Not to be confused with the ‘Blue Ridge Ranger’ from the ’50s, Ray Hutchinson was born in Montreal in 1940. He was diagnosed at age four with tubeculosis of the hip, and spent much of his youth in and out of the local Shriners Hospital. He attended the School for Crippled Children next door, and took guitar and singing lessons. It was there he met Met Michel Robitaille, and the two formed The Del-Tones.
By mid ’57 they were playing the lounges while Hutchinson was working in the office at the telephone company. They wrote some material and paid for some studio time, resulting in a deal with Quality Records – culminating in the single, “Moonlight Party” b/w “Rockin’ Blues” in ’59 – a moderate hit in Montreal and Toronto.
They changed their name to The Beau-Marks and had a smash hit in 1960 with “Clap Your Hands.” It topped the charts in Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand, and just missed the top 40 Stateside. Over the next few years, they recorded three albums, had a handful of other moderate hits, appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and were supposed to be on The Ed Sullivan Show, but couldn’t because of prior commitments. They were popular in New York, and were a major draw in the clubs in Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, and London, but Hutchinson left in ’64.
He reinvented himself as a straight-out lounge singer, and after appearing on an album with Dave Mitchell & The Coins, he released a pair of Canadian-only singles on Epic in ’66. “Rose Marie” made it to #12 on the pop chart b/w “My Heart Will Never Know.” Its follow-up was “Tina” b/w “Mr Rain,” which missed the top 40.
He moved to Peterborough, continuing to work the lounge circuit throughout Ontario and Quebec, and recorded “Every Bit As Wonderful” b/w “On My Own” on the Celebration label in ’71. After forming Flame Records, his next release was recorded live during one of his many tenures in Toronto’s hottest lounge – AT THE CASTLEMORE. A mix of covers that ranged from Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” to the country standard “Green Grass of Home,” and Gershwin’s “After The Lovin'” to Olivia Newton-John’s “Let Me Be There.”
His last recordings were a pair of singles with his own songs – “This Feeling” b/w “We’re On Our Way” and “The Image of Love” b/w “I’ve Got A Song.” Neither charted, and were later packaged together, yet on separate vinyls. Along with the album, they were primarily sold at shows.
He eventually moved back to Montreal. In the mid ’80s, deciding he’d overexposed himself in that market, he arranged a series of shows in Florida. But following his Miami debut, he was struck by a car while he was crossing the street, and was in a coma for two months afterwards. He moved back to Peterborough and eventually returned to the stage, but retired in the early ’90s.
Ray Hutchinson became synonymous with innovation in the business, and was among the first performers to use an echo box, wireless mic, and slide shows while on stage.