1662 Wyatt Parkway - Lexington, Kentucky











TOMMY JACKSON and BUD CHOWNING Tommy Jackson (left) & Bud Chowning






Listen to 'Truck Drivers'
Rock' by Virgil Vickers

Contact me

THE SUN-RAY LABELLike many of you out there, I'm real keen on those small indie labels that sprang up from every part of the US in the '50s and '60s. We all know they were the creative force behind Rock'n'Roll, Country Music and R'n'Blues.
Sun-Ray Records was one of them, based in Lexington, Kentucky. Like, say, Nabor Records, another Country oriented operation out of Indianapolis, Sun-Ray appeared rather late on the map ('61 or '62). That didn't alter the quality of the stuff released - ranging from guitar/sax rockers
to Delmore Bros-type boppers to Presleyish rockabilly-tinged numbers
and different shades of country in-between.

A man by the name of James T. Price was responsible for creating the Sun-Ray record company ; in fact, the vast majority of the songs put out on the label was published through Jimmy Price Music Pub. In 1961, Price issued a modern Hawaiian steel guitar course with tablatures (pictured at left) : he had at least one release on the label. Bud Chowning, who would later record there, says that Price had converted his garage into a recording studio and printing space with printing equipment : 'He had a piano in there and a lot of mikes. The recording room was sound proof'.

Among the first Sun-Ray releases, we find a couple of real hot singles by Billy Lathrem, who had previously recorded a much sought-after '45 on another Kentucky label, Rem (# 308, 'King Of Rock'n'Roll'). Dating from late '62, they both feature a rock-a-ballad on one side and a dance rocker on the other. Starting with chords played on an electric piano, 'Bird Walk' (#102) has not a lot of tune, the sax solo is rather amateurish but it moves and the guitar break is good. 'Twist Twist Blues' (#103) is rarely seen for sale and wilder in approach ; penned by James Price, there's some organ in the background, the same kind of sax solo and another reasonable lead guitar part. Both discs came with a similar picture sleeve, showing young Billy Lathrem holding an acoustic guitar.

THE SUN-RAY STUDIO - Courtesy of Bud ChowningFrom there, we jump to about 1966, the year when Sun-Ray issued a record by Bob & Jesse Baker, The Baker Bros. The duo had made an excellent acoustic record for Cincinnati's Ark label ; both in title and in sound, 'Bear Cat Mama' (#125) harked back to an earlier era. The richness of those indie labels lies in the fact that they didn't mind swimming against the tide. Kenneth Brewer's offering, the self-written 'Absolutely On Purpose' (#127), is described by Ohio collector, Tom Fallon, as 'a mild mid-tempo country rocker with an off-key vocal and a combo organ as lead instrument. Weird, but has an inept charm'. Bud Chowning's 'Two Room Trailer' (# 130) is no truck driver's song ; it's a real fine Hillbilly bopper, with slap bass, fiddles and steel guitar & piano breaks. Great feel and the flip, 'Darling Stop', is the kind of medium/fast Country song we'd love to hear more of today. Both tracks were written by Kelly T. Chowning, Jr.
Bud's career far exceeds his tenure with Sun-Ray and has never been documented until now. In 2003, he kindly provided me with all info needed - thus, I invite you to read his full story, in his own words by clicking here.

There's plenty of neat pickin' in Tommy Jackson's offering (#131). Don't know much about him except that he hailed from Winchester, Kentucky, and died some twenty years ago but his 'Flat Top Box' is a firm favorite - three breaks on electric guitar (courtesy of Bud Chowning who used his Fender Jazzmaster) and one on steel, not bad for a 1967 recording ! He had at least one other disc on the label ('Thanks Mr. DJ', #136) but I've never heard it ; it was once described in a sale list as being a 'nice swinger'. Bud Chowning recalled that, when he went to Nashville with Tommy Jackson and met Doyle Wilburn, they demoed a song there called 'Don't Let Them Cut That Big Tree Down', and Bud also demoed the instrumental 'Buckaroo'. They were never recorded but Bud thinks he has them somewhere on a 7" reel-to-reel tape.
The Dave Sparks record (# 133) is pleasant albeit more in the conventional Country bag. Ed Shoemaker is credited on the label for the sweet steel guitar work ; Ed appears to have played with many Sun Ray artists. Says Ed : 'I wish had kept a copy of each [record] but did not. During the early '60s, I played a home made steel guitar. I do however have a recording made in '73 featuring Dave Reffett, Billy Martin, Texas Martin and myself. I am the only one living. All others have passed on in the late '90s. I still play (a much better steel) once in a while. I played with Kenny Whalen and the Travelers on October 21, 2006 at Country World, Georgetown, KY'.

Virgil Vickers & The Kentucky Play Boys provide yet another delightful platter : their 'Truck Driver's Rock' (# 137) is latter-day Delmore Brothers of the highest standard, and in stereo (click the turntable at bottom left to hear a little bit of it). Though the guitars and steel have a field day here, there's an effective Wayne Raney-type harmonica solo near the end. The other side, 'Devil In Disguise', is not the Elvis Presley classic but a haunting, dobro-backed Country ballad with some nostalgic harmonica playing. It was, however, their second release on the label ; their first (#129) was a cover of the Delmores' classic, 'Blues Stay Away From Me', and we are left to wonder how good it must sound !
Dave Wells, a singer & guitar player, played on that elusive first '45 by Virgil Vickers and he kindly supplied me with the following, very interesting info : 'I spent the summer of 1966 in Lexington, Kentucky. I met Virgil when I answered an ad placed by the band he was with at the time. The band was led by Earl Ingram, a mediocre guitarist with a fair voice. Virgil was an excellent fiddler, who had recently placed fourth in the national championship competition, and he doubled on bass. Other band members were Billy Johnson, who played a good lead guitar, and a 60-year-old drummer that everyone just called "Mr. Butler". At the same time that I was hired to do vocals and rhythm guitar, they took on a 15-year-old vocalist, Mike Lowery, who knew a lot of Beatles songs. We played a barn dance in Brodhead, Kentucky, every Friday and Saturday. The band had no name except 'Earl Ingram and the boys'.
During the summer, Mike started dating Virgil's daughter. I think her name was Pam. The three of them worked out some vocal harmonies at Virgil's house in Nicholasville. Their voices blended unusually well, and by August Virgil decided he wanted them to record something. I was going off to graduate school, and Mike's mother wouldn't let him play with the band during the school year. Virgil wanted us both to be part of the recording, and he didn't want to include Earl, so he booked the Sun-Ray studio on short notice with little fanfare.
Both sides were recorded by the band minus Earl and plus Pam. As you know, "Blues Stay Away from Me" is a standard three-chord blues. Virgil, Mike and Pam sang it in three-part harmony, and Billy provided a nice guitar break. If my memory is accurate, Virgil did some harmonica fills. The flip side was instrumental and featured Virgil's fiddle. I left Lexington two days after the session. I never saw or heard the finished record, although a friend later told me it had been a minor regional hit. I never knew what Virgil had decided to call our group, but he apparently decided on the Kentucky Playboys'
I was fortunate to get in touch with Mike Lowery and he wrote : 'The auditions were held at the old Opera house in Lexington in 1966. I believe that I was the youngest person there. After everyone had performed, I told my friend "the guy with the gold Les Paul guitar will win- he was the best". That was Dave Wells and he did win. I was surprised when they asked me to also join the band on a trial basis. The dances at Brodhead, Ky were very popular with large crowds, especially at county fair time'. He also found that Virgil Vickers had cut a Gospel album sometime during the 70's and told the end of the story : 'His daughter, Pam, is the vocalist. I was told that Virgil plays most of the instruments on the album. [] I think that you will be surprised with the quality of the music and the vocals by Pam. Sadly, they both passed away of cancer in the same year within a month of each other. I think that they were both great talents and I was happy that I got to know them and be part of their band'.

The last Sun-Ray item in my collection will appeal to many Rockabilly collectors. Harold Montgomery turns in a super fine performance with 'All Them Wives' (#139). His vocal is sharp and Elvisy - 'Guitar Man'/'US Male' period - while the guitar is very much in the contemporary Southern/Jerry Reed style. The rhythm section comprises drums (played with brushes), a buzzing bass and a distant steel. Flip the record and you're treated to an exceptionally sincere vocal on 'Pardon Me, Jim', which, like the other side, can be termed 'Country Rock'. The two songs were penned by Harold E. Montgomery. According to Bud Chowning, Harold played his own lead guitar while his wife, Snooky, played the drums in his band. They were the mom and dad of John Michael Montgomery. Sadly, Harold passed away shortly after John's first hit.
In 2015, David Hiles contacted me and here are his recollections :
'My name is David Hiles, and I stumbled across your article about Sun Ray records. The operator of Sun Ray, Jimmy Price was my great uncle. I once made a little soda pop money at that studio by playing on demos and some finished records. I played guitars, bass, drums and keys. I played back-ground guitar on the Harold Montgomery single 'All Them Wives'. My father, Arthur Hiles, played bass, Jim Huffman played guitar, and Carl "Sonny" Morgan played pedal steel guitar. Those sessions took place in the summer of 1969. I was 15 and it was during the height of the "Paul McCartney is Dead" craze.
[] Occasionally I sat in on drums when they played live so Snooky could go to the "mike" up front in the spotlight and sing. She was quite easy on my youthful eyes. I have not heard much from her in many years. She used to send Christmas cards. Harold, Snooky, Eddie, and John Michael came with gifts and hugs when my son was born Jan 1,1974... I hope Snooky has aged gracefully and still lives somewhere in central Kentucky. If Snooky has survived, she's the last of "Harold Montgomery and the Starlighters". I was never an official member, but I did show Harold how to play "Lookin' Out My Back Door". I often went to sleep at night hearing some of the best music ever made live from the next room!'

Many releases featured Sacred material. Sun-Ray 109 is a 4-song EP by The Blue Grass Quartet Of The Lexington Baptist College. It was issued with a pic sleeve which, incidentally, showed a quintet !
Sun-Ray 114
(by Charles Blankenship), Sun-Ray 135 (by Rev. George Bausum) and Sun-Ray 147 (by Sherman Smith) were also destined for the Gospel buying public.

A wealth of new information came my way recently thanks to another Sun-Ray artist, Dave Maggard, who had a country release on the label (#134), coupling a John W. Tipton song, 'If You Can Call It Living', with one written by David Sparks, 'My Conscience'. Dave sings and plays rhythm guitar while his band (The Silver Strings) is comprised of Ed Shoemaker (steel guitar), Dave Reffett (lead guitar), Jack Spencer (harmony vocals & guitar) and Bobby Asher (bass guitar). Dave also produced the above-mentioned Harold Montgomery single.
Says Dave : 'I ran the sound on both songs during the recording session... I also played in a country band with Harold 'Curly' Montgomery and his wife for a short time during the 60's'. He also added :
'I had the pleasure of knowing Jimmie Skinner and having his friendship. I even had the pleasure of playing bass with him on a few shows in the latter part of his life back in the early 70's. Jimmie was a warm and friendly person and was well liked by all who knew him'.

Whatever happened to the label after the Johnny & Denny release (#150) is anyone's guess, it seems. No doubt James Price had a nice story to tell but, as you'll learn in Bud Chowning's page, he passed away years ago. Many Sun-Ray releases were custom pressed by RCA Victor and most of them bear a bright yellow label with the company's name in red print above the center hole ; however, Tommy Jackson's first single is usually seen with a blue label whereas Montgomery's sports a pink variation. Although second pressings exist, Dave Maggard explains that the artists could choose the colors they wanted for their records. Thus, you will find the following variations : bright yellow with green lettering ; a darker yellow with red lettering ; a pale yellow with black lettering ; pink with black lettering ; white with green lettering ; bright red with black lettering ; blue with gray lettering ; and even purple with gray lettering ! But re-orders always were in the same color label as the original issue to cut down on the pressing costs.

While maybe not lauded like other influential indies, the Sun-Ray label houses quite a few
nuggets from a captivating era to be enjoyed by all country & rock collectors.

With grateful thanks to Bud Chowning, David Hiles, Dave Maggard, Ed Shoemaker,
Mike Lowery and Dave Wells.

© Paul VIDAL * Copyright November 2002-April 2014-May 2019


SRR 100 JIMMY PRICE & His Hawaiian Serenaders
M-7059 God Put You Here
               Barbary Ellen
M-7060 A Beautiful Love
               On Top Of Old Smokey
N8OW-4666 Bird Walk
N8OW-4665 I Had A Dream
Note : issued with picture sleeve - bright yellow with red lettering
N8OW-7042 Twist, Twist Blues
N8OW-7043 I Love You To-Night
Note : issued with picture sleeve - bright yellow with red lettering
SRR 104 Kenneth BREWER with His Kings & Queen
N08W-4771 Father's Resting
N08W-4772 When Jesus Returns
SRR 106
N08W-4773 Tick Tock, Xmas Time Is Here
N08W-4774 Santa Clause Is Coming (sic)
SRR 107 Jeannie BROWN
N08W-4775 Lonely Lips
N08W-4776 I'll Take Love
ZTEB 93124 Hide Me, Rock Of Ages
                      Until Then
ZTEB 93125 I've Been To Calvary
                      It's Different Now
In The House Of The Lord
Without Him
What A Day That Will Be
How Great Thou Art

Note :
a Columbia pressing, this one.
2TSB 93421 God's Plan Of Redemption
2TSB 93420 When Jesus Returns
Note : issued with pic sleeve (also showing a quintet !)
SR 114 Charles BLANKENSHIP & The Skyview Boys
CP-13077 God Sent His Son
CP-13078 Keep Your Hand In Jesus Hand (sic)
Note : this is a Rite pressing
T4KM-6381 God Sent His Son
T4KM-6380 Oh, Glorious Day

SR 119 Old Joe CLARK
? Jesse James
? John Henry
Note : same artist as on the Ark
SR 125 BAKER BROTHERS (Bob & Jesse)
TK4M-6576 Bear Cat Mama
TK4M-6577 Soldier's Farewell
Note : same artists as on the Ark label
SR 127 Kenneth BREWER with The Melody Kings & Merle
4TKM-1003 Absolutely On Purpose
4TKM-1004 Stubborn Mind
Note : bright yellow with red lettering
SR 129 Virgil VICKERS & His Kentucky Play Boys
TK4M-6573 Blues Stay Away From Me
TK4M-6574 Waltzing With The Blues
U4KM-3208 Two Room Trailer
U4KM-3207 Darling Stop
Note : bright yellow with red lettering
SR 131 Tommy JACKSON
38657 Flat Top Box
38658 I'm Getting Stoned Tonight
Note : this is a Rite pressing - blue label with silver print
SR 132 Jim GASKIN & His Cumberland Rangers
UK4M-1924 Forgetting 'Bout You
UK4M-1925 Little Darlin' Good Bye (sic)
SR 133 Dave SPARKS & His Jade East Boys
UK4M-4911 Another Cup Of Coffee
UK4M-4912 It Didn't Work That Way
Note : bright yellow with red lettering - see picture below
SR 134 Dave MAGGARD With The Silver Strings
? If You Can Call It Living
? My Conscience
Note : bright yellow with red lettering
SR 135 Rev. George BAUSUM & The Sacred Sunrays
CP-22381 We Will Cross Over
CP-22382 The Promised Land
Note : another Rite press - bright yellow label with green print
SR 136 Tommy JACKSON
? Thanks Mr. D.J.
? What Am I Gonna Do
Note : bright yellow with green lettering
SR 137 Virgil VICKERS & His Kentucky Play Boys
25131 Truck Driver's Rock
25132 Devil In Disguise
Note : this is a Rite pressing - pale yellow with black print
I would tend to think that the stereo release is a second press.

SR 139 Harold MONTGOMERY & His Star Lighters
25427 All Them Wives
25428 Pardon Me, Jim
Note : yet another Rite pressing - pink label with black print but also appears
            on the standard bright yellow label with red lettering
SR 140 Lucien GAYHART & The Merry Men
CP-25624 It's Been Nice (Knowing You)
CP-25623 Ring A Bell With Me

Note : this is a Rite pressing - purple label with silver print
SR 146 Larry DURBIN & His Golden Strings – Charles COWART on Steel Guitar
29387 A Beautiful Love
29388 This House Is Not A Home
SR 147 Sherman SMITH & The Sacred Sunray's
1 We Will Cross Over
2 Sometime, Somewhere

Note : blue label with black print
720436-A Walking In My Sleep
                  Budded Roses
                  Won't It Be Wonderful There
Buck Creek Girl
                  Rangers Waltz
                  Whip-poor-wills Song

Note : yellow label with blue/green print - issued with picture sleeve
            group consists of Asa Martin, Jim Gaskin, Gilbert Thomas & Buz Brazeale
SR 150 JOHNNY & DENNY & The Sleepy Hollow Boys
32015 Let's Live For This Day
?????  A Little Bit Of Country
SRR-1001 SKYLINERS QUARTET Sing In The House Of The Lord
Note : an early and rare LP. Was this the only album released on the label ?
            See picture above left.

Compiled by Paul Vidal with thanks to Thomas Fallon, Peter Jayko, Dave Maggard, Michel Proost,
Michael Sharritt, Tim Stamps, Phil Tricker & Big Al Turner.