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The Pride of country for 35 years

By Brian Baker, September 2000

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Amazingly, Pride says that in all his years of touring and public appearances, he has never been racially heckled. That fact stands as one of the truest testaments to Pride's position within the fan community of country music.

One of the strangest facets of Pride's long career is the matter of his separation from RCA in the mid-'80's. Sensing that the label was spending more time and energy on younger artists, he asked for and was given his contract back, something that no one, not his manager or friends or lawyer, could believe the label would do.

"I feel like I was an instrument of my own demise," Pride says. "When I signed with RCA, if you sold 50,000, you were a keeper for a label. All of a sudden, I start selling 100,000, then 150,000, then 250,000. When I won Male Vocalist/Entertainer of the Year, every time they'd release an album, they'd press up 300,000 right off the bat. I feel that I helped bring country music into the mainstream of sales."

With the incredible rise in sales figures, plus the strong pop crossover potential and the amounts of money at stake, Pride felt that the label considered him a liability because of his business savvy and his understanding of the nuts and bolts aspect of the industry.

Even though he was still moving tons of product, RCA let Pride out of his contract, even to his own surprise.

Considering the number of artists and the kinds of careers that have been inducted ahead of him at the CMHOF, it would be understandable if someone made a case that race could have had some bearing in Pride's long wait to enter the Hall. Pride removes himself from any such discussion, preferring to concentrate on the incredible honor being afforded him. As proof of the Hall's fairness, he merely points out how few artists are in the Hall of Fame.

"There's only 72 in the Country Music Hall of Fame," says Pride. "I'm 73. You look at Cooperstown or the football hall of fame, where they induct three or four every time. They don't do that with the Country Music Hall of Fame. I'm going in with Faron Young, and I couldn't think of anyone I would rather go in beside. He was one of the first that took me out. Marty Robbins took me out. Ernest Tubb put me up front of him. There's been a lot of people who supported me. It's going to be emotional. I'm going to try to get through it."

Perhaps the most telling moment comes when Pride ponders the question of which honor or achievement has meant the most to him along the incredible path of his country music career. The answer is as honest as the man delivering it.

"All of them," he says without a moment's hesitation. "The Hall of Fame is the top of the rock, but it's all of those other little ones before all of this came about. It's hard to slice it down. I have to collectively look at them all and enjoy them all."

Although Pride is currently without a label deal, he's shopping to see who might be interested in signing him. He has a few projects that he is tantalizingly secretive about, but does mention that the one piece that he actually has in the can and ready to go is a tribute to Jim Reeves. It's clear that Charley Pride has no intention of leaving either his recording or touring career behind.

"I still think I'm going to sell some more records," he says with a smile. "I don't show up with six semis and lights popping off, but in my own little domain, I'm still putting them in the seats."

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