Homer Ray Harris, son of sharecroppers, was born in Mantachie, Mississippi in September of 1927. He grew up in the rural Deep South and listening to country music coming from the Grand Ole Opry out of Nashville. In the early ‘50’s he married and moved to Memphis taking a job on the graveyard shift at Firestone Tire and Rubber Plant where he worked beside Bill Black, Elvis’ bass player. Bill Black who at the time was working on cutting a record at Sun Studios with Elvis Presley and invited Harris to come to a recording session where he found himself sitting in the control room with Sam Phillips listening while Scotty Moore, Elvis and Bill cut Good Rockin’ Tonight. Even though heavily influenced by country music, by the end of the night Ray Harris was beginning to love the sound.
Having played socially in his hometown at bonfires by the creek and other such events, Ray was struck with the notion that he could make this kind of music and started a band. Guitar player Wayne Powers soon joined Ray in his journey hunting something new and different in music. After studio shopping, they finally made an agreement with Sam Phillips to record two songs and, with the addition of Joey Reisenberg to the group, recorded Come on Little Mama and Where’d You Stay Last Night. These two songs became known as the beginning of Memphis rockabilly and what the genre would become.
Although the songs had no potential to crossover as national hits because of their truly southern rawness, the songs really fired producer Sam Phillips up and he was anxious to record a follow-up to the songs. Although the vibe surrounding their next recording of Greenback Dollar was high, its release coincided with another Sun release for Jerry Lee Lewis’ Whole Lot of Shaking Goin’ On and was lost in the promotion.
Grateful for the opportunity to cut records as an artist and resigning to the fact that the country in his style would hold him back from making hit records, Harris decided to pursue a career on the production side of the music industry.
With an upright piano and a tape recorder, Harris made his first recording. It was a souped up version of You Are My Sunshine and Tootsie with Jerry Lee Lewis’ cousin Carl McVoy. Liking what he heard, Harris and 3 partners formed a company and went to Nashville and re-recorded the songs with Chet Atkins. From this first release, Hi Records was born. Without a distribution system in place, Harris sold the recordings to Sam Phillips and used the money from the sale to buy some recording equipment and to rent the Royal Theater.
Hi took off after a shaky start and became known for its contributions to Memphis Soul and Rockabilly with great success with artists like the Bill Black combo, Ace Cannon and Al Green. Harris retired in 1970 returning to Tupelo. Harris was tired of the music industry which took him away from home for 20 hours a day as he cut a majority of the sessions at Hi and did other work in the industry for Mercury, Backbeat and United Artists.
Harris bought a lake house on the Tennessee River and kicked back a few years before starting a construction business and then diving back into the music business. Harris and Sam Phillips began Trace Recording Studio in Tupelo in the mid-70’s and had a contract with Playboy Records and when the deal went sour the studio closed. Harris lived out the rest of his days in Mooreville, Mississippi until his death in November 13, 2003.