Raymond John Johnson is a truly unique artist with a very interesting story. He is a gentle soul who started life as an orphan. At age five he was adopted by his foster parents, Johnny and Bridget Johnson, of Jobs Cove, Conception Bay, and grew up in that small outport where the dialect is never quite sure what to do with “r”s.
Who knows why the hand of fate sent Ray to Jobs Cove, but one thing is for sure, it was the start of his love affair with the accordion. Beginning with his father’s musical influence, Ray learned to play an accordion that cost just $24.00 way back in the pot auger days. Continuing with the opportunities of the Jobs Cove social scene, Ray persevered until, at the age of eight, he had mastered the instrument.
His first official gig came when he played for a square dance, replacing the original player who had found too much weather to perform. In those days the square dance player was known as the “fiddler”, regardless of what instrument he played. Thus Ray became the official square dance “fiddler” while still playing his accordion.
From there his fledgling career started to take off. He enthusiastically learned more tunes and would routinely be called on to play for marathon soup, supper and dance events, which started at eight in the evening and went on until four or five in the morning.
As he got better, Ray recalls, people would pass the hat at the end of the dance and he earned enough money to keep himself in books and clothes.
At the grand old age of twelve, Ray had started his professional career, influenced by locals and the music he experienced from a new medium called television. He was so taken by Don Messer that he took up fiddle playing and wrote directly to Don Messer asking him to send a supply of Rosin for his bow. Never really expecting to hear anything, he put the matter out of his mind but, low and behold, after three weeks he received not only the Rosin package, but a signed photo of Don Messer, a book from Messer’s private collection on how to play the fiddle and a bridge for his fiddle.
Ray continued his playing in Jobs Cove until he graduated from high school and left to study art at St. John’s and Halifax, ultimately graduating with a degree in Fine Arts and Education. While in Halifax, Ray continued performing at the university and other coffee houses, as well as the Newfoundland club and, of course, house parties. He also recorded six albums at the old Audat recording studio in Halifax.
In 1976 Ray’s homesickness got the better of him and he returned home to teach in Glovertown, a move that proved fate was with Ray.
Another teacher, Wayne Chaulk, was working in Glovertown and they began jamming. Soon after they joined Kevin Blackmore, a.k.a. Buddy Wasisname, and together the trio formed a musical/comedy act with the unlikely name of Buddy Wasisname and The Other Fellers. That was eighteen years ago.
Today the Buddy Wasisname trio is still going strong. Ray has developed into the ultimate accordion player and singer and is also now a reluctant comedian of considerable ability. Give him a set of lines and he turns into the consummate performer.
Ray’s unique love of all things traditional is beautifully displayed in his reciting abilities. Perhaps the only professional entertainer to currently use this art form, Ray is nothing short of brilliant as he infuses each passage with the vigor and drama of a Shakespearean actor. His latest recitation, a poem by Ena Constance Barrett entitled “Newfoundland ” highlights Ray’s talents and his passion for his homeland.
Another talent Ray displays is his ability to compose both music and lyric. His unusual singing voice adds a distinct flavour to his songs about the Newfoundland way of life which is facing the challenge of change and even extinction.
Ray takes his life as a performing artist very seriously, and so he should because his fans love him and endorse his allegiance to tradition.
Ray Johnson, a unique performer, a unique person.
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