The Great Bluegrass Joke of 1977

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That’s what my ol pard Vern Williams called this story that I’m going to relate to all of you this month. Going back a lot of years is necessary to set the stage for this story, and I’m sure you will agree when I get to the end of it. I guess this story started the first time I heard Ray Park play the fiddle when he was a teenager, back in the late 1940’s. Ray was the hot young, fiddle phenom, around Stockton, and San Joaquin County, and was well known to the Country Music crowd, due to the fact that a local disc jockey, Dusty Duncan, would get Ray a guest appearance at a lot of musical events around town. It was at one of these, a store opening if I remember right, that I first saw Ray play the fiddle. Then as the years rolled by, I went to every event that I could, when I knew that Ray was gonna be there to play the fiddle. He and I weren’t friends at this time, but he would always recognize me and we’d say howdy to each other. Then in the middle 1950’s I got my drivers license, a 1936 Ford Sedan, and it was off to the Oak Grove dance hall every Saturday night, on the western edge of Calaveras County, to hear Ray’s band, and dance away most of the night! That was a weekly ritual for me and a lot of my friends for 4 or 5 years. It was during these years that I got to know Ray a lot better, and became friends on a first name basis. So, that sets the stage for the “rest of the story”. After I married, and moved to Calaveras County, I lost touch with Ray for about 12 years, but when Vern Williams moved to Valley Springs, where I as living, we became acquainted and consequently, got re acquainted with Ray, through Vern. I had a fiddle that Vern wanted Ray to see, and he and Ray came to the house, and we took one look at each other, and almost in unison, said” Hell, I know you! So that sets the stage fer the conclusion. I became good friends with Vern and Ray, and eventually played a lot of music with them, and Ray was always pulling tricks on me, and we had a lot of laughs over the ensuing years. BUT, Vern was always telling Ray: Ray, you better lighten up on J.D., ’cause he’s got one of the best imaginations of “get even” tricks that I’ve ever seen. Undaunted, Ray went on playing tricks on me and telling audiences weird stories about me, all in fun of course, and all the while, I was just biding my time. I guess what got me to thinking about the ultimate joke that I could play on Ray, was the time he gave me a coupon, that was good for one Elephant Ride, in the parking lot at Montgomery Wards in Placerville, Ca. THAT was a good one! He gave it to me for my birthday in late 1976, LONG after the Elephant was there and gone, and long after my birthday in March! SOOOO, not to be out done, the next fall in 1977, I went to a friends Photography Studio in Lodi, Ca., took along a 1941 White Stetson hat that Ray coveted, my guitar, Miss Lovely, and a Lone Ranger mask. I took off all of my clothes, except my shorts, my Stetson hat and my boots, donned the mask, [as if no one would know WHO it was] held my guitar in front of me, and took the picture that made this story. NOW, here’s the kicker! Over the years, I had garnered a long list of Ray’s friends, relatives, pickin buddies, etc. I had their names and addresses, so what else to do come the Christmas season, but to mail everyone of them a Christmas Card with my picture on it, with the message; Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! Ray Park I sent a card to everyone on the list that I had, but I didn’t send Ray one! He told me later, that folks were calling him and asking; Ray, I got yer Xmas card but WHO is the guy in the picture with no clothes, with the mask on? When I showed Vern his card, I thought that he was gonna have a cardiac arrest! Jack Sadler dropped the phone when I called to see if he had got his card! It took a few months before I could get a grin out of Ray over that one, and Vern told him; Ray, I told you to lighten up on him. I assured Ray that I pulled that joke on him because I loved him like a brother, and we remained friends for the rest of Ray’s life. Ray eventually would laugh along with the rest of us, every time some one would remind him of the Great Bluegrass Joke of 1977, as Vern called it. I only wish that those two were still here for all of us to enjoy. They were two of my best friends that I’ll ever have, and I miss them sorely. I hope that you folks enjoyed one of many stories that happened to a bunch of good ‘ol Arkansas boys, as they headed down that Bluegrass road.

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