Ray John­son – Fol­low­ing his dream

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

Once upon a time, a man by the name of John C. John­son was born in Job’s Cove. Leav­ing school early, he be­came a fish­er­man. He was a sealer at the Front for 19 springs. He also worked as a jack­ham­mer op­er­a­tor in St. John’s and else­where.

An­other Job’s Cove res­i­dent, Brid­get English, was born to John and Mary English. Brid­get at­tended the lo­cal school and par­tic­i­pated in church ac­tiv­i­ties. She also loved to dance. She was blessed with a kind and sunny dis­po­si­tion.

On Jan. 1, 1942, Brid­get and Johnny, as he was bet­ter known, ex­changed mar­riage vows.

By the time the John­sons had been mar­ried for eight years, they wanted chil­dren of their own. In 1950, they took in two fos­ter chil­dren, one of whom was Ray­mond Dou­glas Sel­lars, who was three at the time.

Ray­mond, or Ray, as he’s bet­ter known to­day, writes: “ We were about to em­bark on a most in­cred­i­ble jour­ney that would change our lives for­ever.”

To­day, Ray is one-third of the mu­si­cal com­edy triad known as Buddy Wa­sis­name and the Other Fellers, the oth­ers be­ing Kevin Black­more and Wayne Chaulk. Last year, Ray re­leased his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “And I Owe it All to Brid­get and John.” It’s a fast­paced read.

In his in­tro­duc­tion, Ray writes: “It’s been a cen­tury or more since the fol­low­ing words were spo­ken by Amer­i­can pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln: ‘God must have loved the com­mon folks; he made so many of them.’

“I guess the above can be said for my fos­ter par­ents, Brid­get and John, two fine peo­ple I loved and re­spected for all the years I knew them. And so the pur­pose of this book is to give New­found­lan­ders, Labrado­ri­ans and Cana­di­ans an in­depth look into the pri­vate life and thoughts of my fos­ter par­ents, and to show how I was in­flu­enced by the sto­ries, char­ac­ters, mu­sic, and songs passed on to me so many years ago.”

Ray’s book is highly orig­i­nal, rem­i­nis­cent of a scrap­book of sorts, in that it is made up of a wide va­ri­ety of com­po­nents. Diane Mol­loy, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of New­found­land and Labrador Fos­ter Fam­i­lies As­so­ci­a­tion, de­scribes it “a beau­ti­ful ta­pes­try,” cre­ated by the in­ter­twin­ing of “the threads of love, fam­ily, mu­sic and cul­ture.”

There’s a con­tri­bu­tion from Kevin Black­more, who refers to Ray as “the lit­tle feller from Job’s Cove.” He adds: “Ray pretty much de­fines what is a large part of our mu­si­cal her­itage and in no small way has been re­spon­si­ble for pre­serv­ing a good chunk of it.”

Wayne Chaulk ex­presses ap­pre­ci­a­tion to Ray for his ded­i­ca­tion to pre­serv­ing the sto­ries of “those who have re­mained silent too long.”

“I Owe it All to Brid­get and John” con­tains the lyrics to some of Ray’s songs, in­clud­ing Where Fish­er­men Used to Be: “I of­ten stroll down to the wharf … It’s there I’d sit and med­i­tate about the men and the sea.”

There are sto­ries writ­ten by Ray’s friends and ac­quain­tances, in­clud­ing Above and Be­yond (Roger Davis), The Pun­cheon Tub (Paul Em­ber­ley), An Is­land Boy Lives It Up ( John Lip­ton) and Gull Rod (An­thony J. O’Leary).

One en­tire sec­tion is de­voted to recita­tions or mono­logues, in­clud­ing Job’s Cove Rock (Francis Col­bert), The Yan­kee Pri­va­teer (Bax­ter Ware­ham) and The Lob­ster Salad ( John [ Joe] English).

There are scores of pho­to­graphs, sketches and il­lus­tra­tions, all of which add to the por­trait Ray has painted in his book.

An­other sec­tion is de­voted to in­flu­ences on Ray — mu­si­cal, spir­i­tual and po­lit­i­cal.

One mu­si­cal in­flu­ence is Don Messer (1909-73). Ray ac­tu­ally got a chance to per­form with Messer at the Hal­i­fax Fo­rum in 1971-72.

One spir­i­tual in­flu­ence is Pope John XXIII (1881-1963). When Ray was grow­ing up, it was com­mon to see the pope’s pic­ture hang­ing on the walls of homes in Job’s Cove and else­where along the North Shore of Con­cep­tion Bay.

One po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence is Sir Win­ston Churchill (1874-1965). Ray calls him an “out­stand­ing po­lit­i­cal fig­ure.”

Ray’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is holis­tic. To quote Aris­to­tle in his Me­ta­physics, “ The whole is dif­fer­ent from the sum of its parts.” There is a bit of this and a bit of that. All of it to­gether is bound to garner the en­joy­ment of a wide swath of read­ers. There’s enough to go round.

Per­haps the sad­dest part of Ray’s book is when he tells about leav­ing home in 1969: “ There were so many tears that they seemed to in­ter­twine with the rain that came down on that fall af­ter­noon.” Brid­get, born in 1909, died in 1975; John, born in 1906, died in 1983.

“ When your par­ents pass on, what do you do to al­le­vi­ate the pain?” Ray asks rhetor­i­cally.

He took the ad­vice they had given him and fol- lowed his dream of be­com­ing an art spe­cial­ist.

To­day, when­ever we hear Ray John­son per­form, the rest of us are in his debt.

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