Fifteen years into his country music career, Frank Ray is finally poised to be one of the genre’s next rising stars. But if you call his rise “least anticipated to most wanted,” your lack of awareness of how sweat equity accrues into consistent commercial value is showing.
His major label debut EP, “Getcha Some,” arrives on Aug. 12 via Broken Bow Records. Its lead single, “Country’d Look Good on You,” is a year old and currently a Top 20, regular rotation single on country radio.
While Top 20 is a phenomenal achievement, it’s still not yet matching the success of iconic fellow Mexican-American country performer Rick Trevino’s 26-year-old No. 1 single “Running Out of Reasons to Run.” Ray counts Trevino and another Mexican-American country legend, Freddy Fender, as inspirations in his career.
Will it make for a more exciting weekend:Music City Grand Prix changes course, fan experience.
CMA Fest TV:Special highlights country music’s lifelong fans achieving main stage success
“I want people to see my success and feel like they can do it, too,” says Ray, nodding to continuing traditions.
However, he relates the story of a gig in Mobile, Alabama, wherein a woman in the crowd pulled him aside after his set and praised him and his band for defying her expectations and playing more than mariachi music and rancheras.
Ray’s reply says much about who he is as a person and what he encompasses in his career.
“I mean, we could’ve played those all night,” he said, “but we can play everything else, too.”
Story Behind the Song:Tim McGraw’s ‘Highway Don’t Care’
Nashville August concerts:12 can’t-miss shows, from the Chili Peppers to Blondie
Ray, 35, was born Francisco Gomez in Deming, New Mexico, which borders El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Moreover, it sits 700 miles from the Los Angeles terminus of Interstate 10, a nationwide thoroughfare that traverses America’s Southwest and Deep South, straight through to the northern end of Florida’s Panhandle.
Concerning Ray and his relationship to Interstate 10, he’s lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and San Antonio, Texas – both points along its path. As a touring artist, he’s driven all its 2,460 miles in his career.
Thus, he’s successfully played large and small country music gigs in places that mirror the following characteristics:
- New Mexico towns where Mexican residents outnumber white residents 2-to-1.
- Cities like El Paso, where wannabe cowboys still regularly two-step in honkytonks.
- Parts of San Antonio, where two kings of country music – George Strait and Mexican ranchera legend Vicente Fernández – are held in equal reverence.
- Alabama and Mississippi towns where soulful pop-country is anathema, and folksy bluegrass will always reign supreme.
- Places like Jacksonville and Tallahassee, where perpetual, bro’d out and “woo girl” spring break vibes are a commercial lifestyle.
Yes – as has already often been done – it’s vital to note Ray’s Mexican-American heritage and his pride in being a husband and father as key to who he is.
Also, his decade working in law enforcement in Las Cruces.
“It taught me how to be firm, but empathetic,” he notes. “Sometimes you’re dealing with someone on their worst day, or breaking the worst news.”
However, a list of bullet points doesn’t create wholly accurate narratives. The star he could become is the sum total of his impressive array of experiences.
Recording his latest EP was a relatively simple process for Ray. The session musicians who played with him “all said they hadn’t had so much fun in forever,” he said.
“I wanted this music to sound authentic to all of my traditions,” Ray states.
These traditions include the soul of Fender’s mid-1970s classics like “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” Ray also borrows much of how he views the art of vocal control from his family playing Fernández’s ranchera classics. Tracy Lawrence’s influence in consistently weaving Texarkana’s country traditions into ’90s country platinum and gold are essential, too.
These influences pair with a series of Ray’s other, more business-aligned achievements. He’s managed by Oscar Chavira, an affable entrepreneur with El Paso origins who “moves quickly, but with smart intentions,” Ray says. Upon seeing him play Ray, Chavira sent him to record material at the well-regarded Sonic Ranch studio in Tornillo, Texas.
Those sessions yielded tracks that expanded upon his success at regional country radio, where he was already a consistent chart-topper in Alabama and Texas, keying Broken Bow Records to sign Ray in May 2021.
“When I heard his vocal and unique musical direction, I immediately needed to know more,” said Sara Knabe, vice president of A&R at BBR Music Group. “(Ray) has a defined artistry, a winning work ethic, and a fresh perspective missing from our genre.”
Tracks like “Country’d Look Good on You” and “Streetlights” (which features flamenco guitars and Spanish language hooks, but delivered with ’90s power pop flair) work as a country hit because they approach, then deny comfortable (and potentially uncomfortable ) conventions. He’s not attempting to be a full Tejano, trap-soul, or ’90s country-aping artist. Instead, 15 years of music industry experience and a lifetime of perspective offer pleasant, intriguing listening.
One quote from the press release for Ray’s EP best nails down his broad appeal: “I’m a bit of a good time Charlie. I like to make people smile and soak in the moment when that happens.”