Cedar Hill

Cedar Hill’s 50 Years and Beyond

by Stephen Pitalo

Frank Ray, the founder of Cedar Hill, is not a fan of long band names.

“The first bluegrass band I had was a long rambling “mountain boys” kind of name,” Ray grumbled. “That was in 1967. I was never completely happy with that name and wanted something more original. In 1972 we were playing a Fourth of July picnic in Cedar Hill, Missouri. A young banjo player who later joined the group was beginning to play. I asked him if he would like to join us on stage. He did, and as he made his way to the stage, he tripped and fell. He got up, composed himself, and proceeded to come up and play the fire out of a banjo tune. As we were going home, I noticed clumps of grass clinging to his banjo case from the fall he had taken. I looked at his case and remarked, ‘At least you are taking some Cedar Hill grass home with you.’ It then hit me: that would be a good name for the band, Cedar Hill Grass.” They went by Cedar Hill Grass until around 1978 when they dropped the word ‘grass,’ leaving the band name Cedar Hill.”

Cedar Hill first formed in 1967 when Frank Ray and his uncle began playing local shows in the Ozarks along with four others, with twin fiddles as a key part of their sound. The uncle left the band, and Frank continued with the group and has played almost continuously since. Though personnel changes have taken place over the 55-year history of the band, Cedar Hill has stayed consistent and devoted to its Ozark roots and spirited brand of hard-driving bluegrass. Cedar Hill has played everywhere, from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, to the Performing Arts Center of London, England. The National Traditional Country Music Association Hall of Fame inducted the band in 2008, and Cedar Hill was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

In a childhood spent traveling between Texas and Missouri, Ray listened to the Carter Family and fifties country music and fired up an old Victrola to play just three vinyl offerings: Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, and Hank Williams.

“Of course, as a young teen, I got caught up in fifties rock ‘n’ roll. I was always a big fan of blues music.” Ray said. “I formed a small rock ‘n’ roll band with some other friends in the eighth grade. From that time on, I was in a band. I switched to country, then blues, and finally came back to bluegrass by my early twenties.”

Often known for their 1976 song “False Hearted Love,” the Cedar Hill song “Pearl” has received notice in recent years as a simple song with a timeless message.

“This song is a story about the father of a friend of mine who lived just a few miles from where I grew up in Shannon County, Missouri,” Ray explained. “He was an avid fox hunter, as were many in our region. His favorite hound was a dog named Pearl. His son Darren Haverstick wrote the song, and I loved it from the start. It is a beautifully written song about a man and his dog. That is true life in the Ozarks.”

Ray considers the Ozarks God’s artistry at its best and daily inspiration for life and songwriting.

“I pray I never lose my awe and love for the Ozarks. I love nature in general. Though many mountainous regions of America share much in the way of lifestyles, the Ozarks have traditions and history that make that region unique. The Ozarks hold an endless supply of stories yet to be told.”

He loves what he does, but some days it’s a bit harder for Ray to keep playing than others.

“I have quit several times but unsuccessfully,” Ray said. “I suppose I feel like my story is not yet finished. I feel the most satisfaction we can get is knowing that maybe you contributed at least in a small way to the music you love. I simply love writing, playing, and singing bluegrass music. I have been blessed with good health, so Lord willing, I will keep writing, picking, and singing bluegrass for at least a while longer.”