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Remembering the Rt. Rev. Ray Price -- country music star and the coolest cat in the alley

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FILE -- Jan. 7, 2011: Country Music Hall of Fame member and Grammy award winner Ray “The Cherokee Cowboy” Price celebrates his 86th birthday by performing in Bullard Texas. (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman)

It was 8:15ish am. I was driving home in my pride and joy, a turquoise Morris Minor convertible, from a refinery south of Odessa, Texas, my hometown, after 12 solid hours of the hardest, filthiest, stinkinest, horriblist work on planet Earth-or any other planet for that matter.

I pulled into the little, owner-operated "fillin' station," to get some 39 cents a gallon gasoline.

I was filthy. 

I stunk... stank... whatever.

I smelled like the acrid, rock hard, gunk, that I had been sledgehammering off the walls of the stinking, hot, gaseous steel tank, just a few minutes before, deep in the bowels of the refinery.  (DO NOT talk to me about "jobs Americans won't do"...another story for another time.)

Standing there in mid-gawk, it could not have occurred to me that just 8-short-years later, Mr. Price would record my song, "HELP ME," that we would become friends...

I told the owner-operator to "fill 'er up," as I went around front to check the oil.

I had just "popped the hood," when the longest, shiniest, most  "wonderfulest" car I had ever seen pulled up beside my, now dwarfed, pride and joy -- the turquoise Morris Minor.

A 10-minute gawk began right then and there.

That's right. I admit it. I gawked.

Well, only a few seconds into my gawk, the back door of the car opened and the most beautiful boot I had ever seen, alligator, I found out later, slowly came sliding out of the door, followed by a pants leg of the most beautiful black, wool gabardine quill -- I found out later -- suit I had ever seen.

It seemed like it took 30 minutes for the "gawkee" to unwind himself from the backseat, and come to the full 6 feet, 2 inches of his "Cary Grant handsomeness."

At 8:17ish am, in a small West Texas oil town, at an owner-operated filling station, he looked like he had just stepped out of GQ Magazine.  

He took a deep breath, straightened himself a little bit, and began to take in the whole scene -- as if surveying his kingdom.

It was the Right Reverend Ray Price. I had read in the Odessa American -- our local "rag" -- that he and his Cherokee Cowboys were going to be performing later that night at The Melody Club, a local country music night club.

I had said to myself that I would love to go hear him sing, even though I knew that there was no way under God's heaven that an under-age16-year-old "Pentecostal kid" with pretty strict Pentecostal parents, was going to pull that off.

Standing there in mid-gawk, it could not have occurred to me that just 8-short-years later, Mr. Price would record my song, "HELP ME," that we would become friends, and that Brothers Steve, and Rudy and I would have the great honor of being his opening act on more than a few occasions.

Nor could it have have occurred to me that his angel wife, Janie would say yes, when I asked her if I could sing “IN THE GARDEN,” for him, on the phone, as he lay, listening, but unable to speak, just hours before the end of his earthy journey.

I would love to have sung it to him in person, but my earthly journey had taken me to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, where I was in the process of putting on my black wool gabardine quill suit, and my black "not alligator" boots, as I prepared to walk onstage for an evening performance, where Steve and Rudy and sang and  dedicated "HELP ME" to him.

He always told me to call him Ray, but from that hot summer morning, in 1964, at 8:17ish am, in a small owner operated filling station, in a small West Texas oil town, to this very day, I simply cannot do it.

So, when Mr. Price left us yesterday, Earth lost and heaven gained a very cool dude.

Style is one thing. Class? Well, class is something else.

The Right Reverend Ray Price had style all right, but on top of all that style, he was the classiest cat in the alley...PERIOD!!

If you don't believe me, just ask Willie.

Larry Gatlin is a country music singer and songwriter.