Life is a not a 100 yard dash, it is a marathon with many hurdles along the way.
I have already posted about one of my classmates, Jeryl Hensley
, who was the Hugh Hefner of Atlanta during the 1970's. Numerous sources document his rise and fall. He name always comes up when my Bass High Class of 1963 meet.
Another classmate of mine went on to fame and fortune and then the inevitable crash and burn. He was a senior when I was in the 10th grade but I knew him well. He dated one of my neighbors, Cheryl. Almost everybody knew he was destined for some form of celebrity. He was the dominant talent at all the Bass High talent shows. He was an extremely shy guy in person but when he got on stage or starting singing the charisma showed through.
His high school picture does not begin to tell the story. His caption was simply "Silence alone is Great" and his credits were B Band 3, A Band 4,5.
I got to know him well when he would come over to Cheryl's house and sit on the front porch and play his guitar and sing his songs. His name was Ray Whitley. We jammed a bit as I was learning to play the guitar but I knew that he had that something special.
Ray Graduated in 1961 from Bass and was soon discovered by Atlanta record producer Bill Lowry. He went on to write and record some of his songs but he really hit it big when The Tams recorded Be Young be Foolish
then What Kind of Fool
and I've Been Hurt
, all of which went on to be big hits.
When I returned from Vietnam, there was a coffee house on West Peachtree called the Bistro, where many celebrities would play. I saw Jimmy Buffett, Billy Ed Wheeler and many others there. Ray Whitley was a staple there and many of us old Bass Warriors would go to see him and drink Beer.
He eventually moved to Nashville and I lost track of him. He wrote songs for Tommy Roe, Joe South, and Billy Joe Royal. He was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of fame in 1991.
In 2008, I moved to Gainesville, Georgia area which is just about 50 miles north of Atlanta. One day I while riding in the car I tuned to a local radio station See Their story about Ray here WDUN Radio
and they had a feature about Ray Whitley. He was living in a homeless shelter in Gainesville.
I did not think much about it at the time but it kept tugging at me that such a talented man had hit bottom. I finally got up the nerve to go visit him. I'm not sure he remembered me (50 years of booze, drugs and rock and roll will do that to you ----I'm not sure what my excuse is though). We talked a bit and he had an old guitar and played some of his old songs. The spark was there but the flame had died. I stopped by a couple of times and brought a few things that he said he needed. I did not take this picture but here is Ray and another homeless man in 2012.
Two years ago, I was talking with another Bass Classmate and they said they heard that Ray had passed. I cannot say it was a surprise but I shared a few tears, then opened ITunes on my IPhone and started The Tams album. Boy that man had a way with words and to some degree he lived some of his songs. "Be young, Be foolish, Be happy". He seemed to be the last time I saw him.
Robert Ray Whitley, 69
William A. Bass Class of 1961
November 22,1943 - May 5, 2013
Passed Away: 05/05/2013
Robert Ray Whitley, better known as Ray Whitley, passed away on Sunday, May 5, following several months of illness. Ray was born in Columbus, Georgia, November 22, 1943 to Robert S. and Willie Bell Whitley.
Ray was a successful singer, songwriter and performer in Atlanta during the 60's and 70's, making the Billboard Charts many times with songs he wrote which were performed by the well known group, The Tams. He also wrote for singers Joe South, Billy Joe Royal and Tommy Rowe.
A member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Ray was probably best known for his songs, "What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am", "Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy" and "Hey Girl, Don't Bother Me". His songs are still played around the world today.
Ray is survived by his son Christopher, his sister Jane Whitley Jenssen, and his brother, Donnie Whitley and 2 Grandchildren.
A memorial service for Ray will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 in the Chapel of Little & Davenport Funeral Home in Gainesville, Georgia.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Good News at Noon, 979 Davis Street, Gainesville, Georgia 30501.
Those wishing to make online condolences may do so at www.littledavenport.com.
Little & Davenport Funeral Home 355 Dawsonville Hwy., Gainesville, GA 30501 is in charge of arrangements.
Update May 3, 2017
As we approach the fourth anniversary of Ray's passing, the comment below appeared all the way from Tim Hollingworth in the United Kingdom. I have corrected the original post to remove the picture and reference to a Ray Whitley guitar which I saw on Ebay. It turns out that was for the other Ray Whitley who was a country singer. Tim has started a WIkipedia page for Ray Whitley of Atlanta as well as setting up a Website for Ray. Ray Whitley
Thanks Tim. I would also note that the power of music is incredible indeed. It reached all the way to the shores of England and touched a you boy. That proves to me that a person's reach goes way beyond their close circle of friends and relatives.