Blues, folk and bluegrass musician, Michael Ray Cox was born a ramblin’ man, but is lucky enough to call Boise home
By Kate Matthews
Photography by Copper Chadwick
Not only does Boise breed incredible talent, it inherits it too. We all know those lucky souls, tucked away in pockets known only to a few, whom have chosen to call Boise home. They may be world-class artists, entrepreneurs, writers, inventors, or – in the case of Michael Ray Cox – musicians.
Michael Ray first touched down in Boise in 1967. The longhaired, denim and leather clad, guitar-carrying son of a Quaker preacher and a mother who Michael Ray describes as “the last of the Kentucky songbirds,” was the epitome of the preacher’s child gone wild. He was fresh off the road from Chicago, home to visit his folks whom had just taken up the parsonage at the Whitney Friend’s Church on the Boise Bench.
“When I got in touch with my folks and told them I was coming to visit, they told me they’d moved to Idaho. ‘Be sure to set your watch back when you get here, son.’ my dad advised. When I asked him how far back, he replied, ‘Ahh, about 15 years oughtta do it.’” And for Michael Ray, who was born in Orange County and raised in East L.A. before hitting the road as a musician in his early 20’s, that was just about right.
After leaving home at the age of 17, Michael Ray headed to Portland where he worked as a stagehand and roadie. One night after a show a Gibson 12-string was handed to Michael Ray and he was told he should learn to play it. So he did. He was 19.
By the age of 25, Michael Ray had been playing professionally for five years and was cutting his chops at the Paradox in Costa Mesa with the likes of banjo player Steve Martin, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jackson Brown, Jose Feliciano and Jim Fielder. He’d played a walk-in gig at the Gaslight in Greenwich Village, opening for Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and criss-crossed the country, guitar in hand, more than most. His best friend was John Terrell Kosewick and his mentor and “general encourager” was Steve Noonan. The Man was on fire.
But, as it does for the best of us, life happened to Michael Ray. And with that life came an unexpected love found behind the teller window at a Wells Fargo in Boise, and with that love, a family. Eventually, Michael Ray stepped back from the music, and traded in his guitar for a steady paycheck. But just long enough.
Today, with his children raised and a grandchild on his knee, Michael Ray Cox has started strumming the familiar chords of his life’s song and is on the road again, reuniting once again with the familiar faces from his Paradox days and tapping out a new beat. And, if you’re very lucky, you may even catch him on stage at Boise’s Penguilly’s Saloon or some other dark corner where music fills our streets.
You won’t find Michael Ray on Facebook or Spotify. He doesn’t have a website, nor does he plan too. But keep your eyes and ears open; you’ll know when he’s arrived.