Born Edward Ray Sharpe, 8 February 1938, Fort Worth, Texas
Singer / songwriter / guitarist.
Ray Sharpe is hard to categorize. He has been called a "black rockabilly" and has actually been praised for sounding "white", a reverse of normal racial relations involving R&R / R&B vocal performances. Ray's parents divorced when he was very young and his mother struggled to bring up her four young children in a state of near poverty. Unusual for a black young man, Ray acquired a liking for country music and it was country rather than the blues which inspired him to take up the guitar. The instrument never left his side and he practised continually. After graduating from high school in 1956, Sharpe formed his own trio called 'Ray Sharpe and the Blues Whalers' with pianist Raydell Reese and drummer Cornelius Bell. They worked steadily around the Fort Worth clubs of the period and pretty soon Ray's reputation as an exciting entertainer was assured. Rock and roll was now the driving force behind his music, with Chuck Berry being a particular favourite, which can clearly be heard in his guitar playing.
Early in 1958, Artie Glenn (the writer of "Crying in the Chapel") gave Ray the opportunity to record two demos, both self-penned songs. Glenn sent copies of the demo to various people, including Lee Hazlewood and Lester Sill, who invited Ray to come to Phoenix for a session on April 2, 1958. Duane Eddy shared guitar duties with Ray on "That's the Way I Feel"/"Oh My Baby's Gone". Hazlewood leased the single to Randy Wood of Dot Records who first issued it on his subsidiary label Hamilton and then on Dot. BTW, Lee Hazlewood also recorded "That's the Way I Feel" with Sanford Clark around this time, but this (equally good) version remained unissued until it was saved by Bear Family in 1992.
It was Sharpe's second session (May 18, 1959) that would give him his only hit. A rocked up version of "Red Sails In the Sunset" was thought to have the best chance of becoming a hit. The reverse, "Linda Lu", was an afterthought and very nearly not recorded at all. "Red Sails In the Sunset" was issued on Jamie and received favourable responses from the trade press and jocks, but didn't start selling in sufficient quantities to indicate that a hit record was forthcoming. Suddenly, a DJ in Los Angeles started to play "Linda Lu" and things began to happen, especially after Dick Clark included the song on his playlist for American Bandstand and made Sharpe part of his first rock and roll package. Ray played the Hollywood Bowl on a bill which included LaVern Baker, Duane Eddy (who does NOT play on "Linda Lu", as has often been alleged), Jack Scott, Santo and Johnny, the Coasters and Rusty York. This was followed by a string of dates with his own band. "Linda Lu" peaked at # 46 pop (# 11 R&B) in Billboard and had a 13 week run in the Top 100. Once "Linda Lu" had started to sell, Jamie withdrew the original A-side and replaced it with "Monkey's Uncle", a great Chuck Berry- styled rocker, which was wasted this way and should have been the follow-up single. The reason was that "Red Sails In the Sunset" was not owned by Sill and Hazlewood's publishing company and it made no sense to them to pay another publisher for what was now a flip side.
"Long John"/"T.A. Blues" (recorded in September 1959) was a decent follow-up, unfortunately overdubbed with a very obtrusive chorus. As was so often the case, trying to find a second hit proved to be extremely hard. After three more flop singles on Jamie in 1960, Ray moved to the Trey label (owned by Hazlewood and Sill), where "Justine", a medium paced rocker, was coupled with a supper- club version of "On the Street Where You Live" (from "My Fair Lady"), which confirmed his versatility. Several one-off record deals followed in the 1960s, with labels like Gregmark, Garex, United Artists and Monument, but "Linda Lu" would remain his sole chart entry. The results of an interesting 1962 session in New Orleans (with session men like Harold Battiste, Roy Montrell and Melvin Lastie) remained unissued until 1995. In 1966, Ray recorded an Atco single with a still unknown Jimi Hendrix on guitar, produced by King Curtis. There were very few releases in the 1970s and 1980s, but Sharpe never left the music business. Like many other artists from the 1950s, he was rediscovered by rockabilly enthusiasts in Europe and brought over to perform there. In the end record sales and chart appearances have not made a lot of difference to Ray Sharpe. He is a masterful guitarist, above average singer and a seasoned entertainer with a repertoire of material so wide (R&B, country, funk, pop, soul, blues and rock 'n' roll) that he can satisfy the needs of the most demanding audience.
Acknowledgements : Ian Wallis.
CD : Ray Sharpe, Linda Lu (Bear Family BCD 15888). Released 1995.
YouTube: Linda Lu : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ArKr2G1FGI
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