Portales, NM where I grew up in the fifties and sixties, was only nineteen miles South of Clovis, and Clovis was a hotbed of recording in those days. Norman Petty was recording Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, The Fireballs, Jimmy Bowen and Buddy Knox, Charlie Phillips… and the list goes on and on. “Sugar Shack” came out of there, as did “Bottle of Wine” and “Sugartime”. I had a rock n roll band back in those days… Ron’s Rock-Outs. The Rock-Outs never got to record at Norman Petty’s Studio, but Norman saw a singing group I was in at an “exchange assembly” at Clovis High School and hired us to sing back-up vocals on Hope Griffith’s record, “Only Once in a While”. She was a young rising star from Lubbock.
Three of us in the Rock-Outs were brothers. My older brother Rick, was our bass player… *(by the way, after I left Portales Rick joined another band, The Chandelles, and they recorded the surf guitar legend…“El Gato”)*. My younger brother, Mike was our lead guitarist. Thirteen years old and he was easily the best musician of us all. Our drummer was Bob Kinsey and our bongo player, (yes, what’s a band without a bongo player), was Pat Hunt. We won the “Battle of the Bands” at the Tower Theater and got our very first fans… Tillie and Ollie, two young girls who, from that moment on, attended all our shows. (Not that there were that many). When you live in a community that frowns on dancing, especially to the sinful beat of rock n roll, we ended up rehearsing a lot more than we actually performed. But it got me through High School and College.
Eventually, I graduated from ENMU and Mary and I moved to D.C…. Mary, working on her Ph.D. at Georgetown and I started my career in theatre. By this time, I had discovered folk music and had found a couple of places to play in Washington D.C. There was a club on Capitol Hill called Mr. Henry’s and he had two music rooms. Very few people know this, but Roberta Flack and I played there. She was KILLING in the big room upstairs. Five-part harmonies, incredible band… AMAZING! Mr. Henry’s also had a much smaller room downstairs with a small stage and enough room for a chair, a mic, my guitar and me. I played there on the “dark nights” at Arena Stage.
I believe I was the only “folk singer” at President Johnson’s, First (and only) White House Festival of the Arts in 1965. If you recall that’s when the poet Lowell refused to attend because of our involvement in the Viet Nam War. Arena Stage was doing Millard Lampell’s play, “Hard Travelin” and I was playing a fictional Woody Guthrie character. I sang one of the songs from the play. In my first Broadway show, “Indians”, I picked and sang a song in the saloon scene. I was cast as Drew in Deliverance partly because I could play the guitar. In my first TV series, ”Apples Way”, I picked and sang a song every week. So early in my career people knew I was an actor from New Mexico who also played music. But then, all those authority figures I played made people forget. Now I was a cop or the president, or a military colonel, or a serial killer, or the corrupt head of OCP, or the dictator of Mars. And it made heads explode in disbelief when someone saw me with a guitar in my hand.
In the early ‘90s, I longed to have music be more of a factor in my life. I’ve done eleven albums since then. I look for opportunities in film and TV for me to combine music with acting.
I won’t let any movie or tv show interfere with any folk music gig I already have booked. I know a lot of actors who also play music have an escape clause in case a big movie comes along…. I DON’T. The possibility of the one on one sharing with an audience is an opiate that is extremely compelling to me.
Which brings us to now… I’m being inducted into the New Mexico Music Hall of Fame on Nov. 2. I haven’t a clue why this came about. I have achieved very little of note in music. Oh, sure… “Dueling Banjos” is an incredible song in a truly iconic film, but all I did was “match the playback”… the guitar player on the recording, Steve Mandell, taught me the song, note for note because John Boorman wanted to be able to cut to fingers playing the right notes. (Billy Redden… the banjo boy couldn’t do that… it’s not even his left hand on film) So did I play it… yes… is that me on the soundtrack… no…. did it cost me a million dollars… yes!!! Oh, and my song “Bus to Baltimore” won the Round Glass Music Award for Best American Roots Song in 2018.
Anyway…. I’m coming to New Mexico the first week in November and my friend Jaime Michaels has agreed to induct me. I’d like to invite all my friends to come out and say hello… Getting to visit ahead of time is half the fun for me. I’m gonna put up a map I’ve drawn… start at 1 and go through 10… those are also the dates in Nov.
For more information: https://www.ronnycox.com/shows/