Jazz musician and actor Ray Templin. (photo courtesy Ray Templin)

Ray Templin: From Shakey’s Pizza to Disneyland

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One of the things that interests and intrigues me most as I have interviewed and written about more than 100 musicians in the past decade is identifying the circumstances and situations that led these individuals down the career path they have taken.

I found this to be particularly true in the telling of the 71 years of Ray Templin’s life story.

At an early age, Ray was intrigued by the music he heard listening to his Father’s records and at family sing-alongs, and wondered “how do they do that?” He got his first set of drums at age five. When his Mother took him for piano lessons, he was asked “to play something.” That “something” turned out to be a self-taught version of the “12th Street Rag,” to which the teacher responded, “I can’t do anything for the boy!”

From there, Ray progressed through the usual school bands along with gigging around Chicago and “picking up the technical stuff” while attending the University of Illinois. It was while playing at a club near O’Hare Airport that he met his wife, Trish, whose job at the time was selling flight insurance. They have now been married for 51 years.
With the Vietnam War underway, Ray was drafted into the Army and was assigned to a military police unit in Georgia, but it wasn’t long before he was transferred to the Special Service Entertainment Division. During his two-year tour of duty, he was able to moonlight at a nearby Shakey’s Pizza Parlor, a chain that had been started in Sacramento by Sherwood “Shakey” Johnson, who was known for his great love of Dixieland jazz.

– Back in Chicago –

Back in Chicago upon discharge, Ray wrote songs and comedy routines for a folk trio that included his wife, a classically-trained singer. While working days for a publishing company, he did jazz brunches with a quintet. In 1975, he signed on with Bob Schulz’s Riverboat Ramblers. But the Templins soon began to tire of the weather in the Windy City, and one February day in 1979 while shoveling snow off the roof of his house, Ray made the decision to move to Los Angeles with the prospect of a job at Disney through an executive contact recommended by a friend.
Ray soon became a favorite at local jazz clubs playing both piano and drums, and in 1980, he joined Bob Ringwald’s Great Pacific Jazz Band which at the time included such top players as Dick Cary, Bob Havens, Zeke Zarchy, and Don Nelson (Ozzie’s brother). Ringwald was also responsible for getting Ray a job playing three nights a week at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in Burbank.

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That call from Disney finally came through in 1981 when he was hired to play ragtime piano on Main Street in Disneyland—the start of a 26-year association with the world-famous theme park. He went on to become the bass drummer in the 16-piece marching band and appeared with the park’s various show bands, including the Delta Ramblers and the Strawhatters, alternating between piano and drums, plus vocals.

Ray had become a member of the Screen Actors Guild which enabled him to capitalize on his talent for acting and imitating people’s voices in the world of television and commercials. At Fantasyland, he was the voice of Stromboli in Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, and the German circus ringmaster in Casey Jr.’s Circus Train. He even recorded his circus ringmaster role in Spanish, even though he doesn’t speak the language by working it out phonetically. He also voiced characters for The Muppets and the sitcom, Married. . .with Children

– Matlock TV Series –

He appeared in 11 episodes of the NBC-TV’s Matlock series starring Andy Griffith over three seasons. Originally a Southern gospel singer, Griffith liked to integrate music in his films. In the Andy Griffith Show, there are many scenes of Andy sitting on the front porch of his home in Mayberry strumming his guitar and singing.

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The plot for Matlock originally had Andy’s lawyer-character appearing either in the courtroom or his office. Griffith wanted another setting, particularly one that featured music. The decision was made to have a nightclub where Andy could occasionally relax or bring clients. The producer rented a nightclub and named it “Ray Templin’s Piano Bar.” They even built a sign for the front of the building which they used for exterior shots.

Ray Templin: From Shakey’s Pizza to Disneyland
Andy Griffith and Ray Templin make music in an episode of Matlock. (photo courtesy Ray Templin)

Andy would visit Ray’s Bar, and there was Ray Templin playing the piano. “Type-casting, indeed!” Ray chuckled. “I never had anything to do with the plot development, but I sure had fun and learned much from that man. Grateful am I.” Andy eventually wanted to have the show filmed in North Carolina where he grew up, which brought about the demise of Ray Templin’s Piano Bar.

During Ray’s years in California he founded or co-founded several bands, including the Palm Springs Yacht Club, Razzmatazz, and his Chicagoans, a seven-piece Dixieland group. He has played on over 40 CDs, including one for Yamaha’s Artist Series for the Disklavier.

– The Move to Arizona –

Ray views his years with Disney as “great fun” and recalls that after a day of performing or parading about the park, his face would often be sore from laughing over the crazy antics that happened while entertaining the visitors. As he approached the age of 60, he’d had enough of Los Angeles’s traffic-bound commute and decided it was time to retire from the daily hassle. That precipitated a move to Tucson, Arizona, with the thought that the warm climate would benefit his wife’s rheumatoid arthritis. Now a desert dweller, he continues voice-acting and is the pianist-drummer with one of Arizona’s premier classic jazz bands, Wildcat Jazz.

Ray Templin has the relaxed, confident style of an artist who is equally at home before the camera, in the recording studio, and on stage. His versatility, ebullient personality, and quick sense of humor has kept him working for nearly 50 years. “My Mother never understood why I wanted to be a professional musician,” he said. “Early in my career, she kept asking ‘have you had enough?’ My answer has always been—and still is—that I’ve been extremely fortunate to be able to make a living doing what I totally enjoy.”


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