Clay County native, Ray Pennington, passed away at the age of 86 in a house fire just outside of Nashville. Pennington is best known for writing, “I’m a Ramblin’ Man” that Waylon Jennings took to the top of the charts. Officials believe that the fire in his Hendersonville, Tennessee, home started by a golf cart in the garage. His wife was able to escape.
“The word we got was smoke was coming in the house,” said Shackle Island Fire Department Chief Marty Bowers, “so Mr. Pennington walked out to the garage to see what was going on, and the golf cart was on fire. The smoke was so bad that his wife couldn’t get to him.”
Born on December 22, 1933, Ramon Daniel Pennington began singing and playing guitar with his father at the age of 15. He began his country music career when he had a band, Western Rhythm Boys, performing in Ohio and Kentucky. He released “Three Hearts in a Tangle” single on King Records, but it was withdrawn due to poor quality recording. Pennington would produce Hawkshaw Hawkins while on King Records. It is known that the last album from Hawkshaw Hawkins was the first to feature both white and black session players in country music.
In 1961, Roy Drusky recorded Pennington’s song, “Three Hearts in a Tangle” and reached to number 2 on the country charts. Within a year, he would work on radio, along with running two different bands, Ray Starr and the Starliners, and Western Rhythm Boys. The first was an r&b band, while the other was more of a country western act. Proof that he was a very versatile musician and singer. As Ray Starr, he released a single, “I Have to Laugh to Keep From Crying” and “In the Middle of Two Hearts” in 1962.
Ralph Stanley ended up recording several of Ray Pennington’s songs, including “Stone Walls and Steel Bars,” “I Don’t Want Your Rambling Letters,” and “Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown.”
Two years later in 1964, Ray Pennington worked as a songwriter and A&R with Pamper Music. He produced recordings for Buck Trent, Tex Williams, and Kenny Price. Fellow Kentucky native, Kenny Price, garnered two country hit songs, “Walking on New Grass” and “Happy Tracks,” both written by Pennington. Fellow Kentucky native, Ricky Skaggs, cut one of Pennington’s songs, “Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown” in 1983.
Ray Pennington would go on to record “Who’s Gonna Walk the Dog and Put the Cat Out” and “I’m a Ramblin’ Man” in 1967 for Capitol Records. “I’m a Ramblin’ Man” would reach number 29 on the charts. In 1974, Waylon Jennings took the song to number one and made it the title of his album. Pennington would have several more hit songs released by others, as well as producing recordings for Ray Price, Cal Smith, and more.
Pennington would co-found Step One Records in the 1980s. With it, they released albums and singles by the likes of Hank Thompson, Ray Price, Faron Young, and Kitty Wells, to name a few. In 1984, he would join Buddy Emmons to form the Swing Shift Band. They would go to produce several albums, with “Turn me Loose and Let Me Swing” hitting the charts in 1988.
- Here is a list of songs that Ray Pennington wrote or co-wrote:
- Devil in My Arms (co-wrote with Dave Kirby)
- Don’t Cheat in Our Home Town (co-wrote with Roy Marcum)
- Happy Tracks
- I Ain’t Gonna Walk Your Dog No More
- I Built a Wall Around Me
- I Can’t Get Up by Myself
- I Don’t Feel at Home in This House Anymore
- I Don’t Want Your Rambling Letters (co-wrote with Nat Nathan, and Gene Redd)
- I’ll Carry You
- I’ll Go to a Stranger (co-wrote with Dave Kirby)
- Just About Then
- Nothing’s Changed, Nothing’s New
- One Away from One Too Many
- Ramblin’ Man
- Somewhere in Texas
- Standing Room Only Outside Your Heart
- Stay Away from My Baby
- Stone Walls and Steel Bars (co-wrote with Roy Marcum)
- Then I Can Face Your Memory (co-wrote with Jesse Shofner)
- There’s Nothing to Hold Me Anymore (co-wrote with Gaston Rosan)
- Three Hearts in a Tangle (co-wrote with Sonny Thompson)
- Walking on New Grass
- Yonder Comes a Freight Train
- Your Sweet Love Rained All over Me (co-wrote with Billy Sherrill)
Funeral arrangements for Ray Pennington are still pending.
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Hollercast podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.