And now we present a story that could only have happened in the world of music collecting. A while back I came upon an album by Ray Hildebrand that featured a song I had heard years ago called “If I live well praise the Lord.” It was a blessing to find the song and I enjoyed many of the other great songs on the album. I kept Ray’s name in mind. Several months later, I came upon another album by Ray. . .or did I? The album indicated that Ray was an artist at the Oak Room at the Disneyland Hotel. Interestingly, it was not a “Disneyland” album, but seemed aimed at a more grown-up audience. The songs on the album were not religious at all. (“Mack the knife”, “Bim Bam Bum”, “Besame Mucho”) Remember, both guys had the same name and looked somewhat similar. Wasn’t this the same person?
The answer: Nope! That would be way too easy.
First let’s look at Ray Hildebrand number 1, or “Guitar Ray.” Here’s Ray’s biography as written on the back of the “He’s everything to me” album:
In 1964 Ray wrote and sang a tune that sold three million copies called “Hey, Hey, Paula.” This flash of success took him to distant lands as a teenage idol. But let’s back up just a bit. Life was music and sports for Ray in high school and, when he got to college, he organized a group called THE PRISONERS. He was also captain and most valuable player on the conference championship basketball team. Today, along with his singing, Ray is the Southwest Regional Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. This work fits him perfectly. It’s marvelous to see how athletes respond to this musician-athlete who knows and speaks their language.
Yes that’s right, Ray was “Paul” of “Hey Paula!” Never would have guessed that. And Ray’s career is not over. His Web page points out that he has had three successful music careers: as the “teen idol” of “Hey Paula”, as the Christian singer of “He’s everything to me” and as part of the duo of Land & Hildebrand. You can find out more about Ray #1 on this site:
Ray Hildebrand #2, or “Piano Ray”, is a greater mystery. Here’s his biography from the back of the “A night at the Oak Room” album:
Ray Hildebrand has had a widely varied musical career, beginning with a combo at the University of Connecticut. Following college, Ray played with such name bands as Shep Fields and Blue Barron. During service in World War 2, Ray broadcast nightly at the New Albany Hotel in Albany, Georgia, over station WPGY and later over the Armed Forces network in San Juan, Puerto Rico. During civilian service in Tokyo, Japan, after the war, Ray was musical director at General MacArthur’s Officers’ Club, conducting a 12-piece orchestra composed entirely of Japanese musicians. Ray has played piano at the Disneyland Hotel since its opening in 1956. When the exclusive OAK ROOM, a private club in the hotel opened, Ray was chosen to provide the music for dancing.
The so-called Information superhighway did not seem to have any kind of information on this Ray Hildebrand. I contacted Don Ballard, an expert on the Disneyland Hotel, to see if he could provide me with some insight. He had heard of Ray, but didn’t have any new information about him. He did tell me that the Oak Room is sadly not a part of the hotel anymore. After the Disneyland Hotel went through a major renovation, the Oak Room was chopped out. Don has some excellent information and historic photos of the hotel itself, though.
Here’s a peek at his book about the Disneyland Hotel and its history:
And check out his blog for more historic images from the hotel:
A question remained. With two musicians named Ray Hildebrand, and one looking a bit older than the other, was it possible that Piano Ray was a relative of Guitar Ray? Again, apparently not (well, not a close relative, anyway). Guitar Ray did not recognize Piano Ray. So Ray’s life post-Disneyland hotel remains a mystery. So “Piano Ray”, if you happen to be reading, please contact me via my YouTube channel or better yet Don and share your memories of the hotel days & what other stuff you’ve been doing since.
For Oak Room fans, here’s a peek at how it used to look, courtesy of the Kittle family:
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?: Congratulations are due to Benjamin Wagner and his crew for raising enough funding to complete the “Mister Rogers and Me” documentary he has been working on for years. Benjamin recently gave an interview over the radio that began with a rather unusual question. He writes about it here:
It took a minute to get my bearings: 'You're in Vermont,' I thought. 'Time for your "Saturday Light Brigade" interview.' I tiptoed around the bedroom, quietly putting on a few layers of clothes; with a dozen friends sleeping in bedrooms on every floor, I'd have to do the interview outside where the current temperature is 46°. I pulled on a cap and gloves, slipped my headphones into my ears, dialed the radio station's number, and stepped out into the crisp, morning air."Hello," I said, half asking. "This is Benjamin Wagner calling for my 'Mister Rogers & Me' interview."
"Oh, Benjamin!" the woman at the other end of the line said. "I was just about to call you. Good morning! May I put you on hold? We're just finishing a puzzle segment, then Larry will take a call, then he'll speak with you. Ok?"
"Ok!" I said, endeavoring to make sense through my gravelly, three hours of sleep voice.She put me on hold where I was able to listen to the show. The host, Larry Berger, was reading a brain teaser over acoustic bluegrass music in a cadence and tone not unlike Mister Rogers himself.
"Imagine that you're in a room with only two exits. One is blocked by a thousand magnifying glasses that focus the sunlight to a super-hot ray of sunshine that will burn you alive. The other is guarded by a fire-breathing dragon that will also burn you alive. What do you do?"
He paused a second, then said, "We have Benjamin on the line. Benjamin, what would you do?"
"Oh my," I said, startled, confused and scrambling to make sense of the riddle. "G'morning, Larry! Well, I suppose I would try to make friends with the fire-breathing dragon and ask him to make an exception and let me pass."
Larry too was startled."I'm sorry, this is Benjamin Wagner on the phone, kids. I thought you were a listener calling in with the answer. Hello, Benjamin."
"Well, Benjamin, the answer is, leave at night."
I still think the dragon would have helped me out. . .
I agree, Benjamin. At least it would have been worth a try.
This fun story was taken from Benjamin’s post on his “Making Mister Rogers and Me” blog. You can read the original post here:
Here’s the main page where you can keep track of the production:
QUICK REVIEW: PETE SEEGER CONCERT: Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday concert aired last month on PBS. I tuned in mostly just to catch a glimpse of Oscar the grouch (see my post), but found a true treasure - the concert itself. This is one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen. I knew many of the songs, and the songs I didn’t know were just as great! And the performances were, for the most part, excellent, There’s very little “filler” in this concert. I suppose it’s possible that any “mediocre” songs have been edited out. But what aired on PBS is a real classic. Oscar was only a minor highlight. I loved Richie Havens and Ani Defranco. I loved “Gather round the stone.” I basically loved the whole thing. PBS is making a DVD of the concert available. It’s worth contributing just to get a copy of it all. Or at least keep your eye on PBS for when it reruns. And it should!
ON YOUTUBE: ERNIE’S TEAR
This particular Ernie and Bert sketch has become important to me because of something I noticed years after I first saw it. There is a tiny moment in this skit that I’m pretty sure is intentional. Once I point this out to you, you’ll never look at this skit the same way again.
The skit involves the gang rehearsing a pageant about feelings. Bert’s role is to get into his pajamas and play cupid. Bert reluctantly sings his lines about love, then decides he’d rather sing about what love means to him, personally. He does so, and sings about the things that he loves. At the end of the song, he sings that he’ll always have a special place “for Ernie in my heart.” As he sings those words, Ernie looks down a bit. We see a bright dot of some kind on Ernie’s nose. He wipes it away. Is this a stray piece of paper that somehow accidentally landed on Ernie’s nose, or is this what I believe it must be. . . A tear? An intentional moment of Ernie showing his emotions at Bert’s words? That’s what I’m voting for. No accident could have worked out as good as that. I vote for the tear. I hope you will too. You can find the clip in my favorites folder on my YouTube page. The link is in the links section to the right.
Here’s a page that lists the great pageant skits from Sesame Street. See if you can remember some of these: