Camas guitarist recalls playing with the legendary Andy Williams

He was in the band for crooner's final stage performance of signature song 'Moon River'

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 
photoAndy Williams, from left, golf pro Doug Sanders, Dave Raynor, McKenna Medley, Doug Sanders' wife and Bill Medley backstage in Branson, Mo.

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CAMAS — Dave Raynor has played hundreds of different songs in his musical career. Only one song compelled people to travel thousands of miles.

"'Moon River,'" the Camas guitarist said.

Raynor was on stage for Andy Williams' final public performance of his signature song.

"I can say I was his last guitar player," the 1971 Camas High graduate said.

Williams had to cut short his concert schedule almost a year ago because of health problems; he died Tuesday of bladder cancer.

Raynor joined the backup group for Williams and Ann-Margret in September 2011 in Branson, Mo.

About a month later, Williams was forced to quit performing. Raynor called his brief time with Williams the best month of his musical career.

"All the years I put into doing what I do came together in that time," Raynor said Wednesday afternoon at his family's Camas home.

Raynor strummed a solo version of "Moon River" while reflecting on its enduring appeal, and how it became one of those rare matches of song and singer.

Many fans would buy tickets a year ahead of time for special events like Williams' annual Christmas concert, and some would travel thousands of miles to pack the Moon River Theatre.

Raynor said several versions of that song were threaded through each performance.

"We would use it for walk-ons and walk-offs, and he would always use it at the end of the show," Raynor said. "It didn't matter if it was Christmas, or a regular concert: It was the show-stopper.

"Everything he did was wonderful, but people were there to hear that."

Raynor also had a chance to hear feedback from fans.

"Andy didn't do meet-and-greets" at the theater, Raynor said. But Williams and his family operated an eatery next door -- Moon River Grill, naturally. When Williams would get something to eat after the show, that's where fans could find him.

"People would share their stories. 'We fell in love to that song' … 'We got married to that song,'" Raynor said.

Raynor, 59, has crossed paths with a lot of other notable music figures since his boyhood in Camas, where he took piano lessons from the mother of singing star Jimmie Rodgers.

There is a Grammy certificate on the Raynors' wall, noting his role in writing the Grammy-winning song "I Believe in You" for Deniece Williams. The certificate is next to a platinum record Raynor received for engineering Kenny G's album "Silhouette."

Raynor, who has been based in Seattle most of his career, went to Branson in 2009 to play guitar for Bill Medley of "The Righteous Brothers."

That's where he got an invitation to join Andy Williams' backup group. After Williams' forced retirement, Ann-Margret took over as headliner at the theater, and Raynor continued to play guitar for her.

During that run, there also was one last appearance by the man everybody really wanted to see.

"Andy Williams did a walk-on and the place went nuts," Raynor said. "That was when he announced publicly that he had cancer, and that he hoped to be back this season."