He still has the accent. Ten years after leaving Nashville to return to Ohio, Ray Starr still talks in a slow, southern twang.
“Yeah, people always ask me where I'm from,” he says. “I tell 'em `I'm from Toledo.'”
Starr is 62. For 20 years, he lived on the road, playing shows with Hank Williams, Jr., Conway Twitty, Johnny Paycheck, Merle Haggard, Mel Tillis. He was the warm-up act for the stars.
He got his break back when he was spending his weekends playing at the Continental Inn (now the Stoney Ridge Inn) in the early '70s. He wrote and recorded “You Can See the Devil in Her Eyes.” It was popular enough to be played on radio stations across the country, and booking agents thought he was good enough to send on the road until he had had enough and returned to Toledo in 1993.
By his recollection, he's probably played in most states.
“My wife and kids traveled with me until my son was 6. He was raised on a Greyhound bus,” Starr says.
Starr, Chuck Dockery, Johnny Andrews, and Danny Williams make up Country Justice. They're the new house band for Brad's Place on Telegraph Road. The tavern is a small setting tucked in a strip mall, but on a recent Saturday, it was filled with cowboy hats and line dancers. The bar used to specialize in karaoke, but Country Justice now will be playing Friday and Saturday nights.
At a time when the city is losing its country bars, it's a glimmer of hope, but Starr has no illusions. He's not the first to lament that the city has few places for a country artist to play. Toledo is not the place it used to be when he left to follow his dream in Music City.
“I remember years ago before I left, there was a country bar on every corner. You could work a different place every night. There were a lot of good pickers then,” he says, a bit wistfully. “Anymore, bands around here don't try to do anything professional, as far as trying to go somewhere. They work weekends and seem to be content with that.”
Again, he offers a familiar refrain - that a nice club downtown could be a success and that it could rekindle the interests of the region's talented musicians. For now, Country Justice is doing its part at Brad's Place. I wish them success.
IF YOU'RE looking for somewhere to go on New Year's Eve, radio personalities Craig Snyder and Cliff Smithers of WKKO-FM (99.9) are hosting a party at the SeaGate Centre. Tickets are $30 in advance, $40 at the door, and can be purchased at the box office or by calling 419-321-5007.
There will be prize giveaways, party favors, a champagne toast at midnight, and entertainment by Nashville recording artist DeWayne Spaw.
KEITH URBAN is the latest artist to commit to performing at this year's Country Concert in Fort Loramie, Ohio. It's early in the booking process, but other acts scheduled include Kenny Chesney, Trick Pony, Travis Tritt, Tracy Byrd, Neal McCoy, and Joe Nichols. The four-day festival begins July 10, and tickets may be ordered online at www.countryconcert.com or by calling 937-295-3000.