I have been a fan of Kenny Price for many years. Like most of you, I got my introduction to him through Hee Haw, where he was a featured player for well over a decade. In the mid-80s I was plum crazy about his travelogue program on the Nashville Network called Wish You Were Here, where he and his wife Donna drove across the United States in their RV and showed us all the places you can go. I was clearly not the target audience in that instance, and that was of little matter to me. Price was just fun to watch — a big, old-fashioned, charming, happy man with a natural comedic style.
Of course, he was a singer on Hee Haw, most notably with their famed gospel quartet that featured Price, Grandpa Jones, Roy Clark and Buck Owens. He was also a fine solo recording artist for a number of years prior to that, with a rich traditional style full of personality and warmth. Before he did television exclusively, he already had around a dozen albums under his belt plus a few hits like “Walking on the New Grass,” “Northeast Arkansas Mississippi County Bootlegger” and “The Sheriff of Boone County.”
Price could flat-out deliver the goods, no matter what the tempo. In my estimation, he was at his best when doing bouncy, upbeat songs. The first recording I ever heard of his was “Let’s Truck Together,” a classic trucker anthem that I feel is his signature tune. But when tackling love songs or spirituals, he was still very much in his element. Price recorded for Boone Records (working with the very capable Ray Pennington), then later RCA where he was perfectly complimented by the legendary “Nashville Sound.” (He again worked with Pennington, who always seemed to bring out his best, a few times during his RCA run.) His vocals were strong with plenty of character, and he did a lot of styles, which meant various production styles could be implemented.
Nicknamed “The Round Mound of Sound,” the 300-pound Price parlayed his size into a few fun gimmick songs that were self-deprecating to a certain degree, but also filled with a sense of contentment that I have always found refreshing. One of the best is “The Heavyweight” (from the album of the same name) where he tells the ladies “… You won’t get cold in the winter, and I’m shade in the summertime.” Price, just like contemporary Cass Elliott, acknowledged his mass and refused to let it be a disadvantage, turning it into a strength and part of his identity. And, like Elliott, most of his material is cheerful and optimistic.
His music may be (sadly) long out-of-print, but it is still as effective as ever. If you get the hankering to listen to some really solid country, hunt down some of his LPs and get ready to smile. Kenny Price will not let you down.
My top three albums…
SOUTHERN BOUND (1967)
Oh, boy, there’s a lot of beautiful 1960s country going on here. Released on the Boone label and produced by Ray Pennington, all of of these tunes were scattered around and re-packaged later on when Price went to RCA (under the LPs Walking on New Grass and Happy Tracks). Kenny plays the whole range, from the aching sadness of “I’m a Long Way From Home” to the overt joy of “Downtown Knoxville.” This also featured his self-penned signature tune, “Round Mound of Sound.” He walked the line between the Countrypolitan stylings of the 50s and 60s and traditional country at this point — a neat blend. Just great, great stuff that should not be missed.
THE HEAVYWEIGHT (1970)
Country music had changed a great deal by the dawn of the 1970s, and Price adapted nicely to the new surroundings. Now with a more modern edge, Price could stick to what he loved and not sound dated. The title track is classic Kenny Price: funny, bouyant, alive with spirit. The album is a fine sampler of his ability to convey different emotions, and tell stories with wit and resonance.
SEA OF HEARTBREAK AND OTHER DON GIBSON HITS (1972)
These songs had been covered ad nauseam at this point, and it might look like another tired old filler album on the surface. But the old hand breathes new life into these standards. I won’t go as far as calling this his very best record, but I like to list it as an example of the true talent of Kenny Price. To make something familiar sound fresh and exciting again is no small task. As far as I’m concerned, Price’s lusty delivery on “Sea of Heartbreak” is enough to sell the whole package.