You may not be intimately familiar with the name, but you most certainly know the tracks he played and the songs he helped turn into hits and country standards over the decades. One of the most prolific and respected session guitarists in country music history, Ray Edenton, has died at the age of 95. He died Wednesday evening, September 21.
With over 12,000 recorded studio sessions, Ray Edenton was an undisputed member of Nashville’s “A” team of must-have musicians that began in the heyday of the 1950s and lasted well into the 1970s and beyond. Ray Edenton has performed on such iconic recordings as Roger Miller’s ‘King of the Road’, The Everly Brothers’ ‘Bye Bye Love’ and ‘Wake Up Little Susie’, and Lynn Anderson’s ‘Rose Garden’. The first hit he performed on was Webb Pierce’s “There Stands the Glass” in 1953, and after his performance on Kitty Wells and Red Foley’s “One by One” the following year, it was established that Edenton had a Midas touch for country. music, which makes it in high demand.
Born Ray Quarles Edenton on November 3, 1926, he was part of a musical family and performed in 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 the guitar, Edenton played banjo, mandolin, ukulele, and occasionally bass in recording sessions. Although 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 during World War II, in 1948 he began appearing on WRVA’s Old Dominion Barn Dance radio show in Richmond every Saturday night in a band called the Korn Krackers, which included also 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 was in 1949, playing a version of Red Kirk’s “Lovesick Blues” for Mercury Records. After performing on Pierce’s “There Stands the Glass”, he went on to appear on 26 of Webb’s Top 27 Hits. Other notable artists who have availed 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.
Remembering the contributions of Ray Edenton, the current country guitarist Chris Scruggs remarked, “Ray was a true innovator. Even though the guitar provided the backbone of country music dating back to the early days of the genre, it was Ray who navigated the instrument’s more focused role in a modern rhythm section that also included drums, piano and bass. He developed ‘high G’ acoustic guitar tuning (where the G note is a light-gauge single string, tuned an octave higher than standard), ‘Nashville tuning’ (where the four bass strings of a acoustic guitar are strung with thinner strings and tuned an octave higher than normal, creating an airy harp effect) and developed the “chank” style of rhythm guitar, where the electric guitar plays higher pitched chords behind the body clear on the offbeat.
Although Ray Edenton retired in 1991, he made regular appearances in Nashville, including a 2007 Country Music Hall of Fame interview 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 guitarist Lloyd Green and violinist Buddy Spicher comprising some of the last remaining members.