Vernon “Lucky” Wray was born on January 7, 1924 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He learned to play guitar when he was 11 years old.
In 1943, Vernon’s family moved to Portsmouth Virginia. His first job as a professional musician was playing drums and singing with a trio in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He later played doghouse and electric bass.
When his brothers Link and Doug were old enough, they stared their own band. Names changed according to the venues they played - Lucky Wray and the Lazy Pine Wranglers…Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Gang…(“Lucky” was Vernon, picking up his nickname from his success at gambling.)
The band consisted of Vernon on rhythm guitar, Link on lead guitar, and Doug on drums. They were later joined by Dixie Neale for a short time on pedal steel. (Dixie’s brother Jack was a member of Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps), as well as mainstay Brantley “Shorty” Horton on bass.
Always the entrepreneur, Vernon had the first taxi license i Portsmouth. Vernon drove his cab during the day and spent his nights honing his craft in the clubs and honky-tonks around the Navy Yard.
The band, minus Dixie, moved to the country music hotbed of Washington DC in 1955. It was there they played the clubs until Vernon had the hit “Evil Angel” in 1957. The band then had a four million selling smash hit in 1958…the seminal “Rumble.” The group was then going by the name Link Wray and the Ray Men.
Vernon continued to work with the Ray Men, moving behind the scenes as manager and producer. He moved his recording studio from Washington DC to his spread in Accokeek, Maryland. First stop was the basement of Vernon’s home.
Too loud for Vernon’s wife Every, he moved the section across the street in a building that housed Wray Grocery (always the entrepreneur). Most famously, the studio ended up in an outbuilding on Vernon’s property behind the family home. It was christened “Wray’s Shack 3 Tracks.”
In 1972, Vernon decided he wanted to “mellow out,” and started working solo, just him and an acoustic guitar. He and brother Link packed up and moved to Tucson Arizona, bringing a talisman of shorts with him - the back wall of the legendary “Shack.”
Vernon may have wanted to “mellow out” but he kept very busy. He became the artist-in-residence at the Plaza International Hotel, playing gigs seven nights a week, with occasional jaunts to Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C. His repertoire included songs from the Big Band era, Sons of the Pioneers, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, John Prine, his idol Kris Kristofferson and of course his own compositions, having written over 200 songs with brothers Link and Doug.
While in Tucson, Vernon was bit by the acting bug, getting film work in Kris Kristofferson’s “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” He also filmed four episodes of TV’s “Gunsmoke.”
Using the back wall of the original “Shack,” Vernon reconstructed it, complete with an upgrade from 3 to 8 track recording. Now dubbed “Vernon Wray’s Record Factory,” he continued his production work for Tucson musicians. The band “Eggs Over Easy,” credited with laying the foundation for UK’s pub rock movement, recorded their LP “Good and Cheap” at the Arizona Shack. It was produced by brother Link.
Vernon also released his final two works, “Superstar At My House” available on cassette and 8 track only, as well as “Wasted,” both on his Vermillion Records label. Now incredibly rare, these highly sought after collectibles command top dollar prices.
Classic tracks by Link Wray and the Ray Men have been featured in dozens of films, TV shows and commercials.
In June 2008, “Rumble” by Link Wray and the Ray Men was added to the National Recording Registry housed in the Library of Congress. Less than 75 rock songs have received this honor.
In July 2010, brother Link is the featured artist in “Up Where We Belong,” an exhibit housed in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of the Native American Indian in Washington, DC. This exhibit featured a video performance of the Ray Men - featuring Link, Doug, Shorty and Vernon - on Dick Clark’s Beechnut Hour television show. This 1959 appearance is the only known sound video footage featuring the original Ray Men.
After a successful run in Washington DC, “Up Where We Belong” moved to New York City and Canada.
In the last quarter of 2010, the record label Sebastian Speaks licensed Vernon’s “Wasted” for a limited release of 1000 vinyl copies. This re-release sold out quickly.
In 2013, brother Link was honored with a well deserved, long overdue nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A second nomination came Link’s way in 2017.
In 2017, the award winning feature length documentary, “Rumble - The Indians Who Rocked The World,” screened at over 26 countries and was the recipient of three Canadian Screen Awards as well as Sundance, HotDocs and many others. It is currently available at no cost on Amazon Prime, as well as iTunes and Google Play.
In May 2018 Vernon will be the recipient of the “Tucson Kitchen Musicians” Award at the Tucson Folk Festival. Vernon is in the first class of honorees of this award, which pays tribute to influential Tucson musicians.
What else does the future hold? Vernon’s family has plans for an updated release of “Wasted,” as well as the ultra-rare “Superstar At My House.” Stay tuned!
VERNON WRAY - Music Outlaw