Opry Crooner Ray Pillow Passes
Grand Ole Opry star Ray Pillow has died at age 85.
He is best known for his 1966 hit duets with Country Music Hall of Fame member Jean Shepard (1933-2016) “I’ll Take the Dog” and “Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be.” Pillow had top-40 solo country hits with “Thank You Ma’am” (1965), “Common Colds and Broken Hearts” (1966), “Volkswagen” (1966) and “Reconsider Me” (1969). He charted 18 times between 1965 and 1981.
Pillow also had a career on Music Row as an executive for Liberty Records in the 1990s. He was a song publisher and the co-founder of an independent record label as well.
Born Herbert Raymond Pillow, the singer was a native of Lynchburg, Virginia. He graduated from Lynchburg College with a business degree and served in the U.S. Navy.
Pillow performed locally on radio and TV before coming to Nashville to compete on the Pet Milk Talent Contest. He did not win, but he persevered and eventually found his Nashville manager, Joe Taylor. This led to a 1964 contract with Capitol Records. This label is where most of his hits occurred.
Ray Pillow was named “Most Promising Male Artist” by Billboard in 1966. Cash Box echoed that by naming him its Most Promising New Artist of 1966. That was also the year that he was inducted into the Opry cast.
During his heyday, he appeared on the nationally syndicated television shows of Porter Wagoner, Bobby Lord and The Wilburn Brothers. He also appeared in the feature films Country Boy (1966) and The Disc Jockey (1979).
The baritone vocalist continued to record for the next three decades. Pillow placed singles on the charts on such imprints as ABC, Plantation, Mega, Hilltop, Dot, MCA and First Generation.
In 1964, he and Taylor formed The Joe Taylor Artist Agency, a management and booking company. It was located on 12th Avenue South in the complex now occupied by Dolly Parton’s offices.
Pillow also partnered with former Mel Tillis bass player Larry McFaden. They co-founded the song-publishing business Sycamore Valley Music. The firm became highly successful, handling the songwriting catalog of Lee Greenwood in the 1980s. The songs included Greenwood’s 1984 anthem “God Bless the U.S.A.,” which won the CMA Song of the Year award.
In 1990, Jimmy Bowen hired Pillow as an A&R executive at Liberty to screen songs for the label’s artists. Ray Pillow celebrated his 50th anniversary as an Opry member in 2016 and retired two years later.
The singer passed away on Sunday, March 26. He is survived by his wife, Joanne Pillow, daughter, Selena Malone, son, Daryl Ray Pillow and by six grandchildren and a great-grandchild. A celebration of life will be announced at a later date by the family.