RIPLEY - At some point, nearly every rock star hopeful strikes a pose in front of the bedroom mirror, air guitar in hand, and imagines taking the stage in front of thousands of screaming fans.

For Ripley native and musician Jeff Ray, this rock and roll fantasy just happens to be a very real part of his regular job.
As a guitarist for the up and coming country music artist LoCash Cowboys, Ray will travel to the Rock Jam Music Festival in Junction, CO this summer to perform as the opening act for rock legends Kiss and Motley Crue.

"We're seriously going to be the first country band to ever open up for these guys," Ray said.

And the LoCash Cowboys buzz seems to only be growing louder. Together, frontmen Preston Brust and Chris Lucas co-wrote Keith Urban's number one hit single "You Gonna Fly," as well as Tim McGraw's "Truck Yeah".

They have shared the bill with artists such as Toby Keith, Blake Shelton, REO Speedwagon, Tom Petty and Gretchen Wilson, earning legions of LoCash fans and serious major record label interest along the way.

"We have one of the most energetic shows in country music, more like a rock show," Ray said. "They push the boundaries of country music to the fullest extent."

Ray's introduction to music began with his Grandfather, a life-long employee of Kaiser Aluminum and a gospel singer in his local church.

"That's basically where it comes from. When I was little, he used to set me on his lap and play guitar to me," he said.

At 13, he borrowed a friend's guitar and started learning simple chords. For his birthday the following year, he convinced his parents to buy him his own guitar and amplifier. He taught himself to play by listening to old cassette tapes of 80's Heavy Metal bands.

"I only took one lesson and that was from Jim Bush," he said, whom he credits with being a major influence on his love of music and playing guitar.

"Jim played a huge part in getting me started," he said. "He was always loaning us gear and I credit him for getting a whole group of us actively playing in bands."

Another member of that group to which he gives Bush so much credit for influencing, also includes Ravenswood native and Keith Urban guitarist, Brian Nutter.

"Brian was the singer in my first band," he said. "We're still great friends."

In 1996, Ray and Nutter both moved to Los Angeles, only to return to West Virginia a few months later. Shortly after their return, they formed Mo Bigley, a high-energy rock band that found popularity and moderate local success until they called it quits in 2001.

"That was very easily the best band I've ever been in," Ray said.
His first major foray into country music came last summer when he took a job playing bass guitar for Nashville artist Troy Olsen.
"Troy was a great guy," he said. "That was my foot in the door to the Nashville thing."

While on hiatus with Olson, it was a conversation with fellow-West Virginian and LoCash guitarist Dave White that led to his introduction to his current band, and to what he says has been the best opportunity so far in his music career.

With their keyboard player going away on vacation, the band wanted to hear what they would sound like with a second guitarist. White suggested that Ray fill in and sent him a few songs to learn.

"After the first show, they pulled me aside and said they loved the sound," he said. "They asked me to come to Nashville the following weekend to play at the CMA Fest."

After a series of successful shows over the next few weeks, the band approached Ray backstage after a performance in Montana and asked him to join the band full-time.

"Those guys are great, he said. "I feel like I'm part of a family already."

Ray's own family, including his wife and four children, has been supportive of his career choice as well.

"When I'm not on the road with those guys, I'm home" he said. "And obviously you have to have a very understanding wife."