Guitar player and singer Ray Lipford lives in the Ferguson community of Wilkes County, on the family homestead where he grew up. “This is where I’ve lived all my life, right here on this land,” he says. Ferguson is about equally distant from both Lenoir and Wilkesboro, where he worked as a furniture builder and heavy equipment driver.
He grew up hearing his father and uncle play music. When Ray was 10 years old, his father traded a car radio for a hollow-body electric guitar, and used to play songs like “Step It Up and Go,” “Wildwood Flower,” and “Crow Jane,” using a thumb pick and his index finger. “I got to watching my dad to see what he would play,” Ray recalls, “and as soon as he would put the guitar down, I would pick it up and try to play the same chords.”
Ray was hooked on the guitar and spent all of his free time learning to play. “Sometimes I would play in the morning waiting for the bus,” he says. “I’d come in from school, throw my books down, and play a few songs before I did my chores. Then I would come in to eat and play more. I was music-crazy then.”
Music-making at home also included other family members. A cousin from Lenoir, Lon Davis, visited on the weekends. Ray remembers his cousin as being an excellent blues guitar player and singer. “First thing Dad would do when he came is get out that guitar and give it to him,” remembers Ray. “Now he could really play and put on a show.” Davis would perform popular music of the day. During that time, Ray was listening to Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Lightning Slim, and B.B. King on the radio. “I just kept adding on and playing,” he says. “The older I got, I moved on up, from blues to rock-and-roll, right on down the line.”
Eventually, Ray focused on gospel music. After joining the church in the 1980s, he started attending his family church, Laytown Mennonite Brethren, and was asked to join the church band. For more than 20 years, he has played in the church band, which includes his brother on drums. The band and the choir, which includes one of Ray’s sisters and a cousin, are now part of a wider circle in which his family music tradition has found a place.
Ray Lipford may be available for limited performances with his group that performs weekly at the Laytown Mennonite Brethren Church.