Few guitar pickers can out-slide, out-bend or out-torture a Telecaster the way Will Ray can. As a member of the pyrotechnical twang trio The Hellecasters, Will has created a place for himself among some of the world’s guitar greats.
A native of Richmond, Virginia, Will began his musical journey at an early age when his older siblings would play records of Peter Paul & Mary, Leadbelly and Elvis. In high school Will discovered the Beatles, the Blues Project, Cream, the Grateful Dead and Paul Butterfield Blues Band while learning the guitar at age sixteen. After graduating from college he started playing in a string of local Richmond rock bands including Dry Ice, Mace, King Cotton and The Cold Harbor Band. In 1983 his new bride, Gayle, talked him into moving out west to California where he could play music full time and she could pursue her art.
In Los Angeles Will began finding work in nightclubs and eventually in the studios. He was a member of several ground breaking 80’s cow punk bands including Tin Star, Candye Kane & the Armadillo Stampede and Wylie & The Wild West Show. Utilizing his experience in studios, he began producing country oriented artists in the LA area including three compilation albums, Hollywood Roundup, Detour West and Far West. It was on Hollywood Roundup that Will first recorded with soon-to-be Hellecaster henchmen Jerry Donahue and John Jorgenson. Pretty soon Will was part of the edgy West Coast country sound while also working with artists such as Carlene Carter, Steve Earle, Tom Jones, Solomon Burke, Joe Walsh and Michael Nesmith.
In 1990 Will and Jerry Donahue had an idea; why not put together a band that played nothing but guitar music with three way guitar harmonies? Jorgenson’s name came up and a few weeks later the three did a show for Ronnie Mack’s Barndance at the world famous Palomino Club as The Hellecasters. A year later Michael Nesmith caught the band and offered them a record deal on Pacific Arts Records.
The Hellecasters’ critically acclaimed first album, The Return of the Hellecasters, became a hit with guitarists and was awarded “Best Album” and “Best Country Album” by Guitar Player Magazine in 1993. In 1995 the Hellecasters’s recorded and released their second CD, Escape From Hollywood, which again took guitar playing to a new dimension. That same year Hipshot products began marketing an invention of Will’s called the Stealth Slide, allowing guitarists to switch quickly between slide and fingers on a guitar. Hipshot also began manufacturing the Will Ray Model B-Bender for guitar. In addition, Will released two guitar instructional videos, B-Bender Mania and Stealth Slide Technique for Rambo Videos.
In 1997 Fender Musical Instruments unveiled a limited edition signature guitar for Will, the Will Ray Jazz-A-Caster. The following year the Fender Custom Shop released the Will Ray Mojo-Tele signature guitar. Both guitars represent a major step forward in guitar design and technology, from the unique gold leaf design of the bodies to the groundbreaking noise canceling pickups.
New Axes to Grind, the Hellecasters’ third album, was released in 1998 on their own label Pharaoh Records. The following year Will released his first solo CD called Invisible Birds on Pharaoh Records to an enthusiastic audience of Hellecaster fans. On it Will sings and plays his way through an eclectic mix of songs ranging from “farm jazz” and “range rock” to “prairie metal” and “cow thrash”.
In 2000 the Hellecasters released their first live video, Live...Raw...in Germany to their anxious fans. It was recorded in Baden-Baden, Germany when they played live on the popular European TV show Ohne Filter. In early 2002 Will released his second solo album Mojo Blues for Pharaoh Records. The all blues album features guest appearances from Ted Greene, Juke Logan, John Jorgenson, Jerry Donahue and Emmet Ray Jr among others. The songs are catchy and the vibe is intense, with Will’s usual sense of humor injected throughout.
2002 also saw Will endorsing G&L Guitars, with the unveiling of the G&L Will Ray Signature Model Guitar. It features advanced “Z” coil technology for the pickups, a 7-way pickup selector, B-Bender tailpiece and Will’s trademark skull inlays on the fingerboard. Will spent much of the year promoting his guitar, doing guitar clinics for G&L and touring, sharing the bill with acts such as The Yardbirds, Albert Lee and Eric Johnson. Later that year Will began writing a new monthly column for Guitar Player Magazine called Ebay Strategies. The popular column gives readers some of Will’s personal experiences on eBay as well as his tips and advice for buying online.
Essential Listening is the Hellecasters’ fourth album, released to enthusiastic fans in 2003 on Hightone Records. The 13 song disc contains even more twisted string wrangling from the boys and promises to spread their appeal among musicians worldwide.
In July of 2005 Will moved to North Carolina where he built a new state of the art recording studio for production projects. It’s located up in the mountains of Asheville and is designed for inspiration as well as solitude for his clients. He continues to stay quite busy traveling the globe these days performing, teaching and conducting guitar clinics. In the new Millennium Will promises to keep doing what he enjoys doing best - having fun in music while pushing the edge of the envelope!