Tuesday, March 18, 2014

TOP STORY >> Musician looks back

Leader staff writer

Hall of Fame rockabilly musician Ray (Lefty) Sexton turns 80 years old on Wednesday. A reception will be held 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Grandpa’s Bar-B-Que in Cabot. The Trimble family band Hwy. 31 is scheduled to play.

Sexton sang and played the rhythm guitar. Sexton, who lives in Beebe, promoted several senior county dance halls in the area. He also owned one of the largest a fence companies in the state.

Sexton was born on March 19, 1934, in Park, Ky. He came from a musical family. His younger brother, J. D. played a mandolin and the fiddle. His dad played the fiddle, an aunt sang and played guitar and an uncle was a gospel singer and guitarist. Sexton learned to play guitar after buying a book sold on the radio for 98 cents. He listened to a Victrola that inspired him to play. His grandmother got tired of hearing his records and made him listen to them in the barn.

Sexton left school after sixth grade. He moved out on his own at age 14. Living in Memphis he worked odd jobs, including shining shoes.

He met rockabilly brothers Johnny and Dorsey Burnette there and lived with them for a time. Every other night he was able to perform with a group of friends at an ambulance-service office.

Sexton formed a band, the Rhythm Rangers. They played Thursday nights at VA hospitals, political rallies and grand openings.

They also performed at a regular Saturday night jamboree during 1953-54 at the Goodwyn Institute Auditorium in downtown Memphis.

“One night a longer haired, poorer looking guy asked if he could back us up on a song. That was Mr. Presley. He had a little old Stella guitar. The cheapest guitar money could buy,” Sexton said.

Sexton said one night while developing film for a photo processor he nearly fell over when he heard Elvis’ sing “Blue Moon” and “That’s Alright Mama” on the radio.

Sexton said, “I wanted to sound like everyone else. I needed a style of my own,” which is why he said he never made it big as an entertainer.

Sexton and his band continued performing regionally until 1962, when he was hired to install fencing along the interstate highway. Sexton left Memphis for a job as a foreman for the highway department. He built fences in Tennessee and Alabama.

He left in 1968 and moved to Cabot to be near family. Here he worked for Interstate Sign Erectors and Guardrails.

In 1972, he started his own fencing business. Sexton Fence Company was the fourth largest fence company in the state during the 1980s. The family business closed in 2010 during the recession.

Sexton resumed his music career in the 1980s, with the Hayloft Jamboree Show held in Cabot next to Mount Carmel Cemetery on Hwy. 89. He then promoted senior citizens dances at Union Hall in Jacksonville at Redmond Road and West Main Street. He then moved to Cabot and held dances behind the old Knight’s grocery store on West Main Street in the building now home to New Life Church.

Sexton moved to Beebe and promoted dances in the building next to the revenue office on West Center Street near the old train depot.

He moved the dancing once more to Ray’s Country Dance in Ward. Sexton doesn’t perform there anymore, but dancing continues there every Friday night. He stopped playing music five years ago because of health problems.