Ray Whitton
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Ray Whitton

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EMERGING SAKATOON SONGWRITER JOINS VARIED LINEUP FOR FOOD BANK FUNDRAISER
by Caitlin Ward

Last summer, Saskatoon-based country-folk guitarist Ray Whitton was exposed to a bit of culture shock. The 31-year-old father of two attended Sounds of the Saskatoon Underground, a local metal festival and rather bewilderingly won a free piercing.

It was me and a bunch of 14-year-olds at that show, he recalls fondly. Makes sense for a metal show, doesn�t it? A free piercing?

He hedges when asked about the precise location of the piercing but the fact that I have to ask at all gives some indication about why he might be reticent to tell me. Interestingly, it also gives an indication of a pattern one gets accustomed to while talking to Whitton. The guitarist is an intriguing combination of very open and incredibly private he'll tell you with a laugh that he has a piercing, but damned if hes going to say where it is.

Similarly, when Whittons talking about playing guitar, his sincerity and emotion make you feel as if you're privy to a great secret. Yet at the same time, when he talks about why he started playing that guitar in the first place, you feel as if theres a three-volume novel he's masterfully skimming around while he explains why it took him almost until the age of 30 to pick up an instrument. When it comes down to it, though, you don't need to read that novel to appreciate the music or the man. In Whitton's mind, his lyrics and soft, sweet acoustic songs are all you need to really get a sense of things.

The subjects dominating his conversation, then, are not the potentially sordid details behind his lyrics or his art, but his kids, his musical partnerships, and his current pet project. Along with a variety of Saskatoon artists, Whitton will be performing on the first night of Songs For Supper, an upcoming benefit for the Saskatoon Food Bank, which will be held in conjunction with the Tree of Plenty campaign and spread over two nights (December 21 and 22) at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

The idea, which was created and organized by Saskatoon musician Chris Brinklow, is to offer up musical nourishment in order to provide physical nourishment to those who need the Food Bank during the holiday season. The performers ask that in lieu of a cover charge, people bring non-perishable food items to donate to the Food Bank. To further help out, the performers are all donating their gig fees for the night to the charity.

Even weeks before the event is to take place, Whitton became confident that the fundraiser will prove to be a busy pair of nights for McNally. The event boasts veterans of the Saskatoon music scene like Jay Hails, Kim Fontaine, and former Northern Pike Jay Semko, as well as newcomers like Whitton.

Chris is talking to [McNally] about maybe taking some tables out and just putting in chairs, he says. Its not just a good cause theres a super group of musicians coming to perform.

Moreover, Whitton also believes the event could and should potentially be the start of something bigger. When asked about the number of benefit gigs that inevitably coincide with the Christmas season, Whitton is eager to put to rest the seemingly common notion that the hungry only need to be fed in December.

I think we'd like to do more things like this, he says. The thing I really liked about it is there was no hesitation every musician said yes immediately there was no convincing. If their schedules were clear, they said they would play.

Whitton is looking forward to the show not only because of the worthy cause, but also because it�s one of the few venues in the city that listeners and musicians, for that matter who are also parents can bring kids to. Hes been playing in and around Saskatoon for just about a year now, and hes thinking he'd very much like to play in more varied venues than only those found on the bar circuit.

[McNally] is a family friendly environment, he says. I'm a parent myself, and there's not a lot of places I can bring my son to watch me play.

Impressively, Whitton only began playing at all in June 2006. Going through some personal struggles at the time, he says he picked up a guitar to help release some of his demons and the experience was a revelation. He'd written his first song within months of learning to play (the pretty Love You Off Your Feet), and now he's getting ready to record his first EP, with the help of Jay Semko and Kim Fontaine. Indeed, people now shout requests for his original songs at his shows something he humbly finds almost unbelievable. Overall, his quick progression forward in Saskatoon's music scene put him happily, to be sure into a place he didn't expect to find himself.

�My older brothers were huge fans of the Pikes growing up,� he says, laughing. �So to actually be sitting down and writing songs with one of them � it�s more than I can process sometimes.�

- Planet S Magazine


Ray Whitton Review

Things are generally same ‘ole, same ‘ole at Bud’s on Broadway – good vibe, great times, and even better music. A legendary venue in the dynamic Saskatoon music scene, Bud’s is traditionally revered as being the “Home of the Blues,” but also renowned for its Saturday Jam Sessions and being the choice haunt of some of the best cover bands out there.

Accustomed to spending an afternoon being witness to the evolution of the next musical prodigy to be set loose on these prairies or the occasional night of shameless debauchery with Big Dave in the house, I was pleasantly caught off guard earlier this month when Jay Semko’s opening act, Ray Whitton, stepped onto the stage and started strumming.

As Whitton, a singer-songwriter who recently released his first EP, began working through his repertoire of songs, it became rather apparent that it was going to be a different kind of 45 minutes on the bar stool. With his unassuming demeanor and minimal accompaniment, I was reminded that less is very often far much more.

From the uncontrived “Love You Off Your Feet” to the down-home “Prairie Fire,” an earnest tribute to some country greats and a simpler life, I was moved by the stories and impressed with the strong, consistent and even comforting vocal performance. It is a rare feeling to find familiar in the unknown, but Whitton pulled it off effortlessly with modest ease and a healthy dose of blatant talent.

So with the exception of Bud’s becoming an unplugged honky-tonk for just shy of an hour and feeling as though I was transported back to that other famous “Broadway” in a little place called Nashville, nothing was really all that different at all – an exceptional up-and-comer cutting his chops in the most natural and fitting place in the world. That is, if your world is Saskatoon, of course. - Jami Young


Ray was the recipient of the "2008 Rising Star" award as voted on by his peers, and the folks at www.thesasktop30.com!!! - www.thesasktop30.com


Discography

Ray Whitton (self titled) Ep-2008

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Bio

Saskatoon singer/songwriter Ray Whitton has been winning over audiences, peers, and music industry professionals since he first stepped to the stage in the fall of 2006. Armed (at the time) with little more then a few chords, and his unique voice, he has built a modest, and loyal Saskatchewan fan base that stretches from Clearwater, to Estevan, Hudson Bay to Swift Current, and all places in between.

"My focus will always be making music people can relate to," says Whitton. Sharing similar experiences, and writing honestly connects me as an artist with music fans. I'm an average guy, writing about common experiences we all share. We're in this together, good or bad".

During the last year Whitton released his self-titled EP under the watchful eye of 2007 WCMA Producer of the Year winner David J. Taylor. Impressively Whitton's material includes co-writing collaborations with Saskatoon's Kim Fontaine, and The Northern Pikes (singer/songwriter) Jay Semko resulting in a fresh sounding country recording.

A workhorse, Ray has performed as a solo act, and as part of a band (Ray Whitton Band) on dozens of occasions in 2008, and shows no signs of slowing. He is on the fast track to growing his audience and promoting his music; he has already received modest airplay and artist features on Saskatoon's Magic 98, Saskatchewan's most listened to radio station- CJWW, and the CBC.

Ray is currently writing, and working towards completing his first full-length album due 2010. He continues to hone his songwriting skills working and collaborating with some of Saskatchewan's finest lyricists and musicians. The sky really is the limit for this Saskatoon "dark horse" who has seemingly come from out of nowhere and is now firmly establishing himself as a permanent staple in the Saskatchewan music scene.