A few dozen dedicated music lovers, most grey-haired, most smiling despite the 22-degree weather, huddled at the corner of Franklin Avenue and Berry Street—off University Avenue, near the Minneapolis border—just before 1:00 this afternoon. City Councilmember Russ Stark checked the time. “Someone from Public Works is supposed to be here to help us,” he said, “but I don’t think we should wait.”
A car pulled up across the street, and out stepped Tony Glover. As the local blues legend made his way across the street, wearing sunglasses and earmuffs, people called out telling him to be careful of the ice.
“It should really be down a block,” Glover said to me when I introduced myself. “That’s where his place was.”
The place in question was Dave Ray’s family insurance agency, its sign faded but still visible just down the street from the corner where we all had gathered for the official unveiling of the sign marking the transformation of that stretch of Franklin into the honorary Dave Ray Avenue. Ray, who died in 2002, was a longtime pillar of the local music scene; he, Glover, and Spider John Koerner were a trio who became internationally known for the riveting folk-blues records they released in the 1960s.
Stark, who said the occasion marked the first such ceremonial street-naming he was aware of in Ward 4, explained to me that he’d been approached by Red House Records—the St. Paul label that recently issued a collection of rare and unreleased recordings by Ray—with a suggestion that a street be renamed in Ray’s honor. Stark was happy to sponsor the resolution making it so, which passed the City Council last month with no debate required.
Shortly after 1:00, Red House president Eric Peltoniemi and owner Beth Friend called for attention. Peltoniemi thanked the crowd, and Stark was given a round of applause for his efforts. Peltoniemi credited Glover for working to preserve Ray’s legacy, and Glover said he was “very pleased” that his longtime friend and bandmate was receiving long-due attention from his home town.
“He was more than just a one-jam guy,” said Glover, emphasizing Ray’s versatility. “It’s about time the city dug him too.”
At that, Ray’s widow Mary Jane Mueller stepped forward to pull the string that would pull away the paper obscuring the newly-mounted street sign. Joking that Ray would be “rolling in his ashes” with all the attention, she yanked at the string—which came away to no effect. As Mueller laughed, two Public Works staffers finally showed up with a ladder.
Mueller climbed the ladder and pulled the paper away, to a chorus of cheers and applause. She stood for a few photos, and then everyone shook hands and climbed back into their warm cars, the white street sign remaining as a permanent reminder of the music history that was made just a few steps away.
below: Russ Stark
below, l-r: Tony Glover, Beth Friend, Eric Peltoniemi
below: Mary Jane Mueller
below: the former Ray family insurance agency