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Pat Harvey - Madisonville's Organic, Free-Range Artist

MADISONVILLE, KY (10/1/13) – The word that comes to mind when I think of Madisonville artist Pat Harvey is “organic.” The guy, and everything he creates, just seems to come about naturally, even when there’s struggle involved. I don’t really know how else to explain it. And I don’t mean “organic” in the sense of environment-friendly or naturally-grown either, though I guess Pat and his creations could fit into those categories, too. What I really mean is that Pat, his interactions with friends and family, his artwork, and his approach to music seems purely genuine and intrinsic to who he is. He’s real, and he’s arrived where he is today by remaining true to himself through the good times and the bad.

But Pat hasn’t merely survived life untainted; the grasp he has on his internal passions and the affinity he holds for creativity has allowed him to flourish as a person. From nearly 20 years of playing music and his longtime love of bluegrass, to his relatively recent entrance into the art world and the ensuing festival hops he’s been a part of as a vendor, Pat’s reactions to the world around him have resulted in an ongoing stream of positivity and colorful artwork that stand in stark contrast to an oftentimes drab, pessimistic world around us.

Yet, that’s not what he would say. In his own humble words, he says, “For me, it’s kind of like yoga; I feel better when I’m creating and when I’m not I don’t feel balanced. It’s just something that I have to do. It can be painting or playing guitar—I’ve just got to do something or I’m not as happy as I could be. I’ve got to do it whether someone looks at it or not.”

And his modest words ring true when you spend time with Pat, when you visit his home, when you talk about art and music, when you share a few drinks and laughs, and you have a minute to really see what he’s up to “behind the scenes.” 

What you can expect when you pay Pat a few visits…
When you first walk into his open, forest-lined backyard, you may notice a brightly-colored, yet partially rusted and wheel-less, caged-in Volkswagen Beetle that seems to be hovering about three feet off the ground in the far corner of his property. Pat—who dons a respectable beard and long hair, as well as the occasional faded pair of overalls over a Ramones t-shirt—explains that the VW is the lynchpin of his latest masterpiece: a coup for his chickens Darnell, Cabbage, Tiny, and Alize’. The seat-less vehicle is their nightly roost. Next, Pat may take you on a tour of his studio and garage while he points out automotive projects in-progress, jars of fermented hill-gold, old music equipment, and unique pieces of art that have never really seen the light of day. He says they’re part of his “personal stash.” Then, you might meet Pat’s family—his wife Amy and his daughters Lillian and Mandolyn—all of whom seem to be just as “organic” in their own rights. And once they’ve welcomed you inside their inviting home, you’ll notice several stringed instruments propped up in the corner of their living room, as well as several instrument cases and pieces of textile material adorned with Pat’s vibrant designs and his pseudo pop-art takes on iconic musician portraits. At this point, you may start to feel comfortable and relaxed, and while you have to go, they ask you to stay. It’s hard to leave and that’s when you know you’ll be back someday. 
One of the best parts of these experiences, though, is that Pat‘s candid. He’s straightforward and down-to-earth. He’ll tell you like it is from his point-of-view. There will be no high-brows here, but that’s also the beauty of it all. 

Who is Pat Harvey and what is his artwork all about? He’ll tell you right now. But don’t be shocked when it gets real. 

Tell me a little bit about yourself. Were you born here in Madisonville? 
No. I was born in Evansville [Indiana]. 

I didn’t know that. 
Yeah, I lived in Evansville until ’98, which was when [Amy and I] moved to Diamond [Kentucky]. My grandfather owned some property out there and we just wanted to get out of the city, so we moved. After we moved, we had our kids [Lillian and Mandolyn]. I started my business when we were down there, too. We decided to move to Madisonville because most of the work I was doing was here. 

How old were you when you moved from Evansville? 
Golly, man. [laughs] Let’s see - I was born in ’74 and I’m 38 now, and that would have been 14 years ago, so you do the math. [laughs] I guess it was around my mid to late-20s. I was old enough to drink. I know that because I moved to a dry county and I was like, “What the heck?” [laughs]  

What county is Diamond in? 
Webster County. 
You said you started a business there. What business are you talking about? 
My lawn care business [Harvey Lawncare]. I didn’t start that when I first moved down there, though. I worked at a couple different places before that. I ended up working for a guy who had a lawn care business and I thought, “Man, I can do this,” so that’s what I did. 

What was your childhood like? Were your parents pretty cool people?
Yeah. My dad was a cop actually. 

I would not have guessed that. [laughs]
Yeah, you’ve met my dad before, haven’t you? 

Yeah, he was here the other night. 
Well, he’s not a cop anymore, but he sure as hell used to be. 

What’s your dad’s name? 
Tom. Actually, his name is Realous. That’s his real name. That’s my middle name. It’s a family name. 

What does that name mean? 
It means I’m the realest, man. [everyone laughs]

We’re going to have to fit that into the title somehow. “Pat Harvey – The Realous Man You Ever Met.’ [everyone laughs] So, what was your mom like? 
She was cool, you know? Man, I wasn’t even prepared for questions about my childhood, though. Really, it was just normal stuff. My parents stayed together. They weren’t divorced or anything. I had a lot of teenage angst, so I probably would have wished they were divorced to be cooler or something. That’s something I probably would have thought back then. [laughs] But yeah, I had a pretty normal upbringing over in Evansville.

So, how did you and Amy meet? 
I met her at Chuck E. Cheese’s. [laughs] Seriously. I was Chuck E. Cheese. That was my job. I was the character and Amy was doing prep work. That was a really fun job. 

Really? I was thinking that would be a terrible job. 
No, not at all. It was freakin’ awesome. Chuck E. Cheese’s dressing room is right next to the beer tap, so... [laughs] The manager was really cool, too. Plus, you’d put the outfit on and it was like you were unstoppable. I mean, what is anyone going to do to you? You’re Chuck E. Cheese. [laughs] You could flirt with all the cute girls and smack the guys in the head. The guys might get a little angry, but what are they going to do? You can just laugh and say, “I’m Chuck E. Cheese.” [laughs]

So, basically, you had boundless freedom as Chuck E. Cheese? 
Definitely. Amy and I go back to Chuck E. Cheese’s sometimes and it’s really romantic. We’ve even got our own little table and everything. [laughs] Some of the same people work there, too. 
At what point did you really get into music? 
I always liked music, but I guess I was in my 20s when I really got into playing music. A friend of mine gave me a harmonica when I was about 19 and I messed around with that for a while. Then, the same guy gave me a guitar. I’ve been struggling with it ever since. His name was Jeremy Cates. He’s passed away since then. As a matter of fact, the paints I used for the bullfrog piece I have in my living room – the “horny toad” – have crushed flowers from his funeral mixed in them. That’s the first painting I ever hid a bird in. 

Yeah, the birds are like your signature now. I still can’t find all the birds you hid in the John Lennon case. You said there were five, but I can only find three. 
You’ll just have to keep looking, man. No one except Amy and our kids knew about the “bird thing” for a long time. I didn’t tell anybody about them. They were almost always in my paintings, though. Then I started telling people who had bought my paintings about the birds, because they own them. Now, I’m not so secretive about it. I think it’s pretty neat. They’re in every single one of my paintings, but you have to find them. 

Is there a purpose or story behind the birds? They look like a little like crows. 
The reason I put them in there is based around Jeremy – the guy I mentioned earlier who gave me the guitar. He was a painter too, and he always hid scarecrows in his paintings. I always thought that was really cool. 

So, with music, was there something specific that made you want to get into playing?
I just have this thing inside of me that makes me want to play. I’m sure you have it too; you play, so there’s a desire there and you’ve got to do something about it. I’ve never been really good at playing music, but I really enjoy doing it. I have a lot of fun playing. I actually played with a reggae band in Evansville back in the day. They were pretty good. I was the rhythm guitar player. The guy that was the leader of the band was a Jamaican drummer and a professor at the University of Evansville, which was right down the road from where I lived at the time. I’ve always been into bluegrass music, and reggae is actually very similar as far as the off-rhythm guitar parts go. One of the guys in the band found out I was into bluegrass music and asked me to jam with them sometime. At the time, I couldn’t stand reggae music; it made me seasick listening to those bass lines. But once I started playing with those guys more often, I really developed a strong sense of appreciation for reggae. The guy that led the band was on top of it, too. He had all these code words for changes in the songs and he was a drummer. He was like Phil Collins. It was funny in a way, though, because he was the only black guy in the band. The rest of us were white kids, but we sounded like—and were—a real, legitimate reggae band. We got to play a lot of different shows, too.

What was the name of the band? 
Riddem Culture. 

How long did you play with them? 
A year or two, I think. Then Paul, the leader of the band, ending up moving. He went to a different college to teach. We all separated after that. It was a lot of fun, though. That was one of my first real experiences as far as playing with people and having to learn all these different parts. 
You’ve been a fan of bluegrass for a long time. What’s the story behind that attraction? 
I remember being into bluegrass when I so young that people would ask me where my parents or grandparents were at when I’d go to bluegrass music festivals. [laughs] It’s funny, because none of them were ever into bluegrass music, but I was. I had an old Volkswagen van when we lived in Evansville and we’d drive down to Kentucky to Beaver Dam or Rough River where they have the Governor’s Cup Fiddle Championship, or we’d go to these folk competitions in Petersburg [Indiana]. The folk competitions are really cool, because it’s not just fiddles—it’s banjos, guitars, upright bass, harmonicas, and pretty much any acoustic instrument. I was really into, man. It hit me when I was young, listening to all those cats like Bill Monroe, that I really dug it. I always listened to stuff like Jimi Hendrix, and I thought that bluegrass music was just for old people, but I realized that the old players just didn’t have amplifiers and all that stuff. If you listen to that old Bill Monroe stuff or anything that the Osborne Brothers did—or any of those cats from the very beginning—they get after it. It’s just a different deal. It was a totally different era at that point. But once I understood that, I gained a lot of respect and appreciation for what they were doing. Once I realized that, I was hooked. I’ve loved it since a very young age. They used to do a jam thing in Evansville that was based around bluegrass music, and we would go—but, of course, we would be the youngest people there every time. They loved seeing young people like us there, though. We stuck out like sore thumbs. Things have changed a lot since then, too. 

Yeah, it really has. Now, Americana, folk, bluegrass, and roots-style music has become one of the strongest genres for the younger generation here in the US. 
Definitely. It’s totally changed since we first got into it back then. 

Would you say that’s still your favorite genre of music? 
I will always love bluegrass. I think I’d just say that acoustic music is my thing. If you go to a bluegrass festival and you watch some people standing around their tailgate with a banjo, a fiddle, a mandolin, an upright bass, a dobro, and whatever else, and they don’t have amplifiers whatsoever and are straight getting it, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find something better than that. That’s just badass. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best. I love it. I love it because it is what it is; you can take it anywhere and you don’t have to have a bunch of stuff like microphones, PA systems, digital effects, or auto-tune. You just go for it. It’s very organic. 

It’s interesting to think about how old a lot of the instruments used in bluegrass really are. Some of them have existed in some form for centuries. 
Bluegrass music just has a drive to it that I’ve always been attracted to. When I was a kid, I was really into punk rock and metal music—or anything that was loud, heavy, and energetic for that matter—but, honestly, I think bluegrass is a really similar thing. It was just a different generation that started playing it. Once you can get your head around that, it changes everything. You start hearing these guys like the Osborne Brothers, who had a drummer and an electric lap steel player, and you realize that they’re really tearing it up. It’s just badass. Anything Jimmy Martin did is badass, too. He’s one of my favorites. 

Another cool aspect is the comradery. A lot of the times that I’ve seen a bluegrass type of show or concert, all these different people from different bands will jam together onstage just for fun. The whole scene seems pretty tight. 
That was one of the coolest things about Romp Fest [in Owensboro] this year. There were a lot of great guys there playing. David Grisman was there and he’s one of my favorites. When I think of mandolin players, I hear David Grisman’s sound. The way he plays mandolin is amazing. Part of the reason Mandolyn’s name is Mandolyn is because I think the mandolin is one of the most beautiful sounding instruments in the world. In the right hands, man, you just can’t beat a good mandolin player. David Grisman is definitely in the top three best players in the world. One of my latest paintings was of David Grisman and I got to personally hand it to him at Romp, which was really cool. 
When did you first get into artwork and painting? 
I got into painting about three years ago, but I’ve always kind of had a leaning towards art on some level. I never painted, though. What got me into painting was my decision to start working with these guitar cases. I thought I would make a fortune from painting on them, which I would parlay into a hotel chain or some crap. [laughs] At the time I came up with the idea for painting guitar cases, I was just doing spray paint and stencil work. The “Jolly Randy” logo I have—the skull and crossed banjos—was a spray paint stencil actually. I made a lot of little things like that. Then, one day, I was messing around, and I thought, “Man, I bet I would have a lot more control if I tried using a brush.” So, I did, and it changed everything. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t tried it sooner after I started. It really did change everything. 

Was there anything in particular that pushed you to take a step into that new, relatively unknown territory? Was there a muse, so to speak? 
Well, I got all these cases from [late Backstreet Music store owner and talented local musician] Randy Herrick. I was just starting in on these guitar cases right before Randy passed away [in 2011] actually, and I had been doing a lot things with [Plowin’ Todd Cowan and] the Sodbusters at the time, which Randy was a part of. I was having a lot of fun. Then, my mom passed away and Randy died right after that. It was about 19 days after my mom passed. So, I didn’t have that outlet anymore. We all stopped playing. I had to do something. All this crap was coming down at once, it was winter time, and I was stuck in the house. So, I sat down in the basement for three months and just painted. My friend Jeremy, who I mentioned earlier, passed away unexpectedly right around that time, too. He passed away in January. He was only 36. October is when Randy passed away. They were two of the closest friends I ever had, so losing them, as well as my mom, all at the same time, was really hard. Plus, like I said, I didn’t have an outlet to play music anymore, so I had to do something. I just painted. 

Yeah, every time I saw the Sodbusters, you guys seemed really close. 
Yeah, we were definitely tight. We did a lot of stuff together and played a lot together. We went a lot further playing together than I could have ever imagined, too. It was always great. We were like brothers. 

And it was you, Randy…
It was me, Randy, Pat [Ballard], and Todd [Cowan]. Brian Hawkins came in a little later, too, but he was definitely right there with us. He played harmonica and washboard. All those guys are really great. 

So, during that time, did it just feel like all this creativity you had brewing inside was about to explode? 
Pretty much. I was working on these cases and everything, and it just went from there. Some of the first cases I wound up painting were for two kids who lived across the street from Randy. Their mom had bought the cases from Randy at Backstreet Music before he passed, and I knew where they were. They were in the shop. She said she still wanted to have them done, so I got them and painted them for her. 

Were those the very first cases you painted? 
No, the “Jolly Randy” was the first case I ever painted and the second one was of Johnny Cash. Then, I did the Bob Dylan case. It was at that point that I realized I might be onto something really cool. So, I got some canvases, and I painted all the people I really wanted to put on a case – Bob Marley, Cash, Zappa, Dylan, and all the people I really love. That’s really how all of it started. Now, though, I paint simply because I love it. I love to paint. I enjoy the crap out of it. There’s no negativity or sadness to it at all. It gets us into festivals, too, so I’m riding this thing as far as I can. The painting has taken me so much further than music as far as getting out there and meeting people. 

It’s funny, because the case that really got me noticed was an old mandolin case that Todd Cowan gave me. I painted Bill Monroe on it – of course – and I took it to the SPBGMA [Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music Association] festival down in Tennessee, walked around with it all day, and nobody wanted to buy it. Then, at the very end of the day, Danny Clark, who was the marketing director for the International Bluegrass Music Museum [in Owensboro, KY] ended up buying it. He said, “I’ll buy this piece from you, but you have to promise that you’ll come to Romp and sell these.” So, I was like, “Of course I will.” Then, when I was at Romp with my new cases, I got to meet this guy named Ed Ward, who founded the Milwaukee Irish Fest. It’s the largest Irish cultural gathering in North America actually. There were 146,000 people there last year. Well, Ed invited us to come up there and he gave me my own tent right up by the bluegrass stage. It was freakin’ awesome. We had a blast. It was the first year they had bluegrass music at the festival actually. They drove us in and out every day and put us in a nice hotel. It really was amazing. 

Did you end up selling a lot of art there? 
Yeah, I did really well actually. I made some decent money and met a lot of really cool people in the process. 

In my humble opinion, your paintings are really phenomenal, man. I really dig the bright colors you use for figures and instruments. When I see one of your pieces, I know it’s yours immediately. As far as I understand, though, you’ve never actually had any formal education or professional training when it comes to art. Is that correct?
Yep. I’ve never really had any education or training. My uncle is a high school art teacher – he actually taught me when I was in high school – and my sister is a poet. I think it just kind of runs in the family, man. But no, I’ve never had any training to speak of. That doesn’t really surprise me all that much either. I mean, sometimes I step back and say, “Wow, I can’t believe that just came out of me,” but it comes naturally I guess. 

You told me before that you’ve come a long way with brushes and techniques through trial and error. Could you talk about that a little bit?  
I never knew much about brushes, and I still don’t. I still look at basic painting books and think, “Wow, that is awesome. I can’t believe I didn’t know that already.” [laughs

So, what’s your process when approach a new painting?
It always starts so minute. That’s what’s cool about it to me; I’m focusing on these little pieces of what will eventually be the whole. It starts coming together and then I kind of have to focus back in on the little things. It’s always about the tiny parts until the very end. Then I can step back and look at it as one thing. All the little pieces make this huge thing at the end and I love it. It does take me a long time to do it, though. It’s just the way I do it. It probably takes way longer than it would for most. But, you know, I just do my thing, and when I get it right, it’s right. I think a lot of my problem is that I just don’t know proper techniques. I think we’ve talked about this, too, but I tried to paint strings on an instrument with a little tiny detail brush that you couldn’t paint much more than a quarter-of-an-inch at a time with one time. If I had just used the right kind of brush, I could’ve painted one straight line for each string and it would have taken me ten seconds. It took me about four hours, though, and it never looked right, so I just got rid of the strings. [laughs] That one ended up being called “No Strings Attached.” [laughs] I tried at least. 

What’s the most frustrating part of finishing a painting? Are there points where you’re throwing stuff at the walls?
Yeah, there are times like that. Painting is very relaxing, but it can also be super frustrating at times. The worst thing is when there’s a deadline or you’re trying to get something done for someone quickly – like that stupid [John] Lennon case, man. [laughs] That was the hardest thing that I’ve ever painted by far. Seriously. 
Really? Well, it looks great, man. I’m honored to own it. I’m not trying to be a suck-up or anything, but it really is amazing. 
Oh, I hated that case. It drove me crazy. I painted on that one for a month straight. I know I put at least 60 hours of work in on that one—at least. I worked on it every single day when I came home and it changed so many times. Really, if there hadn’t been somewhat of a deadline on it, I would probably still be painting on it, and it wouldn’t be what it is now. But, at the same time, if I never had deadlines, I’d probably never get anything done, and I look at that case now and I think, “Ok, that looks pretty cool.” But while I was doing it, I always felt like it was missing something and couldn’t figure out what it was. I would try something different, but I felt like I couldn’t ever find it. I really struggled with that one. In truth, I always struggle when I’m making something for someone else. When I do it for myself, it’s easier. A lot of the times, I’ll have pieces sitting around that I’m not sure I’ve finished yet, and I’ll hang them up and look at them for a while. I won’t be sure what I want to do with it yet. I might decide to change or add something after I’ve looked at it for a while. If I decide it’s a go as it is, I’ll put a bird in it if it doesn’t already have one, I’ll sign it, and I’ll put clear coat on it. Once the clear coat goes on, there’s nothing else I can do. It’s done at that point. 

It’s funny how that works. If you’re creating something for someone else’s enjoyment or pleasure, it’s so much more stressful. The final product is usually fulfilling, but the process leading up to it can be really hard. When we interview a person or group, and we know them personally or we really respect what they’re doing, there’s a lot more pressure there. You want the person or group you’re writing about to think it’s amazing. It’s a lot different than sitting at home and writing a story for yourself. 
You’re exactly right. I worried and I stressed, because I really wanted that Lennon case to be the best thing I’d ever done. Really, though, I always want everything I do to be “the best thing that I’ve ever done,” you know? If I’m doing stuff that I don’t think is the best, I might as well quit. I want everything to be better. I mean, you can see how my work has evolved over time. I consider the stuff I do now to be pretty simple, but, back when I started, the paintings I made were extremely simple. Everything is a learning process; I’ve learned something from every piece I’ve done. I paint in layers, which is cool, and it works well, but it can get muddy if you’re not careful. It starts getting funky. But it’s all good, because you can just put some white paint over the mistakes and start again. That’s another reason I love painting. If I make a mistake, I can fix it. I really don’t think you can mess a painting up so bad that you can’t fix it. You can just paint the whole thing white and start over completely if you do. 

You said the John Lennon case actually has a few paintings under what you see on the surface, too, right? 
Oh, it’s got several underneath. [laughs

I think that’s pretty cool. 
At some point in the future, if you ever have access to one of those machines that allows you to look through layers of a painting, you’ll see all kinds of stuff under there. [laughs] You know where it says, “All You Need is Love”? Well, before that, it said, “If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace,” and it looked awesome. I thought it was perfect, but, when it was all done, the background color just wasn’t right. When the background is off, you pretty much have to start all over again, so I changed it. I wanted to make something John Lennon would think was pretty cool, you know? I wanted something he would appreciate if he was still alive. I’ve been a huge fan of his forever. 

Are well-known musicians and instruments natural subject matter to you? 
Yeah. That’s pretty much all I paint, because music was really my first creative output. It’s what I’ve done for so many years now. I’m almost 40 now and I started playing when I was 20, so it’s been half of my life. Then, recently, I picked up the paintbrush, and that just underlines the music. It’s just where my mind is at. I mean, almost everything I do has to do with music in some way. I can only think of a couple of pieces that aren’t directly related to music. That’s what I like; that’s where I’m at creatively. Plus, it works out really well in relation to the whole music festival scene. That’s a perfect fit for us, because we get to hang out and sell my stuff to people that appreciate it. I mean, most of the people who buy my art have a beer in their hand and a tattoo on their arm somewhere. They’re not like some high-brow cats in a fancy art gallery. So, I do really well at music festivals. I feel like those people get me. If you’re there to see a music festival, you’re going to get what I’m doing, you know? It works out well. My kids love it and so does Amy, so it’s perfect. 
You do a lot of work on something that resembles raw, un-stretched canvas, too. What led you to start using that kind of material for paintings?
Well, I was given a lot of it several years ago. It’s the brown fabric they use to make the Carhartt clothing out of. It’s perfect, too. You can get different effects with it. Some of my paintings are on a raw piece, but I’ve washed pieces before painting them and it frays the edges a little bit. 

That’s really cool, because Carhartt’s a big part of our local community, but people all over the world wear their clothes. 
Yeah, when we were in Wisconsin, people asked me what it was. I asked them if they knew what Carhartt was and they were all like, “Oh yeah, Carhartt is awesome! Carhartt’s the best!” [laughs] I was like, “Well, that’s what this is. You could wear this painting on your foot for three months and not get a hole in it. It’s badass. It’ll protect you from wolverines and everything else.” [laughs] I love painting on it. It’s really heavy, too. You look at this stretched canvas right here—it’s a joke. You could poke your finger right through it, but that Carhartt fabric is the real deal. 

Before I started painting on that fabric, I was painting on stretched canvas. That stuff is way too expensive, though. I started looking around and I realized that there is crap everywhere to paint on. So, I was painting on old pieces of wood, old metal, and anything else I could recycle in some way. In fact, I really don’t paint on stretched canvas anymore at all. I bought most of the canvas I have a while ago. It just seems ridiculous to me to pay 15 or 20 dollars per canvas. It was once I had started painting on wood and stuff like that that I got the Carhartt fabric. When I tried it, I loved it. I’ve had other artists ask me how I can paint on it, because it’s not stretched, and I guess most artists use an easel when they’re painting. I just lay out on the ground, though. I made a huge banner for these folks one time, and it was like eight by three foot, but I just laid it out on the ground. 

Are your paintings oil or acrylic? 
It’s all acrylic. Everything I do is acrylic. I want to mess with oil paints, but I just haven’t done it yet. I’ve only been painting for three years, so I’m really trying to focus in on the acrylics so I can learn how to use them better. 

With the cases and fabric, do you have to prep or prime them before painting? 
Yeah, I use Gesso. It’s basically just a type of primer. It’s awesome, though, because you can put Gesso on pretty much anything and acrylic paint will stick to it. If I didn’t use that on the cases, none of the paint would stick. I’ve tried it before. I use white Gesso, because when you try to paint on something dark it’s really hard to get the colors right. The white makes the colors pop much better. They make clear Gesso, too. At the end of the day, it just gives the paint something to bite into. I really don’t know what I’m doing, though. [laughs

Ultimately, do you have a goal you’d like to reach through painting? Or is it just something you’re having fun with?
I don’t’ really have a goal. I just want to go wherever I can with it. Like I said, I’ve been really surprised by how far I’ve gotten with it so far. It’s taken me a lot farther than I ever got through playing music. It’s fun and I enjoy it, but it would probably be a hassle if it was how I had to make my living. Although, at the same time, I would love to make a living doing it, because it would beat the crap out of what I’m doing now. [laughs] I just like it and I really enjoy it, man. I don’t care if anybody else likes it; I dig it. I would still do it whether anyone liked it or not. That’s not why I ultimately do it. I’ve got all kind of things I’ve made that are just lying around the house.
The name of your art page on Facebook is Bad Apple Paintwerks. Where did that name come from? 
Amy’s always throwing out names and, if it were up to her, she’d call it something like “Apple Blossom Something or Another.” [laughs] Well, I wanted to take that and make it something a little edgier, and that’s where Bad Apple came from. Basically, I was just wanted to find a way to put all my stuff in one spot where people could look at it online. The Facebook page didn’t cost anything, so that was great. It’s worked out pretty well so far, but you’ve got to put a link to my stuff in here. [laughs] I’m sitting just over 100 likes right now and that’s got to change. [laughs] Seriously! It hasn’t always been Bad Apple Paintwerks, though. Before that, it was Buffalo Pick, which was kind of an inside joke.

You definitely deserve more “likes” than that. We’ll put a link in here and try to get more people on your page for sure. 
Man, in all honesty, you’re the only person in all of Madisonville who’s bought one of my pieces. It’s hard to sell art here. It just feels like there’s something holding people back in Madisonville, but I’m not completely sure what it is. 

Well, that actually relates back to something I wanted to ask you about. Why should people appreciate the talent of local artists and musicians? 
That’s somewhat of a personal question. If you don’t appreciate art, then that’s your deal. You can’t make someone appreciate something like art against their will. And, really, art has no face value by itself; it’s not worth anything on its own. Art’s value comes from the personal connection someone might have to it. For me, it’s pretty easy to say why art is important. If you’re sitting around feeling bad because you’re stuck in one place—which can also apply to the creative part of your brain—art can serve as a vehicle to move forward in a sense. For me, it’s kind of like yoga; I feel better when I’m creating and when I’m not I don’t feel balanced. It’s just something that I have to do. It can be painting or playing guitar—I’ve just got to do something or I’m not as happy as I could be. I’ve got to do it whether someone looks at it or not. But I can’t tell somebody else why it’s important. 

Well, in closing, do you want to give any shout-outs? 
I want to thank Flavor Flav and Chuck D. [laughs] I also want to thank the Hopkins County Art League, because they’re trying to do their thing. I think it’s a good deal. Anybody in town that’s into any kind of art should probably check them out. In doing so, they might meet some great, new people. I met a ton of people through the Art League that have helped me out in other areas as well. There aren’t a whole lot of young people that are members, but I think that could change. If more young people were involved, I think it could bring something new to the table at the very least.  


To check out Pat Harvey’s artwork, visit his official page, Bad Apple Paintwerks, by clicking here.

To learn more about the Hopkins County Art League (HCAL), click here

Sugg Street Post
Writing/Interview by Luke Short
Photos by Jessi Smith

  • Published in Music

Ray Ligon—Touchin’ Folks with Music

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (5/8/13)—Over 40 years of musicianship ain’t too shabby. Add in a compassionate approach to creating and performing inspiring, original songs—as well as some comedy at times—and you’ve got local singer-songwriter and country music mainstay, Ray Ligon.

Distinguished by his powerful vocal talents and articulate acoustic tones on a catalog of both original work and covers, Ray has amassed quite the following in western Kentucky over the years—and he has no intentions of throwing in the towel anytime soon. What’s more, his musical mantra, “It’s all about touchin’ folks with the music,” is alive and well in the music he crafts and the responses he receives from devoted fans.

Want proof? Simply check out any of Ray’s live concert dates, which include a spot at Madisonville’s upcoming Mad Flavor Arts and Music Festival on June 15th.

Yet, what most might not know is that Ray is a military veteran who once sang one of Kentucky’s most well-known tunes—the “Happy Birthday” song—to a Korean teenager and her family while stationed overseas; that he’s a rigorous, longtime supporter of both area civic organizations and charitable events such as the Madisonville Lions Club and WPSD’s annual Telethon of the Stars fundraiser; that he traveled to Atlanta, Georgia earlier this year to audition for NBC’s singing-based series, The Voice; and that he is currently working toward achieving a life-long dream of making a fulltime living from playing his music all over the country, and possibly the world.

Fortunately, myself and area photographer Jeff Harp got the chance to talk with the seasoned performer a couple months ago about the aforementioned facts and much, much more.

Who is Ray Ligon? Where do his passions lie? What does he think about the local music scene? And what does he have in-store for the future? The answers, as well as a few additional photos, can be found below. 

Luke Short: Where are you originally from?

Ray Ligon: I’m originally from Cuba…uh, I mean Miami, Florida. [laughs] I was born in Miami and raised in Hialeah, Florida.

LS: Was this before or after the Cuban Missile Crisis? [laughs]

RL: This was after. I’m not that old! [laughs] I remember it all, though.

LS: When did your relationship with music really begin and how did it develop over time?

RL: My daddy bought me my first guitar when I was 13-years-old. It was an old Sears Silvertone guitar. I wish I still had it, but it got all tore up. I started teaching myself and, at first, I was going from string to string—you know, that silly “Mary had a Little Lamb” stuff. [laughs] Finally, I said to myself, “I need to start using chords,” so that’s what I did. A lot of the other stuff I learned came from other musicians that I knew or liked over the years. Then, from there, I started to develop a style all my own.

LS: Did you ask your dad to get you a guitar or did he just kind of get it for you out of the blue?

RL: I think I was kind of like, “Hey dad, can I get that?” Back then, the Silvertone was like $36 or something like that, you know? So he got it for me and he’s been supportive of my music ever since then.

LS: What’s your dad’s name?

RL: His name is Lowell. I have the same first name actually. Ray is my middle name—Lowell Ray Ligon. My dad was Lowell Dewayne Ligon.

LS: Was there a reason you wanted a guitar? Was there a band that you really liked that made you want to play?

RL: Back then, I was listening to John Denver, James Taylor, and other stuff like that. My dad always had country albums and played country music. I grew up singing in the choirs at church, too. I wanted a guitar because I liked to sing and I wanted to accompany myself.

LS: When was the first time you really ever played in front of people?

RL: I was used to singing in the youth choir, but the first time I ever really played for people was in high school. I was a sophomore and I signed up for the talent show. Before the talent show came up, I was also involved with Campus Life: Youth for Christ. Long story short, I broke this pinky [points to pinky finger on left hand] during one of our events. Well, that’s my chording hand. They drilled two pins through the bone, so I came walking out on the stage for this talent show in high school with a big bandage around my pinky finger. As you can imagine, the whole audience in the auditorium just laughed. I got up there and won first place, though. As a matter of fact, I won first place all three years in high school, so that’s where I started playing in front of people and getting used to it a little bit. Then, right out of high school, I went into the Army. I continued the adventure with music in the Army and continued learning while I was just hanging out.

LS: So you took your guitar with you in the military?

RL: Oh yeah. If I go somewhere, especially if I’m going to be out of town for a little while, the guitar is going with me. It has to.

LS: I’m guessing that you were singing during the talent shows, too?

RL: Yeah, definitely.

LS: So singing is just something that’s always came along with your playing?

RL: For sure. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments over the years. People say they love my guitar playing and what I can do on the instrument, but when I sit back and watch somebody really tear a guitar up, I feel like a rookie—especially the guys that play lead and all that stuff. I don’t do that.

LS: You have more of a singer-songwriter type approach. It’s almost like folk or Americana in a sense.

RL: Yeah, and that’s what I work on. It’s my own style. When I’m playing covers, I try to emulate the original version to do it justice, but I also put a little of my own style on it. As a performer, I couldn’t make it on just my guitar playing. I’d have to be backing someone up or have them backing me up. I also play a 12-string, a couple six-string acoustics, and a six-string electric.

LS: What kind of guitars are they?

RL: My main guitar is a vintage six-string acoustic-electric Alvarez Yairi. I also have a Santa Fe Takamine, another smaller Takamine, a 12-string Ovation, a six-string Sunlight guitar—which is a “learner” but sounds really good—and I have an Epiphone Les Paul electric guitar.

LS: At the end of the day, what do you consider your style of music?

RL: I play country, inspirational country, folk—it’s kind of a James Taylor meets Garth Brooks meets George Strait meets John Denver. It’s my own kind of thing really. People ask me who I sound like and I just have to tell them, “I sound like Ray Ligon.” I mean, I don’t want to sound exactly like someone else. There are too many people out there trying to be just like somebody else right now. I don’t want to do that. I want to be who I am. I want to pursue the dream. Why would I want to sound exactly like another artist? Now, on some songs I might sound similar to another artist. When I play Trace Adkins tunes, I can do it justice; I can sound similar to him. It’s still me, though.

LS: What do you really want to do with music when it comes down to it?

RL: I just turned 55, but I’m still trying to pursue the dream. I’m not necessarily trying to look for a major label or anything like that, but if that happens and it’s all good, I would consider going that route. But I really just want to play music fulltime. I want to run all over the country doing what I love. I’d like to go overseas with the USO to show support for the troops. I would love to give back to the military, because I’m a six-year Army veteran myself.

LS: Where all did you go when you were in the military?

RL: I started out in Fort Knox, KY for my training, went to Fort Lewis in Washington, and from there went to Camp Casey in Korea. Then I came back to Fort Knox, got out for a few months, went back in, and ended up at Fort Bliss in Texas. I’ve been a few different places through the military, including Germany for some exercises. It was cool, too.

LS: I can imagine that you might have picked up some music-related stories along the way, too.

RL: When I was stationed in Korea, President [Jimmy] Carter was in office—it was back in ‘79. I have a vivid memory from back then.

From basic training on, you never forget the sound of your drill sergeant’s cadence, and this particular day, while I’m in Korea, I’m the staff-duty driver, so I’m driving all over the place doing different things. Then, I hear that cadence, and I’m like, “Oh, dang!” Well, I went and looked and there’s drill sergeant Rhoden—he’s not a drill sergeant at this point—but he’s marching troops back to this outfit and I followed him back. I went in there and we talked. We were cracking up. He was a really cool dude. That was the year that South Korean President Park Chung-hee was assassinated and we were on full alert status. I was stationed at Camp Casey, which is about 15 or 20 miles south of the DMZ [demilitarized zone]. So, when they put us on full alert status, I was in armor—the 1st and 72nd Armor over there—and our tanks were fully combat-loaded. All the main gun ammunitions stayed on the tanks. When we got the alert, we had to take the machine guns and mount them, we would grab machine gun ammunition, and we would carry .45 caliber pistols as our sidearms. So, we’re at a DEFCON 3 alert status and we can’t leave; we have to stay in our units. Well, a battalion commander approaches me and another guy who were jamming out down at the recreation center, and he says, “Y’all will be entertaining out troops at the EM Club.” We were like, “Yeah, no problem.” [laughs] We did that and played some other shows, too.

Also, it seems like every unit over there had a Korean photographer running around taking photos and selling them. Well, in my case, the guy’s name was Mr. Kim, and he invited me to his home for his daughter’s 18th birthday party. To me, that was a real honor. He was the only person I could communicate with that was there. [laughs] He told me to bring my guitar and I sang “Happy Birthday” to her in English. Then I just hung out, jammed a little more, and everyone was smiling and shaking hands. It was a pretty cool experience.

LS: Locally speaking, you’re a staple in the music scene. Lots of people know and respect your music. How do you respond to that?

RL: I feel blessed and honored that people dig what I do, and I feel that, as more time goes on, the fan base is building. Last time I played The Crowded House, we had a really good crowd. I play at Rockford’s Place in Greenville from time-to-time, too.

LS: You recorded the album Live at Rockford’s Place there.

RL: That’s a pretty cool album. It was recorded there. They have a sound booth upstairs with recording equipment and they gave me what they had recorded from my set. Then I took that and edited it down. The album came out really cool.

LS: Who are some of the people in the area that you respect and draw influence from musically?

RL: There are so many talented singer-songwriters around this area that I like and respect that it’s hard to mention them all—people like Pat Ballard, James Michael Harris, and Johnny Keyz just to name a few. There are just too many to mention here and in the surrounding counties. I find myself inspired by them because they’re out doing what they love to do. You know, some of them might be getting out a little more than I am, but with me, I’m also trying to find work. That’s why I’d like to be a fulltime musician. Id’ rather be worn out from doing what I love than doing anything else. A job gets in the way of the music, but I’ve got to pay the bills, you know?

LS: What kind of stuff have you been working on lately?

RL: Back in October of 2012, I went down to Beaird Music Group in Nashville, Tennessee and recorded a new song. But let me back up a little bit. My cousin [and country musician] John Berry was down in Nashville for the Inspirational Country Music Awards week and called me up and told me that all the people down there were really cool. He said that I needed to come down there and hang out. At the time, I was still working, so I took a couple of days off and went down there. One of the guys who was there came up to this jam session they were having on the roof of their hotel and he asked me if I was John Berry’s cousin. I told him I was, and he was like, “Well, get up there and play a song.” So I played some of my music and he comes up to me afterwards and says, “I’d like for you to send me some CDs.” I told him, “I ain’t gonna send you squat. I’ll go down to my truck and get some for you right now.” [laughs] Then he emails me a few days later and says that they’re working on a compilation CD and that John’s going to be on it. He said, “Wouldn’t it be a hoot if you were on there with your cousin?” I told him yeah, but I didn’t have a studio-quality track. So, in talking to John, I got hooked up with Beaird Music Group and wound up recording one of my songs called “Into Her Love” with them. I’m really proud of the way it came out. Around Thanksgiving, they sent the compilation CDs out to about 1,200 inspirational country music radio stations. As a result, my music has been played all over the country.

LS: What is “Into Her Love” all about?

RL: I used to live in Nashville years ago and I was running around near the South Loop, which is near the on-ramp to the freeway. Well, there’s a guy that usually stands there with a cardboard sign. Then, this particular day, this guy had written on the sign, “I want beer. Why lie?” That’s all he had on there. [laughs] I got to thinking about that, though. I was wondering what kind of journey the guy had been on and where he was going, and when I tell this story when I’m playing out somewhere people kind of giggle, but it’s a serious song. It’s a song of hope, of love, and of faith. The guy is trying to turn his life around and the family and kids are praying for him. It’s a really cool song when you look at the meaning and message.

LS: Is that a song you recently wrote?

RL: No, I’ve been playing it out for a while. I’ve played it at most of my recent shows. I don’t know how many years ago I wrote. It was probably around 15 years ago or so that I saw this guy and had the inspiration.

LS: What are you looking at for the future of your music? Are you looking to get a new album together?

RL: Well, I would love to have a benefactor. If I could find a benefactor or benefactors to help me follow the dream, I would love to record a full, 10-12 song album.

LS: Throughout your years of playing, what’s been one of your most memorable experiences?

RL: I’ve had a memorable experience that’s been going on for nine years now. As of last November, I’ve been playing for WPSD’s Chanel 6 Telethon of Stars out of Paducah, KY for nine years. It’s in support of the Lions Club and the Easter Seals. The funds they raise go to four different centers that aid those in the four surrounding states [Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee] with special needs. To me, that’s my holiday every year, just hanging out at the telethon. They pick a location, bring in some kids and adults with special needs, and the artists will go in—mostly the headliner and the co-headliners—and they’ll go around signing programs and whatnot. It’s like Christmas to most of them. It’s very humbling. I feel privileged and honored to be a part of it each year. Charlie Katterjohn, who’s a talent producer, saw me performing over at the Kentucky Opry over in Draffenville, KY a little over nine years ago and asked me if I wanted to be part of it. I’ve participated in the telethon every year since, for nine years straight. There’s just something about hanging out with the special needs folks that’s so great. They’re so appreciative and they stay for the entire 15 hours most of the time. You can go to Telethonofstars.org to find out more information. When we went off the air this last time, we were under $400,000, but more money was pledged—and more money always comes in than what was pledged—so now they’re up over $412,000 in the bank. Seeing that is amazing.

There’s a young lady there that I talk to who’s named Tammy Harris that I’ve adopted as my sister, and she calls me her big brother. I always run around during the event meeting people and networking, and a few years back, four or five years ago, right when they had moved the telethon over to the Carson Center, Tammy came up to me—and this was second year I’d seen her—and she hands me this envelope. It was a “Thank You” card with a photo in it of me and her at the autograph session. It was a great card. And here’s the thing—you never know how you’re going to touch somebody’s life just by talking to them. Well, when Tammy and I were talking, she was telling me that one of her close family members, like a godfather to her, had passed away. He was in the military, so I shared some of my Army experiences with her and we talked about how rough of a time it was for her. Then she told me, “When you talk to me, it’s like the weight of the world is lifted off my shoulders.” Heck, that’s the kind of thing that gets you right there. So, afterwards, I went back to the dressing room—and this was the year I was co-headlining—and I passed the card around to the guys who were jamming with me at the time and said, “This is what it’s all about.” There’s actually a song I wrote called “Touchin’ Folks with the Music.”

LS: That’s your mantra too, isn’t it?

RL: Yep, that’s my mantra; touchin’ folks with the music is what it’s really all about. And that situation with Tammy was just one of many where that concept applies. I’m a member of the Kentucky Country Music Association and, about two years ago, I competed in their statewide competition and went on to the nationals over in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I did a couple songs there and one of them was called “Mother Dear,” which is a song I wrote about Alzheimer’s disease. When I was finished and had come back out, this couple who I had been talking to before followed me. Well, the girl had tears just streaming down her face because her daddy had just passed away three weeks earlier because of Alzheimer’s, so I gave them a CD and talked with them. It’s just times like that, you know, what can you say? If I talk about it too much more I’m going to start crying, because I just get choked up. To me, I just want to share the gift I’ve been given—it’s what I love to do and that’s what I want to do all the time.

LS: Is that ultimately what music is all about to you?

RL: Yes, it’s really all about touching people. You know, some people have their own genres that really work for them, but for me it’s about country, inspirational country, some gospel, and other stuff like that. To me, that’s where it’s at. When I listen to music, I want to understand and connect with what’s being said. Not being able to understand what’s being said is a pet peeve of mine. There are even headliners out there in the country world right now and you can’t understand a doggone thing they’re saying. Or, you go to concert and it’s so loud that you can’t understand what’s being said. I don’t want to do that. When I do a concert, I want to be just loud enough. I want my voice to be out there and I want the music to compliment that. I want it all to work together, but it seems like there are so many artists out there that aren’t doing that. So, when I do have an opportunity to go out and play, that’s one of the things I want to do. I want to make sure the people right off the stage are enjoying the music and that the people in the back can hear it. I want to make sure that nobody’s getting their eardrums blasted out.

LS: When you sit down to write a song, what’s your process?

RL: It’s really different for every song. I have lost so many song ideas over the years because I didn’t write them down. [laughs] I had another song idea the other day, but I didn’t write it down. It was so simple, but now I can’t remember. I can kind of remember little things, but I’d have to really sit down and focus on it. There were times back when I was living in Texas when I got out of the Army and was working as a machinist that I would hear a rhythm in the punching machines. I don’t remember which song it was, but I used that beat to back up the lyrics I wrote. There are other times that I’ll get a tune in my head and I’ll go home and try to find it on the guitar. There are times that it all comes together at the same time, too. I’ve had people give me poems that I’ll see if I can turn into a song sometimes. “Heart of Thunder” is a song that was originally a poem written by a friend, and there was a particular piece of music I’d been working on that fit with it pretty well. I didn’t have to change much at all. I haven’t sat down and written a lot lately, but it comes in spurts.

LS: Over the years, I’m sure you’ve accumulated a lot of song ideas. I bet you have a little stockpile somewhere.

RL: I’m an only child, but there have been plenty of families that I’ve been “adopted” into, and I had a “brother” that passed away down in Florida. I got to go down and see him one more time before he passed and I wrote a song for him. I played it out at the Lions Club here in Madisonville, which I’m a member of, and I think I may have played it out at a couple of other places, but I never looked at it as being finished. Well, while I was getting ready for my [NBC’s] The Voice audition in Atlanta, Georgia, I kind of pulled his song out to look over it. For starters, I don’t like doing acapella performances, but that’s what I had to do at the first round at the audition. So, I was trying to gear myself up to put the same amount of feeling into that kind of performance as I do when I have my guitar. So, after I started playing that song that I wrote for my brother and, after I had changed the arrangement a little, I felt like I could really feel the emotion behind it.

LS: How did your attempt at gaining a lasting spot on The Voice come about?

RL: There’s a young lady that lives down in the Nashville area whose name is Wynston Presley. She’s a pretty cool gal. I met her down there one time at my luthier’s shop—the guy who does all my guitar work—and she came in there, we started talking, and she sang some acapella stuff. She’s got a really powerful voice and we became pretty good friends. So, in trying to encourage me, her and her manager both said that I should try to go down to Atlanta and audition together. That’s how that came about. We all went together.

LS: What do you think are some of the positive aspects of the local music scene and how do you think it could be improved upon?

RL: A positive aspect is that we have a mess of awesome artists, awesome performers, and awesome songwriters. That is the positive thing. I would like to see more of the smaller venues around Madisonville and the general region opening up their doors to the singer-songwriter crew. It would be nice to do a larger scale show together every so often. A few years ago, I hosted a showcase of regional musicians at the Glema Mahr Center for the Arts and that was really cool. I would like to do that again sometime.

LS: And that was set up where people could come in and play and sing whatever they wanted?

RL: Right. I’m going to talk to Brad Downall about doing that again sometime soon. I love working with and mentoring younger musicians, too. I’ve played with Savana Poole here in town. She’s an awesome young lady and her mom and dad are very supportive of her. We played a show together at the Hillside Villa and at the Veteran’s Center in Hanson, where her grandfather was, in the same day around Christmas last year. I like doing stuff like that. I like giving back when I can.

LS: I’ve seen you play at the Lions Club a few times, too.

RL: I’ve played a mess of funerals, weddings, city events, and this, that, and the other over the years. I’ve had weddings where I’ve written a song for a specific theme.

Back when the Acoustic Café used to be open in Madisonville, I was a regular there. There was a lady named Marsha Coke from the Glema Center who came out and she brought her mom and dad. Her dad was suffering from Alzheimer’s and rarely left the rest home at the time, but he came to the show and I did “House of the Rising Sun.” After I got done playing that song, her dad came up to me and shook my hand and didn’t want to let go. Finally, they came and got him and went back to the table. Well, eventually, he passed away. So, they asked me to play at his funeral, and one of the songs they wanted me to do—because he had a really good time seeing me play it before and it was, as they said, the happiest he’d been in years—was the “House of the Rising Sun.” I played that and “Amazing Grace,” but that was probably the strangest song I’ve ever played at a funeral. I explained it to the people working with the funeral home and they understood, because it was special to his kids and his wife. It was just the last time he’d been able to have a really, really good time, so that made me feel really good. I do those kind of things for my heart, not for money.

There’s this song on Shenandoah’s 2000 album called “The Booger Song”, and it’s not something you’d want to play at a restaurant. [laughs] Well, I’m what you'd call a fulltime part-timer at the Glema Mahr Center, and one year a few years back, I was helping out with the Summer Arts Academy. So, this one day, they asked me to bring my guitar and play a few songs for the kids. I was like, “No problem.” Then, the next day, they’re all sitting there on the stage, I get up on a stool and I’m singing all these songs, and then I do “The Booger Song.” You get three different reactions here: one is “Huh?” another is “Ewww!” and another is laughter. [laughs] Most of them were cracking up, though. Then we went out front for pizza and one of the young men came up to me and said, “Mr. Ray-Ray,” which is one of my nicknames, “that booger song was inappropriate.” [laughs] It was funny, man. There are a lot of little things like that that have happened over the years that make it fun.

LS: So, what’s in the future for Ray Ligon?

RL: I would like to get to a point that I’m so busy with music that I don’t have to worry about a day job; a place where I can more than pay my bills. I want to be so fulltime that I can travel. I want to get a band pulled together eventually or some session players that I can get a schedule worked out with. I’d love to get a tour going where I can open up for someone, but it’s got to be right. I kind of feel like I’m in between a rock and a hard place, because I want it all so bad, but I’m so covered up with life and work and a job and this, that, and the other, that the music can sometimes seem like it's only a small portion of my life. It truly makes the music suffer. There are a lot of times you come home and are ready to sit back and relax instead of writing and practicing, you know? Then, on the other hand, I think about the success stories of other artists I’ve heard over the years: “Yeah, I moved to Nashville and lived in the back of my car for a month, but now I’ve made it.” Then I think that I have no room to complain. It’s a two-sided thing. I praise God for what I have, the talent he’s given me, and the desire I have to do it, but I just want more opportunities to get out and do it. I’d like to have three of four things every week, or more if I could. I’d like to branch out all over the world. I’d like to get to a point where I’m doing so well with music that I can help others, whether it’s in their dream of pursuing music or in their personal life. I’d like to be able to help the Lions Club out more, especially with their civic pursuits.

Locally, I’d like to see smaller venues opening up to entertainers during the week—not just on the weekend. Another thing I’d like to see are more family-oriented venues opening up. Places can still sell alcohol, while remaining family-friendly, like the Crowded House for example.

LS: In closing, feel free to say anything else you’d like.

RL: Well, I just want to say “Thank You” to all the fans who support what each and every performer around here likes to do. I’m just one of many in this area. We have a mess of great musicians and artists out here that deserve respect and support. All of us should have the respect and support here in our hometown. There’s a lot of great talent out there. I’d like to see that happen more and I’d like to be doing even more with music. I just want to live my life playing music.

To learn more about Ray Ligon and his music, visit his official site at www.RayLigon.com. You can also find Ray on Facebook.

To hear Ray’s music, click the ReverbNation player attached below this video or follow one of the following track links:

“Touchin’ Folks with the Music”
“It Feels Right”
“Mother Dear”

Sugg Street Post
Writing/Interview by Luke Short
Photos by Jeff Harp and Jessi Smith


  • Published in Music

Creating Community with Electric Synergy

MADISONVILLE, KY (4/18/13)—Technically, we experience synergy to some degree every day. Yet, every so often, we dig right into the exceptional reality of the term. And it is in these rare instances, when just the right mix of timing, emotion, and situation intermingle, that we truly experience what it means to collectively create something amazing, something that reaches into a shared consciousness both within and beyond our sense of individuality. It’s an electric sensation that reminds us that we’re human, that we were once a civilization rather than a menagerie of disjointed beings basking in the pale blue glow of smartphone screens. It creates an undeniably powerful buzz within us and those in proximity, and it is usually so striking that what was perhaps only a brief moment in time—at least in relativity—may impress upon us a lifelong stamp of consideration for our potential as a single race.

It may at first sound like the ranting of a lunatic, but coin these remembered, hindsight moments as “nostalgia” or “the good ol’ days” and it all begins to make perfect sense.

In the opinion of this writer, modernity and all its intricate, fast-paced trappings are paradoxically stifling and furthering the frequency with which these collectively cathartic moments manifest. Social media and other forms of publicly accessible mass communication are powerful tools for distributing ideas and creativity, but they can also keep us at odds; they can keep us faceless and disconnected, prostrate in mindless entertainment, while ironically connecting us in ways we would have never imagined 20 years ago. Whereas mail once took weeks, or even months, to reach its recipient, we can now send messages to the other side of the globe instantaneously. At the click of a button, we may purchase the latest pair of designer jeans or we can spark a revolution, and therein lays the terror of the modern generation’s responsibility. It’s up to us whether we use what we have at our disposal for the progression of communal thought or for the bliss of ignorance.

Fortunately, there are many who understand this concept and are actively utilizing the technology-bound power we all wield for the betterment of our species. They are creating real events where people can not only interact, but can share and synergize with other like-minded people, and they’re using technology to spread the word.

Yet, no matter how much a person or group may plan an event, the role of those participating—and how much they actually participate—as well the circumstances that are ultimately involved, are always the uncontrollable variables in this equation. They are the anomalous factors no individual or organization can completely gauge beforehand. With this in mind, those who take the time and initiative in hopes of achieving such a collaborative communal effect deserve our applause more so. Why? Because much of their fuel is a mix of blind faith and ambition.

Fortunately, as a writer and general community supporter, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing and being a part of these electrically-charged moments several times over the past few years—and they’ve almost always been sparked by the talents of creative people.

Thankfully, I was able to be a part of this effect once again this past Saturday, April 13th, in Madisonville, KY at Legends Bar thanks to the efforts of local rock band, gypsyLifter, and a handful of other local performers.

With the promise of 100 free beers, a striking lineup of “guest” performers, and the mission of simply having a good time standing as the impetus for participating, over 250 people turned out at the venue throughout the four-and-a-half-hour set with high hopes—and they weren’t disappointed.

As the night rolled on, talented performers like Pat Ballard and Johnny Keyz (aka PB&J), Mollie Garrigan, Vince Bedwell, Chris Branstetter, Cody Melton, and Even Faulk, as well as some new groups formed partially by members of gypsyLifter—Toredown/Brown (Landon Miller, Kyle True, and Matt Parker) and The Dead Sea Squirrels (myself, Jessica Dockrey, Landon Miller, and Randy Stone)—took to the stage alongside one another as friends and collaborators rather than rivals.

And while I’ve been to similar events in the past—ones where everyone hopes to work together effectively—Robert Burns’ quote says it best: “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” To put it bluntly, sometimes things just click organically and sometimes they don’t, a fact that is especially true with artists and musicians. It’s just the way of fate. Fortunately, this event was that of the former, and the people in attendance became just as much a part of the performances as those under the swirling, iridescent lights of the stage. Friends were there showing support with claps and yelps; strangers applauded from behind raised, ice-clinking glasses; revelers swayed and nodded in time adjacent to the onstage monitors; and a horde of respect was shared by all those involved.

Though I can’t personally speak for everyone there that night, the event will personally go down in my memory banks as one of the best times I’ve ever had creating something beautiful with the help of other, like-minded people.

Pat Ballard, a seasoned musician and supporter of local artists and performers—a man who partially inspired me to get on stage for the first time this past Saturday night—leaned over during the first portion of gypsyLifter’s multi-part set and told me, “When I walked in the door tonight, I felt like I was walking into a community that I truly belonged to.”

And that’s what it’s all about.

Though there were a bevy of talented musicians from our town and region who weren’t able to attend the show, there’s no doubt in my mind that what we shared was just as much a part of their spirit as our own.

As residents of Madisonville and Hopkins County, we should never take what we have right here in our community for granted. It’s not just musicians either. It’s an eclectic group of artists; it’s a variety of non-profit organizations; it’s volunteers; it’s rich history; and it’s unique culture. It’s here at our fingertips, but it’s up to us to energize the beast and bring it to life.

Sugg Street Post
Written by Luke Short
Photos by Jessi Smith

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