“I’m a Ramblin’ Man” Writer Ray Pennington Dies in House Fire

Songwriter, performer, producer, and record label owner Ray Pennington was killed Wednesday, October 7th in a house fire in Sumner County in a rural part of Hendersonville, just north and east of Nashville, according to Shackle Island Volunteer Fire Chief Marty Bowers. The blaze is currently under investigation, though it’s believed to have been started by a golf cart in the garage that grew out-of-control. Pennington was 86-years-old.

Born Ramon Daniel Pennington December 22, 1933 in Clay County, Kentucky, Ray is probably best known for penning one of the signature songs for Waylon Jennings, and one Waylon took all the way to #1 in 1974 during the height of the Outlaw era, “I’m a Ramblin’ Man.” Pennington had a hit with it as well, originally releasing the song for Capitol Records in 1967. It was later covered by Montgomery Gentry, and many others.

At the age of 15, Ray Pennington traded his bicycle for a guitar, and never looked back. He began his career at the age of 19 performing in the 12-piece Western Swing band The Western Rhythm Boys in Ohio and the upper Midwest, before beginning his solo career under the stage name Ray Starr. He released a single called “Three Hearts in a Tangle” for King Records in 1958. However Ray was dissatisfied how the single turned out, and pulled it before it could ever chart, leaving Roy Drusky to have a #2 hit with the song in 1961.

Pennington’s ear for quality is what led him into the production side of country music where he would spend most of his career, producing albums for The Stanley Brothers, and the final record of Hawkshaw Hawkins, Lonesome 7-7203. A multi-instrumentalist as well, Pennington could play guitar, piano, and drums, which he would regularly contribute to the sessions he recorded.

In 1964, Ray Pennington moved to Nashville where he continued to work as a producer, and signed to Capitol Records in 1966 as a recording artist, releasing his version of “I’m Ramblin Man,” which was his biggest hit.

However producing is where he continued to find his calling, working with Tex Williams, and Kenny Price, later moving to Monument Records, and eventually to RCA, where he produced Billy Walker and Norma Jean, and was introduced to Waylon Jennings, where Waylon caught wind of “I’m a Ramblin Man.”

Ray Pennington also founded Step One Records in 1984 as a place to support more traditional country music, Western Swing, and bluegrass. Their first signee was Ray Price. Step One also signed Western Flyer, The Geezinslaws, Celinda Pink, and Clinton Gregory. Over this time Pennington continued to play and perform, including with the Swing Shift Band that he co-founded with steel guitarist Buddy Emmons.

A multi-talented and multi-faceted figure in country music, Ray Pennington never became a superstar. But his fingerprints and contributions can be found over a wide swath of country music from many decades.

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