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A way to 'get into the cool parties'
Initially weaned on classical music by his grandmother, a music teacher, Ray came across his first blues records during his early teens. When he met Glover and Koerner, he was attending the old University High School in Dinkytown by day, and playing coffeehouses and house parties at night. Somehow, the trio clicked.
"It was our way to get into the cool parties," Ray said. "But it was also our way of hearing the music we liked. Popular music at the time was terrible. I couldn't take it, man."
Their first step to national recognition came in March 1963, when they traveled to Milwaukee for a 12-hour recording session with a small label, Audiophile Records. The result was "Blues, Rags & Hollers" -- an album that become a favorite of John Lennon and the Rolling Stones. Made for a pittance, it had the clean quality of folk records at the time but not the stiffness. The blues sounded surprisingly unforced and natural.
"They gave hope to white college kids everywhere," Fricke said.
Of the 600 copies originally pressed, one wound up in the hands of Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman. He re-released the album and arranged for the trio to record a second one in New York. On their way home, they picked up a gig at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. A gig at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival followed.
"And we were off and running," Ray said wryly. "Or off and crawling, anyway."
After five albums, the trio separated, but reunited periodically over the years, including a pair of Minneapolis concerts in 1996 that became their final disc, "One Foot in the Groove."
Beck, who had Ray and Glover open his first big Twin Cities show, said of the trio: "They seemed to be one of the only people from that folk-revival period who would just completely play their music with abandon. They were just so raucous."
Ray's last Twin Cities performance was Nov. 15, a concert at the Cedar Cultural Center shared with another '60s folk-blues figurehead, Geoff Muldaur. Ray had to be helped to the stage, but once there he picked up a thick book of songs and swapped tunes all night with Muldaur.
During one song, he moved around his guitar neck with such caressing wizardry, a gasp rose from the crowd, and from Muldaur.
When the set ended, Muldaur walked up to the center's manager and joked, "How much do I owe you?"
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