There has hardly been a musician/guitarist who has been more prolific in terms of musical output over the last 25 years than Ohio's Rick Ray. This accomplished player, who started out in the mid 1970's with a band called Neurotic, has taken the "power trio" format made famous by Jimi Hendrix, Frank Marino, and Robin Trower, and expanded on it to include keyboards, reeds & woodwinds. This added element has given Ray's music a twist of jazz and prog to his otherwise hard rock style. His signature guitar sound permeates the 20 + CD releases that he has out on the market, and the music contained on each one has influences ranging from Frank Marino, The Beatles, Robin Trower, to even Rush.
Rick is a huge fan of both Marino and Trower, and you can hear the influence of both in his style, although Rick tends to be a bit more lyrical and less blues based than those two legends. In a recent conversation with the guitarist, he describes his experience opening up for both Trower and Marino at recent live shows. "It was great, that was definitely my kind of crowd. Robin's a good guy, and I talked with him for a little while. I can honestly say, Robin is playing better guitar than he ever has. Also, the singer he's got is a young guy (look's like a kid) who sounds phenominal, and he sounds like Jimmy Dewar (who passed away last year). Frank Marino and I have become pretty good friends. The first time playing with Mahogany Rush was real cool, but the second and third were unbelievable. I can honestly say this last time in September was the best musical experience I've ever had. I was playing the solo to 'Something's Comin' Our Way' off of Frank's What's Next at sound check and Frank came down out of the dressing room and said, "I didn't even have to come here, you can shave your beard and mustache off and crouch a little and everyone will think you're me". He showed me how to play the keyboard part to 'Strange Dreams' on the guitar, that was kind of cool. This past time, when Frank was playing, about the third song in, 'He's Calling' off of Eye of the Storm, he was literally blowing people away! I was in the back of the Odeon (all spots are good sound-wise in there) where my CD's were selling and I was not only blown away myself but people were hanging on to each of the pillars and walls and it wasn't from too much alcohol either. You had to see it I guess, but I've never seen any reaction like that before. He really was kickin' ass. Also, this is by far the best band he's ever had together. His playing this evening was better than I've ever seen him play and I've been going to see him since 1975, quite a lot of Marino concerts. It was definitely a dream come true. My favorite piece by Frank is 'Tales Of The Unexpected' and the second time we opened for him in 2001, I got to see him do it twice, a song I never thought he would play live. The first was at sound check, and I was the only one around, about 5 feet away. Learned a few of the riffs the right way, I was making them a bit too complex. Very cool. I always considered Frank the best guitarist alive or dead on this planet and this past September he really reaffirmed that. Anyway, that's a few tidbits from those evenings."
As stated above, there is a huge body of recorded work from Rick Ray. Some are more polished than others, but all contain a compelling mix of raw rock tunes and instrumental cuts. 2002's Existing Passages is a perfect example of the Rick Ray cannon. Here, the guitarist offers up 19 songs, almost half of which are blistering instrumentals showcasing his impressive chops, and the rest are hard rock juggernauts that integrate Ray's John Lennon-styled vocals with hard rock guitar and Rick Schultz's reeds. For a more progressive slant to his music, Guitarsenal might be a good starting point. This 2000 recording sees Ray and Schultz mix in varied keyboard and clarinet sounds with Ray's acrobatic guitar work, and the result is a very full, rich sound that will remind at times of the great Canadian band Rush. Listen to the marriage of power chords, keys, and effortless guitar leads on tracks like "Looking Into Your Eyes", "Taken Control", or the complex workout of "The Atom Smasher" for a great representation of aggressive progressive rock. Other strong solo releases from Rick include Insanity Flies, The Guitarsonist, and the eclectic Mind Control Inc.
Over the years Rick Ray has also recorded and played with a group called Riot Act, a hard rock trio that also included Jack Ambrose on bass, and John Cek on drums. Riot Act were a unit from 1990 to 1996, but got back together in 2000 to record Maniacal Distastrophe Tour, a textbook hard rock statement that borrowed from classic late 70's-early 80's heavy rock and metal acts. The muscular yet funky riffs of "Bonnie the Clyde" and the Hendrix influenced "The K.G.B. is After Me" are two examples of the great rock contained on this recording. In fact, the influence of Marino, Trower and Hendrix are probably more apparent in the Riot Act material than on Rick's solo releases. Here, this band opts for less of the progressive and jazz material, and kicks up the hard rock, psychedelic, and funk influences up a notch, but still manages to inject loads of memorable melodies. Examples of some of the earlier Riot Act material, as well as Rick's first band Neurotic, can be heard on Looking Into the Past, a compilation put together in 1999 that contains material from the 70's, 80's, and 90's. Riot Act's version of "Fanfare for the Common Man" is a must hear, with Rick's guitar excursions front and center.
In recent years, Rick has put out a few releases with the Rick Ray Band, the two most recent being Out of the Mist of Obscurity and Into the Hands of Sinners, both strong examples of guitar oriented hard rock with some pop hooks. While the production on these, and many of Rick's recordings, tends to be a bit raw and rough aroung the edges, there's no denying that there is some solid songwriting and hot playing going on. Rick has brought Phil Noch into the fold to help him out with a portion of the vocal duties, and the band seems to really be finding a groove. Only time will tell if Rick Ray can find his way out of Ohio and become a national attraction, but perhaps with an extended opening slot on a hot tour, as well as landing a deal on a major prog or hard rock label, there's no telling where this talented guitarist might go.