Ray assumes the power stance onstage during McCartney’s Up and Coming tour stop at the
Time Warner Cable Arena on July 28, 2010. Photo by MJ Kim
Who are some of your other songwriting influences?
Ray Davies, Randy Newman, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan. Those, to me, are the greats. People who effortlessly write point-of-view lyrics or personal lyrics. All of those guys have a knack for putting themselves in an imaginary person’s shoes and writing from their point of view. Studies in character like “Sunny Afternoon” or “Waterloo Sunset” by Ray Davies. Songs like “Nowhere Man” or “Penny Lane” are great imaginary songs where you think to yourself, “Is this a real person?” I love that. That’s my favorite stuff right there.
Did you grow up with any guitar heroes?
I was really lucky to be around some incredible mentors who were very generous, the first being my sister Jean, who turned me on to rock ’n’ roll when I was 3 years old. She was 15 years older than me. When she was babysitting me, she would play records by Elvis, Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, and Ricky Nelson. I flipped out over their style and their sound. I recognized the volatility and danger in the music—which, as a footnote, is sorely missing from anything that could be called rock ’n’ roll now. The sense of danger that anything’s about to happen—“Oh, my god! Is Little Richard going to blow up this piano?” [Laughs.]
So those were my earliest influences as a 4 year old. It was then that I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. Then, of course, Brian Wilson with the early surf stuff, some of the R&B coming over pirate radio. But my earliest guitar influences after hearing the Beatles were the British Invasion guys. Jeff Beck was my first real guitar hero—his first record, Truth, with Rod Stewart singing. Also Clapton and Mick Taylor. Peter Green was a huge one for me. When I was 11 or 12, I listened to Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac when they were a blues band.
I had another mentor who sold me my goldtop Les Paul who was a giant blues fan. He showed me the guys who informed all the British guitar players. He turned me on to B.B. King’s Live at the Regal and Otis Spann, Buddy Guy, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Junior Wells. That cemented my early love for R&B and blues, but I’ve got to be honest with you—I’m a sucker for a pop song. [Laughs.] I love a pop hook, but if it doesn’t have that swing, and if it doesn’t come from some place deeply rooted in black music, I don’t care about it. I could hear a guitar player who has great tone and great facility, but if he’s not rooted in similar music, then it doesn’t resonate with me. That’s not to say it’s not good. It just doesn’t move me.
I was hanging out with Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine from the group Canned Heat. He not only taught me to drink Jack Daniels as a 19-year-old kid, he also turned me on to old country and western records— Hank Williams, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, and all of the early guys. Put those things together, and you’ve got the same elements that influenced all of the greats. Old country, old blues, coming together to form this thing called rock ’n’ roll. So I guess I’m just a rock ’n’ roller.
Ray with his 1958 Gibson Les Paul TV—his favorite guitar for his
solo-artist work. Photo by Florenze Horstman
Brian Ray’s Gearbox
1957 goldtop Gibson Les Paul, 1958 Gibson Les Paul TV Model
Reissue Marshall JTM 45 head, two Marshall closed-back 2x12 cabinets
Demeter Compulator, MXR Micro Amp, Boss VB-2 Vibrato, Line 6 DL4 Delay and MM4 Modulation