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Andrew Gray

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RAY, ROBERT JAMES [BUDDY] (1919–2003). Buddy Ray, western swing and jazz violinist, saxophonist, vocalist, songwriter, and actor, was born Robert James Ray in Waco, Texas, on November 30, 1919. A formally-trained violinist who was influenced by early jazz violinists, such as Stuff Smith, Eddie South, and Joe Venuti, Ray got his start with his mother’s band, Lucille Ray and Her Moonglow Orchestra in Waco. In 1937 Ray played a radio program in Shreveport with the Modern Mountaineers. He followed the band back to Houston and joined the outfit. Ray recorded songs for the first time and soon began to make a name for himself as a fiddler. In 1939 he joined Cliff Bruner’s band the Texas Wanderers, which featured pianist Moon Mullican, and in 1940 he joined the Village Boys, led by Dickie McBride. During his tenure with the Village Boys, Ray wrote the “Tulsa Twist,” a twin fiddle instrumental song in G minor, along with the ballad, “I Don’t Want Anyone But You.” By 1942 Ray had become the band’s leader.

Ray moved to California in 1943 because gasoline rationing during World War II made touring difficult, and the draft had taken a few members of his band. He made his living as an independent musician, touring with such notable performers as Merle Travis, T. Texas Tyler and his Oklahoma Melody Boys, and Jimmy Wakely. In his travels with the U.S.O., Ray went to such places as Japan, Hawaii, Guam, and Korea. For a short time in 1944 the “King of Western Swing” Bob Wills hired Ray to play in his Texas Playboys, but Ray soon left the group. “Bob Wills was a two-fingered fiddler,” Ray later said in an interview. While in Hollywood, Ray was a cast member in movies such as Brigadoon (1954), A Star is Born (1954), Jailhouse Rock (1957), and Giant (1956), which featured Hollywood icons Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, and James Dean respectively. Ray’s favorite musical experience, however, was playing with Nat King Cole and the Leighton Noble Orchestra.

Ray returned to Texas in 1970. He toured with Ray Price and Sammy Smith until eventually settling in Fort Worth. In 1994 he joined his last band, Bruton and Price Swingmasters Revue and played with the group until his retirement in 1998. When asked about his career in the late 1990s, Ray replied, “Heh, if I’d known I was going to live so long…well, I’d’ve paced myself.” He died in Waskom, Texas, on September 3, 2003. He was survived by his wife Peggy and a daughter.


“Fiddle Player Buddy Ray—A Pioneer of Western Swing,” Neonbridge: A Louisiana Music Journal (www.neonbridge.com/Articles/2000-2002/May%202002/Buddy%20Ray.htm), accessed October 11, 2006. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 11, 1997; September 5, 2003. Duncan McLean, Lone Star Swing: One Scotsman’s Odyssey in Search of the True Meaning of Texas Swing (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Andrew Gray, "RAY, ROBERT JAMES [BUDDY]," accessed July 15, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fra90.

Uploaded on May 19, 2015. Modified on October 31, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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