you need," Hank told him, "is a hit record. And
I'm going to write one for you."
Quite an offer. At that time Hank's songs were being
grabbed up by big-name pop singers like Tony Bennett, Jo Stafford
and Rosemary Clooney. Tunes like "Cold, Cold Heart," and "I
Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You" were hitting the
tops of the charts in both country and pop markets.
Hank followed up on his promise. The day
after they met, he took Ray with him to a singing engagement in
Evansville, Indiana. During the miles of rolling countryside
between Nashville and Southern Indiana, creative ideas flew back
and forth. Hank and Ray ended up writing "Weary Blues from
Said Ray, "We'd think up a line, each one of us, and
then we'd do another. When we got there it was all written. I
didn't put my name on it because I couldn't; I was with another
Quite a team. Hank, who has been dubbed "The Hillbilly
Shakespeare," had his Virgo Sun in the area of his horoscope that
indicates a way with words. He also had the warm-hearted sign
Cancer rising. He could capture heartfelt emotion with ease in a
few poetic word pictures. By the end of his brief life, he'd
written 129 songs, many of them still favorites today.
Ray, a fine songwriter too, with a fiery Moon in
Sagittarius rising in his chart, had the more powerful impressive
voice. But in mid-October 1951, it must have made sense for Ray
to record "Weary Blues from Waiting" in Hank's highly popular
Columbia released "Weary Blues" in November and gave it
a big advertising/publicity splash because it was, after all, a
Hank Williams song. But it didn't turn out to be the big hit
hoped for, the hit that would have led to the Grand Ole Opry, the
mecca of all country music performers.
Hank didn't let that stop him. A few weeks later, he
phoned Ray, who was performing back in Texas, and gave him the
big news. If he could be in Nashville by the next day, he had a
spot on the Grand Ole Opry. Another frantic trip. Ray burned
rubber off four tires getting there.
In January 1952, Ray moved to Nashville and soon became
a regular on the Grand Ole Opry. A world of possibilities was
opening up for him.
But while Ray was moving upward in his climb to fame,
backed by a lucky line-up of stars, Hank began to hurtle into
free fall. Hank was suddenly being hit by a vicious array of
planetary challenges. He'd reached the pinnacle of his brief
career, and his meteoric blaze in the sun would soon burn out.
Separation that January from his wife, Audrey, started
off the downhill plunge. Severe problems from a recent back
operation added fuel to increase the periodic drinking that had
long plagued him. With the influences of Neptune, the planet of
both music and escapism strong in his chart, Hank began to drink
more and more to ease the the pain and heartache.
His career suffered. Although he was still writing and
selling songs, he began to miss perfomances or, worse yet,
stagger on stage drunk.
Ray was quick to defend Hank on that score. "He was
not the type to go out in public drunk. When he drank, he drank
a glassful at one time, and then another glassful, until he was
totally wiped out. And he would stay in his room. The operators
or the promoters would drag him out drunk."
Ray was hired to accompany Hank on his singing
engagements. "They used to send me along to sort of look out for
him," Ray explained. "They knew Hank liked me, that he'd listen
But Hank's drinking put Ray in a tight spot more than a
few times. In a scathing review, a newspaper reporter described
one of these performances in Richmond, Virginia, on Jan. 29,
1952. It told how Ray Price had to come on stage and apologize
for Hank, stall the crowd by singing Hank's songs, and then
declare a half-hour intermission.
When Hank finally appeared, he was so drunk that fans
began to demand their money back. Ray tried to calm everyone
down, calling out, "We all love you, Hank, don't we?"
How did it feel filling in for Hank on these tours?
Ray's response was fond and overly modest. "There was no way I
could fill in for Hank; all I could do was kill time for him."
With a reminiscent smile, he added, "He was the top dog."
Ray was not about to let Hank down. Their friendship
was too solid. After Hank and his wife separated and Hank needed
a place to stay, Ray came to his rescue. The two moved into a
two-story stone duplex in Nashville. Ray lived upstairs and Hank
on the first floor. Moon rules the home; both Hank and Ray had Moon in
Sagittarius; it's likely they shared some similar preferences in a
At first, Ray did most of the housework and looked after Hank
while he recuperated from the back operation he'd undergone a few
weeks earlier. Hank was optimistic he could patch
things up with Audrey and go back to his home and family.
But taking care of Hank while he was drinking proved as
much of a challenge as touring with him. His alcoholism had
advanced to the point where he wouldn't eat while he was
drinking. But if Ray could get him to start eating, he'd
If the food wouldn't stay down, however, he'd reach for
the bottle right away and just sit in his room and keep on
The last straw was when Hank lost hope that Audrey
would reconcile with him. When she filed for divorce Hank was
According to Ray, who accompanied Hank to the property
settlement discussions, Hank was overly generous, giving Audrey
much more than was required. He wanted to prove to her how much
he still loved her. The divorce went through anyway and plunged
Hank into further gloom.
In the brief year Hank and Ray knew each other, there
was not much time for light-hearted moments, for the hunting and
fishing that two Sagittarian-Moon outdoors types might have
shared in happier times. "We went and tried to fish, but..."
Ray's voice trailed off, seemingly reluctant to explain just why
the fishing trip never came off. He shifted the subject. "He
liked to shoot a pistol. We'd go out on the target range."
Hank continued to write songs for Ray. One of them was
"I Can't Escape From You," which Ray duly recorded. But Hank
also offered Ray some of his biggest hits, songs like
"Jambalaya," and "Take These Chains From My Heart." Hank would
bounce them off Ray and ask "What do you think of it? I wrote it
When Ray predicted they would be hits, Hank would often
change his mind and take them back to record himself.
Possibly Hank recognized Ray's intuitive, gut-feeling
ability to spot a hit, an ability proven later when Ray helped
"launch" the songwriting careers of such "greats" as Willie
Nelson, Roger Miller, Harlan Howard, Bill Anderson and Kris
Kristofferson. With intuitive Uranus in the mental area of his
chart and the instinctive Moon rising, Ray knew how to spot
But Hank was overburdened with hard-to-take transits
from the powerful outer planets--more so than most people endure
in any year of their life. During the early months of 1952,
living in the same house with him as his alcoholism progressed
must have been difficult.
One evening, Hank is said to have double-dated with singer
Faron Young, but Hank preferred Faron's girl to his own. By the
end of the evening when Hank was loaded, he called Faron into a
bedroom and pointed a gun at him. He wanted to switch girls; he
claimed to have fallen for Faron's date. Faron, understandably,
Whether that story is true or not, Hank did end up
marrying the girl, Billie Jean, later that year. But Billie Jean
couldn't stop Hank on his downhill plunge.
Hank finally became so far gone in his alcoholism that
Ray, along with Don Helms, a member of Hank's band, were afraid
he'd drink himself to death. They arranged to have him sedated
and committed to the Madison Sanitarium to undergo treatment.
Hank Williams' biographers have written that Hank was
so furious that he ordered Ray to move out of the house, then
later apologized and begged him not to leave. Ray, who was
already loading a truck, is said to have responded. "I've got
Ray revealed to me that he moved out of the house at
that time, but not out of Hank's life. He moved for personal
reasons that had nothing to do with Hank. He continued to be
very much involved with Hank's activities.
In August, Hank's drinking problem became too much for
the Grand Ole Opry, where he had been a top star. They fired
him. After Audrey and the divorce, it was another devastating
loss for Hank. He left town to go to work for the Louisiana
Hayride in Shreveport.
Ray remembers the day Hank left Nashville. As he was
driving into town, he saw Hank in a service station, standing
beside his Cadillac. Hank lifted his hand and motioned for Ray
to stop. "Where are you going?" Hank asked as Ray pulled in.
"Where are you going?" Ray wanted to know.
"Back to Shreveport." He kind of laughed when he asked
Ray, "You wanta come?"
"I better not," Ray said.
He would only see Hank alive one more time after that.
Ray's career success continued to escalate in Nashville
that fall as he became one of the the hottest entertainers in
town. His lucky stars were still on the rise.
Hank had dreams of straightening out his life and
returning to the Grand Ole Opry. But circumstances were stacked
against him. It never happened.
The final meeting of the two friends occurred at the
Big D Jamboree in Dallas shortly before Christmas 1952.
Hank caught sight of his friend and walked toward him
smiling, singing a few lines from Ray's latest hit, "Don't Let
the Stars Get in Your Eyes." They talked, and Hank suggested to
Ray and his mother that he "might just come over and spend
Christmas with you." They warmly invited him to do so, but Hank
went back to his family in Alabama instead.
Hank and Ray did make plans to get together in Ohio,
however. They both had engagements in that state on New Year's
Eve--Ray in Cleveland, Hank in Canton, fifty miles away. They
arranged to meet in Canton on New Year's Day.
By the end of 1952, the mid-section of the country was
in the throes of a fierce winter storm. Hank, who had planned to
fly to Canton, hired a chauffeur instead to drive him North in
his powder blue Cadillac sedan.
Ray was able to get the last flight out of Nashville.
Hank couldn't sleep the night before that trip. He
told his new wife, Billie Jean, that he saw "God comin' down the
His health had been deteriorating. The trip was to
prove his undoing. He died somewhere in West Virginia in the
back seat of his Cadillac. The driver knew Hank had been
drinking heavily and thought he had merely passed out. The death
wasn't discovered until they pulled into the town of Oak Hill on
New Year's day. Officially his demise was attributed to a heart
The meeting in Canton, Ohio, on New Year's Day between
the two friends never took place.
Instead, Ray was among a host of fellow performers
bidding goodbye to the great Hank Williams at a massive funeral
in Montgomery, Alabama, on January 4, 1953. All the stars of the
Opry were there. The radio stations had been playing his music
night and day. Fans wept. Hank was back in the fold again, a
country music legend for all time.
Hank Williams's career was brief, but unforgettable.
In 1962, he was one of the first performers to be inducted into
the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Ray Price is still a star, a living legend, who has
helped revolutionize more than a few changes in country music.
In 1956, Ray's unique recording of "Crazy Arms" was a top hit for
forty-five weeks, knocking even Elvis off the charts. It clearly
established Ray Price as a leading light in country music.
But Ray, in 1967, went in a new direction and with his
concert-calibre voice, backed by dozens of violins, soared into a
beautiful, show-stopping rendition of the classic, "Danny Boy."
Unperturbed by criticism that he had deserted country
music, Ray went on to new cross-over heights with his early
1970's hits, "For the Good Times," and "I Won't Mention it
Again." Erasing the boundaries between country and pop became a
vital issue for Ray Price.
He had long resented the fact that Hank's songs were
eagerly gobbled up by the pop world, but the country singer
himself found it more difficult to cross over at that time.
Today, however, Hank Williams is a household word, and
Ray, still touring throughout the country, pays tribute to his
mentor at each concert.
In 1996, Ray Price was inducted into the Country Music
Association Hall of Fame. In 1999, he celebrates his fiftieth
successful year in the music business.
Hank would have been proud of his protege.