About the Group
Ray and Kay (Barnard), the Banjo Kids were a brother - sister
act on the on the WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic
from about 1949 to 1955. Their parents were Herbert Lyle Barnard,
(who was known as "Lyle" but his nickname was "Syke") and Wilda
Avis. They were part of a large family of three
brothers and three sisters. Marceline was the eldest, then came
Durant and Gordon, followed by Ray, then Kay and the youngest, Claire.
Both Ray and Kay played banjo. Ray would
sing lead and his sister would sing harmony. When they started out,
entertaining together, Ray was ten years old and Kay was only 8.
They began performing and in one instance Ray tells us of a time
around 1944 or so of their songs being recorded by an engineer from
WHO radio at a home talent show in Cedar, Iowa, along
with announcer Al Bell.
Interestingly enough, at this show, Ray and Kay weren't competing
in the contest as their Dad felt they were no longer amateurs having
won the princely sum of $15 for first place in another amateur contest.
As a result, at the Cedar show, they were considered 'guests'.
Ray would have been about 11 years old then and his sister 9.
The songs that were recorded at this appearance were when they were
still very young were:
- Oklahoma City
- Beg Your Pardon
- Freight Train Blues
- Four Leaf Clover
- Teardrops In My Heart
Ray was the first one to take up the banjo and learn it. Both of them
played the tenor banjo, which had four strings tuned C, G, D and A. Kay
began playing banjo about a year before that Cedar show, but
she was already pretty accomplished on the piano. But they were unable
to take advantage of the some of the invitations they had to perform
because many of the places they played - schools, farm bureau meetings,
Grange halls - did not have pianos.
Ray was kind enough to let us listen to these early recordings and
we had a chance to follow up with him to ask him about his banjo
playing influences or inspirations. He mentioned that he had
always wanted to play and emulate the steel guitar sound. That
steel guitar influence came from some neighbors who loaned them
an old Hawaiian guitar, steel bar, picks and all. No one taught
them how to tune it and he began to play. But Ray's dad was
of the thought that there were already a million guitar players
out there, so he encourage Ray to stick with the banjo. We'll touch
more on Ray's musical influences later, but now let's get back to
Around this time, they appeared on a Wednesday night show that aired
over radio station KBIZ out of Ottumwa, Iowa. That lead to weekly
appearances on the station's barn dance show. At that time,
the show was two hours long and took place at the Coliseum on
the banks of the Des Moines River in Ottumwa. One of the announcers
at the barn dance show in Ottumwa Ray tells us was Del Donahoo,
who later became one of the announcers on the WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic.
Around 1950 or 1951, Ray and Kay appeared on another WHO Home Talent
Show, hosted by Cliff Carl, who was also in charge of the WHO Iowa
Barn Dance Frolic show. He invited them to appear at the WHO Tent
at the Iowa State Fair. They got a rousing reception which led
to an invitation to appear on the "live" Iowa Barn Dance shows on
Saturday nights. From there, they became regular performers on the
Saturday night show.
Their early appearances on the show were usually did without any
backup from a band.
During the latter part of their time on the show, they were backed
by another singer and his band who would later go on to fame as a songwriter
and star of the WWVA Original Jamboree show in Wheeling, West Virginia.
That man was Dusty Owens and his band, the Rodeo Boys.
During their years on the show and their earlier years of performing,
their mom and dad were there to lend. Their mom and a cousin, Arlene
McEwen would personally hand-sew the costumes for them and sometimes
would be up late getting them ready for the Saturday night shows.
Their older sister, Marceline also helped get the costumes finished on
occasion, too as she and her husband had electricity and it was
easier to see to get the job done during those late nights
getting things ready for upcoming appearances.
Ray also told us fondly of a log book that their mom had kept that
kept little tid bits of information about their performance on the
show - with little anecdotes such as when one of them was a bit
sick or when the crowd really responded to their act. Their mom
and dad were a part of the Barn Dance family, too, so to speak,
for Ray told us and Dusty Owens has as well, of occasions when
some members of the cast would make the nearly 70 mile drive
up to the Barnard family farm for a weekend lunch or dinner.
Ray was kind enough to tell us a couple of tales of the hurdles
they sometimes went through on their personal appearances.
There was one winter evening in the late 1940s, Ray recalls that he and Kay
were booked to play at a small town about 100 miles away from home. Snow was in the forecast
that night. Dad and mom had an old 1937 Plymouth that wasn't running
too well at the time; Ray thinks it probably needed an overhaul, similar
to what it got every couple of years in their farm garage. The mechanics
for the family car were two brothers and brother-in-law Herb Tennis.
That particular night, however, their dad prevailed on Herbie to take his 'new'
1935 Chrysler AirStream on this personal appearance. Now, "new" might
be a relative term as the auto was "new" to Herb and his wife, Marceline,
Ray and Kay's sister.
Understand that this was before some things we take for granted today
in our automobiles were not common features then - such as defrosters.
The car had a small dash-mounted fan set up to blow the warm air from
the heater onto the car's windshield. At the same time, the latest
'invention' was a windshield wiper blade made of cloth wrapped around
salt crystals. The salt was meant to keep the frost from accumulating
on the outside of the windshield. They drove off for this personal
appearance with seemingly the 'latest' equipment in their car.
The show was for the "commercial club" which today is akin to the Chamber
of Commerce in a town in Eastern Iowa. True as forecasted, snow began
to fall in the evening and gradually got heavier as the night wore on.
Herbie was telling Ray and Kay's parents about it during the night, too.
Ray remembers that when they came out after the concert and loaded things up for their departure,
there was already about four inches of snow on the ground. The wind
was picking up, too - making for some unpleasant driving conditions
on the way home.
They began the journey home and then about 35 miles from home, visibility
became so poort that they couldn't see out the windshield at all -
it seems the so-called 'miracle-wiper' they had wasn't doing the job any longer.
But Herbie was unflappable. He would drive a few miles, then get out
and scrape the windshield, then continue driving. After a few tries,
it became so bad that cleaning and scraping it was accomplishing nothing.
Herb then rolled the window down on his side of the car so he could see the
edge of the road with the lights and an electric lantern, and he would
drive until his eyes "teared up" so bad that he would have to pull over
to the side of the road to get his bearings before moving on.
They travelled the final 15 to 20 miles like this and would have been
home sooner, except the country roads were drifting so badly, they had
to stay on the highway to get to the next town.
That evening, Ray and Kay stayed with their sister and Herbie, then
went home the next morning, AFTER the motor grader snow plow
had opened the roads so they could even GET HOME!
Ray says it was the worst night he had ever
been out in. It wasn't fit for man or beast, yet, Herbie came through.
As for the "new fangled" windshield defroster? It was never found after
the last time Herbie had to clean the windshield by hand, and
Ray supposes it's somewhere out there, a long throw from the
On another occasion, Ray and Kay were booked to a Farm Bureau event
some 100 miles from home. On the day before the date, it started
snowing and got heavier as the day went on. They had planned to
drive to the show; however, roads were closed in many areas,
so Mom took Ray and Kay to town and bought them bus tickets
as buses were seemingly the only thing getting through by that time.
Ray says he will never forget his Mom paying $20.00 for three roundtrip bus tickets to go play
a $30.00 job. Not to mention meals and other expenses.
Then having to ride back home on the bus after the show
(an all night drive, by the way) and changing buses in Des Moines along
with a layover and more!
But, Ray's Mom and Dad would recall later in life that
"The Kids never were late and NEVER missed a booking".
However, Ray says that we can do the math and realize they weren't really
getting wealthy, and in fact, it was a rather expensive trip
just for the experience to say the least! The life of a performer
is not always as glamorous as we might think.
An old 1953 WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic souvenir flyer highlights the
two of them and described them as "...A brother and sister act
who sing those good ole country songs with youthful enthusiasm
to the rhythm of their twin banjos and tapping feet." Back then, the
Barn Dance was being held at the Hoyt Sherman Theatre in Des Moines.
They continued to perform on the show until April of 1953, when
Ray was drafted into military service during the Korean conflict.
But before Ray left, someone came up with an the idea that perhaps Ray and Kay
should record some of their tunes as the sense was that the act was breaking up.
Dusty Owens and his Rodeo Boys provided the musical backup and the recordings
took place in the basement of the home of a WHO engineer by the name
of Vic Blacketeer. Dusty's band at the time included Bob Cooley on
rhythm guitar; Don Edwards on bass; Chuck Adams on steel guitar and
from the Buckaroos band, Slim Hayes on fiddle.
The tunes Ray and Kay recorded were:
- The Lobby of Your Heart
- I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive
- That's The Kinda Love I'm Lookin' For
- I Could Never Be Ashamed Of You
- Goin' Steady
- Full-Time Job
- Shepherd Of My Heart
When we listen to these tunes and those from their earlier
years and hear their banjo playing, Ray tells us that the little
finger rolls you'd hear were usually Ray while his sister was usually
playing the rhythm as she had started playing later than Ray.
Ray was discharged form the service in 1955 and he and his sister resumed
performing on the WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic show. But, other aspects of
life such as marriages, children and employment obligations meant that
Ray and Kay had to discontinue performing for the show in 1956.
Kay pretty much retired from the music business at that time. But later,
Ray continued to pursue his musical interests. For a time, he formed
a band in Omaha, Nebraska and played the local clubs on weekends while
maintaining his career with the railroads.
Now remember that Ray was telling us of his musical influences earlier.
While he had that band, he was basically playing guitar pretty much
full time during those years and thinks he probably never played the banjo
again. But he says Kay still has hers. Later on,
he was influenced by Floyd Cramer's style on the piano, which he switched
to exclusively in 1966.
His later musical career did have its treasured moments.
While in Omaha, Ray had the opportunity to appear on a Grand Ole Opry
show that starred Ernest Tubb, Skeeter Davis and Ray Price.
Ray tells us he got a great audience reception since he was the 'home
town' boy and recalls fondly the thrill of having Ernest Tubb's
Texas Troubadours backing him up on-stage - Buddy Emmons on steel, Jack Drake on
bass and a lead guitar player whose name he can't recall yet.
Here's what Ray told us about that appearance:
"Anyway, Ernest stood just offstage as did Skeeter. When I came off, he
called me back onstage and told the audience he was inviting me
to Nashville to appear on the Midnight Jamboree!
Man, I didn't hit ground for several days!...He also told me to write
some songs and bring them down or send them to him and gave
me his HOME address and phone number."
Ernest also invited Ray to tour with them for a couple of weeks
while they made personal appearances in Nebraska and Iowa. But,
Ray had to decline the opportunity as he couldn't get time
off from his job with the railroad.
But Ray says he wrote songs '...like mad for the next few months...'
and even recorded a demo at radio station KOOO in Omaha.
Finally, he made it to Nashville one New Year's day - arriving on
a Saturday around noon and headed over to the YMCA.
(This appears to be January 1, 1960). They had no rooms but he
did manage to share a double bed room with another guy. Ray took
the room as it was right around the corner from the Ryman
Auditorium and Ernest Tubb's Record Shop on Broadway. After he
got settled in, he called Ernest.
Ernest told him they were rehearsing over at the WSM studios shortly
and that he would stop by and pick him up at that "Y". Ray was
pretty happy by this time as you might expect.
Ray recalls that Ernest picked him up in his Cadillac and they visited
for a while. He recalls that Ernest was a "...friendly and helpful man"
to him and other young wannabe's. He then dropped Ray off at the "Y"
after their rehearsal (which Ray didn't think they needed!) Ernest
told Ray to come over to the Opry and come backstage and ask for him.
When he got there, Ernest took him around and Ray got to mingle with
many of the Opry stars back then - Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs,
Roy Acuff, Stonewall Jackson. And even Skeeter Davis - she even remembered
Ray and asked how things were going in Omaha. Ray said it was something
every country music fan should have had a chance to experience. He'd
be hearing jam sessions in every beatup room and dressing room. It was
all very informal and he saw different members of the bands playing
tunes together as he strolled around backstage.
Ever gracious as a host, Ernest asked Ray if he wanted to watch the show
out front or backstage. He mentioned it was better out front, so Ray
got to watch the entire show and then went over to the Record Shop
for the Midnight Jamboree.
Then Ernest asked Ray, would you like to sing a couple of songs. Ray of course
said yes, but he mentioned that he didn't have his guitar with him. That
wasn't a problem at all - Ernest told him he could use his. You can
see by the photo of Ray during his performance he was indeed playing
Ernest's guitar from the pearl inlay of his name on the neck of the
guitar. And you can see Ray's enthusiasm and excitement in that picture,
too. We asked Ray if he remembered what he sang on that appearance
and he said it was the Charlie Walker hit, "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down".
Ray treasures that picture - as he tells us:
"(It was)... a tremendous honor
for a small town Iowa farm boy who worked for everything he ever had
and to end up being in the company of such an esteemed man and a man
whom I had gone to see at a show when Kay and I were just kids ... and
to listen to the Opry every Saturday night on a battery operated Philco.
We didn't even have electricity until I was 15 years old."
And the story doesn't end there. After the Midnight Jamboree was over,
Ernest told him to be ready at 11:00am Sunday morning. Ernest was
going to pick him up and take him over to Decca Records and Ray was
going to play his songs for Mr. Owen Bradley. Ray said he hardly
slept that night and woke up around 10:00. But while he was getting
dressed, he noticed that a brand new pair of shoes he had worn were
gone and an old beat-up pair was left behind in their place. Ray
was a bit down at the time and since it was New Year's weekend, all
the stores were closed. He said he finally went out to an alley way
and banged on the back door of one store until the manager came. He
explained what the problem was and the importance of it to him and
in the end, let Ray buy a new pair of shoes. And just barely got back
in time to the "Y" to meet ET!
When Ray got to the Decca studios, he saw Brenda Lee relaxing between
sessions, sipping on a malt. He saw Floyd Cramer playing piano
on that session for her. Finally, they finished and Ernest introduced
Ray to Mr. Bradley. Ernest then had them play Ray's demo recordings
for him and Owen. Both of them, Owen and Ernest told Ray he was on the
right track and showed promise.
Ray later told Ernest about his 'shoe' fiasco and what he went through
and Ernest just laughed and laughed along with Ray. But that wasn't the
last Ray saw of Ernest.
A couple of years went by and Ernest and his band was on a tour of eastern
Nebraska and Ray went to see his show at a fair that was about 50 miles
west of Omaha. Ray found the bus which was parked just off the edge of the
stage and walked over to it. The band was getting ready to go onstage
so the door was open, but it seems Ernest was the only one on board at the
time when Ray hollered hello. Ernest invited him inside and remembered him,
asked him things were going and then he looked at Ray's feet. And started
to laugh. And told Ray, "Good to see you've still got those shoes"!!!
Ray says to this day he has never forgotten that moment. Two years
go by and a legend such as Ernest Tubb remembers this small town singer
and an incident as trivial as his shoes.
As for Ray's appearance on Ernest Tubb's Midnight Jamboree show that
long ago New Year's night, Ray tells of calling his mom back home
and that she told him that she and dad had heard him perform and
that she was crying, tears of happiness. She told him in words
he never forgot,
"Son, you're simply getting the attention and recognition
you and sis have richly deserved for years."
Timeline and Trivia Notes
- Ray Barnard, tenor banjo, guitar, piano, vocals
- Kay Barnard, tenor banjo, piano, vocals
Credits & Sources
- Photos and anecdotes provided
courtesy of Kay and Ray Barnard. We gratefully thank Ray and Kay
for sharing with us their mementos not only of their career,
but their experiences with the WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic.
- Recording provided courtesy of Ray Barnard
|Sound Sample(RealAudio Format)