A feature story from the North Carolina Music Issue.
The Wrays had an old-world, Keatsian melancholy. It bloomed in the kitchen of their 6th Street home in Portsmouth, Virginia, where, from about 1951 to ’55, they recorded songs on a one-track, mostly originals written by Vernon. This was back when the music was fun, before it became a business. It’s the sort of thing that’s dashed off and then mislaid and vanishes somewhere. Sherry found the masters in a box of her dad’s stuff that, horrifyingly, was bound for the dump. She rescued them, and named the disc 6th Street Kitchen. The vibe is Elvis doing Dylan’s Great White Wonder: gushy, drunken ballads, some barely a minute long, and rapturous in the way that the smallest beginnings can express enormous feeling.
In many ways, I blame rock & roll for what happened. I discovered this unholy music in boyhood, when my Uncle Mike died an untimely death at age twenty-eight. My grandmother gave all his 8-tracks to me, music I’d never heard before: Rush, Bowie, Little Feat, Eat a Peach. The eighties pop dished out by FM radio was candied and glittering and great fun, sure, but this older music was dark and gas-powered, all fire and gravel.