Singer songwriter and Grand Ole Opry star Ray Pillow made his mark in Country Music history both as a recording artist and a Nashville music industry executive.
Like so many others, Ray went to school and worked in various jobs while pursuing his musical dreams. Along the way, the Lynchburg, Va., native served four years in the U.S. Navy. His military service over, Ray earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Lynchburg College. While in college, he formed his own band called The Stardusters, and played for dances in the Lynchburg area while working for a truck sales company.
The dream of stardom won out, and Ray and his wife sold all their belongings so he could move to Nashville. An earlier meeting in Roanoke with Joe Taylor, who handled promotion for Martha White Flour road shows, paid off when Ray moved to Nashville in 1963. Soon he was appearing on Martha White sponsored radio and TV shows and performing on the company road shows. This enabled his wife, Joanne, and three children, Dale, Selena and Daryl, to join him in Nashville. Meanwhile, he continued to hone his musical skills in clubs and on radio and TV.
In 1964 he signed with Capitol Records, and his first release, “Left Out,” came out six months later. His first chart success came the next year with, “Take Your Hands Off My Heart,” followed by the Top 10 hit, “Thank You Ma’am.” Capitol released his first album Presenting Ray Pillow in late 1965, but the next year was Ray’s year in Country Music. In 1966 Ray teamed up with Jean Shepard to record two Top 10 hits: “I’ll Take The Dog,” and ,”Mr. Do It Yourself.” This led to Opry membership on April 30, 1966. That year Ray was Billboard’s, “Most Promising Male Artist,” and Cash Box’s, “Most Promising New Artist.” A national deejay poll named him the “Most Programmed New Artist.” Virginia added Ray to its Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994.
In addition to his own music career, Ray has helped shape the professional paths of others, including Lee Greenwood. He is well known on Music Row as a publisher who can match the right artist with the right song and recording company. In the early 1980s Ray formed a partnership with Larry McFaden. They brought Lee to Nashville and their jointly owned Sycamore Valley Music Company published all of Lee’s songs, including the 1985 CMA Song of the Year, “God Bless the USA.”