Guitarist Jeff Ray and harmonica player “Hurricane” Harold Tremblay met in 2009 when Ray was playing a solo gig at J.S. Bean Factory on Randolph Avenue. “I heard him and asked him to be on my show,” recalled Tremblay, host of the long-running weekly blues and roots radio show “House Party” on public radio station KFAI.

The two formed a duo and recorded their first album, the bluesy “Carriage House Sessions,” in 2011. They entered the Minnesota Blues Society’s Road to Memphis competition and won in the duo category. That led to a performance at the annual International Blues Competition in Memphis. Soon after, they joined with Mikkel Beckmen on percussion and washboard and Nick Salisbury on electric bass and foot shaker to form the band Jeff Ray & the Stakes.

Jeff Ray and the Stakes
Jeff Ray and “Hurricane” Harold Tremblay jammed in Ray’s Highland Park home in preparation for Jeff Ray & the Stakes’ album release show on June 9 at the Hook and Ladder. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Jeff Ray & the Stakes will celebrate the release of their new album, “In the Fire,” in concert on June 9 at the Hook & Ladder Theater in South Minneapolis. The album is their first since “Valhalla” in 2015. It features 11 songs of roots and bluegrass music, nine of which were written by Ray.

Ray, a Highland Park resident whose real name is Jeff Digre, plays finger-style and resonator guitar. He wrote the nine songs during the pandemic when he and the band had nowhere to play except their front yards. 

   

Tremblay, who lives in Macalester-Groveland, described the original compositions as a collaborative effort. Ray introduces the songs, but the rest of the band “fleshes them out,” he said. There is a lot of improvisation involved, which seems to work well for the quartet.

While the band has fun playing together, most of the songs on “In the Fire” have serious messages. The track “Hard Times,” for example, is a reflection on the impacts of the pandemic as well as the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020.

While the band has fun playing together, most of the songs on “In the Fire” have serious messages. The track “Hard Times,” for example, is a reflection on the impacts of the pandemic as well as the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020.

 

house ad

 

Ray, who works as a pharmacist at Cub Foods on University Avenue, said his pharmacy was the only one in that Midway neighborhood that was spared in the riots. Nearby Lloyd’s Pharmacy was burned to the ground, and the CVS Pharmacy at University and Snelling avenues was badly damaged.

“We evacuated (Cub Foods) as the riots started,” Ray recalled. “At the same time, people were dying from COVID. It was pretty intense.”

Most of Ray’s songs have positive messages. Some are related to his appreciation of nature and his philosophy about life. “I dabble in Buddhism and meditation and reflect on existence and the world,” he said.

Instrumental guitar and harmonica solos are featured on almost all of the tracks. Bluegrass predominates, though British folk, rock and world music with an East Indian edge can also be heard on the album.

Tremblay retired a year ago from his long-time job in letterpress and specialty printing. He now has more time to devote to music, including emceeing a weekly program of national and regional bands at the 331 Club in Minneapolis and recruiting top Twin Cities talent for his All Star Blues Revues at several local venues.

Beckmen has played and recorded with many local musicians, including Charlie Parr, Mike Munson and Pat Donohue. Salisbury is a full-time musician who recently toured Germany with the band Brian Fallon & the Howling Weather.

Ray said his band is best showcased at listening rooms and auditoriums rather than in bars. They perform all over the Twin Cities area and in other parts of the state.

Tremblay and Ray will be playing together at the Smokin in Steele BBQ & Blues Festival on Friday, June 3, in Owatonna. Beckmen and Ray have a duo gig from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, June 23, at the Dubliner on University Avenue and Vandalia Street. 

The release party for “In the Fire” will be held from 7-10 p.m. Thursday, June 9, at Hook & Ladder, 3010 Minnehaha Ave. S. in Minneapolis. Jeff Ray & the Stakes will play first, followed by the bluegrass band the Pistol Whipping Party Penguins. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, $25 for reserved front-row seats.

For more information and a copy of the album, visit jeffraymusic.com.

— Carolyn Walkup

COMMENTS TERMS OF SERVICE

MyVillager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.