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After Brick Herndon died, the Handlebar-J stage was set with a country band that played quiet classics in a most amiable fashion. Ray decided it was time to pack it up at Mr. Lucky's and he returned to the family business on the corner of Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road. Ray, his brothers and a couple of pals formed the Herndon Brothers Band. It was quite a departure from the gentle group which had been the Handlebar-J's house band previously. The Herndon Brothers' sound was more than just rockabilly-edged: It was loud. That's what most frightened the boys' mother, Gwen, who had been running the club almost single-handedly since Brick's passing.
"When she first heard us," Ray chuckles at the recollection, "her eyes got real big. She was very worried that we'd chase away her regulars and the people who were eating dinner." Instead, the band proved to be a big hit, luring large numbers of younger patrons who liked the group's contemporary, guitar-happy take on country-western sounds and Ray's polished lead-singer vocals.
As Ray's involvement with Lovett increased, however, his appearances with the Handlebar-J's homegrown house band dwindled. Between his road and studio work with Lovett, Ray found himself out of town more than in. Now with the ever-touring McBride and the Ride, Ray has had to reduce his involvement with the Herndon Brothers Band to the occasional one- or two-set performance.
"I miss it a lot, and that's a fact," Herndon admits. "I love playing at the Handlebar and with the boys. But success has been good for all of us, I think, and especially for the bar."
The catalyst for this last, major change in Ray Herndon's professional life came about just three years ago in Nashville, during the colorful summertime schmooze-and-sell fest called "MCA Fan Fair." This very popular, corn-pone affair finds that label's country-western stars ensconced in self-decorated booths, chatting with fans and colleagues and taking part in all-day concerts. It was during 1989's edition that superproducer Tony Brown (Lovett, Marty Brown, Kelly Willis) first summoned the trio together and said, "Let's hear some three-part harmonies." A band was born, with Tony Brown (along with Steve Gibson on Sacred Ground) turning the knobs. Ray Herndon is ecstatic with Brown's involvement.
"Tony Brown's the new ears of country music," enthuses Herndon. "Call it 'new traditionalism' or whatever, we're lucky to have him on our side. First, he introduces us during Fan Fair three years ago, and now we have our own booth. It'll have the McBride logo and a Harley-Davidson theme. Hopefully, we'll have a big ol' Harley inside."
Still, while Ray Herndon professes contentment at his current state of musical affairs, just how much longer will he be happy just going along for the Ride?
"Hey, I'm not worried about that now," he says with a wave of a hand. "I'll sing someday. You know, Terry wrote most of those songs; I guess he should sing them." Although a solo career may be in his future, other concerns have captured his attention for the time being. Topping his list of immediate priorities is the nurturing of his recent marriage to longtime companion Karri. The honeymoon was rather brief, however.
"We got married at the Little Chapel of the West in Las Vegas, and then went back to Nashville. It was a two-day turnaround," he laughs, shaking his head. "Man, it's been some kinda year."
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