DALLAS (AP) — Good friends like Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard got more credit for their contrary ways and trend-setting ideas, but it was Ray Price who set the precedent for change in country music more than a decade earlier.

Price passed away Monday at his Texas home, having long outlasted most of his country music contemporaries and the prognosis doctors gave him when they discovered his pancreatic cancer in 2011. He was 87.

The way the Country Music Hall of Fame member fought cancer was an apt metaphor for the way he lived his life, always fiercely charting a path few others might have the fortitude to follow.

Along the way he changed the sound of country music, collaborated with and inspired the genre's biggest stars and remained relevant for more than half a century.

"Ray Price was a giant in Texas and country western music. Besides one of the greatest voices that ever sang a note, Ray's career spanned over 65 years in a business where 25 years would be amazing," said Ray Benson of the country music group Asleep at the Wheel.

Price, one of country music's most popular and influential singers and bandleaders, had more than 100 hits and was one of the last living connections to Hank Williams.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum historian Michael McCall said Price "was one of his generation's most important musical innovators," popularizing the bedrock 4/4 shuffle beat that can still be heard on every honky-tonk jukebox and most country radio stations in the world.

"His emphasis on the shuffle rhythm influenced every generation to follow and remains a staple of country dance floors everywhere, especially in the Southwest," said McCall.

Price died Monday afternoon at his ranch outside Mount Pleasant, Texas, said Billy Mack Jr., who was acting as a family spokesman. Billie Perryman, the wife of family friend and spokesman Tom Perryman, a DJ with KKUS-FM in Tyler, also confirmed his death.

Price's cancer had recently spread to his liver, intestines and lungs, according East Texas Medical Center in Tyler. He stopped aggressive treatments and left the hospital last Thursday to receive hospice care at home.

At the time, his wife, Janie Price, relayed what she called her husband's "final message" to his fans: "I love my fans and have devoted my life to reaching out to them. I appreciate their support all these years, and I hope I haven't let them down. I am at peace. I love Jesus. I'm going to be just fine. Don't worry about me. I'll see you again one day."

Perhaps best known for his version of the Kris Kristofferson song "For the Good Times," a pop hit in 1970, the velvet-voiced Price was a giant among traditional country performers in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, as likely to defy a trend as he was to defend one. He helped invent the genre's honky-tonk sound early in his career, then took it in a more polished direction.

He reached the Billboard Hot 100 eight times from 1958-73 and had seven No. 1 hits and more than 100 titles on the Billboard country chart from 1952 to 1989. "For the Good Times" was his biggest crossover hit, reaching No. 11 on the Billboard pop music singles chart. His other country hits included "Crazy Arms," ''Release Me," ''The Same Old Me," ''Heartaches by the Number," ''City Lights" and "Too Young to Die."

Price was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, long after he had become dissatisfied with Nashville and returned to his home state of Texas.

His importance went well beyond hit singles. He was among the pioneers who popularized electric instruments and drums in country music. After helping establish the 4/4 shuffle in country music, Price angered traditionalists by breaking away from country. He gave early breaks to Nelson, Roger Miller and other major performers.

His "Danny Boy" in the late 1960s was a heavily orchestrated version that crossed over to the pop charts. He then started touring with a string-laden 20-piece band that outraged his dancehall fans.

In the 1970s he sang often with symphony orchestras — in a tuxedo and cowboy boots.

Like Nelson, his good friend and contemporary, Price simply didn't care what others thought and pursued the chance to make his music the way he wanted to.

"I have fought prejudice since I got in country music and I will continue to fight it," he told The Associated Press in 1981. "A lot of people want to keep country music in the minority of people. But it belongs to the world. It's art."

In the same 1981 interview, he credited the cowboy for the popularity of country music.

"Everyone loves the cowboy. He's nice, humble and straightforward. And country music is the same thing. The kids have discovered what mom and pop told 'em."

Price continued performing and recording well into his 70s.

"I have to be in the business at least five or 10 more years," Price said in 2000, when he and his band were doing 100 shows a year.

"Two or three years ago, we did 182," he said. "Fans come to the shows, bless their hearts, they always come."

In 2007, he joined Haggard and Nelson on a double-CD set, "Last of the Breed." The trio performed on tour with the Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel.

"I'll be surprised if we don't all get locked up somewhere," Price joked at the time.

Over the years, Price came in and out of vogue as traditional country music waxed and waned on the radio. He was a constant advocate for the old days and ways of country music, and more recently re-entered the news when he took offense to comments Blake Shelton made about classic country music that included the words "old farts." The dustup drew attention on the Internet and introduced Price to a new generation of country fans.

"You should be so lucky as us old-timers," Price said in a happily cantankerous post in all capital letters. "Check back in 63 years (the year 2075) and let us know how your name and your music will be remembered."

Price earned his long-standing fame honestly, weaving himself into the story of modern country music in several ways.

As a young man, Price became friends with Williams, toured with the country legend and shared a house with him in Nashville. Williams even let Price use his band, the Drifting Cowboys, and the two wrote a song together, the modest Price hit "Weary Blues (From Waiting)".

By 1952 Price was a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry.

The singer had one of country music's great bands, the Cherokee Cowboys, early in his career. His lineup included at times Nelson, Miller and Johnny Paycheck.

His 1956 version of "Crazy Arms" became a landmark song for both Price and country music. His first No. 1 country hit, the song rode a propulsive beat into the pop top 100 as well. Using a drummer and bassist to create a country shuffle rhythm, he eventually established a sound that would become a trademark.

"It was strictly country and it went pop," Price said of the song. "I never have figured that one out yet."

Price was born near Perryville, Texas, in 1926 and was raised in Dallas. He joined the Marines for World War II and then studied to be a veterinarian at North Texas Agricultural College before he decided on music as a career.

Soft-spoken and urbane, Price told the AP in 1976: "I'm my own worst critic. I don't like to hear myself sing or see myself on television. I see too many mistakes."

He was one of the few who saw them.

___

Talbott reported from Nashville, Tenn. Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in McAllen, Texas, and Kristin M. Hall in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • L'Wren Scott

    L'Wren Scott, fashion designer and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger's longtime girlfriend, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/17/lwren-scott-dead_n_4979957.html" target="_blank">was found dead in NYC on March 17, 2014</a> of an apparent suicide.

  • David Brenner

    David Brenner, the lanky, toothy-grinned "Tonight Show" favorite whose brand of observational comedy became a staple for other standups, including Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser, died on March 15, 2014. He was 78.

  • Harold Ramis

    Comedy legend <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/24/harold-ramis-dead-dies_n_4847853.html" target="_blank">Harold Ramis died on Feb. 24, 2014</a>. He was 69.

  • Sid Caesar

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/sid-caesar-dead-dies_n_4775892.html" target="_blank">The comedy legend died on Feb. 12, 2014</a>. He was 91.

  • Shirley Temple

    Shirley Temple Black, iconic child star and former U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/11/shirley-temple-dead-child-star-ambassador-dies_n_4765333.html?1392116282&ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009" target="_blank">died on Feb. 10, 2014 in California</a>, The Associated Press reported. Her cause of death was not released. She was 85.

  • Philip Seymour Hoffman

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/02/philip-seymour-hoffman-dead-dies_n_4713623.html" target="_blank">Hoffman was found dead of an apparent heroin overdose</a> on Feb. 2, 2014 in New York City. He was 46 years old.

  • Pete Seeger

    The American troubadour, folk singer and activist Seeger died Jan. 27, 2014, at age 94.

  • James Avery

    Avery died at the age of 68 from complications following open heart surgery in a Los Angeles suburb hospital on Dec. 31, 2013

  • Ray Price

    Price died on Dec. 16, 2013 at his Texas home after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 87.

  • Peter O'Toole

    The legendary actor of the stage and screen died on Dec. 14, 2013 following a long illness. He was 81.

  • Nelson Mandela

    After suffering from a prolonged respiratory infection, Mandela died on Dec. 5, 2013 at the age of 95.

  • Paul Walker

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/30/paul-walker-dead_n_4366214.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity" target="_blank">Walker died in a car crash on Nov. 30, 2013</a>, his rep confirmed. He was 40.

  • Lou Reed

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/27/lou-reed-dead_n_4167976.html" target="_blank">Reed died of a "liver-related ailment"</a> on Oct. 27, 2013 at the age of 71.

  • Marcia Wallace

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/26/maria-wallace-dead-simpsons_n_4166343.html" target="_blank">Wallace died of complications due to pneumonia</a> on Oct. 25, 2013 at the age of 70.

  • Ed Lauter

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/16/ed-lauter-dead-dies_n_4111710.html" target="_blank">Veteran character actor Lauter died of mesothelioma</a>, a rare form of cancer most commonly caused by asbestos exposure, on Oct. 16, 2013. He was 74.

  • Patsy Swayze

    Choreographer and dance instructor Patsy Swayze, the mother of late actor Patrick Swayze, died Sept. 16, 2013. She was 86. No cause of death was given.

  • Jackie Lomax

    Jackie Lomax, a singer-songwriter who worked with The Beatles and enjoyed a long solo career, died Sept. 15, 2013 following a brief illness. He was 69.

  • Lee Thompson Young

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/19/lee-thompson-young-dead_n_3780781.html?ref=topbar" target="_blank">"The Famous Jett Jackson" star was found dead</a> in his apartment by his landlord in Los Angeles on Aug. 19, 2013. Young's rep confirmed that he took his own life. He was 29.

  • Lisa Robin Kelly

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/15/lisa-robin-kelly-dead_n_3763163.html" target="_blank">The former "That '70s Show" actress died</a> at the age of 43 on Aug. 14, 2013. According to TMZ, Kelly died in her sleep at a rehab facility in California.

  • Gia Allemand

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/14/gia-allemand-dead_n_3756940.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular" target="_blank">"The Bachelor" star died from an apparent suicide</a> on Aug. 14, 2013. She was 29.

  • Michael Ansara

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/02/michael-ansara-dead-dies_n_3697009.html" target="_blank">The "Star Trek" actor died</a> on July 31, 2013 at the age of 91.

  • Kidd Kraddick

    Radio personality <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/28/kidd-kraddick-dead_n_3665417.html" target="_blank">David "Kidd" Kraddick died July 27, 2013</a> at age 53.

  • JJ Cale

    Cale, the singer-songwriter and producer known as the main architect of the Tulsa Sound, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/27/jj-cale-dead-dies_n_3664256.html" target="_blank">died on July 26, 2013</a>. His manager, Mike Kappus, said he died of a heart attack. He was 74.

  • Dennis Farina

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/22/dennis-farina-dead_n_3635587.html" target="_blank">The "Law & Order" star died on July 22, 2013 at the age of 69</a> after suffering a blood clot in his lung.

  • Cory Monteith

    Cory Allan Michael Monteith, a Canadian actor best known for playing Finn Hudson on the hit Fox TV show "Glee," was found dead on July 13, 2013 in a Vancouver hotel room. He was 31.

  • James Gandolfini

    James Gandolfini, best known for his role on "The Sopranos," died in Italy on June 19, 2013 after suffering from a heart attack.

  • Slim Whitman

    The high-pitched country singer who sold millions of records through ever-present TV ads in the 1980s and 1990s and whose song saved the world in the film comedy "Mars Attacks!," died June 19, 2013 at a Florida hospital. He was 90.

  • Jeanne Cooper

    Jeanne Cooper, who played Katherine Chancellor on the daytime soap opera "The Young and the Restless," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/08/jeanne-cooper-dead-dies_n_3239218.html" target="_blank">died on May 8, 2013</a>. She was 84.

  • Jeff Hanneman

    Hanneman, a founding member of Slayer, died May 1, 2013 of liver failure. He was 49.

  • Chris Kelly

    Chris Kelly, one-half of the 1990s rap duo Kris Kross, died May 1, 2013 of an apparent drug overdose. He was 34.

  • George Jones

    The country music legend died at 81 on April 26, 2013 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. He was hospitalized April 18 with fever and irregular blood pressure.

  • Richie Havens

    The folk singer and guitarist, who was the first performer at Woodstock, died on April 22, 2013 at age 72. He died of a heart attack in New Jersey, his family said in a statement.

  • Chrissy Amphlett

    The raunchy lead singer of the Australian rock band Divinyls whose hit "I Touch Myself" brought her international fame in the early 1990s, died at her home in New York City on April 21, 2013. She was 53 years old. "Christine Joy Amphlett succumbed to the effects of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, diseases she vigorously fought with exceptional bravery and dignity," her musician husband Charley Drayton said in a statement.

  • Richard LeParmentier

    Character actor Richard LeParmentier, who as a young Death Star commander learned the hard way that Darth Vader brooks no disrespect, died April 16, 2013. He was 66.

  • Jonathan Winters

    The comedic film and TV actor died on April 11, 2013 at the age of 87. He passed away of natural causes, surrounded by friends and family.

  • Annette Funicello

    Former child star Annette Funicello died on April 8, 2013 at the age of 70. The actress, who is best remembered for her time as a Mouseketeer on "The Mickey Mouse Club" from 1955 to 1957, died from complications related to multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with more than 20 years ago.

  • Roger Ebert

    Legendary film critic Roger Ebert died April 4, 2013, at the age of 70. Two days prior, Ebert revealed on his blog that his cancer had returned and that he would be reducing his reviewing duties at the Chicago Sun-Times.

  • Shain Gandee

    The 21-year-old "Buckwild" star was found dead in a truck in Sissonville, W. Va., along with two other bodies, on April 1, 2013. It was later said Gandee had died of carbon monoxide poisoning while “mudding," or off-roading through mud, in his 1984 Ford Bronco.

  • Phil Ramone

    A masterful Grammy Award-winning engineer, arranger and producer whose platinum touch included recordings with Ray Charles, Billy Joel and Paul Simon, Ramone died March 30, 2013 of complications stemming from heart surgery. He was 79.

  • Richard Griffiths

    One of the great British stage actors of his generation, also known for playing grumpy Uncle Vernon in the fantastical "Harry Potter" movies. Griffiths died March 28, 2013, from complications following heart surgery. He was 65.

  • Clive Burr

    Former Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr has died March 12, 2013. He was 56. Burr passed away in his sleep and had suffered poor heath for years after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

  • Claude King

    A country singer-songwriter and original member of the Louisiana Hayride, King was best known for the 1962 hit "Wolverton Mountain." He died on March 7, 2013, at 90 years of age.

  • Peter Banks

    Peter Banks, the original guitarist for the British band Yes, died on March 7, 2013, at the age of 65. A post on his official website stated that Banks died from heart failure and was found in his London home after he didn't show up to a recording session. <br> L-R: Peter Banks, Tony Kaye, Chris Squire, Bill Bruford, Jon Anderson - posed, group shot (Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns)

  • Alvin Lee

    The British rock guitarist and founder of the band "Ten Years After," who burst to stardom with a memorable Woodstock performance, died March 6, 2013. He was 68. A statement posted on Lee's official website said he died unexpectedly from complications following a routine surgical procedure. Lee's manager, Ron Rainey, said the guitarist died in Spain.

  • Bonnie Franklin

    Bonnie Franklin, the pert, redheaded actress who won fame as a divorced mom on the long-running sitcom "One Day at a Time," has died March 1, 2013 due to complications from pancreatic cancer. She was 69.

  • DJ Ajax (Adrian Thomas)

    Australian producer Adrian Thomas, better known as DJ Ajax, died on the day of his 42nd birthday, Feb. 28, 2013. The Sydney Morning Herald reported DJ Ajax died after he ran out onto a Melbourne road and was hit by an oncoming truck.

  • Richard Street

    Former Motown vocalist Richard Street (top R), a member of the Temptations for 25 years, died on Feb. 27, 2013 at a hospital in Las Vegas after a short illness. He was 70.

  • Dale Robertson

    Dale Robertson, an Oklahoma native who became a star of television and movie Westerns during the genre's heyday, died Feb. 26, 2013 Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., following a brief illness. He was 89.

  • Dan Toler

    Former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dan Toler has died on Feb. 25, 2013, at the age of 65. He passed away in his sleep after a two-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

  • Lou Myers

    Myers, the actor most known for playing Mr. Vernon Gaines on the NBC sitcom "A Different World," died on Feb. 19, 2013 at Charleston Medical Center in West Virginia after undergoing a heart-related emergency and falling into a coma. He was 76.

  • Damon Harris

    Harris (far right), a one-time member of legendary Motown group The Temptations, died on Feb. 18, 2013. According to the Baltimore Sun, Harris (born Otis Robert Harris, Jr.) lost his 14-year-long battle to prostate cancer after spending the last three months in the hospital. He was 62. Also in the photo: Richard Street, Melvin Franklin, Otis Williams and Dennis Edwards in 1972.