By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – A master of rockabilly was honored at the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau on Thursday.
More than 50 people gathered for the unveiling of an exhibit about Ray Harris, a Shiloh community native who became a Sun Records recording artist and respected music producer.
Harris grew up during the Depression and picked cotton to buy his first guitar, said his nephew, Jerry Donald Thompson of Mooreville.
“He was the only uncle I had who left here and came back in a Cadillac,” Thompson said.
Harris went to Memphis, where he was a musical contemporary of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.
“My dad told me that when Ray performed in the studio, he looked like he was going to have a heart attack because he was so animated and so intense,” said Jerry Phillips, son of legendary music producer Sam Phillips, and Harris’ one-time son-in-law.
His songs included “Come On Little Mama” and “Greenback Dollar Watch and Chain.” His daughter, Ryta Harris Phillips, said her favorite was “Where’d You Stay Last Nite.”
“Not because of the lyrics,” the Mooreville resident said. “It’s the rhythm, great for dancing.”
Harris moved into engineering and producing music. He was a founding member of Hi Records and Studio. Later, he and Sam Phillips co-founded Trace Recording Studio in Tupelo.
During his career, Harris recorded Chet Atkins, Ace Cannon and Al Green, and worked on Jumpin’ Gene Simmons’ hit, “Haunted House.”
Up-and-coming musicians knew who he was, according to Harris’ daughter, JOBI of Mooreville.
“Everybody had a band. ‘Can your daddy listen to us? Can we go see the studio?’” JOBI said. “We had a lot of friends.”
Harris, who died in 2003 in Mooreville, is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. The CVB exhibit will be on display through the end of March.
“He loved his life. He loved his family,” Thompson said. “He had a heart of gold, and most of all, he loved his music.”