Johnny ‘Ray’ Harris was born in Louisiana January 9, 1932. By 1960 he found himself a Shreveport fireman looking to crack the music business on his own. In February of that year he released “Tired of Crawling, Gonna Start to Run” b/w “When a New Love is Born, Does an Old Love Die” on his own Ray records via Starday records custom pressing “PD” series. On the night of July 30, 1960 he found himself performing on the famed Louisiana Hayride stage no doubt supporting his newly released “Dog Gone” b/w “Cajun Weekend” (Ray 601, 1960). This performance can be heard in the YouTube clip below.
Johnny’s third and final release on his own Ray label “No More Hurtin’” b/w “In Memory of Johnny Horton” (Ray 602, 1960) paid homage to one of the Hayride’s greatest stars, Johnny Horton, who had just passed away in a horrible car accident in November of 1960 while returning to Shreveport after a show in Austin, TX.
A few other unissued recordings from this period are gathered on the White Label LP “Rockin’ in Louisiana, vol. 2”. These sides show the incredible raw musicianship of players in the area and the varied influences they all draw upon. The sound is a blend of rural Cajun South Louisiana, sophisticated New Orleans, East Texas & Delta Blues combined with the raw yelp of Hillbilly Country & Western all up against the face of a burgeoning Rock n Roll scene.
Which brings us to "Ripsaw" b/w "Cajun Blues" (Wanted, 711) as twisted a piece of swampy-blues-rockabilly to ever step out of the region. The haunting harmonica and off kilter singing weren’t going to land it on the Billboard Hot 100, but something special was captured on this little piece of wax nonetheless. It’s some sort of twisted Davy Crockett tale through the lens of the swamp.
Everything here sounds a little later than 1960, and some clues pop out upon inspection of the label. The name Marais and La Dee Music point to Dee Marais, a local record man who recorded talent at local studios and sometimes in the back of his Bayou Records shop. Dee ran several great Shreveport labels including Murco, Hy-Sign and Peermont, which I’m sure we’ll dig into on this blog soon enough.
As for Johnny ‘Ray’ Harris, not much else is known. He died March 19, 1983 in Shreveport. A fireman and a singer, we have his self-released Ray records and the odd backwoods greatness of RIPSAW to remember him by.
Johnny Ray Harris & Dorothy Mae Raines Harris
P.S. - After seeing this post my buddy Chris Brown dug up this fantastic item - the original lead sheet for RIPSAW!