Ray Meyers Country Music Posts

On September 14, 1935, I was born north of Paradise Hill, Saskatchewan and was named Raymond Maier. In 1970, when I decided to become a “BIG country music star”, I changed my name to Ray Meyers. However, unlike most other country music stars, I will have to admit I did not start out poor.

me-just-a-kid-01My dad or Pa, as we called him at home, had an obsession for buying land and more land. Fall threshing of the wheat, oats, barley and alfalfa lasted for many weeks. So as I’m saying Pa, or Dad, usually done everything in a big way. When we planted potatoes, we would do it as you see it here, with me driving the team to plant a potato patch twice the size as needed. The garden also was very big. When firewood was cut, enough was cut for two years.

me-just-a-kid-02I started playing guitar at about age 6, laying it flat on my lap and hands on top. My much older brother, Carl, was very innovative. He would convert his Spanish guitar to Hawaiian style, then back to Spanish style again. We would listen to the radio intently and copy the cowboy singers of the day. I tried to play all of the little guitar licks just like Wilf Carter. Also sang his songs and yodeled.

me-just-a-kid-03Carl in his late teens, had his work cut out. As well as keeping his four younger brothers and one sister in line, he would decorate his saddle and even made a pinto out of his horse using some dye. He braided ropes and leather things, and made many things on the forge, such as bits and spurs. He insisted on having sister Margaret sew him fancy western shirts.

My very first playing job was when I was ten and playing at a Henderly school dance. Around about this time Carl entered me into a radio amateur hour in Paradise Hill. I was terrified, but secretly thought to myself that maybe this could be the beginning of me becoming a BIG radio cowboy singer. I thought I was very good and sounded just like Wilf Carter. The big night came with just me and guitar getting up in front of a packed house, I sang “Echoing Hills Yodel Back to Me”. (As I am printing this now, I am feeling a warm painful sensation going through my head). I must go for therapy for this. When I started yodeling, a small girl in the front row started laughing hysterically. I know this girl very well to this day, maybe someday I will confront her.

me-just-a-kid-04This was the last time that I ever yodeled, until 1991, the day of Wilf’s passing, when I sang a few of Wilf’s songs at a seniors center. In 1998, I recorded my “My Tribute to Wilf” album, doing vocals and over dubbing on guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and accordion. Knowing what I know now about the history of music, I strongly feel that Wilf Carter, as he stands in our history books, is a very under rated pioneer and trail blazer of country and folk music.

me-just-a-kid-05As young kids, our heroes were the talked about around the dinner table men. Maybe it was the certain good man on the threshing crew who could throw on a load of bundles faster than anyone else, or the man who had the best well trained team of horses. There were a few big herds of cattle in the vicinity, and a few men of strong character who lived in bunkhouses or shacks while feeding cattle in the winter, also were some of my big heroes. The men that hauled feed or drove cattle down the roads fascinated us. These idols of ours probably had no idea that as well as setting a good example, they were also badly influencing us. Some of them chewed tobacco and snuff and got a little careless when they went to town. My brothers and I tried chewing the bitter tobacco. After many tries, I finally got it, now at last, I was a man and could be mounted on top a horse in bitter cold and try to spit over the icicles hanging down my chin or beside the wood heater in the bunkhouse.

We kids built mini hayracks and sleighs. Nothing uncommon on our farm to see a 12 year old boy turning the forge blower, with a big piece of iron in the coals. If someone would ask him what he is doing, you might get the wildest idea you ever heard of.

cowboys-and-music-01When I was 13 and brother Joe 11, we played at a CJNB radio amateur hour in St. Walburg. We got first prize, with Joe on fiddle, Pete Cydejko on guitar and me on accordion. An article covering the show came out in the town paper next week. I still have the one line well memorized. “The highlight of the evening was three youngsters from Kilronan”.

At our Kilronan school, we kids were as prankster prone as anyone ever was. It was an exciting time, with school horses to do antics on, and hills and creeks to romp over when we played hooky. We sometimes got an older friend to get us a jug of wine, which we would hide, in a rock pile until a dance night. Carl, Joe, sister Margaret and myself all played at dances with different players.

cowboys-and-music-02I quit school at grade 8 and joined the threshing crew. Our family started accumulating more cattle. All us brothers wore cowboy hats. We broke a few horses each spring and I became the calving man. We looked forward to going to the dances. Then we got our first amplifier, powered by a 6-volt battery. Sometimes, on our way to the dance, we would stop by a field where there was a tractor and take out a battery that was well charged. The dances did not always turn out as great as expected, and there was a down side as well. The hangovers and lack of sleep the next day was not that great as we tried to look as perky and non affected in front of Dad. A common trick was to get up on time and act as though you,r going to tear up the ground, Then go out to the field and lie down beside the tractor for a while. Our scattered out land came in handy sometimes. Our parish priest would raise hell on the pulpit. “We have all kinds of young people around that can go to dances and play music, and yet no one can get a decent choir together for the church”. We had musical instruments lying all around. In the hayloft, the bunkhouse and workshop. When dad drove off somewhere, a couple of us would grab a guitar and fiddle or whatever, and play a few tunes. Then someone would yell “Pa’s coming!.” We would put everything away and crawl under or on top of some machinery we were working on.

playing-for-dances-01Our musical ability must have been inherited from our mother. As a young girl she played piano at neighbor get-togethers and barn dances, and she was the first organist in the first Catholic Church that was built in our area in 1918. In 1963, brother Joe, cousin Leonard Hardes and myself, started playing together for dances. A few others joined us at different times. We continued playing together for 25 or more years. We played for a few second-generation wedding dances.

playing-for-dances-02We started out in the days of having to hide your drinks outside and having to watch for cops. We also played for a few rodeos; fiddle tune backing during the events. We were excited being up in the little booth with the announcer, being familiar with the sport,and knowing many of the competitors who competed in infield and chuckwagon events. One rodeo, where the gas engine that ran the power plant for the grounds was balking and missing, I can still see Joe putting down his bass and getting a screwdriver and pliers to try to get the engine running smoothly again. At another rodeo,A long lineup at the only outdoor toilet, with no inside door lock. A friend of ours went to a bluff, timing it at the exact time that a loose bull started running towards the bluff. Only a few of the humorous old memories of those fun days. Later on however, I started getting turned off of rodeo a bit, when I watched the stubborn bulls being whipped and pulled into the chutes. Also the dogging steers being twisted down again and again with their already sore necks. I found it harder to be part of this sport that I once loved. Thinking back now, I think we did pretty good, playing our music over the years with our little band. We never once got into a fight and no one has ever ran off with someone else’s wife.

playing-for-dances-03Dad never did hear us play, and even when I recorded my first album in 1969, he was not aware of it. When we got our first TV in 1956, dad surprised us when he told someone, in his German accent, “That singing and dencing on there, I likes that.” His absolute favorite was the fiddle player, Don Messer.Little did he know,that I could play almost as good as Don Messer. Dad hated beer parlors, dances, cowboys, rodeos, or just generally anyone or anything that would keep someone from doing a good days work.

Pa’s been gone for 32 years now. If he could come back from the grave, I am sure he would not recognize me in my conversation with him, as I would shake his hand many times over. So your teenagers out there, who pierce your tongue, or leave your belly buttons showing, or wear jeans with tore knees, my advice to you is “hang in there”, I know what you’re going through.

early-day-ranch-achievements-01One winter my brother Joe and I cut a large birch tree down and started making a saddle. We took another saddle apart and copied it. It turned out great and I’ve used it all my life. One early Sunday morning Joe and I saddled up and rode 13 miles to a man’s place that had a herd of unbroken horses. We corralled the horses and proceeded to halter break two wild horses. After snubbing them up to our saddle horns, and thinking they would lead, we started out for home. Down the road a ways, Joe’s horse pulled back and his cinch broke. Both green horses were soon galloping over the hills on the loose. After three or more hours of chasing them down in drizzling rain, we finally corralled them again, and again we started for home. This time making it home very late Sunday night. Quite a feat for two teenagers, even if I do say so myself.

Our family started accumulating more cattle. In the winter of 1958 we moved 150 cows 12 miles to another part of the farm for winter feeding. We card boarded up a very old house to stay in. We each took turns spending two or three weeks at a time at the camp. I was a little excited at the prospect of going back in time and living in an old house with no power or TV,and just a wood stove. And feeding the cattle with just a team of horses. I had not driven a team of horses in years. It would be a change from our mechanized and modern convenient way of life that we were used to. I remember loading up supplies and groceries, enough for a month, and threw in books and musical instruments. What I wasn’t all going to do in that cozy old house. The last one and a half miles in was usually blown in, and we sometimes had to ski in or walk in on the hard snow banks. Feeding the cows only took a few hours a day. The rest of the day I usually spent practicing the accordion and fiddle. I listened to live radio programs by a few different country music bands. My favorite was the Rodgers Brothers band over an Edmonton station. Looking back now, I think my airwaves fiddle instructor was the very best. Anyone that has tried to copy other fiddle player’s style and then trying to copy Franki Rodgers double string style can fully appreciate what I am saying. One day a Cree native couple came walking in. They have been walking through deep snow for a few miles. Like me they were living in a very old house and feeding cattle for someone. My food supply was running low and I was intending on going home soon. I will never forget the feeling of that day. It was as if we had gone back 50 years in time. They took off clothes and warmed themselves up at the wood heater. I shared my almost gone food with them. Many native women of this time were shy and felt inferior. However, the three of us had a lively and enjoyable visit. We discussed firewood, how to plug cracks and fix broken windows in our old houses and how to keep frozen meat in a snow bank so animals don’t get it. Then I took them out with my team and sleigh to the open road one and a half miles away. A thought-provoking day indeed.

Starting around 1959 my younger brothers and myself started coming down with a case of Rodeo Fever. Didn’t dare mention the word rodeo or stampede in our house. My brothers Pete and Paul snuck off for a day and entered the Onion Lake Stampede some 25 miles away. They planned on changing their names, however the announcer knew them. The plan sort of backfired and one of them got stuck with the name Bob anyway. A few days later Dad and Paul went to a Paradise Hill grocery store to do some shopping. The storeowner who had been at the rodeo quizzed Paul on his bronc riding. Dad pretended not to hear. A long silent ride in the truck on the way home, then dad turned to Paul and said, “Did you win any prizes at the Stampede?”then Paul“No”. That was the one and only conversation on the subject. My brothers did very well for first timers. I encouraged Pete to enter the Meadow Lake Stampede,but he said, “I’m kind of scared to.” I assured him that the horses at Meadow Lake were no worse then the ones at Onion Lake. “Oh, I’m not scared of those horses,” says Pete, “It’s the crowds of people that scare me.” A few years later Paul rode a few bulls and broncs for a while. In 1960 I entered my first rodeo, landing real good on my head. It gave me a little food for thought for a while. A year later I drove 150 miles to enter the calf-roping event at another rodeo.First day: missed my calf and then spent the rest of the day standing around and thinking of a hundred thinks I should or could be doing back home. Second day: rained out, and spent the day staring out of a hotel window.Rodeo dance:Me not knowing anyone and being a little shy, sitting alone at a table most of the night. Then when I asked this girl for a dance,she turned me down. Next morning on my way home, vehicle trouble. I took all this as a sign from the mighty Myatook, to immediately terminate my short rodeo career.

My ultimate dream while at home on the ranch was not to be famous but rather to play in a good band in bars. There is no high like being on stage when the band is smokin” hot. I envisioned the good life, selling oodles of records and tapes on stage. And with me being a single guy and looking with one eye on the sly, in theory I would be bound to run into my one and only, with all the good looking girls I would have at my feet every night. About 1973 I started taking off from my home during the winter months for a few weeks or a few months at a time. I joined different bands and played in bars from Winnipeg to Vancouver and even a few in the states.

bar-jobs-01Many times I would close out the jobs and on my way home to Saskatchewan, I would sometimes stop at my brother in law and sister’s place north of Edmonton. I would usually assure them that I would not be coming up here anymore to play in these bars, but some time later, I would pull into their yard, all smiles, and my vehicle all loaded up with amps and instruments. They must have gotten tired of me changing my mind so often. To say record and tape sales were slow would be an understatement. Many times someone sitting at a table full of beer jugs and glasses, and piles of money on the table would say, “I would really like to buy your tape, but just don’t have the money tonight” or “I’ll take the tape and come back and pay you tomorrow night.” My “Miss-right” was slow coming through the door as well. I used to get a kick out of the single musicians that would often say in so many words, that they “were looking for a good decent girl with no bad habits”. If I did finally meet someone that I thought was compatible it seems like I usually ended up with someone that was either singing, crying or fighting. I won’t try to describe living in hotel rooms. The many songs written about lonely hotels speak for themselves. Waking up Sunday morning and looking out side and seeing some broken glass and maybe even a little blood on the sidewalk and then driving halfway across the city looking for a place that is open so you can get a cup of coffee are just some of the exciting things of the big cities. I think Kris Kristopherson’s song that Johnny Cash sings, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” describes it very well. The musician get togethers were enjoyable, however.These were the going for coffee times, after getting off stage, where musicians from different bands would meet. Sometimes the conversations would resemble a support group for abused musicians. The guy cussing out the miserable hotel manager, or a common gripe, “This drunk who insists on coming up and playing your guitar or fiddle”. Another common one “Boy did I get into trouble, this girl that I took out didn’t tell me she had a husband!”Or vice versa. After quitting time at this wild and noisy bar, and almost not being able to take another guy coming up to me and telling me his dad or uncle used to play with Don Messer, I would often go alone to this quiet all-night pizza place where a gorgeous dark girl worked. The stunning quiet and sensible down to earth talk was a welcome change. My dad used to call this “Beer Parlor Dummy Talk”. To be absolutely fair though, I have met some very nice people in bars. Another incident that stands out in my mind, sitting at a bar table at break time, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with three musicians with puzzled looks on their faces and saying “What in the world are you doing down here in this dingy bar?” It was after someone asked me how many cattle and land I had back in Saskatchewan. Many times I came off the road to the ranch just before calving time. The peace of being out in the country was exhilarating. Sleeping in my own bed and opening my own refrigerator was awesome. The diesel smoke from the tractor and the smell of the barn and feeding grounds were like lying in a bed of roses. My brothers and friends all viewed this as me getting back from holidays and getting back to drudgery. I never tried to explain to them. They would never believe me.

In 1969 I recorded my first LP of fiddle instrumental tunes. Then collected all the big pieces of cardboard I cold find for mailing out to hundreds of radio stations in Canada and the USA. Quite often a few letters of thank you came back in the form of requesting an LP.

recording-my-albums-01A second LP recorded in 1974, “Two Sides of Old Time Music”. One side was fiddle tunes and the other side accordion tunes. I over dubbed a lot, adding a mandolin part into each fiddle tune. John Muirhead of Gaby Haas fame played sax on the accordian tunes. Joe Kozak,a musician and recording engineer, who has worked with many of the early day famous western Canadian artists, done the recording in his Edmonton studio. Joe continued being a good friend of mine. I’ve relied on him for a lot of advice,being an old pro in the music business. Then the years and a few albums later, took me up to 1997 when I decided to record my “Listening to the Past” album which was a collection of old songs that I’ve heard on early day TV shows. I tried to alter my voice and used some Scottish and Irish accents on the various songs. I then played all the backup music on the recording, except for the bass and studio drums. Studio engineer, Garry McDonall put his 30-year studio experience to work in his Edmonton “DAMON” studio. Garry and I formed a good friendship and working relationship. So much so, that I decided to do another album soon after. This time, singing the songs of my old childhood idol, Wilf Carter. We recorded it the same way again in the studio and pulled it off again. This resulted in my “My Tribute to Wilf” album. In 2001 and 2002, I rounded up some of the best musicians I could find and with lots of hard work, came away with my “My Kind of Music” Album.

In 1995, I went to Nashville for the first time. Me a 60 year old man and not knowing a single soul there. Just thought I’d look around and maybe pitch my songs. Who knows? To my surprise I was immediately sitting in and jamming with the many friendly musicians on Broadway Avenue. A few days later I walked into the Legarde Twins Lounge and Theatre. A bar table of guys were having a lively discussion which reminded me of a bunch of farmers back home that have been in the bar for three or more hours. Only these good time fellowship guys were not talking about machinery or cattle, but rather the recording business, mentioning famous big name stars from time to time. One very vocal guy moved around a lot and after knocking over a few drinks and being a little obnoxious he found himself sitting next to me. Then the usual “Where are you from and what are you doing down here?” When I mentioned Canada, we were away. He was fascinated with moose hunting. When I asked him what he did, he said he was executive Vice President of a well-known major record label (which I won’t mention). Not believing him, I asked one of the Legardes. “Oh sure he is, he has this drinking problem. Hell of a nice guy though”. I then said to him “You wouldn’t listen to this tape of mine?” “Oh sure” I then went out and got my tape. A little while later he was sitting back at his old table. Got to say it was quite a thrill for an old hayseed from Northern Saskatchewan to watch him from a distance while he playfully turned my tape around in his hand, As he got back into the conversation again, “I don’t care what anybody says, Tanya Tucker is going to be around for a long time yet. And how do you think Dolly Parton got to where she is today, I knew her when she first came to this town”. That same time one of the very friendly Legarde Twins (Apologies for not remembering their first names) struck up a conversation with me. He then tore of a scrap of paper and almost threw it at me. “Here, write your name, and phone number down and maybe we will need a fiddle player sometime”. “Oh sure,” I thought. Then a conversation with a single act singer playing in the lounge who invited me to join him on stage tomorrow night at 6 o’clock. The next evening I came in all spiffed up and carrying my fiddle. I waited for an hour and a half but he never showed up.(a common occurrence in Nashville). So thought I would just take my fiddle and quietly slip back out. Just then one of the Legardes came running in, all dressed in his rhinestone suit, shouting, with a piece of paper in his hand.“Is this guy, this fiddle player from Canada here? This Ray Meyers?” “Over here”.”You Wouldnt have your fid…? Do you think you would be good enough to play on our show? “Can you play Orange Blossom Special?” Our lady fiddle player didn’t show up and show time is just a half hour away. He almost shoved me into his dressing room, and threw a few shirts at me. “Here you should really have on a more modern shirt,” He gave me some quick instructions. “When I say so & so then you say so & so, and then we will play this and that. And when I slip behind the curtain, that is your cue to start playing Orange Blossom Special. Do you think you got that?” “Oh sure,”A short time later, There was a drum roll and the curtain opened. After the first song, the steel player and myself communicated perfectly, using familiar sign gestures. I could not do anything wrong as the twins went through their show routine. Jumping off and on the stage and in the crowd and cracking bull whips (pretty close to my head too). One of them went behind a curtain and would periodically give me the thumbs up sign and then the “O” hand sign when I took a fiddle part. After the show, one of the guys came to me and before saying anything else, said, “Why don’t you move to Nashville, we’ll hire you”. Not every day was like this in Nashville though… not by a long shot. That first visit in 1995 lasted three weeks, then another three weeks in 1997, and then my last time, a five-week stay in 1999. Each time at leaving Nashville, I swore it would be my last visit, and many times it would only dawn on me after I’d be home for a while that Nashville was like going to school. The value of the many things you see and hear might only be appreciated at a much later time. It might be the real hot five piece band that is on stage at a small bar on Broadway Avenue and only one or two people sitting in the place and tourists streaming down the sidewalks, past the open doors and nobody going in and some not as much as turning their heads to see who is playing… Then another time a terrible singer and songwriter on stage, and the bar full of people, and girls on the verge of screaming. Then there was the Japanese bluegrass band who understood very little English, who sang about the “Hills of Kentucky” and “Mule Skinner Blues” but didn’t have a clue what the words meant in the songs. Then listening to the industry peoples comments. It was becoming more apparent to me, that there might really not be such a thing as good or poor music,in a sense. Just a lot of varied opinions. As one old musician told me, “In this business there are no experts.” My last visit was in 1999 and lasted five weeks. It was sweltering heat with no rain. Something started dawning on me, as my arthritic shoulder started acting up… maybe this 64 year old geezer is getting too old to pack equipment down several blocks in 100 degree heat and then play all afternoon and half the night. The Nashville experience had been terrific though, I came away with a new sense of appreciation of how we done things back home. My self-esteem climbed a way up and sometimes I almost felt as though I owned a small piece of the worlds biggest music get together grounds. As I picked up dirty cups after a jam or gave a new comer some advice on where to go and where not to go.The little disciplinary lessons I’ve learned never hurt either. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how good you think you are, you will soon get you’re a.. whipped in Nashville. I’ve met a few musicians and singers over the years that could greatly benefit from this friendly disciplinary whipping. My last day in the much changing Nashville. Going to take one last look around on Broadway Avenue. Then a good rain (finally.) I then took my video camera and decided to take one last walk through the streets of another part of town. the old “music row” avenue. A beautiful, almost park like place, with abandoned closed up nice old buildings where just a few years ago there were benches and meeting places and young hopefuls singing all over. Now on this late Saturday evening the only singing is the birds chirping in the trees after the nice rain. I silently thanked the big guy in the sky for allowing me to be just a little part of this great sacred music machine gathering ground, even if for just a little while. Getting dark now and I’m just filling up my film in front of the Shoney’s Inn. All my times in Nashville and not once did I have a drink of booze or a chew of tobacco. Being my last few minutes before going to bed and planning on being on the road before daybreak and feeling a little sentimental, I took a big chew of Redman’s Chewing Tobacco to sort of mark the occasion. Just then a display of fireworks started up in the distance, a perfect finale for a great event in my life.