Frank Ray introduces new edition of Cedar Hill

The Ozark region of the United States has a long and rich history in bluegrass music. While many people think first of Kentucky or North Carolina when someone says bluegrass, the Ozarks Mountains have contributed as deeply to our music as the Appalachians. The Dillards spring quickly to mind in this context, but a great many top players and singers have arisen from parts of Missouri and Arkansas over the history of bluegrass.

One such is Frank Ray, who has been performing and recording bluegrass music since 1967 from his home in Missouri. Growing up around the music, he naturally fell into playing with his family and performed as a member of the Ramblin’ Blue Grass Boys thought the early 1970s. Soon Frank had his own group, Cedar Hill, which came from remnants of the Ramblin’ Blue Grass Boys, particularly when his uncle, Rich Orchard, left the band.

From 1976 until today, Ray has maintained some form of Cedar Hill as his primary performance vehicle, always with him on mandolin, together with the best musicians he could find to join him. There have been many eras of this outfit, as younger members stretch their wings and go out on their own after finding notoriety in the band.

For 2024, Frank has a new edition of the band in tow, including members who had toured with Cedar Hill in the past, and now make a return engagement.

We asked him to introduce us to this latest bunch, and he happily complied.

“The current line up represents some of the very best of the many talented former members of Cedar Hill. I feel some of our best music has been recorded when some of these players and singers were in Cedar Hill. I feel blessed to have these guys back in the line up once again. We’re looking forward to a limited number of bookings.

Mel Besher of Hillsboro, MO grew up on a family farm where his life consisted of the things you do on a small farm, plus coon hunting and playing music along side his Dad. He was always singing and writing in a band of some kind from grade school on. In his early teens he moved to Nashville where he made his home with Jimmy Martin and got his bluegrass on the road education. There he began writing for some of the major songwriting firms and was also a sought after vocalist for label demos and other projects. He was the main vocalist while traveling with Josh Graves and Kenny Baker. His list of credits is long. Traveled full time with Cedar Hill in the early 2000s. He now makes his home back in Hillsboro, Missouri on his small family farm.

Joe Dean started playing music at the age of 5. He credits The Eagles for giving him the inspiration to play music. After picking up the guitar he quickly learned the mountain dulcimer and mandolin before settling on the banjo. Joe played with local bands around the St. Louis area until he finished high school. After graduating, he landed a professional gig playing with the first configuration of Dailey and Vincent’s band. He toured with D&V for almost five years before moving on to play with Bluegrass Hall of Fame member Doyle Lawson and his band Quicksilver in 2012. Joe spent eight years with Quicksilver until music and touring declined due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Joe now resides in O’Fallon, IL with his wife Jessica and three kids.

Irl Hees, like most professional bluegrass musicians, has worked in several groups. Lost Highway, Radio Flyer, Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, Chris Jones and the Night Drivers, Cedar Hill, The Lonesome River Band, The Cleverlys, and The Clay Hess Band, are just a few of the groups he’s worked with. He has appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, Larry’s Country Diner, Music City Roots, Bluegrass Underground, the Jerry Lewis Telethon, as well as others. He enjoys using the bass as a lead/rhythm instrument to accompany his vocals in his solo appearances. Now, if he could just keep a job……

Bob Lewis has literally been playing fiddle since he was a toddler with a successful traveling Family band and a number of endeavors is back on fiddle and vocals.”

This does sound like a powerful lineup, and a fine complement to the storied history of Cedar Hill.

Frank has yet to update the Cedar Hill web site, but soon you should be able to find their 2024 tour dates online, or on the band’s Facebook.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.