11 Songs, 42 Minutes


About Ray Stinnett

Best known for his work with a band that bridged the gap between R&B and garage rock, Ray Stinnett was also an unsung hero of the Memphis music scene whose most personal music would wait over 40 years to find an audience. Stinnett was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1944, and like so many kids growing up in Memphis, he developed a love for music early on, getting his first guitar when he was 12 years old. Stinnett claims he bought the instrument at the same pawn shop where Elvis Presley was said to have gotten his first guitar, and as Stinnett was walking home, he spotted Presley driving by in a Cadillac, who called out to the youngster, "Hey, cat." Suitably encouraged, Stinnett set about learning the guitar, and by his mid-teens, he was playing around town in a duo act with drummer Jerry Patterson, as well as working with a teen rock band called Johnny and the Electros and doing occasional session work. In mid-1963, a Texas-based group called the Nightriders, led by keyboard man Domingo "Sam" Samudio, were booked into a standing gig at a Memphis nightspot called the Diplomat Club when their guitar player and drummer both quit; Stinnett and Patterson signed on to replace them, and when the Nightriders' engagement ended, the Memphis boys hit the road with the band. A few months later, the Nightriders changed their name to Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, and after they cut a single for a small Memphis label, MGM Records picked up the disc for national distribution. "Wooly Bully" became the top-selling single of 1965, spending 14 weeks in Billboard's Top 40, and a pair of minor hits followed ("Ju Ju Hand" and "Ring Dang Do"), but Stinnett's tenure with the group was short-lived; within a year of "Wooly Bully" hitting the charts, the Pharaohs had a falling out with Samudio over business matters, and they found themselves replaced with a new set of Pharaohs, who scored a hit of their own with "Li'l Red Riding Hood." Stinnett, Patterson, and their fellow ex-Pharaohs cut a single for Dot Records as the Violations, "The Hanging" b/w "You Sure Have Changed," which dealt metaphorically with their anger and disappointment, but the record went nowhere commercially and the group split up. In 1967, as Americans became aware of the growing counterculture, Stinnett headed to Northern California and embraced the hippie lifestyle while living at a celebrated commune, the Morning Star Ranch; a year later, back in Memphis, he formed a psychedelic band called 1st Century, who lasted long enough to release one single for Capitol Records, "Looking Down" b/w "Dancing Girl." While 1st Century quickly dissolved, Stinnett struck up a friendship with legendary producer and instrumentalist Booker T. Jones, and as Stinnett began putting a greater focus on his songwriting, Jones encouraged him and gave him occasional gigs. When Jones produced an album for his then-wife Priscilla Coolidge-Jones, 1970's Gypsy Queen, Stinnett played guitar on the sessions and wrote two songs that appeared on the LP. In 1971, Booker T. Jones signed a recording contract with A&M Records, and at his urging, the label signed Stinnett as well. Stinnett began work on an album, with Jones producing and Patterson playing drums, and the music reflected Stinnett's roots in country and blues music as well as his love of straight-ahead rock & roll and his hippie-informed philosophy. However, while Stinnett completed the album, A&M were uncertain of how to market it; eventually, Stinnett grew tired of waiting for the label to make up its mind and walked away from his contract, taking the master tapes with him. Little was heard from him after that, but in 2012, his long-unreleased album finally surfaced, issued by Light in the Attic Records under the title A Fire Somewhere. ~ Mark Deming