(14 Jul 2017) CHARLEY PRIDE REFLECTS ON CAREER AS COUNTRY MUSIC PIONEER
Charley Pride is not only one of the most successful black country singers of all time, he's been one of the most successful country singers period.
With 36 No. 1 hits in his career, the 79-year-old Country Music Hall of Famer is back with his first new album in six years, "Music in My Heart," which was released in July. Pride also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
The Grammy-winning vocalist from Sledge, Mississippi - the son of a sharecropper - had dreams of being a baseball player and a singer.
"My dad, we had a Philco radio and we couldn't touch the knobs," Pride said after a recent performance at the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, Tennessee. "Everything we listened to was what he had tuned it to, so I got to listening to the Grand Ole Opry and all when I was small and I got hooked on it and it just went from there. I had no idea that I was preparing myself for this, but I am glad, especially since I didn't make it in baseball."
When he started his singing career with RCA in the 1960s, he said that despite being one of the few mainstream black country artists on the radio, he never encountered any resistance among country music fans.
"A lot of people, you know, would come up to me and say, 'Man you must have had it hard,' you know. I said 'No.'", said Pride. "When I would talk to people like yourself, you know, like I am talking to a reporter, I would say, 'I have not had one iota hoot call from the audience.' 'Uh oh, you're giving me that 'I can't believe, you've got to be lying look.'"
But he said he did encounter resistance among show promoters when he was trying to book performances.
"The big thing was promoters was very reluctant to book me," Pride said. "But they finally came around."
He was named CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1971, as well as back-to-back male vocalist in 1971 and 1972. Some of his biggest hits include "Just Between You and Me" and "Is Anybody Goin' To San Antone" and gained crossover success on the pop charts.
On the new album, Pride sings a song, "The Way It Was in '51" that was written by Pride's close friend, Merle Haggard, who died this year.
"I used Merle's band the first time I ever went on stage with a big package. It was a package show; it had about 10,000 people in Detroit. And I got there about five minutes before time to go on and again we go back to that promoters being reluctant to book me. They still... I was booked, but they still was nervous. So I got there, he says, 'Charley,' he had his pencil like that. And he says, 'Now' - there's a 3 o'clock show and an 8 o'clock show. He says, 'Now, you don't have to...' He said 'It's five minutes before you go on,' he says. 'Now, you haven't rehearsed with the band, or nothing?' I said, 'No.' I said 'But do they play country music?' He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'Well, I'll be ready in two minutes.'"
Pride learned many things from Haggard, including the need to pay it forward during live shows.
"When I started out, I didn't have a band and I said, 'If I ever get my band, whoever opens up my show, they are going to sound as good as they can sound.' That was my decision and that was the way it was: all the people that was on my show, that's what happened to them. They went on to be successful because my band made them sound just as good. Like I said, I wanted them to sound as good they could sound."
"Music in My Heart" is out now.
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