A Charmed Life, and an immensely talented musician- Brian Ray

photo credit ©Glen Wexler Brian Ray has a gig that every other musician on the planet can only dream of. He also has a career  that a screenwriter would be afraid to create for fear of being too utterly unbelievable….

Brian Ray is the rhythm guitarist and bass player for Paul McCartney… That Paul McCartney.

When Paul sits down at the piano, Brian has the job of playing the bass lines that changed the way people play bass. Brian has had a career filled with gigs like this, playing with legends, writing hit songs for people like Smokey Robinson and more…

With Sir Paul visiting the Queen City on July 28, I took the opportunity to ask Mr. Ray a few questions…

photo credit © Glen Wexler

ch: Thanks Brian for taking the time to give me a call…This leaves out  quite a few- but a few highlights…Your first band backs Bobby Pickett of  “monster mash” fame,  14 years with Etta James, writing hits for Smokey Robinson and playing rhythm guitar and bass with Sir Paul McCartney on tours, in the studio and at the Super Bowl, arguably the biggest show out there. Do you ever stop and pinch yourself?

Brian: I pinch myself regularly.(laughing) Every once in a while I say to Abe (Abe Laboriel Jr., McCartney drummer) “Look where we are! We are playing in the White House for the president, who is sitting 4 feet away! How do you top this… I am indeed very fortunate and very grateful for everything, but I have also worked very hard to get to where I am.

ch: You have played two Superbowls, how do you top that!

Brian: Yeah (laughing) Really, we continue to play these iconic shows like the Super Bowl, the White House, the Isle of Wight that we just played. Again I am just so grateful to Paul for everything he has done for me, and to Etta James for the same.

ch: In addition to playing with Paul McCartney, I believe you have recorded with Ringo Starr as well, you might be one of the few people on the planet who has recorded with both living Beatles…

Brian: You know, I did, I always forget to mention that. (laughing) I met Ringo in 1977, and in 1981 or 1982, I recorded “She’s About a Mover” with him.

ch: You also recently played a halftime show in tribute to Les Paul, how did that come about?

Brian: I was recording my new solo record, and had a crazy idea to write a break into the song, “I Found You” that was like a marching band, but with guitars in place of the trombone parts, guitars in place of the trumpet parts and so on. After a bit, I got up to around 40 tracks of these parts and I thought it turned out great. Not long after that I was introduced to Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins and I mentioned how cool it would be to have that march out at a halftime show in place of a marching band.  On the spot, he offered to let me do it. As the planning progressed we decided to do more familiar songs, and I ended up doing it with Rick Nielsen and Orianthi, who was lined up to be Michael Jackson’s guitarist before he passed away. You can watch the whole tribute on youtube.

ch: We have  mentioned a few of the numerous people you have played or written with. Are there any artists that you would like to work with, that you have not?

Brian: Good question. I have really been getting into the Retro Soul coming out of Northern England and from people like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Growing up, I listened to a pirate radio station out of Mexico called XURB and a dj named Wolfman Jack. The songs he played were the rythm and blues that are the bedrock for all rock and roll. Without it, there would be no rock and roll…So these new bands really interest me, and I would love to write with someone like Sharon Jones or James Hunter. I would also like to write with Robert Plant or one of the younger bands like MGMT.

ch: Your new single, “I Found You,” is currently streaming  on your website. Great summer song….it recalls the days of my youth, when summer meant great new songs on the radio, songs that would hook you immediately, those songs that when you hear them, they immediately carry you back to that time…

Brian: Thanks for saying that. I know what you mean,  One of those songs for me was the Loving Spoonfuls’ “Summer in the City” . Really a great song.

ch: What is the official release date for the new album? -Are there any plans to tour in support of your solo release after the McCartney Tour?

Brian: My  new single, “I Found You”  and “Happy Ending” will be released digitally with Sony/ICON , July 6 on iTunes, with the  full length being released a month later on August 3. The physical release  on Whooray/ICON will be around the same time, with a deluxe edition being released on my website, www.brianray.com.  I would love to tour, and have a new manager, Jamie Talbot, Sanctuary Mgmt.,  so we are looking to see about something in September or October.

ch: Thanks again for taking the time out of your day to talk with me, I look forward to your new cd, and seeing you in Charlotte on July 28 with Paul McCartney.

Brian: Thanks Clay,

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Grace Potter & the Nocturnals- cd review

 I have been a fan of music for over forty years, a consumer of music for 30, and an active performer for over twenty and I have reached an age where there is not much room for something new.  My music purchases have slowed, and I catch myself returning to the records I bought twenty years ago over and over.

They are few and far between… those disks that just grab you, the ones that make you hit play again and again immediately upon the fading of the last note. “Grace Potter & the Nocturnals,” the third and self titled disk by the band from Vermont, fits into this category and strikes the notion that rock is dying from my vocabulary. It will also fall into my long term listening pile.

A veteran of the music scene at the ripe young age of 27, Grace Potter has dropped the gauntlet, or just downright stepped on and over, the over-produced tripe that fills today’s airwaves, with this collection of immediately satisfying well- written organic rock. By organic, I mean music played by the musicians on the record cover, not studio musicians or, I shudder to speak it aloud- samples.

Stand- out tracks are tough to single out, as this record hits me as a cohesive collection, meant to be played in it’s entirety… If pushed, highlights could be, “Medicine,” with it’s immediate sense of urgency and twisting guitars or first single, “Tiny Light,” which begins as a soulful plea and evolves into a tour de force for all players.

Before this review glows too far, I do have one complaint- the inclusion of a re-recorded version of the opening track- “Paris(Ooh La la)” which was released previously as a bonus track to the band’s last cd.

With the addition of bassist, Catherine Popper, a North Carolina native, and second guitarist, Benny Yurco, “Grace Potter & the Nocturnals” delivers on all the promise shown on earlier releases. Buy it, but be ready to hit play- again and again.

Rich Williams, Kansas guitarist- “There’s Know Place Like Home”

Kansas- June 9 at Koka Booth Amphitheater

To many in the musical world of 2010, Kansas is just another tour stop in the center of the country- the place of Dorothy and Toto and tornados…

But to people of my generation, when you say Kansas, the mind races not to a geographic place, but to finely crafted songs with intricate arrangements  featuring guitars, violins and soaring tenor vocals. Growing up, the songs of Kansas filled the airwaves on what was then known simply as rock radio, but has evolved over the graceless passage of time into Classic Rock. The band was a powerful force in the era of Arena rock, with a number of classic hits, including “Dust in the Wind,” “Fight Fire with Fire,” and the inescapable “Carry On Wayward Son.”

Some thirty plus years after the heyday of these songs, Kansas is still touring, this time in support of their new DVD release,” There’s Know Place Like Home.” The tour brings them to Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheater on June 9. I took this opportunity to speak to Rich WIlliams, original guitarist, about the DVD, the tour and rock in general…

YW: How is the tour going so far?

Rich Williams:  We are out West right now, heading to Billings tomorrow night. We have  done about 10 or 12 shows so far.

YW: How are the audiences ?

Rich Williams: We have always been a family friendly band, so a lot of people have brought their younger brothers or their kids, so we have always had a real good spectrum. But especially since Guitar Hero 2, we have had a big surge in younger audience members. Families play that game together, so that has brought whole families to the show

YW: On the classic recordings like “Carry On Wayward Son”, there were two guitarists, how long have you been carrying the weight as the sole guitarist?

Rich Williams:  Kerry Livgren left the band about 25 years ago, then we did two albums with Steve Morse. And it has basically been me since then.  Our violin player also plays guitar on some songs, but for the most part it is me, for about twenty years.

YW: I have always been intrigued by the interaction between the electric guitar and the violin in your music…it almost sounds like a different instrument

Rich Williams:  Yeah, it really does. When we play either in unison or in harmony, it kind of creates a third instrument

YW: This tour is a co-billing with Styx and Foreigner.  Your new DVD features you guys with a symphony, are there any plans to do this again?

Rich Williams: Yeah, when this tour is over with Styx and Foreigner, we go back and do symphony dates again, to really support the DVD.

YW: Kansas has not played in North Carolina in several years, the last time I remember was at Speed Street in Charlotte, 7 or 8 years ago…

Rich Williams: I spend all my off time up in Youngsville, right outside of Wake Forest. The last time we played in the Raleigh/Durham/Cary area was at Walnut Creek, when it was just called Walnut Creek. This will be the first time back in a long time. We have not been back to NC since that Charlotte show.

YW: This show will be like a homecoming to you. Thanks for your time- I look forward to seeing you in Cary on June 9.

For more information on Kansas, or on their new DVD, please visit http://www.kansasband.com