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January 27, 1998

The Charley Pride Interview

by Gary James

In the 20 years he recorded for R.C.A. he sold more records for the company than any other artists with the exception of Elvis Presley. He had 35 Number One singles and 12 gold albums in the United States. Worldwide, he's responsible for 31 gold and 4 platinum albums, which translate to 25 million records sold.

In The Book of Lists, the 15 all-time best album-selling artists were listed. He was 15th and the only country singer on that roster. He's won three Grammys and in May 1993 became the 70th member of the Grand Ole Opry. He's the Pride of his hometown, Sledge, Mississippi. By now, you just gotta know we're talking about none other than Mr. Charley Pride.

In 1994, he wrote his autobiography. We talked with Charley Pride recently about that book and his life.

Q: Charley, why did you feel the need to write your autobiography a few years back?
A: I thought I had a lot to say.

Q: But, your story isn't over yet.
A: I'm gonna write another one, you see.

Q: Part Two?
A: Yeah.

Q: What was the reaction from your fans who read the book?
A: They love it. I think we sold about ten, twenty thousand at the theater (Charley Pride's Theater in Branson, Missouri). We sold to about one out of three people up there that come through the line for an autograph.

Q: Did you do book signings?
A: Yeah, we did when it first came out, but the publisher kind of messed up. They said they were gonna do all these things, and then they got ready to sell the company and they lost a lot of promotion and public relations people. My book suffered. One place we sold 300 books, and that's unheard of.

Q: Do you still own a theater in Branson?
A: That's correct.

Q: How often do you perform there?
A: From April through December.

Q: A couple of shows a day?
A: Yeah. Three and eight p.m.

Q: How long have you been in Branson?
A: Since about '93.

Q: Does that mean if people want to see you they have to go to Branson? You no longer tour?
A: Oh, no.

Q: In your book you write, "If you have a job, a certain thing to do, and you let it become a chore, it will become a chore. You might as well accept the challenge and make the job as much fun as possible." It would appear on the surface anyway, that you've accomplished as much as a singer, songwriter, entertainer could accomplish. What keeps you going? Do you still have fun with your chosen occupation?
A: O, yeah. I mean there's always another plateau. It's always a challenge. There is always something else to do. I still should be making records, you know? But, the business is concentrating on the young guy. so, I'm just trying to hang in there. I don't have to worry, I built my following in fan land. I will draw. So, I'm already there. I'm on my way to Australia, and we'll be sold out there again.

Q: What type of places do you perform in, in Australia?
A: Playing various different venues. In Perth we'll be at a casino, for about two shows. And some other places, the same thing. We also have three, 4000-seat venues auditorium type things. It just depends on where they put us.

Q: So, in terms of recording, you don't have a record deal today?
A: No.

Q: Why don't you put out your own records and tapes?
A: I'll you what I'm going to do. I'm going to wait them out, because the fans are gonna demand that they want to hear us again. That's what I believe. You just wait them out a little longer. I think they'll come around, as long as I have my voice, and I still have that. I'll go ahead and just be prepared to make some good records, when that happens.

Q: You're the second best selling artist for R.C.A. behind Elvis. Yet, I don't think your career has been as publicized or promoted as other R.C.A. artists like John Denver or David Bowie. How come?
A: Well, I guess they felt they didn't need to, because they were making enough money off me without doing that. That's my thought about it. I remember when I first started off and they had a guy named Rick Palmer. He was an Italian guy, They spent two-hundred thousand dollars on a four-city tour for that guy. Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco, and New York. Two hundred thousand dollars in the 60's was a lot of nuggets.

Q: It's a lot money today.
A: Yeah, that's true, but I mean back then, it was.

Q: You won't endorse political candidates, but do you make commercials?
A: Sometimes

Q: What companies or products have you endorsed?
A: I'd have to think. (Laughs)

Q: When you were starting out and just getting some attention, much was made about the fact that you were a black man singing country music. According to your book, people were shocked. As we look around today, it's still rather unusual to find a black person singing country, isn't it?
A: Actually, I'm an Afro-American now. When I started out, I was Colored. Reporters like yourself used to say, :Now Charley, how does it feel to be the first Negro country singer? How does it feel to be the first Black country singer? How does it feel now to be the first Afro-American country singer? Well, I feel the same way when I was colored. That's what I tell them. I don't feel no different when I was colored before I got to be Afro-American. So, I just go out and try to do my thing, and be the staunch American I've been all my life, realizing why people ask that.

Q: I ask only because you would appear to be the only black country singer. I don't know anybody else. Maybe you're the only guy who like country music.
A: Well, there's a lot of whites that didn't admit liking it until I came along. I came along, whole lot of blacks or Afros or whichever way you want to put it, and I said this in an article in Ebony, way back in the beginning of my career, that because of me there's gonna be a lot of people coming out of the closet saying they like country music, that wouldn't do it ordinarily. And, that includes white and black. That has happened.

Q: Have there been other black country singers?
A: There have been a number of them. Stoney Edwards, Ruby Falls, Obie McClinton. It's just that when you don't follow it, you're not aware of what's out there. I really liked Stoney Edwards. He was a good singer. He sounded a lot like Merle Haggard.

Q: So what does the future hold for Charley Pride:
A: Well, I hope to start recording in about 6 months to a year. I'm gonna start getting some songs together, and go in and cut some fine, fine songs. By that time, I hope the different labels decide that people of my vintage need to be heard. I'm singing to 3 and 4 generations that come through the line in Branson. They still want to hear Charley Pride.

Gary James files his interviews from Syracuse, New York.

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