Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About the Artist
Ray Griff was the younger of two sons born in Vancouver, British Columbia to George and Katherine Griff. Even at that early age, people began to note that his songwriting and musical talents were evident. He started playing the piano at the age of six. He wrote his first song when he was just seven ("Blue Bells"). (Dare we ask if he still has the lyrics somewhere?)
Life took its toll on the marriage of his parents and they divorced. His mother Katherine took her two sons and they moved to the town of Winfield, Alberta where she found work as a bookkeeper for a local lumber company.
Ray told Betty Hofer, "I guess I entered every amateur contest in the city, and there probably wasn't a week went by when I didn't perform for some PTA or Cub Scout meeting. I can still remember what I sang in my first contest. It was Peter Cottontail (a song made famous by Merv Shiner). We mentioned Merv to Ray and we later found out that Merv and Ray had become good friends over the years and still talk to each other over the phone every week.
He sang in the usual places one sings perhaps in those early years - barbershop quartets, choirs, played the piano and guitar. He even formed his own band that played on weekends while he was in high school.
When he was just eight years old, he formed a band with his brother Ken and three other local kids and they called themselves "The Winfield Amateurs". Ray played the drums for the band back then. They had no PA system so when Ray sang, he had to sing above the music of the band to be heard.
When he was twelve years old, his mom moved the family to Calgary, Alberta. Ray's childhood dreams included becoming a professional hockey player. He also had aspirations of becoming a boxer and at one point, even thought the ministry might be his calling. It wasn't all music for Ray in those early years.
It wasn't all music for Ray in those early years. Canadian Olympic officials asked Ray to train for the Canadian National Olympic team when he was 15. He had just set the record for Canadian high school long jump.
But that invitation for the Olympic team had competition. Legendary country music star Johnny Horton asked Ray to tour with him for a time. Back then, Ray was a skinny, stuttering 17 year-old kid!
While on tour with Johnny, Ray played Johnny a song that he had written especially for him entitled, "Mr. Moonlight". Johnny liked what he heard and recorded it. Ray told Ms. Hofer, "Johnny was an intellect and a hard man to get to know, but he was a real person and a good friend."
By the time he was seventeen years old, he had already composed over 100 songs. They must have included some gems!
Ray sang in the usual places one sings perhaps in those early years — barbershop quartets, choirs, played the piano and the guitar. He even formed his own bands that played on weekends while he attended high school.
A 1970 feature article notes that Ray was beginning to think he needed to make music a full time endeavor. He kept writing songs and working the night club circuit in Canada. His tunes were said to lean toward the folk and country stye back then. He would take his annual two weeks vacation and make the journey to Nashville to pitch his songs to the various artists and publishers.
What motivated Ray to be a songwriter? That was a question we posed to Ray. He indicated that Cindy Walker and Irving Berlin were two writers that motivated and influenced him.
From what we have read, there was a time when Calgary had passed some laws related to 'live music' and bars and clubs. When the law passed, Ray was the first person to perform "live" in Calgary.
Imagine how difficult it is to get attention in Nashville. Imagine how much more difficult it is when you only have two weeks a year to get attention. But he had a drive and a faith in his talents.
In 1962, he met Jim Reeves. Jim liked what he heard from Ray and saw his talents. He chose to record "Where Do I Go From Here?" on one of Jim's gospel albums; the tune seemed to fit perfectly with Jim's style.
Other artists that recorded tunes by Ray were Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Eddy Arnold and Faron Young.
Ray was telling Ms. Hofer how it happened. "We were playing a dumpy hotel in Kirkland Lake. It was a place where the coal miners used to get into fights every nite and I'd just about had my fill of it. So, I said, Let's go to Nashville, but the boys in the band wouldn't take the chance. My car had just been demolished by a snow play which meant I had to wait another two weeks before I could head South."
In January of 1964, Ray made his biggest decision - he was going to move to Nashville to make his musical career. Seemingly the typical story of a person with a dream to be an entertainer, little money in his or her wallet, but with the heart and determination of their ambition to take the risk. He would settle for toast and coffee for meals during the day and at night, would sleep in the back of his 1960 Chevy. Later in 1964, one of his mentors, Jim Reeves died in a plane crash. Jim was one of the reasons Ray decided to move to Nashville. While Jim may have died, Ray had also met with producers Bob Ferguson and Owen Bradley.
He eventually got a job repairing pianos. That at least allowed him to eat regularly and some time to pitch his songs to those who would listen to him. He next found work in a record pressing plant and then later with a publishing company where his job was to review new material.
In 1966, country music publications were letting readers know that Ray had left Calgary, Alberta for Music City (Nashville) to try and further his career. In his biography on his web site, Ray noted that he had first tried to get a show on the CBC network in Canada, but they felt they already had a country and western show hosted by Tommy Hunter. CBC's loss would turn out to be Nashville's gain.
Ray moved to Nashville having written a few tunes that had gotten attention. One being "Baby" that was picked by Decca's Owen Bradley for Wilma Burgess to record. Another was "I'll Leave The Singing To the Bluebirds" that Sheb Wooley recorded. Around the same time, Stonewall Jackson recorded "Lost In The Shuffle." Wayne Newton recorded "After The Laughter" which back in 1973 was the third largest-selling single Wayne ever had.
While in Nashville, Ray met Carla Scarborough at the offices of a music publishing company (the Bob Ferguson Publishing Co.) they were both working for at the time and got to know each other over the course of a year. Ray asked Carla to partner with him in forming Blue Echo Music, Inc. in May of 1965, licensed with BMI. Ray would be the songwriter, reviewer and plugger. Carla would be the business manager.
Ray enjoyed successful engagements at many venues. According to Billboard magazine, he set attendance records at the Country Palace Club in Toledo, Ohio. Ray also has fond memories of performing at such venues as The Palomino Club in Hollywood, California and the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, Nevada. Richmond, Virginia holds a soft spot for Ray as he seemed to have had a huge fan base there.
Blue Echo Music was the Number One independent music publisher in Nashville for two years straight. Blue Echo Music songs, all of which were written by Ray) have been recorded by such artists as:
Two years in a row, Ray was the recipient of 16 ASCAP awards as a Songwriter, Music Publisher, Artist and Record Producer. Ray has had more than 850 cuts of his songs recorded by different artists since 1964.
Ray was getting his name known to artists, engineers and producers with his songwriting. But he wanted one thing more - a recording contract.
Back in 1968, Ray Pillow had sort of a Nashville insider column with Country Song Roundup. In one such effort, he provides a glimpse into the promotional efforts artists and managers would do for promoting a recording. Ray had evidently sent DJs lilies when he released "Your Lily White Hands". When he released "The Sugar From My Candy", he sent DJs boxes of Bon Bons. That led to one DJ at KRZE, Don Hightower, to note to Mr. Pillow that he hoped Mr. Griff's next records would be "Million Dollar Baby". This is not to be confused with the Clint Eastwood picture of the same name that won best picture in 2004.
The hits started to come and in 1968, Nashville radio station WENO voted Ray "Most Popular Male Vocalist" of the year.
His songs were getting recorded by the big stars of country music back then. Mel Tillis recorded "Something Special". Faron Young did his "Step Aside". Bob Luman recorded "Getting Back To Norma". Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton recorded his "Better Move It On Home." Wayne Kemp did "Darling". And do you remember Jerry Lee Lewis doing "Who's Gonna Play This Old Piano"???
In a 1973 article, Jean Mitchell, Ray's secretary at the time, told Country Song Roundup, "Ray was one such errand when I first met him. At the time I was working for Faron Young and his manager Billy Deaton and Ray had brought "Step Aside" over for Faron to hear. I was impressed by Ray's sincerity and very obvious love for the work he was doing. He was very much the business man; this was not a game he was playing."
By 1973, he finally had his own show on the Canadian network - "Goodtime Country". In addition, over 450 of his songs had been recorded by other artists.
In 1974, Betty Hofer interviewed Ray. He told her, "I'm a disciple of music. I definitely believe my purpose in this life is to be fulfilled through my music."
Ray's instrument of choice was the piano. During his early career, that proved to be a bit of a challenge when traveling between personal appearances. Ray tells us that during his many trips across Canada and the United States, whether in the summer or the dead of winter, he was pulling a trailer behind his car that carried his piano. Keep in mind, this was the era before the invention of electric pianos. He had to tune his piano before every appearance.
Other travel memories include flying from Florida to New Jersey with promoter Keith Fowler on his private plane and running into an ice storm. Not every personal appearance was how shall we say, lucrative? He was once booked into a disco club in Minneapolis, Minnesota that probably did not work out too well for the promoter or Ray.
The music business has its challenges, not just getting heard or recorded. While Ray did enjoy some amount of success in his prolific songwriting and recording career, by no means was it a smooth journey. He encountered pressures early on from publishers who wanted to 'buy' the publishing of his song. While Ray's instincts told him otherwise, it also left him skeptical in his dealings with some producers in Music City. In another instance, Ray wrote a tune, "If Tomorrow Never Comes" which was recorded by a musician by the name of Kent Blazy who pitched the song to another artist who would gain international fame. However, because of that effort, that artist recorded a tune by the same title, but had seemingly wrote 'around' the song but had used the title from Ray's efforts.
We invite you to visit Ray's web site to learn more about his prolific songwriting efforts. To see the many artists he's produced in the recording studio.
Ray was first married to Margaret. Ray notes on his web site that there was a time when things just overwhelmed him with all that he had going on. It led to a nervous breakdown he says. But just as he was coming out of it, his little Yorkshire Terrier Dandy passed away. Then he and Margaret divorced shortly afterwards.
It was around this time he made a conscious effort to withdraw from the business and just be with himself, living in seclusion on a property he had in the Nashville area. He kept writing songs, but it was mostly therapy to him, and were sad and depressing in their themes.
Things seemed to spiral downward. He was suffering pain from a back injury that ultimately required surgery. In the middle 1980s, he stopped touring the United States because his mother had become quite ill. He opted to tour the Canadian night club circuit so he could remain closer to her. But as fate would have it, he was attacked at one performance by three 'goons' as he describes it that resulted in a severely broken right hand which required a dozen surgeries to repair. He could not play the piano for two years - a major part of what made him an entertainer as well as his tool in songwriting.
His mother Katherine passed away in 1990. Shortly after that, he sold fifty percent of his forty years of life's work to a European conglomerate.
During his lifetime, Ray overcame a stuttering problem through study at The Wilkerson Speech Center and was on their board of directors at one time.
Ray also found the time to take karate classes as well as play tennis.
Life turned around for him though. He had met a special lady (Trudy) as he describes it while he was touring Canada. They were married at his home in Nashville in 1990. While he had found a new point of happiness in his life, he had grown disillusioned with the direction of country music at that time and opted out of the mainstream.
In 1998, he made another change in his life. His wife's father had become ill and they made a major decision. He left Nashville after more than 35 years and moved back to Calgary.
Larry Delaney wrote in Canada's "Country Music News" in its March 2011 issue that Ray Griff holds the record as Canada's most prolific country songwriter with the most compositions reaching the Billboard Country Hits Charts in the USA --- and it appears that it will be a record that will remain unbroken in the foreseeable future. Griff, born in Vancouver, British Columbia and now making his home in Calgary, Alberta after working in Nashville for many years, has had 54 of his songs recorded by himself and by other artists make it to the Billboard Country Hits Charts. The next closest on the hit list is superstar Shania Twain (b. Windsor, ON) with 29 entries, and seemongly in retirement, with no material on the horizion.
The top 10 Candian writers whose songs have charted on Billboards country chart are:
In 2012, his web site tells fans he was undergoing a battle with cancer. He had osteoradionecrosis. He had reconstructive jaw surgeries. He's still in the recovery process and you can read more details on his web site. If you remember his songs and hits over the years, why not take the time to visit his site and drop him a good wish to see him recover and perhaps compose more music for us to enjoy.
Ray has been a workaholic all his life and while he is not quite ill,
he continues to do his radio show “Raymond’s Place” in Calgary on 1060 AM.
Because of the facial paralysis it takes him over a week to put one show together
but he continues to do it at “no charge”. The show is extremely popular both locally
(Calgary) and on line:
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