Ray Whitley (singer-songwriter)

  (Redirected from Raymond Otis Whitley)

Raymond Otis Whitley (December 5, 1901 – February 21, 1979)[1] 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 performanceEdit

Whitley was born in Atlanta, Georgia, United States.[1] He began his singing career in New York City in 1930.[1] He had traveled to New York where he became a construction worker on the Empire State Building and the George Washington Bridge.[1] 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.[1] 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."[1] Whitley was skilled in the use of the stockwhip and could remove a cigarette from a man's lips with a single stroke, using either hand.[2]

Whitley recorded for several record labels, including Okeh, Apollo Records and Decca.[1]

Development of the Gibson SJ-200Edit

In 1937, Whitley had worked with Gibson on the production of the 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.[1] 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.[1] 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.[3]

Motion picturesEdit

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.[1]

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.[1] The song was first performed by the author, Ray Whitley, in the western movie Border G-Man,[1] 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.[1] Whitley and Autry changed the order of the verse and chorus, and made a very slight change in the melody, resulting in the present popular version. It is one of the most recognized and recorded Western music tunes in history.

Death and legacyEdit

Ray Whitley died on February 21, 1979,[1] while en route to a fishing trip to Mexico with his son-in-law, Hal Bracken.[1]

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, 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 Ward, 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.[4]

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 – January 23, 1939 – Last: February 27, 1940, First shipment of 1028s – June 23, 1939 – Last: June 13, 1940


Year Title Role Notes
1936 King of the Royal Mounted Singer Uncredited
1936 Hopalong Cassidy Returns Davis
1937 Hittin' the Trail Guitar Player
1937 The Mystery of the Hooded Horsemen Guitar Player
1937 The Old Wyoming Trail Singing cowhand Uncredited
1938 Where the West Begins Singer / Henchman Uncredited
1938 Rawhide Gehrig Party Guitarist Uncredited
1938 Gun Law Sam McGee
1938 Border G-Man Luke Jones
1938 Painted Desert Steve
1938 The Renegade Ranger Happy
1939 Trouble in Sundown Andy
1939 Racketeers of the Range Ray Whitley
1940 Wagon Train Ned
1940 The Fargo Kid Johnny
1941 Along the Rio Grande 'Smokey' Ryan
1941 Robbers of the Range
1941 Cyclone on Horseback
1941 Six-Gun Gold
1941 The Bandit Trail
1941 Dude Cowboy
1942 Riding the Wind
1942 Land of the Open Range
1942 Come on Danger
1942 Thundering Hoofs
1944 Boss of Boomtown Corporal Clark
1944 Trigger Trail Gilroy
1944 Trail to Gunsight Barton, Cattle Buyer
1944 Riders of the Santa Fe Deputy Hank
1944 The Old Texas Trail Amarillo
1945 Hollywood and Vine Tex Uncredited
1945 Beyond the Pecos Dan Muncie
1945 Renegades of the Rio Grande Tex Henry
1946 West of the Alamo Keno Wilson
1949 Gun Law Justice Ray – Guitar Player Uncredited
1953 Calamity Jane Minor Role Uncredited
1956 Giant Watts


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Colin Larkin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Country Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 443/4. ISBN 0-85112-726-6.
  2. ^ "Ray Whitley". B-westerns.com.
  3. ^ "National Music Museum | USD". Usd.edu.
  4. ^ "Article about rebuilding the Fahey Recording King". Johnfahey.com.


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

External linksEdit

Ray Whitley at IMDb