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Bluegrass musician honored for career
Westray inducted into country hall of fame
Longtime resident and musician Roy Westray plays a resonating guitar he built himself. Westray recently was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. - photo by Autumn McBride

What keeps someone young?

That’s the question to which so many want an answer, especially after reaching retirement age.

For one Forsyth County resident the answer is his music.

Roy Westray, 83, has been practicing the art of bluegrass for more than 50 years.

His long-term dedication to the musical genre recently earned him a spot in the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.

The hall was founded in 1982, according to its Web site, for the purpose of “preserving Georgia’s rich music heritage and history.”

Each year about five to 10 musicians, teachers, promoters and others in country music are inducted.

Another 30 or so are selected every year for the hall of honor. Hall of fame recipients are always first named to the hall of honor.

Those tapped for the hall of honor must be at least 40 years old and have spent a decade in the music business.

Those named to the hall of fame must have at least 20 years in the business on an ongoing basis.

Westray said making the hall of fame this year “was a big surprise.”

But his daughter, Frances Mooney, also a bluegrass musician in the band Frances Mooney & Fotanna Sunset, wasn’t shocked.

She said her father, who has long been her musical inspiration, doesn’t let his age stop him from enjoying his passion.

While he may tire more quickly than before and his hands may not be quite as steady, Westray takes time every week to “pick” with what he calls “a bunch of old stags like me.”

Each Wednesday, he and a group of about 15 fellow pickers gather at the home Bobby Martin. Westray said the gathering spot is called the “buzzard’s roost.”

“Anybody who wants to can go there and play on Wednesday,” Westray said. “And I’m not even the oldest one there. There’s one who’s 89.”

Westray, a lifelong Forsyth resident except the two weeks he lived in nearby Canton, also spends a couple Saturday nights each month picking and grinning at a church in Waleska.

And on occasion, he’ll even join in the picking sessions at Mooney’s music store, Sawnee Mountain Music on Hwy. 9, though he said he’s content to just watch them.

The shows are held on the first and third Friday of every month.

Whenever Westray does play, it’s typically on a resonating guitar he built himself. 

After the longtime employee of Sawnee Electric Membership Corp. retired in the early 1990s, he started building his own musical instruments as a hobby.

“I just took that Dobro and used it as a model,” Westray said. “I looked at how it curved and I built my own jigs to get the pieces to shape that way.”

The Dobro is a brand name of resonating guitars, which feature large, round metal plates in the middle and require a slide and picks. It’s also the first and only instrument Westray plays.

“When I was a kid, my brother would be out there on the porch every night, banging around on those instruments,” he recalled. “I said then that I never wanted to play any music.”

But when he was about 31, the sounds of a Dobro over the radio caught his ear.

“I went and asked what that was and somebody told me that was a Dobro,” he said. “I never wanted to learn to play any music, but I heard that Dobro and I wanted to play it.”

One of his brothers taught him how.

Over the past 50 some years, Westray has been a member of about 10 different bluegrass groups.

He also built 71 Westray resonating guitars, selling most for about $1,200 a piece.

Mooney said he inspired her and her sister, Wanda Cook, to also pursue music.

Mooney and Cook are both members of the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Honor, and Mooney has won two International Bluegrass Music Awards for “Daughters of Bluegrass” albums.

She said she started playing guitar at about age 16 “to make [Westray] happy.”

“I had my uncle teach me in secret because I wanted to surprise Daddy,” she recalled.

Her sister plays and handcrafts mandolins.

“She got the wood-working talent like Daddy,” Mooney said.

While some may wonder why Westray doesn’t just sit back and listen to music nowadays, his answer is simple.

“If you sit down and don’t do nothing, you won’t last long,” he said. “And playing music’s just a real good way to make the time pass.”