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InterviewsInterview With Rick Ray

Posted on Sunday, February 17 2008 @ 18:22:32 CST by Pete Pardo
Progressive Rock

Guitarist Rick Ray has been one of the most prolific artists in the hard rock/progressive rock spectrum over the last decade, releasing countless albums that continually show his growth not only as guitar player but also has a songwriter. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Ryan Sparks recently had a chance to chat with Rick about recent goings on in the Rick Ray Band, as well as happenings from the last few years.

Sea of Tranquility: How is the new album coming along, are you still shooting for a spring release at this point?

Rick: The new album is coming along great; my bassist Jack Ambrose told me the song "Awake From Reality" just about gave him a nervous breakdown. That guy cracks me up but I tend to think it wasn't all a joke. Hopefully in the spring it'll be done.

SOT: What can long time fans of your music expect with this new album, any changes in direction or will it be more of what we've come to expect from you?

Rick: Well we're hopefully going to be adding some brass into the fold, trumpet and trombone. The songs themselves are different than what we've done before. I've also been getting a lot of inspiration lately from going back to what I used to listen to, things like "Karn Evil 9" and "Tarkus" by ELP, and "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight" and "Watcher Of The Skies" by Genesis. I get a lot of new ideas from listening to these masterpieces. I don't try to sound like these bands, no point in that, but they give me ideas.

SOT: A couple of things I noticed after hearing some tracks off your last album Nothing to Lose; one was the overall improvement in the production and sound and the second was the music itself which seemed to have more of a jazzier influence. Would you agree?

Rick: Firstly Neurosis Records has gotten quite a few studio upgrades. We were a strictly analog studio. The first fourteen or fifteen CD's released under my name were only 4 track, sometimes with quite a bit of bouncing going on, sometimes up to sixteen tracks all bounced to 4 then mixed to 2, then transferred to CD. Then for the next 9 or 10 CD's we had upgraded to 8 tracks and I tried not to do so much bouncing. Nothing To Lose is the first release on Neurosis Records to be twenty four track digital. Also, my microphone collection has gotten quite good with lots of very different condenser mics.

Second, as for the jazzier moments, they just kind of ended up that way. It started out as; the end of a song would be for jamming and improvising. We'd come up with a basic structure in a rock format and out of nowhere it would turn into jazz, which still sounded cool, so that's the way it was left. The two songs which are good examples of that happening are "Blue Print For Ruin" and the title cut "Nothing To Lose".

SOT: Nothing to Lose was also the first album to feature vocalist Alex Abraham who is the brother of Chuck Abraham your previous vocalist who tragically passed away in 2005 after the release of Temporary World. Was it difficult to pick up the pieces after Chuck's passing and was Alex in your opinion a natural choice to carry the torch so to speak?

Rick: What happened was, we had very high hopes for the Temporary World CD and were making a lot of plans. We were one concert in and Chuck died. This kind of shelved all plans, not to mention it brought depression into the Rick Ray Band. I happened to be running sound for a play that Chuck had been directing (Peter Pan – and it was a huge success, too bad he wasn't here to see that) and Alex, Chuck's brother, came up to me and asked if he could pick up where Chuck left off. I talked to the band and everyone said "fine, let's go for it" and Nothing To Lose was the result of that.

SOT: Their voices are quite different. In fact on some of the material on Nothing to Lose Alex's voice reminded me at times of Gary Barden from MSG and Statetrooper fame.

Rick: Now that you mention it, he does kind of sound like Gary. My wife says he reminds her of Ronnie Dio sometimes.

SOT: Your lyrics have always dealt with current events and the state of the world, as well as predictions from the Biblical book of Revelations. Perhaps I've already answered my own question here but where do you draw your lyrical inspiration from?

Rick: You're absolutely right, although not just the book of Revelation, the whole Bible. It's filled with prophecies that are unfolding in front of the whole world. Our time on this sphere called Earth is winding down and not too many people really care. As an example of some of the subject matter, the title cut, 'Nothing To Lose', deals with a homeless man who has nothing but faith in God, no possessions. So the only thing that really could ever be taken away from him on Earth is his life. Not his eternal life, just his earthly life, his life in the flesh. Another example is 'Blue Print For Ruin'. The inspiration for that comes from the Kent State shootings. The government sends in agent provocateurs to stir the student protesters up, creating some of the violent acts themselves, and then they step back and watch our military mow down innocent students. One more example is the title cut to the CD, The Key To The Bottomless Pit. This is right out of the book of Revelation. It deals with the atomic bomb and the only reason it was made and used. The instructions to make this were given to certain men by demons and once blown off in Japan it made sure that people would go along with a world government, WWI was supposed to bring this about but we still had a few good guys in government that said, "America will have no part in the League Of Nations" so as a punishment they gave us the Great Depression and WWII was brought about for attempt number two for world government, The United Nations. Once they used the bomb and our government was cleared of people who knew better (taken over by enemies), that was it. The United Nations is gaining teeth everyday. The Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War and the Iraq War are all under the UN banner. Keep in mind who financed Hitler into power, Prescott Bush, grandfather to G.W. Bush and also a Skull N Bones, and Henry Ford, Americans. We weren't allowed to bomb Rockefellers Oil Companies over in Germany either. The war was not fought for the reasons everyone is told, it was fought to bring in World Government and that will lead to the Anti-Christ. So the Key To The Bottomless Pit is the Atomic Bomb. Those are some examples of what my lyrical content contains.

SOT: In the very beginning of your musical journey with Neurotic your playing had more of a guitar shredder element to it, and it still does to some degree, but over time your style evolved into more of a psychedelic/ blues and even jazz direction. Did anything specific precipitate this change or is it just a natural progression and maturation over time?

Rick: When Neurotic was together, clean speed was a goal. We used to joke that if anyone slowed down, it was a sign of weakness and fatigue. That's not to say we didn't have slower tunes. We could play slow and less complex when called for. The Neurotic CD's on Neurosis records are only from '78 and '79 and a couple of snippets on Looking Into The Past from the 80's. I'm thinking of releasing an album of just the 80's Neurotic material that goes into different types of music. The band had changed and we had a different sound.

SOT: You've been playing with reed player Rick Schultz forever and his playing really helps give the Rick Ray Band its unique sound. When you started the band did you already have a certain sound or feel in your mind that you were going for that made you think of him specifically?

Rick: When he left the Marines and came home to Euclid Ohio in 1978 he was walking past our house (we had been friends since about '65) and my brother and I were playing "Seven Screaming Diz-Busters" by Blue Oyster Cult with just a guitar and a bass hooked up through the PA system that we had set up in the front yard (the police weren't too far behind Rick Schultz to shut us down) and he stopped over. He listened for a bit and then we got to talking and I found out he played clarinet, sax and other reed instruments. I set up a jam with him and at first he was a bit shy until of couple beers later and I thought, "damn this guy can play". It was King Crimson and Audience that paved the way for me to having reeds onboard. The first song we wrote together was "Bomb Day" (from 'Mazy Craniacs') and I knew right then and there, that was the sound!

SOT: You've released thirty CD's of material on your own as one of the most well known independent musicians around, and we're just talking between from 1999 until present day. Being prolific is one thing Rick but where did all this material come from, did the floodgates open or what?

Rick: The 30th CD is coming; I'm not counting Second Hand Smoke (A tribute to Frank Marino) as one of mine. I only have one cut on that which is "Poppy". That song has been in my setlist since about 1979. As for where all this material came from, some of it goes back to the 70's. Neurotic Tendencies has a lot of material that I used to play with Neurotic. Some of it was never released before. Some of it is re-recordings of what was released on vinyl, just not Neurotic but Rick Schultz and I. I'm always writing music, always. I've got thousands of hours of recordings that'll probably never see the light of day. Some were ideas that never got used. Some are finished songs that didn't fit into the CD's I was working on at the time. Some of it is comedic stuff, kind of like some of Zappa's funny material. I get asked a lot to release some of it but it's not something that's on my priority list. Some of the material Neurotic used to do live and we'd have people coming to see us just for that. Maybe someday I'll work on that.

SOT: You've been happily independent for so long, it must give you quite a bit of satisfaction watching the corporate record companies slowly losing their controlling grip on musicians as more and more artists are finding ways to go it alone.

Rick: I wouldn't call it satisfaction. You reap what you sow. If they were robbing artists of the income then they'll get that in return only worse. I'm enjoying making music, whether it's sitting in my studio or playing live on stage. As for being independent, I have only God to answer to, not an A&R guy trying to tell me what will sell and what won't.

SOT: A few years ago you contributed to Second Hand Smoke which was a tribute CD to one of your musical heroes Frank Marino. I thought "Poppy" was a natural choice for you to cover considering your hypnotic playing style matches that song perfectly. Personally I would have loved to see you give one of my favourites a go "Tales From the Unexpected" as well.

Rick: The Marino songs I've covered over the years (concerning Frank's work '74 to the present) are 'Poppy', 'Tales Of The Unexpected', 'Ain't Dead Yet', 'Somethings Comin' Our Way', 'A New Rock N Roll', 'Babylon Revisted', 'Maybe It's Time', 'Dragonfly', 'Breakin' Away' and 'Finish Line', but 'Poppy' is the only that's actually stayed in the setlist over the years.

SOT: Your artistic talent isn't restricted just to music because as many people might already be aware you've been known to dabble in art and your drawings and sketches are done under the alias of The Masked Cartoonist. Do you see your drawings to be a natural extension of your music and lyrics?

Rick: Yes I do believe they go together. When in high school back in the 1970's it seemed all the art students were also musicians. I don't really mean musicians in the school band either but creative musicians who were doing their own thing. As for being the Masked Cartoonist, I used to draw all over anything blank in Euclid. That city for about 3 years turned into my museum. Anywhere you went you'd see something by me. The cops were diligently after me for about two and a half years. I was told by one cop after their meetings that before going out on patrol they'd say, "let's get that Masked Cartoonist tonight" and they'd all say in unison, "YEAH!". When I finally did get busted, the whole police force, off duty included, came out to arrest me. They argued over who got to bring me in. When I was in custody I was treated great. They were having me draw pictures for their kids.

SOT: A lot of these characters look like sinister versions of something taken right out of Mad magazine circa the 1970's.

Rick: Well Don Martin (from Mad Magazine) was an influence for sure, so was Salvador Dali, Klaus Voorman, M.C. Esher, Yellow Submarine and Marino's album covers for Child Of The Novelty and Strange Universe. My parents could both draw really great and a few of my art teachers in High School back in the 70's as well.

SOT: You've mentioned The Beatles were the reason why you picked up a guitar as a boy but as you were growing up and developing your own style, which musicians would you say made the most impact on you in your formative years?

Rick: Still the Beatles first and foremost but the other big influences would be ELP, Robin Trower, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, I Don't Care, Damnation Of Adam Blessing, King Crimson (up to '75), Blue Oyster Cult (up to '75), Return To Forever, Genesis (w/Gabriel and Hackett), The Greg Lake Band w/Gary Moore on guitar, Epitaph (from Germany), Captain Beyond, Audience, Yes, the individual Beatles solo, Deep Purple, Budgie, The Dregs, UK…there are other's but those are the main ones.

SOT: Over the years you've had the distinction of opening for some of the best classic rock guitarists around such as Robin Trower, Frank Marino, Michael Schenker, Alan Holdsworth, Peter Frampton and Pat Travers to name just a few. Would you say all of these have been memorable experiences for you and does any one of these shows or maybe one I haven't mentioned stand out as being more special for you?

Rick: All have been very memorable gigs. At one of the Mahogany Rush concerts, during sound check I started playing the solo for 'Something's Comin' Our Way' and Frank came over and showed me the guitar arrangement for the keyboard part to 'Strange Dreams'. I had a good talk with Steve Morse and Jerry Goodman at the Dregs concert. I'd love to get Jerry to record on one of my albums. I had a great gig with Allan Holdsworth, he really liked what we were doing. Robin Trower's a real nice guy and besides George Harrison, probably my favorite guitarist. Peter Frampton's sound check was great; he played all the real heavy Humble Pie tunes. The concert was his more popular music. Good guy and an underrated guitar player.

SOT: If you could be the guitarist in your idea of the ultimate band who would the rest of the players be?

Rick: I like who I'm with...but if I wasn't with the guys in my band and I had a choice I would say:


Keyboards: Keith Emerson (ELP)
Drums: Bobby Caldwell (Captain Beyond)
Bass: Andy West (The Dregs)
Vocals: I can't pick James Dewar because he's not with us anymore so - Greg Lake (K.C. & ELP)
Violin: Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra & The Dregs)
Cello: Mark Charig (played on King Crimson's Red album)
Saxophone: Ian McDonald (for his work w/King Crimson)
Clarinet: Pete Fountain
Trumpet: Herb Alpert
Trombone: James Pankow (Chicago)
Rythm Guitar: George Tickner (Journey, when they were good) and me on guitar.

SOT: In a live setting how faithful are you to the original renditions in regards to your solos, is there a lot of room for improvisation on stage?

Rick: In the live setting I always tell the guys that live is completely different from the studio. Depending on the song most solos aren't the same as the recorded version. I think in my whole career as a musician I've only written probably ten songs that I've stuck close to the original solo. All the rest of the songs have a basic skeletal structure that is played but everyone takes different twists and turns within that structure, and the solos are mostly improvised with no thought as to how the original was. Maybe a few riffs here and there are kept in from the actual recording but not many.

SOT: When it comes to song writing what comes first the music or the lyrics? If there is such a thing, take me through the typical process of how you create a song.

Rick: I write the music and listen to it for what kind of words would go with this particular song. I have about sixteen full books of lyrics, so many pages of them that I'll probably never use them all. If none of the lyrics I already have fit the music then I'll write a new one. As for writing the music, I'm always playing guitar at home. Even when watching a movie I drive my wife crazy playing guitar through the whole thing. The ideas come just from playing. Every once in a while a riff pops up just from messing around and it evolves from there.

SOT: In the studio do you take more of a spontaneous approach in regards to the construction of your solos or are you more of a perfectionist in this regard?

Rick: That depends on the song, sometimes it's just jamming and other times there are certain melodies that have to be there. 80% of the time though, it's spontaneous.

SOT: If you there was one song of yours which you feel best represents what Rick Ray is all about what would it be?

Rick: That's too hard to answer; there are quite a few I really feel strongly about.
1.Your Short Life off of Abnormal Road
2.Reality Replaces The Symbol off of Chainsaw Manicure (in the live setlist)
3.Where The Wild Things Are off of Mazy Craniacs by my old band Neurotic
4.If We're Silent off of Nothing To Lose
5.Glass Man off of Insanity Flies
...and especially...
6.Awake From Reality soon to be released.

I could go on. Lyrically I try to go after the truth. In some reviews I've been called a lunatic for my lyrical content. One place in particular is DPRP (Dutch Progressive Rock Page). Their reviews of Manipulated DNA, Insanity Flies and Key To The Bottomless Pit made me out to be a mad man and that's good. It says in the Bible that people will consider you mad (insane) for telling the truth. Musically if it gives me goose bumps then I know I've succeeded in that end of it and that's what I go for, spine chilling music. I'm not saying I always succeed, but that's always my goal.

SOT: Last question. Knowing now what you didn't know then would you change anything or do anything differently?

Rick: Well, mistakes are part of life; if I did things differently I would've just made different mistakes. I've definitely made my share of them; I guess with life in general I wish I wouldn't have sinned as much as I have. With music, I've always just played what I enjoyed and I've never claimed to be a business man. Sometimes I wish I had a bit more of the business mentality. I find it kind of painful to think like that though. So if people like what I'm doing and purchase something I've done, that's great. If not, that's cool too. I'm not going to be like popular radio and "Empty V" who cram things down the younger generation's throats. I kind of feel bad for the younger kids today; they're not really getting anything of quality in music. Rap crap, emo screamo, cookie monster metal, etc...It's just terrible. It's noise to my ears.


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