Ray Whitley (singer-songwriter)

Raymond Otis Whitley (December 5, 1901 – February 21, 1979) was a country and western singer and actor.

Raymond Otis Whitley
Born(1901-12-05)December 5, 1901
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
DiedFebruary 21, 1979(1979-02-21) (aged 77)
Occupation(s)Singer-songwriter, Musician, Actor


Singing and live performance

Whitley was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He began his singing career in New York City in 1930. He had traveled to New York where he became a construction worker on the Empire State Building and the George Washington Bridge. While working as a steelworker, he heard of an audition at a local radio station. He was hired as a pop singer and learned a few chords on a guitar to back himself. Soon he was backed by professional musicians, including the Frank Luther Trio. He formed "The Range Ramblers" and began to broadcast on WMCA. He then traveled with the World's Championship Rodeo organization, under the ownership of Colonel Johnson, renaming his band "Ray Whitley and The Six Bar Cowboys." Whitley was skilled in the use of the bullwhip, and could remove a cigarette from a man's lips with a single stroke, using either hand.[1]

Whitley recorded for several record labels, including Okeh, Apollo Records and Decca.

Development of the Gibson SJ-200

In 1937, Ray Whitley had worked with Gibson on the production of the famous Gibson SJ-200 acoustic guitar, which was initially known as the "Super Jumbo". Whitley used his own time and money to design a guitar which he took to Gibson. He explained the features and merits of the instrument, suggesting that by presenting them to other stars of the day, would result in really putting the Gibson name on the musical instrument map. As a result, Whitley was the first performer to own a Gibson SJ-200. The first SJ-200, custom built by Gibson for Whitley, is on display in the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum. The SJ-200 has since become an American icon and has been played by hundreds of different guitarists over the years.[2]

Motion pictures

In 1938, Whitley was signed to RKO Pictures and made 59 movies, over 20 of them short western musicals where he played the lead role.

In the late 1950s Whitley made appearances on the Roy Rogers TV specials, he also appeared in the feature film Giant starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean.

Whitley wrote the original western tune Back in the Saddle Again. The song was first heard in the western movie Border G-Man in which he played the part of "Luke Jones". Gene Autry heard it and bought the song for a reported $200, making it his theme song. Whitley and Autry changed the order of verse and chorus, and made a slight change in the melody into the present version that makes it one of the most recognized and recorded Western music tunes in history.

Death and legacy

Ray Whitley died on February 21, 1979, while en route to a fishing trip to Mexico with his son-in-law, Hal Bracken.

Ray Whitley's original Gibson SJ-200 is on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville Tennessee. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1981, and in 1996 Ray Whitley was inducted into the Western Music Association Hall of Fame.


Ray Whitley also endorsed another Gibson made guitar, sold by the mail order house Montgomery Wards under the house brand "Recording King." This highly esteemed guitar was marketed only in 1939, and featured the signature of Mr. Whitley on the headstock. 235 of these were made in mahogany, and 235 in rosewood. One of these instruments was the preferred guitar of American composer John Fahey, who recorded extensively on the instrument from 1969 until the mid-1970s. Fahey destroyed the guitar during a fight with his girl friend, and replaced it with a Martin D-76.[3]

Gibson Shipping Ledgers show the following totals for the Montgomery Ward - Recording King Ray Whitley Jumbo Models:

Total of 147 - RK Ray Whitley Model No. 1027 (Rosewood back & sides, "bat wing" shaped bridge) Total of 170 - RK Ray Whitley Model No. 1028 (Mahogany back & sides, plain rectangle-style bridge)

Breaks down like this: 143 No. 1027s shipped in 1939 Only 4 No. 1027s shipped in 1940

115 No. 1028s were shipped in 1939 55 No. 1028s shipped in 1940

First shipment of 1027s - 1/23/1939 - Last: 2/27/1940 First shipment of 1028s - 6/23/1939 - Last: 6/13/1940


Year Title Role Notes
1936King of the Royal MountedSingerUncredited
1936Hopalong Cassidy ReturnsDavis
1937Hittin' the TrailGuitar Player
1937The Mystery of the Hooded HorsemenGuitar Player
1937The Old Wyoming TrailSinging cowhandUncredited
1938Where the West BeginsSinger / HenchmanUncredited
1938RawhideGehrig Party GuitaristUncredited
1938Gun LawSam McGee
1938Border G-ManLuke Jones
1938Painted DesertSteve
1938The Renegade RangerHappy
1939Trouble in SundownAndy
1939Racketeers of the RangeRay Whitley
1940Wagon TrainNed
1940The Fargo KidJohnny
1941Along the Rio Grande'Smokey' Ryan
1941Robbers of the Range
1941Cyclone on Horseback
1941Six-Gun Gold
1941The Bandit Trail
1941Dude Cowboy
1942Riding the Wind
1942Land of the Open Range
1942Come on Danger
1942Thundering Hoofs
1944Boss of BoomtownCorporal Clark
1944Trigger TrailGilroy
1944Trail to GunsightBarton, Cattle Buyer
1944Riders of the Santa FeDeputy Hank
1944The Old Texas TrailAmarillo
1945Hollywood and VineTexUncredited
1945Beyond the PecosDan Muncie
1945Renegades of the Rio GrandeTex Henry
1946West of the AlamoKeno Wilson
1949Gun Law JusticeRay - Guitar PlayerUncredited
1953Calamity JaneMinor RoleUncredited


The Guinness Who's Who Of Country Music. Guinness Publishing 1993. ISBN 0-85112-726-6

Ray Whitley on IMDb

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