"We have Hall of Fames for football and baseball and for artists from other states, so I think this was a great idea,” Warwick musician and songwriter Ray Peterson said of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame, which was recently founded by local musicians Mederick “Rick” Bellaire and Don Culp. “It’s a great thing for Rhode Island.”
Peterson’s friend and former business partner, Winston “Wayne” Cogswell, also known as Wayne Powers, agrees, as he said a number of excellent musicians call Rhode Island home.
The two, along with the late Kenneth Dutton, in 1960 established and began operating Wye Records in Warwick, and the same year became the only Rhode Island-based recording company to have a national hit with the label’s first single, an instrumental called “Night Theme” by The Mark II, the name Cogswell and Peterson gave themselves.
The song featured Cogswell and Peterson playing four-handed piano with a host of other skilled musicians. Cogswell played the chords at the bottom of the keyboard as Peterson handled the melody. The tune entered Billboard and Cashbox magazines’ Top 100 charts and has since been covered by at least 20 artists; including Lawrence Welk, Al Hirt, The Chantays, Ernie Felix Slatkin and Floyd Cramer.
This, along with their skills as songwriters, musicians and producers, earned them a slot in the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame. While they won’t be inducted at the next ceremony, which Bellaire said is set for April of 2013 at the MET in Pawtucket, they will actually be inducted in 2014.
“I’m totally thrilled to have the honor bestowed on us,” said Cogswell.
Peterson feels the same. He got very excited.
“My heart was going, ‘Ba-boomp-ba-boomp,’” he said. “It was very surprising and an honor to even be thought of, because there are so many musicians in the state. We’re in good company.”
The company includes rock and blues artists such as John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, Anders & Poncia, Gerry Granahan, Ken Lyon and Roomful of Blues. Composer Oliver Shaw, as well as opera soprano Eileen Farrell and jazz pianist Dave McKenna are all past inductees.
Bellaire is the vice chair and director of the archives for the RIMHOF, and said the Mark II is a “shoe-in” for the Hall of Fame.
“These guys had an unbelievable career,” Bellaire said. “They accomplished stuff people only dream about.”
Cogswell moved to Memphis, Tenn. from Warwick in 1954. While there, he became friendly with Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, where he worked as a composer, session guitarist, arranger and producer for several well-known artists, including Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Harris, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison, among others.
“He was present at the birth of rock and roll,” Bellaire said. “It’s almost unbelievable that someone from Warwick was there.”
By 1960, Cogswell moved back to Warwick and was hired at Grinnell, the now defunct fire-protection company in Cranston, where he met Peterson, an accomplished pianist and songwriter.
At that time, Peterson was beginning his career as a composer and was distributing demos to publishers and record companies. Shortly after that, they met Dutton and started Wye Records.
According to the RIMHOF website, the label put out songs in multiple genres and drew heavily on Rhode Island talent. Major releases included “Teenage Night Theme” by Gayle Fortune with lyrics by Dolores; teen crooner Dicky Doyle’s doo-wop tune, “Dreamland Last Night”; instrumentals by orchestra leader Tony Abbott and jazz trumpeter Art Tancredi; the first recording by Dick Domane, who went on to co-found one of the state’s most popular bands, The Blue Jays; WPRO-AM disc jockey Morton Downey Jr.’s recording, “Three Steps To The Phone”; and “You’re My Ideal,” a Four Star Billboard pick by Claire Charles, who married Cogswell in 1986.
After a few years, Wye closed its doors. Dutton left for a career at Electric Boat. Cogswell and Peterson continue playing music and writing.
“It’s in our blood,” Cogswell said.
Peterson, who frequently performs at nursing homes with his wife Hari, agrees.
“When you go to a nursing home and you start playing songs people know and they look at you with these big smiles, it makes you feel good,” said Peterson.
For more information about the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame, visit rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.