Ray and Muldaur had several parallels in their careers. "I took off from music about the same time he did, working in the straight world to get my kids through school. When I read his (obituary), I saw it was the same time period," Muldaur said referring to the 1980s when both men put down the guitar. "I came back with a vengeance and so did he. There really was a parallel," Muldaur said.
A famous but modest Dave Ray worked with and his music influenced many of the top names in folk and blues, but you would have needed more than good luck getting any details from him about this part of his career. "He was famous," Johnson said, but Ray was also the kind of guy who would not talk about his celebrity. "You'd have to read about it somewhere." Johnson admitted that more than once he tried to learn about this side of his friend. With a laugh he said, "I'd try to talk to Dave about this stuff and he'd just end up joking around."
John Lennon and Eric Clapton talked about Ray having an influence on their music, Johnson said. "Especially John Lennon," he added. "Bonnie Raitt came here and he recorded her first album with Willie (Murphy) and the Bees. They had a recording studio out on an island in Minnetonka. Bonnie was a huge fan of Dave Ray," Johnson said. He would never bring up these events "or use his friendship with Bonnie to further his own career," Johnson said.
Just making music with a friend Johnson said he had a chance to do "a lot of cool duos with (Ray)." He recalls playing at Big Daddy's, a long-closed bar and restaurant in the Union Depot in St. Paul. "I loved it. I just loved playing with him because he was so happy when he was playing. It was like Dave saying, 'This is what I do. This is what I should do and this is what I'm gonna do,' "Johnson said.
Like Johnson, Muldaur enjoyed making music with Ray. After trading songs on stage at the Cedar Center, Muldaur began playing along with Ray. "I was just curious," he said when asked why he made a duo of some songs. "I would hear a little something and I'd say; 'Geez, I wonder if I can fit this in.' I was just fishing around all his intricate arrangements. They're fabulous," he said.
Picking songs on stage at the Cedar Center with Ray "was an extension of how I was at Merle Fest," he said. "I just couldn't keep my eyes off his guitar fingerboard and couldn't stop listening to everything he was doing."
While Muldaur values the memories of the North Carolina workshop and fondly recalls Ray's last show, it's likely his most lasting memory is an incident in the dressing room at the Cedar Center after the performance. "...I didn't have a real understanding of the finality of his (cancer) - I knew it was severe, but I didn't know just how final it was," Muldaur said. "I said to him on the way out, 'Man this was great. I hope you beat this thing and just keep on picking.' He turned to me, and hesitated, and said,' Well, I'm gonna keep on picking.' He knew he wasn't going to beat anything," Muldaur said.
Every time Ray performed, he worked from a large black songbook set up on a music stand. "First of all I'd like to have it," Muldaur said with a laugh. "Someone ought to photocopy it and publish a book. It would make a hell of a book." Muldaur said the book makes a statement about Ray. "It's certainly a clear way of knowing he is not going to be (entertaining) the audience with anything other than his music. His persona was very self contained."
When they were making playing together Johnson walked down the middle of the "musical" road while Ray took off, cutting his own cross-country path. "I was the one who played pretty much straight ahead. Dave would go off and do anything he wanted to around it. And he'd look at me, with a sly look on his face, and play some real bizarre leads to what I was playing," Johnson said with a grin in his voice.
Johnson said Ray realized the two buddies "weren't sitting in Carnegie Hall, but rather in some little bar. That meant he could try anything he wanted to. So he stretched. Everything he tried, he tried to stretch it out," Johnson said.
Even though they performed together, Johnson was a Dave Ray fan. "Every time we played I would say, 'Dave, I just want you to play solo on some tunes so I can sit here and listen to you.' And then he'd do it, beautifully," Johnson said.
Ray was mostly known for skill with the guitar, but he also wrote music. "A lot of people write songs and they don't think about what they write. But he spent time thinking about it," Johnson said.
"Furiously," is the word Johnson uses for Ray's early work on a 12-string. "When he was young he was a really fast guitar player. Then he got in a motorcycle accident, right on the West Bank, outside of where Caesar's Bar used to be," he said. "He had to change his style to be more of a flat picker from a finger picker."
While Johnson enjoyed telling Dave Ray stories, there was also more than just a note of frustration in his voice. "There's just so damn much stuff to tell about him."
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