NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Eighty-six-year-old singer-songwriter Ray Pennington died in a fire at his Sumner County home Wednesday.
His most famous song sung by Waylon Jennings ” I’m A Ramblin’ Man,” but his family says he was so much more than an artist.
“There’s too much to say about Ray and not enough words. He was everybody’s pop,” Lana Martin told News 2 Thursday.
Martin and Beth Leger weren’t biological daughters of Pennington, but he was still their “Pop.”
“I lost my parents at a very young age and he became my dad,” Martin explained, she met him when her husband was struggling to plow their field next door, Pennington sent his guys over to help.
Leger met Pennington’s daughter doing music, but he also helped her get back on her feet after she lost her home in Hurricane Rita.
“He gave without expecting anything in return,” Leger told News 2, after driving from Texas the day after the fire.
Pennington was born in Kentucky in 1933. He took up singing as a kid, took a shot at his own band, and produced on several record labels over the years working on one of the first country albums with both Black and white musicians.
He then started his own label in Nashville in 1984 called Step One Records. He signed artists like Ray Price, Clinton Gregory, and brought on steel guitarist Buddy Emmons.
“I had just moved to town in 1969, and Ray was starting to give me some sessions and let me have a chance at doing what I really wanted to do… being a session player,” steel guitarist Jim Fest told News 2 when he stopped by the family’s house on Thursday.
Pennington was married to his wife, Mama Charlotte, for 62 years with three biological daughters, five grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
But the entire community called him “Pop,” too.
“They had their hand in raising so many children, not just their own,” said Martin.
“I can’t believe that fate, whatever fate is about, would let this happen,” Fest said with tears in his eyes, “Unless the good Lord said ‘You know what, I need him… I need him.'”
Pennington said in his song ‘Over There’ in 1982, “I believe we’ll be together, Hallelujah, when we reach the other side.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.