When Early Ray takes to the Family Circle Stadium stage Saturday, he’ll be doing something he could not have envisioned as a younger man: playing country music.
Sure, he heard plenty of steel guitars and fiddles in his native Rock Hill, but for much of his life, that was his parents’ music. Early Ray wanted to rock. Growing up, he says, “I liked all the comic-book rock and roll guys like KISS or Alice Cooper, stuff like that.”
The fascination with big-time arena rock continued into adulthood, as he performed with shock-rock bands Ultracyde, LCK, and Wednesday 13. Through the years, he opened for Mötley Crüe and Alice Cooper, toured the world, and generally lived out his childhood dream.
It was in the city of Los Angeles that he came back around to country. His bassist at the time put on a tape of David Allan Coe’s greatest hits, and when “Darlin'” came on, he caught himself singing along. The next day, he went out and re-bought all of Garth Brooks’ albums.
“Country didn’t really make sense to me until I was an adult,” Early says. “One day, the light switch went on, and it was like, ‘Holy crap, I know what these guys are talking about now.’ After traveling the world and being in debt and having my heart broken a couple times, country music made a lot of sense.”
Now he plays a fun-loving brand of country music that his record label describes as “hell-raisin’ country.” He still pays homage to his crank-it-to-11 roots, and the chorus on his song “Where the Wild Things Are” even makes a nod to Guns N’ Roses: “Welcome to the jungle, boys, where the wild things are.”
“A lot of country singers are like, ‘I loved Willie Nelson since I was four years old,’ but how did you understand Willie Nelson at four years old? Come on,” he says.
Early Ray will play as a part of the Hootie and the Blowfish Homegrown Concert at Family Circle Stadium on Saturday, along with Charleston bands Southwood and Blue Dogs. Gates open at noon, and the show begins at 1 p.m. Tickets to the daytime show (which does not include the Hootie evening performance) are $5 at the box office.