Interview by Danny Coleman
Brian Ray began playing professionally as a teenager making stops along the way with Etta James and The Bayonets and currently can be found plying his wares along side of Paul McCartney. He is a guitarist, composer, producer and very much the epitome of being in the right place at the right time.
A set of rare, fortunate, circumstances have propelled Ray to some of the world’s largest stages, with even larger names and allowed him to become a professional musician at the tender age of 17. “It’s a funny story actually,” he explained with a laugh.“I love being a musician and one of the first gigs I did was playing Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s, “The Monster Mash” at a fund raiser for Phil Kaufman. I was in this band and we were playing gigs at amusement parks, my sister was in the band too. Phil had gotten in some, uh, trouble because of the Gram Parsons thing (Kaufman had stolen Parsons dead body and set fire to it in the desert; honoring a pact they had made with each another) and we were one of the bands playing to try and help Phil with his legal expenses. Phil took a liking to me and we became friends.”
With a friend like Kaufman in his corner, Ray upgraded his fortunes by once again being the recipient of good timing. “Phil and I were out one night and he took me to meet Etta James. I was asked if I wanted to play a bit, it was very informal. A week or so later, her guitar player couldn’t make a gig and she contacted him and said, “I like that little white kid’ and suddenly I found myself performing with Etta James. Not too long after, I became her musical director and I did that for 14 years.”
Always the musician, Ray also pursued his own music and would often recruit his friend, drummer Oliver Leiber to play on his recordings. Leiber has written material for name acts such as Rod Stewart, Ke$ha, The Corrs and is the son of Jerry Leiber of the famed songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller who penned such hits as, “Hound Dog,”“Jailhouse Rock” and “Stand By Me.” Upon working so closely with Ray, Leiber suggested that the two form their own project and The Bayonets were born circa. 2011. The duo recruited Argentinian multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Lucrecia Lopez Sanz to complete the group and began to release material beginning with a string of singles in 2013. ” I met Lucrecia while on tour in Uruguay and we asked her to join us, so she flew into L.A. and we went to work.”
Now, four years later, Jem Records has taken an interest in the band’s sound and popularity and is re-releasing material from their, “Crash Boom Bang!” album. Ray is loving the attention that the band has been getting from not only the record company but the public and radio stations as well. “I think it’s great,” he stated enthusiastically. “We have interest from Marty Scott at Jem Records. We have been featured on, “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” and he named our songs, “Sucker for Love” and“Smartphone” as two of, “The Coolest Songs in the World,” back around 2013, so that’s really helped generate interest and since then, we’ve had multiple songs from the album given the same titles. It’s always good to have a guy like Steven Van Zandt in your corner.”
Even though The Bayonets have had some commercial success, don’t expect the band to do much more beyond the re-release as Ray’s current job with rock ‘n’ roll royalty, a.k.a. Paul McCartney takes up much of his time. Once again, he stumbled upon this good fortune somewhat by accident. “Yeah, I’ve been with Paul for the last 15 years now,” he said as if he still has trouble believing it at times. “I was in France and touring with some popular French artists; we were playing stadiums and large arenas and I received a call towards the end of the tour that a friend of mine knew that Paul was searching for a guitarist and I set up an audition. Had I not been looking for my friend I’m not sure I would’ve known; that was back in 2002. The audition was in New Orleans and I remember being so nervous and walking around just to kill time before I went in and just going over things in my head. Paul was looking for a consistent player and I seemed to fit right in. He keeps me pretty busy, between tours and recordings (He is on several of McCartney’s studio albums) it makes it difficult at times to tour with other acts.”
When questioned as to what it is like to perform with a man who is widely considered the most legendary bassist and/or performer of all time and to how much leeway he gets; Ray’s response was short but poignant. “Consistent, I need to be consistent at every show and if I’m not, he’s not the type to go off; he’ll say something like, “You might want to listen to that one more time (laughs). He has a great ear and is very casual about most things.”
The Bayonets recent re-release is sure to draw rave reviews, much interest and may once again be considered some of the, “Coolest Songs,” out there today and if you’d like to discover more; please go to www.Thebayonets.com or to follow Brian Ray, please go to www.brianray.com.
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)