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more... ArtistsGuitaristsClassic RockFebruary 2011Brian Ray

Brian Ray: 10 Years (And Counting) On a Magical Mystery Tour

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Brian Ray: 10 Years (And Counting) On a Magical Mystery Tour

I can’t think of anything more enjoyable than getting paid to learn Beatles songs.

Exactly. It was a really fun time. I’d only come out for a quick lunch, go back and rehearse, grab a little dinner, come back and rehearse, and then fall asleep thinking about Paul McCartney songs. [Laughs.] We had five days together as a band before Paul got there, and that really helped us. We got a good vibe—we bonded. And we worked on vocals. By the time Paul came in, we were ready to go. I still hadn’t announced to anyone that I was going on tour with Paul McCartney. I didn’t really believe it, yet. So, after the first day of rehearsal, Paul said, “Okay guys, sounds good. I’ll see you tomorrow.” That’s when I said, “Oh, my god! I think I’m going on tour with Paul McCartney!”

The biggest joy has been playing bass on Paul’s songs alongside him, standing in for him because he’s on guitar or piano. That apprenticeship is something I’m super grateful for. Also, his patience with me to improve as a bass player as we went on, and the trust he’s given me to play these bass parts. Honestly, these are the coolest bass parts ever written. He’s probably the best and most important bass player in rock music, period. So it’s a real pleasure to have that apprenticeship.

Did you go on a shopping spree after you got the gig?

Oh, yeah! [Laughs.] I opened up my computer and found a ’59 Gretsch Double Anniversary—it’s the two-tone-green guitar I play. And I found what I thought was a great bass for Paul, which was a Guild M85 from the early ’80s. I ordered both of those guitars, and they arrived a couple of days later. I stood up at a mic stand and sang and played. I blew my voice out the first day, because I was so excited. I sang for six hours, woke up the next day, and couldn’t talk. So that was a lesson. [Laughs.]

How about amps?

I’m using a reissue Marshall JTM 45 head on top of a pair of 2x12 closed-back Marshall cabs. That, with the goldtop Les Paul, is a pretty great sound.

How about effects?


Ray grabs his Gibson—and some sweet air—at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on August 18, 2010. Photo by MJ Kim
I’m pretty stripped down on my side of the stage. I have some Guitarsystems stuff that’s great. Also, I’ve got some Divided By 13 pedals, a Demeter Compulator, a Boss VB-2 Vibrato, Line 6 DL4 Delay and MM4 Modulation pedals, and an MXR Micro Amp. I also have a couple of random fuzzes that I’ll change out here and there, depending on my mood. It’s a very straight-ahead scene.

Tell us something about Paul McCartney we’d be surprised to know.

He’s a really sweet, regular guy that’s not too far from the Beatle we’ve all come to know since we were kids. He really lives and breathes music. He is music. He walks around whistling a song. He’s always being creative, and he’s always being productive.

Okay, let’s move on to your own solo material. What was the inspiration for your latest album, This Way Up?

My first record, Mondo Magneto, came out in 2006. It was a combination of four or five newer songs and five or six older songs that had been reworked. They had new lyrics or a new bridge, and sometimes a new title. The other ones were brand new, just written in that moment. The newer songs were somewhat cathartic for me. I was writing about some of the things that I was going through, which were sort of internal personal things, even though they didn’t come out like confessionals or like reality-series lyrics. [Laughs.] They weren’t soap opera, but they were a little bit personal. With This Way Up, I’d decided we’ve all had a tough time of it in this world lately. The economy is down and the war has taken a toll. What we really need right now is an escape vehicle and something fun to take us out of all of this. So that’s the inspiration behind This Way Up—I wanted to do something more fun.

Something to take us up and away from all the depressing aspects of the recession.

Yeah. All the negativism about a downturn. A lot of it is just stuff the media seems to feed on that doesn’t help a thing. It just continues to sell newspapers and magazines and attract people to websites. So they write about the problem and they make the problem bigger. So I thought, “Hey everybody, let’s lift up our chins, quit looking down at our laptops and our cell phones. Look up to the sky and get out of that.”

The record has a sunny, power-pop feel. Is this style of music closest to your heart, or is this part of a larger palette of influences?

When I write music these days, it’s very much what you hear on This Way Up. It’s more on the rock and power-pop/modern rock side, through a classic-rock window that’s somewhat rooted in American blues and R&B. Deep in there, there’s swing and soul that I was raised on as a little kid, but it all comes through a guitar-attack approach with modern-rock lyrics. That’s what I feel when I write and play guitar.

What guitars did you use on the record?


My main guitar when I’m playing my solo stuff has turned out to be my favorite. It’s a 1958 Gibson Les Paul TV Model. I also use a host of vintage Les Pauls. I have a ’57 Gibson goldtop that’s sort of my baby. That was my one guitar when I only had one guitar, which I got when I was 18 years old for $850—and we all know what those are worth now. It’s a great guitar, and it’s my main guitar with Paul McCartney right now, too. As for the album, a Duesenberg is on there, a Gibson ’63 Dove acoustic, an old ’57 Danelectro for all the small bits, a ’61 SG, and a lot of a ’65 Epiphone Casino that I bought last year. The whole thing with recording guitars is to try not to be lazy: When you’re going for a second guitar part, my philosophy is always choose a different guitar and a different amp—unless you’re going for that doubled guitar sound. I wanted to make a guitar-driven record that has a lot of color on it.

How much has Paul McCartney rubbed off on your songwriting?


It’s the kind of thing that sneaks up on you. Paul’s influence is deep and great. I’m old enough to have witnessed the Beatles as a kid. For me, it goes back a long way, but it hasn’t necessarily been a huge influence on my songwriting in the past. It has been greatly accentuated by being with him personally for almost nine years. It’s been such a joy and such a great apprenticeship for me and all the guys. Through osmosis—just through being around him—you sort of start thinking and dreaming in a more melodic fashion. He’s so free melodically, so developed, and such a natural. He wrote “Yesterday” when he didn’t even have a yesterday! [Laughs.] He’s just a remarkable, genius savant, and it’s bound to rub off on you when you’re around him as much as I am.

It sounds like you’re drawing more from his creative energy than theoretical songwriting techniques.


Oh yeah. His influence on me is more on the magic end. I’m very flattered that you would recognize any sort of influence, but it’s not something I try to do. I don’t go, “Now, what would Paul do with these chords?” [Laughs.] I would never do that. It’s just happenstance if it ends up sounding anywhere near Wings, Paul, or the Beatles.
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