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Tucson Weekly's own Linda Ray turns 60 this week, and as far as we know, she's the oldest working female rock critic in America. That damned well deserves notice, and it raises a few questions: How does she haunt the clubs while holding down two responsible part-time jobs--one at IBM? How did she break into the business in her 50s? And will the real Bill Wyman please stand up?

The oldest, huh?

I've been checking around. Jane Scott wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer into her 80s, but she's retired.

You don't look your age.

None of us do.

How did you become a rock critic?

That is a really long story. I was a musician's kid. My dad made a living playing in dance halls and clubs while I was growing up in Phoenix. And he was the rep for Gibson guitars, so he was pals with Les Paul and those guys. That world's my home; the musicians and bartenders and the club owners are my people. I hear music from the musicians' side of it somehow. But I couldn't learn to play--my dad tried to teach me.

And?

I cruised Central Avenue every night with my friends during a great, great time in the history of radio--'57 or '58 through '62. The music was the biggest thing in our lives. The DJs were real, live people with taste and passion. Every show was different, because they played what they loved. You'd hear Johnny Mathis, Buck Owen, Elvis, Motown, R&B, boom boom boom. No rules. And it was a great period musically. I know everybody thinks his high school music was the best, but mine actually was.

We're only up to high school.

OK. In 1974, I moved east to get an MBA and then to Chicago for work. That was like going into a tunnel--I paid no attention, none, to music for years. Then one day, I was trying on a top and skirt in an off-price designer store that's gone now. I bought the top but not the skirt. Anyway, this song came on the radio over the speaker in the ceiling. It was "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and I realized that I needed to get caught up. I got interested in music that was happening in the Midwest in the early '90s, bands like Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks, Blue Mountain--aggressive rock that had continuity with the music of the past, especially country music. The Internet happened, and there were all these online fan boards where we'd post news and talk about shows and discuss the music. In 1995, this listserv I was madly posting to became (the bimonthly magazine) No Depression, and one of the editors asked me to write for it. I was in the first issue--$10 for 500 words. I thought, "All right! I'm a rock writer!"

Two cents a word.

Yeah. I once wrote a 3,000-word cover story for them for $75. Those were the days. Now I'm a contributing editor. I'm very proud of my association with them.

You jumped from the Web to print.

I had encouragement. During that same time, I was playing bridge with a guy named Bill Wyman. Now, he's an arts editor for National Public Radio. Then he was staff rock critic for Chicago Reader. He thought that what I knew about music, especially country music, was valuable--which had certainly never occurred to me. By the way, Bill's sort of famous for this surreal lawsuit filed against him by the Rolling Stone bassist named Bill Wyman over whether he could use his name. Eventually, my Bill Wyman proved that he had been named Bill Wyman at birth, a number of years before the other Bill Wyman assumed it as a stage name, and that settled it.

Who else have you written for?

Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, San Francisco Chronicle, Phoenix New Times, Illinois Entertainer, a few others.

Why are you in Tucson?

I lived here from 1962 to 1974. I came back to take care of my dying mother.

Do you ever think of quitting?

Every few months. I hate writing. But then I think, "Well, I'll be at the show anyway."

How do you manage a night job, a day job and a ton of political activism?

I just do it. It's a shame more people don't realize that yes, they can get through the day on four hours of sleep. Or no hours. They miss so much. People talk about revitalizing downtown like it's an academic topic. You know what you can do to make downtown vibrant? Go down there. Have dinner; walk around, and find something you like. Believe me, you will.

We're almost out of room, and we haven't got to the required questions. Favorite album?

Anything Rainer. (Rainer Ptacek, revered Tucson bluesman who died in 1997.)

First memorable concert?

Ella Fitzgerald in Encanto Park in Phoenix, 1961. I snuck over the hill and there she was.

Local band most likely to get really famous?

Calexico.

Favorite people?

My grandkids, Rob and Jordan.

Happy birthday.

Thanks.

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