A Musician's Musician: Ramblin' Ray Sealing's 'unsuccess' story

CAMP VERDE -- Ray Sealing describes his 60-year career in the music business as an "unsuccess story."

It's not like he's had a terribly tough time. In fact, he's had his share of success and no shortage of close encounters with fame. It's just that things, at least those kinds of things that bring fame and fortune, haven't worked the way he hoped.

You won't hear him complain. He will tell his life story in the same matter-of-fact way he sings his music. It's not a bad thing, or a sad thing, it's just the way it happened.

For Ray, his career started out on the right foot.

Click "play" to hear Way Beyond Hope.

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Not long after the dustbowl winds of his Nebraska childhood ceased to blow, a new sound was heard -- this one pushed out across the prairie, not by the wrath of nature but by high-amperage radio stations strung out along the Mexican border.

Today, we call that sound country music. But in the 1940s it was a blend of traditional southern waltz, Texas swing and Smokey Mountain bluegrass, all seeking roots in America's recovering heartland. In Sealing's words, the new sound "boosted my desire to play."

He picked up his first guitar at 15. But it wasn't until the Air Force sent him to Tampa, Fla., that he got a taste of the stage.

Back home in Nebraska in the mid-1950s, and out of the service, he got a taste of life as a road musician, a chance to make some decent money and a nickname he still carries.

Click "play" to hear Doin' Nothin'.

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"I joined a band called the Wagonwheel Ramblers," says Sealing. "In those days we would go from town to town playing the dance halls. We'd pass out our own handbills or stop in at the local radio station. They always made time for the traveling bands to play a few songs and promote the dance.

"We'd make about $5 a person plus tips, which would be about $20 to $25 a night. It was big money in the 1950s. And when the band-leader went into the Army, I inherited his band. It wasn't long before everyone started calling me Rambling Ray."

Shortly thereafter, his travels took him to Nashville.

Within the first month, Sealing took second place in a contest sponsored by Roy Acuff and made a guest appearance on the Ernest Tubb Record Shop Midnight Jamboree.

It was a fast-but-fleeting success.

Over the years, he has shared a stage with the likes of Tommy Duncan, Little Jimmie Dickens, Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Ralph Stanley. He even hung out playing pinball with Roger Miller.

But somehow, fame and fortune always went backstage when Ray got under the lights. Today, Ray Sealing does most of his professional shows with his wife, Marilyn, in their duo, Special Blend.

Click "play" to hear Ramblings.

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"Unless you happen to be one of the lucky few, you discover the music business is like that. I had my chances, but I was never prepared to take advantage of them. So I kept moving along," he says.

Today Ray does what he likes best. He makes music with his friends and dabbles in the recording business.

"I have always been fascinated by the recording side of the business," he says, "Not only is it fun from the technical side and something I enjoy doing with other musicians, it has also helped me to become a better musician."

Local bluegrass musician Ken Ralston describes Sealing as a musician's musician.

"He is a very accommodating guy. He is not condescending at all. If you want to play some music he is always ready to play, whether you are really great or just some average guy off the street.

"I have nothing but good things to say about him. If he thinks his career has been one of unsuccess, I would differ with that. Jamming with Ray is about the most fun you can have. There are a lot of us around the Valley who think the world of him."

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