George D. Hay got his inspiration from the hills of the Ozarks in Mammoth Spring, Ark., and formed the Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville where many of the legends performed before they became household names. Today, memories of those legends live on in those who where and still are inspired by them. One of these people is Thayer resident, local talent and president of the George D. Hay Foundation, Bob Ross, who recently recorded a CD in the legendary music capital of the world.
His CD titled "The Country and Gospel Side of Me" has 10 of Ross' songs, half of them country and half of them gospel, that he said he thought were some of his best and most popular songs. "It's half country and half gospel," Ross said. "There's 10 cuts on there and I wrote them all."
Born in Winnsboro, S.C., Ross said his music career started off when he was 17. Right out of high school, he joined the Air Force. As he went from base to base during World War II he entertained those who were fighting beside him. "I played in bands all across the world; Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Vietnam," Ross said. "I just joined bands and played wherever I was at."
While he was still in the Air Force he appeared with many familiar music legends on a Grand Ol' Opry package that included performances by various musicians. Throughout his career Ross said he played with some well known performers including Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Don Gibson, The Wilburn Brothers, Jim Reeves and Marty Robbins. "That's just a few of them," Ross said. "I don't want people to think I'm bragging too much."
He said he met his future wife, Anna Madden, of Thayer, in 1951 when they were both in the Air Force. "We were married Dec. 8, 1952," Ross said. They both retired out of the Air Force. Ross spent 20 years and Anna 18 years in the Air Force.
After retirement, the two eventually moved to Anna's hometown of Thayer. "Of course, I dedicated this album to her memory," he said.
Ross said he knew Gene Breeden, the owner of the studio, who also plays the lead on Ross' album, and Barry Wayne, who does the background vocals, drums and mixed music for the album, long before the recording. "Finally, it just came time for me to do this (record the CD). Everything fell in place for me to do it, and that's how it came about," Ross said.
"This last number, 'I Know a Friend,' is what really inspired me to do the album," Ross said. He said there were many people in his church asking for him to play the song. He said the song is the most recent song he has written.
It took Ross quite some time to compile the list of songs for the album. "From probably about 1972 to this year," Ross said is how long it took him to come up with all the songs on the CD, but as he was working on the songs, he was also writing other songs and entertaining people with them, as well.
"I've got many other songs, but these are the ones I picked out for this one," Ross said.
This isn't the first album Ross has recorded. He said in 1970 he recorded under the K-ARK label on a 45 record. "I think the names of the songs were 'I Lied' and 'I'm Gonna Cry Over You,'" Ross said.
Besides Breeden and Wayne, Jamie Bowles, Sam Hunter, Kraig Hutchens, Clinton Gregory, John Heinrich and Billy Anderson also helped with the production of the current album. Gene Foster did the cover art for the album. Ross said three of the people who helped put the album together were at the George D. Hay Music Center recently and put on a show for those who were there. "They will come back if we can build up a crowd at the theater," Ross said. "We want to come back once a month."
Ross said just about every song he has written has a story behind it. The third track on his album titled, "Saga of the Saturday Morning Western," conjures up memories of early black and white movie theaters filled with the smell of popcorn. "That's about the old days when they had the movie houses and a kid would go see the movies on Saturdays." Ross said. "I write this from my personal experience when I was a kid. I would go to these movies and everything, and, of course, the kids were hollering and screaming and popping (popcorn) bags and all that sort of stuff. It tells all about that in that song."
"'Eight O'clock Waltz' (another song on Ross' album), I wrote that about a little town called White Wood, S.D. Before I met and married, I used to go to a dance there up above the fire house and they always started at 8 p.m. and they would always start with a waltz. So, one day, I got to thinking about that, and I wanted to write a waltz and the idea came to me about the 'Eight O'clock Waltz,'" Ross said.
His gospel songs take up the second half of the album and are reminiscent of pure, white steepled churches nestled in the countryside. "('If You Love Me Feed My Sheep') was taken from the conversation Jesus had with the apostle Peter," Ross said.
"Of course, this one here ('I Know a Friend') it just came to me," Ross said. "When I wrote this song, certainly I thought about Jesus. He made the main sacrifice, and I've always thought about our men and women in the military and facing the things that they're facing today and, certainly, they're our friends." He said he related what U.S. troops sacrifice for their country to what Jesus sacrificed on the cross.
Those who want to purchase a copy of Ross' album can contact Ross at 304 South Fifth Street, Thayer, Mo. 65791. The cost of the CD is $14 plus shiping and handling.
Ross passed along some advice about song writing. "A good song will write itself," Ross said. "That's kind of the way I wrote all of these songs. I don't struggle. If I have to struggle, I won't deal with it. I'll just get up and leave."