Ray Price: There’s Not Any Like You Left

photo courtesy of www.hilltopstudios.com

photo courtesy of www.hilltopstudios.com

Our intentions for starting this blog page, from the beginning, have been a means to communicate in a casual way and engage our fans with the daily happenings of Feller and Hill. It was certainly not intended as a forum to discuss those who have gone on. With that said, I have received an overwhelming positive response to the last couple of posts, in which I discussed this very thing and how those heroes of ours have affected our lives and our musical careers. With this in mind, I will attempt to point out a few ways that Ray Price changed my musical and personal life.

I will admit that I discovered Ray and his music just recently, in the big picture. Before 2009, I knew of Ray and had heard his music, but had never studied the details of how Ray’s voice, along with the music, created such a unique and timeless sound. When Chris Hill and myself first began our musical journey together, around this time, Ray was one of our first go-to artists, because of his incredible singing, style, and his vast library of music. We look for music that is different. We strive to create original music that sounds old. Ray Price’s music has been a constant resource for us. With a career that spans back to the late 1940’s all the way up to recent years, his longevity will likely never be recreated.

Chris (Hill) is much more of a Ray Price historian than myself. For that reason, I will not try to go on and on about Ray with details of his career. All of this information is readily available all over the internet. I will share a conversation that Chris and I had just this past week when reports started coming in of Ray’s failing health. We started talking about how few of the pioneers of Country, Bluegrass, and traditional music are really left~~not many! Willie Nelson, Stonewall Jackson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Bobby Osborne, Jimmy C. Newman, Merle Haggard…..these are just a very few (and I know I left many out) of the greats who are still with us. It leads us to the question, will their music die with them when they go? In music, it is necessary for an artist to create a sound that is unique, when combined with talent, (sometimes good looks or an image), songwriting ability, and great musical arrangements, will spawn a long-lasting musical career. But, I don’t think that means that new artists must be exclusively unique and cannot learn and pay tribute to the musical pioneers, in their own ways. I do believe by doing this, a new artist can spark a new interest and even a fan base for a seasoned artist, by paying homage to them in a way that does their music and image justice. I also believe that by doing this, new artists can do their part to help keep the music of our pioneers alive forever. The music industry has changed so much, in recent years, that we will likely not see many more, if any, 30 or 40 year careers. Artists like George Strait, Reba Mcentire and Alan Jackson are perhaps the few exceptions to that. The careers of George Jones, Buck Owens, Roger Miller, Ray Price, Johnny Paycheck, and so many more, will never be recreated. If I had to teach someone who knew nothing about country or traditional music, I would have them study the careers and music of these greats, as their first assignment.

I mentioned that the music scene has changed so much, in recent years. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest reason has been the social media age. I am a big fan of social media, but it can also be a mixed blessing. I just read yesterday, that pop-singer Beyonce released a brand-new album a few weeks back. She went about this in a way that was completely non-traditional, for an artist of her stature, anyway. She refrained from all of the traditional advertising and marketing techniques, which can incur huge expenses for artists. Instead, she exclusively used social media as her advertising means. She sold over 400,000 copies of her new album in the first week of sales. What does this mean? It means that the playing fields are being leveled. It means that smaller artists, via social media, can become more competitive with larger artists. I think that part is a blessing. However, the big problem I have with social media is that it also brings out those who are trying to make a quick buck or take advantage of other people. In the past two years, how many times have you seen false reports of a celebrities’ death (known as the death hoax on Facebook)? Too many to count? I agree. From Jon Bon Jovi, George Jones, and now Ray Price. I was caught up in the George Jones death hoax a good six months before he actually died. I felt awful that I had commented on his death, publicly, only to find out he was alive and well. How do these false reports get started and why? Is it some kind of a cruel joke? Are people just really bored and want attention that is gained by starting such a hoax? How disrespectful and unsettling is it to the friends and families of celebrities who are affected by these hoaxes? Don’t the pioneers of the entertainment industry deserve better than this? What ever happened to the days of respecting entertainment figures and their privacy? I know there’s always been a degree of this that goes on, but it seems like it gets worse with each public figure that we lose. Will social media continue to be as mainstream as it has become? Or, will advertisers and marketing firms lobby to shut them down? I’ve already heard buzz of content limiting and restrictions on Facebook and other social media sights. This is an interesting topic, which could be an entire blog all by itself, ¬†whose outcome remains to be seen.

To sum things up: Out of respect for our pioneer and industry greats, please do your homework and find reliable sources, regarding the death of these musical heroes, or any public figure, before publicly announcing or re-posting. Seeing it on Facebook does not equate that it’s true. I would also add that it’s in all of our best interests to research these artists and their music. Even if it isn’t your favorite music, you can learn so much just looking at their careers and the way they did things. It wasn’t just by luck that their careers were so long-lived. In the words of Faron Young~~Ray, “There’s Not Any LIke You Left”! Rest in peace, Ray.

Moments frozen in time: Remembering fallen heroes

photo courtesy of scottandersonmusic.com

photo courtesy of scottandersonmusic.com

It was a pretty typical Sunday evening for me. My family and I still lived down the street in the old “turn-of-the-century” house, in which we were doing some pretty extensive remodeling. Southeastern Indiana has never been very “outdoor friendly”, during the fall months on into early December. On that day, I found myself inside, perhaps relaxing after working on installing a tin ceiling in the family room. The family room at the old house doubled as my “music room”. It was here I could often be found rehearsing and researching musical and technical skills I needed to make my return to the bluegrass music scene. I had been in and out of that scene for years, since leaving the Larry Stephenson Band, in April of 1993 to take a day job at a trucking company. Never being content with sitting on the sidelines, I dreamed of being back on that stage with the right people. As a result, I decided to work on my trade and learn as much as I could. Finding free time to do that, when you’re working 70 plus hours a week, can be a challenge. To help facilitate, I managed to keep a few (local) festivals a year worked into my schedule.

While attending those few shows a year, I always made it a point to visit with musicians and friends, whom I had met years earlier in my former bluegrass career. One of those people was Dempsey Young. I recall seeing and hearing Dempsey for the first time in the late ’80’s. His style and charm immediately caught my ear. Of all the great mandolin players on the road, at that time, there was just something about him and his playing that was unmistakable. I recall one of our first encounters. I was only 15 or 16 at the time. I was shy and not-so-worldly. I recall thinking that Dempsey looked like one of my ex-girlfriend’s Dad (who was not a big fan of mine) and every time I saw him it was the first thing that came to mind. I remember mentioning this to Dempsey in my shy and awkward way. I suppose it was the only way I could think of starting a conversation with him without being obvious that I was obsessed with his mandolin playing. Dempsey got a real kick out of this and we seemed to hit it off immediately. It was then that I felt more and more comfortable asking questions and just watching and listening. Dempsey loved to get out and pick. I recall a show, in Oklahoma, where there was a great jam back stage, after the show. I sat up-close and tried to learn all I could. He didn’t seem to mind and I think he sensed my willingness to learn, but always seemed to appreciate my respectable approach. Years later, I brought a custom built mandolin I had bought to him, for inspection. He pointed out some good points and some not-so-good points about the instrument. That honesty really impressed me. I have seen many great pickers, whom I know are constantly bombarded with custom instruments, praise literally every instrument which is put in their hands. I’m sure this is mainly done out of courtesy and in hopes not to insult the builder, but I always admired Dempsey’s honesty and determination not to mislead.

That Sunday evening of December 10th, 2006, as I sat in the family room relaxing and surfing the internet on my old Dell, before the days of Facebook (I think it was actually MySpace back then), I received a message from good friend Shayne Bartley. I read it in disbelief. Shayne told me that one of our heroes, Dempsey Young, had taken his own life, earlier that morning. I was stunned. I had last seen him in July of that year, at the MACC, in Columbus, Ohio. Normally very cheery and in a wonderful mood, Dempsey seemed a bit distraught that day, even with me. He asked me a question that day that sort of took me by surprise. He asked me how I continued to go out and work “these shows”, year in and year out, for so little money. As he went on, I sensed that Dempsey had concerns of his own, perhaps money, maybe feeling like he was spending too much time on the road? I did not pry, as I never wanted to make him feel uncomfortable. I didn’t think much more about it that weekend, but simply found it odd. I later realized that Dempsey may have been the one looking to me for advice or reaching out and I just didn’t realize it at the time. That feeling will likely always be with me. In these situations, I think it’s just human nature to ask oneself if there’s something we could have said or done to prevent a friend or loved one from taking their own life. The only advice I can offer is that all we can do is just be who we are and be the best friend we can. As I stated in my last blog post, cherish those moments, because you never know if there will be more.

I decided to attend the visitation and funeral for Dempsey. I made the 8 hour journey later that week and met and stayed with friends Darrel and Phyllis Adkins (from the MACC, in Columbus, Ohio), down in Rocky Mount, Virginia. We went for dinner and then onto the visitation. I was so impressed by the numbers of people who showed up and for the courage that Dempsey’s family and band members showed for those couple of days. I think they held up wonderfully, considering the circumstances. I was also very pleased with the support shown to his family and bandmates by the bluegrass community. I’ve always felt like bluegrass people are family and this situation really proved that to me. Something positive, as a result of this great gathering of bluegrass musicians and fans, was getting to see many of each that I had not seen in years. But that positive feeling didn’t last long, as I realized how Dempsey’s death would also affect those people and made me feel sad for them, as well.

Dempsey Young was a great man, musician, and influence on my life, who left this world too soon and I’m taking this opportunity to tell my story and pay tribute, in his honor. Rest in peace, Dempsey.