Charley Pride died today of Covid-19. He was eighty-six, and the country music community claimed him as beloved. They say he was the kindest man in the business.
Charley started out wanting to play baseball and pitched for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League. Baseball eventually led him to a semi-pro team in, of all places, Helena, MT. Charley lived in Helena for several years, and in fact, it was his baseball coach who found out he could sing and put him onstage before every game.
Charley moved his family (three kids by then) to Great Falls when his singing career took off so he could be closer to an airport. He got really good airplay in Great Falls by KMON Radio’s manager Al Donohue. The rest of us in Montana wanted to keep up so we always followed Donohue. KXLO played Charley Pride before his big break, too.
From 1968 to 1973, I did stints as a DJ at a 1000-watt station in Lewistown, Montana. My years at KXLO coincided with Charley’s rise on the charts. At that time, country singers still visited with the DJ’s who played their music, sometimes driving around the country for two or three days to hit as many stations as possible. The Prides were about to move to Texas when Charley graced a bunch of us with a trip around Montana. I believe that was sometime in 1969.
I had signed off my mid-morning shift and was just returning from lunch when he arrived, so the afternoon DJ got to interview him. When I walked into the station, I asked our middle-age receptionist Frieda, “Who’s here in the big car?”
She said, “Charley Pride, the black one.”
I said, “Oh, shoot, Bill gets him on-air. Did he talk to you?”
“He shook my hand,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “It was sort of … clammy.”
Charley came out of the studio in a few minutes. I was still leaning on the front counter.
“Heyyyy,” he said. “You must be Goldee.”
“Yes,” I said, “and I’m so glad to meet you!”
We chatted for a few happy minutes, then he said he had to get back on the road.
He stuck out his hand, but I said, “Can I kiss you on your cheek?”
I got a big bear hug.
Frieda wrinkled her damn nose again.