The sounds of summer recently hit a somber note with the death of songwriter Ray Whitley, who during his career collaborated with various artists including Billy Joe Royal, Joe South and Tommy Rowe. But he perhaps is best known for songs he wrote for the ultimate beach music band, The Tams – "Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy" (with J.R. Cobb), "Hey Girl, Don't Bother Me" and "What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)."
Inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1991, the year before The Tams were inducted, Whitley was 14 when he formed his first band in Columbus, Ga. At 17 he was introduced to music producer Felton Jarvis and publisher Bill Lowery, and began writing the Billboard hits that spark many summers-in-the-‘60s memories for Baby Boomers.
In an interview a couple of years ago, Whitley remembered, "I was sitting in his [Lowery's] office and The Tams walked up to me and asked if I had any songs. I took them down to the boiler room and sang for them 'What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am?' I guess they liked it."
At the time of the interview, Whitley said he had lost most of his hearing and was "almost" free from his struggle with alcohol. He died May 5 in Gainesville, Ga. where he had lived, for a time, in a homeless shelter called the Good News at Noon.
Whitley is often confused with another Ray Whitley (1901-1979), a cowboy singer and actor from Atlanta who co-wrote "Back in the Saddle Again" with Gene Autry and the original version of "I’ve Been Hurt."
The younger Whitley, no known relation, would have been 70 in November and had been ill for several months.
By the way, two spin-off groups from the original Tams – known for the tam toppers they always wore – are still touring. No doubt they’ll be singing the Whitley hits with an extra sweet sound.
Written by Susan Soper. Soper is the author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has been a reporter with Newsday, writer for CNN, and Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."