Forgotten Artists: Kenny Price (1931-1987)
Fans of the long running television show Hee Haw may remember Kenny Price. He played various roles in Hee Haw’s skits, including the over-protective father of a pretty teenage daughter (whose suitor, Billy Bob, did not meet his approval), a backwater sheriff and a country bumpkin lounging on the lawn in front of the general store. He also appeared in two of the regular musical spots, the “Gloom Despair and Agony” snippets and the glorious Hee Haw Gospel Quartet segment wherein Kenny, Grandpa Jones, Buck Owens and Roy Clark would lend their talents to old-time gospel favorites. Many viewers considered the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet to be their favorite portion of the show. He also appeared as Kenny Honey, the father on the spin-off Hee Haw Honeys and hosted a travel show on TNN called Wish You Were Here with his wife Donna.
Unfortunately, few today remember Kenny Price as a country music recording star for Boone and RCA records. A solid journeyman performer, known as ‘The Round Mound of Sound,’ he charted 34 singles during his 15 year chart run, but never had a number one record or a sustained run of top ten records.
Standing six-feet tall and weighing well over 300 pounds, Kenneth James Price is remembered by fellow performers and fans alike as one of the nicest individuals to ever sing a country song. Born near Florence in Boone County, Kentucky, he was raised on a ranch and learned to play the guitar when he was only five. Initially at least, Price aspired to be a farmer but eventually he changed the focus of his endeavors. He got his start in 1945 playing on WZIP-Cincinnati and over the next few years, played a few dates in the Kentucky-Ohio border area. Uncle Sam called in 1952 and Price spent the next two years in the military. While stationed in Korea, he auditioned for a USO show. By the time he was discharged in 1954 Price had decided on music as a career and studied briefly at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. From there he appeared on Midwestern Hayride at WLW-Cincinnati and by 1957 was appearing on Hometown, a Cincinnati television show hosted by Buddy Ross. Meanwhile, in 1955, he issued two singles on the “X” label (an RCA subsidiary) called “Cold Hearted Love” and “Worryin’.” Neither single charted.
Nearly nine years passed before Price again landed a recording contract, this time with Boone Records, out of Boone, NC. After four non-charting singles he finally hit it big with his third single, “Walking on the New Grass,” which cracked the Top 10 in 1966–as did his next single “Happy Tracks.” While none of his following Boone singles charted in the top ten nationally (“Southern Bound” came close), they did well enough in regional markets to land him a recording contract with RCA. Moreover, RCA thought highly enough of him that they purchased the masters for his two albums on Boone and reissued them as his first two RCA albums.
The first RCA hit was achieved in 1969 when “Northeast Arkansas Mississippi County Bootlegger” reached #17. This was followed by two more top ten hits in “Biloxi” (#10 in 1970) and “The Sheriff of Boone County” which reached #8 at the end of 1970 and appeared briefly on the pop charts (the song was inspired by a series of amusing Dodge automobile commercials). After that, Top 10 success eluded Price, although he did have a few more minor hits. His tenure with RCA ended in late 1975, but he kept busy when Hee Haw beckoned in 1976. He remained a member of the cast until his death in 1987.
Nothing of Price’s solo work is available on compact disc except possibly for stray album tracks on multi-artist anthologies. At various times recordings of the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet have been available on CD, most recently by Time-Life. These CDs feature Price on most of the tracks.
Two albums were issued on Boone, One Hit Follows Another and Southern Bound–the songs on these two albums were reissued on RCA, although not necessarily together on the same album, on the first two RCA albums Happy Tracks and Walkin’ On New Grass.
Starting in 1970, RCA issued new material:
The Heavyweight (1970) generated no hits but contained a nice selection of current Nashville songcraft, including “Last Song I’m Ever Gonna Sing,” which later became a staple of bluegrass artists such as Jimmy Martin. Other tracks include “Green Green Grass Of Home,” “Shortest Song In The World” (it runs about 15 seconds), “Who Do I Know In Dallas,” and “It’s Such A Pretty World Today.”
Northeast Arkansas Mississippi County Bootlegger (1970) includes the title hit plus covers of “Brown- Eyed Handsome Man” (a recent Waylon Jennings hit cover of a Chuck Berry song) and a version of the rarely covered Roger Miller hit “Tomorrow Night in Baltimore.”
A Red Foley Songbook (1971) covers a bunch of the recently deceased Red Foley’s best loved songs including “Tennessee Saturday Night,” “Midnight,” “Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy,” “Old Shep,” “Sugarfoot Rag” and the gospel classic “Peace In The Valley.”
Sheriff Of Boone County (1971) includes the hits “Sheriff Of Boone County” and “Biloxi.”
Charlotte Fever (1971) includes the title song and recent hits “Me And You And A Dog Named Boo,” “Ruby (Are You Mad),” “Workin’ Man Blues,” “Jody And The Kid” and “For The Good Times.”
Super Sideman (1972) includes the title track (which also was a track on the previous album) the amusing track “Dr. Feelgood” plus some more covers.
You Almost Slipped My Mind (1973) features the title track (later a #1 record for Charley Pride) plus some covers “Woman (Sensuous Woman),” “San Francisco Mabel Joy,” “Hot Rod Lincoln” and some filler.
Sea Of Heartbreak (1973) is my favorite Kenny Price album as Kenny covers songs written by or recorded by the legendary Don Gibson. Truth be told, Kenny’s version of the title track is my favorite version of the song as is his version of “Blue Blue Day.” Other tracks are “Give Myself A Party,” “(I’d Be A) Legend In My Time,” “Far Far Away,” “Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Just One Time,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and “Oh Lonesome Me.”
30 California Women (1973) includes the title track plus the really amusing “Bumper Sticker Song.”
There is one more RCA albums plus some post-RCA albums, but none of them are as good as the albums referenced above. If you like Kenny’s voice you’ll find something to like on them, but unless you can find them cheaply, I’d pass.
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