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 started their own band. Names changed according to the venues they played - Lucky Wray and the Lazy Pine Wranglers...Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands...(the "Lucky" was Vernon, picking up his nickname for 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 (his 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 in 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 in 1958...the seminal "Rumble". The group was then going by the name Link Wray and the Ray Men.
Vernon - who had established a solo music career as "Ray Vernon" - released sides for Kay, Starday, Cameo and Liberty Records. His entrepreneurial spirit continued with his company VERNON WRAY MUSIC as well as his record labels RUMBLE, VERMILLION, FLORENTINE and GRAY ANT. He also went on to host "The Milt Grant Show", DC's answer to American Bandstand.
Vernon continued to work with the Ray Men, moving "behind the scenes" as manager and producer. He moved his recording studio from Washington DC down to his spread in Accokeek Maryland. First stop was in the basement of Vernon's home.
Too loud for Vernon's wife Evelyn, he moved the studio 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 right behind the family home. It was christened "Wray's Shack 3 Tracks".
"The Shack" was a busy place. The last recordings in Accokeek saw major label interest - Mordecai Jones and Link's solo debut on Polydor Records, as well as the UK issued "Beans and Fatback", studio outtakes of the Link Wray LP.
In 1972, Vernon decided he wanted to "mellow out", so he started working solo - just him and his acoustic guitar. He and brother Link packed up and moved to Tucson Arizona, taking a talisman of sorts 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 original compositions, having written over 200 songs, some with brothers Link and Doug.
While in Tucson, Vernon began to act, getting movie 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. He 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.
Vernon passed away in 1979, yet the Wray musical legacy continues into the 21st Century...
Classic tracks by Link Wray and the Ray Men have been used in dozens of films and TV commercials.
In June 2008, "Rumble" by Link Wray and the Ray Men is added to the National Recording Registry housed in the Library of Congress.
In July 2010, brother Link is a 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 features an ultra rare video featuring a performance of the Ray Men - Link, Doug, Shorty and Vernon - that has not been seen since it was first broadcast over half a century ago.
After a successful run in Washington DC, the exhibit moved to New York City.
In the last quarter of 2010, the record company 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.
What does the future hold? Vernon's family has plans about releasing an updated version of WASTED, with unreleased studio tracks from that era, as well as the rarely seen SUPERSTAR AT MY HOUSE. Stay tuned for more good things from the archives of Vernon Wray Music!