Goin' Down Swingin'
an interview with
by Robert Silverstein
Ray is no newcomer to the music scene. He's rocked his way to the
top playing guitar with such music greats as Smokey Robinson, Etta
James, The Bangles, Shakira, Adam Cohen and most recently pop legend
Sir Paul McCartney. However, Ray does one thing few ever dared to
do on-stage with McCartneyhe plays the bass. Macca's golden
boy meticulously and faithfully reproduces the signature McCartney
bass style with remarkable precision, pleasing even the most picky
Beatles fans and most importantly his boss. Ray is so versatile he
can churn out blistering guitar riffs going head to head with fellow
band mate and McCartney lead guitarist Rusty Anderson. Touring with
McCartney is like a dream come true for Ray who notches his fourth
world tour with the rock star. "He's the most kicked back guy
I know," says Ray who has nothing but praise and reverence for
his boss. What's it like to work with McCartney? He says, "It's
the kind of thing if you stop to start thinking about... [laughs]
you just might stumble over yourself and fall over because, here's
the guy who changed the role of bass playing in popular music. And
now I'm playing those parts. It's a mixture of feeling honored, humbled,
and fortunate." But it doesn't stop there. Ray's remarkable talent
as a topnotch musician led to an interest in song writing. He co-wrote
Smokey Robinson's mega hit "One Heartbeat" which has had
over 3 million airplays. This year Ray decided to follow another dreamreleasing
his first album. Mondo Magneto was an ambitious undertaking
for a musician who spent most of his life working on other people's
albums. "I felt electric...like I was vibrating on a higher frequency
than usual," says Ray about writing songs for his new album.
Ray called on friends to contribute to his album and when he asked
Etta James to sing a duet, her response was "I'll do anything
for Brian." Ray was James guitarist and musical director
for 14 years. Etta shares vocals on "Soft Machine" which
inspired the title for the album. Ray recalls, "I was listening
to a playback of one of the songs, Soft Machine, a day
after a good session... At the end there is this strange sound we
recorded as it fades out... as I listened, I smiled, and just said
out loud to myself, 'Wow... mondo electro magneto!' And thought...'Drop
the electro and I have a title." Other contributors include;
Scott Shriner (Weezer), Davey Faragher (Elvis Costello band), Abe
Laboriel, Jr., Paul 'Wix' Wickens and Rusty Anderson (McCartney band).
Ray also collaborated with Oliver Lieber, Adam Cohen and Tonio K.
For Ray, "Mondo was a labor of love shared by those who
worked on the sessions. What was really fun for me about making this
album, was that every person involved came into the studio and brought
their own personality to the sessions. And that shows on the CD."
Mondo Magento's contemporary sound is upbeat and exhilaratingly
fresh. It rocks with catchy melodies and playful lyricism drawing
from Ray's life experiences. It's a wonder that Ray waited this long
to put out his own record. When asked, he grins and says, "I
guess I was just busy." On September 29, 2005 Brian Ray sat down
for this unique one on one interview with Robert Silverstein of 20th
Century Guitar and Music Web Express 3000. A special thanks to both
Jorie Gracen and Bill Bernstein for the use of their fine photography.
by Jorie B. Gracen
RS: Jorie Gracen says hi. I really enjoy reading your blogs on her
web site www.maccareport.com
How long have you known her?
BR: Well, Ive been an acquaintance of Jories now for,
jeez Id say a year and a half. Something like that, maybe two.
A very, very kind person. Weve chatted in emails over various
subjects apart and away from the tour and my affiliation with Paul.
Its been great... She went through a loss in her family and
we talked about that. Shes a nice person.
RS: Has she interviewed Paul?
BR: I believe she has and shes photographed him before.
RS: I liked her book, I Saw Him Standing There.
BR: Yeah, its great.
RS: I want to talk about your new solo CD but touring with Paul McCartney
must be amazing. Whats is like playing some of the greatest
rock songs ever written.
BR: Yeah, and then especially getting to play these greatest rock
songs ever written with the correct voicing in them. (laughter) To
hear him sing Penny Lane or Magical Mystery Tour
or Jet or Let Me Roll It, its just stunning
to hear that voice still in such fine form playing those great songs.
RS: I see Paul is even doing Ill Get You, which
was the b-side of She Loves You back in 63.
BR: Yeah, its great. We used to...on the first tour wed
be back stage and wed be between sound check and the gig and
I would just start singing (opening to Ill Get You) Oh
Yeah, Oh, Yeah and then Rusty would chime in with the octave
(singing) Oh Yeah, Oh, Yeah. And I think that Paul would
overhear us doing it and wed just say, oh yeah, that such
a cool song. And then Paul just suggested doing it. It really
just came from Paul this time out. But we always used to oh,
yeah, oh yeah just playing around backstage.
RS: That isnt a song youd think hed cover say before...The
RS: If Paul called out Bad To Me or Ill Be
On My Way could you guys play along?
BR: Well, wed listen to it first. Sure.
RS:; What a great way to start the show with the song Magical
BR: Not bad, huh? Not a bad way to start.
RS: John Lennon would be proud. Is Paul playing anything on the tour
from his new CD? Chaos And Creation In The Backyard...
BR: He sure is. Its a great record and hes playing
Fine Line, which is the first song on the record, and
the first single. A great sort of piano McCartney rocker. And then
were playing English Tea, which is a fun classic
McCartney song and the new song Jenny Wren, which is really
fun to play, and Follow Me.
RS: Your new CD Mondo Magneto has an interesting title.
Is it pronounced magneto or magneeto as in Magneto And Titanium
BR: Right, its just pronounced Mondo Magneto because
thats the way the phrase occurred to me in my mind. I was just
listening to the end of one of the songs on the record, Soft
Machine, and it has this high, crazy effect that we put on it,
which was achieved by having the guitar distorted through a whammy
pedal and then having me just playing this high sweep, and then we
reversed it. So now it was like this reverse. And the sound of this
on the record and the sound of the big drums on the track at the end
of it...I was listening in my headphones one night and I just said,
wow, mondo electro magneto. In my mind, its just
a funny little phrase. And I thought, oh theres my album
RS: Mondo is kind of a funny word...there was a famous movie called
Mondo Cane with the song More.
BR: Wow! Who knew? Mondo is great. Its slang, but it also
means world - as in mundo.
RS: I was reading that earlier you were too busy to make a solo record.
Can you give a little history behind the making of Mondo Magneto?
BR: Sure, really I was between tours with Paul and I saw myself with
about nine months off. And two things happened. One was that I had
a lot of feedback from Pauls great fans, on his web site about
me, asking well, wheres this Brian Rays material?,
wheres Brians stuff?, where can we hear
more about Brian? And I said to myself, Ive got
nine months off, yeah where is my stuff?! (laughter) So I just
booked a studio date. And I really didnt have in mind what exactly
I would do yet, but I called up some friends and we went in and recorded
two basic tracks and then we came in the next day and recorded two
more. And there you are! Youre well on your way into a record,
two days of recording.
RS: Youve got most of Pauls group on your album. Rusty
Anderson plays pedal steel on the album. Why isnt McCartney
BR: Well Paul was in England when I was in California, so that made
it a little hard. We were just on different continents. (laughter)
RS: Youve got everyone from Pauls band on the record.
Wix also contributed to the CD. Isnt he also in the U.K.?
BR: Wix contributed because he has a big home studio and I would put
the basic tracks, mixed down to two tracks in i-chat as two stereo
files and he would put them into pro-tools and open em up. And
he just fed me back three stereo keyboard parts. A stereo organ part,
a stereo mellotron part and a stereo Fender Rhodes part. Six files
and put it back in i-chat and I got them. We dubbed them down on to
the tape and then on to disc, and there you are.
RS: Etta James sounds great singing with you on Soft Machine,
its got a real trucking sound...
BR: A truckin sound, thats a good way to put it. Well,
I thought of all the tracks on the record, that was the the only one
that sounded...blues-ish? But its not a blues song. She even said,
Brian, thats kind of like the blues, but it aint
the blues! (laughter), she said, thats funkier than
the blues Brian! What is that?! (laughter) And I thought that
the track sounded big and weighty. It had a very tall sound to it.
And thats kind of how she sounds. She has that same sort of
RS: You go back a long way with Etta to the late 70s / early 80s.
BR: Right, we worked together for almost 14 years. We did a lot of
work together. In fact, it was with Etta that I cut my teeth really.
I got with Etta James right out of High School. If it werent
for her I may not be here today as far having opportunities like playing
with Paul McCartney. She really showed me the ropes.
RS: Wasnt she on Private Music?
BR: I believe she still is at Private / BMG.
RS: So you play guitar with her?
BR: Every once and a while, sure. I played on her last record, Blues
To The Bone. Its a really cool little record and Martin
Scorcese did the liner notes. I got a mention by Martin Scorcese about
my guitar playing. I thought that was cool. I gotta go lift that quote
and use it for my own PR! (laughter)
RS: Russ Irwin does some interesting mellotron on If Youre
BR: Russ Irwin is a dear friend, as are the rest of the people that
are on my record. Russ plays keyboards and sings, of course, with
Aerosmith. And he did some background vocals on my record and he also
played mellotron, viola, violin, cello and B3 and as I said, sang
with another friend of his, Jason Paige, who did some great background
vocals on a song called I Liked You Better. And also he
played all the string parts on the quiet ballad called If Youre
Leaving Me. That was all of Russ on that one, playing the strings.
RS: Did you produce the record too?
BR: I did produce it, yeah...self-produced. And then theres
a few songs on there I co-produced with Oliver Leiber and then another
one with Oliver Leiber and David Gamson of Scritti Politti fame.
RS: I want to get back to Oliver but is there anyone else youd
like to mention thats on the record?
BR: Oh, Ive got to shout out to all of my friends on there besides
Pauls band. Matt Laug, who is my drummer in my own band. He
plays drums on I believe, four or five tracks, something like that.
Davey Faragher, a dear old friend of mine, plays bass with Elvis Costello
& The Impostors. Abe Laboriel Jr. plays drums on about five of
the songs and he co-wrote a song with me. As you said, Pauls
band, Etta, Oliver Leiber, David Gamson...Joe Zook, a great engineer.
All of these guys, Marc Desisto, a great engineer, all gave so much
to the record.
RS: As I told Jorie whereas Rustys record kind of grabs you
right away, your album kind of sneaks up on you and gets you! Coming
Up Roses kind of has a cool Beatles vibe to it.
BR: Maybe more than any other song on the record. I would say you
might be right, although its not Beatle-y in terms of the sound
of the instruments and the playing approach. But I would say maybe
to a degree, I guess theres some Beatles influence. How could
I not have some influence after being around Paul for nearly four
RS: I echo your sentiments on the lyrics regarding Bush. I guess hes
the subject of that song. I can keep it off the record if you like...
BR: Oh, on Coming Up Roses? No I dont mind at all
talking bout it. Yeah, the song was a song that I had, I had written
years ago, with the same title and pretty much the same chorus line,
the same chorus lyrics, except for the key lines. Being the
choir sings, were bringing in the fire hoses or let
freedom ring, were marching in and thumbing our noses.
So those lines are new and the verses are new. And I thought to myself,
its a good song, Coming Up Roses except
I wanted a fresh lyric. So I asked Tonio K., a great lyricist, whos
now working with Burt Bacharach. He and I collaborated on the lyric
and I said, I want it to be political in nature, but I want
it to be a soft touch. And I want it to be a point of view lyric.
Like from Ws point of view. Because wed been getting
the news that he thought everything was just going fine in Iraq. He
thought that it was going along just fine. And so I thought, well,
this is just the perfect opportunity to use this lyric. You
know, if I could crawl inside his mind and write a lyric from his
point of view, thats the lyric of Coming Up Roses.
RS: Vinyl is another cool song off the new album written
by you and Jerry Leibers son Oliver. Whats it like working
with the offspring of probably one of the most influential American
rock and roll song writers that ever lived?
BR: No doubt, yeah. His dad, Jerry Leiber of Leiber & Stoller
has to be like the architect of like rock and roll. I mean, the guy
wrote Jailhouse Rock. Working with Oliver Leiber was just
amazing because he has such a magnificent mind and you have to be
really quick with him and you have to jot stuff down quick because
hes got this sort of expressway to idea land in his mind. Hes
got this instant channel to ideas that just come to him and they come
to him in this storm, these lyric ideas, but he cant recall
them as well as he can think of them. Hes great and you have
to be quick and you have to stay up with him. Oh, we had so much fun
working with each other. Vinyl... he just came up with
a couple of key lyric lines for me. I had the bulk of the song. That
song was influenced by my dear friend Scott Shriner, who plays bass
with Weezer and who appears on my record. Scott Shriner told me that
one day that he went back to Toledo, Ohio to pick up his old crate
full of Lps. Cause he missed having a turntable and listening
to his old classic records on a turntable. So he went back home to
pick em up. And he came back to town and I never heard him look
so sad and sound so broken-hearted. He said, I dont know
where half of my Lps are. Somebody stole my Lps. And I thought,
Whoa... He is more upset about that than Id ever
seen him upset. And I started to think theres a song in there.
And then I started to think Lps are really emblematic of something
of a time gone by, in so many ways and I chose to use it as a metaphor.
So I thought it was an interesting idea. It all came from a real story,
I just filled in the gaps and made up the rest.
RS: The lyrics were kind of Zappa-esque a bit?
BR: Oh, really? I never thought of it that way. But it was about a
kid who left home and he says that the car was stolen that had the
Lps in it. He doesnt miss the car and he doesnt miss home,
cause they both were falling apart. That means his home was
falling apart, he comes from a broken home and his records, you get
from it, were his only escape and his only salvation. Now those are
gone too. And he says, Im lost without my golden years.
Its just a fun idea.
RS: Tonio K. has quite a few cool records out on his own as well.
BR: Yeah, he has his own records out. I saw him years ago at the...Madam
Wongs West and he had that great song called Mars Needs
RS: The cover art is great too. Who is that on the cover with you?
BR: That is a very dear friend of mine, a girlfriend named Brittany
RS: The lyrics look like calligraphy.
BR: That was done by my wonderful graphic arts team called Visionary
and thats my graphic arts team.
RS: You should win a Grammy for the cover art alone.
BR: Thank you very much, thats very kind of you. Youll
see the cover, hopefully you readers out there will pick it up. And
I just thought up this concept and we did a photo shoot to try and
grab this concept that I had in my mind and we ended up nailing it.
I think we got the picture.
RS: Its kind of a rock star posing. (laughter)
BR: Oh yeah. Youll see on the cover, for those who havent
picked it up yet, a gorgeous woman in her boudoir, a big day bed,
and Im the foreground, in front of her doing everything I can
to get her attention, doing a big rock jump with my 58 TV model
Les Paul Jr. and she cant be bothered. Shes filing her
nails, looking in the other direction. So yes, I guess its a
little bit of a thumb in the nose to rock stardom. Its kinda
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