The music of Otto Gray music translated his roots and the traditions to the performances he gave. He was a rancher and a cowboy.
Back in 1959, Gray said in an interview with Oklahoma Today that the bands played different songs depending on the weather, time and audience.
“That’s why the cowboy song is different than any other spontaneous song product in America – its characteristic rhythm and the freedom of expression of the singers,” Gray said. “We gave our audiences this kind of reality. We were no western swing band, but much of our music was the foot-tapping, body-swaying variety that brought broad grins of appreciation.”
Gray continued on tours after his band’s trip to Kansas City. He toured through the Midwest and Northeast, where he gained national attention along the way. A professor at Rogers State, Hugh Foley, said that Billboard magazine got the band the most attention.
“In 1929, Billboard carried an article on the band, which helped them get a spot over the Columbia Broadcasting System,” Foley said. “That network included the largest stations in the Midwest, in markets like Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Minneapolis.”
A business owner, Jim McCollom, said that Otto Gray and Billy McGinty helped start the music Gene Autry played, McCollom also said that McGinty also made a name for himself because of the custom vehicles that he designed to help tow the band across the Midwest.
“When people listen to country music on the radio today, you can give Otto Gray a big amount, if not all, of the credit for that,” McCollom said. “The band’s music shaped everything people consider country today.”
When the band was not on the road, they were parading throughout Payne country, playing their tunes and keeping their roots local. McCollom added that the band often stayed at the Three Story downtown Stillwater.
The Band signed a contract with the National Broadcasting Company in New York in 1930, and they were featured in another Billboard story.
The first week after opening in Schenectady, New York, Gray’s band received more than 16,000 telegrams and letters, shattering all existing records for fan correspondence. There were only two groups of people who didn’t like the band’s radio performances: telephone operators and mail men.
In 1931, the band received its major breakthrough when Billboard featured them on the front cover of the magazine. Then Cowboy bands were being imitated by band across the country, including their western fashion and Oklahoma roots.
Going to different towns on tours, their fancy cars stopped traffic. In Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the caravan “stopped the show,” Gray said. At Goebel’s Park in Covington, Kentucky, the crowd was so immense and anxious that the police and fire departments couldn’t hold it back.
“The band attracted audiences never seen before,” Foley said. “People wanted to see Otto Gray and his band. Billboard and radio made them the biggest commodity to come out of the state of Oklahoma at the time.”
The Cowboys set a new “Family Party” record ar En-Joie Heath Park in Endicott, New York in 1932. There were more than 50,000 people expressed their appreciation with applause that “rang through the Southern Tier like thunder,” Gray said.
In 1934, Gray took the opportunity to promote the band when he was featured on the front cover of Billboard. He and the band planned a program in advance – they depended on “ablibbing” to put them over. The band toured for the last time in 1935. After, Gray said that he was ready to retire and go home to Stillwater.
Gray returned to his ranch in Stillwater, and he became a real estate entrepreneur. Billy McGinty, who started the band in mid-20’’, was inducted into National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Stillwater.
In1967, Otto Gray passed away in Springdale, Arkansas, where his second wife resided. Mommie in November 1959 in Stillwater, and together with Otto Gray, they were buried in Fairlawn Cemetery in Stillwater.
The Washington Irving Trail Museum in Ripley, located about 15 minutes from Stillwater at 3918 S. Mehan Rd., is the only place in the world that has a vast collection of stuff from the cowboy bands still intact. Dale Chlouber, the curator of the museum, said the museum sits on the old homestead of Gray’s family.
The museum is free to enter, though it takes donations. Its hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and Sunday’s from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
“Gray and the band is one of the best-untold stories in music,” Chlouber said. “Without them, western, cowboy and country music wouldn’t be where it is today and probably wouldn’t have the fame, either.”[like_button]
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