Inspiration comes in many forms for Ray Blouin, VPAS music coordinator. It might be his children, his 7:00 a.m. daily walks with Blue Ridge and Alleghany mountain views, or the standing room only crowds who come to watch his eclectic band perform. But while the inspiration varies, the results remain the same: his music makes magic happen in the community.
Musically-inclined all his life, Ray joined a folk music group while a student at Willamette College called “The Wayfarers.” On a whim, the group drove to Los Angeles to audition for a recording contract with RCA Records. They showed up unannounced at the studio, waited for hours in the lobby, auditioned, signed a contract, and went out on tour. A product of the Great Folk Music Revival of the 1960s, the band recorded in California and New York, producing the first-ever album to be recorded during a live session at the 1964-65 World’s Fair.
Eventually, America’s love affair with folk music waned and the group disbanded, giving Ray the opportunity to chase different dreams. He recorded 17 solo albums, served two tours of duty in the U.S. Coast Guard (including one in Vietnam), earned a master’s degree, and taught economics. He also pursued career stints as a social worker and a banker in Boston. He and wife Joann, a Rockbridge County high school math teacher, raised five children and have two grandchildren.
Throughout it all, Ray kept playing his banjo and guitar and writing songs. So after he retired and VPAS Executive Director Jeri Schaff asked him to join the VPAS team while she was the director at Maury River Senior Center, he agreed and began playing his guitar after lunch. “It struck a bell in my head,” said Ray, “and I thought, ‘Why not start a senior center group?’” Ray began recruiting people to play in what would become the Maury River Senior Center “Pickers and Singers”, a 16-22 person band playing everything from folk to bluegrass to ecclesiastical music.
But watching the Pickers and Singers perform is as likely to leave you laughing as dancing. In between their 16-song sets, band members take turns telling jokes sent to Ray by former classmates and old friends. They have plenty of material, Ray said laughing. Each week he pulls new jokes from a “stockpile about three feet high,” a testament to the meaningful relationships he’s developed over the years.
Ray believes playing music is very good for the brain, and finds as much joy enriching the lives of his fellow musicians as he does performing on stage for big crowds. Many community members join the band not knowing how to play anything, and then they learn. “Our goal is to make people happy and to keep our brains healthy,” said Ray. “It’s a delight to work with them and a delight to see how the audience responds each month.”
For a Pickers and Singers concert schedule, visit the Maury River Senior Center.
Ray Blouin Making Magic on his Guitar