|Author: Rhynes, J.D.
|How I met Vern Williams and Ray Park
A couple of weeks ago I was asked on the message board how I came to
know Vern and Ray which gave me the idea to use the subject for a
welcome message. So here we go; Way back in the late 1940s there was
a disc jockey in Stockton, California by the name of Dusty Duncan.
If I remember right, he had an early morning radio show as evening
radio show around five o'clock to six o'clock. It was through Dusty
that I got to know my buddy Ray Park. Even back then, Ray was a
phenomenal fiddle player when he was in his early teens and Dusty
kind of took him under his wing and got him acquainted with the
local musicians. Whenever they had a supermarket opening or an event
of any kind that had a band playing in public Dusty always made sure
that Ray was there to play the fiddle with them. Dust it would
always announce on his radio program of these events that were free
to the public. Plus he would always say the young fiddle phenom Ray
Park is gonna be there too, so come on out and see this young kid
burn the fire out of his fiddle! No matter what it took, I would
always beg and cajole my mom or dad to take me to these openings
where Ray was playing the fiddle with the band. My parents would
always tell me, well we'll go, but if there's any of that "carrying
on" going on, we are going to leave. To this day I don't know what
"carrying on" means, and if there was any going on, It was the
grown-ups that was doing it.
Most of the time it was the Tommy Estes band that Ray would play
with and they were a wonderful band. They played all up and down the
central valley of California, and were well known for many years.
About halfway into the show they would always have Ray play a hot
fiddle number like Orange Blossom special lee highway blues, and boy
would he burn it down! As Ray got older he used to have a dance at
the Oak Grove dance hall in Western Calaveras County every Saturday
night, and from 1954 till 1958 I don't think I missed a one. Ray had
a great band back then and even had the well-known composer and
female vocalist Hazel Houser in his band at the time. In the
summertime it was not unusual to see at least 1500 to 2000 people at
one of Ray's dances on a hot Saturday night, especially when he let
the ladies get in for free. If you didn't get there early, you have
to park at least a half to three quarters of a mile from the dance
hall. The cars would be lined up at least a mile each way on highway
26 from the dance hall. It was during this period that I really got
acquainted with Ray Park. In fact, I met my first wife at one of his
dances in February of 1958. But that's another story for another
It was around 1959 that the County canceled Ray's dance hall permit
and that was the end of that endeavor. Ray and I did not get
reacquainted until early 1971. In March of 1970, I moved to Valley
Springs, California from Campo Seco, California, which was right
over the hill. In late spring of 1971 the San Joaquin Valley boys
and I had a jam session at my house in Valley Springs. About halfway
through the jam session, my buddy Shelby Freeman said, you know Vern
Williams moved to Valley Springs, about a year ago, why don't we
give him a call and have him come join us, so I called Vern and in
about 20 min. he was there. Now I had met Vern back about 1961 in
Stockton, California when the San Joaquin Valley boys were having
band practice one night and Vern came to join us. Shelby reminded
him of that night and Vern remembered it and was glad to see all of
the guys again and we started picking and we picked until daylight.
About an hour after Vern got there somebody knocked on the front
door and when I went and answered it,there stood a young 16-year-old
Delbert Williams Vern's son. That little house of mine would hardly
hold us all but we picked until daylight and the neighbors said they
really enjoyed the music.
It was about three or four weeks after that jam session that Vern
stopped by one day with Ray Park in tow, to show him a fiddle that I
owned. Ran I both took one look at each other and said, hell, I know
you! We must've sat there and talked for three or four hours and
picked little music too while we were at it. After getting
reacquainted with Vern and Ray we started picking with each other on
an informal basis every time we got the chance. From time to time
they would ask me to go play rhythm guitar with them so Ray could
play the fiddle more. Later on I would also play the base with them
from time to time.
Sadly for me, the duo of Vern and Ray split up in 1973, but we all
remained friends for the rest of our lives, and Ray even asked the
Vern Williams band to back him up at a couple of his gigs later in
life. Those were wonderful, musical years and I only wish I could go
back and do them all again.
I have two large black and white portrait size photos of Vern and
Ray hanging in my living room that Tom Tworek took when they were
doing their last gig together in the middle 90s. I tell them Good
morning and good evening every day of my life. Vern and Ray were two
of my best friends that I will ever have on this earth and I miss
them horribly. But, it's like I've said for the last 10 or 15 years.
We all want to keep our family and friends until we die and then
it's okay for them to go but it doesn't work that way. You can argue
with God about it all you want to but I've got news for you, you
just won't win.
I have got to be one the luckiest men on the face of the earth for
having known such two wonderful friends, who just happened to be
probably the best bluegrass vocal duo that will ever come along in
So that's how I came to know Vern Williams and Ray Park, two good
old boys from the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, which just happens to
be my birthplace too, and all three of us were bluegrass musicians.
Do ya suppose that it's something in the water back there?
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