“Country” Charley Pride, who rose to prominence as country music’s first black superstar during a time of racial unrest in the late 1960s, died over the weekend at the age of 86 due to COVID-19 complications. Local country music performer and promoter Dayne “Woop Woop” Puckett, who spent over a decade doing sales and promotion with Pride, reflected on his time riding tour buses and airplanes with Pride.
“One thing about Charley Pride that is ironic is he was born and raised in Sledge, Mississippi and he’s a black man who sounded white,” Puckett said. “Elvis Presley is also from Mississippi, and he’s a white man who sounded black.”
The New York Times reported that while at RCA, the label that he recorded for over over 30 years, Pride placed a close second just behind Elvis Presley in record sales.
Puckett said that Pride was, in his words, “very respected in the business, absolutely an icon, and won every award there was to win.”
Just a few weeks before his death, Puckett said Pride was awarded the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Country Music Association.
Pride’s last public appearance was on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at the CMA Awards in Nashville.
Puckett fondly remembered having a hand in helping Pride achieve another in a string of hit records in the mid-70s.
“We were flying into Spokane on our way to Canada,” Puckett said, “getting ready to tour all the provinces in Canada, and Charley looked like he was depressed.”
Puckett asked the singer, who was actually deep in thought, what was on his mind, and Pride replied he wanted to have another number-one hit record.
“I told him he already had an awfully powerful song on his latest album,” Puckett said. “And he said the producers at RCA didn’t want to release it as a single, but when we got to the motel, he got them on the phone and told them to bring a bunch of albums over that had that particular song on them.”
Puckett said the RCA representative brought boxes of albums to the room, and Puckett asked the representative if he had ever heard the song in question.
“He said he hadn’t ever heard of the song up in Canada,” Puckett said. “I told him ‘you gotta play it because it’s powerful,’ and that it was going to be a monster hit if they’d release it as a single.”
The song Puckett had been pushing for was entitled “She’s Just An Old Love Turned Memory,” which became Pride’s 17th number-one hit in 1977, according to Joel Whitburn’s “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits.”
Pride had a total of 29 number one singles, and 52 of his songs placed in the Top 10 between 1966 and 1987, according to Whitburn.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.