From small beginnings singing at special events and clubs in Socorro to performing in large arenas with well-recognized country stars in Nashville, Damon Gray has immersed his life in chasing the dream called music – and doing it quite successfully.

Gray, a rising country musician, will be coming back home to Socorro to perform a concert at New Mexico Tech’s Macey Center on Saturday, June 15.

Born in Belen and raised in Lemitar, Gray is a 1978 graduate of Socorro High School. He currently lives in Nashville, Tenn., furthering his music career, with wife, Cindy, and 21-year-old daughter, Leslie.

Gray’s wife, formerly Cindy Jones, is a 1979 Socorro High School graduate. “I married my high school sweetheart,” Gray said with a smile in his voice.

“I play hard-core country, the real stuff,” he said. “I play more traditional country music, and it’s real hard to find my niche here in Nashville where top 40 country (style) is so popular.”

Gray said he began singing at age two, ever since he could talk. He always knew that music would be his life. He began his professional career at the age of 16.

“The entire family is really big into music,” said Ed Gray, Damon’s brother, who lives in Lemitar and works at the Very Large Array (VLA) west of Magdelena as an electrician. “Our dad would play the guitar and we would all sing. Damon, though, is the only one who pursued a music career, and he’s doing really good.”

Damon’s mother and three sisters live in the Socorro area, and he has one sister who lives in California. He is the youngest son of a dairy farmer.

Ed said that Damon has always been talented and persistent about his music career.

“I got bit by that bug. I had no questions growing up that music would be my way of life. I was very lucky, and the only question was how I was going to do it,” he said.

He began singing and playing in clubs like the Sports Page in Socorro and at local fairs throughout the area and in Arizona at a relatively young age.

“I loved living and growing up in Socorro, there just wasn’t enough to do, and, most of the time, I had to make the music for people to dance to,” he said. “I really, really do miss home, though, and it’ll be nice coming home in June to play at Macey Center and visit family and friends.”

Gray moved to Nashville in August 1989, when his daughter was eight years old. He and his wife just decided to pack up one day and head to Nashville, neither one having a job.

“I just know I need to follow that elusive dream of music,” he said.

According to a news release, soon after moving to Tennessee and rapidly gaining success, tragedy struck when Gray’s father, who had always encouraged him to make it in country music and to form his own unique identity, passed away from a sudden illness.

“I was heartbroken,” Gray said in the news release. “I just wish he had been able to see me on television one time, but losing him only made me push harder. I know that is what he wanted. There will always be a bond between us.”

Gray’s career got a jump start when he was asked by a major Hollywood production company to sing the song, “This Ain’t No Honeymoon, It’s A Hurricane” for the movie “Blue Shark Hash.”

He currently has one album out, titled “Lookin’ for Trouble,” through Broken Bow Records.

In between music gigs in Nashville clubs, mainly on the popular South Broadway Avenue strip, he also makes tour buses for country stars. When he travels, he travels in a bus that he has built.

“It’s a close-knit community here (in Nashville) of musicians, and most of the clubs along South Broadway Avenue stay open all night, and musicians usually play four-hour shifts, and we’re all so close, that we’ll call each other up and switch shifts if we need to,” he said. “I’m just doing that dream I’ve had for so long, and I get to play with the best of the best and get to rub shoulders with some really big talents in country music.”

Gray recalled a night playing at a club when Vince Gill came in and began playing with him on stage. “We couldn’t get him off, he just loves to sing and play, and he’s wonderful at what he loves to do.”

Ed said Damon has opened up for Merle Haggard a couple of times, as well. While playing at the Nashville clubs, working on tour buses and traveling for concerts, Gray is currently writing songs for another album.

“The hardest part of a music career is to get recognition from a record label, and it’s a tough nut to crack,” he said.

Damon, who likes to play traditional country, has a hard time getting radio time for his songs because he likes to play older-style country, his brother said.

“He loves traditional country, and he won’t change just to please record labels,” Ed said. “Damon just loves to play – it’s his passion.”

Gray’s June 15 concert in Socorro will be his second performance in his home town since moving to Nashville.

Gray played at a benefit concert to raise money for the families of four Socorro youths who died in a car crash several years ago.

Ticket Facts:

Damon Gray

When: Saturday, June 15

Where: New Mexico Tech’s Macey Center, Socorro

Ticket Info: $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, $10 for youth.

Phone order: 505-835-5688

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Jennifer Atkinson