Daddy was Reverend Raymond D. Jones, aka Brother Ray: preacher, evangelist, high lonesome tenor-singing rhythm guitar player, pioneering pastor for his sect and Mother’s forever boyfriend.
Born in 1914, if he were here today he’d take a look at social media, say “Don’t that beat all!” and figure a way to work it into a sermon.
Photo above: 1955, First worship service inside the new church in Bogalusa, Louisiana
The church under construction
In Americus, Georgia early in his ministry, he was in charge of creating a congregation and building a church. During the war no new lumber was available, so the congregation bought an old hotel and demolished it, re-purposing the lumber for a new building.
That’s Daddy on the left, wearing his preacher clothes,
working with the crew.
And one of my favorites. Brother Ray in a Sunday morning suit.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy, from one of the preacher’s kids.
This publicity photo was taken in the early 1950’s as religion was becoming entertainment. Not all of these instruments belonged to our family’s basic traveling unit. Some did, but others were added at different stops as musician friends joined us all over the South.
As we toured, we performed on the radio, in churches, in auditoriums, in theaters and under revival tents and as The Joneses’ popularity grew, the same thing was happening with other musical evangelists.
We’d roll into town and someone would show us the publicity flier from the last evangelist who came through. Disc jockeys at radio stations told us who played and what they sang and how they were received.
Mother was in charge of our publicity. She handled it in an amazingly efficient way from the front seat of our big old sedan. Occasionally we updated our photos, which were turned into wood cuts she mailed ahead for printing purposes. She designed our fliers in advance of appearances, then as soon as we arrived in town, she talked with sponsoring organizations about whatever changes were required.
As I’m organizing photos from those years, I happened on this one, used for promotional ads in newspapers, and in programs and fliers and storefront posters. See that picture on the easel on the right? That’s a chalk drawing done by Mother during the course of an event. Yes, that was considered a legitimate attraction and several other evangelists did the same.
An announcer would say, not only is Sister Fern about to sing for you, but she will also put a blank canvas right up there on that easel, where she’ll create one of her unusual chalk drawings while you watch. Music would play. Those who’d seen this performance before reached for their billfolds and purses. The drawing would be auctioned to the highest bidder and proceeds would go back into the community, into the hands of whomever booked us there.
I haven’t seen one of her creations for years now, but perhaps some of them still exist in homes somewhere along Route 66.
Daddy – 1937. Newlywed. Newly ordained preacher, Reverend Raymond D. Jones. “Brother Ray.”
The oldest of ten, he’d already helped raise his brothers and sisters, picking cotton, tending gardens, plowing fields and cooking for his family when he should have been in school, riding his motorcycle, drinking too much, honky-tonking on the weekend and dancing with the teenage singer who became his wife. She was the rose. He remained the gardener. After my brother and I came along, she was the performer. He was the teacher.
He taught us how to plant potatoes, how to cook them, how to make biscuits and gravy, and the behavior required of Southern preachers’ kids in all kinds of situations. Example: Because he came up poor and was always conscious of someone else’s lack of funds, when we had supper with members of the congregation and were offered second helpings, he asked us to say,
“Much obliged, but I have had sufficient.”
We were eager for stories of his wild days but he only told us bits and ended every telling with,
“Course I’d-a never done that if I was a Daddy then. That’s not how a Daddy ought to do.”
All his people sang parts and played instruments and studied shape note singing at a country church out in the woods. He believed in music to spread The Word, but he didn’t care much about having a featured role. His part was usually singing harmony and playing rhythm guitar.
When The Joneses’ music, recorded in the 1950’s, was re-mastered and released a few years back, the only song on the album featuring Daddy’s voice on lead was soon heard all over the place. He’d have been surprised. I can see his grin and hear his drawl.
“Well, I never!”
In honor of Father’s Day, click the picture and hear Daddy’s distinctive hill country lead on “This World Is Not My Home.”
Brother Ray’s mornings started with newspapers and moved
on to the radio station.
Daddy and Leslie Ray and I all woke before daylight in the parsonage, ready to face the day. My brother and I got up early on purpose because it was rare quiet time we could spend alone with Daddy before heading to school. Since leaving his father’s house, Daddy had kept to their farmer’s hours when every child was a farmhand and every farmhand was out in the field before sunup.
Leslie Ray took his place at the table, bringing his breakfast with him, and the three of us shared a comfortable intimacy. From behind my cereal box, I watched Daddy read the morning paper. To be present while he read The Arkansas Gazette was to watch a food lover devour a favorite meal. He smiled. He frowned. He exclaimed,
“Well I never!”
He savored every page and remembered all of it. This was evident in the many references to newspaper stories that turned up in his sermons on the radio and in church.
If someone who didn’t already love reading sat across from Reverend Raymond Jones while he sipped his tea and read his morning newspaper, that person would have to re-think the power of stories told in newsprint.
If we were quiet for a long time, he’d read out loud a headline or the first two or three lines of a story. Then he stopped. When we became intrigued and asked him to keep reading, we could see him make a determination right then and there about content. He scanned ahead before proceeding, editing out references he didn’t want us to see. He underestimated our curiosity. When we left the parsonage we would find out the result of any story he censored at home.
Editing as he read created an intriguing rhythm. His deliberation caused a delay of a couple of seconds, so in my mind I played a game, racing ahead, guessing how the sentence and the paragraph and the story might end.
My brother and I went to the stove for several cups of the coffee Daddy made first thing when he got up. We’d been drinking coffee since we were very small, mixing in copious amounts of sugar and thick, fresh cream, like Southern children do, to turn it pale. Daddy brewed the strong Luzianne coffee with chicory Mother liked. It would be re-heated hours later when she woke. Her coffee was so dense by the time she got out of bed, Daddy joked he could slice it up and serve it with gravy and call it supper.
Without looking up, he admonished us every morning,
“Leave enough coffee in the pot for yore Mama.”
With his head still inside his newspaper and without a glance at the food I had on the plate before me, he chided me about my breakfast selections.
“If that’s all you plan to eat, Nita Faye, you’ll never get big like your brother.”
Then he questioned his son about the care and feeding of the outside animals, some of which were destined to become our meals one day soon. Did you feed them, son? No matter what the truth might be, Leslie answered, yessir.
To any other questions Daddy asked while reading his newspaper, we answered in the affirmative and sipped our coffee. In that companionable time, Daddy was easily pleased, satisfied with the way his days began.
As we cleared our plates and made ready for school, we left him with scissors in hand, turning the pages back to where he’d inked notes in the margin of a story, cutting out the ones he wanted to share with his wife. Mother didn’t relish mornings, but she loved news as much as Daddy and they had an agreement that he would bring to her attention points of interest by placing clippings next to her coffee cup. Later in the day the two of them held animated discussions about current events.
A few minutes more and he was at the sink, washing the ink off his hands before grabbing his hat and heading out on his early morning pastor calls and then to the radio station for a morning sermonette. I wonder how many stories-worth of newsprint he must have washed off over the years.
While choosing photos for my book, The Glory Road, here’s one that fell out during scrapbook page-turning. Find a picture, tell a story. It’s the law. If it isn’t, it should be. Here’s a story with a song from the 1950’s.
My curly-headed Mother, Sister Fern, on the right with her bobby pins springing out all around, next to her wavy-haired Mother, Gramma K, whose hair did what she wanted it to.
Curls were never going to be all right with Mother, when what she craved were some of those wide waves women made with giant metal wave clips. No matter how many clips she used, within hours her curls defied her.
There might have been no performances under all those revival tents without Vaseline. She greased up her curls and pinned then down with high resolve and after a short while, the bobby pins squirmed out again and she re-applied her Vaseline, sometimes several times on a particularly troublesome day. Then the tears started.
Curly headed girls, she told us, were not presently in style. She took it as a personal insult that she was forced to remain curly-headed during a wavy-haired fashion period. On the way to performances in the Deep South during the summer, sometimes her largest concern was frizz. Not what she would sing. Not which musicians and quartets would accompany her, but how long before curly became frizzy. The weather could turn on you just like that.
The remarkable thing was the amount of patience Daddy showed. No matter how many times she burst into tears worrying about her hair, he rushed to reassure her, his voice never showing a hint of strain.
As Leslie Ray and I became more proficient at saying things we didn’t mean, we imagined Daddy must have been answering by rote all those years. If so, he’d never admit it. That wouldn’t be chivalrous. One of the traits that made him a popular preacher was his ability to reassure over and over again as if this was the first time he’d ever been consulted about a particular dilemma.
From The Glory Road play, here’s a glimpse of Brother Ray and his favorite curly-headed singer.
1950’s. Deep South. Outside a big revival tent. A quartet sings inside while Sister Fern waits to be introduced by her husband, Brother Ray. But she’s not inside yet so he asks the quartet to keep singing while he goes to check on her.
RAY There you are sugar! I was
startin’ to get worried. How’re you feeling?
FERN Honey, is my hair frizzy? Because it feels frizzy.
All this humidity.
RAY (moves in close, touches her hair)
No, darlin’ your hair’s not frizzy. It’s curly is all.
You’re my big ol’ doll-baby with big ol’
FERN (takes out compact mirror, checks herself)
Are you sure? Because I can’t sing when my hair’s frizzy.
RAY (closes the compact gently, his fingers over hers)
One of Brother Ray’s favorite duets with Sister Fern.
Daddy was the sheriff of Mayberry with a deep Southern drawl and a Bible in his hand. Tall and good looking and enormously likable, he was in possession of both the strength and the patience of a natural leader.
Musical. Charismatic. Genuinely kind. Taught us to plant things, how to dig up baby potatoes, how to sing harmony in the car. The latter is important when what your family does is sing gospel harmony.
Daddy’s teaching methods were transparent but effective. To learn our parts, he started us off with the cowboy songs we loved and transitioned from Tumbling Tumbleweeds to What a Friend We Have In Jesus.
Headed to the radio station in Columbus Georgia, 1945. Sister Fern might not enjoy this photo of her with eyes closed and curls springing loose, but I like it. Sorry, Mother. We’ll make it up to you next Mother’s Day.
In the Deep South, Daddy could get anything to grow, but he never had Birds of Paradise until we came to California. The first time a big display of them popped up in his new yard in Glendale, he made us all come look. He stood there grinning, and said, “Well! I never!” Each time I see a magnificent group like these, I say the same thing.