Vern Williams and Ray Parks are among a handful of bluegrass pioneers that helped commercialize the rural American art form and incorporate it into the country music platform. The duo, which lasted over 15 years through the mid-1970s, was based in so… Read more
Vern Williams and Ray Parks are among a handful of bluegrass pioneers that helped commercialize the rural American art form and incorporate it into the country music platform. The duo, which lasted over 15 years through the mid-1970s, was based in southern California, after both players had migrated there from Arkansas. Aside from being known as one of the best bluegrass acts in the country, they were a major influence on many of the early Southern California country-rock acts including the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Desert Rose Band, Poco, New Riders Of The Purple Sage, and the Grateful Dead. With their contemporaries the Stanley Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs, the Louvin Brothers, and the Osbourne Brothers, Vern and Ray were known for their songs about unrequited love, riding the railroads, and life on the farm.
A teenaged Jerry Garcia played banjo with Vern & Ray before forming the Grateful Dead. Another young player that learned volumes from Vern & Ray was banjo player Herb Pedersen. Pedersen toured for several years with the duo before forming the Desert Rose Band with ex-Byrd Chris Hillman, and working alongside the likes of Linda Rondstadt, Emmylou Harris, Dan Fogelberg, and James Taylor. Pedersen is featured on this recording, and appeared on several recordings the band made in the 1960s.
Vern & Ray were best known for their soaring country harmonies (propelled by Williams' distinct tenor vocal). The vocal prowess of the band is best exhibited in "I Thought I Had It Figured Out" and "Can't You Hear Me Calling?" The group was formed in 1958 after Williams was sent to California for a two-year stint in the military. While working in a meat packing plant in Stockton, California he heard a fellow bluegrass enthusiast on the radio named Ray Parks. Park, who played fiddle and sang, quickly put the duo together after the two met. They remained together until 1974, and then reunited for several occasions thereafter until playing their final appearance in 1999. After the duo split in 1974, they both continued to work, with the Vern Williams Band utilizing most of their musicians, performing until his death at age 76 in 2006. Parks had passed away four years earlier. Although the duo never nailed the country music hit parade, they are classified today as bluegrass legends, and are generally credited with bringing the art form to the West Coast.