Maybe you’re not intimately familiar with the name, but you’re most definitely familiar with the licks he played, and the songs that he helped turn into country hits and standards over decades. One of the most prolific and respected session guitarists in country music history, Ray Edenton, has died at the age of 95. He passed away Wednesday evening, September 21st.
With over 12,000 studio sessions logged, Ray Edenton was an undisputed part of Nashville’s ‘A’ Team of go-to musicians that started in the Golden Era of the 50s and lasted well into the 70s and beyond. Ray Edenton played on such iconic recordings as Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers, and Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden.” The first hit he ever played on was Webb Pierce’s “There Stands the Glass” in 1953, and after his performance on “One by One” by Kitty Wells and Red Foley the following year, it was established that Edenton had a Midas touch for country music, making him in high demand.
Born Ray Quarles Edenton on November 3rd, 1926, he was part of a musical family, and was performing at square dances around his home in Mineral, Virginia with his two brothers and cousins by the age of 6. His first instrument was a banjo ukulele, and along with guitar, Edenton would play banjo, mandolin, ukulele, and sometimes bass in recording sessions as well. Though he could do it all, what Ray Edenton became best known for was playing acoustic and rhythm guitar.
After serving in the United States Army in World War II, in 1948 he began appearing on WRVA’s Old Dominion Barn Dance radio show out of Richmond every Saturday night in a group called the Korn Krackers, which also featured guitar virtuoso Joe Maphis. After spending 27 months in a VA hospital suffering from tuberculosis, Edenton moved to Tennessee and worked briefly at WNOX in Knoxville before officially moving to Nashville, and landing a regular gig playing acoustic guitar on the Grand Ole Opry.
Edenton’s first studio session came in 1949, playing a version of “Lovesick Blues” by Red Kirk for Mercury Records. After he played on Pierce’s “There Stands the Glass,” he would go on to appear on 26 of Webb’s 27 top hits. Other notable artists who took advantage of Edenton’s services over the years include Elvis Presley, Sammy Davis Jr., The Beach Boys, and later artists such as Leon Russell, Neil Young, and Reba McEntire. By 1961, he had devoted his entire career solely to studio work.
In remembering Ray Edenton’s contributions, current country guitarist Chris Scruggs remarked, “Ray was a true innovator. Even while guitar provided the backbone for country music going back to the genre’s earliest days, it was Ray who navigated the instrument’s more focused role in a modern rhythm section that also featured drums, piano, bass. He developed the ‘high G’ acoustic guitar tuning (where the G note is a light gauge plain string, tuned an octave higher than standard), the ‘Nashville tuning’ (where the low four strings on an acoustic guitar are strung with thinner strings and tuned an octave higher than normal, creating an airy, harp-like effect) and developed the ‘chank’ rhythm guitar style, where the electric guitar plays higher voiced chords behind the snare drum on the off-beat.”
Though Ray Edenton retired in 1991, he would regularly make appearances around Nashville, including an interview at the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007 as part of the Nashville Cats series.
Ray Edenton was one of the last surviving members of the Nashville ‘A’ Team, with Charlie McCoy, steel guitar player Lloyd Green, and fiddler Buddy Spicher comprising some of the last remaining members.