He is a guitarist born Ray Quarles Edenton in Mineral, Virginia who began life in a musical family where his mother played the piano and his brothers played the fiddle and guitar.
He started out rapping a metal tray to accompany the family and after a while learnt how to play the fiddle before going on to be self-taught on the 4-string banjo and several other instruments such as the guitar and mandolin. He began performing at local dances for the princely sum of 25 cents per night and then joined the army to complete a term of military service during WWII.
On returning to civilian life in 1946 he went to work at Richmond, Virginia’s WMBG Radio as a Rodeo Ranger which was the first step for him before joining up with two of the other Rangers to become a trio. The trio performed in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on a radio show and were taken on as an act in a drive-in show that operated on the east coast of the United States run by Bob Nicholson In 1948 they went to work at WMFD in Frederick, Maryland, for Sleepy McDaniels before Ray made the decision to leave the group.
He joined Joe Maphis and the Corn Crackers as a bass player and singer at WRVA in Richmond, Virginia, on their Old Dominion Barn Dance. The following year, in 1949, he went to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he worked at WNOX on The Mid Day, Merry Go Round radio show. Here he worked with several of the big names in country music such as Chet Atkins, The Carter Family, Don Gibson and Carl Smith. He also made the first of the many recordings he would work on during his career when he performed on “Lovesick Blues” by Rd Kirk in 1949. Everything was about to change for him though when he contracted tuberculosis and had to spend the next 28 months in hospital.
After his recovery he went to Nashville in 1952 and met up with Sleepy McDaniels again. Sleepy managed to helped him become a front man and guitarist with the blackface comedy duo Jamup & Honey. The next year he was called upon by Chet Atkins to play on some of his demo sessions and he began performing at the Grand Ole Opry regularly and was a member of the touring bands of many different acts that included Webb Pierce, Ray Price, Marty Robbins and Hank Williams to name just a few.
In 1956 he went to work at Nashville’s WSIX TV in the band on the Home Folks Show and he was also a bass player and singer in a trio. Another radio show he appeared on was Chet and Jerry Byrd’s Two Guitars where he was a rhythm guitarist and bassist.
Having to change his style of playing the guitar due to drums filtering into recording studios, he began working with new tuning and found himself joining up with The Everly Brothers to record their “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Suzie”.
By the time the 1960s arrive he was becoming one of the most sought after and acclaimed guitarists in the industry and getting his name as one of the Nashville A-Team. In the mid-1960s he performed on Tennessee Firebird which was one of the pioneering fusion albums between jazz, country and bluegrass music featuring Chet Atkins, Buddy Emmons and The Osborne Brothers. Other 1960s work of Ray was done with Boors Randolph and Johnny Cash, where he was heard by a producer from Columbia who encouraged him to do a solo album and this resulted in his debut album Ray Edenton Plays Upton Country Music with guests Floyd Cramer, Charlie McCoy, Buddy Harmon and Harold Bradley amongst others.
During the 1970s and the ‘80s he was busier than ever and it has been thought that he performed on thousands of recordings during those two decades. He invented a new twin rhythm with his fellow musician Jimmy Capps, and this sound was heard on hits such as “The Gambler by Kenny Rogers” and “Crying” by Don McLean.
When the 1990s came along he decided to retire to Old Hickory Lake in 1991, leaving behind him a career where he made his mark as an accomplished and much respected musician.
During the course of his career he has worked with countless artists in many different genres of music and a very few of these include Julie Andrews, Eddy Arnold, Moe Bandy, The Beach Boys, Brooke Benton, Pat Boone, Boxcar Willie, Ed Bruce, George Burns, Henson Cargill, Vikki Carr, Rosemary Clooney, Sammy Davis Jr., Skeeter Davis, The Sir Douglas Quintet, Duane Eddy, Donna Fargo, Narvel Felts, Lester Flatts, Crystal Gayle, Merle Haggard, Tom T. Hall, Ferlin Husky, Burl Ives, Tommy James, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Doug Kershaw, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Country Joe McDonald, Reba McEntire, Bill Medley, Roger Miller, Ronnie Milsap, Robert Mitchum, Mickey Newbury, Buck Owens, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Ray Price, Charley Pride, Johnny Ray, Charlie Rich, Doug Sahm, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Earl Scruggs, Joe Stampley, The Statler Brothers, Nat Stuckey, B.J. Thomas, Merle Travis, Conway Twitty, Porter Wagoner, Dottie West, Andy Williams and Faron Young.
As you will have guessed, his albums range into the hundreds, if not thousands, but some of the include Hard Time Hungrys by Bobby Bare, Back to Sweethearts of the Rodeo by The Burrito Brothers, Grasshopper by J.J. Cale, Sentimentally Yours by Patsy Cline, Scene Changes by Perry Como, Originals by Floyd Cramer, Some Days Are Diamonds by John Denver, Everly Brothers’ Best by The Everly Brothers, Elite Hotel by Emmylou Harris, Breakaway by Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, Killer Rocks On/Boogie Woogie Country Man by Jerry Lee Lewis, Mancini Country by Henry Mancini, Chain Lightning by Don McLean, Night Life: Greatest Hits and Rare Tracks 1959-1971 by Willie Nelson, Crying by Roy Orbison, RCA Country Legends by Dolly Parton, Chester & Lester by Les Paul & Chet Atkins, Unbreakable Hearts by Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Rock n Roll Robbins by Marty Robbins, Live At the Grand Ole Opry by Jim Reeves, Hank Wilson’s Back! by Leon Russell, Souvenirs by Hank Snow, Best Loved Favorites by Slim Whitman, Major Moves by Hank Williams Jr., Best of Bob Wills, Vol. 1 by Bob Wills and Comes a Time by Neil Young.
His contribution to music has been immense with him being having done 22 sessions in a 5-day stretch at one time and being estimated to have performed on somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 recordings. He was recognised with his induction into the Studio Musicians Hall of Fame and The Musicians Hall of Fame. He has also won the NARAS Award for “Most valuable player of rhythm guitar” each year from 1977 to 1979 and was a member of The Superpicker Band from 1975 to 1979.
Hargus “Pig” Robbins recordings
Chunky People (Jim Vest/David Chamberlain)
Elektra (E-46512-A) (US promo 45)
Kenny Rogers recordings
The Gambler (Don Schlitz)
United Artists UA-X1250-Y (UAST-20122)