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Roy Ayers
Born:  December 10, 1929
Died:  June 9, 2012
Steel Guitar Hall of Fame (2007)
Western Swing Society Hall of Fame (2006)
WAVE Louisville, KY
WCBI Columbus, MS (1944)
WCOC Meridian, MS (1945)

The year was 1929. Folks like Bing Crosby and Guy Lombardo were on the record charts back then. Songs like "Tipetoe Through The Tulips", "Singing In the Rain", "Am I Blue", "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Stardust" were what folks were listening to. In Columbus, Mississippi, a family welcomed Roy Ayres into the world.

Roy began playing the Hawaiian steel guitar at age of eight years old, using an old Spanish guitar. His first "real" steel guitar, an inexpensive resonator guitar, was given to him on his thirteenth birthday, December 10, 1942, by his parents.

He soon began his career as a professional musician that has lasted more than 60 years. He became proficient enough to begin playing concerts (back then they were called "show dates" and "jamborees") in local schools and court houses in and around the Columbus, Mississippi area with a small group of local musicians.

His first paid performance brought him a whopping sum of seven dollars. As this was during World War II, most musicians of age 18 or over were in the military services, so police officials "looked the other way" when, at age 14, Roy began playing local night clubs around the Columbus area, earning ten dollars each night.

It was around that time that he replaced his resonator guitar with a six-string Supro electric steel guitar. At the age of 15, Roy began playing on a regular daily radio show on WCBI in Columbus with a group called the Midsouth Ramblers. After about a year, Red Stanton, a bandleader in Meridian, Mississippi, hired Roy at a salary of $45 per week to play a daily radio show on WCOC as well as week-end bookings in various night clubs and dance halls in the area.

The war ended while Roy was in Meridian, and musical instrument manufacturers resumed production of instruments such as steel guitars. Roy purchased a double-neck National steel guitar.

Just prior to his 17th birthday in 1946, Roy joined Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys and moved to Nashville, Tennessee where Pee Wee's band performed weekly on the Grand Ole Opry. Shortly after joining Pee Wee, Roy played steel guitar on the original recording of "The Tennessee Waltz" which was subsequently recorded by many famous artists, and soon became the third biggest record seller of all time. It also became the official state song of Tennessee. As a result of the band's unique style of western swing and the success of a number of their recordings, the Golden West Cowboys were honored by Cash Box magazine's award for "Nation's Number One Western Band" two years in succession.

Pee Wee moved the band to Louisville, Kentucky about two years after he joined the band, where they did a weekly television show and a daily radio show on WAVE. Roy still proudly displays on his living room wall a rare WAVE "Television Pioneer" award for having performed on the first television show ever broadcast in Kentucky or Indiana.

Roy also found time to teach several intermediate and advanced steel guitarists while living in Louisville. He remained with the Golden West Cowboys for more than eight years, during which time he played steel guitar on several other hit records by Pee Wee and the Golden West Cowboys, including "Slow Poke", "Bonaparte's Retreat" and "You Belong To Me".

He also doubled on lead guitar and played "twin guitar" harmony parts on the well known "Swing West" RCA album. While with the Golden West Cowboys Roy wrote several songs, including "Crazy Waltz" that was recorded by Pee Wee King, Helen O'Connell and Gizelle McKinsey and Dave Cavanaugh's orchestra.

Roy resigned from the Golden West Cowboys in 1954 to care for his terminally ill father.

During his tenure with the Golden West Cowboys, Roy cut scores of record sessions at the King Record Company in Cincinnati with numerous artists such as Cowboy Copas, Redd Stewart, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Moon Mullican.

After his father's death, he joined Boyd Bennett and his Rockets, where he played steel guitar on ballads, trombone on Dixieland songs, and lead guitar on rock-and-roll songs. Several rock-and-roll hits recorded by Boyd such as "Seventeen", "My Boy Flat Top", and "High School Hop" featured lead guitar solos by Roy.

Roy was the songwriter on Boyd's rock-and-roll records "High School Hop" and "Let Me Love You".

After two years of traveling about the country with the Rockets, Roy decided that his wife and two-year-old daughter, Sondra, were more important to him than the spotlight of the entertainment world, so he enrolled in college at the University of Louisville in 1956 where he spent 5 years earning B.S. and M.S. degrees in physics.

During his college years, he played in local night clubs in the Louisville area.

After completing his formal education, Roy spent eight years in California as an aerospace physicist, after which he joined the Fender Musical Instrument Company where he remained for about two years as Director of String Instrument Development.

He left California when his daughter, Sondra, was about to enter high school and moved to Texas where his family could enjoy a more provincial lifestyle.

He held professional positions in science and government in Texas and Florida until he retired in 2003, all the while continuing to use music as an avocation.

He and his wife, Laurie, now live in Riverview, Florida.

Upon his retirement in 2003, Roy turned his attention back to music on a full-time basis, and began playing steel guitar concerts in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Missouri and Illinois.

He was inducted into The Seattle, Washington "Pioneers of Western Swing" Hall of Fame in 2005, the Sacramento, California "Western Swing Music" Hall of Fame in 2006, and the "International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame" in St. Louis, Missouri in 2007. He was the 57th steel guitarist to be inducted into the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame since the inception of that hall of fame some 30 years earlier.

Roy's name is known throughout the world by country music fans and musicians, both professionals and amateurs.

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to express its appreciation to Roy Ayres himself for contacting us and providing information, insight and photos related to his musical career.

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