Multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter Ray West has been playing music in the Florida Keys since making Key West his home in 2008. 

His journey is one of personal, professional and spiritual growth.

West had a challenging childhood and upbringing. Moving from place to place and home to home provided little stability. 

“I never had real support,” West said. “There was no mentor to guide me or tell me that I could be successful. I think the mentality that I couldn’t succeed stuck with me.”

West always had a love and interest in the arts. He enrolled as a theater major at Morningside University, a private institution in Sioux City, Iowa. He spent a couple years in school, but a lack of self-confidence and some poor decision-making prompted him to drop out of school. 

At this point, he had not taken up music. He owned a little harmonica and would listen to R.E.M’s “Out of Time’”album and play along until he figured out a few notes.

“At the time, I had a crush on a gal who played the flute,” says West. “I went and bought a flute and hit the streets in Minneapolis to busk for money. I only knew about four notes, but got to be pretty good at playing them quickly and rhythmically. One day, a lady sat and listened to me for a bit, wrote me a check for $20, told me that my playing made her think of springtime, and thanked me. At that moment, I knew I wanted to play music.”

West met two other struggling musicians, a guitarist and a percussionist, and they formed a trio called Third Stone. They began to play music around Minneapolis and became quite popular. However, poor decisions led to their split and Ray began to play solo music. He soon recorded the first of his four solo albums of original music. 

After spending time playing music in many towns and at festivals, following The Grateful Dead tour and even spending time as a music mentor for special education children in Cleveland, one of West’s longtime friends, Johnny, called and said he should come down to Key West to check out the scene. Johnny, many of you may remember, played his flute with his dog by his side out on the streets of Key West for many years. Ray took Johnny’s advice and came to the Keys in 2008. 

“The first person I saw perform here was Raven Cooper,” recalls West. “I thought to myself, ‘Well the bar is quite high down here. I hope I can measure up.’” 

West was eventually hired by Looe Key and Willie T’s for his first paid gigs in the Keys. West began to find work as a musician while also building a successful side job as a painting contractor. He has continued to pursue his music career in the Keys and has been involved in many great events and benefits. West established “Votes for Notes,” which was a talent competition that served as a benefit for Habitat for Humanity. It was a three-day annual event where attendees would vote for their favorite musical acts with money rather than votes. Whoever received the most money (votes) would be declared the winner and all the money would go to Habitat for Humanity. 

West has recently been involved in a few very cool tribute events. He fronted and led a Jethro Tull tribute band at the Conch Town Record Music Video Festival in Marathon in 2020. In March of this year, West played lead guitar in the Allman Brothers tribute band fronted by Gregg Allman’s son Michael Allman. 

Although he enjoys playing cover music and tributes, West really wants to push a movement for original music here in the Keys. 

“There are many talented musicians here in the Keys. Several of them have written some great original music. I would love to see the Keys become recognized as a hub of great original music. I love to see others’ creativity. It’s a refreshing change from playing covers.”

West continues to push himself to grow as a musician and as an individual. He wants to inspire others. West has mentored a few young musicians in the Keys including rising star Shastina Chiles. He continues to encourage others to be creative and play their original music. His musical, personal and spiritual growth has helped him to take on a new outlook in life. 

“My current mantra is, you’ll never outperform your own self-image. Make sure you have a healthy one. You can and will certainly succeed when you truly believe that you will.”

BEN’S LIST

5 Iconic Rock Albums: 

1. Abbey Road — The Beatles

2. Dark Side of the Moon — Pink Floyd

3. Rumours — Fleetwood Mac

4. Pet Sounds — The Beach Boys

5. Sticky Fingers — The Rolling Stones

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Ben Solove is a local radio personality and music promoter who loves to share his passion for music.