Golden Oldies Great Ray Peterson Found Peace in Living
- Thursday, February 03, 2005
Friday, January 28, 2005 was a typical winter day in Nashville, Tenn. — mid 40s and overcast. It was also the day they buried my friend Ray Peterson.
If you’re under forty you probably don’t recognize the name. Even if you’re older, it may be only vaguely familiar. But to those of us who love the early era of rock 'n’ roll, Ray’s name is magic.
I met Ray several years ago when I was doing a radio show called "Coast to Coast Gold with Steve Diggs." You know the type. Each week we rolled three hours of oldies interspersed with data about the early music, trivia and interviews with the guys and gals who’d made the hits. For me it was a hoot! Each show featured interviews with folks like Jan & Dean, Pat Boone, the Beach Boys, Bobby Vinton, Martha Reeves, the Little Rascals, and Ray Peterson.
I was always intrigued by their lives and what they were doing now. Many have prospered and done very well over the years. Bobby Vinton runs a successful theatre in Branson. Pat is as busy as ever entertaining, running several businesses, and serving a host of Christian ministries. Dean still performs, but has also become a successful artist in San Diego.
But some of the early stars have had hard lives. Some are bitter. Some have been hurt. Some are even angry.
One I’ll never forget was the Ray Peterson interview. In case you’re unfamiliar with his name, let me tell you a little about him. Ray was born in Denton, Texas in 1939. As a small boy he was diagnosed with polio and told he would never walk again. In the hospital, Ray focused on music and began sharing his gift with other patients. Thankfully God had other plans.
Ray grew into young adulthood with only a slight limp and one of the most energetic stage acts anywhere. By the time he turned twenty, the hits had begun. Ray scored with a string of hits in the late '50s and early '60s. He was best known for the teen tearjerker, "Tell Laura I Love Her," and "Corrina, Corrina" which was produced by the legendary Phil Spector.
But as they say “life happens.” Ray’s moment in the sun was fleeting. By the mid '60s the hit-making days had dried up, and Ray had become a supporting act for bigger names. For the next four decades Ray struggle to stay close to the music he loved so much.
By the late 1990s, when I first met Ray, his health had begun to deteriorate. He didn’t look well. He walked with a cane (probably, I assumed, because of the early polio damage.) He wasn’t wealthy either. He lived in a comfortable, but modest home near Nashville. And, like so many of the artists from his era, Ray was not a particularly shrewd businessman. He had been taken advantage of, and underpaid countless times.
But the thing that impressed me most was the quiet, relaxed peace that Ray exuded. He didn’t have the hardness and cynicism so many of the other artists had. He saw the good in others. For Ray, the glass was two-thirds full.
We were visiting in his home one day when his teenage son came through with a friend. Ray took the time to visit with his son and find out where the boys were going. I saw a gentle, loving father whose scars had not invaded his soul. I began to notice that this was Ray’s general demeanor. He always seemed at peace. He always had the time to help me with a project. He had that special quality that only lives in those who have welcomed the Spirit of God into their lives.
I learned that Ray and I shared a common faith. Jesus was the center of everything that mattered to Ray. I also learned that since the late '70s Ray had preached and ministered. His purpose in life was to know and reflect Jesus more each day.
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