A ‘Ray’ of Hope

Ray Johnson of Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers fame, shares how continuing the musical traditions is what keeps him musically motivated

Sitting in a room above Route 66 Diner & Pub, one can feel the pressure – and the pleasure – music can bring to life. As accordions play, legendary musician Ray Johnson explains to his two latest students – both in their 70s – how they need to “feel” the music. 

“Don’t look at the notes,” he says. “You know how the song goes.” 

And they do! Only playing a few weeks, sisters Evelyn Peddle and Phyllis Cull “heave” the tunes outta their accordions. Why pick up music at this stage of their lives? Because music was always a big part of their growing up, they say. 

And why is Johnson still teaching? The answer is touching.

“Because it was part of my heritage. I can’t let it go. And if something were to happen and if I was not able to play accordion anymore, I’d feel terrible. But one day that will happen, so this is why I like to pass on what I know to people who want to learn as well as to my grandson Jasper,” he said.

Jasper has become a prodigy of sorts. “He can’t wait to go in the shed and work with his dad as they are listening to some of my CDs and when the project is over, he will leave and go on in the house and actually play one of the tunes he heard just by ear,” Johnson said proudly.

‘Tremendously proud’

How does knowing his legacy will live on make him feel? Johnson beams.

“Tremendously proud. It’s a wonderful feeling inside to know that when it’s time for me to move on, I know that he’s gonna hold it along as well in my memory. Sarah. Saltwater Joys. Those songs have been our anthems really in a sense, you know. But Saltwater Joys caught on so well. I’d still like to do another four years of Buddy, but who knows. We’re all getting older,” he said with a smile. 

Carbonear is home to Johnson and his second home is Route 66.

“This is our hometown. And to be able to put my boat out and go for a spin with the old motor, it adds just a little more joy to life. Then to be able to come here and teach what I know, that’s a blessing too,” he said. 

Johnson demonstrates a few tunes to his students, making the movement of the accordion seem effortless. They don’t shy away from following his instructions and both women instantly do better the second time around. 

There’s a performance planned and no time for nerves. “When there’s nothing left, you find more to give,” he says warmly to his students as he demonstrates two versions of Sarah. “I hope the legacy of traditional Newfoundland music lives on, and if my teaching helps in some way, then I’ve found my own personal ‘more to give’ and know in my heart I’ve given it my all.”