Denton, Texas native Ray T. Peterson was born with a four-octave singing range – but before he could make any professional use of it he first had to overcome childhood polio. While being treated in a Texas hospital, the young teen took his mind off his troubles by endlessly vocalizing. All that practice polished his skills so much that after moving to Los Angeles, Ray was able to win a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1958. The next year, “The Wonder of You” became Peterson’s first chart hit and a favorite of Elvis Presley, with whom Ray became good friends. Elvis covered “The Wonder of You” in 1970 and his Top 10 version became a million-seller. Later in 1959 Ray scored again with “Goodnight My Love (Pleasant Dreams).”
In 1960 Ray Peterson recorded his greatest hit, “Tell Laura I Love Her,” a tragic mix of teenage romance and stock car race action. It soared to #7 in the U.S.A. but was rejected for release in England by RCA’s partner label, Decca, on the grounds that it was “too tasteless and vulgar.” 20,000 copies had already been pressed in the UK but all were destroyed before the single could reach British fans. That left the song open to cover versions in the UK and Columbia’s Ricky Vance leaped into the fray, quickly cutting a version with exactly the same lyrics which soared to #1 — in England only!
Fed up with record company nonsense, Peterson next formed his own label, Dunes, with his manager, Stan Shulman. Enlisting the help of producer Phil Spector, Ray decided to record a new version of “Corrine Corrina,” the song Joe Turner has scored a massive R&B hit with in 1956. Ray’s version worked – becoming almost as big a seller as “Tell Laura I Love Her.” (The Dunes label’s other big hit was Curtis Lee’s 1961 classic “Pretty Little Angel Eyes,” which Spector also produced.) Ray released several more hit singles over the next few years on Dunes, including “Missing You” (1961), “I Could Have Loved You So Well” (1962) and “Give Us Your Blessing” (1963). The latter song was covered by The Shangri-Las two years later and became a Top 30 hit for them.
Ray spent much of the latter ‘60s performing live in concert with Paul McCartney-lookalike Keith Allison, a former member of Paul Revere & the Raiders. He also put together two LPs for MGM Records, “The Very Best of Ray Peterson” (which included most of his Dunes singles) and “The Other Side of Ray Peterson” (a collection of his nightclub songs).
By the 1970s Ray was living in Nashville, where he became a Baptist minister and now and then accepted dates at oldies concerts. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and passed away in 2005 at the age of 65.