‘Ranger Ray,’ Musician of the Mountains
BARC Electric Cooperative member serves his community through song.
For the past 40 years, Ray Blouin has called the “rumpled old mountains” of western Rockbridge County his home.
A dedicated photographer, he always has a camera on hand, ready to capture nature’s often-fleeting beauty.
A folk musician who’s performed since the 1950s, he combines traditional instruments, including his 12-string guitar, “Gertrude,” with self-penned lyrics that are by turns playful and full of meaning.
And for patrons of the Maury River Senior Center (MRSC) in Buena Vista, he serves as music coordinator and leader of Mrs. C’s Pickers, Singers & Kickers, their name a humorous take on the MRSC acronym.
Each month, this group of seniors practices songs on different themes that range from classic bluegrass, to songs of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, to holiday tunes.
“We have up to 22 members at any time,” Blouin says. “I encourage everyone to research and suggest songs under that month’s theme, then during twice-weekly rehearsals, we figure out the best 16 or so to perform for everyone at MRSC at lunchtime on the last Friday of the month.”
Blouin, who was MRSC’s associate director for several years before retiring in 2007, explains that playing instruments and singing is tremendously therapeutic, rekindling memories and providing a social outlet for Mrs. C’s members and the fellow seniors for whom they perform.
“Ray is a phenomenal musician and excellent teacher,” says Laura Hotinger, regional director for senior services in Rockbridge and Bath counties. “He also leads the MRSC group to visit local nursing homes and bring the healing power of music to those who need it most.”
What first drew this BARC Electric Cooperative member to Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains, and how did his many-chaptered career develop the talents he so generously shares with his community?
“I grew up in a military family and followed my father into the Coast Guard, serving at duty stations around the world,” Blouin explains. After two years of college, studying forestry and geology, he and three friends formed a successful folk-music band, the Wayfarers. They signed a contract with RCA Victor and produced several albums between 1959 and 1965.
“We performed at colleges all over the country, including venues in New York and San Francisco,” Blouin recalls. A bandmate began calling him “Ranger Ray” because he loved to share his knowledge of the geology and natural features of each state the band visited. The nickname stuck and became part of the Wayfarers’ joking banter between songs.
In the mid-1960s, as Beatlemania swept the public’s musical tastes in a new direction, the Wayfarers disbanded. Blouin went on to serve in the Coast Guard Reserves while completing his education, earning a master’s degree in economics.
In the late 1970s, traveling through Southwest Virginia on the way to a job in Charleston, South Carolina, he was struck by the beauty of Virginia’s mountains. When a teaching and administrative position came open at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (DSLCC) in Clifton Forge, Blouin was quick to apply.
“Not only was this little college near where I wanted to live, they were also looking for someone to lead the formation of a student-based musical group,” Blouin explains. He got the job, directing the student band, Sassafras, and serving as DSLCC’s admissions counselor and teaching economics for more than 20 years.
During this time, Blouin met Joann and fell in love. They married in 1983 and raised five children, with Joann working as a math teacher in the Rockbridge County Schools. “Since we both had summers off, we took our family camping and hiking across the U.S. All of us fit in a four-man tent!” he said.
In the early 1990s, Blouin followed his inner voice to accept a position with the Rockbridge County Department of Social Services, developing its Welfare to Work and Fathers at Risk programs. Both were quite successful, though later lost their funding. “To this day, I still run across folks who tell me how their lives benefited from those programs,” he notes.
Shortly after he began working at MRSC in 2001, Blouin launched Mrs. C’s Pickers, Singers & Kickers. “I soon realized music’s potential to stimulate neurons and help ward off memory loss,” he explains.
During this time, he also convinced Joann to lend her beautiful alto voice, joining him at local performances. “We’d recently lost our daughter Chadrenne to complications of Lyme’s disease,” Blouin says quietly. Making music together helped ease his family’s pain, and he will include two songs written during that time, “Why?” and “Listen to Your Heart,” on his upcoming album, the 18th of his music career.
These days, Blouin’s recordings can be heard on local radio station WREL. Together with two friends who also have math/science careers, he and Joann perform regularly as B2+2, a band that in true folk-music fashion, shares songs about relationships, social commentary, faith, nature, patriotism and humor.
“Our goal,” Blouin says, “is to make you chuckle and give you food for thought!”
Here’s hoping Blouin and his fellow musicians will continue to feed their community with memorable performances for years to come.
To learn more about the Maury River Senior Center and Mrs. C’s concert schedule, visit vpas.info/MRSC.