Ray Ruff

Record producer with a knack for publicity
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The Independent Online

The music business is filled with larger-than-life figures and Ray Ruff was one of them. He was a vocalist, producer and record-label owner, but he had also been a police officer and a professional basketball player. He stood for Congress in his home town of Amarillo, but he was quickly disillusioned, saying that he found "more honesty in the record business".

Ray Ruff was born in Amarillo, Texas, in 1938 and he loved the western swing sounds of Bob Wills. He befriended Buddy Holly's record producer Norman Petty and, after Holly's death, he made several soundalike recordings, deliberately wearing spectacles like Holly's when he recorded. They include "Long Long Ponytail" (1959) and "Love" (1962). Ruff often worked with his group the Checkmates, but they became the Executioners and wore hooded masks on stage. He did not make enough money for a full-time career in the music industry but he was always dabbling and had his own label, Ruff, for which he recorded Buddy Knox and Henson Cargill.

Moving to Los Angeles in 1969, Ruff worked at Dot Records and had some commercial success by producing Brian Hyland's "Tragedy". In 1974 Ruff made an official album for the US Congress, Happy Birthday USA, featuring many celebrities alongside political figures.

Also in 1974, Ruff and Mike Curb, the leader of the Mike Curb Congregation, persuaded the black Motown label that they should have a country music division. Their label, Hitsville, had a good start and Ruff produced Pat Boone's "Texas Woman" and Wendel Adkins's "Texas Moon". The label soon folded and Ruff then displayed his promotional skills, notably with Pat Boone's daughter Debbie. He arranged for key radio stations to be visited by armoured trucks and the programme directors would be given special packages including her single "You Light Up My Life". The bizarre publicity was covered by the newspapers and the single subsequently topped the US charts.

Ruff discovered a stage actress, Susie Allanson, who was appearing in Jesus Christ Superstar. He produced her records, first for ABC, then for his own Oak Records, and then, very successfully, for Warner Brothers. She had US country hits with "We Belong Together" and a revival of Buddy Holly's "Maybe Baby", both in 1978. The following year, he co-produced Hank Williams Jnr's landmark album Family Tradition.

Since 2004, Ruff had been working with Pat Boone on six new albums in different genres to celebrate Boone's 50th year in the business. They had been disappointed that Motown had turned down a gospel album, Glory Train, some 30 years earlier and they resolved to find the tapes. Ruff hired a private detective to no avail, but his wife found the boxes while she was spring-cleaning.

Spencer Leigh