This might be a good subject for Denton-centric Trivia Night at a local pub. While doing research in the Denton Record-Chronicle about someone completely unrelated, I happened upon this front page story from 1961. By that time, Ray Peterson had several hits on the pop music charts including two in the Top 10 and was heading home to his family and birthplace in Denton for a belated Christmas reunion. He was born here on April 23, 1939 but apparently didn’t spend very much time in town, growing up in San Antonio. He had contracted polio as a child and, during his stay in the hospital in The Alamo City, sang for his fellow patients and thus began his musical career. The article states that his family lived on Panhandle Street and had recently moved back to his mother’s native Denton. By that time, however, he was performing at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas and touring the country.
Here he is looking rather Bobby Darin-ish:
So, the question is, why isn’t he better known in town? It’s true he really never lived here other than maybe his first couple years but, in that way, he resembles Sly Stone. Could it be the lack of local press? Searching the DR-C, I only find the article above and some Top 10 lists from the early 1960s mentioning him. Sly Stone went on to greater fame so maybe that prompted us to call him our own when he really barely is, as well.
One of his greatest hits was a morbid, schmalzy thing called “Tell Laura I Love Her” which recounts a doomed teenage romance involving stock car racing (really) and a $1000.00 prize. Here it is. There was quite a market for this genre of songs in the late-50s, early ’60s known as “teenage tragedy songs”, “death discs”, and my personal favorite,“splatter platters”. Elvis Presley covered one of his songs in the late 1960s, The Wonder of You, doing Ray the courtesy of asking him in advance if that would be OK. One thing no one could ever say about The King was that he wasn’t a gentleman. Elvis probably didn’t have to do this because Ray didn’t write the song nor did he likely own the rights to it but professional courtesy was extended and they became friends.
Mr. Peterson eventually became a Baptist minister in the 1970s while also appearing on the oldies circuit. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and died in Memphis in 2005.
Written by Chuck Voellinger, Emily Fowler Library.