Frank Ray and Cedar Hill

Road to Raleigh:

The Official Ozarks Send-Off

September 22, 2021

On September 24, NoteWorthy Music is honored to showcase Mountain Fever recording artist Cedar Hill as the premiere of our new concert series, Queen City Bluegrass.

NoteWorthy Music Presents: Queen City Bluegrass | Cedar Hill @ The Celler Sept. 24
Cedar Hill: (L-R) Pete Brown, Patti LaFleur, Frank Ray, Dalton Harper, Bill Cross | Photo by Kady Carter

Now with reduced price tickets ($15 advance, $20 DOS), the show will be at SBC’s The Cellar in Springfield, Missouri, at 7 pm, with special guest The Finley River Boys, a celebrated local bluegrass band. Iconic broadcaster Mike Smith (the Bill Monroe of Ozarks bluegrass broadcasters) of KSMU’s Seldom Heard Music will emcee the show. In addition, NoteWorthy Music sponsor, The Acoustic Shoppe, owned by the family-band, The Chapmans, will provide door prizes—including gift cards, instrument care items, and apparel. When we thanked Jeremy Chapman for this generous gesture, he said, “It’s part of our mission statement to ‘support acoustic music in the Ozarks’ and we see [the Queen City Bluegrass series] as a great way to do that.”

“We are really excited for the event, and especially getting to play on the same show with Cedar Hill. They are a superb group that we have shared a few events with recently and so happy to be with them on this show. They represent the finest in bluegrass in this part of the country and are also just great people.” ~Brad Reynolds of The Finley River Boys

The Finley River Boys
The Finley River Boys | L-R Brad Reynolds, Brett Dudenhoeffer, Alan Johnston, Bill Crider

Mountain Fever recording artist Cedar Hill is led by Ozarks-native Frank Ray who has been the recipient of numerous great honors during his impressive career. He was inducted into the National Traditional Country Music Association Hall of Fame in 2008, from which he also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018, and in 2019 was inducted into the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA) Hall of Greats as well as chosen as a Pioneer of Missouri Bluegrass by the Missouri Bluegrass Preservation Association.

Cedar Hill has received numerous awards and accolades, both individually and as a group, during its long-lasting career. The band has stayed consistent and true to its Ozarks roots with its signature emotional brand of bluegrass music with the talents of Frank Ray on mandolin and vocals, Bill Cross on banjo and vocals, Pete Brown on fiddle and vocals, Patti LaFleur on bass and vocals, and Dalton Harper on guitar and vocals.

“Frank Ray is a living, breathing Ozarks legend and a walkin’ talkin’ encyclopedia of bluegrass music and the instruments it’s played on. He’s one of the most respected writers in the business, as indicated by his multiple SPBGMA Songwriter Of The Year Awards and his well deserved 2019 induction into SPBGMA’s Hall Of Fame.

“Frank Ray and Cedar Hill represent some of the very best bluegrass to ever come out of the Ozarks.” ~ Mike Smith of KSMU’s Seldom Heard Music

Mike Smith | Photo by Steven Spencer
Mike Smith | Photo by Steven Spencer

We reached out to Frank who was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us.

NWM: Please introduce yourself, briefly, as a musician and human of Earth.
Frank: My name is Frank Dallas Ray. Named for my grandfather and father who both played music. My grandfather traveled throughout the Ozarks while both playing the fiddle and calling square dances. Also, my parents were FDR fans, as were many during the Great Depression. My personal political affiliation is not influenced by my initials 😉

I have many interests and enjoy traveling while never getting tired of God’s wondrous creation. I feel very blessed that music has afforded me the opportunity to do and experience many things and places that I likely would not have except through my music.

Frank Ray | Photo by Kady Carter
Frank Ray | Photo by Kady Carter

NWM: You are the creator of Cedar Hill, the traditional bluegrass band from the Ozarks in Arkansas and Missouri, formed almost 50 years ago in 1972. Though the band itself has changed over the years, you have always remained true to the roots of Ozarks bluegrass music.

Please tell us about the band and your traditional sound—what Ozarks bluegrass music means and also if you ever consider coloring outside of those lines.
Frank: Cedar Hill has always been made up of the five mainstay instruments and much of the time with a sixth member on the resonator guitar. I always try to stay with members who have a similar background as me, which I feel adds a little solidarity or cohesiveness to the music because it is easier for them to get where I am coming from and the direction I want to go with Cedar Hill music.

I am extremely pleased with the members now. We are all very familiar with each other and how we feel the music, so it usually isn’t very difficult to come together on a brand new song. I have a saying I repeat often with my group, and that is there are only two ways to make music: The first is to ‘imitate,’ which everyone does to some degree. The second is to ‘create,’ which I believe should be the bulk of what we do. Come up with our own stuff, what comes out of you instead of someone else. Be it good or be it not so good, it is what God put in you. It is original.

I am extremely pleased with the members now. … It usually isn’t very difficult to come together on a brand new song.

I feel it is important for me to stay real in the music I produce. That means music that I feel an emotional attachment to, or I feel is exciting for both the listener and me. If that takes me outside the so-called boundaries a bit, so be it. But to be sure, my Ozarks roots are innate in me and that is true for the way I feel music. So being true to myself is going to naturally align with who I am, which is the son of parents raised in the Ozarks during some very hard times. I feel some of the most honest music there is has been spawned or influenced by difficulty.

NWM: The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) has just announced that Cedar Hill has been chosen as an IBMA Official Showcase Artist and will perform during the IBMA Bluegrass Ramble September 28-October 2, 2021, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Please share a little of what it means to receive this accolade of Official Showcase Artist in the IBMA’s biggest live performance of the year.
Frank: Of course it is a great honor to be acknowledged by the mother organization of bluegrass music. I have had the honor of playing it before and was quite surprised when Cedar Hill was once again chosen to showcase there. I am deeply honored and always humbled and awed by accolades of any kind because I feel I never quite measure up to what I am really striving for.

Cedar Hill | Tend to My Flowers

NWM: Cedar Hill’s touching new single, ‘Tend to My Flowers,’ is about the subject of aging, specifically Alzheimer’s disease.

Please tell us about the conception and creation of this song and its significance to you personally.
Frank: This is such a ‘real’ song. It was written by a doctor friend of mine who is all too familiar with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. My wife also spent several years working in a nursing home. This is a story that is played out thousands of times all over the world, and there is hardly anyone who hasn’t been touched by it. The fact that this dementia victim left this world feeling she was receiving the answer to her request brings on a feeling of happy tears.

NWM: We often like to ask seasoned bluegrass players for their thoughts on ‘truegrass’: Where is the line—or is there a line—between paying homage to the early greats and embracing the evolutionary alchemy of styles and genres?

Frank: I believe the genre of bluegrass music just might evoke more actual honest-to-goodness feelings through true-to-life situations and circumstances than any music I’m aware of. Therefore, to stay true to the genre, the music must stay real to life.

The emotive singing of the pioneers in many cases I feel will never be bested …

There is certainly a natural evolution to the music. Each generation progresses with the mechanics of playing the instruments simply because they have what those before them have created to draw from, plus they are continuously adding new innovations of their own.

However, having said that, the emotive singing of the pioneers in many cases I feel will never be bested because it is real and came straight from their heart. All too many newcomers are singing beautifully, but with all the rough edges sanded off. The singing is very smooth, perfectly on pitch, and all the right qualities, but by sanding off those rough edges, you often remove the heart of the music and lose the soul of the message.

NWM: What’s next for Frank Ray and Cedar Hill?
Frank: Of course we all know the best laid plans are always subject to change. It’s my plan to take on more bookings in the upcoming year and in general play as much as I can as long as I can. I hope to do that with the current lineup of players. Not only are they good musicians, but they are great people to work with. They are a creative group, and it seems we do well at feeding off each other. And it’s pretty easy to stay inspired with them.

Don’t miss Cedar Hill in the premiere of NoteWorthy Music’s Queen City Bluegrass

For more about Mike Smith, read our Mike Smith: A Music Seldom Heard, also published in Bluegrass Unlimited

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