A Conversation
with Ray Walker

Recently, at the “Ronnie McDowell Elvis Story” show in Ontario, I sat in a restaurant and had a casual conversation for more than an hour and a half with the Jordanaires’ Ray Walker. A couple of months ago we ran the live interview with Ray and Joanna Johnson of ETARadio, which originally aired in 2001, along with a written introduction which gave the details of Ray’s background and his and the Jordanaires’ careers. (link to interview) This time I decided to focus on a few other areas.

Ray is an eloquent and articulate speaker who doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind on topics such as politics and religion, and what he says has been well thought out. He also has quite a sense of humour and likes to tell (and definitely embellish!!!) good jokes and stories....and he has many of them! If anyone can regale an audience, it is Ray Walker.

Ray is also the consummate professional who likes to see people working to their potential....and he expects no less from others than he demands of himself. He is a true professional with a strong work ethic. However, from observing Ray’s interactions with others and from talking to people who know him, I can tell you that he is a kind-hearted and gracious man.

One question I asked Ray was how he had managed after all his years in the entertainment business to remain “sane and normal” when - as we know - an entertainer’s life can often wreak havoc with marriages and families and many entertainers find themselves struggling with problems or difficult people that tend to beat them down. It’s not easy being an entertainer, being on the road, or being a “star.”

Ray explained that he and the Jordanaires, as a group, have always tried to put their family life first. He said they had probably turned down more jobs (and money) than they had accepted over the years, in order not to disrupt their family life. One example he gave was turning down a lucrative offer to move to California which would not have been in the best interests of his family. He also said that the Jordanaires have never wanted or tried to be “stars.” Each of them is successful in his own right apart from being a Jordanaire and they work well together “as family”...leaving any minor problems far from the stage when they are performing. Ray also emphasized that each of them has more interests, priorities and roles in life than solely being an entertainer and that has helped to keep them solidly grounded. In Ray’s case, he spoke proudly of his own six children and the more than 35 foster children he has worked with, in addition to his other interests.

I also commented on the incredibly good version of Always on My Mind that the Jordanaires had sung Friday night at the show. As I told Ray, I have never really cared for this song (with all due respect to Willie and Elvis), but listening to the Jordanaires sing it, I wondered how they managed to convey the very essence of the song in a way I have never heard before. In answering this question, Ray mentioned he had advised another singer one time, after hearing a “lackluster” version of a particular song, to use visual imagery when singing the words to a song, to think about the situation around which the song was written, and get to the heart of the song, so that it didn’t sound sterile...good advice for all singers!

During the conversation, I mentioned that Scotty Moore is on record as being very much against not-so-good alternate takes of Elvis’ records being released. Ray emphasized that he felt exactly the same way...and stated that he has already voiced his opinions to the record companies in question. His words were: “Elvis would be absolutely heartbroken after what he went through (to get the take he wanted).” As we know, Elvis would often spend hours going through many, many takes to get the sound and the song the way he wanted it....sometimes, even when he was alive, he would listen to the version that had been released and he’d know that it had been slightly changed and wasn’t at all happy about it. I believe he would be heartbroken.

Of course, I couldn’t resist asking Ray about “tribute singers”.... and he praised very highly some of the singers he has worked with recently emphasizing not only their talent but also how much he liked them as the good people they are. He had great praise for the talented Ronnie McDowell, of course....and also for Shawn Klush, Ryan Pelton, Garry Wesley, Jamie Aaron Kelley, and Eddie Miles. He told one story of the Jordanaires being in Pigeon Forge and walking on stage to surprise Eddie Miles in the middle of his act...and Eddie not being able to get a word out when he saw them walk on stage. He spoke of Jamie Aaron Kelley’s new CD on which the Jordanaires worked, and he referred to Shawn Klush as having “the same sweet soul that Elvis had.”

I asked Ray what he considered his (and the Jordanaires’) greatest career achievements, expecting him to recite a list of accolades and awards, but Ray simply said, “We're still here”...and he repeated his answer to make sure I understood. When you think about it, that is a monumental career achievement -- to still be here after 55 years as a group -- enjoying life, singing, winning Grammy awards, being inducted into Halls of Fame, being sought after for bookings all over the country, earning standing ovations to sold out houses, producing records, and being admired by their own fans and by Elvis fans everywhere! Yes, you can definitely say the Jordanaires are “still here.”

Finally, I asked what it was like to be referred to as the “legendary” Jordanaires...and Ray said, Well, I don’t think we are legendary”..and my reply was, “I disagree.” He smiled.

Another memorable song that the Jordanaires sang in Orillia was a stirring version of “God Bless the USA” which had been adapted for a Canadian audience. This song was a showstopper both nights. Here, Ray’s command of an audience was used to perfection. He spoke eloquently of September 11 (911) and the number of countries that had been affected by this act of terrorism, the infinitesimal border between Canada and the USA, how we are all “Americans” in terms of living in “North America” whether we be citizens of Canada or citizens of the USA. Canadian towns and cities were mentioned (e.g. Orillia, St. John’s, North Bay) and the song ended with “God Bless the USA and Canada.”...both nights the audience started cheering part way through the song and by the end of the song they were on their feet giving the Jordanaires a standing ovation. Ray told me he had been told this song wouldn’t work in Canada, or perhaps shouldn’t be sung, but he’d overridden “their” objections and said that if Canadians had wanted to see a solely Canadian show they wouldn’t have bought tickets to see American performers ...that the song and the preface to it speak to the common bond that we have as North Americans and appeals to the “humanity” in each person. Well, he was obviously right - it was a showstopper and beautifully done!