Interview with Brian Ray: Guitarist for Paul McCartney

Posted: 06/07/2010 in Uncategorized
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Photo by Tom Ruddock

I’ve known Brian Ray for 35 years as I used to work with his sister, Jean. I always found him to be a very personable fellow. I ran into him a few years ago and we had a nice chat; I was thrilled to then learn and impressed that he was in Paul McCartney’s band. Brian was nice enough to sit for this interview in April 2010 at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, one of the best stores in the nation (and I’m not kidding), for the best in all things fromage, wine, and other delicacies. It’s owned by Norbert Wabnig, my dear friend, and a huge McCartney fan, who joins in the conversation later on as we savored an exquisite meal.

I’m particularly fond of this interview because it gives hope to all musicians. Stay with your craft, do your best, keep it together and it will turn out all right, just as it did for Brian Ray.

TM: What do you currently do as a musician?

BR: My day job is that I play guitar and bass for Paul McCartney in his touring band and on several of his recordings, and have done so for eight years now.

TM: Where did you grow up?

BR: I was born and raised in Glendale, the gateway to Burbank, and now reside in Santa Monica, California.

TM: How did you get into playing music?

BR:  I was lucky enough to have a half-sister, Jean, who was 15 years my elder and in love with music herself.  She was a senior in high school, homecoming queen when I was 3 or 4 years old.  She would baby sit me and play for me Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Rick Nelson, Everly Brothers, and show me pictures of these people with their girlfriends, and they’d be fawning over these early rockers, and something about that moment just caught my imagination.  At four years old I knew what I wanted to do when I got older, and I have a very vivid memory of looking at Elvis, and looking at his image, his taste in clothes, and what he did to his hair.  All this stuff was apparent to me at four years old, and then I heard the music and it was done.  I had this sense from an early age what was the real stuff and what was the counterfeit stuff in pop music, and it just caught my imagination.  I knew then and there what I wanted to do.

TM: When did you get your first guitar?

BR: My first guitar was a $5 nylon string guitar from Tijuana, and it was given to me by Jean, my half-sister.

TM: Did she teach you some chords?

BR:  No.  What happened is, my brother, who hadn’t really displayed much interest in guitar at all, but he was the eldest of four kids, was given a beautiful, brand new 1962 Gibson guitar, and lessons as well.  When he would come home from his lessons I would ask him to show me what he had learned.

TM: How old were you?

BR: I was 8, something like that.  He would show me what he’d learned.  I would take what he’d learned, practice the hell out of it, and by the next lesson he had, I’d be ahead of him, and he lost interest.  I passed him up.  I kept going.  Never got lessons, I just kept going.

TM: Did you play in bands in, in junior high and…

BR:  I was performing before I could tune a guitar to be honest with you.  I was doing show and tell in the fourth grade or fifth grade, fourth grade, and mimicking records that I loved.  In front of the class I would do lip syncs of Beach Boys and other classics.

TM: Did your parents encourage or discourage you from music?

BR:  My parents were great, very encouraging to me.  I don’t think they thought it through to the degree that I might choose it to be my career path, but among my friends, we all knew that I had no plans to do anything else.  From the age of four I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up.  So it was just a matter of getting better at the craft and dedicating myself to it.  I was already dedicated, but it was a matter of applying myself then.

TM: I take it you were into the Beatles when you were a kid.

BR: Absolutely.  I loved the Beatles and I saw them the first time they appeared on Ed Sullivan, just like so many people of our age.  Sunday night, probably 8 p.m., if I’m not mistaken, cross-legged on the floor, four feet from the screen, knowing full well that I was about to be blown away.  I just had this great expectation, because we had heard “Please Please Me” on the radio, which was my first memory of them.  And there they come and changed my life.  But even before the Beatles, I was a big R&B fan, and early rock and roll fan.

So the Beatles spoke to me in a few ways, because they were younger, they were a band, they had a similar look to each other, and they were doing something new and rare.  They were playing original music as a band, all from the same town, and they were all joking around on TV as if they all knew some inside joke, and I wanted to be in on that joke, and I wanted to be in a band, and it made me want that, you know.  Radio had given me an impression of music that I couldn’t shake, but seeing the Beatles live solidified the dream to me.

TM: When did you start playing in bands?

BR: My first guitar playing on stage was with my sister Jean, funny enough.  She was in a folk rock duo called Jim and Jean, and both of their albums are out on Collector’s Choice right now, really great stuff.  Some of Dylan’s players are in the band.  So when they split up, she continued with her solo career and I played the Troubadour, the Ashgrove, which is now the Improv, and all these different shows.  The Icehouse.   By the time I was 17, I was playing on stage with her quite a bit, and all the while I had bands in junior high and high school as well, forming bands and covering other people’s songs, writing our own songs, and rearranging other people’s songs at a very early age.

At 17 years old, I would take songs I loved and rearrange them for our band, or I would take bits of famous songs and string them together in a medley set to a blues song.  The strangest things — I was using West Side Story songs like “America” and setting them to a blues shuffle.  We’d do this great breakdown as a band and go into that melody.  I just loved playing with music.

TM: Did you go to college at all?

BR: No, I did not.

TM: You went straight into show biz?

BR: I was really lucky in that after touring with Jean, my sister, my next professional job was with Bobby Boris Pickett doing the “Monster Mash.”  That was a blast.  We would do Six Flags Over Texas and these amusement parks and these scary Halloween shows and in full zombie makeup and the whole bit.  He had had a whole bunch of songs, and we’d do a couple covers and “twist” songs.

TM: What was Bobby Boris Pickett like?

BR: He was hilarious.  He’s a comedy writer.  We lost him about a year and a half ago, but he was a fabulous guy, very gentle, very funny, very affable and very kicked back.  Really good guy.

TM: Did you stay in touch with him after all these years?

BR: He came to one of my last gigs in my last lineup at the Viper Room.  I had no idea he was suffering from cancer, he was just there in full spirit backing me up and being such a sweet guy and I find out after he passed away that he was suffering a long time before I saw him at that show.  So, anyway, I loved that guy.

TM: Did he make a pretty living as being Bobby Boris Pickett?

BR: Sure he did. It’s a huge song.  We got contracted to play a backyard benefit show for a guy named Phil Kaufman, the legendary old pal road manager of Gram Parsons and for the Rolling Stones, Flying Burrito Brothers, and Gram Parsons old best friend as well.  They had a tipsy vow they made to each other that they loved each other and that whichever one of them went first, the other would take the body out to Joshua Tree and dispose of it in the way that two brothers would want — have a bunch of drinks and incinerate it there in Joshua Tree, and Phil Kaufman took that very seriously and when Gram OD’s, Phil Kaufman did just that.

There we were in the San Fernando Valley playing a show for Phil Kaufman to raise money to pay off his bail or his fine for grand theft of a coffin, and guess who we were? — “Bobby Boris Pickett and The Crypt Kicker Five.”  Kinda crazy story.

We played there along with The Modern Lovers, Dr. Demento and some other people who joined in that day.  This is all documented in Phil’s book, Road Mangler Deluxe.  Phil took to me for some reason.  He’d just lost his best friend.  He hung out, he was helping teach me how to drink.  Drink like a man.  (laughs)  Drink like a cowboy, which meant Jack Daniels, of course.  Anyway, he asked me to stay over because then the next morning he was going up to a rehearsal for a rhythm and blues singer named Etta James, who he had just taken me to see at the Troubadour, and he said that in the morning Etta would begin rehearsals and the guitar player couldn’t make it, could I just come along and bring my guitar, and, “You never know,” maybe I could sit in.  I said, “Sure, you kidding me?”  So there I was in the back of his green equipment truck with my old Les Paul, tooling up the road to Hollywood Hills, and inside there was Etta James, and she didn’t say much.  We started playing, I started jamming along, very insecure.  I might have just turned 19.  I had white blond hair down to my chest.  I was skinny as a rail and white as a ghost and I was jamming along with Etta James, big blues mama.  At the end of rehearsal – I was keeping up okay, I guess – she goes, “I like that white boy,” and she asked me to go play a gig with her in Long Beach the next night.  That was the beginning of what turned into 14 years together.

TM: 14 years!

BR: As her musical director and guitar player.  We would go out to shows and I would put together a band, and the promoter would get musicians in the various towns…

TM: So it would probably be just you and her most of the time on the road?

BR: And her husband, and her son sometimes.

TM: So what was that experience like?

BR: Oh, it was ridiculous.  It was so fun, adventurous, crazy, dramatic — her husband was a jerk.  They were both recovering addicts.  There was probably more going on than I ever realized, and there were times when her husband would take off with my money.  So the biggest show of my young life at 19 was the Montreux Jazz Festival… and in the band was John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin and Rick Wakemen from Yes on keyboard.  These great horn players like David Fathead Newman, Tony Poindexter, these legends.  There I was and Sam, her husband, stole my $350 bucks!  I never got paid for the show, but it doesn’t matter; to me it’s just a wonderful memory and a great story with a little bit of drama on top.

TM: What was her biggest hit?

BR:  “At Last.”

BR:  And then also, “I’ve Got to Go Blind.”  Two huge records.

TM: Who wrote “At Last?”

BR:  I don’t remember who wrote that (It was Mack Gordon and Harry Warren in 1941 for the film musical “Sun Valley Serenade”), but she wrote “I’ve Got to Go Blind.”

TM: And she always put on a good show?

BR: Oh, my God.  She’s one of those rare performers who can literally make you laugh and cry within eight bars.  Reach in, take a hold of your heart, grab it, show it to you, and then put it back in your chest and pat you on the back.  You know, just a rare, rare performer where her insides were just right there on her sleeve, right there in her voice.  She’s very connected to herself.

TM: And did you record with her as well?

BR:  Yeah.  First record I did with her is way out of print but it was called Etta Is Better Than Evah. And that was my title by the way.  (laughs)  That was in 1976, recorded for Chess Platinum records in Fort Lee, New Jersey.  I was 20 years old, 21.  And then I did another with, with her in 1977 that is available called Deep In The Night, and that was produced by the great Jerry Wexler for Warner Bros.

TM: It must have been a thrill to work with him.

BR: Oh, my God, yeah.  A very cool guy.

TM: You traveled all over the world with her.

BR:  I sure did.

TM: And that, that must have been a great experience.

BR: Yeah, sure.  Going to London and Germany and Switzerland when you’re 19 years old is monumental.  It was huge.

TM: Is Etta still alive?

BR: She is, and recovering from some setbacks health-wise, but she was recording and playing live as recently as 8 months ago.  So she’s still around.

TM: How come you left working with her?

BR: I had gotten lucky after doing a bunch of records with some various artists and being a session guy, and I had gone into songwriting, and I had played with various artists like Nicolette Larson, and Reggie Knighton, a band called Crackin’ on Warner Bros., and Laura Branigan.  I decided that I wanted to start concentrating more on songwriting, so I found a writing partner and we wrote as if it was our job, 9 to 5 every day, five days a week. From that came a very big song that we wrote for and got over to Smokey Robinson in 1987 called “One Heartbeat” from the album of the same name. It was a hit on three formats, and it’s now nearly 3 million airplays.  So I had thought I had it all going on in about 1988-89, rolling in royalties and I wanted to write more and do my own band thing.  I’d been with her for 14 years by the time ’88 rolled around, and her husband and her  manager were starting to change the way they were gonna do things.  They wanted me to be the band leader but they didn’t want to let me do the hiring and the firing of the band, so it was a strange, stressful kind of position, and I just decided to move on.

Oh, but man, did I miss her and, oh, I tried to get back in the band.  That was big drama years later where I really wanted to be back in but she had moved on — but we’re very close now.

TM: Where does she live?

BR: She’s out in Riverside.

TM: Have you played with her since you left the band?

BR: Sure have, I sat in with her a number of times at the House of Blues.  She was really kind to offer her vocals to a song of mine on my first record called Mondo Magneto. It’s a song called “Soft Machine.”  The unmistakable Etta James.  There she is.

TM: So then you did the songwriting thing for awhile.  What happened with that?  Where did you go?

BR: I wasn’t able to create another smash, but we kept working away at it.  I did put my own band together.  We played around.  A band called Charm School and then I did a solo band for awhile and then I started playing with Rita Coolidge.  I had stopped drinking in that time, around ’88.  I think that was part of my decision as well to leave, because sometimes it was a little bit dangerous for a guy who’s newly sober around Etta’s camp.

TM: And what was the name of your partner that you wrote with?

BR: Steve Le Gassick.

TM: What happened to him?

BR: He still makes some music.  His wife’s got a great cosmetics business and he helps with that.  They travel quite a bit.  He’s got a band and they do WAVE-style soft jazz.

TM: Playing with Rita Coolidge, was that good?

BR: Oh, it’s great.  I mean to play with a woman who had been out with Joe Cocker and Leon Russell and Clapton and all that stuff.  It was a big thrill for me.  And finally, they are recognizing publicly that Rita Coolidge actually wrote that end bit of “Leila” where the piano breaks down to that lovely piano thing.  That was Rita Coolidge’s riff, and their keyboardist, maybe Bobby Whitlock, started playing it.  Stuck it in the song and never had credit for it.  Heard a DJ say it the other day.  Good for her.

TM: How long did you play with Rita?

BR: Four or five from ’91 through ’95.

TM: And then you went where?

BR: Then I went to France and auditioned to play with a cool artist named Mylene Farmer.  She was like a Madonna of France with a very reedy thin voice, an Enya-type voice but singing provocative deep lyrics with a very flashy show, and doing big arenas.  I was just lucky to get the audition. In the band, the drummer who also won the audition out of many auditioning drummers, was Abe Laboreal, Jr., who would soon figure into my life in a big way.  Then, after Mylene Farmer, I got another French artist gig with a guy named Johnny Hallyday, the French Elvis, who’s still kicking and a remarkable performer.

I became his guitar player.  I would go between Mylene and Johnny back and forth, because they’d use some of the same crew guys, just go back and forth between those artists and had a wonderful time together, all of us.  Touring in France.  Nice times.

TM: So you learned to speak French?

BR: Uh peu.  Un petit peu.  Abe Laboreal, Jr. also won the audition to play with Johnny Hallyday, so Abe and I went back and forth between these two completely polar opposite artists and in doing so became best of friends.

TM: Give us the scene, what’s it like being his guitar player?  Was it fun, was it hard, was it unusual, was it weird?

BR: It was the first time I’ve been with an act who was about to do a 3-hour show  and we were playing at the Stade De France, the big football stadium, soccer stadium in the middle of Paris, and a brand new stadium.  We were the second music act to come in there, and it held 85,000 people.  And he was going do it for three nights!  The Stones come in there and they played for maybe one night.  He’s a big deal over there.  I was very, very excited.  I’d warmed up to the French experience by playing Mylene Farmer just before that, but in arenas, more like 12 to 17,000 people per.  They pushed me forward and got me into some crazy rocking clothes and gave me a lot to play a lot of emphasis, and it was just a total blast.  He’s a real rocker.  He’s a fun guy.  Nice guy to work with.  It was very demanding of you musically.  They also had an 86-piece orchestra and 200 choral singers arriving, coming up from a hydraulic lift in the middle of the show.  Is that insane?

TM: Do you read music?

BR: I don’t.  I read charts, but as far as reading notation, no.  I but I read chord charts and make my own charts when I hear a song, or just play by ear.

TM: How long did you play with Hallyday?

BR: Johnny was from ’98 through 2001.

TM: And then the next job was what?

BR: Next big thing after Johnny was Paul.

TM: We’re about 2001, how did you actually hear about the gig?

BR: Abe had left the Johnny Hallyday tour before our last leg. Got a new drummer.  I was unhappy and I was calling Abe, “Man, oh, dude, I miss you so much.  You get me outta here.”  And he’s like, “Oh, I’ve been with K.D. Lang,” and says, “You’re not gonna believe what I just got,” and I said “What?”  “I got a call from Paul McCartney.  I’m doing his upcoming record.”  I went, “Oh, my God.  I’m gonna run back to town just to shake your hand.  Don’t wash your hand.”

I come back to town and he tells me all about it and they’re gonna be touring in a couple of months, and I said, “Okay, so you have Rusty on guitar, you on drums, Wix on keyboards and Paul, but who’s gonna play bass when Paul moves to piano, and guitar when Paul’s on bass?  And he goes, “Well we’re looking for a guitar player who plays a little bass,” and I put my right hand in the air and said, “I’d love a shot at that.”

TM: That was one of the things that astonishes me when I saw the show, how much bass you did play and how well. How did you get into bass if you spent so much of your career focusing on guitar?

BR: The big secret is I didn’t.  I put my hand up in the air knowing that I would have to run home and woodshed and beaver away at it until I was good enough to be that guy.  And I had played bass on my demos and stuff like that.  Maybe on a demo or two for other people.  I had a bass.  I was more of a bass owner than a bass player.  I always thought that guitar players who played bass basically sucked and so I guess my objective would have been just to do the best I could to honor Paul’s amazing bass parts which are among the best ever recorded ever, and not blow it, and not play like a guitar player when I play bass.  And so that required just simplicity and I did just that.  I got the first job with Paul was one song for the Super Bowl, the pre-National Anthem song right before the 2002 game, and I flew out to New Orleans to meet Paul for the first time.  Did this one song.  I thought that was gonna be it and I’d never see Paul again and Paul comes back to the hotel after I had already said goodbye to him and he comes back to the hotel bar and he’s getting ready to now go to bed after telling some stories, and he’s giving everyone a hug goodnight. We’d played one song.  He comes up to me and he says, “Okay, Brian, welcome aboard, stick with Abe and Rusty and they’ll show you the ropes.  See ya in five weeks for rehearsals.”

I turned to Abe and I said “Did he just say what I think he said?,”  and he goes “Yeah, Dude.”  You know how Abe talks.

That was the beginning.  I ran home and got the right bass, got a guitar, got an acoustic guitar, put them in stands in front of me, got two amps, mike stand standing up, a stack of CDs and CD player all within my reach and I just woodshedded for five weeks straight.  Just immersed myself in Beatles, Wings and solo stuff, and I must have learned 70 songs just all on my own, not knowing what the set list would be, I just worked, and worked, and worked, and worked.  The first week I thought, “I’m not good enough.  This might suck, but I’m gonna do it anyway.”  The second week I go, “Aw, it’s better.”  The third week I had Abe come over and he said, “Oh, it sounds great!,” and by the fifth week I was ready, and I went and got the job.

TM: So then you went out for rehearsals, and what were they like?

BR: By then I’d been woodshedding for five weeks and I was pretty prepared, and we fortunately had five days to rehearse as a band before Paul showed up.  So by day five of those five days, we were sounding pretty good and we knew 45 songs.

TM: You play rhythm and lead?

BR: Rhythm and lead, and acoustic and 12-string, and bass.

TM: And you switch off with Rusty Anderson.  How did he get the job?

BR: He came at the same time Abe did for the record called Driving Rain, produced by David Kahne.

TM: How did Paul know to call Abe and Rusty?

BR: He didn’t, but David Kahne did.

TM: So then you rehearsed with McCartney for how long before that tour?

BR: We rehearsed for five days before he got there and then six days with him, and then we went on tour.

TM: Wat were those rehearsals like?

BR: Insane.  I mean to hear that voice come out of those monitors on those songs.  There we are playing “Hello, Goodbye” and he’s asking me, “Brian, what’s the chords at the end?”  Aiiiee, I can’t even talk.  You’re just in that Nirvana and just feel so blessed and it’s really surreal, and otherworldly.  I did not accept that I was gonna go on tour with Paul McCartney until the end of the first day of that six days together where we finally played together, and he comes in at the end of that day and he says, “Okay, guys, sounds good.  I’ll see ya tomorrow.”  And it wasn’t until then that I really owned that, “Hey, I think I’m goin’ on tour with Paul.

TM: So let’s now rate McCartney as a musician, it’s so softball but…

BR: You’re right, it’s a softball; anyone who doesn’t know should come and see him play live because he is from another planet, basically, for one thing, because he sings better than anybody and he sings more dynamically than anybody, he’s got more range than anybody, plus he plays great guitar, great lead guitar, really great on piano, he’s a great drummer.  On a bunch of Beatles’ tracks he played drums, and then he’s this amazing songwriter and arranger, and he’s self-taught.

TM: Have you come reached an opinion as to whether or not it’s innate talent or because he’s been such a hard working musician all along, or both?

BR: It’s both, but you can’t have one without the other.  You can’t have the kind of genius that he displays without great innate talent, and he’s just born with a bunch of magic.  Sorry, there’s no other way to say it. You can’t do all those things self-taught at that level and explain it any other way.  His dad was a piano player and he liked show tunes and vaudeville, and you hear that come out in Paul’s writing, but he wasn’t the singer Paul was and he wasn’t the guitar player or the drummer … He was just gifted.  It was a gift.

TM: Why is he performing so much now? He clearly doesn’t need the money.

BR: That’s a good question.  I don’t even know to answer it except to say that what he tells me is it’s fun.  Fun you can’t buy, and he’s not an ostentatious guy anyway.  So he’s not out there trying to buy fun.  He’s a simpler, cool guy, his houses aren’t giant.  His life isn’t giant.  He doesn’t have a butler.  He has a very simple, groovy life.

TM: Where does he spend his time?

BR: He’s usually in London or in New York.

TM: Is he here in L.A. at all?

BR: Sometimes, when we come here to work.

TM: I know he has a house, but he doesn’t spend much time here.

BR: No, I think he’s got a place that he uses sometimes but he’s not here a lot.

TM: So what’s it like on the road? Do you travel with him?

BR: Yes, we do.

TM: Do you have a private jet or…

BR: Private jet.  Chartered.  He doesn’t own.  He charters.

TM: How many people are on that private jet?

BR: Well usually it’s the band, Paul, mostly, most of the time Nancy, his girlfriend, and maybe four other people.  A core group, maybe 15 at the most.

TM: And then you’re touring all around the world, right?

BR: We’ll hub out from the city and go to various cities and be back in bed by 3 or 4 in the morning after partying together, and do it again in a day or two.

TM: How many months working?

BR: Paul doesn’t work at this time right now more than six weeks straight.  The most we’ve ever gone out together was I think 12 weeks with rehearsals included.  But he’s into shorter stints right now, which suits us fine.

TM: The band is all based in L.A.

BR: Except for Wicks, the keyboard player.

TM: Where’s he based?

BR: He’s in London as well.  English guy. Paul “Wicks” Wickens, his nickname is Wix.

TM: Do you, Abe and Rusty look at each other and say, “Can you believe this?”

BR: Yeah, ’cause we’re all old friends.  It’s a funny thing, I played with Abe for 6 years by the time we got together with Paul.  Rusty I’d known since 1989.  He was my neighbor, and a buddy, and we used to trade guitars and borrow each other’s gear, and play on each other’s demos, but we were never in a band together.  And Abe and Rusty knew each other, but the three of us never played together, so you had this awareness of each other.  It just happens to be a really good chemistry and we get along with each other.

TM: Is it fun on the road?

BR: Oh, yeah.  It’s great.  We’re gifted with liking and appreciating each other, and after 8 years that’s saying a lot.

TM: And he treats you all with respect and decency and…

BR: Great guy. He’s funnier than hell.  He likes a good time.  Treats you good.  Makes sure you’re happy.  He’s not too demanding or tough on you but he wants the stuff done right.

TM: What is the experience of actually playing on stage and playing these songs night after night to the adoring crowd that you find?

BR: What the audience who comes to a show doesn’t understand, and maybe could never understand, is that for us they’re our show.  We stand up there playing these songs that we know are gonna strike chords within them, but watching that happen is quite another thing than just knowing this might happen.  Watching their faces light up and you see these memories just flash by on their faces and they tear up and they cry and they shout, and you see these giant emotions.  It must be really something for Paul knowing that he wrote those songs and that he’s had that effect on people.

A guy who quite literally, one of a handful of people who changed the world in the ‘60’s, you know, I mean he was at the head in the top of the cultural revolution in the ‘60’s.  He and Dylan and John… and Kennedy.

NW: (Norbert, sitting with us) Just an observation…the generational gap that he’s managed to bridge.  Abe gave us some wonderful tickets and on this side was Ozzie Osborne, who was totally in awe of McCartney… and sitting behind us were the Jonas Brothers.  And they were totally in awe.  You could tell.  It was amazing.

BR: It is amazing that he’s traveled the time and the distance in the generations and stayed relevant.  It’s a strange phenomenon and no one else can really say that.  Do you see that kind of spread at a Stones show?  No, you see great fans, but you don’t see that same sort of emotional hit.  You see a physicality and a party memory hit, but you don’t see that deep visceral… life resonance going on.

NW: McCartney manages at the same time being very casual and very open, very professional when it comes to the music.  He’s really true to the music.  Just to use the Stones as an example.  The last time I saw them, they’re really sloppy and maybe they take it for granted or they’re just not as professional as …

BR: They’re not as reverential toward, towards their own music and their own records.

TM: I was astonished at the quality of the musicianship overall and the ability of five guys in the band to recreate so honestly and correctly and fully the music on a wide variety of the records.  I take it that he and the band are all sticklers to do that.

BR: We could be even more like the record if we were asked to or if we chose to, and the truth is is that Paul was smart enough and lucky enough to get the guys together that adored his music as much as we do and respect what each of our instruments did in our songs that were hooky to us, and pay attention to those little funny details, and when we’re all doing that at the same time, it’s not karaoke, but it is louder and bigger perhaps than some of the records, but it is in the spirit of … I think that’s the point.  Geez, we’re just actually having fun playing.  We’re not being reined in to play the exact same thing at the exact moment all the time.

TM: A friend of mine said that the band has been longer with Paul than any other band and it’s the best band he ever had.

BR: That’s awfully kind.  He’s had some amazing players.  If people say that it’s amazing, but to hear Paul in an interview recently say, when asked, “Of all of these great players who have come across your threshold over the years, who among them, here or not, would you want to put a band together with?  Be with again?”  And he goes, “Oh, really just the band I have right now.”  Wow, it just took my breath away.  He’s got a lot of choices in this, and great players that have come and gone, but it’s kind of him. He doesn’t say things like, “We’re better than the Beatles.”  He won’t go there; that’s the best band ever but he’s really kind to us as well.  More to the press than to us directly.

TM: On a personal level, it’s been great for your life, hasn’t it?  In terms of achieving what you wanted to do as a musician from Glendale?

BR: What I wanted to do when I was 4 years old, somehow, someway, I got to do it, and it’s a good thing, because I was not prepared to be able to do much else, and I’d never had a desire to do anything else.  This is what I wanted to be good at and it’s just what I put my energy towards.

TM: You’re single?

BR: Right now I’m single.  Just out of a relationship that ended in November and enjoying my life right now…

TM: And did you do another record since the one you talked about?

BR: Just finished it and it’s going to be released this summer, 2010.

TM: Do you have a name for?

BR: The title is This Way Up.  It’s a follow up to my ’06 album called Mondo Magneto.

TM: The plans are to continue touring indefinitely with Paul?

BR: Yeah, Paul hasn’t said a word about slowing down.  In fact, more dates just keep coming in, so I’m happy.  He doesn’t talk about stopping or retiring or anything like that.  I think he mentioned it once.  He says, “Well, we’re never really hired, so I don’t think I need to retire.”  Something like that.  Some clever little thing.

TM: Do you wanna ask any questions?

NW: I wanted to compliment you on “Hey, Jude,” where Paul goes in the front and gets the audience to go… Nice bass line.

BR: Thank you so much.  That’s really nice of you.  Do you wanna hear the story behind that?  Very interesting story.  Check this out. We do that break down in the “Na, na, na, na, na.  Hey Jude.”   Then he asked the girls to sing.  He asked the boys to sing and then the girls to sing again. Now everyone together, and out of nowhere, in Chicago, and this is documented on our first live DVD called, “Back In The U.S.,” I just was struck by Abe’s playing that night, a little rhythm behind the “na, na’s.”  He’s the only thing that’s playing and it’s just the audience singing and Abe playing drums, and as usually, big drums.  And he’s playing this really chilled R&B beat, and Abe’s always inspired me, so I decided right then and there for some reason to just start playing a bass line along with him.  And I started playing boom, be, be, be, boo, boo, boo, bi, di, pi. Boom, pi, bi, boo, be… a boogaloo bass line from the days of old, and then I stopped it and started it, like a remix record or a dub record.  And I saw Paul kind of turn over to me like, “What in the hell’s goin’ on?”  and I just kept doing it, and on the bus on the way out Paul said, “I really liked that.  That’s really great.  So here’s what we do.  Let me ask the boys to sing, then I’ll ask the girls to sing, and I say ‘Everybody sing,’ then you start that bass line.”  The funny thing is that now four years later, we’re all in Las Vegas to see the LOVE show. The Beatles’  Cirque De Soleil show ends with “Hey, Jude.”  There at the end of “Hey, Jude” is the cast getting everyone to clap along and there’s the Beatles version of “Hey, Jude,” playing loud and there’s a breakdown, and all of a sudden, there’s a boogaloo bass line that was never there before, never any of us had heard on the record.  I turned around and go, “Wait a second.  How in the hell did my bass part end up in LOVE?”  So I ask George Martin’s son, Giles Martin, who did the LOVE soundtrack, “What’s the deal with the bass?”  And he goes, “Well, in listening to the original record, they went on for three minutes on the tag, and we’re listening down to the tag, and Paul starts playing this boogaloo bass line.” Isn’t that weird?  Somehow he sent forward 40 years, a little bass idea and I picked up on it.

NW: That’s amazing.  By the way, did you do the bass line on “That Was Me?”

BR:No, that’s Paul on that one.

MV:  That’s Paul?

BR:   Ba, do, do, do, do, do, do…  Yeah, it’s great, isn’t it?  He’s such a master bass player.

TM: You’ve recorded with him?

BR:   We’ve done a number of live records of course. But we also did Memory Almost Full and Little Bit Of Chaos And Creation.

TM: I saw the U.S.S.R. show on television… That must have been fun?

TM: Aw, yeah.  Pretty amazing to play for that crowd who was basically starving for a real Beatle, and they’d been so infatuated with the Beatles.  While they were having one of their toughest times in their long history in the ‘60’s, and everything was prohibited, it was illegal to own a Beatles record in the ‘60’s in Russia.  So they’d trade ‘em on the black market.  They’d have people in other countries cut Beatles records onto X-ray film and you’d go and buy what they call “bones,” which are X-rays.  There’s some guy’s broken ankle.  You’d drop the needle down on it and “Please, Please Me,” so they were starving to see Paul McCartney by the time we showed up there.

TM: So you’ve met a lot of interesting people in the last eight years?

BR: Whooo.  Yeah.  I got to meet Gorbachev.  Here are these guys, these world leaders, shaping relations with the West, talk about being a Beatles’ fan, but not being able to talk, not being able to tell anybody.

TM: Give me a couple other interesting people you’ve met.

BR: Bill Clinton is pretty interesting.

TM: He wanted to meet McCartney?

BR: Yeah.  Brian Wilson, amazing, interesting guy.  The Royal Family.  “The Queen’s Jubilee,” so meeting Prince Charles.  I didn’t meet the Queen but she stood right in front of me and smiled.  (laughs)  I guess that’s like meeting the Queen.

TM: Thanks, Brian.

BR:  My pleasure.

For more on Brian Ray go to http://www.brianray.com and find him on Facebook

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Comments
  1. Gil Coleman says:

    Amazing interview. Congratulations, Brian. You are a lucky guy

  2. kevmoore says:

    Thanks for that Trevor. I was only thinking recently, watching the Rio gig, what a great band Paul has these days. When I say ‘band’ I mean it, it has a group feel like the Beatles, as opposed to hired hands, which I’m sure was his intention. Nice to get a little background on Brian. I totally identify with the X-ray thing! I toured Russia a few years ago with Christie, who were also popular but unattainable there back in the 70′s, and I came home with several of these ‘bones’!

  3. Is that an ukulele in his hands?

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