Vern Williams & Ray Park Interview
Vern & Ray Interview: (14:44) LISTEN HERE: Vern & Ray
Interviewed By: Chris Strachwitz
This is an unedited interview originally recorded for research purposes. It is presented here in its raw state, unedited except to remove some irrelevant sections and blank spaces. All rights to the interview are reserved by the Arhoolie Foundation. Please do not use anything from this website without permission. firstname.lastname@example.org
A Note About the Transcriptions: In order to expedite the process of putting these interviews online, we are using a transcription service. Due to the challenges of transcribing speech – especially when it contains regional accents and refers to regional places and names – some of these interview transcriptions may contain errors. We have tried to correct as many as possible, but if you discover errors while listening, please send corrections to email@example.com.
The interview starts in the middle of a discussion about Vern and Ray’s first recordings with Starday Records.
Chris: Did you write to Pierce (Don Pierce of Starday Records) down there, or?
Ray: No, we cut the maester tapes down in Modesto, and then another fellow took care of the business end of it. He’s the one that got the record on this particular label.
Chris: Oh, I see. You mean you just kind of did the tape for them then?
Ray: Yeah. Well, they took it on a percentage deal.
Chris: Who were the guys in that band there with you, remember?
Ray: Oh, yeah. Yeah, very well. Luther Riley played the banjo and the Dobro. He doubled on the Dobro. Clyde Williamson, he played the guitar and wrote one of the songs. Luther wrote one of the songs, and we whipped up a couple of them. Fact is, the whole thing, we worked it all up one evening, and cut it the next day. Yeah.
Chris: It went pretty good. How about that … Is that one of the ones that you wrote, the thing about …
Ray: Thinking of Home.
Chris: … Bluegrass Music? Oh, Thinking of Home.
Ray: No, that’s something Luther whipped up in about a half hour. About 2:00 in the morning we decided we had to have another song. Luther found a paper sack there, and he wrote the words on it there, and we decided we’d go ahead and do it. We’re not too fond of that particular song.
Ray: Believe me.
Chris: Well, what’s the trouble there?
Ray: It must be … It’s something. We just never was …
Vern: Well that other one Luther done, Carroll County Breakdown, I liked that.
Ray: Yeah, that’s real good.
Chris: Why did you call yourselves the Carroll County Country Boys?
Ray: We didn’t.
Chris: You didn’t?
Vern: No, that’s what the Blackjack (Black Jack Wayne), he started calling us that. We never did like the name, but the … He just had to always lay it on thick.
Ray: The Carroll County Country Boys.
Vern: The longer and the bigger it sounds, I guess, it’s what he wanted.
Chris: Both of you are working in Stockton now, on different …
Ray: Oh yeah.
Chris: … sounds?
Ray: Yeah, we’re both living in Stockton.
Chris: Do you ever get together with Luther and those fellows?
Ray: Well Luther moved back to Idaho, or Ohio rather.
Vern: Yeah, he went back to Ohio now. I haven’t heard from him in a long time. I guess he’s settled down and going to stay there. He’s originally from Hazard, Kentucky.
Chris: Oh yeah?
Vern: Yeah. Clyde, he’s from Daisy, Oklahoma.
Chris: Oh yeah?
Chris: back in the country. Are your folks still living?
Vern: Yes, they live, they still live in Arkansas.
Chris: Oh they do?
Vern: They still live there.
Chris: Have you ever gone back there to see them?
Vern: About a year and a half ago, I went back on a visit. They’re doing just fine. They don’t seem to ever age any. They just stay in the hills. That’s where they’re gonna stay too. You can bet on that. I try to get them to come out here, and no, they got no business out here they said. They’re just fine where they are.
Chris: Do they ever play music anymore?
Vern: No, not anymore.
Vern: I don’t know. I got a couple sisters back there. They’re starting to play quite a bit.
Chris: Oh yeah?
Vern: They all play guitars. I don’t know. I think, they’re younger, and I think they more or less like this rock and roll type music.
Vern: Which I never did care too much about.
Ray: Oh, that’s just Fats Domino.
Vern: No, there’s some of it that’ll get to you, I’ll tell you. Like Jerry Lee Lewis, when he was doing that Old Black Joe there and playing that piano. Did you ever hear him?
Vern: I’m telling you, he’s good. The guy is really good on that.
Chris: Do you have any brothers and sisters that play, Ray?
Ray: I have a brother who plays, but that’s all. Just one brother.
Chris: Is he out here at Stockton?
Ray: Yeah, no, he lives in Tracy, California.
Chris: Tracy, okay.
Ray: Plays guitar and sings. He’s one of the types that, he’s too bashful.
Chris: Oh. He has to get his whole family together. That takes one day.
Vern: Yeah,…. I know every brother and sister I’ve got except maybe one, plays the guitar and sings pretty good. But of course they don’t … They just do it around the house.
Chris: Vern, do you write most of your songs from records, you know, from people you hear sing, or get it from all over, I guess?
Vern: Well, most of the songs we do, yeah, it’s just songs that have come out in the last few years that we like, and we do them. There’s a lot of them we like that we never learned. We still try to do them sometimes. A lot of the songs are some of the old songs or some of the old songs that we tried to get the words to and work up. Seemed to me like the older the song is, the better it is.
Chris: Well sometimes, yeah, that’s true.
Vern: Some of the real old songs are really good.
Chris: You don’t ever sing your own thing when I hear you in person. Do you feel that somebody’s going to, you know, probably swipe it before you get a copyright on it?
Vern: Oh no.
Chris: Because you said that you’ve done up quite a few.
Vern: You mean the ones we recorded, or some of the others?
Chris: Some of the others.
Vern: Well, that’s one reason, yes.
Chris: I think what you should do …
Vern: We like to get them copyrighted.
Chris: That’s what you should do, yeah.
Vern: We plan to record them someday.
Chris: Because you know, I’m sure you’ve got some nice things that people will want to hear. Did you ever sing in church much, Ray?
Ray: No, no. To be honest with you, I never did sing in church. Well, let’s see, no, I couldn’t say that I never did. I’d say yes, I have, back home a couple times, the couple of times that I went to church.
Chris: What was that, the Baptist Church?
Chris: Pentecostal? Did they have usually a whole group?
Ray: Oh yeah, everybody’d sing. Back home, when the church would sing, everybody’d sing. It wasn’t one of these deals where you got up on the stage and sang. Usually somebody’d get up with a tuning fork. Remember that …
Vern: Usually the preacher.
Vern: Couldn’t sing at all.
Ray: Come down and like, mi, mi, mi, and then everybody’d take over for him.
Chris: Oh yeah?
Vern: Oh, I’ve done a lot. I sang a lot of church and played too, but they we used to get up on the stage, just a couple of us, and run off a couple. Every now and then, you know? And like Ray said, a lot of it … everywhere everybody just got a book and they turned to Page 89, and they all sang Near My God to Thee or something. Really make that thing roar.Get about 75 people in a little bitty church house, and they all really get with it.
Chris: Did a lot of y’all also bring your instruments to church when you played?
Vern: Oh yes. Oh yeah, that’s the kind of instruments we usually used. They had a piano there, but there was nobody around to play it. Sometimes the city preacher would come out, that could play it a little bit. But usually it’s just a guitar and mandolin. Fiddle, I don’t know, they never did use them much at church.
Chris: Is that the Pentecostal Church?
Vern: Yes, Pentecostal Church.
Chris: I guess the others don’t have too much music in them.
Vern: Well, I don’t know anything actually about any of the other churches. Never went to any of them. This was the only one.
Chris: Are you still going a lot of times out here to church?
Vern: No. Well, I do go to church now and then, but …
Chris: Are the Pentecostal Churches actually quite a bit different from back home?
Vern: No. Identical, same. Same people. In fact, 99% of them’s imported from Arkansas.
Ray: CIA, California imported Arkansas.
Vern: They are. That’s a fact. I know there’s a friend of ours lives up in Stockton. He’s a Pentecostal preacher. He’s from Oklahoma.
Ray: Yeah, he plays five-string banjo.
Vern: He plays five-string and sings a lot of these bluegrass tunes. He loves them.
Chris: Does he play and sing in church too?
Vern: Oh yes.
Ray: Oh, he’s …
Vern: And preaches also. He married my cousin.
Chris: Oh, is that right?
Vern: A real nice guy.
Chris: But do you think the youngsters are still keeping it up? Or do you think that once the people kind of become real Californians, that they’ll kind of drop that kind of singing, you know, in church and also …
Ray: Oh no.
Chris: Or do you think the youngsters will keep it up, the kids?
Vern: Oh, I think they will, yes. If they’re brought up and they go to that church, they’ll carry it on. I’m sure they will.
Chris: Have you ever heard any kind of unusual songs or anything like that around?
Ray: In the Hills?
Chris: Well kind of, or Stockton lately? You know that kind of really struck you as being kind of strange or interesting?
Vern: I can’t say that I have either.
Ray: The only unusual song I heard was over at this New Year’s deal we played over here at the college. It was called Don’t Sock Your Mom, or Don’t Sock Your Ma. Charlie Marshall sang it. It was, “Don’t sock your ma” … I can’t remember how it went. Let’s see.
Vern: Yeah, don’t bounce the lamp off her beak.
Ray: That’s the way it went.
Vern: Yeah, something like that.
Ray: I thought that was pretty unusual.
Chris: I guess so.
Vern: I’ll tell you. I imagine that he knows more songs than any other one person in California.
Ray: I’d say in the whole United States.
Vern: I wouldn’t doubt that. He’s really good.
Chris: He’s that fellow from Sacramento?
Vern: The old guy. Yeah, he’s –
Ray: Charlie’s getting along. He’s about 78 now.
Vern: He’s about 78 years old. Something like that. I don’t know exactly.
Ray: Still picks better than most of the young ones.
Vern: Him and his mother still sing quite a bit together too.
Chris: Is that right? His mother? Oh yeah.
Vern: His mother.
Ray: He’s on television.
Chris: How old is she now?
Vern: Oh yeah. They get them together on TV, and they have a program they call We Come For to Sing, and they …
Chris: Oh yeah?
Vern: Yes, sir. She can tell you some hairy tales about the Old West, that woman.
Chris: I’ll bet. I imagine she probably came to California about the Gold Rush?
Ray: Oh yeah.
Vern: Oh yeah.
Ray: Probably back in the …
Chris: Were they on a Sacramento channel?
Vern: Yes. I don’t know what channel it is, do you?
Ray: Channel 3, I think. He narrates a lot of the shows and stuff. He narrates a lot of the shows they have specials on. I’ve seen him do one on this new Donner Summit Highway. He did the talking for this particular show. He’s been around a long time. He’s been on the radio station. He’s on every morning from 5:00 to 5:30, I think, or 5:00 to 6:00, something like that. He plays records, plays the guitar. He’s been doing that ever since I’ve been in the State of California. I guess he’s on there… I know he must have been on it at least 25 years.
Ray: At least.
Chris: Did you ever hear of a group called the Armstrong Twins back in Arkansas? Did you hear that name? They did a for 4 Star right after the war, about Three Miles South of Cash in Arkansas. Is there such a place?
Ray: 3 miles south of what?
Chris: Cash yeah.
Ray: No, I never heard it. No.
Vern: No, I don’t think I ever heard of them guys.
Chris: Yeah, they play mandolin and guitar too. I was just curious. I think they came from Arkansas.
Vern: I was about … a year and a half ago when I was back in Arkansas, I heard a lot of … well, I say a lot, I heard a couple of bluegrass bands there, that was playing on a local radio station. I never went down … I thought about going down and looking them up, you know? Pretty good. I think the one of them, they call them the Petty Jane Mountain Boys. They come off of that Petty Jane Mountain there, Russellville. And I forgot the other one. It was pretty good. Live shows, you know?
Chris: Yeah, that’s …
Vern: Like back when radio first started, you know?
Chris: That’s true. You just hardly have that out here anymore though.
Vern: No, no.
Chris: And when I drive though the South, I still hear a lot of it, especially on Sunday mornings, when they’ve got a gospel group.
Vern: Yeah, that’s when these … they were on a Sunday morning.
Chris: Is that right? Well, did they play mostly gospel music? Or did they …
Vern: Oh no. They just … it’s just variety, you know?
Ray: You hear a lot of unusual things back in those states. One particular thing … you talk about unusual songs, the most unusual thing I ever heard is I heard a disk jockey back in New Mexico, and he’s an Indian disk jockey, and he uses the Cherokee language when he talks. He’ll go along, and I don’t know where he … of course I can’t talk it, but it sounds like he’s grunting, and he’ll……., and you’ll hear a drum go boom, boom, boom or something, and then he’ll say a few words, and then he’ll say, “Johnny Cash” or “Buck Owens.” He plays country and western music. Did you ever hear him?
Chris: I’ve heard that fellow, driving through … what’s that town?
Vern: New Mexico.
Chris: Yeah, up in …
Ray: He uses the Cherokee language …
Vern: He plays a lot of bluegrass.
Ray: Yeah, oh yeah.
Vern: The Indians, ….. they seem to love the five-string banjo.
Chris: Is that right?
Ray: I understand that … what’s this guy that plays Tonto in Lone Ranger?
Vern: Jay Silverheels. They say he is really nuts for a five-string banjo. Red Foley said he was up in New York, and he ….. run into him, and he asked Red, “When are you going to have some of that good banjo picking on your show again?” When Red had this Ozark Jubilee on TV.
Chris: Was that out here?
Vern: No, it originated back in Springfield Missouri. But it was a coast to coast show.
Chris: Is that right?
Vern: It’s been five or six years ago, I think, that it was on. At least as … Ol’ Tonto, he loves the five-string.