END OF THE ROAD 


What can be said about the much-ballyhooed Von Ray reunion/final show that hasn't been said already in Who Cares magazine? OK, that was harsh. Lots of us — including myself — paid way too much attention to the soap opera that was Von Ray back in the day. And why not? Vaughan Rhea (real spelling; more on that later) was a finely tuned solo acoustic singer-songwriter armed with good looks, better-than-average songs and a perpetual motion machine for a publicist (his mom).

And although he was always a bit of an outsider, the likable transplant from Tennessee legitimately paid his dues on the local circuit, grinding out covers for tourists in between original sets at downtown hangouts. The hard-working Von Ray was a rising star in the crowded local music scene. He was the one to pay way too much attention to. So we did.

With the labels sniffing around for the next big thing out of Orlando, Vaughan looked to capitalize on the current market conditions by building a harder-rocking band around his songwriting chops. (Perhaps it was a bit of a miscalculation — Vaughan's lyrical subject matter proved way too nice-guy for the nü-metal crowd.) Keeping the family vibe, brother/ bassist/loose cannon Dave Rhea was recruited.

Relentless gigging and the runaway success of VonRa's (note the new spelling) 1997 debut, Panes, turned the boys into regional stars. Von Ray was packing local houses and opening for just about every big-name act that came through town. Meetings were held to discuss the official spelling, capitalization and spacing of the band's name. It was ridiculous.

After months of speculation and rumors, Elektra finally bit and Vonray (note yet another new spelling) dropped their self-titled major-label debut in April 2003. A period of great anticipation followed. Would they capture the world's imagination like Matchbox 20 or strum their way into obscurity like My Friend Steve?

There was a high-profile tour with Creed (in hindsight, perhaps not the best wagon to hitch a ride on), and the band's one and only true hit, "Inside Out," was included on the soundtrack to the WB's Smallville . I guess that's something … not a lot, but something.

In the end, it all fell apart. Dave bolted for go-nowhere hard rockers Dust for Life, spending an obscene amount of his signing bonus on snakeskin pants. And Vaughan, well, he went back to doing what he always did best.

Through it all, secretaries swooned, alcohol was served and the spelling of the band's name was changed multiple times. And each and every exploit came with its own press release (hi, Mom). Von Ray was a family affair, after all.

music@orlandoweekly.com

More by Mark Padgett

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