There’s nothing more contagious than enthusiasm. The songs become incidental. What people receive is your joy. — Carlos Santana



As I turned to the obituary page of this newspaper last Sunday morning, I cried out in disbelief, “OH MY GOD!”

 Hearing the anguish in my voice, Linda called from the living room, “What is it?

There’s nothing more contagious than enthusiasm. The songs become incidental. What people receive is your joy. — Carlos Santana

As I turned to the obituary page of this newspaper last Sunday morning, I cried out in disbelief, “OH MY GOD!”
 Hearing the anguish in my voice, Linda called from the living room, “What is it?

“Mike Ray died.”

“OH NO! Michael Ray??”

No doubt similar exchanges took place many, many times across the four states last week as word of Michael Joe Ray’s passing spread. For he was not only much loved by family and friends, but also treasured by townspeople and business associates.

Not to mention music lovers who followed his dazzling rap, tap, thump, throb, boppity-bob drum and cymbal beat over the years as he played with a succession of bands in the area — from Conny and The Bellhops to Smoot Mahuti.

It wasn’t long before Linda and I were smiling and telling stories about him, starting with the time, when she was a flight attendant for United in the 1970s, she spied him in Las Vegas, grinning and drumming with the band in the Caesars Palace lounge.

Then it was on to memories of dancing in a whirling dervish of rock and roll prayer Saturday nights in Joplin when he twirled and tapped the jumpsticks on cymbal, snare, and tom tom; and foot pedaled the deep bass beat for Smoot Mahuti, an artistically endowed band that, in addition to Michael, featured Don Shipp on bass, John Moss on guitar, Mark Marcano on keyboards, and Bob Macy on saxophone and flute.  

I also have sweet visions of late night jam sessions at the Pan Club, finger snappin to the beat of slow rhythm and blues as the aroma of Bob Peak’s smoked pork wafted through.

Like most nights when Smoot Mahuti was on the playbill, both the rosary and funeral Mass for Michael were standing room only.

In his remarks at Mass, Father Tom Stroot gave numerous examples as to why this was the case, starting with Michael’s infectious personality — his smile that lit up a room and his eternal, wide-eyed curiosity. When you talked, he listened; he had a way of making you feel important, no matter your status. He was a loyal friend (he many times did eulogies at funerals of those who had no religious affiliation). He was a man of compassion and gratitude.

He also had a sense of humor. Father Stroot related how, after 9/11, Michael quipped (in reference to his Lebanese ancestry and physical appearance), “Well I guess I can’t fly now unless I become Italian!”

In his eulogy following the Mass, longtime friend Peter Kavanagh related stories of growing up with Michalel from kindergarten through high school. Kavanagh deadpanned that he’d only gone 110 miles and hour in a car once in his life … and Michael was driving. Related that a meeting wasn’t a meeting or a party wasn’t a party unless Michael was there. Told of how, a couple of years ago, when he expressed his heartfelt appreciation to Michael for staying by his side throughout the funeral and luncheon following his younger sister’s untimely death, Mike responded with smile and a self-deprecating, “Hey, it was free food.”

Both Father Stroot and Kavanagh emphasized his love for family. Kavanagh saying that he was an extraordinary drummer who gave up the musician’s life to raise a family. Stroot relating that Michael would sometimes say after becoming a salesman, “Everything’s for sale … except my wife and children.”

Which brings to mind the lyrics to “It’s All Right,” the Curtis Mayfield song Smoot Mahuti covered on a cassette they put out years back: “Someday I’ll find me a woman / Who will love and treat me real nice / Then my woe’s got to go / And my love, she will know / From morning, noon, and night / It’s all right / It’s all right / Have a good time / Cause it’s all right."

After the recitation of the rosary, I went to the casket for a last goodbye (seeing drumsticks in his hands brought a smile and a nod), hugged his son Mason, wife Jolene, and daughter  Sydney, and went out to reflect on the concrete bench at the front entrance of the church.

A great human parade of mourners came and went as I sat there; evidence that that Michael was loved by people from all walks of life and all social classes.

Quite a legacy.

As another longtime area drummer, Jon Sherman, put it, after sighing in sadness about his passing, “He brought light into a lot of people’s lives.”

J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net.