An interview with…Brian Ray

First picking up a guitar at the tender age of 9, ‘reluctant rock god’ Brian Ray has had a long career playing, writing and recording for some of the biggest names in the music business.

Growing up in Los Angeles, California, Brian always had a passion for music. Even before learning to play the guitar he would use his makeshift ice cream bucket drum kit and perform songs to whatever audience he could gather. After the British Invasion he notched up his passion and learnt the guitar, playing along to the latest Rolling Stones and Beatles records.

Brian was 15 when he played his first proper gig with his elder sister Jean of the Jim and Jean folk duo. Shortly after finishing high school Brian obtained a job playing for Bobby Pickett, famous for the song Monster Mash. It was though Bobby that he met his lifelong friend, soul singing legend Etta James. Etta was on the brink of making her comeback, and she was happy to allow Brian to come along for the ride. Brian remained her musical director and guitarist for over 14 years.

As well as playing for other artists, Brian also enjoyed writing and creating music. He collaborated with many musicians over the years, most notably Steve LeGassick with whom he wrote the Smokey Robinson award winning hit One Heartbeat.

In 2002 Brian obtained the dream job as guitarist/bassist for Paul McCartney. Along with several other candidates he was invited to meet producer David Kahne, and was selected to perform with Paul for just one show. However that one show was a baptism of fire, being in front of over 80 million people at the halftime show of the Super Bowl XXXIX. Along with guitarist Rusty Anderson, drummer Abe Laboriel Jr and keyboardist Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens, Brian has become part of one of the most elite touring bands in music history, embarking upon multiple tours with Paul all over the world, playing to millions of people in many different countries.

As well as having a successful career working and touring for many huge acts, Brian has also found the time to record two albums. Mondo Magneto released in 2005, and This Way Up released in 2010. Both albums received excellent reviews from both critics and his ever growing fan base.

Unlike many celebrities, Brian loves to keep in close contact with his fans. Through his Twitter and Facebook accounts he is more than happy to answer or reply to the many questions and comments he receives each day. He also likes to keep his website up to date in order to provide fans with all the latest info as well as the occasional surprise.

Brian was happy to answer some of my questions:

How did you get into music in the first place?

When I was 4 years old, my older sister who was 18 at the time turned me onto Elvis, Little Richard and all the rockers of the initial rock movement. I looked at their pictures and listened to these magnetic beats and knew instantly what I wanted to do when I grew up.

How did you meet Paul McCartney?

I was given the opportunity to play one song with Paul at the Super Bowl in New Orleans in 2002. One song on bass: Freedom. That’s all I was booked for. I think it went well and at the party afterwards when Paul was making his rounds to say goodnight, he gave me a hug and said, “Welcome aboard, Brian! Stick with Abe and Rusty and they’ll show you the ropes!”
I couldn’t believe it. Abe confirmed that Paul had just invited me into rehearsals in five weeks time starting in LA. It wasn’t until the first day of those LA rehearsals that I really accepted that I would be in the band when Paul said, “Ok guys, sounds great…I’ll see you tomorrow!”

What has been your favourite song to play with Paul on tour?

Hmmm, all of them really. It’s always a rush to play whatever’s first, Venus and Mars/Rock Show or Hello Goodbye for the sheer rush of the crowd’s response. Also, I love getting lost in the ballads, playing Paul’s beautiful bass parts while he plays piano. Letting Go has been a big favourite because I get to let go on lead guitar.

Are there any Beatles/Wings/Paul songs that you haven’t played yet that you want to?

I’d love to play Backseat of my Car, Juniors Farm and maybe Take It Away.

I love both of your albums, but what’s your writing style? What comes first, music or lyrics?

Well, it’s different all the time. Sometime a guitar riff strikes the match of creativity, other times the spark comes from something I overhear or think I’ve heard. Lots of the songs I write begin with the song title and the lyric drives so much of what I write. I love a tight, smart lyric. The challenge of an empty page is always exciting.

What is your favourite song from your first two albums and why?

I like Vinyl from Mondo Magneto because I wrote it in 15 minutes, top to tails so it always feels fresh and vital. Also I Liked You Better for the sheer fun of it and Soft Machine for the groove, drum sounds and Etta James’ astounding guest vocal. On This Way Up I like the title track and Happy EndingHello Lonely and I Found You for all different reasons. The guitar marching band solo break in the latter was a real buzz to accomplish.

How about coming over to the UK and playing a few gigs for all your fans over here?

I’d love that! I think I will try my best to get some dates there. I found a way to do it which might work. The fans in the UK, Ireland and EU are all so great to me and I haven’t been there solo style yet to thank them!

Are there any plans for a third album?

No plans now but I’m always thinking and writing and riffing!

What does the rest of 2011 have in store for you?

I’ll be here waiting and watching the night sky for the silhouette of a giant Hofner bass to appear on the clouds (sort of like Batman does it) signalling the next tour dates.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into the music business?

My best advice is just say YES! Yes to thing you deem scary or beneath you. All opportunities come from one connection and you can’t connect if you say no. Showing up is 90% of the job!

Thanks very much.

All the best to you and your readers.

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