Twine Time Host Paul Ray Dead at 73

Deejay, singer, and soul scholar had been hospitalized since November

Saturday night in Austin will never be the same. Paul Ray, who shared his enlightened taste in vintage soul, blues, and R&B here in the capital city every week since 1979 for KUT and KUTX on Twine Time, has died at the age 73. The latter frequency made the announcement just before 3pm this afternoon that the beloved deejay died earlier today.

Paul Ray in the KUTX studio February 2015 (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

“We all worship him and his show, and he’s about as sweet a human as I have ever known,” offered KUTX deejay Jody Denberg in December when news broke that Ray had been hospitalized with an undisclosed illness.”

The Austin Music Hall of Fame deejay’s knowledge of American music was beyond encyclopedic. He could tell you who played each instrument on any given song in addition to which label put it out and what year it was released. Ray’s exquisite playlists of singles, both immortal and obscure, from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies were the intimate soundtrack of his life and as a musician turned deejay.

The Dallas native’s early musical obsessions were documented in the Chronicle’s now iconic “Men of KUT” cover package by the paper’s former Music news maven, Christopher Gray:

Ray, it seems, was born into R&B. He can remember boogying to Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens” and Dusty Fletcher’s “Open the Door Richard” as a toddler, and there’s no telling what he heard while the memory circuitry in his cerebrum wasn’t formed yet.

“They say you don’t remember anything until you’re 3 or 4,” he says. “I remember songs from before that, but I don’t know them as well. Some of that earlier R&B stuff is just stuck in the back of my head.”

As one of 12 children, Ray had plenty of siblings around with radios and record players, and he was fortunate enough to live in an area of the country perfectly situated to pick up stations from just about anywhere.

“Living in Dallas, we could pick up Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, Shreveport, Acuna, Mexico, Nashville,” he recalls.

On top of that, music was in his genes; his father and uncles played live on the radio in Dallas in the Twenties, backing an organist named Narvell Slater, and “the church choir where we went was mostly my family; the majority of people in the choir were related to me.”

Paul Ray’s musical education was furthered by playing tenor sax in school ensembles in addition to singing in choir and fronting a doo-wop group. He then went independent when he attended the University of Texas and fronted a band that played fraternity parties. Upon flunking out, he returned to Dallas.

In 1963, the singer began playing in clubs with a band called the Playboys. Five years later, one of Ray’s groups opened for Muddy Waters at the Family Circle.

“Muddy was a sweetheart,” Ray recalled. “He came backstage and told me, ’You sing like a bird.’”

After a brief sojourn to California, Ray and his wife Diana moved to Austin in 1970 where his music career flourished alongside a gang of Dallas ex-pats including Denny Freeman and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Both guitarists backed Ray in the Cobras, who were a staple at Soap Creek Saloon and later Antone’s.

Ray mostly retired from singing in 1978 after developing throat problems attributed to getting stuck in a west Texas sandstorm. That year, he began his second career as a radio deejay, inheriting Twine Time from another prominent music scenester, Bill Bentley. From there on out, Ray was a staple deejay on KUT and KUTX beginning in 2013, manning the midday microphone, hosting a Tuesday night jazz show, and spinning oldies on Saturday via Twine Time.

In 2009, local listeners were outraged when Ray’s hours (and jazz show) were cut. Ray was also a local music community presence as the colorful host of the Austin Music Awards for its first quarter century, so expect a tribute at this year’s 34th iteration, March 16 at the Austin Convention Center. Last year, Ray appeared at the inaugural Austin Music Industry Awards to accept his deejay of the year plaque.

After being hospitalized in November, leaving Twine Time hanging by a thread (Rick McNulty admirably guest hosted, promising not to “wreck Paul Ray's Cadillac”), news of Ray’s health concerns went public in mid-December via a dispatch in Playback:

Twine Time deejay Paul Ray has been fighting for his life, according to wife Diana Ray.

“I’ve been trying to keep it hush-hush, but now I know he’s going to survive,” she said. “He can look around the room, and his voice – that deejay voice – is coming back.”

Diana Ray refused to specify what ails her 73-year-old husband, who’d been absent from his locally adored vintage R&B segment Saturdays, 7-11pm, on KUTX 98.9, for four weeks. She did reveal that he’d broken his femur during a fall at home, followed by a two-week “state of delirium” while hospitalized.

Denny Freeman, who shared guitar duties with Stevie Ray Vaughan in Seventies heroes Paul Ray & the Cobras, visited his singer-turned-deejay buddy in the hospital.

“Several days ago, while he seemed far away, I wondered if he’d respond to music, so I looked in my phone to see what I had,” he recounts. “I found ’You Upset Me Baby.’ I knew he’d like that, if he could hear it, because we used to do that song in the Cobras. After a moment, he softly said ’B.B.’

“Then I found ’Blue Velvet’ by the Clovers. He began to softly sing along. It was moving.”

With Paul Ray’s exit this morning at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, Austin has not only lost one of its unique voices, but also one of its great characters. Put on a great record, something with soul, and pay your respects. The whole city will be thinking about him come Saturday night.

Photo by Jon Dee Graham

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Paul Ray, Twine Time, KUT, KUTX, Larry Monroe, Paul Ray & the Cobras, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Denny Freeman, Muddy Waters, Louis Jordan, Dianna Ray

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