Merrol Ray — Happiness to the ear!

| March 14, 2018 | Reply

First printed in Paris News   Story By Mary Jane Farmer; Photos by Joe Watson
Happiness is listening to Merrol Ray. Merrol has been making people happy through
his music for decades… well maybe not dozens of decades, but a couple or so
anyway.
Miles From Nowhere was Merrol’s band’s name when it took top honor in the Shiner
Rising Star band contest. And then there was Merrol Ray & The Regulators. And
now, Merrol said, he’s only playing solo. However he brings the music, it’s music
from the heart, born of substance, and delivered with country-boy charm.
Merrol writes most of his own songs, then perks them up with his guitar licks,
whether he’s on his electric or, more often nowadays, his acoustic Fender Tim
Armstrong Hellcat. With the bands, Merrol (and that’s pronounced ‘Merle’ as in
Haggard) was constantly on the electric, but now, “I just sit around and pick on the
acoustic guitar. I’m improving on my acoustic performances,” he said.
He said he plays, mostly now, for benefits, “I don’t ever mind doing those,” for
songswaps, and at The Depot in Paris and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill in
Thackerville.
Battle with diabetes
One obstacle Merrol has fought to keep active in music is his Type 1 diabetes, which
he’s lived with and has had to treat for about those same two or so decades. “If (my
blood sugar) is high, I have to have a shot. If it’s low, I have to eat. It’s a constant
chase to keep my blood sugar even. I have to give myself morning and evening shots
(of insulin). I take two kinds of insulin.”
He said he would like to know about any Diabetes 12-step type support groups
around the area; but if none can be found, he’s strongly considering starting one
himself. “With new technology to treat diabetes, I just bet I could learn from others,
or maybe share what I do know about treatment. I’ve gotten to know a couple of
kids with diabetes. They kinda look up to me, and I’m sure willing to encourage
them along.”
His Facebook profile, Merrol Ray, using personal message, is a good way to get and
stay in touch with Merrol.
Songwriting
Songwriting is in his blood. That’s got a sideways mention in the first worship song
he wrote, called “My King,” a home video of which is on his Facebook. Don’t even
know if he meant the comparison, but in it Merrol sings, “You make my heart to
sing.”
Another selfie-style video shows him and Tim Craig with another newer song, “Only
You,” with Merrol on that Hellcat and Craig on fiddle. “We were just jamming
around, basically, when we recorded that.” And then he and Craig videoed “Lean On
Me” with Craig playing his dobro lap steel.
“That’s my personal favorite new song,” Merrol said as he strummed that guitar
while talking. “I like the second-to-last verse. ‘We’re burning our bridges down.
Ashes roll away with the water flow. We’re making our own way now, but we’re not
really sure which way to go.’ I kinda write with double meaning. This could apply to a special relationship or to our country and to the world. It seems more heavy than a
relationship, more kinda the shape of the whole world right now.
And Merrol sang the song. As the lyrics move on, it advances to carry more
meaning. He kept plucking the guitar and singing, “It can be better than it was
before.”
“I’ve got a bunch of songs, where if I was going to do a record I could finish it. I have
two left over from the past record. A lot of stuff I have got that’s new to people is not
really new to me.
“It takes a couple of rounds to get it (a new song) in the pocket. When I record it, it
may be entirely different than now, I may use that one lick more sparsely.”
For now, though, he’s writing for enjoyment.
“I don’t care anything about hitting the road any more,” Merrol said, remembering
the days he and the bands traveled all those miles into the Metroplex or into
Oklahoma. “Unless I was big and maybe opening for the bigger acts. Or if I had a
guitar tech and a sound guy, maybe so,” and the smile accompanied his words. “But
for now, just a song at a time, for fun.”
All through these years, Merrol, like most musicians, has had his day job, that of
construction, installing windows, painting. He has two rescue dogs and a rescue cat,
which he said “runs with the dogs.” And he said, “I play a lot of golf. I love it, have
since probably 2000, when I gave up my full-time drinking career and took golf up
as a new habit. I used to could walk 18 holes. Now, I can still walk nine on a cold day.
Is the heat, not so much. My health (diabetes) even affects that. Me and Wheezie
(friend) will play 18 and rent a cart. I can still whack that ol’ ball pretty far.”
Merrol said he got his first guitar when he was 13 years old, and his mom “signed
me up at 14 for eight guitar lessons, for $64, from Gary Huggins. I took those lessons,
and ate, slept, and breathed music. I was into the long hair and heavy metal until
about ‘82 or somewhere about then. My first job was with Mike Benningfield, who
let me play in his band because I knew the bass player. Mike was a teacher in high
school. I always liked Hank Jr., but he got me into George Strait, too.” Dwight
Yoakum figured into those earlier years, moving Merrol to different treasures. “He
had kind of a hard edge on his music,” Merrol said. In the 1990s, “I got into the
country singers like Clink Black. I didn’t really discover the Texas scene until we
went to Nashville to record.” That recording was one of the prizes Miles From
Nowhere won in the Shiner Rising Star contest. “I signed management with Rick
Alter, Chris Knight’s manager. I’m not with him, or anybody now, but did go back to
visit him in Nashville. I figure I’ve opened now 27 times for Chris Knight. We were
almost Nashville and Texas combined.”

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