Long before he finally moved to Nashville this summer, David Ray was very well known to three very different groups – country superstars who he opened shows for, middle school students in Florida who he taught science, and thousands of listeners of KISS Country 99-9 in Miami.
“While one of my passions is science, my true dream has always been to be a singer,” Ray says in a conversation on Music Row.
At long last, he’s living that dream. Like many on the Row, it took David years and many miles to get here.
Born in Michigan, his dream started young by watching his father sing and play guitar, while supporting his family by selling cars during the day and owning a sports bar at night. David picked up his Dad’s guitar one day when he was 15, and taught himself to play Don McLean’s “American Pie” from the sheet music. A couple weeks later, David sang and played the song at his high school talent show and received a standing ovation.
“The feeling I had after that standing ovation is a big reason why I’m still pursuing music today,” he says.
His music has always been a focal point of Ray’s life. Country stars including Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt, and Garth Brooks were major influences, as were the pop legends James Taylor and Michigan native Bob Seger. Seger charted 30 singles on the Billboard charts between 1968 and 1991, including No. 1 “Shakedown” in 1987 and No. 28 “Old Time Rock & Roll” in 1979 the latter of which has been a club standard ever since.
David studied at Central Michigan University, where he majored in Education. He paid for part of his schooling by hosting Open Mic nights at a popular college bar called The Cabin in Mount Pleasant. Cabin management quickly hired him to play solo acoustic shows Friday and Saturday nights, and David soon built a large local following in Michigan, which he still has today. He often returns there to play shows. After college, he looked for a teaching position in Nashville and even obtained a Tennessee teaching certificate. Finding no jobs in the Volunteer State, David found a position as a middle school science teacher in South Florida.
In the Sunshine State, he began playing local bars as many as five nights a week while teaching during the day. In 2008 he entered Kenny Chesney’s Next Big Star competition, and won. That led to opening a show for Chesney in front of more than 15,000 fans. That performance helped David earn the support of one of the most influential country stations, 99-9 KISS Country in Miami. KISS Country is owned by Beasley Broadcasting, and is a major force in the No. 12-rated Arbitron radio market, which includes Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Hollywood, Florida. Beasley owns a pair of country stations in another one of America’s fastest-growing radio markets – Las Vegas.
KISS Program Director Ken Boessen and his staff soon began to book David for countless station events, including Miami Dolphins and Hurricanes games. In December 2008, he was asked to headline KISS Country’s weekly promotion at the America’s Backyard/Revolution Live concert venue in Fort Lauderdale. There he shared the stage with top Row artists including Chris Young, Billy Currington, Pat Green, Travis Tritt, and American Idol champion Taylor Hicks.
Last spring, David finally decided to make the big move to Music City. “It’s a funny story,” he says. “After four years, my girlfriend and I decided to go our separate ways, I lost my job due to budget cuts, and my roommate moved out – all in the same month. I thought to myself, `This has to be a sign to move to Nashville!’ ”
Florida’s loss quickly became Nashville’s gain. David has recorded demos of several original songs in Nashville with the help of piano player and co-producer Albert Poliak. These demos combine David’s loves for both country music and classic rock, including “Won’t Make You Love Me” and “The Girl Is Like An Earthquake.”
David’s ties to Florida remain strong. Ken Boessen and the staff of KISS Country remain huge supporters of his music, and David often phones and visits the station and keeps them informed of what he has been up to in Nashville.
His unique combination of country influences with blue-collar folk and classic rock is an ideal fit for today’s radio. David also already has the experience and confidence to play in both large and small venues, and the crucial relationship with country radio which will make him a natural on radio tours.
By Phil Sweetland