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conducted by Robert Silverstein for and 20th Century Guitar 

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Goin' Down Swingin'

an interview with




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Goin' Down Swingin'

an interview with
Brian Ray

by Robert Silverstein

Brian 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 McCartney—he 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 dream—releasing 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 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.

introduction by Jorie B. Gracen

RS: Jorie Gracen says hi. I really enjoy reading your blogs on her web site How long have you known her?

BR: Well, I’ve been an acquaintance of Jorie’s now for, jeez I’d say a year and a half. Something like that, maybe two. A very, very kind person. We’ve chatted in emails over various subjects apart and away from the tour and my affiliation with Paul. It’s been great... She went through a loss in her family and we talked about that. She’s a nice person.

RS: Has she interviewed Paul?

BR: I believe she has and she’s photographed him before.

RS: I liked her book, I Saw Him Standing There.

BR: Yeah, it’s great.

RS: I want to talk about your new solo CD but touring with Paul McCartney must be amazing. What’s 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”, it’s just stunning to hear that voice still in such fine form playing those great songs.

RS: I see Paul is even doing “I’ll Get You”, which was the b-side of “She Loves You” back in ‘63.

BR: Yeah, it’s great. We used to...on the first tour we’d be back stage and we’d be between sound check and the gig and I would just start singing (opening to “I’ll 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 we’d 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 isn’t a song you’d think he’d cover say before...“The Night Before”.

BR: Right.

RS: If Paul called out “Bad To Me” or “I’ll Be On My Way” could you guys play along?

BR: Well, we’d listen to it first. Sure.

RS:; What a great way to start the show with the song “Magical Mystery Tour”.

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. It’s a great record and he’s playing “Fine Line”, which is the first song on the record, and the first single. A great sort of piano McCartney rocker. And then we’re 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 Man”.

BR: Right, it’s just pronounced Mondo Magneto because that’s the way the phrase occurred to me in my mind. I was just listening to the end of one of the song’s 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, it’s just a funny little phrase. And I thought, ‘oh there’s my album title.’

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. It’s 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 Paul’s great fans, on his web site about me, asking well, ‘where’s this Brian Ray’s material?’, ‘where’s Brian’s stuff?,’ ‘where can we hear more about Brian?’ And I said to myself, ‘I’ve got nine months off, yeah where is my stuff?!’ (laughter) So I just booked a studio date. And I really didn’t 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! You’re well on your way into a record, two days of recording.

RS: You’ve got most of Paul’s group on your album. Rusty Anderson plays pedal steel on the album. Why isn’t McCartney on it?

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: You’ve got everyone from Paul’s band on the record. Wix also contributed to the CD. Isn’t 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”, it’s got a real trucking sound...

BR: A truckin’ sound, that’s 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, that’s kind of like the blues, but it ain’t the blues!’ (laughter), she said, ‘that’s 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 that’s kind of how she sounds. She has that same sort of big presence.

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 weren’t for her I may not be here today as far having opportunities like playing with Paul McCartney. She really showed me the ropes.

RS: Wasn’t 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. It’s 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 You’re Leaving Me”.

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 You’re 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 there’s 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 you’d like to mention that’s on the record?

BR: Oh, I’ve got to shout out to all of my friends on there besides Paul’s 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, Paul’s 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 Rusty’s 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 it’s 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 there’s some Beatles influence. How could I not have some influence after being around Paul for nearly four years?

RS: I echo your sentiments on the lyrics regarding Bush. I guess he’s the subject of that song. I can keep it off the record if you like...

BR: Oh, on “Coming Up Roses”? No I don’t 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, we’re bringing in the fire hoses’ or ‘let freedom ring, we’re marching in and thumbing our noses’. So those lines are new and the verses are new. And I thought to myself, ‘it’s a good song, “Coming Up Roses”’ except I wanted a fresh lyric. So I asked Tonio K., a great lyricist, who’s 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 W’s point of view.’ Because we’d 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, that’s the lyric of “Coming Up Roses”.

RS: “Vinyl” is another cool song off the new album written by you and Jerry Leiber’s son Oliver. What’s 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 he’s got this sort of expressway to idea land in his mind. He’s got this instant channel to ideas that just come to him and they come to him in this storm, these lyric ideas, but he can’t recall them as well as he can think of them. He’s 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 Lp’s. ‘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 don’t know where half of my Lps are. Somebody stole my Lps.’ And I thought, ‘Whoa...” He is more upset about that than I’d ever seen him upset. And I started to think there’s 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 doesn’t miss the car and he doesn’t 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, ‘I’m lost without my golden years.’ It’s 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 Wong’s West and he had that great song called “Mars Needs Women.” (laughter)

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 Rice.

RS: The lyrics look like calligraphy.

BR: That was done by my wonderful graphic arts team called Visionary and that’s my graphic arts team.

RS: You should win a Grammy for the cover art alone.

BR: Thank you very much, that’s very kind of you. You’ll 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: It’s kind of a rock star posing. (laughter)

BR: Oh yeah. You’ll see on the cover, for those who haven’t picked it up yet, a gorgeous woman in her boudoir, a big day bed, and I’m 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 can’t be bothered. She’s filing her nails, looking in the other direction. So yes, I guess it’s a little bit of a thumb in the nose to rock stardom. It’s kinda fun.


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