Ray Goins, gone at 71

Ray GoinsWe lost another bluegrass pioneer this week when banjo player and singer Ray Goins passed away on Monday, July 2, 2007. Ray had been ill for some time, and was hospitalized in Pikeville, KY when he died.

He was a member of the legendary Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, formed by Ray and Charlie Cline in 1938. This group has been regarded by many early bluegrass historians as providing a “missing link” in the development of what became bluegrass music from the old time string bands and popular brother duets of the 1930s. Other members of Lonesome Pine Fiddlers during their nearly 30 year run included future bluegrass luminaries like Bobby Osborne and Paul Williams.

Ray joined the group with his brother Melvin in 1951, and they remained members until The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers disbanded temporarily in 1955, resurfacing in 1961 with the Goins brothers and Curly Ray and Ezra Cline. The band had a major brush with bluegrass history in 1954 when they turned down the Martha White sponsorship that then went to Flatt & Scruggs.

After the Fiddlers broke up in 1963, Ray and Melvin performed together as The Goins Brothers until Ray’s heart attack in 1994 slowed him down. Ray retired in 1997, while Melvin continued as Melvin Goins & Windy Mountain. Ray would share the stage with his brother on occasion, mostly close to home in eastern Kentucky.

There are a few more details, including funeral arrangements, in a piece published today in The Appalachian News-Express.

Charlie Sizemore had this to say about his departed friend:

I’ve known Ray Goins for over thirty years and known of him ever since I can remember. He and Melvin gave me my first job when I was a kid and I traveled with them for the better part of a year.

So I know what I’m talking about when I say this: On the day of Curly Ray Cline’s funeral, Ray and I were talking outside the church and the conversation turned to some of the inflated egos we’d seen over the years. Ray said, “Charlie, I’ve never thought I was better than anyone.”

He was wrong on this point. I’ve never known a better man. He was, to quote Curly Ray, “solid.” And also, I’ll add, a sorely underrated musician. Not that he would mind.

I’m among many who has lost a friend. I’ll miss him.

Kerry Hay of Hay Holler Records, where The Goins Brothers recorded in the 1990s, remembers him with fondness.

I had never met Ray Goins before the Goins Brothers signed on with Hay Holler Records in 1993. My remembrances and opinions of him can be summed up in a few statements:

In addition to being a fine banjo player, and one of the top vocalists I have heard in bluegrass, he was one of the finest gentlemen, in any walk of life, I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

He was always upbeat and friendly and always kept a positive attitude – I don’t ever recall seeing a frown on his face.

He obviously got great pleasure out of playing bluegrass music for the music itself. Bluegrass has lost a great and under-appreciated artist.

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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.