Front row, left to right: Gene Schuler, Elec.Banjo; Pee Wee King, Accordian; Redd Stewart, Fiddle; Shorty Boyd, Fiddle; Roy Ayres, Steel Guitar
Back row, left to right: Gene Stewart, Bass; Harold (Sticks) McDonald, Drums; Gene Engel, Piano
Hidden behind Pee Wee: Chuck Wigginton, Guitar
Roy Ayres' Career In Music
Roy Ayres began learning to play steel guitar at age 8 using an old Spanish guitar by inserting a pencil under the strings to serve as a raised nut. He tuned the guitar in the old "open E" tuning and used the handle from a broken table knife as a tone bar and a tooth broken out of a comb as a pick. His first "real" steel guitar, an inexpensive resonator guitar, was given to him on his thirteenth birthday, December 10, 1942, by his parents. He began a career that has lasted more than 60 years by trying to emulate his then idol, Pete Kirby -- better known as Bashful Brother Oswald of Roy Acuff's Smokey Mountain Boys -- on the old country song "Fireball Mail." Roy soon became proficient enough to begin playing concerts (then called "show dates" and "jamborees") in local schools and court houses in the Mobile, Alabama area with a small group of local musicians. His first paid performance brought him a whopping seven dollars. As this was during World War II, most musicians of age 18 or over were in the military services, so police officials "looked the other way" when, at age 14, Roy began playing local night clubs in the Mobile area seven nights each week, earning $10.00 each night. About then he replaced the resonator guitar with a six-string Supro electric steel guitar he purchased from a pawn shop in Mobile.
Near the end of the war, Roy's family moved back to their original home in Columbus, Mississippi where Roy began playing on a daily radio show on WCBI with a group called the Midsouth Ramblers. After about a year, Red Stanton, bandleader in Meridian, Mississippi, hired Roy at a salary of $45 per week to play a daily radio show on WCOC and week-end bookings in various night clubs and dance halls. The war ended while Roy was in Meridian, and musical instrument manufacturers resumed production of steel guitars, so Roy purchased a double-neck National steel guitar.
At age seventeen Roy joined Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys and moved to Nashville, Tennessee where Pee Wee's band performed weekly on the Grand Ole Opry. Shortly after joining Pee Wee, Roy played steel guitar on the original recording of "The Tennessee Waltz" which soon went to the top of the country music charts, then was recorded by Patti Page and became the third biggest record seller of all time. As a result of the band's unique style of western swing and the success of a number of their recordings, the Golden West Cowboys were honored by Cash Box magazine's award for "Nation's Number One Western Band" two years in succession. Pee Wee moved the band to Louisville, Kentucky about two years after Roy joined the band, where they did a weekly television show and a daily radio show on WAVE. Roy proudly displays on his living room wall a rare WAVE "Television Pioneer" award for having performed on the first television show ever broadcast in Kentucky or Indiana. Roy also found time to teach several intermediate and advanced steel guitarists while living in Louisville. Roy remained with the Golden West Cowboys for more than eight years, during which time he played steel on several other hit records, including "Slow Poke", "Bonaparte's Retreat" and "You Belong To Me". He also doubled on lead guitar and played "twin guitar" harmony parts with Bobby Koefer on the well known "Swing West" RCA album. While with the Golden West Cowboys Roy wrote several songs, including "Crazy Waltz" that was recorded by Pee Wee King, Helen O'Connel and Gizelle McKinsey and Dave Cavanaugh's orchestra. Roy resigned from the Golden West Cowboys in 1954 to care for his terminally ill father.
During his tenure with the Golden West Cowboys, Roy cut scores of record sessions at the King Record Company with numerous artists such as Cowboy Copas, Redd Stewart, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Moon Mullican.
After his father's death, he joined Boyd Bennett and his Rockets, where he played steel guitar on ballads, trombone on Dixieland songs, and lead guitar on rock-and-roll songs. Several rock-and-roll hits recorded by Boyd such as "Seventeen", "My Boy Flat Top", and "High School Hop" featured lead guitar solos by Roy. Roy was the songwriter on Boyd's rock-and-roll records "High School Hop" and "Let Me Love You".
After two years of travelling about the country with the Rockets, Roy decided that his wife and two-year-old daughter, Sondra, were more important to him than the spotlight of the entertainment world, so he enrolled in college at the University of Louisville in 1956 where he spent 5 years earning B.S. and M.S. degrees in physics. During his college years, he played in local night clubs in the Louisville area.
After completing his formal education, Roy spent eight years in California as an aerospace physicist, after which he joined the Fender Musical Instrument Company where he remained for about two years as Director of String Instrument Development. He left California when his daughter, Sondra, was about to enter high school and moved to Texas where his family could enjoy a more provencial lifestyle. He spent the next seven and one-half years as Director of Building And Zoning for the City of Garland Texas, five years in the same position in the City of Clearwater, Florida, seven years as a consultant to local governments in Florida and Georgia developing custom software for building and zoning departments, finally completing his professional career when he retired as Clay County Florida's Zoning Director. His retirement and the Clay County position followed ten years of service as County Manager (CEO) of Bradford County, Florida. He and his wife, Laurie, now live in Riverview, Florida.
Upon his retirement in 2003, Roy purchased a Sierra Artist D10 8 + 4 and turned his attention to regular practice in an attempt to regain at least some of the manual dexterity he once had. Then at the 2004 International Steel Guitar Convention, Roy was very pleasently surprised when Bill Stafford, Mitsuo Fugii and Laurie sang "Happy Birthday" as they unveiled a brand new custom built Excel Superb S10 6 + 4 with a lock-in lever that effectively gives him a double necked steel. Laurie had found Roy's specifications for his "dream guitar" on his computer and, without his knowledge, ordered the new steel for him as a birthday present for his 75th birthday. Roy's first "gig" on his new Excel was at the Hawaiian Show in St. Louis at the 2004 Convention.
Roy was inducted into:
The Seattle, Washington "Pioneers of Western Swing" Hall of Fame in 2005
The Sacramento, California "Western Swing Music" Hall of Fame in 2006
The "International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame" in St. Louis, Missouri in 2007