Click to listen

Click to listen

Sept. 16: The late steel guitarist Don Helms, who helped define the sound of Hank Williams, the Wilburn Brothers and many other country artists, was never more right when he said “Ray Price created an era.” And this chart-topping, ground-breaking smash was the big bang for the Cherokee Cowboy.

Most of Price’s early recordings didn’t stand out; if anything, he came off sounding like Williams, whose band backed him up. But by the time “Crazy Arms” was cut in the spring of 1956, he had begun to develop his own sound. This record solidified the style he would employ for the next decade: prominent fiddle and steel guitar, anchored by a walking acoustic bass that was doubled by an electric baritone guitar and complemented by a drum shuffle. To this day, it’s known as the “Ray Price shuffle.” And this first example was named Billboard‘s No. 1 country single for the year.

As many of his contemporaries changed their music to answer the rock ‘n’ roll onslaught, Price was steadfast in his countryness. Nashville-style rockabilly came and went, the smooth Nashville Sound came and stayed, as Price turned out shuffle after shuffle — and hit after hit — until he went “countrypolitan” in the mid-60s. And still the hits kept coming. (See discography here.)

(The top of the Billboard country chart reflected the times in the summer of ’56. Preceding “Crazy Arms” as No. 1: “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Perkins. Following “Crazy Arms”: “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” by Elvis Presley.)

The co-author of “Crazy Arms,” the great steel guitarist Ralph Mooney, celebrates his 81st birthday today. He and the late Chuck Seals came up with a true classic. Which also describes the great Ray Price, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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